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Friday, January 28, 2022

15 Things Northern Exposure Got Right

My wife Michelle was born in Anchorage, attending high school at Bartlett High. At about the time I was attending college, when the show “Northern Exposure” started to air, she was splitting her time between Anchorage in the summer and the school year in college in Austin. She doesn’t like “Northern Exposure,” maintaining adamantly that it was an inaccurate depiction of life in Alaska. Her chief complaint? Bagels. She found the notion that Alaskans would not know what a bagel is in 1990 (the year the show began) a bit preposterous.

On a very technical level, I can agree with her a little bit. There were many instances where Maggie O’Connoll, landlord and bush pilot, would describe flying in one day to locations that would be severe FAA violations (too many hours in one day) if they were even remotely physically possible. There is no Tlingit community that is connected via the road system to Anchorage. If you recall, most of the Alaska Native characters in the show (Marilyn Whirlwind and Ed Chigliak being chief among them) were Tlingit, and Dr. Joel Fleischman caught a bus ride that took him from Anchorage to the fictional town of Cicely.

But setting aside these technical flaws, there are many things that the show got right about the spirit, way of life, and characters that make Alaska the wonderful place that it is.

1. Law Enforcement is Sometimes a Long Way Away, and it’s Not a Sheriff.

Okay, I am going to start with a more esoteric point, but I think it’s an important one. Alaska is not organized into counties, but “boroughs.” (This is another factual point that the show gets correct, by referring to the local government as boroughs.) In many shows and movies (“30 Days of Night” among them), local Alaska law enforcement is depicted as a sheriff, and they are always nearby. In “Northern Exposure,” for those rare incidents when law enforcement is needed (the annual theft spree involving objects along a theme – i.e., useless appliances), law enforcement is over a day’s drive away and comes in the form of an Alaska State Trooper (Officer Barbara Semanski, who eventually falls in love with Maurice Minifield).

2. Gay Couples Owning a Lodging Establishment in Small Town Alaska.

A few seasons into the show, Erick and Ronald move into town to renovate an old house and turn it into what would eventually become a very successul bed and breakfast. Maurice, the ultra-conservative ex-Marine former astronaut, is very friendly with them at first because he learns that Ronald is a former Marine. His friendliness turns to disgust when he learns that the two new comers are a gay couple. Given the fact that Alaska is a very politically conservative state – it was, after all, the first state in the country to amend its constitution to make same-sex marriage illegal – this might seem like too much of a suspension of disbelief to accept. Yet, the storied McCarthy Lodge in downtown McCarthy, Alaska, population 28, was at one point owned and operated by a gay couple (Pete McCarthy, The Road to McCarthy).

3. Obsession with Spring Breakup.

In the show, there is an entire episode dedicated to spring breakup, when the river’s ice finally breaks up and lets loose, signaling the onset of spring. People are antsy, Holling wants someone to agree to a fistfight with him (Officer Semanski was happy to oblige), Joel and Maggie have wild sex, and the show concludes with a naked run of the men down mainstreet. While I am not aware of any naked runs in the state, I know we are obsessed with breakup. In fact, the only lottery in the state – the Nenana Ice Classic – is dedicated to the very moment when that breakup occurs on the Nenana River.

4. The Sweat House.

In several episodes, Ed Chigliak partakes in a sweat with his elders, often seeking advice from dating to becoming a shaman. For the few instances where a non-Native partakes in the sweat, the show depicts the steam as being too hot for the visitor. The social aspect of taking a sweat is a very real and pervasive part of Alaska Native life out in the village. For the Yup’ik, the “maqiq” or “sweat” is a very social enterprise, with traditional uses ranging from spiritual to practical (used for getting clean). And the Yup’ik take their maqiq very, very hot. One sweat I participated in at a sweat house in Dillingham reached 260 degrees. Another one I joined later was even hotter – fortunately, that sweat house did not have a thermometer. I really didn’t want to know.

5. Culture Around the Aurora Borealis.

In one of my more favorite episodes, everyone in town is having other people’s dreams, courtesy of the magic of the aurora borealis. Japanese tourists are visiting Ron and Erick’s B&B to make love under the Northern Lights. And, Marilyn tells Joel that you can manipulate the aurora by whistling at it. That Japanese tourists come to Alaska in droves in the winter and visit the Arctic region to view the aurora borealis is a solid fact. There is some dispute, however, as to the motivation behind the visit. Some agree with the notion that the Japanese believe that conceiving a child under the northern lights will bring good luck, others claim the visits are merely because the Japanese love to travel the world to view unusual landscapes and phenomena. The Alaskan obesession with the aurora borealis has always been there, and has increased dramatically with the advent of social media. Various Alaska Native cultures believe many things about the aurora, including the notion that you can whistle at the aurora and make it respond to your tune. My favorite belief, though, is held by the Nunamiut: They tell their children that if you go outside without your hat when the aurora is out, it will chop off your head and play with it like a ball.

6. The High of the Midnight Sun.

When Dr. Fleischman first experiences the long (and in some parts of the state, endless) days of summer, he goes for a week without sleep, rather hyperactively coaching the town basketball team for an upcoming showdown – only to crash before the game and sleep for four days. The medical benefits of getting a Vitamin D boost from the sun are certainly well-known. But there is such a tangible, psychological benefit of having so much sun, you can get off from a day’s work, go hike a mountain for a few hours, and still have sunlight when you get done. The added ability to get physical activity and enjoy life outdoors is certainly something that we Alaskans take advantage of.

7. Quirky Characters, Big Small Town.

The mythical town of Cicely, Alaska, was built around a cadre of random characters: the young Tlingit man who dreamed of directing independent films and would later become a shaman (Ed), the city doctor thrown into a world he never could have imagined (Dr. Fleischman), the ex-Marine ex-astronaut with a grand vision for economic development in his small corner of Alaska (Maurice), the retiree who left behind the crazy life of Wall Street to settle down in a quiet town and live off the land as a trapper (Walt), the former local beauty queen who settles down with an older man (Shelly). And that’s just a sample. But Alaska is full of real people who are just as varied. Its history is replete with people who are escaping some other life, who have had big dreams of developing Alaska’s resources, who didn’t know what they were getting into when they took a job in some village in the bush. And, like “Northern Exposure,” no matter where you have been and where you live, you get a sense that you are more connected to people here than any other place you have lived. Even if you live in “Los Anchorage” as some folks call Alaska’s largest city.

8. Rolling with the Punches.

Shit happens in Alaska, and you have to just be able to accept it and move on. There is the episode where Ruth Ann and Walt are transporting a set of antique display cases back to Cicely and the truck breaks down, forcing them to eventually cut up the cabinets for firewood. There is the long lesson over five seasons where Dr. Fleischman slowly learns to embrace his situation and accept life in small town Alaska, often clawing and biting in resistance against it. And there are countless episodes that illustrate that life in Alaska can be unpredictable, and you can only prepare so much for contingencies; things just happen and there is nothing you can really do but embrace them when they confront you. Otherwise, life can be rather miserable up here if you expect planes to run on time or expect the weather to cooperate or demand that your power be on at all times. The list is endless. This show so wonderfully illustrated the spirit needed to deal with such adversity.

9. Bears and Moose do Weird Shit.

There was the episode where a bull moose in rut dry humps Dr. Fleischman’s truck to death. And then there was the episode where a bear coming out of its winter hybernation falls in love with Maggie. And of course, the iconic moose wandering around “downtown” Cicely, looking around at all the moose antlers adorning building doors with a certain amount of trepidation. Even in Alaska’s largest city of Anchorage (population 265,000), every human habitation is constructed in an area that was, until rather recently, wild habitat. Anchorage has an extensive network of streams, green belts and valleys that create robust wildlife corridors. Wildlife comes and goes rather freely, sometimes even in the heart of downtown. With the heart of the municipality, and area locally known as the “Bowl,” I have seen moose, black bear, coyote, lynx, red fox, and countless assortments of shorebirds and waterfowl. And animals tend to do some strange stuff when confronted with human contraptions. Bull moose have been found walking around with Christmas lights hanging from their antlers. Moose do frequently disrupt traffic by ambling around in the streets. There was a brown bear last fall going around tearing up garages in the Anchorage hillside, apparently looking for a suitable denning spot. On the rare occasion we have hot summers, moose have been known to take advantage of kiddie pools to cool off. The list is endless.

10. People do Weird Shit.

Perhaps one of the more iconic moments of “Northern Exposure” is when Chris-in-the-Morning flings a piano across a lake using a trebuchet. While his original vision was to fling a live cow, he had to change plans when Ed told him that Monty Python had already accomplished that vision in “The Holy Grail.” That was just a sample of the weirdness that people did in the show. With the numerous reality TV shows currently based in Alaska, it’s easy to see this on a regular basis. But here are just a few real world examples. This last winter, Fairbanks residents were shook by an explosion that caused damage to several houses. What’s more strange, that it was caused by a licensed explosive dealer who was essentially playing around or that the grand jury dismissed the indictment against him because they didn’t believe any criminal activity had occurred? There used to be a colorful character named “Wild Bill” who lived out in the Mat-Su Valley who famously threatened a state judge that a buddy was going to fly a plane into the court house, and later spent his days driving around a van with placards and a loudspeaker, declaring that lawyers were in bed with satan or were vampires, and various anti-government slogans. And then there are some more well-known characters, like Chris McCandless who many Alaskans believe was just insane or Timothy Treadwell who thought brown bears were just cuddly, fuzzy people (and many Alaskans believe just committed suicide by bear).

11. City Folk Don’t Quite Get It.

Aside from the fish-out-of-water Dr. Fleischman who never really chose a life in rural Alaska, there was also his replacement Dr. Capra who naiively thought that moving from Los Angeles to the Alaskan wilderness would be cool in concept but never really thought about the consequences. And then there was British rocker Brad Bonner (played by Adam Ant) who shows up in Cicely thinking he was in Sicily, Italy, and mistakenly thinking that a bunch of Tlingit drummers would want to rock out with him. Alaska is not a theme park with First Aid stations, toilets, food stands, or any other of the amenities available in more controlled natural (or faux natural) environments. You cannot expect to make a moose your friend by giving it a muffin (older woman actually tried that in Denali National Park, according to a friend who worked there). Cell phones don’t work in most of the state. Yes, we do take U.S. currency here. No, we don’t live in igloos. When the park ranger says don’t approach the wildlife, it is for a good reason. Getting closer to that brown bear out in the backcountry so you can take a close up shot with your diddly camera is not worth your life. There are just countless examples illustrating that Alaska is a serious place, and many of its visitors just have no clue how serious it can be.

12. Stop Sign as a Symbol of Government Intrusion.

Later in the series, there is a mayoral race that hinges over the installation of a stop sign at a corner in town. The existing mayor sees it is a public safety necessity, the challenger as overreaching government intrusion. The challenger wins. Once in New Jersey photographing a wedding, I overhead a conversation where people were talking about the latest actions by the local zoning board in putting controls on a development project. “Thank God for the zoning board,” one person said to sounds of approval. In contrast, Alaskans despise government authority, especially new government authority. The town of Wasilla, loathe to enact anything remotely resembling zoning laws, is a shrine to strip mall sprawl hell. And sometimes, this dislike of government presents in extreme ways. Schaeffer Cox became so furious with government intrusion that he formed a local militia and plotted to kill judges, State troopers and other government officials until he was caught, convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. When the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) was passed in 1980, it provided for 43,585,000 acres of new national parklands in Alaska and added 53,720,000 acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is the foundation of a lot of the tourism economy in modern-day Alaska. It also led to widespread disdain, hatred and threats directed at National Park Service employees. In Fairbanks, locals burned Jimmy Carter in effigy. In Seward, local businesses posted signs prohibiting park rangers from entering. The towns of Eagle and Glennallen each proclaimed opposition to the parks and even offered to shelter anyone from federal authorities who was willing to violate new park regulations.

13. Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Yes, you heard me, the show got it right about Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. In one episode, old timer and trapper Walt wanders around town with a lighted visor in order to stave off the effects of SAD, only to develop an addiction to the intoxicating light. Chris develops a massive Christmas light art display in order to bring some light to the long darkness. As far south as Anchorage, there are only about six hours of light a day at the winter solstice. But in the farther north communities, especially those above the Arctic Circle, there are days, even weeks of darkness. In the community of Barrow, there becomes a point where the sun sets in the winter and does not again rise above the horizon for 65 days. Not surprisingly, the rate of SAD among residents of Alaska is approximately 10%, compared to only 1% for southern states in the Lower 48.

14. Bush General Stores Don’t Carry Bagels.

I am sorry, but I have to disagree with my wife on this one. While it may have seen absurd to her in 1990 for the show to suggest that Alaskans would not know what a bagel is, she had, after all, grown up in the state’s largest city and had attended college at the University of Texas-Austin. She was familiar with bagels because of her rather cosmopolitan upbringing. Yet, in the show, it is a general store owner in small town Alaska who doesn’t know bagels. Dr. Fleischman walks into Ruth Ann’s store, asks if she has bagels, and she responds, “What’s a bagel?” But I’ve been to a few general stores out in the villages, some twenty years after the show aired, and they don’t carry bagels. And I would bet that if I asked an old timer who had grown up in the bush (and didn’t watch TV) what a bagel is, they would probably not know.

15. Alaska can be a Spiritual Place.

Maggie falls in love with a brown bear who takes on a human form resembling a Nordic god. Ed leaves this Earthly plain to fight against a Kruk, or demon, on a mountain in an alternate universe in order to heal a patient. Dr. Fleischman leaves Cicely by way of a magical Arctic portal that takes him back to Manhattan. Some of these are rather literal expressions of the spiritual sense of wonder that many people experience in Alaska. Like it or not (I am an Agnostic), I frequently have people use words like “God,” “Glory,” “Creation” and others when commenting on my photos of Alaska on Facebook. Many Alaska Natives describe a deeply spiritual connection to their land, waters, fish and wildlife. When out in the backcountry, if you open yourself up to the greatness of Nature, there is an unmistakable sense of connection to something vast, wonderful, mysterious and eternal. And if you happen to be out and its dark and the skies are filled with the aurora borealis, then that connection is amplified. It takes a special sort of emptiness of the soul to not feel a deep, meaningful connection to something when you are embraced by Alaska’s wildness.



31 Responses to “15 Things Northern Exposure Got Right”
  1. Burt Ward says:

    I was always a loyal viewer of the show and I found my first DVD at B&N. It was #1 with the orange parka. I then piecemeal found every other season, some in the parka. It is my go to show when there’s nothing on. I swear the show is magical. I think I’ve seen all the shows and then I’ll find one I either don’t remember or hadn’t seen. So, let me tell you, the biggest treat in my life was when Mr Brand came to our campus with a film print. He also brought the editor Adam Wolfe for the Democracy in America episode. Wow, I’m telling you every hair stood up and I was like seriously intrigued. So here’s the deal. Every episode of N-A is done like a full blown movie. It was not shot like a typical tv series. It more resembled a shoot of something like Columbo if it was not an anthology. Watching the 35mm print at our local theatre was just magical. At the end, Mr. Brand and Wolfe answered questions. Since this was a class, we had to take good notes. I started noticing something interesting about this episode. At the start, the shot segments were long. As the movie progressed toward the end, they were much shorter. I asked Mr. Wolfe about it and he said it must be in my mind. I think I may have discovered a secret about the show’s editing.

  2. MA to AK and back again says:

    Having both visited Alaska for 6 weeks and also being an aficionado of the show, I can appreciate the differences in fiction and reality, as well as recognize the efforts of the show’s producers to strive for some level of accuracy. I am not a native of Alaska and would love to go back and spend more time there . . . but I am, however, a huge fan of “Northern Exposure” and all of it’s fictional quirkiness. I own all six seasons on DVD and I have seen every episode at least 10 times (I run them in the background while I clean, do my budget, etc.)

    I do hope you’ll forgive me if I sound picky, but we NE fans just have a lot allegiance to accuracy as well (accuracy in the show, that is), and while slight inaccuracies in your post do not take away from the very well-written and appreciative points . . . I do have to make corrections to two of your references:

    #3. Obsession with Spring Breakup – Maggie & Joel did not have wild sex in this episode. They kissed very passionately at the “luau” at Holling’s bar, even though they were fighting the urge. Later in this episode, while reliving the kiss in discussion only, they had the same physical reaction of a climax, but again, no physical sex. (For the curious, they *did* have wild sex 3 seasons later during an episode where a “moody” wind called the cojos was causing an upheaval of tensions and relations.)

    #9. Bears and Moose do Weird Shit – a moose did dry hump the doc’s car in Season 6 . . . .but it wasn’t Dr. Fleischman’s truck It was a car belonging to the new doc, Dr. Capra and his wife, Michelle. (Fleischman had gone to live in the bush, and then back to NYC, so Cicely got a new doctor).

    Loved your post, and it makes me want to plan a trip back!

  3. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    As always I am pleased at the warm reception here. Frankly I have been preoccupied with a difficult transition from working on my own “Pebble Mine” discovery here in the bush, to the winding down of that project to nothing. The mine/prospect was purchased. I held a 5% interest which left me in good financial shape to be facing my 64th birthday in a few months. So I went shopping for some real-estate here in Brazil. To obtain dual-citizenship and remain indefinitely in Brazil is very easy if a) you have a reliable income from outside the country or b) own real-estate here. I now have both. If anyone is interested I bought a modest villa within walking distance of the beach east of Fortaleza. The setting and climate are both idyllic. I employ a few people which is appreciated in the local community. I pay them about 20% more than the going rate and expect little of them compared to locals who do the same. I have a housekeeper, a cook, a watchman and a gardener. The gardener is mainly charged with growing a modest kitchen garden and keeping my flowering plants that attract an amazing array of humming birds in fine shape. I relocated here about two months ago when some of my belongings finally began to arrive from the states. I have the same internet provider but for a reduced rate because I am no officially retired.
    (That is my immigration status). I can still work if I want to but only outside Brazil. I do still have some pet projects I would like to pursue so the future may be interesting. We will see. I plan to keep my property in the US because it is valuable and because Brazil is a little volatile at times (like now). I will probably sell most of my holding there though as they are expensive to maintain.

    On my return to the states I was frankly more than a little shocked and extremely dissappointed. The nation I have loved and lived in 90% of my life has changed badly for the worse. It is strange. I did not realize how much could happen in such a short time (I have only been in Brazil for the last ten years).

    I knew things were not going particularly well but frankly I had higher confidence in the reasonableness of my fellow citizens than appears to be justified.

    By Brazilian standards I am very well off, not filthy rich but with a substantial income and plenty of free time to do as I wish. When I want to travel, I hire a vehicle and driver and pay well. I have no sense of urgency about anything except some small anxiety about getting my microscope here intact. That is a challenge.
    Without it life will be somewhat tedious. I am slowly acquiring the tools and instruments to begin making petrographic thin sections of the ~ 2 metric tonnes of rock samples I have collected. I am not a particularly good petrographer because I learnt the science more than 30 years ago and have used it little since relying for the most part on consultants and being usually without the necessary “eyes”. What I plan to spend my time on for the rest of my life (if it takes that long) is trying to understand how a copper-gold porphyry on a scale similar to Pebble could have arisen in the middle of the Guapore craton 1.25 bya.
    There are a handful of other projects that I might give priority over that but #1 they would be difficult and
    #2 very expensive to carry out so they will probably simmer instead of boiling. When my rocks arrive, I might change my mind. That would be kimberlites. I don’t know if I can do anything that would be constructive WRT them from this point forward without doing more field work and I think that is getting to be a bit beyond the question really. I can’t readily walk 40 km a day without some serious side effects.
    Also all my intimate and close associates in kimberlite country are either dead or MIA.

    For the fun of it I will try to pull this all back into the context of the thread. Think if you can about a character in NE who was an exploration geologist with a strong sense of responsibility WRT environmental concerns but who was an independant consultant stuggling with the contradictory notions of realizing a life long ambition versus furthering the greed and avarice of huge corporations who would willingly despoil their precious garden of Eden if they could make a buck doing it.

    Anyway, that might be a character I could play though the makeup would be a challenge.

    Getting to be a geologist is a strange kind of education. One of the things you have to adjust to which is not really all that easy is the idea of “deep time”. Let’s say for the sake of argument I am 100 years old.
    Had I any progeny ( I don’t), ten generations of descendents would make up a millenium. A millenium
    of milleniums would make up a million years. The youngest rocks I am interested in (late cretaceous kimberlites and carbonatites) are roughly a century of millenia of millenia old. So something like 100,000 generations if everyone in each generation lived to an average age of 100 years would still be only one tenth of the age of the rocks that are my favorite critters.

    That term “age” deserves a little explanation. The ‘age’ of a kimberlite is the time when it was erupted.
    World wide, the last great outbreak of kimberlite volcanism occurred in the mid-cretaceous, around 90 to 100 million years ago. Why is any of this of any interest at all? For one thing, kimberlites are the only source rock of abundant amounts (i.e. mineable) of gem diamonds. That’s the economic hook. Admittedly, it has a strong attractive field. You find a rich diamondiferous kimberlite someplace and you stake it and lay claim to it and you are looking at a major payday when you come to sell it to whomever.

    Environmentally kimberlites are fairly innocuous. They tend to be small. 2 km in diameter at the surface
    is the world record for size. Some of the richest mines in the world have been less than 100 meters wide.
    The diamonds in and of themselves are of course an interesting thing to study but since they are worth so much money good luck ever getting a chance to even look at them let alone study them. They go straight into the profit pipeline.

    There are two kinds of profit. The obvious one, the one that anybody can partake of is money. You buy something at one price you turn around and sell it at a higher price and you make a profit. Why exactly
    that is reasonable could be debated I think. The other kind of profit is the addition of new knowledge. I think the standard euphemism for this is discoveries.

    I don’t want to go too far into the weeds and start talking philosophy of science. Like another post I have seen recently, a dead end.

    The thing that is so fascinating about kimberlites, and in particular diamondiferous kimberlites is that they are melted from the rocks of the eath’s upper mantle. On average about 150 km deep. That is quite small of course on the overall scale of the earth. One could say trivial, except that it is not. The melt for reasons not well understood often transports with it macroscopic chunks of the wall rock through which it passes.
    These tend to be eroded into ellisoidal anomalous rocks frozen into the matrix of the kimberlite magma. Not unlike blueberries in batter.They are called Xeonliths, literally, foreign stones. There are many different
    kinds which we must assume represent different stratigraphy of the course a kimberlite magma traversed on its way to the surface.

    I have a conflict here, I want to go on and explain more about how science works, but I am also acutely aware that if I try to explain mineralogy and petrology in lay terms almost any normal person would get pretty glassy eyed within two paragraphs.

    I don’t mean that as a deprication of your ability to comprehend complex subjects, on the contrary it is more like why do I need to know this? You don’t frankly. But I am fascinated by what the inner earth is made of, and will go far and wide to find little pieces of it that have chanced to spew into the upper crust where I can delve.

    Geologists for the most part are just a bunch of super nerds into exotic stuff like optical microscopy that no one else in their right mind would even start to think about. But it is up to you, not us to change the course of future events. Population is the source of hunger for resources. Not technology.

    Mudflatters are of course scattered all over the world. Think about that for a minute. We have one world.
    In the end it all comes down to education.

    Who are we really?

    Mudflats >= bamboo swamp

    ciao ciao

    • beth. says:

      I’m pretty sure I’d totally take a college course from you, KN…you make the ‘difficult’, easily understandable. I’d never even thought about kimberlites, before. Just knew that ol’ Cecil Rhodes hit the jackpot when he came across them and that DeBeers has made a killing off of them (through aggressive marketing = creating demand for something no one even really ‘needed’).

      You’ll keep us posted on your further ‘adventures’ and discoveries? Golly, it’s good to have you back… beth.

      PS — Hmmmm, you ever thought of writing a book? From what I’ve read of you here on the ‘flats, your interests (and knowledge) are so wide-ranging and you share your thoughts on myriad subjects so well that, imho, a publisher would be crazy not to snap you up… b.

    • mike from iowa says:

      I’ve an idea. Apply for government grants and return to the U.S.A. and study why so many rwnj have igneoramus rocks in their noggins. I can see a Nobel Prize in your future for exemplary service to humanity by defining and defusing nutjobs before they fall off the Earth. Before you accept this task,stop by the beach and bring plenty of nubile,beach bunnies. I’ve never seen a live one and since I’m close to you in age,I may never get another chance.

      • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

        Mike from Iowa- oddly comments don’t seem to juxtapose with each other when you use reply.

        OH well what the hell.

        I don’t know one hell of a lot about Iowa. You have a lot of corn there? Do you have a lot of whiskey distilleries? Corn whiskey is good stuff. Made right.

        It is gratifying and rewarding if you think I explain things in an easily accessible and straight forward way. That is after all the whole purpose of doing science in the first place. You get to say – from what we have managed to learn, this is the way it works. It is always provisional because the simple act of exploiting the way it supposedly ‘works’ will reveal things that don’t fit right .

        I like corn. In all its forms.

        Whether it likes me is another consideration.


        • mike from iowa says:

 is from Iowa produced more tons of grain than all of Canada,and nearly as many tons of soybeans as all of China in 2011.Iowa leads the nation in producing corn,soybeans and hogs. There are several whiskey distillers in iowa,not sure how many. Personally I don’t touch the stuff. We also lead the nation in % of energy produced by wind turbines and we are about to start adding 215 more in my neighborhood. Iowa ranks close to the top of states with bat-shit crazy rwnj pols. My 4th didtrict congressweasel-Steve King-is on par with Minnesota’s Michele Bachman. No Toucans here.

  4. DeSwiss says:

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  5. LA Brian says:

    I’m sure the producers told the moose to drop weight before they’d even consider putting hir on camera.

  6. Speaking of quirky characters, does anyone remember Floyd?

    In the 80’s he’d stand on the corner on Spenard and Minnesota (usually the Southwest corner) waving to traffic all day long during the summers. Had a cardboard sign that said, “Wave hi to Floyd.” Always had a huge smile on him and was very friendly. I always waved whenever I saw him.

    Yeah, quirkiness, Alaska has that covered.

  7. AKblue says:

    After a couple of errors (like a snake in a shower), and some feedback from Alaskans, the writers made more of an effort to get things right. They actually called the Cooperative Extension Service here in Anchorage to find out if certain things grow here before putting them in the show.
    They portrayed the quirky characters well, and the live a let live attitude.
    One if Anchorage’s real-life characters was known as “the Mad Sweeper”. He would sweep the sidewalk in front of businesses and then go in and ask for money. Most people would give him some. Once in a while he would find a crate (his soapbox?), stand on it and rail away about the government. Miss him.

  8. Zyxomma says:

    OK, I’ll check to see if the library has this on DVD; I’ve never seen it. Thanks, Carl.

  9. Alaska Pi says:

    I got a kick out of this post. Thanks Carl!

    I saw this show a very, very few times. Have not had television most of my life. Still don’t.
    I was struck with the things it got right alongside all the things it did not.
    Mag the Mick’s community radio remarks are 100% spot on. Alaska Public Radio is still very, very important in the bulk of the state away from the railbelt .
    VHF radio too!

  10. fishingmamma says:

    My favorite Northern Exposure faux pas: The episode when they had a stranger wander into town and die. They were talking about having to fly the body to Juneau for an autopsy.

    At the time, I thought that particular inaccuracy was hilarious.

  11. Beaglemom says:

    I’ve never been to Alaska and I’ll never get there. But I used to enjoy “Northern Exposure” and have a set on DVD although I haven’t watched any of it yet. Now I will. The shadow of Sarah Palin and all of the bad things I’ve heard about Alaska have soured my view. I’m glad now to be put in mind of why I liked the show. Even I, with no real knowledge of Alaska, knew at the time that it was a fiction. But a nice fiction with well-developed characters who represented types that we all know from all over the country. This will definitely be my next afternoon tea party tv series to watch with our beagle once the summer months (and iced tea with a side of a good book out on the deck) are over.

  12. Mary V. says:

    “Northern Exposure” was so creative and yet so familiar. I always felt like i was watching my friends.

    I think the story of Maggie and the bear was a modern fairy tale. I will always remember that story.

    Thank you!

  13. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    I am disqualified from commenting because I only saw one episode of the Alaska show mentioned when I was at a convention in Chicago. It had comedic qualities to be sure. The best character as I remember it was
    Brian. His first starring role. A cameo appearance at the very beginning. Nice music.

    Kind of shallow over all though.

    If I remember right it is fireworks season in the good old USA. To all those bent upon making noise with
    expensive explosives, consider for a moment how that affects those millions of your fellow citizens who cringe at the sound of explosions because they mean someone they know has died or been maimed.
    War is not a game or plaything.

    The aboriginies are not racist, If I die among them, they will treat me as a brother.

    Get some hollyweird company to come and make a sitcom in Aripuana. Have a doctor who knows nothing of tropical medicine treating children with malaria and dengue fever. It would be a laugh a minute.
    I am sorry to be so cynical, but seriously, does television really represent anything except the avarice of its

    In case any of you well meaning mudflatters have any doubt the answer is no.

    Reality is harsh, and sometimes cruel. That is just the way things are.. Am I worng to explain it?

    • Beaglemom says:

      Well, remember that Northern Exposure was a comedy. Maybe if you had seen more than one episode you would have gotten to know how the characters interacted with one another.

      • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:


        I am sure you are right. one exposure is not very diagnostic. Perhaps the body of the work had merit over the span of several episodes. Perhaps is is designed to spread that merit across as many episodes as possible to garner the largest possible audience. Fine. I don’t have to agree that those objectives are really meaningful or have any merit. I did find it humorous.

        Thank you to all the mudflatters who responded positively or even otherwise, I know I am a casual visitor here and don’t carry any weight. I like the climate though, it is an open and diverse forum and concerns itself with interesting things.

        I’ll say one more thing that is topical. The Pebble Mine thing is almost now a fait accompli. Despite the EPA assessment , given the politics of Alaska, the mine will be done. Time now to shift focus from stopping the mine to constraining it. The most obvious weak point I can see is the engineering of the so-called containment dam. I have no knowledge or expertise in the relevant fields of seismicity and earthen dam engineering but I can assert with some confidence that if the two factors just mentioned are thoroughly considered, any mining plan for pebble would be environmentally unaccecptable.

        Again, thank to the mudflatters who appreciated my initial input. The bottom line is I do not wast my time arguing on formums where foregone conclusions are the norm.

        KBO Y’all.

        • mike from iowa says:

          Krubozumo Nyankoye, speaking for myself every voice is important and appreciated here,except for the obvious trolls. I waste much time and hot air looking at the humorous aspects of topics and then long for your analytical observations to help balance the world.Technical stuff usually goes right over my head,but you explain your thoughts in easy to understand verbiage. I may not always agree,but I always enjoy your perspectives from Brazil-wherever the hell that is.

    • fishingmamma says:

      Television was originally hailed as one of the most powerful educational tools available to mankind. We can see how that has turned out. The Internet was supposed to become a great tool for meaningful communication, but I see people posting photos of themselves doing stupid s**t and photos of angry cats.

      When you keep finding yourself in relationships that are dysfunctional, maybe it is time to evaluate yourself, and not the other party.

      We create tools to educate and enlighten ourselves and the conversation level will be the lowest common denominator. I took journalism classes years ago, and we were taught to write at the 8th-grade level, because that is how to reach a maximum audience.

      You make some good points, Krubozumo, but the problem is not the show or the television, or even Hollywood. The problem is the audience. Hollywood makes movies people will pay to see. Steven Spielberg did not get rich making documentaries about space travel and the possibilities available to emerging technology; He got rich making movies where people in space spent their lives trying to destroy each other with spectacular explosions.

      You also make a very good point about the fireworks. I am planning to spend the 4th sitting up until 1am trying to comfort my terrified 75-pound dog as he tries to simultaneously sit in my lap and hide under me.

      • Beaglemom says:

        Do you have anti-anxiety medication for your dog? We use something called “Composure” for our dog who, since her sister dog died last year, grows anxious if we are not home for any length of time – like more than two hours.

        I would be doing the same with our other beagle (who died last summer after having eaten too much of her blanket probably in reaction to a very distant thunder storm). She, who had a very loud bark, was terrified of loud noises.

        As a child I was terrified of fireworks so someone always had to stay home with me while everyone else went off to watch the town 4th of July fireworks display. Today with anyone and everyone allowed to shoot off fireworks here in Michigan, I get really annoyed at the explosive noises that happen after 1 am. No one is supposed to do that but the authorities seem not to be interested in upholding the law. Besides, here in our part of northern Michigan, we’ve had no rain to speak of since May and fireworks in the hands of idiots can be extremely dangerous to all around.

    • Zyxomma says:

      Somehow, I don’t see Hollywood taking much of an interest in Mato Grosso, KN, but I always appreciate your comments. You’re better informed than I on NE; I haven’t ever seen it. Apparently, from what I’ve read, they had flush toilets in the bush! I’m glad to see you’re still here, and give my regards to Brasil. I miss it, and I only visited once, for two months in 1984. I had enough foresight to purchase an airpass, so I visited half the states, but not where you are. Then again, I’m just an amateur geologist, not a pro. Saude e paz.

    • benlomond2 says:

      HI ,KN.. haven’t seen ya in a while !! one of the things I’ve missed from the previous format has been the ability to zero in on individual’s posts… if this format does it, i haven’t figured it out.. always liked viewing your ideas and comments…

    • beth. says:

      KN — “Sometimes, I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.” ** Good to have you back, KN; long time, no hear, stranger…welcome ‘home’! beth.

      **(90 points for relevance to KN post and an additional 10 points for source. b.)

  14. clark says:

    My ex talking to her Mom on the phone in ’91. Yeah, I’m not sure if I really like Anchorage, was thinking of going someplace else instead. Well, why don’t you try Cicely? Looks like it could be fun. Um, because it is fictional? ;

  15. Thank you so very much …!! That was absolutely wonderful….all of it!

  16. mag the mick says:

    I lived in Anchorage when this series aired, and actually I loved it a lot. Some of the things I remember were:

    The importance of community radio. The public radio station members of the Alaska Public Radio network provided an invaluable service to all Alaskans, keeping us in touch with each other and the rest of the state. Shortly after I arrived in Ketchikan in 1980, I found myself with my own weekly radio show. “Chris in the Morning” could’ve been a real announcer on KRBD or any of the other little stations.

    The surprising number of Jewish people in Alaska. One episode had Joel trying to arrange a memorial prayer service for his father, and he needed a certain number of Jewish men to accomplish this. Maurice helped him by flying in Jewish men from all over Alaska: a trapper, a British petroleum executive, and several other unlikely characters. This was not as odd as it seemed, as there were sizeable Jewish communities all over Alaska.

    Finally, the overall theme of very diverse (one might say odd) people living in Cicely and all getting along fairly well. This was, to me, the best message of the show. You may disagree with everything your neighbor stands for, but when you need that neighbor, he or she will be there for you.

    Thanks for this great look back.

    • Carl says:

      Yes, all excellent points. I knew that if this was put out there, people would identify other things. Thanks!

    • fishingmamma says:

      When I first arrived in Alaska, I spent some years in the small fishing villages in Southeast. I was astounded at how absolutely extraordinary some of the people were. There were highly educated people walking around in old jeans and woolrich jackets and the barely literate, making money hand over fist and willing to give it all to someone that needed it because there was always more where that came from. Back then, it seemed, money was never the objective, it was the pursuit of the lifestyle, the escape from ‘down south’, just as people did in the fictional Cicely. Kind of a Robert Service place.

      Then they had to go and build that dang pipeline.

      • Alaska Pi says:

        Oil smothered so much of what was best here, didn’t it?
        A small rebellion to be sure, but a rebellion nonetheless- I quit carrying a watch in 1979 to protest the “civilizing” influence of big business money . 🙂
        All these years later , I still don’t carry a watch and only look at a clock to be sure I get to work “on time”. Time used to be a lot like money. Now we’re supposed to save it, bank it, guard it… Pfffttt!

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