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Posts Tagged ‘spirit’

my Alaska

A year ago I was asked to give a brief talk at our church on what living in Alaska, and being an Alaskan, meant to me. A number of us spoke, ranging from people born and raised in Alaska to people just arrived. It was a unique and enlightening perspective on what it means to live in the last American frontier.

 

Like many in Alaska, Jane and I arrived here both because we were running from and to something. We were running from meaningless careers and population centers, well-intentioned but overbearing parents or in-laws, heat and humidity. We were running to….; well, to be honest, we had no idea at the time. We moved to Alaska and Fairbanks sight unseen.

 

Today, it has been just about exactly 9 years since we made the decision to move here. Yet it was only a year ago, as I sat in the Fairbanks Airport waiting for a flight, observing the visitors excitedly reminiscing on their Alaska tour or taking in the last glimpses of Alaska before they return ‘outside’ that I noticed a significant paradigm shift in my viewpoint of Alaska.

 

Prior to this point I had often had an empathy with visitors, sharing their viewpoint and excitability about all things Alaska. While my enthusiasm for Alaska remained, I noted my viewpoint changed. I had gone from looking at Alaska as one does a photograph, an interested but disparate observer, to looking at it as a mirror- an integral and effectual part of the image, one whose action and inaction can change the picture of things to come. I was no longer looking at Alaska as an outsider; I was looking at it as an Alaskan.

 

As I put together my thoughts to share this morning, there were two tracks I could put my experience into. The first is the story track. I’ve found Alaskans, me included, love to share stories of our experiences here. The second direction is more spiritual and has to do with why I choose to remain in Alaska, and continue expanding my experiences here.

 

One of the drawbacks of living here is how rarely we see our extended families. At the beginning of an annual or biannual visit from the parents, we mourn the age showing on the faces we love but so rarely see, and curse the distances that keep us apart. They marvel in the advances of their grandchildren. At the end of the visit, after weeks of parental oversight, advice, and judgment, we celebrate every one of the miles that keep us sane and temper the ideological differences between generations.

 

All in all though, we miss our families terribly.

 

So what keeps me here, despite love for family and other beautiful places?

 

I have witnessed the sublime, the divine, in Alaska. It keeps my spirit renewed despite the burden of the turmoil in my own life and the world at large.

 

In the late fall tendrils of mist and fog move across the peaks and ridge tops of the White Mountains, caressing the surface of the land like a parents fingers on a child’s face, God’s hands, putting the land to sleep for the long night of winter.

 

In the fjords of Tracy Arm, the glacier sculpted stone, rising from the ocean’s surface to the edge of the sky above, far out scales the best architecture I’d ever hope to achieve. Timeless and permanent, tactile and alive; inspiration abounds and thrives in my Alaska.

 

On a day spent exploring a western shore of Admiralty Island with dear friends, after several hours exploring tide pools, we scrambled through the salmon berry bushes and cow’s parsnip into the rainforest beyond. Ancient trees rise around us, moss and ferns cover the forest floor. Spirits scramble for cover, laughing at us, ungainly in our physical forms, as they move deeper into their forest home. The air is alive under the trees, here you can taste life itself, and breathe it into your soul. I’ve only known one other place with such ghosts, such a spiritual presence, and I’ll keep it as my secret.

 

Like knowledge, where everything I learn expands exponentially my comprehension of what I don’t know, each of my experiences in Alaska expands my Alaska desires at a rate I can never hope to catch up with in my lifetime. Perhaps my experiences can extend past my death.

 

I can imagine that when I die, my spirit will return to that cove on the western shores of Admiralty Island. It will join those spirits in the southeastern Alaskan rainforest, running from tree to tree, playing tag, spying on visitors. Circumstances willing, my physical remains will follow. On the forest floor, my flesh and bone will slowly be absorbed by the living ground, rising up in the hemlock and spruce, the cedar and ferns. My spirit will run by, curiously kicking my bones and scattering them amongst the growth. Slowly I’ll become part of the forest, ageless and enduring.

 

Today I do worry my spirit won’t find an ancient forest to retire to. Instead, it will find no trees, just the eroded plane of clear cuts and washouts. The spirits will have long since abandoned the site, and perhaps the earth altogether. Global warming, ill conceived programs like the Governor’s Roads to Ruin- oops; I mean Roads to Resources program, mean a continuous pressure on this country to become just like everywhere else. Developed, scarred by man’s arrogance.

 

Alaska remains today, for the most part, what the continent of North America was a short two hundred years ago. We Alaskans have a priceless wealth in this overdeveloped world, we have wild places for people to visit and restore their spirits.

 

Where will my children go to renew their spirits, if not Alaska?

 

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