Tracey has lived in Alaska for 7 years. Originally from Ohio, she was in the Navy and moved around a lot. She has been all over the US, but when she got to Alaska, she felt like it was home.
I grew up in farm country in Ohio and much of who I am goes back to my upbringing there. Even though we didn’t live on a working farm, my parents had farmed, my grandparents farmed, and I was heavily involved in 4-H and other organizations that centered around it. My love of cooking, canning, sewing quilting, tractor pulls, cars and many other things can all be traced back to my roots in farm country.
When my husband and I decided to move from “big city” Wasilla, Alaska, we knew we wanted to live a simpler life and get away from it all, but we had to choose where that would be. Alaska is a really big place (think Texas x2.5) so there were lots of options, but we had a few basic criteria: We wanted to be on the road system (or close to it), we wanted to be within 4 hours driving distance of one of the larger cities (Fairbanks or Anchorage), but we also wanted to be out and away from everything. We searched for over 2 years before we found a nice little piece of property about 30 miles outside Delta Junction, Alaska.
A lot of folks have never heard of Delta Junction. Some Alaskans can’t even tell you where it is on a map, but it’s a hapnin’ little place if you like small towns. Delta Junction’s main claim to fame is that it is the end of the Alaska Highway, the road built during World War II that connects the lower 48 states to Alaska by way of Canada. But Delta Junction is much more. One of it’s best kept secrets (unfortunate, really) is that it’s a huge agricultural area. Crops include some of the best hay in Alaska, as well as potatoes and other root vegetables, livestock to include elk, bison, yak, and cattle, and one of the last dairy processing plants left in Alaska.
When Tony and I found this property, I was giddy. The thought of settling back into a place that was centered around agriculture excited me. It’s like getting back on a bicycle – it all came flooding back, all those good memories of growing up in a small town. Like every small town, it has it’s quirks, but I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Think Petticoat Junction (without the train) meets Green Acres meets Northern Exposure. Yeah – it’s just like that, well, sort of…
Anyway, here’s an image taken yesterday afternoon at sunset on my friend Ruby’s farm, just down the road from my place. Looks just like Ohio – except for those gynormous mountains in the background!
Now who would not want to live here, or even visit?
Just check out that view!
“Skookum” is a Chinook word which loosely translates as “good.” A lot of Alaskans use this word to describe any thing or situation that is good, or productive, or a treat perhaps. I’m going to start a daily column called Skookum that is basically a place where I might post a photo, or comment, or question, and you guys can just chat! You can chat amongst yourselves or ask me questions about my life in Alaska, my photography, or whatever. Hopefully it will be a fun place to hang out.
So, for today’s entry, I thought I’d post this photo from Thanksgiving weekend. Some of you may have tried this before – taking balloons, filling them with colored water, then letting them freeze. This was about as close as we got to fireworks last night, as my husband and I decided to stay in. We’ve been having some terrible wind storms for nearly two weeks, with winds anywhere from 30 mph all the way up to 60 mph. The other day, I noticed the snow drifted up against these balls of colored ice and I also noticed that the relentless wind had polished them so they were very shiny. You can really see the difference!
So, tell me, what kind of fun things have you done during the holiday season to brighten up your part of the world?
Skookum – A Chinook term generally meaning “something good”
The winter solstice was a couple of weeks ago, which means we’re on the uphill swing as far as light goes. This time of year, we have less than 4 hours of daylight. Further north, the sun sets is doesn’t rise again for weeks. Further south, they get about an hour more per day. I guess that’s why Alaskans enjoy holiday lights so much. We put them up early in the season, usually before Thanksgiving, and keep them up throughout the winter. The bright colors remind us of the auroras and keep our spirits up during those dark, cold winter 20-hour-long nights. Every community has them, as well as many homes. In Delta Junction the Sullivan Roadhouse near the visitor center is beautifully lit throughout winter. Here is just one small sample of an Alaskan pick-me-upper!
So tell me, what do you do to get through the winter doldrums?
Tracey Mendenhall Porreca
My husband and I live in Delta Junction, Alaska. Delta (as the locals call it) has many personas – farming community, military community, end of the Alaska Highway community, but today I’d like to talk about Delta Junction, the home of the wild Delta Bison Herd. Local resident and former Yukon Quest musher John Schandelmeier describes his recent experience with the local herd in an article for Alaska Dispatch News:
“My 10-dog team rounded the first corner out of the yard at a dead run. I was on the drag with both feet, but that had little effect when a big brown object emerged in the pre-dawn ice fog. Moose? No. A bison! A big cow was directly ahead in the trail. She stood her ground until the dogs almost reached her, then wheeled and bolted into the scattered black spruce. The dogs continued their mad run for another 400 yards before finally heeding my efforts to slow them. Moose are an everyday trail occurrence near Delta Junction, but bison are a novelty for the dogs. I continued down the trail and soon spotted where the rest of the herd had crossed.”
I had my own experience with the wild Delta Herd our first winter in Delta Junction. I was working part time at the local grocery store, an excuse to get out of the house and meet some new folks in the community. I worked mornings so I left the house about 6:00 am for town. We live nearly 30 miles east of town, off the Alaska Highway. It was December so this early in the morning, it’s dark – really really dark. Driving in Alaska requires keeping an eye out for moose, so I was being somewhat diligent when out of the corner of my eye I saw something to the left, in the tree line. “Must be a moose,” I thought, so I slowed down, but what happened next really got my attention. From the left side of the road, literally barreling through the trees, was part of the wild Delta Bison Herd. I stopped my car as they ran out in front of me. Thankfully the Alaska Highway is fairly deserted this time of year so I just sat there, watching as 15-20 of these magnificent beasts ran in front of my car from left-to-right. It was such an impressive site! I couldn’t get over how big these things were – I’d never seen them so close! Their backs were literally as high as the roof of my Jeep and they were just inches from my grill. As quickly as they came, they were almost gone when I noticed the last bison in the group pass in front of my car, but out my passenger window I saw him pause, then turn around, then lower his head. Next thing I know, he is barreling toward my vehicle and before I knew it, he rammed the right rear quarter panel of my Jeep!
The whole car shook, side-to-side. I just sat there – “did that just happen?” While my mind was still trying to process it all, he gave me a shrug and trotted off into the woods to join his buddies, as if to say “that should teach you to drive down MY road!” I sat there for a minute, then slowly pulled forward. I was worried that there might be damage to the rear of the Jeep and concerned something might rub against the tire, but all sounded good. Still, I drove about a mile to where I thought it was safe, pulled over, and got out to check for damage. Nothing but a dent, so I drove on to work. I called my husband along the way. “You hit a bison?” he said. “NO!” I said, “the bison hit ME!” We both laughed. Once at work I started telling my story, quite frankly expecting everyone to laugh it off and not believe me, but to the contrary! The owner of the store relayed a similar incident from a neighbor a few years back. She encountered the herd in the middle of the road, stopped. After sitting there waiting for them to move, she honked her horn – BIG mistake! They literally started attacking her car and totaled it. They did so much damage to the radiator and front it could no longer be driven – I consider myself fortunate!
It seems most of my neighbors have similar stories of encounters. Most of these neighbors are farmers, and consider the herd something of a nuisance. From the Alaska Dispatch News article:
“Given the popularity of the Delta hunt, one might wonder why the state doesn’t let the herd increase to allow greater hunting opportunities? Conflict with the agricultural project is the answer. Problems began in the 1950s. Finally, in the early ‘80s, the state appropriated $1.5 million to create a bison winter range. A 90,000-acre parcel was set aside. Nearly 3,000 acres were cleared and presently 500 acres are fertilized and managed to keep the bison, which can weigh nearly a ton, from neighboring croplands.
The project has been successful for the most part. There is still some crop damage, but it is mostly isolated, as the farmers have also learned how to prevent damage, and most of the bison stop and feed on the fescue and bluegrass planted on the bison range. The range is managed almost exclusively by drawing permit fees.
The Delta Junction businesses get an economic boost from hunters who travel from afar for the rare opportunity to hunt bison.”
Hunts from this herd are very popular, because of the relatively low cost of hunting them in comparison to purchasing an animal from a private ranch or one of the other herds available in the state. But hunting from the wild herd is not the only option in Delta Junction. One of my neighbors runs the Alaska Interior Game Ranch, which is one of the more popular private ranches in the state. Individuals come from all over Alaska and the United States to participate in these private hunts and harvest an animal. These animals certainly are beautiful, but definitely not as domesticated as, say, cattle. And isn’t that view gorgeous?