As much as it makes me cringe to say this, I’m gonna say it anyway. Writing a blog about Alaska has been hugely therapeutic. I don’t typically enjoy published “therapeutic writing” (and don’t get me wrong; I’m not claiming to be published–I only have two subscribers), probably because there’s something about its inward nature and sometimes narcissistic tone that doesn’t bode well with an audience looking for universal truths and an in-tune narrator–or just a good story. There lacks the critical element of dialogue between creator and audience that makes a piece of artwork worthwhile. It’s just that I miss Alaska on a daily basis. I miss, like crazy, my friends, my students, and my colleagues at the university, but I also miss the grocer at Fred Meyer with the foot-long handlebar mustache (I’m not kidding–he competed in the World Beard and Moustache Championship), the birch forest and abutting pasture along Farmer’s Loop Road where some landowner turns his horses out every Spring, the labyrinth of cross country ski trails where 60-year old men put me to shame, the sled dog trucks, the halibut melts that are the only food source cheaper in Alaska than anywhere in the lower 48, and the thousands and thousands of miles of wide open spaces. It’s the unabashed independence and spiritedness of the people that remains unmatched anywhere else.
I know–nostalgia can’t be trusted. I was on the verge of writing that I even missed dumping out my slop bucket full of diarrhea-colored water in subzero temperatures. But then I came to my senses. It’s easy to remember the past through rose-tinted glasses. Especially when you arrive at a place of transition. In September, after I finished graduate school, Brian (he recently gave me permission to use his name) and I left Fairbanks for the lower 48. We wanted to be closer to family, and we told ourselves that it’d be easier to job hunt and forge contacts in the contiguous. Our first stop was Montana, where my parents had just bought some land, and we spent a good four months there until landing a job in Lewiston, Idaho.
Every place has a culture of values they accept, reward, reject, and punish. And every culture has its own sense of truth, beauty, and morality. I’m trying to get used to that culture here, and it’s not always easy. Fairbanks set a high standard. But the past is the past. So this last Alaska-based blog post, before I transition to writing about the fine places I’ve traveled to in the lower Northwest, recollects last Fourth of July with friends on the Chena River, where we rented a cabin from BLM and spent a glorious night. We’d bought an offensive amount of fireworks from a stand outside Wasilla on our way back from Homer (you can also get great fireworks in North Pole, just south of Fairbanks), and we had a small stash of freshly-caught halibut to grill up. I made some macaroni and fruit salad to go with the fish, and we had ourselves a feast.
At some point in the night, maybe after we had a roman candle war–where you shoot roman candles at each other (I don’t know who came up with that–it’s very dangerous), the dog went missing. We should have picked up on the warning signs. He was whimpering and hiding under the cabin and shaking vigorously. He does the same thing with crackling thunder and gun shots. There’s something about loud, ominous noises that make him mervous. So the fireworks halted. We fanned out amidst the woods and down Chena Hot Springs Road. We called his name and offered treats and begged him to come back. An hour passed. Finally, Brian saw him coming out of the woods and heading in the opposite direction of our cabin, presumably toward town, which lay some thirty miles away–a long cry from where we stayed. He coaxed him back and we all apologized to the dog profusely. It seemed like it would be an anticlimactic end to the evening, and we hadn’t even set off our grand finale. So we kept the dog at bay inside and lit the last of what we had.
In a Jim Harrison novel that I just finished reading, one of his characters remembers a piece of wisdom her grandfather gave her: “how each of us must live with a full measure of loneliness that is inescapable, and we must not destroy ourselves with our passion to escape this aloneness.” I’ve thought that having an outlet for my nostalgia has been a good thing, at least as I go through the transition of being somewhere new, because it’s given me something to cling to, and its given me reassurance that I will meet people again, some of whom will become friends, and I will experience adventure again. I can be confident in that because I’ve done it time and time before. Maybe having this outlet has helped prevent me from forging those desperate relationships out of loneliness, too. But I wonder, also, if it’s gotten in my way of being present in this new place, and fulfilling those things that I know I can do. At some point, you’ve got to turn the page, and enter daringly into the next chapter.