First Impressions on the Last Frontier

Golden light on jagged mountain peaks in Seward, Alaska

Since I arrived in Anchorage two weeks ago with a couple of duffle bags and a lot of ridiculous notions about the great, wild, last frontier (mostly from movies), I’ve learned a lot. Alaska is somehow both more and less rugged than I had predicted- I buy my shockingly expensive groceries at a big ol’ Safeway, not a dusty local shop, but live in an apartment reminiscent of a summer camp I never went to, bear-themed bedding, VCR and all.

In a lot of ways, I boarded a time-machine back to the 90’s. I spent ten minutes the other day excitedly arranging my newly acquired VHS collection (Princess Bride! Monty Python!). I bike everywhere I go and my fave hangout is the Seward library. Actually, all of my favorite places have a few things in common now: warmth and free wifi. At first, I wondered how I managed to end up in this position again. Didn’t I just spend three months lurking outside buildings for internet and freezing my butt off in Bhutan?  Two weeks in, though, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I might be writing this post from the freezing sidewalk outside the closed library, but its hard not to be charmed by Seward when every day includes such completely incredible moments.  It’s worth it when I watch the sun rise over the mountains on my bike to work- a short-lived pleasure as the days get shorter – or catch seals and otters playing in the bay on my lunch break. When I saw the northern lights for the first time last week from my living room window, I thought for sure my eyes were playing tricks on me. Then for one brief moment, a ribbon of otherworldly color danced above the mountains. It was one of those heart-pounding moments you can never get enough of. I sat up for an hour, completely wired and feeling a cell-deep recognition of having witnessed something extraordinary (medically speaking, it was probably the late afternoon coffee I was feeling- but still).

For every moment of breathtaking beauty there is a hilariously weird one. If you really want to know what life in small town Alaska is like, here’s a glimpse:

On a coffee run with a coworker, I accidentally became the sports writer for a town newspaper during a conversation with the one-man operation that runs it. Yes, me, the same person that lived in Boston for four years and still occasionally confuses the baseball and basketball teams (or is it football?). I’ll excuse you while you check if hell froze over. There’s an oddly sophisticated stuffed beaver perched above my desk at work. The office gossip includes an abandoned eagle nest pulled down with a dead tree that had 30 cat collars in it and another eagle that almost carried someone’s baby away before deciding it was too heavy.  Every day is more ridiculous, terrifying, and charming than the last.

But I’m embracing the weird. Let the hopelessly incorrect sports metaphors begin.dsc_5030dsc_5094dsc_5138dsc_5140dsc_5161dsc_5085dsc_5243dsc_5236dsc_5172-2dsc_5313

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”

— John Muir

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