Saturday, April 14, 2018

North to Alaska, again

I feel different in Alaska. It's hard to explain and makes no rational sense, but I do. Returning nine years after I left, the time in between vanishes. In the humid, rainy air, my hair curls up. My skin drinks in the rain. I love Southeast Alaska so much.

Volcano! 
But I don't think I could live here again. As I ran down the same trails I used to run back then, I thought about how life is somewhat compressed on an island, even one this large. We used to backpack, but backpacking meant treacherous off trail travel, hours to a mile, and the threat of large bears always present. You can't just stroll along obliviously plotting a novel. Even running on trails near town, I was deeply aware of the brown bears. As I walked solo among the alders on a familiar trail, I thought uneasily that one could pop out of the bushes at any time.

Very windy at Heart Lake
If I lived here again, I would have to take to the water. Kayak camping is where it's at, not foot travel. It's still sometimes hard for me to believe that for seven years, I was a wilderness kayak ranger, traveling through remote bays and through the Gulf of Alaska. As my friend Helga and I hiked along this week, we shrugged as we tried to catch up with each other in the year since we had last been together. Nothing really came to mind as being epic. 

I caught myself feeling a little sad, nostalgic for the times that I flew in floatplanes, traveled around the Interior fighting fire. Was my life now....boring? Possibly, compared to back then. But there are tradeoffs to everything. It had all seemed so..normal. But it really was extraordinary.

The wilderness kayak trips, the landing on remote lakes with floatplanes, the dip of a paddle: I got to have that, even though it's over.


I was there for work, so many trails remained unhiked, friends unseen. I ran some of our old trails, marveling at how easy it is to run at sea level. Nine years have gone by so quickly. Two friends are gone from cancer. Others have split up or left. But a surprising amount of people remain: lifers. I wasn't one of them-I fled for the sun, and it's been a good choice, even though perhaps less exciting. I watched my friends gather up their rifles for gun practice at the rifle range. The guns are required: every work party that goes out has to have a rifle bearer. I don't miss the bears walking by my tent. I don't really miss that thin line between life and death. But the ocean: I miss the ocean.

A really interesting conglomeration of a house steps from the ocean. Also, a boat. Everyone has a boat.

In the end, it was good to go back home, where I have so much country to move around in. It's also good to have extraordinary times to look back on.

13 comments:

  1. I've said this before, but I always feel this way when I return to a place I've lived. It's like peeking into another life!

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    1. True, the life I could have chosen.

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  2. "I don't really miss that thin line between life and death." Ahh, those Alaskan bears. But I think moose are more dangerous...especially when driving too fast in impenetrable rain, at night, in a sub-compact rental car.

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    1. We didn't have moose where I lived, but they are definitely scary on trail too. Interestingly my friends thought mountain lions (which they don't have) are scarier than brown bears. I guess I agree, but because I live with lions, they become normal. Just like bears do to them.

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  3. What extra-ordinary 'homes' and experiences you have had. Those are part of you, and never leave, even though you move on.

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    1. I can't believe it's been nine years!

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  4. You have certainly lived extraordinary times. Wonderful that your work took you back for a visit. Your first image is stunning.

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    1. Thank you. I was actually working on a project I started in 2005, so it's nice to actually get it done at last!

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  5. Great pic of the sunlit volcano! Nice that you're able to go back and visit places you've lived.

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    1. I've been back to quite a few spots, which is very nice.

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  6. It is always nice to go back, to remember what it was like to live in a place, to see how things have changed. And to think on decisions made that changed our path.

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