Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Fourth in the Forty-Ninth

We are currently on vacation up north, spending the Fourth of July in the great state of Alaska, which we are told is actually part of the United States. Go America! We are having a great time and learning all sorts of interesting things in the 49th state. We started in Fairbanks, where we learned that despite what Santa might have you believe, reindeer are just a slower, dumber version of caribou.

We also learned that Alaska’s state bird is not the eagle or the goose, as you might expect. It’s the mosquito, which sucks.

We then learned all about the Alaska highway system as we drove down to Denali National Park. It turns out, unfortunately, the state has not had an actively working road maintenance crew since 1911. Some of the potholes are pretty bad, but thankfully the larger ones are filled with unlucky cars and pickup trucks, so you just rattle right over the top of them.

Once we made it to Denali we learned about all the majestic animals that live in the park, and what a suckfest it is to be a caribou. The winters are bad enough, with forty-below temperatures and having to dig through snow drifts to chew lichen off rocks, all the while being pursued by wolves, but the summer and spring for the caribou are worse. That’s because in the summer, there is something called a nostril fly, and it does exactly what it sounds like. It flies up the caribou’s nose.

But wait, it gets worse.

They fly up the caribou’s nose to lay their eggs. The fly larvae winter in the caribou’s throat, and then the caribou coughs them out in the spring. There is simply no way around it - it just sucks to be a caribou.

There was nothing we could do for the poor beasts, so we jumped on a train and headed for Anchorage.

We learned that Anchorage has about 300,000 people, which is almost half of the population of the entire state. And all 300,000 residents have fireworks that they shoot off, beginning around 11:59 P.M. on July 3rd and going well into the morning of the 4th. I’m not sure why, though. You can’t see them.

That’s because, from a sunlight perspective, there seems to be very little discernable difference between midnight and noon here. Alaska is the weirdest place on earth in the summer. On our first night in Fairbanks, we accidentally let the kids stay up until midnight, because we all thought it was still five or six in the evening. Around 3 A.M., we realized that the sun had no intention of actually going down. It just sort of made a lazy circling pass near the horizon, then headed back up.

Consequently, we learned that Alaska has some of the crankiest, most sleep-deprived young tourists in the world, and also the best summertime vegetable growing conditions in all of America. No one understands this better than a gardening madman from Palmer, Alaska by the name of Scott Robb. (I mean he understands vegetables. I don’t know if he knows how cranky our kids are.)

We learned that Scott is the Alaska State Fair Giant Vegetable Champion in not one, not two, but nine different types of vegetables and melons, seven of which are world records.

Scott has grown (and somehow transported to the fair, presumably with help) a 138-pound cabbage, a 65-pound cantaloupe, a 63-pound celery stalk, a 106-pound kale plant, a 97-pound kohlrabi, an 83-pound rutabaga, and a 39-pound turnip, all of which are world records.

The amazing enormity of these vegetables leads to so many questions, not the least of which is, what the hell is a kohlrabi?

Scott also holds the state fair records for cauliflower (36 pounds) and watermelon (169 pounds), but those are not world records. That means at some point, somewhere in the world, some super gardener’s poor kids were forced to eat over 37 pounds of cauliflower before they could leave the table. The humanity!

We were not able to meet Scott Robb or his family, which is a shame, because I really wanted to be invited to their house for dinner, just to see if, as I suspect, they serve the salad in the bed of a Ford F-150. They probably have dinner rolls the size of couch cushions.

Oh, well. We’ll just continue to eat regular-sized food and dream.

So, anyway, today, as you thank God that you’re an American, you can also take pride in the fact that the pioneering, adventurous, giant vegetable-growing spirit is alive and well in this great country of ours.

You can also be thankful that you got more sleep than I did last night.

And that you’re not a caribou.

Happy Independence Day!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen

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