Trash or Treasure

There are quite a few Alaskans who have a tendency to hold on to things.  In a state where stores are few and far between, people aren’t eager to part with anything, with the thought that they may be able to salvage a part later on. While pragmatic in theory, this seems to devolve into the practice of accumulating and storing large amounts of junk.  All throughout Alaska, in every town there will be at least one yard, but often multiple, filled with old cars, tools, mining equipment, and general trash.  The concept isn’t new. Around any old homestead or mining site within the state one is likely to encounter piles of trash, in the form of rusted out tin cans, strewn about the nearby area.

Wiseman is no exception.  There are not one, but a few yards that are overflowing with junk.  Old machines that are no longer operable stand among the spruce trees.  Buildings cluttered with clothes, mattresses, tools and all kinds of goods crowd certain properties.  Old cars sit neglected and become part of the forest, as vegetation grows up beside them.  Rusted out mining equipment is put front and center in hopes of honoring the community’s past.

The most notable thing in Wiseman related to trash was formed years ago.  Over 30 years ago, the mail would be distributed at Charlie Breck’s cabin, an old timer in the village.  Residents would walk over with a 6 pack, share cold drinks and stories as the mail was distributed.  Once finished, the cans would pile up inside the cabin or would be tossed out in the yard.  This didn’t sit too well with Charlie.  He decided to stake spruce poles in the ground, wrapping a chain link fence around.  Stretching 10 feet high, he had a receptacle where he could toss the cans.  Filled with beer cans, it was dubbed, “the white man’s totem pole.”


Since Charlie has passed on, the totem pole has been relocated.  It was moved to another resident’s property near the entrance of the community.  Over the years, the totem pole has expanded with years of drinking and the subsequent addition of more cans.  Recently, a new fence was put up next to the original.  With only a few cans scattered among the bottom, it has a ways to go to match its predecessor.  With the darkness of winter unlikely to change sometime within the next few centuries, it won’t be too long before there isn’t one, but two totem poles in Wiseman.


1 Comment

  1. Fourteen years of living near Livengood has allowed time to revel my own Alaskan totem not of beer cans but bright yellow empty Tops tobacco cans, and at 71 I guess that would have been my legacy, if it wasn’t bulldozed when I moved out of that cabin.

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