The Last Alaskans

The Korths– Last Alaskans

When the last of their children passes, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge will no longer be open for settlers. Until then, the Heimo and Edna Korth live with their Akita/Husky mix Kenai in the primarily frozen tundra, living off the vast expanse of land.

Vice sent Thomas Morton out with a crew to chat with him, and came back with some surprising details about Alaska. As their plane flew away to leave them, they realized just how incredibly isolated they were, hundreds of miles away from the nearest neighbors and with the hospital only accessible via helicopter ride.

The weather is so cold, meat is just left hanging in the open and has to be sawn through with a hacksaw to be cooked, while condiments and salad dressing are left outside to keep cool, next to the guns– used for shooting the bears that come after the hanging meats.

On a clear day, their radio system can pick up signals from Europe, and sometimes even somewhere in Asia. In spite of leaving to get away from the hustle and bustle of people, sometimes the Korths feel starved for outside contact, and even feel a little less isolated by something as remote as an airplane flying far overhead.
“The stomach needs food, and the mind needs people.” Heimo explains, wisely.

He smiles while he chats, cooking over an open flame on a grill like it’s second nature or watching for caribou. In spite of -or perhaps because of- living isolated in the middle of nowhere, he seems like a kindhearted social butterfly, with pounds of wisdom to spare. He’s more than happy to talk about his ideas of human history’s nomadic nature and how humans are using up all of Earth’s natural resources, or sit and grumble about how Arnold Schwarzenegger’s traps in Predator are terrible.

When another bear comes to steal food supplies for itself, Heimo shoots it. The next day, they skin it, and take home the fur, and the skull goes to Alaska Fish and Game.
“He went to Bear Heaven.” says Edna.

“Everybody’s ancestors were hunters and trappers. Everybody, everybody.” Heimo observes. Perhaps owing in part to his lack of other people to talk to, or perhaps just his being a practical realist, he doesn’t consider animals to be quite the same as humans. Kenai is an outdoor dog, and you’ll never see Heimo thinking of an animal’s feelings as being the same as a human’s.

He sings “The U.S. Airforce” cheerfully, and Edna teases him about his terrible Eskimo pronunciation as they walk up the hill. They’re going to the cross they put up for their oldest daughter, tragically lost at a young age during a river crossing. The Korths add flowers to the display as they do every year, and quietly mourn their loss. Death is simply a part of the circle of life, and they know this well, but some wounds will always stay fresh. After, they chatter with ease about their own after-death plans for their ashes. Mourning truly is for the living, it seems.

Thomas Morton learned to trap and skin rabbits, and all about the ins and outs of living in Alaska (or as much as one can learn in so little a time), and all too soon it’s time to go home again. Edna gives him and his team mementos to remember them by (Thomas’ being a fox-fur keychain). They part ways, but that won’t be the last we hear of the Korths, I’d wager.