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Preston Jones

The Last Frontier?

"If you see a moose, make sure you don't get between it and its calf." This postprandial advice was offered to me by my mother-in-law, who knows something about moose: last spring her newly planted saplings fell victim to one.

"Remember the guy at the University of Alaska who got stomped," added my wife, who herself was once chased by a moose.

So as I headed out into Alaskan suburbia with a deranged dog called Esther in tow, I ruminated not on potential crooks and drive-by shooters but on moose and wolves and bears. For this is Alaska, the Last Frontier.

Never mind the flimsy "communities" that are being founded, even here, on the outskirts of Eagle River. Subdivisions with names such as Park View Terrace and Northwood Park are dissected by streets named Driftwood Bay and Meadow Park, the absence of any bays or meadows anywhere nearby notwithstanding. Fabrications such as these make sense in Southern California, where nature has been paved over for so long the irony of apartment complexes with names like Willow Creek and Forest Hills passes unnoticed. But in Alaska, where wilderness dwarfs even Wal-Mart, the contrivances seem slightly ridiculous, or at least out of place.

Then again, maybe not. Americans have never really considered the frontier a place to be left alone but rather something to be possessed and improved—that is, made profitable. In the words of Robert Hine and John Faragher, "Americans have always had itching feet" that carried them to wherever they thought the grass might be greener. And, as Hine and Faragher make clear in The American West, the same story that played itself out in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina early in the American experience took center stage in Alaska in the nineteenth century.

Urbanites from the "lower forty-eight" still see Alaska as a place to which they can repair to overcome the baleful strains of "I know the accepted wisdom that westering folk are running away from something or making a fresh start, ...

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