Frank E. Baker

Over the years I have observed fewer and fewer kids playing outdoors in Anchorage and outlying areas. But it wasn’t until a business trip to west Chicago several years ago that something really struck home. It was a beautiful Sunday in May, and I spent the afternoon walking through vacant parks and baseball diamonds. These were real baseball diamonds with backstops, dug outs, smoothly-raked infields, mown grassy outfields and perimeter fences -- not the rough, gravel lots we played in as children in Seward. But there was no one there. “Where are all the kids?” I almost uttered out loud. When we were kids we would have thought we’d gone to heaven to have ball fields like this. Most of the adults I know, even young adults, spent quite a bit of their youth in the outdoors. But that doesn’t...Frank E. Baker
Alaska’s history is replete with supersized ideas and achievements. With impending state capital budget cuts, we’ve shelved some of our grand schemes. But that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking creatively, with big ideas as part of the mix. Granted, a lot of Alaska’s big ideas didn’t get very far. We’ve expressed a desire to move our state capitol for more than half a century, and even voted three times to do so. In the 1980s, the small community of Willow was fully prepared to receive the official state seal after a voter referendum approved moving the capitol there -- but another referendum listing the relocation’s cost fell to defeat. We wanted it, but we didn’t want to pay for it. How many folks remember Rampart Dam, the 1960s proposal to dam the Yukon River and create a vast...Frank E. Baker
Watching the garbage truck’s mechanized arms grab and raise my fully loaded plastic garbage can off the street, hungrily ingesting its contents, I thought about a winter long ago when I was a “swamper” on the back of one of those trucks -- a job that like so many jobs in today’s automated world -- is now obsolete. With subzero temperatures and biting wind, it wasn’t the most pleasant job I ever had, but it paid well, and I made a lot of friends along the route -- people who would often proffer tips and gifts. All considered, however, it was a job I’m glad I only held for a few months. For quite a few summers I counted fish for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on the Alaska Peninsula and the south end of Kodiak Island. We manually counted the fish with little clickers called "tally...Frank E. Baker
I recently sent some hiking photos to a friend in Washington state, who many years ago lived in Alaska. He emailed back in laudatory fashion, praising me as a “true Alaskan.” I responded by telling him there are as many types of Alaskan as there are opinions on salmon management or oil taxation. I added that to be a true Alaskan one needs to be a bit crazy, and in that case, he was a true Alaskan. To the best of my knowledge, we’re the only state fixated on such a title, and on how long we’ve each lived here. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in the contiguous 48 states use the phrase “a true Pennsylvanian” or “a true Oregonian,” or brag about how long they’ve resided in those locales. Perhaps up here at 61 degrees north latitude, in a place where some people can see Russia from their...Frank E. Baker
We are the people who lose things, and it’s doubtful we can be helped. Throughout our lives, wherever we roam, we leave a trail of sunglasses, hats, coats, cameras, wallets and in more recent times, an assortment of mobile phones and iPods. If we’re inclined to venture into Alaska’s great outdoors, we leave behind binoculars, hiking poles, gloves, ice axes, knives and heaven forbid, pricey GPS units. We’re fortunate, however, to live in a state inhabited by legions of Good Samaritans who come to our aid, pathetic as we are. My history of losing things would probably interest many psychiatrists. Perhaps those leaning toward the world of metaphysics would be even more interested -- because I have an uncanny luck in getting lost items back. Of course, I couldn’t do it without those legions...Frank E. Baker
Following the recent announcement by University of California and Harvard researchers that the blood of young mice made older mice stronger, both mentally and physically, some people might be worried about a proliferation of vampires preying on young human beings, and who knows, maybe even mice. Admonitions of “don’t try this at home” were quick to follow the announcement, which offered a ray of hope that in blood proteins like GDF11, there might indeed lurk a “holy grail” to curtail the effects of aging. But after living in Alaska for nearly 70 years, I am convinced that rather than chasing children around with a hypodermic syringe, I have already found a fountain of youth that I can visit as often as I like: Chugach State Park. Looking back over my logbooks chronicling hikes and climbs...Frank E. Baker
Every year about this time I think about the devastating earthquake that struck Alaska at 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, wondering if it will ever happen again. Everyone in Alaska from Ketchikan to Dutch Harbor has told their 1964 earthquake story except me. You see, I was never allowed to tell one because I wasn't in Alaska when it happened. Even my parents wouldn't let me have an earthquake story. On March 27, 1964, I was a college student enjoying spring break near Vancouver, Wash., on the Washington-Oregon border. Yes, I felt the earthquake, and I don't care if anyone believes me. I was staying by myself in a friend's cabin on a small lake, out in the country. About 7:36 p.m. (a two-hour time difference between the U.S. west coast and Alaska back then), I was standing on the lake’s...Frank E. Baker
Because of the large crowd, I sat in a relatively empty area not far from my boarding gate at the Las Vegas airport. Plugged into the wall a few feet away, my iPhone was gleefully receiving its daily power ration. I looked up and saw that my flight to Portland, Ore., was boarding, stuffed a book into my small pack and walked away, unwittingly abandoning my little electronic friend, whom I affectionately call 4G, pronounced phonetically: “forgee.” Fifteen minutes into the air and ensconced in my aisle seat, I reached into my small pack for some earphones and realized 4G wasn’t with me. I emitted an audible gasp, which I believe awakened my slumbering seatmate. At this point I had to suppress an overwhelming impulse to share my misery with someone. Luckily, one of the flight attendants came...Frank E. Baker
I read with interest that Wal-Mart was under investigation for the Nov. 28 tragedy in Mineola, N.Y., when a worker was trampled to death by hordes of frenetic Black Friday shoppers. There was an assertion the store didn't have the right "protocols" in place to handle a bargain-crazed mob who couldn't wait to get their sweaty hands on big-screen TVs and other merchandise from China and Korea. Rather than castigate Wal-Mart for not acknowledging the fact some 21st century humans have regressed to the level of Neanderthal, how about examining the latter's despicable behavior? Perhaps Wal-Mart is remiss in not placing a large sign above the door that read: "Please move into the store in an orderly, civilized fashion and try to refrain from acting like imbecilic animals, even though we realize...Frank E. Baker