My Alaska Playlist


Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons

On my first trip to Alaska, for the first week, until my batteries died, I listened to music almost everywhere I went: when I was peeling poles in the clearing, when I was bathing in the Coleen River, when I was falling asleep at night, and sometimes when I was trying to catch Arctic grayling for supper. I may not have believed in the power of my bear bells to ward off the grizzlies, but I sure believed in power of Mumford and Sons. I’d convinced myself that as long as they were playing, I was safe from marauding bears.

The Funeral by Band of Horses

Heimo and I have very different tastes in music. Of all the songs on my playlist, he only liked this one, and the only reason he liked it was because he said I peeled poles faster when I listened to it.  He was right. As soon as the drum section of the song began, I would ramp up my peeling and pull the drawknife toward me as fast as I could.

Skinny Love by Bon Iver

Nothing made me miss home more than “Skinny Love.” At night, I would listen to it again and again before I fell asleep, and I would dream of home. It was the song playing on the radio when I left and it was the song playing when my dad and I pulled into the driveway six weeks later.

1234 by Feist

I first heard this song just before my third trip to Alaska and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I sang it in the canoe, counting the strokes on each side, as I paddled down the Hulahula River to the Arctic Coast. I even managed to teach my dad the song. He couldn’t remember the lyrics, but we were never more in sync with our paddling than when we sang Feist’s “1234.”

Hero by Family of the Year

I called this song my time-to-make-up with Dad song. I played it after fighting with my dad for the first time, and played it after other fights, too, to remind myself that, though I may not have cared for him at the moment, my dad was a pretty special person.

Forget You by Cee Lo Greene

If “Hero” was my time-to-make-up with Dad tune, then Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” was my “see ya” song. Whenever I was really mad at my dad (or Heimo), or sick and tired of Alaska, the weather, or the work, I would march off into the woods or walk down an open gravel bar along the river shouting “Forget You.”

The Girl by City and Colour

I found the title of this song applicable to my situation. Whenever I grew tired of my Alaskan adventures, I would crawl into the tent, curl into my sleep bag, and put on this song. I almost managed to convince myself that the song was written for me. If I ever meet City and Colour, I will have to ask who, or what, inspired the song.

Sweater Weather by The Neighborhood

I sure wasn’t wearing a sweater at 40 below in Arctic Alaska, but that didn’t stop me from playing this song. Every morning, as I pulled on my ski shirt, my snow pants, my jacket, and my parka, and my boots, I put on “Sweater Weather” and pretended that I, too, was sun bathing on a beach in California instead of dressing in the frigid air of the wall tent. I even played the song for Edna as we got ready together in the cabin.  Her comment was, “Is this junk what teenagers are listening to these days?” Edna never let me play it again, but when I was alone I always put it on just to remind myself that I was still a teenager, even up in Arctic Alaska.

Ho Hey by The Lumineers

The first lesson I learned before my first Alaska trip was how to handle a bear encounter. My dad told me that if I ever saw a grizzly, the best thing to do was to start talking to it in a strong, assertive voice and let it know I was there. In Alaska, as I walked through spruce and willows thickets, I would sing to myself, tell myself stories, recite tongue-twisters, anything to let the grizzlies know where I was.  But, for fending off bears, my go-to song (along with “Little Lion Man”) was “Ho Hey.” I’d discovered it just before we left Wisconsin and couldn’t get the refrain, “Ho Hey”, out of my head. I added it to my playlist last minute, for the catchiness of the refrain alone. But what I found in Alaska was that “Ho Hey” was the perfect way to announce myself to the grizzlies. “Ho Hey, I’m comin’ your way.”

Home by Phillip Phillips

This song was my hiking song as I backpacked over the Brooks Range. Standing on the summit of Gilbeau Pass, looking out over the Hulahula River Valley, I felt at home. I felt as if I belonged.  Even now, I feel like I have two homes: Wisconsin and Alaska.