This is the text of my first Toastmasters talk. In addition to my presentation, two more advanced Toastmasters presented. I received an award for Best Speech. After listening to my recording of the talk, I decided that it was not nearly as terrible as I feared. Most of my feedback from the Evaluator was concerned with me speaking rather than reading a written text. My mentor knows that I am much more competent at writing than public presentations and encouraged me to continue to use text versions one or two more times (at most) to become more comfortable with an audience.
I DIDN’T SET OUT TO FIND AN ALASKA MAN
I grew up in southwest Louisiana dreaming my get away to the mountains and cooler weather. I didn’t have in mind to settle down locally and “find someone” as everyone around me was encouraging.
My parents laid the course for my longing to live in the western states with Saturday morning Westerns, PBS documentaries, and occasional camping trips.
My great-aunt Florence who lived not far enough away in Oklahoma fueled my enthusiasm with the nature in her letters. She wrote vivid descriptions of the birds … and wildlife … in her rural yard. I lived in a subdivision. The nearest rural area, a Forest Service pine tree farm, was more than an hour away.
During my early years, my mother encouraged my fanciful ideas. She and my father and I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming in the time before my memories began. They enjoyed telling stories of spring drives down Happy Jack Road from Cheyenne to Laramie. As I neared my college graduation and was spending summers away in Wyoming and Alaska, there was the expectation to get past those dreamy notions, find a job locally and get married. That was the prevailing attitude among everyone I grew up with. I, on the other hand, used my summers in Alaska to make headway in finding a job there.
This was in the early 90’s shortly after Oprah Winfrey showcased her Alaskan Men episodes. My family and friends in Louisiana presumed or hoped that if I was going to move away, I must be doing it to find an Alaska man.
Now unbeknownst to the rest of the country and probably Oprah Winfrey as well, Alaska man is an entirely different reality than Oprah proposed. Alaska men are rarely from Alaska and quantity does not always equal quality. As they crudely say up North, the odds are good, but the goods are odd. The rugged individualism and sense of self that attracts someone to a remote, rural area, also breeds a good bit of inflexibility and ego that isn’t necessarily the mainstay for a healthy relationship.
I was not looking for an Alaska man in the autumn of ’94 as I drove through the Kenai Mountains of south-central Alaska. I was on my way to a job interview. There were fifty miles left to go when I crested a peak and a clearing in the trees opened up. The entire west side of the Kenai Peninsula was visible. It is a broad sweeping glacial plain that goes all the way down to the Cook Inlet. A glacial plain looks a lot like a tidal flat. It’s very flat. There were mountains in the distance, but they were very far away. My heart sank a bit, but I was thrilled to be there. I was on my way to what would be a successful interview at a newspaper. I was more than happy to accept a writing job and be only an hour from hiking, biking and cross-country skiing in the mountains.
Within a year I found a job with a Girl Scout council and moved to Anchorage, the most populated city in the state. The caveat was my work. My job was to recruit and train volunteers and develop programs for girls which required travel. I would often depart from Anchorage in a jet plane, transfer to a twin engine plane and ultimately a Grummon Goose that would land on its belly in a remote bay. No one else in the office wanted the assignment. It was a dream job for me.
Over the years I didn’t hide my head or heart in the snow from Alaska men. I snow machined through the Caribou Hills with an EMT, cross-country skied with a school teacher and hiked the backcountry of Denali National Park with a Park Ranger. My perspective on the Alaska man became more open, but I was still a bit disappointed. Opportunities for moving forward in my work were limited as well.
Ten years after my first summer in Alaska, I was not looking for an Alaska man when I walked into the Latitude 62 Lodge at the foothills of the Alaska Range. It was the year 2000 and I had just left my professional job with the Girl Scouts to spend one last summer away before heading off to work in the Lower 48 or Outside with a capital O. It was time to move away in hopes of career advancement I told myself. In reality, even though I was happy there and surrounded by friends, I was unwilling to admit that I really wanted to find a companion.
Within days, I began working with a cook who spent all of his off-time in the library. He was one of those Alaska men one hopes for: attractive, fun loving, intelligent. He was drawn to Alaska to get away, but not to run away. We became fast friends, chatting while cutting vegetables, discussed inane topics like how it was impossible to find Southern style coleslaw anywhere but home, mustard vs. ketchup based BBQ sauce.
I quickly realized that I was setting off on a new journey, that I had acquired an Alaska man: a Dreher High School graduate whose mother lived in a faraway oddly named place called Irmo, South Carolina. But that is another Icebreaker for another time.
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