Alaska, geography, history, really?

A Special Geographic Diversity

A North Carolinian correspondent of a colleague of mine recently noted that the outhouse is “quintessentially southern.” This aroused a peculiar response, and, possessed of some form of outhouse inspiration, I felt compelled to share the following (in a germinal form) with my entire department, and now (in a sort of sprouted form), with you:

In light of Ms. Diggins’ assertion that outhouses are “quintessentially southern,” I am compelled to note that although the outhouse may be the image that she believes crystallizes in our minds when we think of the South, their cultural significance is characterized by a special geographic diversity.

They are ubiquitous in Alaska, which in some key ways is quite the opposite of the South. And in the late winter, just about every tenth town hosts outhouse races in the snow (probably because it would take the canvassing of at least ten towns’ worth of people to field a competitive set of outhouse racers). The outhouse race is enough of a cultural marker to be listed in the calendars of publications in the state. Even our landed aristocracy take part, appropriating the outhouses of their serfs—a necessary price paid for the all-consuming drive to accumulate accolades.

The most famous race, from my parochially Interior point of view, is probably the Chatanika Days Outhouse Race, in the busted gold-town of Chatanika, a surprisingly scenic 28 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Feast on the visual wonders of Chatanika here (unfortunately, there are no outhouse race photos).

That said, as a (lapsed) Alaskan, I’m happy to cede the platonic outhouse to North Carolina, and we Alaskans will cling to our idealized visions of imposing mountains, abundant wildlife, bonanza oil fields, and rampant political nepotism, even in the face of imperfect realities.

I did finally find a picture of the races from none other than the Army post Fort Wainwright’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation [Program, presumably]. Looks like the races are scheduled for March 11 and 12 this year.

(Bodie Outhouse photo at top by Flickr star Sara Heinrichs.)


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