It would be a travesty of my words to say that Alaska has been anything short of life changing. Yet, sadly I have allowed the stories to go undocumented. Though I have few readers… I’ll tell the stories anyways; mostly for my own benefit as I imagine some day my memory will fade further from its already spotty duties, and with it written I can read back and recall, in greater detail, my grand adventures. If you are reading, you are now a part of them, to some extent.
For a while then, I will be catching up on all that is locked in spoken stories: my tales where I’m the hero living my own epic in the Great Land. And as it was it should be written, the first thing I experienced in the Great Land… was its great rains. They offered no hopes of reprieve. Drilling into the wings of the plane, it failed to allight more than once on the the short island runway of Ketchikan, Alaska. I recall a woman from Florida with an immense deal of fear of flying. I joked with her that if the crash didn’t kills us, maybe the Orcas would. I also recall watching the wings bank hard against angry winds as the pilot tried to reassure us, voice faltering. But on the third attempt, the pilots drove the plane sharply to the asphault and the tires hissed against the wet black top. We were safe.
I departed the plane, and the terminal was everything you’d expect from the sleepy fishing town of Ketchikan, violently awoken by cruise season. It was small. There were no massive bulletins of tourism or books or shopping kiosks, only a brief encounter with a stuffed mountain goat and the friendliest TSA agents on the globe. For some reason, it reminded me oddly of Fargo, sleepily drifting through tradition before the violent upset of the cruises.
I was wearing knee-high shorts, a tank, flip flops, and a massive, slightly-nervous grin as I dumbly took directions to board the short ferry to Revillagigedo. The rain mocked my attire, and the looks of the locals made me laugh. I didn’t care, I was excited to be chasing this adventure. I waited in the rain and never budged, I simply absorbed, waiting for Mama Betsey to pick me up and take me to my new home for the next four months.
She was hard to miss. The grey pickup spun in and Mama Betsey hopped out. “You’ll have to sit in the back with Tuck,” an aging golden lab wearing the cone of shame groggily greeted me as I opened the door, he was still enjoying the high from a superficial surgery. Mama Betsey… she’s the kind of woman who can’t be described. I feel like the quote “Alaskan women become the men they hoped to marry” embodies her best. Worn hard and put away wet, he croaky voice bounded as greatly as the warmth in her heart. “Okey dokey,” she’d always say, with a smirk and oddly reassuring glint in her eyes. I always wondered if she ever had any idea what the hell was going on, but quickly that doubt faded as she always seemed to roll with the punches with such grace, no matter the circumstances or her depth of supposed understanding. She was the ocean walking. It had carved and shaped her and intensified her heart as the waves matched her pulse through life’s hardships. And she moved at a mile a minute with surest footing. It’s as if every day she knew exactly what to do for even the most simplistic action, almost as though it were scripted and yet, at the same time, she had thrown the script out without ever looking at it to expose her stage to her own devices. What an experience it was to meet such an incredibe soul. I was blessed to know her for such a short time, and I must say, my greatest regret is never taking the opportunity to spend days at sea with her. She was proud of her rhubarb, and loved her son, Jared, and at times she would gripe that he wasn’t running things fully properly… though we all knew that if Mama Betsey felt that with all her heart she would have politically outruled his decisions. So their disputes were simple, polite, and lacking the ferocity I had known from the lower 48. And for the longest time, I simply could not understand that approach. People are kinder up here, and there is no need to fight as I had grown to know… and it took me until now to realize truley what I admired in the simple lives of Alaskans: simplicity.
Mama Betsey informed me of little things here and there as we drove home, rain pounding on the windshield. Creeks burst at their edges and roared over cliffs into culverts below roads. The red cedars were exhausted, carrying the weight of many rain drops clinging to their already drooping limbs. And thus it began: Alaska through my eyes. Sadly, I cannot recall my initial impression of SouthEast Exposure. Perhaps it was too much of a blur, a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions lost to the atmosphere to be felt by other creatures. Though, the next day I would walk to the bus for groceries and meet a man, and coworker, named Rob, who saved me the walk home and without hesitation began the most ridiculous conversation about a tradition that involves eating a baby bird alive and spending as long as possibe chewing on it. And may I strongly suggest, if the opportunity ever presents itself, never turn down the chance to have that conversation with a balding young man as it will be one of the greatest conversations you’ll ever share with a stranger, because, as it turned out, there are no boundaries when it comes to discussing the art of eating a baby bird alive solely for the sake of experiencing the flavors of slowly chewed murder, and though the topic is perhaps gruesome, the exchange is sincere and wonderful. May I also add how fortunate you’d be to ever share that moment as I did, for such circumstances, I have learned, are as rare and fleeting as elusive snipe in wooded forests and as falsely blessed as fairy tales, but life is what you make it, and I choose to live on vivid experiences.