LUIS ALBERTO URREA
The deeper you fly into Alaska, the
smaller the planes get. Our flight into the
Arctic said nanooks on the prop-engine
cowling. A Yupik family had checked
coolers full of meat at the gate instead of
luggage. The meat was over the allowed
weight limit, but the dad of the group
wasn’t about to pay a sixty-dollar fee.
He said, “It’s okay. I called the govern-
The woman at the ticket desk asked if
he had paperwork.
“Call the government,” he said. “They
know all about my meat.”
A woman in his party who was maybe
five feet tall wore a hoodie that said: one
tough alaska chick. She weighed 176
pounds. I knew this because it was the kind
of flight where they check your weight and
nobody lies, because if you lie, you all die!
It was worth it though, because there was
no TSA. Nobody took o= their shoes or got
X-rayed. No security at all. However, the
ticket lady did say she’d make co=ee in a few
minutes. Who cares if a bag of chips costs
about eight dollars? Alaska totally rules.
I’ll let Alaskan writer Don Rearden, in
his novel, The Raven’s Gift, narrate our
The Anchorage skyline dropped away
beneath them. They banked left over
the inlet with a rapid ascent skyward.
Soon the plane leveled out as they
approached what appeared to be an
endless mountainous void. No roads.
No lights. Just mountains and
glaciers stretching off forever in every
direction . . .
I spy chunks of ice in the bay below
that look like wrecked planes or a hundred abandoned cars bobbing around.
The roar of the propellers is soothing, and
the wicked engine vibration gives you a
nice back massage. “I bet people are really enjoying this vibration,” I said, really
enjoying it myself.
My wife: “At least the ladies are.”
So. The cries of “Yes! Oh my YESSS!”
were not due to seeing mountains and
glaciers stretching o= forever in every
Speaking of Don Rearden, what is
it about Alaska that produces so many
great writers? And I ain’t just talking
about Jewel. John Straley, John Haines,
Gary Holthaus, Erin Coughlin Hollowell,
Eowyn Ivey, Richard Nelson. Perhaps it’s
the raven’s gift. Jonathan Raban notes in
one of his books that ravens have much
more to say, with much more wit and garrulousness than most authors can muster.
Or maybe it’s a form of prayer. There are
more planes in Alaska than anywhere else
in the U.S. And fewer roads. So you tuck
yourself into a plane with a mesh bag to
hold your carry-ons, and you fly between
peaks. You bounce over Denali and are
basically flung across the starry vault. Per-
haps, upon landing, these authors are so
happy to be alive they must write a rhap-
sody. Or at least rub it in that they are so
much cooler than we are.
you can hire an air taxi out of Homer
for seventy-five dollars. It takes you across
the big bay to the native villages or the
hunting lodges. Or, you can fly to a beach
where your flying air-poet cap’n will land
on the sand so you can hop out and watch
grizzlies fishing for salmon.
Exiting the airport in Homer, I stopped
and had words with a befuddled young
moose walking down the road. It was still
looking wintry, and seemed to be in real
need of a hairbrush. Eagles and ravens
watched and lent comments. The glaciers
across the bay had apparently been lit from
within by gargantuan blue neon tubes. The
moose, chewing chunks of thawing lawn,
seemed to consider my comments before
trotting about four feet and forgetting what
he was fleeing. And there it is: some epic
verse happening right there, man.
In Fairbanks, the hotel provides you
with a snappy booklet called “Staying Alive
in the Arctic.” All touring writers who hit
town steal the booklet. It has great stu= in
it, like, “Propane gas turns from a gas to a
liquid at 44 degrees below zero— thus pre-
lay of The land
Reports from near and far