From the Motor City
to the Last Frontier
Matt Paveglio, originally from Manitou Beach, Michigan, is a nurse at work and a man of many parts after hours: a hunter, a fisherman, a hiker, a musher. He now lives at Eagle River.
How to get out of the Motor City and into the Alaskan wilderness? Matt Paveglio shares his 10-year experience living the Alaskan lifestyle.
- How long have you lived in Alaska and why are you still here?
- After finishing my nursing degree in Michigan I took my family to Alaska for a travel position in Anchorage. We loved the outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking and all of that. We signed up to be in Alaska for 3 months, drove 3,700 miles to get up here, 72 hours on the road, it took us about 5 days to get here. We took every possible sporting good you could think of: we brought guns, bikes, golf clubs, camping gear and thought we were prepared. Alaska didn't allow us to conquer her in the least during those first 3 months. The contract ended and reluctantly we packed and headed back down the road to Michigan. It was an interesting time because Sarah Palin, then the governor of Alaska, just won the nomination to run for vice-presidential candidate. So I just remember we were driving out of town and Sarah was doing a speech at Elmendorf Air Force base and the trees were all yellow, it was mid-September. It just stuck with me as we were leaving it was the middle of hunting season and I wanted to hunt that year. I was kind of low, I didn't feel we've gotten everything done that summer in Alaska we were leaving Alaska forever. Then, all of a sudden, I got a call from my recruiter who dropped me into Alaska and she was like: 'If you want to work the holidays up here we would give you this bonus'… And I said: 'I'm already 2,000 miles away from Alaska. You could've told me this 3 days ago!' So we went back to Michigan only to eventually come back here with our then one-year old daughter and a couple of dogs. The second contract was supposed to be a three-month gig that turned into 10 years. I am not here because the job market is really good. I am here more for the adventure: it is absolutely the outdoors for me. Alaska is about hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, hunting, fishing and, now, mushing to me. Overall, to me and my wife, it is an adventure, a rewarding place to go outside: we came from flat farm fields of Michigan. Here, in Alaska, we take a drive just 5 miles down the road and it is thousand miles of wilderness. And the wilderness just goes off to nowhere…
- Alaska is…
- Alaska is my forever home. I'd never thought I would come to Alaska. I've never dreamt of Alaska but when I came here it captured me. Alaska is an opportunity to test myself. Just being here is an identity. I don't think I've ever felt that way in Michigan. I think it is just a right spot for me.

- What is the spirit of Alaska in terms of values people live?
- I think in some people's minds we, the Alaskans, are pioneers. We have more of a community sense here and that's what I love: it doesn't matter if we have the same political or religious beliefs. As long as you are a providing, contributing person people accept you.
Alaska is my forever home. I've never dreamt of Alaska but when I came here it captured me. Alaska is an opportunity to test myself. Just being here is an identity.
- Since time immemorial the Native peoples of Alaska have lived here. Then the Russians came. Then Alaska became a part of the United States. In the end, who has the most claim?
- The Natives have the biggest claim because they've been here the longest. It goes back to the identity, who the people are. It is a complex question so I think now it is anybody that comes here. So now I think no matter who you are if you are here and you're contributing, you add something to the community you belong then you have an absolute claim.
- The First Peoples of Alaska, including Inupiaq, Tlingit, Athabaskans, Yupik, Alutiiq and others, how large is their role in modern Alaska today?
- I think it is an interesting and evolving role. I think that with the internet different Native communities are modernizing quicker. With an easier access to things their people becoming more and more educated. The Native corporations give them some sort of 'say' in our state. So their role is expanding. I still think it is still predominantly Caucasian-run state government. But the Native corporations have their 'say' and I think it is really Alaska's future.

- Alaska and the 'Lower 48': do people do things differently there?
Aside from things like regional dialect, because regional dialects in the States are different. Aside from Texas because Texas has sense of pride because it is such a big state and who the Texans are. So we are in Alaska have kind of that appeal. One thing that Alaskans do things differently up here is help each other and have some community support. Alaskans are also more acceptive in some ways comparing to the 'Lower 48'. It is different in the 'Lower 48', I think it is more secular there. We're just more adventureous, you know.
- Do reality TV shows genuinely portray Alaska or they distort it?
- It depends on which show. Some things are portrayed in a blown-out proportion. But I can tell you from my experience that some of the Alaska TV shows are not a blown-out proportion, in fact. These shows do portray accurately what is going in Alaska. I think that it is great because it scares people and keeps them from coming up here (laughing). There are shows like 'The Bush people of Alaska', they live in Southeast Alaska, it is accurate. But I don't think it is representative of the local population. And also 'Life below zero', I think it is a pretty accurate show. For the most part, I still watch them and the things they do I want to do. And 'The Deadliest Catch'… I wouldn't want to do that job because it is dangerous and frightening and scary. It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. I want nothing to do with going fishing in the Bering sea because it looks scary and I don't do well in oceans in general but I think it is accurate. And it is just such a simple story: we're going crabbing. It is freaking wild!
- Where, in your opinion, is the most beautiful place in Alaska? Why did you pick that place and why is it so special to you?
- For me the most beautiful place is off the Denali highway. The Tangle Lakes region, archeological region. People have been hunting and fishing there for 10,000 years. They've found arrow heads, all kind of artifacts around there. I mean you go there you just absolutely feel like you're a part of history. These lakes have just monster trout. The Delta scenic waterway flows into the Cold mountains. The river flows into the mountains! Rivers are supposed to flow away from the mountains but it flows through the mountain pass: it is not going up, it is just the geography, you have that higher plateau that kind of goes feeds down and goes in the mountains. You have Landmark Gap there: it is just absolutely amazing! I thought I would have like the forest. I thought I would have like Southeast Alaska: they are some gorgeous spots down there and glaciers are amazing. But there is something about that wide open vast area that is the Denali highway. I've never been up there in winter until last year and it is just massive valley that would go across the big Susitna. You see three different glaciers feeding into three different rivers. It is just… freaking amazing!
If you're going to attempt to reach out to Russia, a world power, I'd rather be friend than not. It would not be good for the world if we ever go to war, let's put it this way.
- What are you favorite Alaskan foods? Do you have a special recipe?
- We caught grayling this year when we were at moose camp. So a grayling is a trout, it's got a big dorsal fin. We smoked them and that fish was absolutely amazing. And then grouse, it is purple meat, it is just rich and delicious. Maybe everything that I cook in Alaska at camp just tastes better because you're out in the woods. Also, the salmon is really good. The halibut is really good. So if to pick just one I would say deep-fried halibut chunks.
- What do you know about the Russian America or Russian heritage in Alaska?
- You know, bits and pieces. I've observed a few of the Russian Orthodox churches doing their Christmas celebrations. I've seen some of the architecture with the big bulbs that remind me the Kremlin. Some of these churches are absolutely gorgeous. Some of the Russian groups here are very industrious, they build houses and they do fishing here. It reminds me a little bit of the Amish community back in Michigan because it is a also tight-knit group.
- This year is the 150th anniversary of Alaska purchase by the United States: are you aware of this event?
- A little bit aware. I might have caught a snippet in the news…
- How do you feel towards Russia as a country?
- I don't know much about Putin but I think it is common to say he maybe is a rich guy that stole some election over there. And, you know, they put in Olympics in Sochi and there are some ethical questions about workers they brought in to make this big event happen. But the event went off great! It was safe, nothing happened there. The event was beautiful, maybe some of the conditions weren't as great. But they did a really great job there… Russia is such a wide vast country. I think it's got more range than the United States does. Its Eastern portion and Moscow, I think these are just the worlds apart, I don't think we have that in this country. As far as the culture goes I've heard that there are some issues with broken-apart families in some parts of the country, maybe a lot of orphans in Western Russia… I had a friend that married a Russian woman, she is from Khabarovsk. So she said that was a little bit of an issue over there. Really, I don't know if a see a ton of poverty… That's the image that I have in my mind that it is kind of gray Cold War era buildings… I have no idea what the infrastructure is in the country. I wonder are there interstate highways that go East to West and back and forth? Or is it backroads? How do people get around? I don't think of them as an evil: the Kremlin and the Red Army is coming to get us, I've never felt like that. I think it was before my time. Even before my parents time that there was a big Red scare. I do remember bit and pieces of the end of the Cold War: maybe in 1987 when Gorbachev and Reagan were going back and forth. I saw then Russia as much as an evolving ally and, to tell you the truth, when the first things came out about Trump possibly colluding with Russia, my first thought was like: why wouldn't he want to have one of the biggest allies closer to you? Maybe it is from the perspective that you want to keep your friends close but your enemies closer? But really my first thought was: they should be talking, it is not a bad thing. I am not a Trump supporter in anyway but if you're going to attempt to reach out to Russia, a world power, I'd rather be friend than not (laughing). Now, you know, if Russians were involved in the US election process then I'd be a little more upset that Trump was talking to them. Whether it was or not I don't know: we have to live with Trump now anyways. Was there Russian inclusion or not it doesn't matter now.
- America and Russia: are we enemies? Or are we not?
- I don't think we're enemies. Well, maybe on the governmental level, sure. I think we both have powerful weapons and armies and interesting positioning around the world. You know, it is amazing that Alaska is right here, it is such a strategic location. So I don't think we're enemies but we certainly could be, I mean if it came down to a crunch for resources or something like that. It would not be good for the world if we ever go to war, let's put it this way.
- If you had an opportunity to meet and talk to an ordinary Russian, what would you say?
- Where are you from? What do you do? Have you always lived in the same place? Where did you go to school? Do you hunt? So I'd probably talk a little bit about myself just to see if I could get them interested. I'd say: I'm Matt, I'm from Michigan, Detroit. I would find some sort of commonality and go with that.
- What is your version of the American dream?
- Let's put it this way: a manicured lawn and a white picket fence are not for me. I wanted to be wild. My yard is just ok, it is not as good as the guy's next to me and it is much better than the guy this way. I am living my American dream right now. I have a job that pays me above the medium standard of the country. I have a wife, I have a daughter. I have the ability to work, to travel and to play and do anything that I want. I think having that freedom of mind, knowing that I could be anything I want, that's the American dream to me. It is the ability to go and see the world.
I am living my American dream right now. I have a wife, I have a daughter. I have the ability to work, to travel and to play and do anything that I want. Having that freedom of mind, knowing that I could be anything I want, that's the American dream to me.
- What a great single Alaskan person of past or present would you like to talk to?
- I guess it would be the 'Father of Iditarod', Joe Redington. I want to ask him what made it so important for him to get this race started? You know, I've read the story: the modern era was coming on and he saw these iron dogs – the snow-machines – taking over and loss of traditionalism. So I guess I'd want to sit with him and see what he thought of Alaska today. Maybe also to discuss the current state of his race.
- What will Alaska be like in 2034, 17 years from now?
- I see, maybe, another boom in oil or minerals of some sort. I see, maybe, another bust. I see, maybe, a population increasing: we're going from 750,000 now up to 1,000,000 people living in Alaska in 17 years. I see push for more resources, for traveling, the Northern ocean icepack recedes so maybe some communities up there receiving more jobs. Maybe another military installation up there. I see modernization of rural communities. And I see probably a more positive look for Native people because they're going to get more resources, more jobs, more access to health care, to education. I probably only good things would grow. But I still think in 17 years we'll still be a frontier-like state. I think we still 10 years behind the 'Lower 48' in many ways. I see economical growth and I see educational growth. I am not concerned about global warming because I don't think it is something that humans can stop. It is not necessarily human-related.
Made on