I was drafted during the Vietnam era and after my training, I was stationed at Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks Alaska until my discharge. The Alaskan state flower is the Forget-Me-Not and I haven't forgotten Alaska. I intended to go back but have not done so.
There are quite a few reality series TV shows centered on the “Off the grid” lives of folks who live in the Alaskan outback. I have followed most to one degree or another. “The Last Alaskans” is the latest and very best of this genre. The show follows the lives of three families and a single man living alone estranged from his wife and children. They are allowed to remain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska until they and their offspring die. Then no one will be allowed to live there. There is additional background on the program here: http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-last-alaskans/about-the-last-alaskans/
The series has excellent reviews including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Alaska’s two major newspapers offer a mixed perspective with the Fairbanks paper being very positive and the Anchorage paper being negative. In the latter case, I believe it is more a function of a reviewer who often feels obligated to be critical. I base this on reading some of her other reviews.
The filming is excellent. The quality of the footage is the absolute best of any series. They even use a drone for overhead filming. There is an intimate focus on the activities of daily living. There is great detail in filming the hands and facial expressions of the people. These folks are involved in the serious business of living each day as it is presented, being resourceful and finding enough to eat. The game is not plentiful. Bob Harte stated that there is less game per square mile there than in the lower 48 states. Some of the film footage of this stark landscape could be an individual landscape photograph. Everything this far north is understated including the spindly trees. There is an abundance of fish and caribou if you are in the right place at the right time. It is the moose however that provides enough meat to get through the winter. The background music is not “Creepy” as the Anchorage paper’s resident cynic Emily Fehrenbacher put it. I find the music both haunting and fitting.
The People are easy for me to identify with since most came from the Midwest also. I’m not sure folks born and raised in Florida would ever find this much snow and cold an attractive place. In fact it is a harsh, barren and difficult place to live…. to survive in.
Why would people be attracted to a place like this? For those who live there, it is not just the location but also a way of life. Ray Lewis (who reminds me of a younger Tom Selleck) said it is a difficult life but a simple way of life. Certainly there are no “YUPPIE nightmares” like the tail falling off the pool sweep. Certainly they don’t worry about who is in or out of power in Washington or how to do an electronic funds transfer. If there is a home invasion robbery it will be a bear and not a person. They can make it and have the skillsets to live there but could they ever live in “civilization” again?
What they do worry about is more basic than that. They worry about making a mistake that would get them killed like falling through the river ice. I held my breath as I watched Bob Harte climb a limbed tree to adjust a radio antenna. Hearing the sound of another human voice is necessary for him, even if it is only on the radio. He noted that he should have died 10 times already and as I watched him land his plane, I believed every word of this lonely man.
The people don't seem to exhibit a lot of humor or joy but they do reflect contentment and a sense of determined independence. Their human qualities and care for one another are very evident. There is no acting no matter how good, that could portray the genuineness of these people who have been shaped, hardened and softened by their environment.
Why are we here watching? We are watching because we too wish for a simpler life and must find it vicariously. In their world, “Yes” means yes. The nuances of life are analog not digital. There is respect toward one another and the lives that must end in death at their hands for them to survive. They are the top of the food chain and are cognizant of it. Could we give up the many possessions that possess us? No. This show is our respite. It is our visit to the wilderness and to a way of life more suited to and understood by the brain in our head as it has evolved to this point. Thanks for sharing your lives with us. We are not only entertained, we are edified and reminded.
Trail name Padre.