I want to try and describe the experience I've had being in Alaska for the last two and a half days, but I hardly know where to begin.
It's 10pm on Saturday. I'm sitting in the B wing of the Anchorage airport, staring out the window at the still-lit sky. It's barely dusk, and I just saw Denali, even though it was a zillion miles away. I guess I should start with when I started to feel the landscape: yesterday, when Jen took me out to Exit Glacier -- there was a break in the clouds for the first time since I'd landed late Wednesday night, and she wanted me to see it since I'd heard about the peaks and the ice fields from the wildlife tour I'd gone on the day before. Talking in the car, among other things, we realized that I'd been confusing glaciers with icebergs, and then the shapes between the mountains started to make more sense.
So we get to the viewpoint for Exit Glacier, and we get out of the car and stand at the edge of this little parking lot. There's one of those low post-and-beam fences where the asphalt stops, you know, the kind that doesn't really keep anything out or in, it just gives you a visual marker of where you should and shouldn't go. The air was freezing in a way it hadn't been in town, and as I was taking it all in I looked down and saw an illustrated plaque that described the view:
Everything that you can see right now used to be covered in ice.
The graphic showed ice levels thousands of feet above the landscape, that had slowly worn down over the years to a massive glacier between the peaks, that now stood as just a fragment of itself; feeding the waterway snaking through the flat land in front of me. I stood there, starting out at these two 4,000+ foot mountains with a massive, frozen river between them, and suddenly I just felt... different. There was some kind of strange pang in my gut, and I understood more than I had the moment before, and I understood Those People Who Freak Out About Nature, and I could feel that icy air blowing from the top of those peaks right down into the center of my body. It was like I saw Earth and Time, and tectonic plates and history. I want to say that it felt like I'd seen a dinosaur or something? Or at least met someone who knew the guy who had a picture of a dinosaur stashed away in his attic.
I didn't understand what it was at the time, but talking later we figured out that I had found myself in awe. Me, jaded about so much, getting my doors blown off by like, giant ice-covered rocks. And hilariously, perfectly, it was the only few hours of the trip that I didn't have my big camera with me.
It's not that Seward proper isn't beautiful -- I'd seen the view, sort of, since Thursday morning, when Jen sent me out on that tour in Resurrection Bay. Overcast and drizzly as it was, it was still pretty breathtaking, and there were otters and bald eagles, sea lions and massive fjords; a glimpse of a grey whale that disappeared when too many boats showed up. We hammered across a choppy part of the gulf where you could see ten thousand miles of open ocean, one of the widest unobstructed expanses you can see from anywhere on the planet. And there were murals on the sides of buildings portraying these big, beautifully lit landscapes right up against Seward and the bay, so I knew there was majesty under the fog someplace? But seeing that view, and standing where the ice had been -- it just made everything shift.
Today we woke up after that York Peppermint Pattie mountaintop moment to bluebird skies and blasting sun, and ALL of the mountains, and ocean as far as you could see, and everything just kept unfolding. It was the San Juans on steroids, Hawaii except covered in snow; huge masses of land and cliffsides sticking straight up out of the water. We drove out this rocky bay where I took a thousand pictures, and we filled our water bottles with a hose that someone rigged into a the side of a mountain a long time ago to feed straight glacier runoff. Spring Water. Later, we ate fresh halibut with a view of the shipyard, and talked and talked and talked. And on the drive back to Anchorage, the sun hit that water and those cliffsides and those mountains in just the right way, and the world just looked so big, bigger than I'd ever seen before; so big that I could hardly fucking stand it. It's like the vast expanse of my heart and my insides and all the love I'd ever known and the universe and Life Itself personified into the landscape somehow. It did this, even, it's making me write about the view the way I'd write about a band. Except it's for real this time.
The thing is, I wasn't expecting any of this. The last few days have been so tender: I've sat listening to a friend who's recovering from both broken arm and broken heart, the whole reason for the trip, barely four days in her new apartment by the time I'd arrived. We processed, she worked; I cleaned. I dug into her kitchen mostly, helping to build her a home, throwing out the trash that the tenant before her had left behind. I went through boxes labeled by the heartbreaker, organized spices and dishes, and put trinkets on the tiny shelves in her medicine cabinet. I listened, I splurged on Thai food, we took long walks and spent a few hours soaking in Seward from the upstairs of the local coffeehouse. I heard so many stories, met so many pets, got a hundred hugs -- all on top of that thing happening with the dinosaurs and Time and the new hole in my gut.
It all collided perfectly in a way that I never could have planned in a million years, and it's a trip that has changed me forever, on every level.
Here's what some of it looked like:
So now what?
Now, the announcements will come over the loudspeaker, and the plane will board, and in a few hours I'll be in, well, less awe: back to SeaTac, back to my car, back to the house, back to the cat and the plants and the records. Hopefully I can sneak in a few hours of sleep before I head south again to pick Barry up from his flight. For now, I'll have to leave here content with the memories and the photos, with the literal and metaphorical tattoo that Seward has left on my sleeve, and with the cues from what I discovered here: tapping into the vein of all the love there is to give, and remembering no matter what we do or don't plan, that the seasons dictate the ebb and flow of where our lives take us -- not the other way around.