There are some places that just get into a persons soul. Montana is one such place, and for me at least, Alaska is as well.
In my life I have lived in, worked in, and traveled through a lot of country. Some of it I loved, some of it I hated, some of it I tolerated. Few places resonated with me, and fewer places have placed themselves in the deep recesses of my psyche.
Not a week goes by that my mind doesn’t wander through the pathways of the past, and I think of Alaska. For whatever reason, I often find myself standing on the shores of the Inside Passage, when I let my thoughts drift freely, listening to the waves crash on the shore, the cry of the gulls, and the rumble of marine diesels winding through the channels, mingling with the muffled roar of DeHaviland radials.
I had ups and downs in Alaska. It wasn’t all wonderful. Even as I lived through it the first time, I realized it was the best and worst of my life to that point. The depth and strength of emotion, positive and negative, that I experienced seared itself to my soul, I think.
But beyond the powerful emotional triggers, there is something about Alaska, the Great Land itself, that pulls at me from time to time. Once experienced, it can never be un-experienced; once seen, it cannot be un-seen. A part of me will always miss the shores of Southeast, the glaciers and mountains, the wildness of the place. Even the remote, miserably buggy parts of South-Central and Interior will occasionally call my name. It’s a land with character and personality that one cannot find anywhere in the lower 48.
There’s something about Alaska, and places like Alaska, that feels like a part of myself. Even though I’ve been gone for over two years, I still start most of my good stories with “when I was in Alaska…” And there I think is revealed an aspect of why I love (and hate) Alaska. I’m a storyteller at heart, be it through written words, images, or oral tale-spinning, and Alaska provided me with stories. Lots of stories. It’s where I found my voice as a photographer, and it’s where I started this crazy path towards being a writer.
I also have that desire common to all of us, the desire to be unique, to have stories of my own that others don’t. I felt unique when I lived in Alaska. In my time in the north I lived a lifestyle that few, if any, of my peers could claim to have experienced. Ironically, that uniqueness has contributed to my occasional bouts of melancholy, but it also gave me a sense of resilience that I enjoy to this day.
I don’t know that I’ll ever live in Alaska again. I don’t envision myself with a wife and kids there, and I realize that going back without a partner for support would not be a wise move. So I sit and let my mind wander the grey coast as it will, comforting myself with the memories I do have of my time spent in the Great Land.
Until next time…