We have to do a touch of backtracking here. We just kicked off the our new theme of food, but we are going back in time by a couple of days and bringing you one last post on celebrations. It can’t be helped. When one of your best friends from college writes a beautiful essay just for your blog on their journey to connecting with nature, you just have to share it. I won’t tell you much more about it, Liz’s lovely words say it all. ~Jess
A native Californian, I have had the opportunity to live in the state of Alaska for that past three years, as well as the privilege to engage in a great deal of travel and exploration. From these adventures, I have found myself experiencing life in a way that I never imagined.
Alaska has the ability to awaken a childlike awe and splendor that one allows to become dormant; buried by a fast-paced life packed with social demands, adult responsibilities, work-filled days, over consumption in material goods, and under nourishment for our soul. I have found myself standing atop many an isolated, rocky Alaskan peak looking out at the endless, vast, open space that lies before me, unmarked by the human hand – no telephone lines, cell phone towers, roads, litter or even the sight of other people. While difficult to articulate, those moments leave me feeling both magnificently great and equally insignificant. I am filled with and humbled by the power, grace and beauty of our natural, untouched world. Unfortunately, society can be selfish; it can take and mangle and drain. Nature is whole, complete and perfect; complex only in its simplicity. Alaska, more easily than any other state, invites you to be a part of this inspiration.
North Dakota was my gateway to the great white north. I relocated to the roughrider state on a blind whim. Instantly, I found an appreciation for nature and its vast discrepancy between seasons. I gleaned much new knowledge my first year living in a cold climate. Within little time I learned that at -30 degrees, it took only the 10 minutes necessary to locate and begin uncovering my vehicle (fingers crossed it would even start) from a massive snowdrift created by the harsh overnight winds for my wet hair to completely freeze solid, along with my glass of soy milk I had foolishly planned to sip in the car on my way to work. I never understood the concept of automatic car starters until I moved to North Dakota. I also developed a new appreciation for showering at night. After one year living in North Dakota, I knew I could never again live in a warm climate. I was hooked on winter. It makes sense then how a fifth generation Californian wound up in Alaska.
I did not grow up knowing that I loved the outdoors. Nature was not an obvious part of my childhood. I did not know how to recognize the perfection of our natural world amidst the cement sidewalks, overpopulation and smog-filled air of the Bay Area city in which I called home. Camping was something I played with the neighborhood kids using a few pieces of sidewalk chalk for inspiration. It was not until I was an adult that I ventured out on my first camping trip, and even then it was more an inexpensive means of lodging than an opportunity to appreciate nature. Perhaps I was always fated to fulfill my destiny by exploring the great outdoors by relocating to Alaska, or perhaps I fulfilled a destiny of exploring the great outdoors because I moved to Alaska. Who knows? The simple fact remains that while there are many challenges to living in Alaska, the accessibility to outdoor recreation is unrivaled.
For me, travel in an inherent part of appreciating the outdoors. I thrive on the ability to travel. There is a freedom that exists in the space that lies in between the pieces of our lives. The moments you are steering down the highway in an automobile, soaring through the air in a plane, trudging across the tundra with a pack strapped to your back; those moments are weightless. There is nothing else that can be done and nowhere else to go; one is forced to appreciate the beauty of the present. Eventually, reality finds us and with sadness we are forced to acknowledge its fleeting existence; only then, we are greeted by our destination and the sorrow subsides as we discover a whole new spectrum of possibilities and opportunities.
Just as Alaska is extreme in its nature and composition, it too is extreme in how it affects its inhabitants. Alaska has a unique way of magnifying emotions. Oftentimes referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), life in Alaska can make you feel downright crazy. As an individual who grew up in sunny, warm California with an annoyingly optimistic and cheery disposition, I was not prepared (even after living in frozen North Dakota), for the way in which living in Alaska could affect my mood. While mass quantities of darkness and isolation affect everyone differently, I find I am most affected by my inability to find and maintain balance. Like an emotional roller coaster, life either seems mind-blowingly high and perfect or tragically low, never a stable in between.
While it might be assumed that the most difficult months in Alaska to endure surround winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, I find that I am most affected surrounding seasonal changes. Exhausted from a continuous summer of activity and sleep deprivation, it is in the fall when I first begin to recognize the light reduction that I can sense my mood altering. After living in nearly twenty-four hours of light for months, the setting sun suddenly feels bizarre and unfamiliar. I remember driving away from a friend’s house my very first fall in Alaska. As I was making my way down the highway, I felt peculiarly nervous and anxious. After a reflective moment, I realized it was because I had not driven in the dark in over three months time. People often inquire as to how Alaskans cope with the extra light gain and reduction. The truth is, humans are impressively resilient. You just become accustomed to it. This is how change comes to be a challenge. In April, when Alaskans are tired of the cold and dark, and the Lower 48 is beginning to speak about sunshine and warmth, Alaska still has snow on the ground. It is about this time that I begin to get anxious once again in anticipation for the coming summer.
Perhaps surprisingly, winter is my favorite season in Alaska. Snow has a magical way of making everything beautiful. As fall progresses and the tourists leave the state, snow begins to blanket Alaska’s peaks once again. In Alaska, this is referred to as termination dust. While ominous in name, most Alaskans welcome the sight of the ranges first dustings. The winter season brings with it a unique and welcomed serenity and peacefulness. After several months of quick-paced summer fun, Alaskans are ready to hibernate. And, while it is true that the pace of life slows during winter, there is still plenty to do. Cross country skiing, mountaineering, ice skating, snowshoeing, ice fishing, hunting, trapping, sledding and dog mushing are more than enough to keep any Alaskan active throughout the long winter months.
Unlike the many who have dreamt of making their great escape up north, to the fewer who do, a series of unanticipated and unplanned events led me to this great state. I cannot claim that I will be an Alaskan for life. I probably will not. However, no matter where my life travels take me in the future, I will always hold within me a piece of Alaska’s inspiration; for it is a unique inspiration that evokes adventure, awe, and gratitude. Life in Alaska has changed me in a way in which I shall never lose. ~Liz