SEEING ALASKA AS HOME


The roots grew deep for me in Alaska; I didn’t realize how deep until I returned for my first visit back in two years.  Deja vu` (that feeling that you’ve been here before) occurred again and again during my stay.  I kept thinking, I did move, didn’t I?  Yet, It seemed as though I had never left. I fell into conversation with good friends as though I had just seen them yesterday.  I returned to stay at the same place I lived for many years before moving.  The weather was exactly as I remember.  The color of the sky was just as it should be, one I had gazed into a thousand, thousand times.

I offer you a photo essay that will please the eyes and draw you into a place that is pure and sparkling, wild and magical.  Alaska is all about the weather…and unique people.  As I pondered making this trip ahead of time, I wondered (feared?) if Alaska would call me back to her…

I did leave Alaska, of this I am certain.  I drove 5,700 miles to resettle in Miami at the end of summer, 2011.  I now sport a tan and speak Spanish—daily.  My best shoes are some sort of sandal, not hiking boots.  I even grow tomatoes—an impossible feat for most northern locales!  The evidence of my new life in south Florida is increasing steadily and returning to my “roots” in the north pointed specifically to the many ways in which I have been affected, and thus shaped, by this new south Florida environment.  Going back to the Great Land, however, meant facing the deep places inside me, places I never knew I even had until I first went to the arctic and experienced a different way to live.  Places of inspiration, fear, grace, love, pain and most of all, perseverance.

I am sharing many photos for the sake of those Alaska lovers out there (and you know who you are).  I have taken every one of these.  As an acclimatized Miami resident now, I reacted to the cold, early-summer temperatures as I had expected:  by wearing four layers of clothing!

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Above:  from the air over the Inside Passage on the west coast of Canada (and east coast of Alaska) air space. 

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Above:  the Seward Highway south from Anchorage en route to my destination, Seward, Alaska, at the end of the road.  Do not fail to note the absence of vehicles on the roadways!

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Almost there….this (above) is alongside “the lagoon” across from the Resurrection Bay boat harbor.  The houses on the cliff are some of the most expensive in the area and are plagued with black bear every spring.  Below:  across the street from where I am staying on the trip, my former home.  Behind the buildings are the waters of Resurrection Bay.

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I arrive at long last, 2 and a half hours later by car after a long and sleepless journey by air across North America:  My “direct” flight took 9 hours in the air; 2 plane changes and about an hour in each location to scamper through strange airports seeking my next flight.  I purchased the “priority boarding” privilege for all flights on the way for an extra $25.  It is so worth it!  I always fly Alaska Airlines and for good reason:  they cater to Alaskans!  The coffee is exquisite, the service is impeccable and I can count on seeing my Alaskan neighbors on the flights in and out of Seattle.  The locals have a particular “look” that I must dub uniquely Alaskan.  No one in the world would even dare to dress and act the way an Alaskan does:  unkempt, unshaven, bad sweat pants with hiking boots.  Alaskans tend to resemble an unmade bed when they go out into public.

In all fairness, however, having been one (and still one), it is the one thing I like best about my “home”.  You can throw a parka and snow boots over whatever you are wearing and head to the grocery store or some other place.  Add a winter hat and scarf and a pair of gloves and the look is complete!  There is not much use for hair designers and exquisite evening dress couture there.  Why bother?  Ice, snow, wind, rain and the occasional volcanic ash or shake of the earthquake are enough to test the carelessness of such outward showiness!  A wilderness calls for serious dress.Alaska winter, Seward highway north to AnchP1000554

No, life in Alaska is real—very real.  Frankly, I miss that. There is no time for nonsense in such a place.  There are matters of life and death, sanity and insanity, very long winters and very short summers, dangerous animals and a general lack of ordinary provision.  There is no time to be concerned with whether one’s hair is in fashion; rather, it is better to wear it long and add a beard for the warmth in the frigid Siberian winds that were sure to come again! P1000561P1000640

Yet, I long for the famous hush of the long winters and the hibernation of the soul that would settle in as the darkness and heavy snowfall would descend after the light and the last tourist had left.  There was a sense that the land had been left once again, for another year, to it’s proper possessors.  Possessors, such as myself, who dared to dwell there year after year, who appreciate the rawness of basic life in a real wilderness and who crave such personal challenge to inspire.

See below, the ice-free Port of Seward on Resurrection Bay (left).  A view looking out to the entrance of the bay at the northern Pacific Ocean (below, right) captures the quiet stillness surrounding me.  Certainly tourists will come in their RV’s for a couple months and fill the beach line.  Come September or October, the Bay returns to the locals for yet another long winter.

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Bittersweet memories began as I beheld my former home of many years.  Now for sale, it was painful to consider a future where I was not there.  My apartment was the upstairs section (see below) a large and generous floor space that overlooked the port.  I could greet every incoming ship from the upper room window.  My dearest friends owned the home and lived below me.  Who could desire anything more than this, I ask?

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Stepping outside with my camera I catch a glimpse of well-known “neighbors”.  Two bald eagles sit together at the top of a nearby tree. (below)

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And after a chilly, then warm, two weeks with excessive amounts of daylight (land of the midnight sun, remember?), I began the journey back to Miami, heading north to the airport in Anchorage on the same highway that brought me south to Seward.  It is June 11th, the weather is warming and the tour buses have begun to show up to meet the cruise ships that call on Seward.  I had come here, after all, to see the seafarers who work aboard these ships.  And they are the reason I came to Miami, as well. 

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By the time I left I had acclimated to the chill in the air and assimilated my thinking (again) to loathing the idea of having to “dress properly” for the sake of proper “protocols” of the civilized places in the developed regions known as the “Lower 48”.  I thought of the Miami traffic at the end of my flight home.  Ugh. 

Had Alaska managed to call me home once again, for she had done this numerous times over my life?  She had clearly become a part of me, or maybe I had become a part of her.  I thought when I moved to Miami that I had left her behind—for good—but this trip was up close and personal.  So I confess to my readers and to myself, as well.  I believe I will return to her, for she has been a good home to me.  She has given me wisdom and life experiences I could have had no other way than to dwell within her borders and behold her vast greatness and enduring ways.

I write this from my small rented room in Miami and a gloominess hangs in the sky today. Rainstorms darken the horizon causing the sky to be gray and cloudy.  My thoughts turn to Alaska and the coming clouds of snowfall…and the welcome hush.  For now, I must content myself with being a mental traveller, ever thankful I have such a home to receive me back, again and again.

[I dedicate this piece to Jose F. whose love for the land of Alaska will eventually call him there, as it did me, many years ago.]