The Last Frontier

Wide awake in the land of the midnight sun

Alaska feels like a chaotic place. Are there things like movie theaters and hair salons? Sure. But there are also things like polar bears, 24-hour daylight, and a landmass twice the size of Texas. I’ve been to Alaska once when I was in middle school, and all I remember is my sister ordering King crab legs everywhere we went and the train ride we took through Denali National Park.  But beyond the tourist attractions of Alaska—whale-watching, dog-sledding, etc—it’s home to indigenous people, huge industries that have a global impact, and an array of wildlife that, due to climate change, is feeling the heat. Today’s installment of Homebodies captures a little glimpse of America’s true Wild West.  

📚 Read: Into The Wild

Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild, the unofficial book of angsty high-schoolers, follows suburban-born loner Christopher McCandless on his post-college trek from Atlanta to Alaska. McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, survived for 113 days in the Alaskan wilderness, eating rice and native plants. He has become a polarizing figure—some view him as an entitled rich kid determined to shake off the comforts of suburbia, others see him as a person suffering from severe mental illness. Many say he just had a death wish. In Alaska, opinions on McCandless skew more negatively. Rangers and naturalists point out McCandless was less enlightened than he was foolish. 

Bonus: Sean Penn directed the 2007 film adaptation of Into the Wild starring Emile Hirsch and Kristen Stewart (bit part but she sings!). A+ casting and a good follow-up after reading the book. 

 🎥  Watch: Insomnia

I love Insomnia because it starts as a detective procedural about Will Dormer (Al Pacino), a hardened LA cop, who is sent to Nightmute, Alaska to solve the murder of a local teenage girl but gets weirder as the sun never sets in Nightmute. As Pacino gets sleepier, the killer gets cockier. The setting is gorgeous, the cast is stellar (Robin Williams and Hilary Swank) and the movie is an ultimate 90s thriller. The insomnia scenes are painful to watch—someone get this man an eye mask and some melatonin, stat! 

 🎥  Watch: The Proposal

*ahem* For the record, I don’t think Ryan Reynolds is funny, and I’m sick of his and Blake Lively’s cringe public banter. But in The Proposal, Ryan Reynolds stars opposite Sandra Bullock and the two of them together are gold. Brash publishing editor-in-chief Margaret Tate (Bullock) is threatened with deportation back to Canada after her visa expires. She convinces her beleaguered assistant Andrew Paxton (Reynolds) to marry her, and they take a trip to visit his family in Sitka, Alaska. The formula for rom-coms from the mid-aughts could probably tell you what happens, but it’s still worth a watch. 

🐟 Eat: Roasted Halibut with Potatoes and Rosemary

Halibut, salmon, king crab, shrimp, oysters—Alaska's state seal should feature a seafood tower. This recipe for halibut and potatoes with rosemary seems like a healthy twist on a classic fish and chips. Much easier than cracking open King crab legs all over your kitchen. 

🍸 Drink: Alaska Cocktail

There seems to be no reason this cocktail is named Alaska but I’ve included it because it calls for only three ingredients—gin, yellow Chartreuse, a dash of orange bitters, plus a lemon twist for garnish. The original recipe was published in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. There’s an accompanying note with the recipe that reads "So far as can be ascertained this delectable potion is NOT the staple diet of the Esquimaux. It was probably first thought of in South Carolina hence its name.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

⌛ Longread: The Island That Humans Can’t Conquer

America is nuts because you can have one area of the country like Alaska that is practically uninhabitable to humans, and then you also have places like...Orlando. For Hakai magazine, writer Sarah Gilman explores an island off the coast of Alaska that many humans have attempted to live on throughout history but just can’t seem to make work. The tundra claims everything that lands there—even reindeer. 

⌛ Longread: The Detective of Northern Oddities

Always wanted to be a detective but can’t stomach being a cop? Outside magazine editor Christopher Solomon found your dream job: veterinary pathologist. Part-medical examiner, part-biologist, part-veterinarian, part-detective, Kathy Burek investigates mysterious deaths, unexplained illness, and erratic behavior of wildlife in Alaska. There’s a lot to learn here, namely that climate change is not only eliminating certain species of flora and fauna but allowing parasites and pathogens to flourish, an equally concerning problem. Burek loves puzzles, loves Alaska, and loves animals which is why she has dedicated her life to conducting autopsies on them. 

I love this quote: 

“Fundamentally, a veterinary pathologist is a detective. Burek’s city streets are the tissues of wild animals, her crime scenes the discolored and distended organs of tide-washed seals and emaciated wood bison.” 

😐 Cringe: Sarah Palin

When she wasn’t murdering wolves from an airplane, Sarah Palin was known for kickin’ around the Lower 48 saying any dumb thing that popped into her mind, like calling herself a “Mama Grizzly.” Many people posit she was directly responsible for John McCain losing the 2008 presidential election. Katie Couric does a phenomenal two-part podcast recap of the “Palin interviews,” the series of CBS interviews that tanked the governor’s public image. (To be fair, when someone asks me where I get my news these days, this is the best answer I can come up with too: “ Um, all of 'em, any of 'em that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years.”)

According to this article from The Atlantic, Alaskans hate being asked about her, and view her as an “ex-spouse from a stormy marriage.” Then there was that godforsaken reality TV show Sarah Palin’s Alaska and her daughter Bristol’s run on Dancing With the Stars. Oof. I think we can all agree that Alaska’s worst export is Sarah Palin. 

Bonus: Read this absolutely brutal op-ed by Aaron Sorkin about Palin’s love of murdering animals for fun. He let loose.