Laura Stewart

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Majestic mountains reach for the tufts of cloud scattering the midday sky. The inlet of deep blue sways with the incoming tide. I subconsciously take note of the hum coming from a two-seater Super-Cub flying above me. I hardly notice because I am breathtaken − literally. I am breathtaken with a beauty the locals call The Great Land. I know it as my home, Alaska.

Only two days prior, I had stood on the soft sand of the California shore. Bubbly waves licked my toes, and bright sunshine caused me to squint as my skin turned a shade darker. I looked back at the hill behind Santa Barbara and could just barely make out the sprawling cam-pus of my school, Westmont College. Standing in the chasm between two worlds, I am left with the bewildering and complicated question: how do the two compare?

Complete opposite ends of the spectrum in basically every major category, Alaska and California seem to run anti-parallel to each other. Generally speaking, California is Alaska sped up 100-fold. “Living in the fast lane” not only applies to the absurdly expensive sports cars that seem to fill every parking lot, but also to California’s ample opportunity for career expansion. “Find yourself here” is the state slogan that spurs many on to success. In contrast, Alaskan life is slower. There does not seem to be an urgency to get somewhere, do something, or be someone. Most Alaskans drive SUV’s because the snow demands it, not because it is a status symbol. In the same way, dress seems to be comfortable versus trendy. Bunny boots versus Italian leather stilettos. Carharts versus Juicy Couture. Practicality takes precedence over poise. For example, a girl walked past me the other day wearing winter boots, a miniskirt, a tank-top and a scarf, and I thought to myself, “Is she hot or cold?” The nonsensical outfits of such people can only serve for show, though it also allows for creativity and panache. The weather in Alaska usually de-termines the outfit of the day, that is, whether or not it is complimentary.

Weather serves as a major distinction. While Alaska lives in darkness for nine months of winter with two-week season changes called spring and fall, California announces clear, beauti-fully sunny days almost 365 days of the year. With the exception of a few rainy days, Santa Barbara usually stays within a range of 60-70 degrees with very slight seasonal change. Alaska, on the other hand, is constantly being bombarded with new weather patterns. Hail, sleet, snow, wind, ice: you name it and “The Land of the Midnight Sun” calls it common. Another difference is the interplay of light and dark. In the summer, Alaska has almost 24-hour days of light, while winter sports a mere four hours of daylight. Twilight serves as regular daylight, causing extreme change in sleep patterns. The constancy of Santa Barbara weather allows for easy activity plan-ning and outdoor enjoyment, whereas fickle forecasts dictate the activity and attire in Alaska.

The bear that my roommate shot two summers ago is now lying on our dorm room floor. This causes some tension since the California state animal is the grizzly bear. Needless to say, recreation and leisure activity differentiate the two regions. Common pastimes in California consist of beach sports, surfing, biking, sailing, volleyball, shopping, and great concerts. Con-trastingly, Alaskan hobbies include hiking, camping, backpacking, skiing, snowboarding, hunt-ing, fishing, and four-wheeling. Summers in Alaska are jam packed because they are so short and because “nightlight” permits it. These things define the rough and tough Alaskan, with weathered hands and a proud heart. There are opportunities for more extreme activities and changes of scenery in California, but they are sometimes overshadowed by the vastness of the beautiful shores, and cities on the cutting edge of fashion, technology, and news. This explains why Californian entertainment creates a stylish, ambitious trendsetter with a great tan. These descriptions cannot completely embody each population but, in my experience, sum up the leading depictions of each.

From bears to beaches, “The Golden State” and “The Last Frontier” each have their unique strengths. In almost every way the two juxtapose, and I stand with one foot in each. Both provide homes to me and give me access to the best of both worlds.