North to AlaskaSlayton woman talks of her Alaskan experiences
SLAYTON — Every area has its stereotypes. All Texans wear cowboy hats and carry a pistol. Californians all know how to surf. Minnesotans talk like the people from the movie “Fargo.” In Alaska, there is a moose walking down every street.
SLAYTON — Every area has its stereotypes.
All Texans wear cowboy hats and carry a pistol. Californians all know how to surf. Minnesotans talk like the people from the movie “Fargo.” In Alaska, there is a moose walking down every street.
As it turns out, the one about the moose in Alaska is pretty accurate, according to Slayton native Katie Freeman, daughter of Paula Freeman and Martin Freeman.
Freeman, a 2004 Murray County Central (MCC) graduate, has been living in Alaska for the past year and a half while she attends Alaska Pacific University (APU), a small private school in Anchorage. Actually, the main school is in Anchorage, but Freeman spends most of her time at Spring Creek Farm, a satellite site in Palmer.
Having already received a degree in environmental science with a focus on humanities and a minor in indigenous nations and Dakota studies from Southwest Minnesota State University, Freeman is currently working toward her master’s of science degree in outdoor environment education (MSOEE).
“I’ll finish school this spring, then come back to Slayton to implement my thesis research,” Freeman explained. “I’ll spend a year working on that and graduate in June 2011.”
Some myths are true
Freeman’s enthusiasm for the state of Alaska is strong, and she is happy to share stories and experiences, as well as discuss the stereotypes.
“The urban myth of the moose is true,” she laughed. “There are six moose for every person.”
One morning, while house-sitting for a friend in Butte, Alaska, Freeman sat on the front porch with a mug of tea in one hand. With the other she was reaching back into a bucket of dog treats and tossing them one by one to the two Malamute dogs she was babysitting.
“Those dogs were having a blast, running and playing at dawn,” Freeman said. “And I was having fun watching them play.”
Reaching back for another treat, Freeman said her hand encountered something warm and fuzzy. Wondering if one of the dogs had come around without her noticing, she looked back and got a bit of a shock.
“I was petting a baby moose’s nose,” she laughed.
The moose calf had wandered in out of the forest and was calmly eating dog treats out of the bucket while allowing Freeman to touch its long nose.
“It was so neat,” Freeman stated. “But at the back of my mind I was wondering, ‘Where’s Mom?’”
Mom never did show up, and after the big baby had eaten all the treats, he wandered back into the woods just as calmly as he had appeared.
Along with the moose myth comes a few others — that everything in Alaska is more expensive, that there are more men than women. Freeman said both are true. A gallon of milk costs $5. She purchases hers at a local creamery in Matanuska Valley, which is where she lives.
As for the men: Well, Freeman just laughs about a local saying regarding catching a man in Alaska.
“The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
Freeman recently became engaged to another MCC alumnus, Charlie Chapman, so catching an Alaskan male is not on her agenda. Getting back to Slayton in the spring to start working on her thesis, however, is.
Her project — and her intent — is to develop community programs that will enable community connectivity through place-based education. She plans to develop community member and student partnerships to solve local issues and assess community needs.
“Students should be looked at as a resource, not just as something to watch in athletics, arts and academics,” Freeman explained. “We need to figure out how we can get back to having a pride in our local communities. We need to rely on our communities. We need enthusiastic places for children to grow up and have a sense of localism.”
Freeman is curious to see how the projects will turn out and how receptive both students and adults will be.
“I wonder if the students will learn they can make a difference in their world. Not the world, but their world,” Freeman said. “Or do they just see this as a place to leave?”
She is hoping some student-driven projects will get kids involved in their communities.
“The beauty of it is that its stuff they already know about,” Freeman said. “Hunting, fishing, gardening…those are great places to start.”
The great outdoors
The outdoors has always appealed to Freeman. She started college planning to major in hotel management, hoping to get into a guide service/restaurant business.
“I wanted to tie the environment and good food together,” she said, then chuckled. “It turns out I like playing outside much more than cooking.”
Playing outside eventually led her to the graduate student program in Alaska, where she also teaches classes for children as part of her education.
At Spring Creek Farm, which is about 45 miles from Anchorage, she helps young children discover the joys of the outdoors. On the farm’s school Web site, it states, “Kate Freeman is an APU graduate student in the MSOEE program and a co-instructor for Farm School. Hailing from Minnesota with a degree in environmental science focused on humanities, she enjoys the challenges of building relationships between people and the environment. As a former National Park ranger Kate led interpretive hikes, delivered natural and cultural history talks and helped to further develop the Junior Ranger program at her location. She also has guided whitewater kayaking and canoeing trips and led backpacking expeditions for troubled youth. Her hobbies, when she has time for them, include knitting warm things, playing piano, getting lots of grass stains and taking close up pictures of things that can’t run fast.”
Her love of kayaking prompted her to join an expedition in May 2009 that took 17 days and covered 289 miles, from Valdez to Whittier. Freeman was one of 12 people on the trip and said she learned much from the experience. From the feeling of paddling four inches above sea level alongside a glacier to witnessing the 6-foot dorsal fin of an Orca whale emerge from the water 20 feet from her kayak, the expedition was filled with wonderful moments. During the entire trip, Mount Redoubt was erupting, and the kayakers saw mountains covered in ash.
“I have been camping all of my life, but I learned so much about camping in those 17 days,” she explained. “We were in complete wilderness, as remote as remote gets, and I’m out there cooking Pad Thai with peanut sauce.”
Camping in snow was a new experience, and sleeping on snow was something she likened to sleeping on a Temper Pedic mattress.
“The snow melts from your body heat, and when I got up each morning there was a Katie-shaped imprint in the snow,” she laughed.
Right around the time Freeman moved to Alaska, Sarah Palin was announced as a running mate in the presidential campaign.
“There was this explosion of activity in Alaska,” Freeman said. “It was suddenly a political hot seat, with news correspondents from all over the world showing up.”
Basically, Freeman said, her life in Alaska has revolved around unrest, whether it be from events political or natural.
The people she has met have all been friendly and affable, and are devoted to both the outdoors and the arts.
“There is lots of art, music and theater that comes out of Alaska,” she said. “And they are a foody people.”
A few more laughing remarks from Freeman about the people of the Last Frontier:
“Everybody in Alaska owns at least one dog,” she chuckled. “And Alaskans do a lot of hula-hooping.”
Anyone interested in reading more about Freeman’s Alaskan adventures can check out her blog at www.theventurenorth.blogspot.com.