I finished the page proofs on Wednesday afternoon, somewhere over southern Oregon, a thousand niggling typos and errors caught, who knows how many slipping through the net? Which by the way is something to keep in mind if youâ€™re tempted to buy an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) of Touchstone on eBay when they begin to appear in a few weeks: the goofs are highly distracting to the reading experience, occasionally even misleadingâ€”thereâ€™s a reason the ARC always says on the front that passages need to be compared with the final version before theyâ€™re quoted in a review. I know I wouldnâ€™t wish the ARC on a friend, although there are always friends who talk me out of the ban.
But with Anchorage fading in the distance, I thought I would say a word of thanks to Alaska, for existing. Itâ€™s a place whose terrain and sparse population discourages pretension. Alaskans are often blunt, generally friendly, and with veins of honesty and earthy humor that run through them like veins of gold through stone. Maybe itâ€™s something about living in a place where the things that want to eat you come in several forms and outnumber you as soon as you step off the paved roads.
Iâ€™m sorry I didnâ€™t get a chance to fly around Valdez (which by the way is pronounced Valdeez, not as a Spanish Valdezz.) in a small plane, although the flight between the town and Anchorage in a Dash 8 (DeHavilland) was worth the price of the ticket even disregarding the element of transportation (there are roads that connect the two places, six hours of roads). Small planes are the real thingâ€”you can feel the air youâ€™re riding on, the texture and occasional thinness of it, and the prop going around near your head reminds you that itâ€™s a machine, not a small enclosed city in the air. (Raise your hands, everyone who WONâ€™T be riding in one of those new 800-seat planes theyâ€™ll be bringing in just any day now.)
Valdez is a small city that was taken down to the ground in the 1964 earthquake. Can you imagine a powerful shaking of the earth, so violent you canâ€™t stand upright, that goes on for five minutes? Five minutes is an eternity. Five minutes of that must feel like a descent of utter madness, a permanent state of uproar and confusion. And Valdez looked at the rubble and decided to rebuild.
Itâ€™s a nice town, small enough that literally everyone is known. There is no doubt which of the passengers on the incoming flight are coming home and which are visiting. And yet, most of the people there are short-term residents who have lived in various distant parts of the state. Partly this is because Valdez is the end of the Alaska pipeline, and a lot of the workers come and go, but I have found this true of most people I met in the state. There are natives, of course, whose people have lived in Alaska for two or twenty generations, but the number of accents you hear in the course of a brief stroll through Anchorage is amazing.
There isnâ€™t any place quite like it. Put Alaska on your list of places to see, up near the top.