I waste more time than you do. I waste more time than everyone.
My normal day is spent on the couch, surfing the web, aimlessly. Once I finish the crosswords in the BDN and New York Times, the surfing begins. I used to walk downtown, swim and bike a little, but that’s all gone. Too cold, too hot. My knees hurt. My back hurts. My feet hurt.
Naturally, I check the History Channel for the latest news on Stalingrad and World War II. I keep my eye on that Hitler guy. I stop at “Cops,” naturally to feel better about myself. Hey, I am no Wall Street hedge fund trader, but I am not shirtless, handcuffed and tattooed in the back of a police car in an Oklahoma trailer park. There is no explanation for my addiction to the MTV series “Ridiculousness,” except that it makes me laugh out loud. I am in love with cast member Chanel West Coast, of course.
There is even less explanation for my addiction to all things Alaska. I never surf past one of my Alaska shows. I hate the winter. I hate hard work. I would never kill and skin an animal. But that’s all my Alaska friends do. Maybe that’s why I must watch their lives as I sit under my afghan blanket on my comfortable couch.
I am SO glad I am not there with them.
The show that sucked me in was “Alaska, The Last Frontier,” on the Discovery Channel. Our pals, the Kilcher family, have lived and worked on a homestead for four generations. If they ever sit still, the camera crew never records the event. I am so addicted to their endeavors that I once watched an entire show about building a new outhouse. An outhouse. These people are homesteading, remember?
The Kilcher family’s start in Alaska came in the 1940s, when the patriarch Jules Kilcher left Nazi-plagued Europe for Alaska to homestead on 160 acres near Kachemak Bay. Jules helped write Alaska’s first state constitution and served in the Alaska Senate. The homestead has grown to 600 acres over the years. Jules and his wife, Ruth, had eight kids here in this harsh land. Otto Kilcher and Atz Kilcher, featured in “Alaska: The Last Frontier,” are two of the sons. The daughter, singer Jewel, is not even mentioned on the show, for some reason.
Thank God they have a front-end loader and a bulldozer to perform their endless chores, but they make me tired just watching.
If you want a place to sit and watch the world go by, then Tanana, Alaska, is not the place to be. Don’t watch “Yukon Men” on Discovery. The Tanana residents might work harder than the Kilchers. It always seems to be 40 below, and everyone is running out of meat and the grizzly bears are roaming through the village. The series details the lives of several inhabitants of the remote Alaskan village which is situated by the Yukon River. These men make their living by fishing, hunting and trapping game as well as raising sled dogs and logging, all in below zero weather for months at a time. The show makes Maine weather seem almost bearable.
Critical reception by media of “Yukon Men” has been mostly positive. Tom Conroy from Media Life Magazine said, “The show doesn’t need all this dramatic foreshadowing. The scenes of hunting, setting traps, dressing a carcass and even stoking the furnaces at the water plant are enlightening and fun. Most of the men work with their sons, and the bonding isn’t overhyped. The half-light of winter gives an extra beauty to the spectacular landscapes.”
One of the key homesteaders is Stan Zuray, whose accent I found familiar. He is a Boston transplant with more than 40 (brrr) years’ experience in the Alaskan interior, hunting and trapping.
But “Alaskan Bush People” is the fascinating Alaska show. This Discovery program follows the Brown family a little bit too closely as they hunt and fish and cut down every tree in sight, all while looking out for those pesky grizzlies. The viewers even went on a few dates with one of the aggressively odd sons. Our boy climbed a tree to impress his date. We never saw the girl again.
“Our family is doing what is natural for human beings to do. We survive on what we hunt, fish, trap and barter for,” Billy Brown says. “We explore, we wander, we live. If you think about it, it’s the life we were meant to live.”
It always seemed odd that the Browns never missed a meal despite their isolation, and they seemed to have money to replace one fishing boat after the other. Money never seemed to be mentioned.
There could be a reason.
Billy Brown, the father and leader of the pack and son Joshua appeared in district court recently to admit they had falsified records to get an Alaska state subsidy. Billy collected nearly $8,000 in the subsidy while he was living elsewhere. Elsewhere? Where was he? Bermuda? Florida? Turks and Caicos? Joshua ripped off the system for $1,174, he admitted in court.
They have to pay back the money, serve probation and perform community service. But their biggest crime is the illusion that they fought the wilderness for their very lives, their daily meal. What will we find out next? They had caterers? They had rooms at the Holiday Inn when the temperature dropped below minus 20?
What can you believe in if you can’t believe in Alaska homesteaders while you are on the couch, wood stove roaring?
I might have to go back to Hitler.
Emmet Meara lives in Camden in blissful retirement after working as a reporter for the Bangor Daily News in Rockland for 30 years.