Monday, April 20, 2015

The Alaskan Bush People

Dale Matson

I suppose any show with the name “Alaska” would get my attention and there are plenty of shows with the Alaska theme. I was drafted in 1967 and after my training; I was stationed at Ft. Wainwright near Fairbanks. I had an opportunity to travel and saw unmapped wilderness, magnificent sights along the coast, the inside passage and the interior on the Alaska Railroad between Fairbanks and Anchorage. I had considered returning there someday but my path took me elsewhere. The Alaska state flower is the Forget-me-not and I haven’t forgotten.

There is a certain appeal to living “off the grid” for many folks in a complicated world. However, it is a primitive life, requires resourcefulness and can be downright dangerous. There are participants and there are spectators. Most of the audience is spectators; wannabe wilderness folks. I am kind of a combination since I have a mountain cabin and spend a considerable time backpacking in the Sierras in the summer.

I realize that one cannot be or at least, remain a rookie for long living in the wilderness. The wilderness is at once beautiful but is also unforgiving. I am reminded of Jeremiah Johnson who needed to apprentice with the experienced mountain man Bear Claw. I watched Marty Meierotto get himself into and out of trouble in the Alaskan wilderness in the “Mountain Men” series. To me, he is an ultimate survivalist who is skilled and can actually make a living trapping. He has rituals that help ensure but don't guarantee his survival. He is like the adventurer Mike Horn who circumnavigated the Arctic Circle by himself. Everything must be done a certain way in a certain order. There must always be a backup scenario. What do you do if your tent burns down and it is 60 below zero?

I began watching Alaskan Bush People last year. At first, I thought they were an incompetent version of the Kilcher Family from the series “Alaska The Last Frontier”. There were some questions in my mind as the series stumbled from one disaster to another over the first season. Where they really a family? Their theme should have been, “If it weren't for bad luck, we wouldn’t have any luck at all”. I really cringed when their boat sank. Why did town members help them build a cabin and why were they scared off? There were a lot of unanswered questions and it got worse when I read they had been charged with criminal activity. Did this family really belong in a Ketchikan trailer park living on welfare?

And then it happened. I watched this mom (Ami) and dad (Bill) with seven children develop personalities. I guess if you were writing a story, it would be called “character development”. Each of the children seemed to take on a charming persona. I began to like them as people. Were they eccentric? Absolutely. Were the boys strong? Yes, they all looked like they spent lots of time in a fitness center.

So they began to grow on me and I saw the teamwork, the loyalty and the enthusiasm all of them demonstrated. What I did not see was any malice or cynicism. They bought into this lifestyle and are generally enjoying themselves except times like when they are shivering in their log hut without enough heat.

They demonstrated that they could work as a team over and over. They built a new cabin displaying their skills and teamwork. The family did the ‘heavy lifting’ time and time again. There are those that dislike these people but I suggest those people look in the mirror at themselves.

The Browns are very much like the Kilchers minus the backhoes, bulldozers and barge. I don't know what lies in the future for this family but hope they make it even if they are no longer in front of a camera.  


  1. The new season begins November 11th at 9//8 central on the Discovery Channel.

  2. The Browns are moving Colorado. I don't know if they will change the name of their show to reflect their new location. I wish Ami the best as she deals with her cancer. It seems like they left quite a bit of stuff behind in Alaska at their homestead. Did they even own the land?. They are moving on and so am I. Goodbye to the Browns.