Monday, November 26, 2012

One Week till I Leave Juneau

I haven't posted in months. I'm a little disappointed by this. Not that I am expecting that anyone really reads this. It is more for my own enjoyment. And now that I've skipped at least 6 months of journaling my life here, I've thus failed to capture the last several months of living in Juneau. In fact, when my last post was entered in March, I had NO idea that before the years end I'd be leaving this tiny city. Now that I am, I can think of many opportunities I could have taken to log a memorable Juneau moment. Ce' la vie.

I am both sad and excited to say that I'm leaving. Juneau was my first home away from home, my first real adventure. Juneau was where my Alaskan Life began. I've met many friends here, and I met my boyfriend here too. It was the launch point for my backcountry summer in 2010. It is where I spent 2 terms as an AmeriCorps member. I met an interesting cast of characters here and it feels like I've lived many different lives all at once. Juneau is a remarkable place and I will miss it.

Ever since the close of my first summer here two and half years ago, I'd wanted to go further north and see what it was like to live in other parts of the state. Because of opportunities that were presenting themselves here though, I decided not to push relocating. Instead, I tried for a second term as what amounted to an unofficial Vista position with AmeriCorps. I changed apartments and began seriously dating someone after spending the last four years mainly solo. Then, once that year ended I moved into the social services field. I've been working hard ever since, putting in 50 hour weeks on average as a Case Manager for a residential treatment facility. The summer of 2012 went by without more than a sniff of sunshine. We in Juneau spent most of the "best" part of the year holed up inside, hiding from drizzle. It was during this time that the future stability of my boyfriends place of employment began to look it bleakest. And so the job hunt began. But it was really just little fits and starts. Neither of us were really trying very hard to leave. But, as it happens in life, he was offered a job in Anchorage, and plans needed to be made.

I am so very excited to be heading to Anchorage, to be with the man I love, and enjoy life and all that it brings. Anchorage is much bigger than Juneau. There are more stores, more restaurants, and roads that go on forever. I hope to take a trip up to Fairbanks over the summer next year, maybe as far as Prudhoe Bay. Basically I want to go all over Alaska. I've enjoyed living in Juneau. I like to call it a boutique city, with just enough shops, restaurants, attractions and residents to grant it it's own identity, but not so much that you could put it on par with small cities in the lower 48. Juneau is its own little world.

My little world will be expanding on December 3rd when I board the ferry to Whittier. Whittier is a small town about 1.5 hours from Anchorage. There is one large military building that the entire town lives in. And, there is a one way tunnel - the only way in and out of Whittier. You have to get to the tunnel at the right time in order to be able to travel in the direction you want. Very Alaskan, right?

I will be working at Alaska Childrens Services for now. We'll be staying with friends while we find out own place in the city. And then, I don't know? We are talking about going cross country skiing, seeing movies in a real movie theater, taking day trips around the Kenai, exploring the local parks (which will be fun since my man is working for The Anchorage Parks Foundation), and just enjoying life.

I'm very excited to be off on another adventure. :)

(Sadly my camera is broken and won't upload pictures anymore. Thankfully though I've ordered a new iphone, so soon I will be able to add that feature to these posts).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Come follow me!

It is more than obvious that I don't use this blog nearly as much as I should. I gave up on the blog in some ways because it was taking me tooo long to come up with succient ways of explaining months of gaps in my history of posts. I've moved to a wordpress blog, where many of my AmeriCorp friends are following me.

I won't deny I actually feel sadness that I've had to retire a blog that was generating some moderate success. I like the layout of wordpress better than blogger though, and frankly I know more people that use wordpress.

For those readers that were following me, I hope you will rejoin my Alaskan updates over on wordpress! Please do?!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reflecting: Home for the holidays after 7 months away

This is one of my favorite pictures so far that I've taken in Alaska. And as you can see, its got nothing to do with the picture quality or the lighting or any sort of technical/artistic element. Its a crappy, fizzy looking photo.
I like it because I took this shot on my first solo hike after my summer job ended and everyone I'd come to know had left. I took this shot on my first weekend officially "living and working in Juneau full time." The shot is of a waterfall seen along Perserverance Trail, just a short ways out. You can see it from a long way off. Therefore, it dosnt mark some sort of distant landmark one finally gets to see after hours of labor. But I love it anyways, and I just couldnt wait to get up close enough to document it. Thus this picture.
I have a lot of moments like this picture. Mental moments mostly, when I realize that I've done something that will become a "marker" of sorts. I can't go into all of them, that would take hours. For the point of this post, I will reference just a few in particular. One of those moments was May 25th when I boarded a plane in one end of North America and ended the day deplaning at the extreme other side of the same land mass. Up until that point, for all my 25 years, through a series of events that would take too long to explain, I had so far failed at every attempt I'd made to LEAVE home and strike out on my own, for whatever space of time. But now finally, finally, I had done it. I had left.
I had felt for a long time an overwhelming need to strike out on my own. A sneaking suspicion that I was missing out on something. I had lived at home too long, I knew. But a sloppy economy was preventing me from finding a job that could support an independent life. I looked everywhere. I did get a job, but I didn't need a degree for it. Just a highschool dipolma, which is fine for some, but it wasnt fine for me. I had just spent 5 years working hard to earn a college education. I'd moonlighted at a gas station for that education, waited tables, got talked down to constantly by people who made assumptions when they saw my car, and my crappy part time jobs. I commuted 40 minutes both ways to an UNPAID internship, in a car that didn't always start, I ended a floundering 3 year relationship for my education...and damnit I was going to use that education if it killed me. Living at home, at 25, working a job that I could've gotten without going through ANY of the aforesaid sacrifice just would not cut it. It certainly wasn't going to make me happy.
I put a lot into getting to Alaska. The job I finally got was an Americorp Term of Service, fixing and maintaining trails in the wilds of Alaska. What an adventure! Unfortunatly for me, I had no skills for this stuff. No gear, no experience camping outside a cushy campground with flushing toilets and RV hookups. But the way I saw it, this was my chance. If I didn't go, how was I to know when the next opportunity would come along? It had taken 25 years to get here...was I just supposed to let it slip away? What was more, that overwhelming need to leave my current situation behind had become unbearable. My ship had come in, now if only I could figure out how to sail it..
So...I poured more money than I really care to share into outfitting myself for this trip. I put down a huge chunk into my autoloan so that I wouldn't have to pay while I was away. I paid off my credit card, bought my plane ticket, and tried to push out of my mind how much of my savings I had just burned through. But I had to try, I just had to take the risk.

The picture above is a shot of the very edge of the Plymouth jetti. Those are the last rocks. I wanted to get just the tips of my feet in the shot. It's meant to be poetic to me. That is the furthest point you can walk to on the jetti, after that you've reached the end. And that's how I felt about my life in Massachusetts that week - just day's before my flight. I had reached the end of the road back home. There was nothing left for me to pursue or explore. I needed a fresh start. One journey ends, another begins - that sort of thing.

And now I'm home, for a while. Two weeks back in Massachusetts to catch up with my family, see my friends and reassert that we all still care about and remember each other during this most appropriate time of year.

It felt strange to be driven from Boston Logan to my little hometown after having taken off from Juneau International just 13 hours prior. I registered the familiar images of streets and houses I'd passed ten thousand times, not surprised to see how nothing had changed - but still surprised to realize that I was actually back. I trimmed the tree with my family tonight after a welcome home dinner of my favorite cousine: Chinese. I am happy to be home. But one question I just had to ask myself last night as I opened the door to my old bedroom...was I home? Was this home anymore? I mean, yes, it will always be "home". No matter how long its been I will always know that I can open the fridge and help myself. Flop down on the couch and watch TV on a whim. But am I home?

Or perhaps, is home 4,000 miles away now? Even then, I'm only renting a room in someone elses condo. Maybe its a little more complicated than that. Maybe what I needed was the chance to separate myself from everyone I knew and everything that was familiar, and figure out who Sara was on my own terms. Without the influence of familiarity with people or places. I think that once my contract in AK is up, I could probably return back east with a clear (or at least clearer) conscience. And it makes me wonder where else I might end up. It certainly feels like my future is far more open than it was before I left. And it also makes me really question what it means to be "home." Could home just be wherever you are happiest, or just meant to be - for better or worse - for that space of time?

Even in the past two and a half decades since I was born, the world has gotten smaller. Travel is even more efficient now than it was then. And as I close in on the last days before my next birthday, I am starting to wonder where I'll be next once my contracted commitment is through? What part of the world will I be drawn to, by fate or chance or purpose? And when I arrive there...will I be home there too?

Whatever the outcome, Tolkien was right: Not all those who wander are lost.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Where am I now?

I haven't posted anything in a while. I am sure that whatever small crawl of a following I might have had in June, is gone now. That's OK though. I'm picking it up again now, in December, seven months later.

So what has happened in the past seven months? So much. Too much. My goal is to record what I did in the months from my last post till now over the course of several update posts. I went from Admiralty to Juneau to Ketchikan to Juneau again. It was all a very origional adventure. In the course of those months, I realized that come October, when it was time to leave my trail job, I wasn't going to want to also call it quits on the Last Frontier. I wanted to stay. I wanted to be able to live in Alaska outside of just as a summer person passing through. Being on a trail crew, you spend a lot of time around other people, and not often on your own. I wanted the chance to have my own individualized experience here. I'm usually someone who likes to go hiking and enjoy the great outdoors. Yet I found myself wanting to do that less and less because I felt that nothing I did, even when I was by myself was ever really being done on my own. I was always on a schedule that involved other people. Even time to myself had to revolve around my crew schedule. I knew that if I stayed, it would be very possible to find work and settle in to a more normal Monday through Friday existence, providing me with a more realistic experience of life in Juneau.

When the option came to take an 11 month contract here that would allow me that exact level of independence, I jumped on it. I am the only one on my crew to stay behind and I am happy with my choice. There is a lot of adventure to be had here. Like anything else though, It is all what you make of it.

On my first weekend in Juneau as a solo person sans crewlife, I decided to take a hike up the very popular Perserverance Trail. The trail snakes its way into the valley behind present day Juneau, into an area that was once a boomtown-mine area. The photo above shows the Glory Hole Basin, a huge pit on the side of the mountain carved from tons of earth moved in the quest for gold. You can still make out the lines of old roads built at the turn of the last century. I went out there the following week, but stopped once it snowed because i decided I'm a big baby and am afraid of slipping on ice and falling to my death.

Outdoor opportunities abound, and I really don't want to miss out on anything just because it gets dark now. I've taken to running at night, after I get out of work. I take a headlamp with me, and wear yaktracks on my feet to grip the slippery sidewalks better. The last big dump we had has melted, but slush and ice has lingered in spots. I used to hate running, but now that I can usually push out an almost mile (with maybe a break to rest in there), I tend to like it more. I think I'm more the distance over time type. I'm not really too concerned at this point as to how long it takes me to run a distance, I just like the satisfaction I get knowing that I'm gaining the ability to cover distance. Not to mention it's healthy for my heart. Maybe not so healthy for my knees but hey...can't win them all.

Being that I've decided to stay through the winter, I get to see such beautiful sights as Mt. Juneau and vicinity after its first big snow fall. I've never seen anything prettier in winter. It makes me wish for snow, something I haven't done in years. Whereas back east people tend to bitch and complain, up here people tend to look forward to it. I look forward to it with them. It just makes sense to have snow on the ground in Alaska. That their isnt any out there right now just looks weird. And it feels like spring too. Maybe Global Warming is going to doom us after all.

I leave next week to take a much needed vacation visit back home to see family and friends that I said goodbye to 7 months ago. It is good to know that with the start of the new year, I will be flying home to my new home here in the North. For me, the adventure isn't even close to over.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fly like an eagle

Time for a photo dump! Pictures of flying into Admiralty and some island shots:

This is what I flew in on. Uppon arriving at the airport I became instantly stoked about the week ahead. All concerns I'd had vanished. All I wanted was to get on the plane and start my adventure!

The mountains were gorgeous as we flew by them. At points I felt as if I could reach out and touch them, we wer that close. I love how mountains take on such a different nature from up high than they do when you're on the ground.

So many green valleys here. So much backcountry. I feel like I could spend a lifetime here exploring and still never see more than 1% of this place.

As I stared out the window of the Beaver, my eyes and brain struggled to take in every curve, every tree, every undulation of the mountains as we flew by them. I tried to process the texture of the pines, the snow, the undergrowth that formed bright green meadows on the mountain side. I strained to see if I could spot any mountain goats. I scanned the shoreline trying to follow its curving line, spying each cove, each sand bar that stretched out from the mountains behind. Humans simply don't have enough eyes to truely see such wonderful nature. But I gave it my best effort with the two that I have.

My first flight into backcountry sent a lot of thoughts through my brain. I was in awe of the beauty of it all. But I was also in awe of the reality of it too. I thought about the chain of events that got my butt into that back seat of a float plane as it glided over the Tongass. I mulled over the year I spent since being laid off, when I had sat up at night pondering what the next 25 years of my life was going to be like. Wondering what was in store for me. At the time I had no solid job prospects on the horizon. All I had was gumption and the prayer that things would pan out for me. After partying away all summer, fueld by the desire to blot out my floundering state inlife, I had entered the fall of '09 with no clue as to what to do with myself, stuck in the worst economy we've seen in decades. I muddled through waters of indecsion and a sinking feeling of despair that the jobs I wanted, and the future I wanted simply werent going to happen. More and more I tried to ignore watching the natural progression taken place around me as all my friends took the next steps in their lives and I remained unemployed, living with my parents.

I was thinking all of this as I stared at the mountains, when suddenly I felt the plane turn and begin to descend. I watched out the window as the water seemed to hurdle closer and closer to the cabin. I listened for the first crashing whistle of float hitting current. The second float hit water below me and we bumped and swaged our way from being airborn to floating.
The engine puttered us along until we were in the shallows. Donning waders, I stepped out gingerly, splashing into thigh high water, the great green grandure of Admiralty stared at me several yards away. Just as when I first deplaned in Juneau back in May, I was hit by the sweet smell of pine, and the cold feel of a watery wind. I trudged to the shore and retied my boots, lugged my pack onto my shoulders and turned to begin the half mile trudge to Mole Harbor. I only got about five steps before stopping to stare at my new reality. I was back on the ground, looking up at the mountains, as they looked down at me with their ancient indifference. Behind me, other crew members were beginning their own trudge up through the low tide. I stopped to snap a picture of two crew members watching the Beaver warm up for its departure. I waited till she was airborn before turning to start walking again. I didn't watch it too long, but I listened as the engine grew fainter and fainter and was gone. Just like that, we were on our own for the next 8 days without any means of leaving less we send for it via radio.

Over the next 8 days I began to get into my stride. Our days began at 6am and ended at 9pm. The weather was merciful. It was sunny mostly with only a faint drizzle. Unfortunally thats not realistic at all and I perish the thought of whats to come. We worked hard, building a camp, hauling gravel, felling trees, building a cedar walkway over mudpits. I was cold, I was damp, and I was tired...but it was worth it.

I have a lot to be thankful for, as I sit here at the hostel, typing this up before heading to bed. I have a lot to ponder, a lot to experience and take in. Every moment is an experience right now for me. Every day I learn something new about myself. There is no limit to the joy one can manage to feel as the sun sets behind snow crested mountains and the sore throb in your feet finally has a chance to dissapate. When you can zip open the door to your tent and stare at the godlike Chilkats displayed in icy pagentry across the water. Or a hike to Lake Alexander rewards you with the calm of a place few have ever seen.

When this work is done, there is a good chance I will probably not return to Admiralty, given its seclusion and high price tag for a personal flight in. In the meantime, this is my reality. I am grateful.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Admiralty Backcountry Trailworker: Me

I would love to post pictures however the library internet will not allow me to copy/save/paste photos from my facebook to here. Thus, you will need to survive with text for now. Sorry.

Monday was my first day back from Admiralty. I've been stationed on the island since the 14th, working 8 days on/6 days off till August. My crew and I are responsible for 2 miles of trail connecting Mole Harbor to Lake Alexander - a portion of a 25 mile canoe/overland route. Its thrilling.

I honestly feel like I've come home. There is so much here that I've fallen in love with in these past few weeks that I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I am surrounded by mist shrouded mountains on all sides. Each one is unique, and covered in a blanket of green pines. The melt water from the peaks cascades into the valleys below. Everywhere you look are rivlets of waterfalls decending from above. When the rain sets in, low lying clouds cover the mountain sides and drift into the valley. I am woken up every morning by birds and put to bed every night by the cool mountain air.

The work we are doing is physically intense, and my body is alreayd responding well to it. I can feel myself getting stronger each day. On my days off, I am forced to take the bus everywhere which means I get in several miles of walking. My car - my most sorely missed possession, is sitting in the driveway back in Massachusetts. I like existing like a typical little Juneauite though. I grab coffee at the Heritage coffee shop in town. I frequent the library for books and news (and internet). I go out for beers at the local bars and am still planning on trying fish and chips at the Sandbar (I am told its the best of the best). I've held back on the hiking while in town on this first week off due to the fact that I'm well aware of the amount of work ahead starting on Monday. Backcountry trail work = pacing yourself. No use wearing myself out before the summer really starts to get underway.

My desire to stay here after my summer work is over has been growing everyday. I see this place as more and more of a place where I think I'm meant to be. Though, there are times I flounder. Like when I settle into my tent at night and think about the bears roaming the woods around me. I miss cape cod and its hot sand beaches, especially given that its summer. But all in all, I don't feel like a visitor. I feel like someone who's just been away from home for a while and finally made it back.

Alaska is huge, and gorgous and raw. People seem a lot more at ease. More friendly. More independent. I can tell some people don't want to be here though. But as for me, I am trying to make a place for myself here. I want to call Alaska home, not just till October, but until I decide to leave for the next place. Not sure how long that will be. For now, I'm in love.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First week in the North

I am here. I arrived on Tuesday after a 16 hour trip (several stops included), more excited about a place than ever before. My flight stopped first in Ketchikan to let off several passengers before continuing on to Juneau. As I walked down the corridor to my flight upon leaving Seattle, and listened to two men talking about life up here, and various goings on with neighbors, I got the sneaking suspicion that I was going to like it...a lot.

I kept my nose pretty much plastered to the windowpane the entire ride up - much akin to a 5 year old. The low lying clouds gave way in spots to the rolling green beauty that is British Columbia. Eager to start the next phase of my life, my head got a little dizzy as I first glimpsed the islands and waters of Ketchikan harbor. It was twilight, which up here means about 8:30pm in May. As we bumped and landed onto the runway, the girl next to me turned, half assuming I'd be deplaning here.

"Are you getting off here?" She asked
"No, I don't live here." I said.
"Oh, are you from Juneau?" She asked
"Not yet, I'm from Boston." Says I
"Oh cool...I live in Juneau. I haven't seen you before. You moving here?" She asks

The conversation that followed was a play by play of living in Juneau, where to find the right jobs, the prices of rent, the advantages over living in Anchorage and the bums of downtown Juneau (She wasnt kidding). It was nice to have the luck of sitting next to a local rather than another dumb transplant like myself. One thing I've been rational about keeping in check is that starry eyed concept that Alaska would be a land of Utopia, where one goes to escape something and everyone is wild and happy. I know that Alaska is also part of this world, and can fall victim and make you a victime of the same bull that made you up and quit in the lower 48 in the first place. I suppose I could say that I there are a few things I'm running from...a failed engagement, deadending in my budding career before it left the ground, recycling the same rotation of bars and local places over and over for another 25 years of life...but truth be told - I'm not running from that. I am, however, running towards something will all the speed and stamina that I can muster.

One look at the Chilkat mountains undulating in the distance in snowcrested grandure, and I know I've made the right choice. I took a walk down to this beach on Thane Road the third day I got here. I spent the first two meeting my new fellow workers and taking in downtown.

I got to the beach in the morning, directly after breakfast. It was empty but for several eagles and two men fixing some sort of transformer. I walked fairly far down, snapping up pictures of every possible angle. I stood there on the beach and watched float planes depart the inlet. A cirlce of eagles flew high above Douglas Island before divebombing their spotted prey. Behind me, meltwater thundered down the mountain side and gurgled into a stream not 100 feet from me. A sign I'd just passed read "Avalanche Zone"...this is where I belong.
Juneau is a beautiful big-little city. I was told by my coordinator not to bother with a car since I'll be in the bush most of the time doing trail work. That being said...this place has a lot of road distance for a city with no road outlet. I considered the idea of renting a bike, but my old back injury has been a bit sore...rather not push it considering the work ahead of me. I've taken the bus to the Mendenhall Valley to do some shopping for necessary items, as well as to take a trip to the famed glacier. (Pictures later).
The one thing I've noticed here is the level of alcohol and substance abuse. I knew that it was a problem per my research prior to making this leap, however seeing it in action really gives it a face. They are mostly men, about 35-50 from what I can tell. Its disgusting to walk by them in the evening as they have no problem hollaring anything at you that comes to mind, and I'll leave that to your imagination given I'm usually walking by myself. So far I've been leered at, whistled at, hollared at, grunted towards and "motioned" towards. I was also plauged by two native men fixing a roof who obviously had a panorama of my movements everwhere I went for several blocks...

Juneau is breath taking, it has its drawbacks, it has its positives. Taking the good and the bad together I am in Love. There are a few things that could improve as mentioned above, but there is a plethora more that I love. This is a huge place, with mountains in the distance and mountains in the fore on all sides. You can step into the woods and get lost for hours, you can board a ferry or a plane and be flung thousands of miles into the wild. There is so much here that man has not touched. And some places where man can be found. Alaska, I can tell, is what you make of it.
As for me, I'd like to make it my home.