Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged Alaska: Looking in the rearview mirror

I stepped through a time warp last week.

The action has really picked up in our little burg since the Memorial Day weekend.

The holiday kicked off with exceptional weather showcasing the sun escorted by a few intermittent rain showers gliding across the bay on mutable southwest zephyrs.

I was a bit taken back by the near capacity campgrounds and the fact that face masks were not in fashion in areas where a guy in my age bracket wouldn’t go anywhere near in a deep-sea diving suit. Still, it was nice to see the smiles of those enjoying the fresh air.

Since then, the weekends haven’t changed much. It still becomes crowded on the spit and one has to be on red alert for nincompoops abruptly ducking into traffic, mindless gawkers, scofflaws and, of course, those displaying the safety awareness and social distancing practices of a cattle stampede.

We also have our share of visiting troublemakers who think raising a little hell is cool but come across reflecting the quintessential description of the primary exit portal of the human digestive system. Fortunately, those types are rare but can nuke one’s patience when they cavort around behaving like idiots who have either snorted some bad Ajax or lack the IQ of a bathroom doorstop.

On the positive side, the local eateries are laying out some fine vittles, charters are hauling in limits, more businesses are open and we aren’t in the Lower 48.

On a personal note, I stepped through a time warp last week, while poking around in a storage closet looking for some bear spray and grumping about the COVID-19 state of affairs. On the top shelf, I discovered a journal from 2000 chronicling my days in the high north along the pipeline corridor.

It was fascinating to read how different my concerns were in a different place and time. Here’s a snapshot.

June 10, 2000:

Winter and spring are involved in a nasty dust-up at the moment and they are fighting dirty. The reprobate siblings of Ma Nature are slugging it out for seasonal dominance and, as usual, I’m caught in the middle of it.

It’s near mid-June, for &%#$@ sakes! Yet, one day I’m in a blizzard, and the next, I’m sliding through mud up to my seat-belted butt dodging oblivious caribou meandering across the road.

There are vast flights of migratory birds camping along the upper Dalton and, when they’re not waddling down the middle of the highway, they are attempting Haul Road final approaches over the hood of my crew cab.

There are Snow geese, Canadian geese, Haven’t-Got-A-Guess-Geese along with a badly disoriented duck. If you add arriving swarms of swans, terns, cranes, owls, falcons, eagles and other multifarious birds that must have taken a wrong turn in Mongolia, it’s easy to assume that it’s spring time in the tundra except for a small problem. Ms. Nature’s inability to control her spawn’s weather control spat.

Right now, one would have to have their head firmly implanted in a space where there is a significant dearth of sunlight to really believe that spring has an upper hand in the fracas.

June 11, 2000

Yesterday it rained. This morning it snowed. This afternoon it looks and feels like mid-July on the Kenai. This place drives me nuts.

The bears are out in force. Grizzly boars are lazily drifting about snarfing up ground squirrels and sundry roots while mulling over the possibility a quick snack on some semi-frozen bicyclists.

The sows are tied down monitoring cub-care centers, breast feeding and conducting wilderness awareness training while breaking up tiffs between their constantly squabbling tykes.

Even the Dall ewes in Atigun Pass are already suffering minor mental breakdowns watching their kids take headers off shale bluffs. The twerps think that The Law of Gravity is something that only affects geezer rams over the age of three. Luckily the miniature runts seem to be made out of rubber.

Soon there will be baby beasties everywhere. Mama red, arctic, and cross fox will be scrambling around trying to find which kit is a.w.o.l. on another unauthorized rodent stalk.

Wolf packs will have wailing pups raising a din in the den while matriarch Musk Ox guard new calves resembling oversized dust mops with hooves.

June 12, 2000

Spoke with a field biologist today and found out that Musk Ox aren’t really oxen. They are actually related to the goat family. Talk about a major image plunge. Bears lose a bit of cool too since they come from the pig side of the family that just happens to sport a ‘tude, fangs, claws, and are not very finicky about what they snack on including each other.

June 13, 2000

I’ve thought it over and a spurious spring in the arctic isn’t that bad. I just have to get used to a lack of four seasons. We have three. There’s the, “It’s so cold that, if you bump something, you could snap off a vital body part season.” A “Yo, this white-out’s not so bad, I can see the front of my hood.” season and a “Super-glue mud, crater-pocked road, miles-of-dust, mosquitoes-the-size-of-vampire-bats and wandering tourists-without-a -%^$&*^%-clue season.” It really doesn’t matter. I love it up here.

Back to 2020

What a difference, huh?

Back then, the Y2K scare was a phenomenon at the turn of the 21st century where computer users and programmers feared that their equipment would cease operating on December 31, 1999. The event causing all the angst was referred to as the “Millennium Bug” but it ghosted rapidly after 2000 launched.

This time around we have a bug that is not going away quickly but Alaskans will adapt and face down the virus just as we have with tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, and a myriad of other challenges. Why? Because, the majority of us love it up here and have a major stake in this dogfight.

Nick can be reached at

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