Things That Are Not Actually Normal But Seem Sort of Normal After 30 Years in Alaska

Dear reliable reader,

One of my favorite bloggers, The Rejectionist, recently had a post called Things That Are Not Actually Normal But Seem Sort of Normal After 2.89 Years in New York City. It’s hilarious, and it inspired me to do my own homage to her genius.

So here is my list of things that are not actually normal but seem sort of normal after 30 years in Alaska —

spinning your vehicle 360 degrees on black ice in the middle of the highway, ending up back in your own lane facing the right direction, so continuing on to work as if nothing happened

breakup boots, not “Wellingtons” or “galoshes”

your 3-year-old daughter asking for moose during lunch at preschool, and then crying when told she will have to eat cow meat

sunrise at 11 a.m. followed by sunset at 3 p.m. or, if you prefer, sunset at 11 p.m., sunrise at 3 a.m.

Outside potatoes. True, all potatoes are grown outdoors. “Outside” potatoes are grown someplace like Idaho – Outside of Alaska

hiding your last-minute, grocery-store-bought Outside potatoes when your potato farmer friend comes for dinner

grinning sheepishly when your potato farmer friend finds Outside potatoes behind the box of beer in the pantry

trying to find a place for the 50 pounds of Yukon Golds your potato farmer friend unloads in your kitchen when he comes back the next day

flip-flops, with no socks, in the post office in the dead of winter. 15 degrees below zero, but who’s asking

40 rhubarb plants in your yard

your husband thinking 40 rhubarb plants might not be enough

$4.35 per gallon of gas in the oil capital of the United States

$18 for gallon of milk in Bush Alaska

knowing Bush Alaska is anywhere not on the road system, which is vast majority of state

537 mosquitoes inside one pup tent, and another million or so begging to get in

spending an hour in the middle of the night trying to kill the one mosquito that keeps bumping into your forehead

100% DEET

muktuk and akutaq as hors d’oeuvres at opening night of the community play

knowing akutuq is an Alaska Native traditional dish with seal fat, Crisco, and wild berries whipped together

thinking akutuq is kind of yummy

boiled caribou tongue served hot out of the pot in hunting camp

knowing that caribou tongue is awful and should never be eaten

elementary schools that allow outdoor recess down to 20 below zero

top secret berry picking spots

being sworn to secrecy when being led, blindfolded, to top secret berry picking spots

sparking a neighborhood feud when you accidently reveal top secret berry picking spot and 30 berry pickers show up with their buckets

hosting a party and having more snowmachines than automobiles parked in your driveway

partygoers knowing that it’s not just BYOB (bring your own beer) but also BYOS (bring your own sled) because the Iveys have the best sledding hill ever

coveting your neighbor’s smoked salmon recipe

trading your neighbor three packages of caribou pepperoni for one bag of smoked salmon and a jar of wild cranberry ketchup

seven months of darkness, snow, ice, and wind, and not wanting to live anywhere else in the world





  • Tracy K. says:

    Hey Eowyn, what’s a “snowmachine”? 🙂

    • Eowyn Ivey says:

      Ha! You got me. I remember writing an essay in college and someone in the class asking why we needed a machine to make snow when we already have so much in Alaska. Had to explain that snowmachine is our term for a snowmobile.

  • Sue Mathis says:

    Here’s one – visiting friends elsewhere in the state and leaving with a cooler filled with salmon and moose. Or visiting friends elsewhere in the state and bringing a cooler filled with salmon and moose!

  • Shelly Murphy says:

    Can’t tell you how many looks I get when I say snowmachine… her in Michigan.. its SLED.. I was so confused the first time people were talking about the thousands they spent on a SLED.

  • Annie Aube says:

    I love the flip flops! I have to say that Alaskans do dress differently that they do down here, not all be many. I was walking down the street about a month and a half ago and I was approached by a man that I assumed to be homeless, and I thought he wanted change. The reason I thought this was that he had a heavy winter coat, ratty baseball cap and torn jeans. People don’t really dress up down here but the jacket was over kill for the temperature, which is usually a sure sign of homelessness. Turns out that he was from Alaska, and was just wondering if I knew where the Rite-aid was 🙂

  • Eowyn Ivey says:

    These are all great! Coolers full of meat — that’s how Sam and I survived college in Washington State. And it’s great to hear from you, Shelly. The term “sled” is starting to migrate up here, too. First few times I heard grown men talking excitedly about their new “sleds,” I couldn’t help but giggle. Then I found out these sleds cost as much as a car, and it didn’t seem so funny.
    And Annie — that story is classic! I always feel like I can spot the Alaskans in any airport because of the raggedy clothes, duct taped baggage, and general look of confusion. Thanks guys!

  • Victoria Naegele says:

    And how about spending the winter in a tent — “must have been a wall tent.”

    • Eowyn Ivey says:

      Ah, the wall tent. If you’re going to camp through the winter, it’s the only way to go. Still don’t see what’s funny about that 🙂

  • Mr. Baer says:

    I thought of others:

    Extreme bocci, on New Year’s Day or under the Midnight Sun.

    Filling the freezer with a moose from the front yard that your daughter spotted or having the significant other shouting at you, “Who cares about the three brow tines? Just shoot it!” Then going to work while that significant one has to dress it out.

    Smacking a grouse on the way to work, slamming the brakes to run out and retrieve it, “Telling the boys, “We got dinner tonight!” , then cleaning it in the work sink.

    Sending the dog out for the paper in the dark winter morning, because there could be a moose at the end of the driveway. And heading for the outside loo in desperate straits only to be defied by a big ole cow moose and her youngun’ standing in the path!

    Hauling water in 5 gallon buckets from the creek or lake to water the large garden you planted, wondering at the time am I nuts?

    Having the slop bucket overflow under the sink (no plumbing) or just so dang full that it becomes a trial to haul it out of the house without spilling a drop.

    Hearing the upstairs outside door to the balcony slam, then have a yellow stream of liquid cascading pass the dining table window with guests at the table. No grass grew under the balcony; sounds like the title for a book.

    AND even mentioning the words, “secret berry spot” !!!

    • Eowyn Ivey says:

      Whew. I was afraid you wouldn’t show up Mr. Baer, and this one cried out for your contributions. Well done! Although the last one could almost apply to the New York City version as well, public urination and all.