Here we are almost at the end of summer in North America. I am underlining north because we have come to Alaska for a visit. The link to register for next term’s courses arrived in my inbox yesterday, reminding me again that it’s time to begin serious study and reading. It’s time to start telling friends and family leisure reading will have to wait until June 2014. Trips to the cinema or leisurely lunches will be on hold or at least few and far between. I am looking forward to studying and to my courses, and especially eager to begin American Literature units I registered for.
This year I waited until late in the summer for a real break, timing it just before the new term begins. I am writing to you from Seldovia, Alaska, about 250 miles from Anchorage and on the way to Kodiak Island. This is one of my favorite places. My family has come here all of my life and my uncle’s family ranches here. My husband enjoys it just as much as I do, I think because the moose and salmon remind him of his home in Sweden. And of course because the whole idea of the Wild West and cowboy culture is so romantic.
One amazing thing about this area is the presence of wildlife and stunning, sublime natural beauty. Most of the region is wildlife refuge and wilderness area. Even in Anchorage, a city of a few hundred thousand people, you can expect to see grizzly and black bear, fox, wolves, moose, and other wildlife around town. There are salmon runs in the city too. Seldovia is much smaller than Anchorage, with just a few hundred people living here. There are no roads; travel in and out is by boat or plane. It’s best to check the porch for bears before opening the front door. My collie dog, Jelly Bean, has to stay right beside me all the time. She is a city dog, after all and not accustomed to this kind of outdoor adventures, even at home in Pittsburgh. She is not much of a buccaneer but the cool weather and splendid scenery is perfect for us.
Cowboy culture is surprisingly strong in Alaska; at least it seems so to me. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering has representatives from Alaska. An old friend of ours from New Mexico is a cowboy poet and met us for a reunion at the Anchorage Rodeo. It’s very interesting to get his perspective about this unique and incredibly diverse community with such a rich history, just like cowboy culture. For example, in Anchorage schools close to 100 different languages are spoken. Besides the extraordinary number of Native American languages others like the Hmong language are mixed in with the ‘western’ flavor. I personally enjoy the cultural mash-up and can’t wait to hear the stories and poetry or songs he will compose about it.
The Western Folklife Center, organizers of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, recognizes the incredible cultural diversity in western rural America. To me, it is a wonderful reminder of the powerful voices that are rendered in the texts in my reading bag. While I am waiting for my resident cowboy poet to express the complexity of this experience I am settling into a wonderful comfy chair with Jelly Bean, a warm blanket, a great cup of coffee, and a stack of reading from Willa Cather to James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kate Chopin, and Tennessee Williams. I don’t know when I have looked forward to studying as much as I do now. As they say out west, let’s rodeo!
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.