"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Elbow Room

On this quiet Saturday afternoon, I parked the truck near the highway bridge that crosses the turquoise water of Kenai Lake. Armed with two cameras loaded with fresh batteries, I walked out onto the snowy bridge.

I had seen a familiar sight when I’d driven through here earlier, something that reminded me of an article I’d read about how big Alaska really is. I’ve had a difficult time wrapping my head around the facts in the article, but what was in the water below me seemed the perfect metaphor for those thoughts.

First though, before I tell you about that article, I need to boggle your mind with facts. Alaska consists of 571,951 square miles. It’s more than twice as big as Texas, and Alaskans like to threaten Texans with cutting our state into two states, thereby making Texas the third largest state.

Alaska is the northernmost, easternmost, and westernmost of the fifty states. I’m sure you get the northern and western parts, but Alaska’s Aleutian chain stretches so far west, it crosses the 180 degrees east longitude, thus arriving at the easternmost.. Were it not for the jog in the International Date Line, part of Alaska would be in tomorrow.

In that article I mentioned earlier, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, using satellite data, “added up all the concrete, paved roads, buildings and other manmade hard surfaces of the United States.” Guess what they found.

The area was larger than Ohio. However, wrote Ned Rozell, a science writer with the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in an article published in the Anchorage Daily News, “That’s enough pavement, concrete and shingles to cover the combined area of Southeast Alaska and Kodiak Island.”

Think about that. Every bit of hard-surfaced ground in the contiguous forty-eight states, every outdoor basketball court, sidewalk, driveway, and mall parking lot, all of it—streets, highways, bridges, skyscrapers and eensy woodland cabins—would cover such a small part of Alaska we‘d hardly notice, especially because he covered up Southeast Alaska in his example.

Southeast is that little strip of coastal rainforest that keeps Canada from having a long western coastline. And Kodiak Island, while it grows the largest brown bears in the world, is an island not too far from me, and doesn’t even show up on most maps.

Those statistics don’t include the surfaced areas in Alaska and Hawaii. As usual, we weren’t considered. That’s why a lot of people think Alaska is a wee bitty state off the coast of Baja California because that’s where the cartographers usually put the inset box containing our state.

Despite the feelings of many of us old-timers who believe there’s getting to be just too danged many people up here, the state’s population of 698,000 means a density of 1.03 persons per square mile. Don’t overlook that point between 1 and 03. Of course, that isn’t the way it is, because more than half of the population lives in and around Anchorage, and Anchorage is way too close to where I live.

But this afternoon, as I snapped pictures from the bridge, I realized something: There’s room for all of us. Here, on a perfect Saturday afternoon in Cooper Landing with the temperature near thirty degrees, fishermen, swans, and ducks shared the wealth in perfect three part harmony.

Kenai Lake.
Note the red ice fishing shelter on the ice and the two trucks parked near the right shoreline.

This group of Trumpeter swans and their companion ducks are in the ripples at the top left in the previous photo.

On the other side of the bridge is Kenai River. The swans there are across from the fishermen in the reflection of the spruce trees.

The black Labrador retriever watches as a fisherman carefully releases a silver salmon that is way past its prime.
Opposite side of the river. Note the vehicle parked on the ice, where more fishermen are trying their luck.

Catch and release. Another salmon, spawned out and waiting for the end of its life cycle.

A few lazy bends down-river, eagle eyes watched from panoramic vantage points for dinner to float past.


  1. What a beautiful Saturday you had! Alaska is such a fascinating state. I love how you appreciate where you live :)

  2. No one can ever say you don't get out and smell the roses. Even when there are no roses, you're out there sniffing around.

    I love the colors reflected in the water.

    Alaska is much bigger than I remembered.

    Sorry to change the subject, but Go Packers!!!!

  3. Jan Marie: Thanks so much. I really appreciate your comments.

    Shaddy: And yours. We're haviing a semi-blizzard right now. I'm expecting satellite TV reception to be lost at any time. Right now, the Pack is going and going strong!

  4. Hi Gully – You oughta get a commission from the Alaskan Tourism Whatever.

    Interestingly, I've just posted something that looks at population in a different way.