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.