Written on the train between Fairbanks and Anchorage – we’ll call it a brain dump…
This is my second time to the Interior of Alaska, and I fear I will have even more of a difficult time heading out on the plane late tonight than the first time I came here. Right now I’m on a train, the Alaska Railroad, between Fairbanks and Anchorage, headed toward that inevitable flight home.
There’s something so magical about this place. I think the shear size and remoteness of Alaska might scare people off from anything more than a casual “trip of a lifetime” up the inside passage on a cruise ship, or perhaps a drive up to Denali National Park in hopes of seeing the Mountain in the distance. But there is so much more. Something so utterly intriguing about our biggest state.
By nature, I’ve always been drawn to rural places. And by nature, those rural places seem to be becoming more and more remote. Rural is no longer “enough.” Perhaps it was my upbringing in northern Wisconsin, living quite a ways from town, that sparked this need for a quiet place in my soul. That’s right: need. Not simply a “what if” or an “I wish” or a mere desire. It is, in fact, a need. My soul craves the silence, the slow, methodical way that mother nature moves from season to season. Setting my soul, my mind – my entire being and existence – in unison with that methodical progression.
I’m looking out the train windows at the scenery of rural Alaska zipping by, and my heart is both breaking and singing. Singing with what I see. Breaking, knowing that in 12 hours I’ll be boarding a flight back to Montana.
My gosh, the colors. The dense forests. The occasional vista that pulls your gaze across the brilliant tundra to a far distant hillside. The spindly spruce poking up like jagged toothpicks from the permafrost laden earth.
Autumn is breaking summer’s grasp on the landscape. Reds and golds are beginning to appear. The mornings are frosty, and the air remains refreshing and cool all day long. The clouds are low; an occasional dusting of fresh snow appears at the tops of the mountains. And the nights are beginning to both darken, and erupt in fire as the northern lights begin their seasonal progression back to illuminate the sky. I caught the last inkling of a red curtain at sunrise this morning. The arctic sky was waving so long to me as I gathered by belongings for the trek back to civilization.
On this trip, I again had the opportunity to spend some time with a musher in a sled dog kennel. The lifestyle of a musher ignites something within me. My traveling companions show no interest in the threat of 40-below and the blinding white of the snow, and the long dark winters that drag on for months. But not me. I would relish the opportunity to experience a winter in this harsh and unforgiving place. It may be the romantic notion of the traditional lifestyle. A cabin in the woods, dried salmon and sourdough bread, a fire lighting and warming the space, a sled hooked up to a team, burrowing your way through the winter and the snow-covered spruce trees. Holed up in the woods, waiting for that first peek of spring. Probably unrealistic. But then again, living in a place like this seems to break any preconceived notion of normality.
Some might say something like “If only…” Or, “what I would give…” But perhaps the statement should be “How?” How could I make this work? And in conjunction with how, is when and where. Life is short. If not now, then when? There are so many places that I’d love to move… But the rural reality is usually not as extreme as I would like. Save, perhaps, rural Nevada – but I have no desire to move to rural Nevada. But this Northland… This amazing, colorful, remote, rural, extreme Northland. This, for sure, is the where. The next set of givens to determine are the when and the how.
I often get the hairy eyeball when I describe what I want to do. Again and again, I get the response that it’s not realistic. It’s not prudent. It’s not responsible. But I have to remember that this is my life, and it needs to be lived for me. Not lived to accommodate the fears of others.
I’m a strong woman. A determined soul, raised by parents who instilled amazing strengths and skills in me.
If not now, then when? And if not here, then where?
This places screams to my soul. It calls to my imagination. It invites me to try… And it tells me I can.