Sometimes wanderlust leads us back to home
Last night I couldn’t sleep – I’d recently returned from Europe and was still adjusting to the time difference, so at 2 a.m. my eyes popped open and I felt as if I’d overslept. After all, in Spain in was already noon, so what was I doing lounging in bed?
Fortunately for me, I glanced out the window, and looked across the lawn. In the distance, the stirring of the northern lights caught my eye, and for once, I was not too sleepy to take a peek.
Those living in southcentral Alaska know that October has offered excellent northern lights viewing. For whatever reason, the sky has been active and the clear cold nights have served up ideal conditions to stand outside and peer at this phenomenon, take pictures and hurry back inside before losing the feeling in your slippered feet.
In Spain, my traveling companions wanted to know all about the northern lights, and they asked about it as if questioning a myth – are they really real? Do they make noise? Are they all different colors? I answered their questions as well as I could, not understanding what all the fuss was about. After all, I have seen the northern lights more times than I can count – by dog sled on the west side of Denali; sleeping under the stars in the White Mountains; along the shores of Cook Inlet while standing among Subaru-sized ice floe chunks. Most often, I glimpse them during day-to-day chores such as driving home from the grocery store, or feeding the sled dogs after dinner. I’ve come to take for granted these magical curtains of color that so often light up the night sky.
Like most Alaskans, I have even tired of the northern lights and when people ask me if I saw the “great light show last night,” I often reply that I slept right through it. After awhile, the thrill wears off, and while beautiful I admit that the “I’ll watch them next time” mindset prevails when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.
It’s much like spotting a moose – we see them all the time, and most Alaskans – unless the moose are doing something unusually exciting like rutting in the middle of the road, or eating a pumpkin off our porch – take little notice. They are urban deer more annoying than menacing, blocking us from our vehicles when we want to get to work or causing our dogs to bark in frustration and waking up the neighbors.
But go to another place – a different state or country where the goings on of Alaskans are considered exotic – and you get a new perspective and even appreciation for the daily things we call life.
During the last night of my stay in Spain, I sat at a dinner table at a quaint country inn, surrounded by travelers from Paris, Tokyo, Bordeaux, France; Missoula, Mont.; and Connecticut. My cell phone dinged and I looked down at the words from my husband. I read the text once and then a second time. Then I read it aloud to my companions on either side:
There was a grizzly in the driveway just now. It bluff charged me when I went out to see why the dogs were barking and I had to duck into the cab of the truck to get away. I hit the horn and scared it off but it didn’t go far.
At that moment, with their mouths agape, I wondered if they really believed me. Sometimes the other-worldliness that is Alaska can seem far-fetched, and dodging a grizzly is one of those stories that just seems too “made for TV” to be real. But it happened, in our suburban back yard in the middle of the night. And at that moment it dawned on me, this fascination people have with Alaska. From the northern lights to wandering wildlife to glaciers that go on for miles, we really do live in a special place. Sometimes it takes traveling thousands of miles to remind us, but it is true. This is our Alaska and you can’t really appreciate it until you’ve experienced it yourself.
This month, we invite you to share in the experiences of our storytellers in the pages of Coast. From Rosemary Austin’s exploration on newly frozen biking trails to Ben Napolitano’s rundown of his favorite ski runs at Alyeska, our writers share with you the things that make Alaska their home. Take a peak at Carl Battreall’s new book, on pages 20-24, and you will appreciate anew our Alaska.
It may not always be easy to live here, that I’ll admit. But it is special, always so special, especially when the veil of winter and the fresh snow that (hopefully) accompanies it greets us for the season.