August 17, 2010


In her essay, The Way Winter Comes, Alaskan author Sherry Simpson writes, "What I really want - others confess this longing too - is for the land to possess me, to name me." She considers that people spend a lot of time trying to figure out who they are, or how to belong. But perhaps the more important task is to consider the place. And so she gives up on her effort to belong by naming things around her and hoping the place will name her in return. Instead, she just offers simple descriptions of her immediate surroundings, which places her right there within them. And so I am inspired to do something similar – solidify my relationship with this place just by observing it, through all five of my senses.

I’ll start with sight because that’s easy: Alaska is feast for the eyes. A splendid wonderland of visual awe. Last week, a friend, Katie, called and before I could say hello she asked, in hurried tones, “What are you doing right now? Can you be down at the dock in 15 minutes? For a flight-seeing tour?" I issued a one word response, "Yes!"

I have done this flight-seeing tour before (occasionally going on tours for free is a perk of working in tourism), but this time seemed even more special. It was spontaneous, the weather was fresh and gorgeous and my departure date from Juneau was rapidly approaching. One more time; one more flight over the ice field.

Local author of The Blue Bear, Lynn Schooler, describes the Juneau Ice Field like this: “The ice field is not visible from the downtown area of the city, but it is always there, looming just beyond the ridges, sending its cold breath down in gusts that swirl among the homes and businesses in a constant reminder that ice is to Alaska what Shiva is to the Hindu pantheon – it is the god that creates and the demon that destroys… Along the crescent coastline between the Aleutian islands in the west and the mouth of the Stikine River near Wrangell, over twenty-five thousand square miles of land are still buried in ice, forming eight major ice fields and numerous smaller ones from which dozens of pale blue glaciers flow slowly downhill to the sea, where they feed icebergs into the water with a sound like thunder. Here, the Ice Age still lingers.”

I, myself, have never had the words to describe the Juneau Ice Field and its glaciers very well. They humble me. The ice field is grand and stunning, yes. Powerful, certainly. It’s magnitude is almost too much to grasp. But it’s more personal than that: The ice field silently surges and reverberates with a deep spirit that resonates somewhere inside me and many who come near it. I have touched the ice field only once, for four days and four nights, aware all along that the ice field, the force that has shaped this place over millennia, was somehow allowing me to be there, and to be here, at all. I have felt many things in the presence of the ice field, but one emotion stands out: gratitude. Gratitude for the chance to experience it.

Alaska contains many amazing sights, such as the Juneau Ice Field. And I suppose, like anywhere, when you stop and look, it is also a place of precious details. So while Alaska has shared its grandeur with me, it has also taught me to see the excitement, the miracle, in the small things. Alaska has nudged my head down away from the panaramic views and focused on my eyes on the ground.

Alaska has taught me not to seek out wildlife, but to appreciate all the signs that the animals are here; not to gaze solely at glaciers and peaks but to spot the first bloom of spring, the last berry of fall, the mushroom under the dead, fallen tree. The smaller details produce just as much awe in me now. I am grateful for this lesson; it makes every step more fulfilling.

No comments:

Post a Comment