True Alaskans

by • January 5, 2015 • ToastComments (0)173

Despite the insanity of living here, we just get it

Nothing reminds me of the passage of time so much as the coming of the New Year. It’s such a festive holiday, and the best ones I remember have been celebrated with cheerful music, spectacular fireworks, good friends and special outdoor outings.
One year, we took our dog team to the trails and gave midnight sled dog rides to the kids. Another year, we went ice-skating on a frozen lake, and yet another, we hosted a bonfire party in our front yard. Perhaps my favorite New Year was spent in a cabin at Sheep Mountain, launching Chinese lanterns into the sky at the stroke of midnight. We clanked frozen beer bottles with our friends at the strike of 12, and the kids hooted while the lanterns lifted silently into the sub-zero, starlit sky.
There are no shortage of ways to ring in the New Year in Alaska, and despite often bone-chilling temperatures, it really is most memorable to celebrate another year on the planet while actually enjoying its outdoor beauty.
While January can be a time to feel like hibernating, it also is one in which the intrepid outdoorsperson can truly learn to appreciate the world in which we live. It’s as if the blanket of summer leaves and warmth – all those protective layers that lure us outside in summer – are stripped bare for us to look at our state in its underwear.
If you still like what you see in January? Well, then you are a true Alaskan.

Carly and Sam Dennis light a Chinese lantern at Sheep Mountain to help ring in the New Year. MELISSA DEVAUGHN

Carly and Sam Dennis light a Chinese lantern at Sheep Mountain to help ring in the New Year.
MELISSA DEVAUGHN

Time has passed in fits and starts since I moved here 20 years ago. When I was young, it was all a blur, and I chewed away at Alaska’s outdoors adventures with the appetite that only a young person can possess without becoming obese. I camped, backpacked, climbed, ran, biked and dog mushed every single free minute I had.
Half a decade later, married and with a child on the way, the frenetic pace slowed; others depended on me, there was nesting to be done, roots to plant.
In the 10 years that followed life flew by, and those outdoor experiences might not have come as often and as easily, but they still were cherished – every single kayak trip, each of those long day hikes, the failed experiments at ice climbing and the intrepid winter camping forays – all of them became part of the mosaic of “life in Alaska” for me and my family.
Alaska is not an easy place to live – that I will truly admit. When it’s snowing in May, and all I crave is the sight of a green leaf; when, alternately,
it’s not snowing in January and all I want is a foot of freshly groomed dog trail; when it rains on the weekend of a highly anticipated camping trip; when the mosquitoes descend and drive our cookout indoors – all of this can make the sane person look at themselves and think, “What in the world am I doing here?”
But then comes a crystal clear night and the northern lights practically bounce off the ground. My husband and I stand in the front yard and stare as if we are seeing something otherworldly. Or I take the dogs on a late-night run on a full-moon night and the silent beauty of it all makes me oblivious to the cold. Or I stand at the top of a mountain trail with a friend, look at the spectacular view below and feel a sort of pity for those poor souls living in a concrete jungle in the cities of the Lower 48.
At some point over all these years, I realized
that those roots I’d delicately sowed back in the
’90s are now firmly planted.
I am an Alaskan, and can never be anything else.
These are the things I think about in January each year, when a new calendar awaits my scribbling – marking the days for the ski trip here, the kayak outing there, the 5K race down the road – filling it with all of the things to do and see in this state. I selectively forget the days I felt challenged living in Alaska and instead fall back on the happy memories – those New Year’s parties on cold winter nights, those views from the summit and those times spent with friends who just “get” what living in Alaska is all about.
Happy New Year, Coast readers. May you have plenty of stories of your own to tell in 2015.

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