Talkeetna is a place Alaskans go on summer weekends to mellow out. Talkeetna is a Native American word that means, “return to the ethos of the 1960’s”, says Rudi. He suspects the “mellow” has some chemical basis, and he should know. He spent part of the 1960’s in Aspen, Colorado, and remembers some small portion of it with a faded gleam in a bloodshot eye.
But that’s Rudi’s conjecture, not known fact. The television series “Northern Exposure”, an offbeat, semi-hit in the early 1990’,s was said to be inspired by the laid back atmosphere of Talkeetna. The opening shots included a moose wandering down the main street of a small town. Guess what Talkeetna has adopted as its mascot?
Talkeetna is also the “jumping off place” for everyone who wants to climb Denali, as this is where you register your expedition, get your permit, and also your “clean mountain cans” that hold your bodily waste during the time you are on the mountain. You are your own septic tank up there, my friend, and they weigh it out to make sure you didn’t cheat!
**Rudie had pictures of these canisters, but the rest of the party erased them from his camera card recognizing the danger they posed to the blog audience.
Artists have flocked to Talkeetna for years, and the combination of climbers, artists, and tourists (this is a prime stop for the Princess Cruise Lines train) creates an interesting stew. Each group floats through in its own bubble, contacting one another in the course of either commerce or sidewalk geometry, but not really doing more than having the slight social adheasions necessary for conducting the business at hand. Some minor condescension exists between locals and tourists, “real” locals and summer pretenders, true artists and wannabees, but it seems to work, in a funky kind of way.
Artists do their fine bead work during long winter nights, and bask in sidewalk kiosks in the summer selling their winter wares. Cribbage is a prime winter pastime and carvers use antlers from elk and moose to create special boards that are true works of art, and they sell them at street fairs in July.
Most everyone seems eager to talk to anyone who seems interested in listening to them. Small, isolated communities thrive on the flow of new information from outsiders, as it adds new flavors to the bland stew of well-known, well-chewed, ingredients.
Alaskans who have been coming here for years bemoan the paved streets and camping restrictions, but return regardless. Food both great and abysmal, intriguing beer and crap in a glass, warm people and the worst souls a tour guide can conjure up, mingle endlessly during a summer weekend. Rudi loves this and would move up here in a second, not thinking of the long winter nights and freezing cold. Caribou chili, views of Denali, interesting people, and no responsibilities is a Rudi fantasy.
But it is a fantasy. Talkeena thrives because it is a tourist and climber destination with some real artistic values. It is a cultural collision bull’s eye: Touristy, gritty, ephemeral, tacky, commercial, restful, and frustrating for anyone who tries to pin it down.
The artistic moose that dot the landscape are just part of the tourist net. So why does it still retain that strong feeling of mellowness that overwhelms?
Rudi was once told that you could tell the quality of life in a town by the way they treated the town drunk. If he was usually taken to a warm jail cell to sleep it off, then it’s a good town. Talkeetna seems to be a good town.
Rudi likes the fact that Talkeetna is an enigma. He doesn’t try to figure it out. Rudi likes puzzles that have no answers.
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