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.