Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

A Polar Bear Garden


In 1867, William H. Seward (Secretary of State at the time under Abraham Lincoln), bought Alaska from Russia. There had been some earlier negotiations to sell the region to their main regional rival (Britain), but in a bid to weaken the British power in North America, the Tsar pushed for an American purchase. British Columbia still split Alyaska from congruent America and with a population increase in BC due to the gold rush, Britain ended U.S. hopes of eventually connecting with their newly purchased land along a coastal route. Covered with inhospitable mountains and shifting ice glaciers, blasted by Arctic seas amidst some of the coldest weather in the North America, with some of the largest and most dangerously wild creatures on the continent; the acquisition of Alaska received mixed reviews. By many, it was known as Seward’s Folly, and some newspapers mentioned that he’d bought a polar bear garden (sounds quite delightful). He’d spent a healthy wad of the nations sky rocket on a faraway ice age, and living amongst the North Western chill were Alaskan indigenous (from Russian and Japanese ancestry) peoples, Inuit and native Alaskans, apparently living outside any jurisdiction. Russians also accounted for a few thousand, but the majority made their way home after the purchase, as they didn’t like the way the Americans policed their citizens (not much has changed then).

Russia didn’t have much going on in their Alaska territory. Their main but small endeavours were some fur trading and missionary work, and their largest earner was the trading of seals. If anything at that time other than territorial advantage was to catch the attention of the Americans it was money to be made in seal fur – selling them in their thousands to London companies to prepare for world markets. Alaska was a vast, baron place, and even at the bargain price of $7.2m dollars (2cents per acre), most thought Seward was a muppet. It wasn’t until the 1896 gold strike that anyone thought Alaska had any value. Imagine buying a chocolate bar made of gold. Although sad that you don’t have your cocoa dreams fulfilled, like so many of the rainbows I’ve seen in Alaska in the last two months, the beauty of hindsight has never been so vibrant. Fast forward to present day however, and economists are still saying that the Alaska purchase still hasn’t returned a positive balance. I guess there’s no pleasing some people, even if you buy them the gift of a polar bear garden! Securing territory which would undoubtedly be pivotal in making sure world and cold wars were won, hopefully was not overlooked in the economist’s figures! Seward would never be aware of what lay under Alaskan ground, but he did have a port and a highway named after him. Personally, I would have preferred to name-change the entire region to Seward’s Polar Bear Garden, but then that’s probably why I’ll never be a politician.

Seward. Moose. Glacier.


Lacking a gin & tonic!

After the constant reminder that I really fancied a chilled gin and tonic all afternoon, the clouds wrapped themselves around the mountains like scarves, and the jaggedy rocks were softened like a bruised up boxer in a Christmas woolly jumper. We stopped to watch a motherly swamp donkey usher her two youngling calves into the deliciously dense, deciduous forest and Seward just, and only just, redeemed itself this afternoon.



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Where am I now?

After extensive work and tours through Southern Africa, most of my time is spent between Malawi and Europe.
Go Untamed Safaris was striding into top gear, but volatile poitics in 2019, Covid in 2020, the impacts of Russia vs the World as well as insesent corruption forced my hand.
The dust is now settling. Everything has changed. New chapters are about to be written.

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