Saturday, April 15, 2017

Alaska is a tug to the heart

The sound of the ocean. Eagles with their crescendo calls. Friends, who never age because of the absence of sun. The familiar edge as I hiked along the trails, wondering if a bear lurked in the forest. And a siege of memories that I thought I had forgotten, opened like a wound.



 Many of us have places like these, places we fled when times got tough, or when we wanted to restart our lives. Southeast Alaska will always be that place for me. It was the scene of great joy and great heartbreak. I've managed to put all that away into a box but, going back to work on a project there, it all came springing out.

It's not bad to have these places in our lives. It's better, I think, than a flatline through life, a contentment that never gets shaken. Though my life is good now, I always think, what if I had stayed?



Because the light lingers from five in the morning to past eight at night, I was able to hike far past where I could down south, and I visited some of the old trails. Familiar, yet not, it was strange and yet wonderful to revisit the paths I used to run or hike daily. My former kayaking partner, Helga, and I crunched along the Cross Trail, walking through the place where a landslide took three peoples' lives, a half-finished house sitting mutely among the devastation. A reminder that things don't stay the same. In the time I have been gone, people have left, people have split up, people have had babies. Life doesn't stay in pause just because you are gone.


Fishing boat and Mount Edgecumbe
 As I flew away, back to the life I've chosen, I looked down on Baranof Island and could name all the bays. There was where we pushed the boat through a sheet of ice in April. There was where Kitty and I spent one glorious patrol, nobody else in sight. I was surprised how much I remembered.
Nearing the edge of Baranof Island, Cape Ommaney in the distance
My friend said, "I bet this feels small to you now," and in a way she was right. I like the idea of living unfettered in a big landscape, able to drive to the next town, the next river, the next mountain, instead of hemmed in by sea and tough mountains. I have choices now that I didn't then. It is always a tradeoff.

Still, I will never be quite able to forget this place. I don't think I could live here again. Even though I was here during a few days of unusual sunshine, I know there are times when it rains thirty days in a row. I am a sunshine person now. Backpacking here was hard, a combination of desire and fortitude, armed with pepper spray and aerial photos. In many ways I have it much easier. I have probably  lost that Alaska toughness.

And there's this: I've lived there and in the Florida swamp, in the Great Basin and in the southwest. All of those places have left their mark. I'm glad I did it all. Even when it hurts a little to leave.

I recognized Lake Diana immediately as the plane flew toward the lower 48. I camped here for several days, looking for rare plants.

11 comments:

  1. You've led quite a remarkable life and lived in many interesting places!

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    1. That's what I tell myself when I start to feel annoyed with things.

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  2. There's really no place like Southeast Alaska. I can see myself returning to Juneau someday, perhaps in retirement. I imagine that scenario sometimes.

    There's evidence that climate change will lead to cooler and drier autumns and winters in SE AK. My friends in Juneau say the past three years have born this out.

    Looks like you had amazing weather in Sitka. I only visited once, but remember the incredible beauty.

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    1. I can't see myself living on an island with 14 miles of road again, but it's true, there is no place like it.

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  3. I could see us living in Alaska someday. Justin has worked there seasonally twice, but never wintered there. I don't think we'd have a problem with it. Alaska is not for everyone, but I think the ones it touches, it never leaves them.

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    1. Agree, I think the rain is the most difficult part for me in Southeast. Yes it is beautiful but I am a sun person. Of course it is very different in the interior.

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  4. Thanks for the glimpse back into SE Alaska. It truly is a beauty spot and it's clear it leaves traces on the lives of those who have lived there. Glad you got to dip back into a former life, with all its joy and heartbreak.

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    1. It was fun seeing old friends too.

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  5. Hey Mary, the S.E. is beautiful but, I will stick to my interior, lol. I guess it's because I've always lived in the Interior where it doesn't rain like S.E. Then again, it would be nice to have all that seafood at your door. Glad you got to visit again.

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    1. I like what I have seen of the Interior, so much less rain and so many big mountains. However, very cold! I do miss all the seafood, we used to catch salmon and eat it the same day.

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  6. This. Yes. Exactly how I feel about Fairbanks, except for me it was the darkness and not so much the rain.

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