Life in Alaska

The Alaskan - Tall Tales

Written by
Laura Lowdermilk

Understanding the Alaskan way, mind, and soul

Alaskans love to tell stories to non-Alaskans about life in, where else, Alaska, where tales grow as tall as our grizzlies! However, more than one honest story-telling Alaskan has been met with the raised eyebrow of skepticism, or its cousin, the side-eyed glance of suspicion. It would be easy to blame the Alaskan (we do get a lot of pleasure from pulling people’s legs), but it’s really more complicated than that.

Normally non-Alaskans enjoy hearing first-hand accounts about life on the last frontier. For example, they’ll listen with a heartening degree of rapt fascination to how we perform mundane tasks in extremely cold weather. Reality TV hype in recent years hasn’t seemed to quench this interest quite yet.

As another example, most Alaskan kids have tallish sounding stories to tell about meeting moose at their school bus stops (just a typical daily hazard). My sister earned her moment of family fame in that situation by bolting from my mom’s side and running all the way home at the age of 4 (it was a long road too). My husband was actually trampled by a moose in his bus stop story. Explaining that the snow was soft and deep, so he survived with no broken bones, doesn’t help the story seem any more plausible to a non-Alaskan. But then much of Alaska doesn’t seem plausible.

Between dramatic seasons and big wildlife (did you see my piece on mosquitos?) there is a lot up here that comes across as far-fetched in a casual anecdote. Photographic evidence helps, but the real-life, crazy stories never warn you ahead of time so you can get your camera prepped (like the time as a kid when I almost lost my hand in a wolf trap on a family outing). Our state is big and broad too, so there’s more than enough room for people to find their own private spot to walk right up to the crumbling ledge of disaster, and hopefully live to later one-up their friends with the tale.

Sometimes, when telling their tallish sounding tales, Alaskans get a tad shifty-eyed, but it’s not because they are embellishing or exaggerating things. It sure looks like that as someone recounts how when he lived in the wilderness for years running traplines, he could smell his cabin’s woodsmoke from a mile away. Seems crazy, the guy’s eyes are shifting, probably he’s pulling your leg? Not so fast. Many Alaskans are aware of their audience’s skepticism and will actually edit their stories for believability. The guy could probably smell his cabin from many miles away, but who would believe that? Sometimes it’s just easier to trim the tale back a few notches rather than to quibble with the inevitable naysayers who insist that something isn’t possible, or would never have happened that way, or there’s no way anyone could have survived that.

Fellow Alaskans will get the full story because they enjoy commiserating over all the gory details. Our home is just that kind of over the top, limit pushing (heck, limit destroying) kind of place. Growing up here gives a great head start in the tall-tale department, but a visit well managed (or spectacularly mismanaged) will put a couple good hair-raising stories under one’s belt. Alaska is nothing if not generous to everyone that way! 

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The Alaskan - Tall Tales

Life in Alaska

Author

Laura Lowdermilk

Understanding the Alaskan way, mind, and soul

Alaskans love to tell stories to non-Alaskans about life in, where else, Alaska, where tales grow as tall as our grizzlies! However, more than one honest story-telling Alaskan has been met with the raised eyebrow of skepticism, or its cousin, the side-eyed glance of suspicion. It would be easy to blame the Alaskan (we do get a lot of pleasure from pulling people’s legs), but it’s really more complicated than that.

Normally non-Alaskans enjoy hearing first-hand accounts about life on the last frontier. For example, they’ll listen with a heartening degree of rapt fascination to how we perform mundane tasks in extremely cold weather. Reality TV hype in recent years hasn’t seemed to quench this interest quite yet.

As another example, most Alaskan kids have tallish sounding stories to tell about meeting moose at their school bus stops (just a typical daily hazard). My sister earned her moment of family fame in that situation by bolting from my mom’s side and running all the way home at the age of 4 (it was a long road too). My husband was actually trampled by a moose in his bus stop story. Explaining that the snow was soft and deep, so he survived with no broken bones, doesn’t help the story seem any more plausible to a non-Alaskan. But then much of Alaska doesn’t seem plausible.

Between dramatic seasons and big wildlife (did you see my piece on mosquitos?) there is a lot up here that comes across as far-fetched in a casual anecdote. Photographic evidence helps, but the real-life, crazy stories never warn you ahead of time so you can get your camera prepped (like the time as a kid when I almost lost my hand in a wolf trap on a family outing). Our state is big and broad too, so there’s more than enough room for people to find their own private spot to walk right up to the crumbling ledge of disaster, and hopefully live to later one-up their friends with the tale.

Sometimes, when telling their tallish sounding tales, Alaskans get a tad shifty-eyed, but it’s not because they are embellishing or exaggerating things. It sure looks like that as someone recounts how when he lived in the wilderness for years running traplines, he could smell his cabin’s woodsmoke from a mile away. Seems crazy, the guy’s eyes are shifting, probably he’s pulling your leg? Not so fast. Many Alaskans are aware of their audience’s skepticism and will actually edit their stories for believability. The guy could probably smell his cabin from many miles away, but who would believe that? Sometimes it’s just easier to trim the tale back a few notches rather than to quibble with the inevitable naysayers who insist that something isn’t possible, or would never have happened that way, or there’s no way anyone could have survived that.

Fellow Alaskans will get the full story because they enjoy commiserating over all the gory details. Our home is just that kind of over the top, limit pushing (heck, limit destroying) kind of place. Growing up here gives a great head start in the tall-tale department, but a visit well managed (or spectacularly mismanaged) will put a couple good hair-raising stories under one’s belt. Alaska is nothing if not generous to everyone that way! 

No items found.

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