Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dear Last Frontier,

In 14 days, give or take a day, my husband and I will push our four apprehensive cats through the slim door of our motor home and drive away from Anchorage, Alaska.  Early on our second day of travel we will cross the border into Canada and travel east and south until we reach Brier, Washington.  My sister and her husband live there, as will we until we find a home of our own nearby.

We have lived in Alaska for almost five years.  It was my dream to live here, and my easygoing husband followed my heart.  I lived in a tiny, spectacularly picturesque town for nine months, another quiet, pleasant rural community with triple the population of the first for two years, and the metropolis of Anchorage for most of the last two years and three months. Much has changed for me, so much.  I have become a Registered Nurse here, while my husband has built a career in retail.  I have fully grieved my mother's death here.  I have lived my dream.  I am among the lucky who somehow manage to have their grand adventure, their "someday", and I am very grateful for that.

My bucket list was carefully constructed before we arrived five years ago.  On it were a number of items, all of which have been satisfied.  I have touched a moose.  I have watched the aurora borealis dance across the sky.  I have stood a mere 30 feet from the face of a glacier.  I have seen the bore tide in Turnagain Arm come in as an impressive wave.  I have eaten a salmon fresh from the Kenai River.  I have seen Denali, the highest peak in North America. I have seen a bear or two.  I have experienced the summer solstice when it really doesn't get dark at all for 24 hours.  I was here for a record breaking winter - snowfall of nearly 11 feet.  I would have been satisfied if the items on that bucket list had been checked off, one by one, during my stay in Alaska.

Those sights, sounds, tastes and experiences were all they I had dreamed they would be.  As I contemplate leaving now, however, it was the unexpected and unpredictable that took my breath away and has settled in my heart.

I was able to be of help to a dear friend who broke her leg shortly after we arrived here.  She needed help, and my husband and I were able to fill that need.  In turn, she created the most beautiful quilt I have ever seen for us. She and I picked out the material and the pattern together and every time I look at it I am happy.  I run my fingertips over its perfect stitching, feeling the texture and contours of different fabrics and I feel like a millionaire.

I met my cousin here for the first time in my memory.  She remembers us meeting as small children, but I do not.  I didn't realize that she lived in Alaska until my sister coordinated a meeting between us early in our stay here.  That first meeting was like coming home for me.  I knew her face in my soul.  She and her husband showed us extraordinary hospitality and I fell in love with her.  We have laughed so hard, shared so much, and bemoaned our mutual neurotic natures for hours on end.  We have taken care of the other's pets, spent holidays together, been through health scares, retirement (hers), academic achievements (mine), and she has shown me a brand of unconditional love that took me completely by surprise.  No matter how far from each other we live in the future, we will remain connected by a special bond.  I cannot assign a name to it, nor can I describe how deep it goes.  It is just what I have with my Georgia.

I forged some friendships here that have been shockingly deep, most of them with classmates from nursing school or somehow associated with my activities in college, and some with people whom I have worked for the past ten months in my job as an RN at the Alaska State Psychiatric Hospital.  My emotionally wounded veteran soul sister. My bright and shiny surrogate daughter and roommate. My hilarious, generous and irreverent fellow nurse and part time flight attendant.  My shy and honorable biking and coffee partner. My rambunctious, wild, procrastinating friend who made it through our rigorous course of study always waiting until the last minute but getting it done nonetheless.  I won't write about them all, but so many have left a mark on my memory.  The nurses at my place of employment who either frightened me or inspired me into becoming a competent novice psychiatric nurse. 

Alaska has given me a lifetime of wonder, love, awe, and experience in five short years.  I have loved being a resident of this wild and scenic land, and know that when we drive away I will feel certain that I was given the chance to squeeze every bit of life out of my time here.  I also know that I will be moving toward new, deep, exciting, challenging adventures near my family in Washington and I am so excited about that.  I think I grew up in Alaska,  I think I became my authentic self here.  And when we climb into that motor home in two weeks, the person I have become here is the one I'm taking with me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


We escaped the cold, dark Alaska winter for a few days and are visiting my sister and her husband in their snowbird haven in Tucson.  They live just north of Seattle and fled the wet and darkness there for three months.  They rent a "park model" in a development that caters to very active people over the age of 55, and my sister loves it.  My brother in law is not fully committed to three months away from home every winter, but my sister is working on him and I suspect that he will succumb.

I've probably been to Tucson before, but it was years ago during my misspent youth and I remember nothing about it.  I don't like hot weather, so it would never have been on my list of places to visit.  It sits practically on the Mexican border and is most definitely, most decidedly desert.  Having lived in California for many years and despising the heat there, nobody could ever have talked me into visiting a city further south and nowhere near an ocean.

Until now.

When we left Anchorage on Sunday morning I had cleats strapped on my shoes so that I could navigate the ice rink that is our driveway without falling and breaking a hip.  When we left the airport in Tucson I stripped off several layers of clothing and looked at the big ball of fire in the cloudless blue sky, thanking God for Alaska Air miles.

Since our arrival I have attended a class in water aerobics, watched my sister and a number of other people play "hand bells" (which has always sounded goofy to me but is actually quite lovely), gone geocaching for the first time in a long time, laughed hard, eaten too much, and slept on an air mattress that inexplicably loses air during the night so that either my husband or I have to get up and use the electric pump to re-inflate it.  Several times every night.

Yesterday I rented a road bike from a local shop.  I love biking and haven't been able to take a good long ride in several months due to snow, ice, and darkness.  Today I went for a ride.  I found a lovely stretch of bike trail and rode blissfully in the sun for miles.  Too many miles.  By the time I returned to the resort, everything hurt.  Sore palms (I forgot to bring my riding gloves), sore legs, and a back that hasn't spent time curved over handlebars in months.  But, that is just the beginning.

Bicycle seats are not friendly things - not road bike bicycle seats anyway.  I've found that the best way for me to make friends with a seat is to ride a couple of miles per day for a week, then slowly add miles.  My parts seem to get used to the seat when they are introduced to it slowly.

By the time I dismounted from the bicycle this afternoon, I knew I was in trouble.  I had very unhappy parts.  They were downright infuriated that I had taken such a long ride.  By the time my sister, her husband, my husband and I had dined at my very favorite restaurant, it was painfully clear to me that re-inflating a sagging air mattress would be the least of my problems tonight.  We stopped at a pharmacy so that I might find something to quiet my screaming parts, and I encountered a very professional, compassionate male pharmacist who looked like he was 14.  I am not a shy person by any means, but I found it difficult to explain my problem.  He listened to me with a puzzled look on his face, and suddenly he "got it".  He saved my life by suggesting a spray analgesic that his wife used after giving birth and a big jar of diaper rash cream.

I suspect that when I ride again tomorrow, and I will, that I will ride a considerably shorter distance and that I will spent lots and lots of time standing on the pedals.