Today In Alaska
Be Careful What You Wish For
My younger sister and I used to talk a lot about going together on a whale watching tour in Alaska. It seemed the ultimate in adventure and really awesome because of the whales. After all, I’d read Moby Dick and (horrified by the harpooning) fallen for the Cetacea with all of a Free Willy type of love, wanting to see with my own eyes the giant ocean creatures who could sing heartrending notes like underwater operatic tenors.
As we dreamed big with no money in our pockets and the future somewhere ahead of us just out of reach, Michaela’s and my phones calls faded into years.
Then I went off to Peru and then ever-ever onward and she moved away to Mexico.
We didn’t exactly forget about our dream, but we backburnered it. Also, we began to live our lives as a day to day adventure as best we could. She found whales and dolphins in Mexico and I found moose and other wild things out in the wilderness.
But, occasionally, I still had Alaska on my mind.
This past winter, my mom and I were talking about my travels and where I’d yet like to go. Alaska came up in my list.
A few days later, as if spoken into existence because of my conversation with my mother, I found an ad in the Caretaker’s Gazette for a summer work exchange in, of all places, Alaska. With nothing to lose, I shot off an email. And then soon after that found myself locked in to a summer gig.
Oh lord, work. Now what have I done?
I’d wished for Alaska and gotten it. And while that was a magic of its own, the work (somewhat unspecific in scope and with a number of hours to work in exchange for a place to stay before I get paid) daunted me.
“Are you excited about Alaska?” my grandmother asked as the days sped me forward toward my travel day.
“Yes,” I’d said, but I hadn’t been sure if I was. Whale watching was one thing, work was another.
There’s a quote by Russell Baker in which he says, “The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.”
While my suspicion about what writing requires has been doused by the reality of trying to make my writing good (and then better)(can suspicion be doused?), I had latched on to the part of the quote about not being fit for real work—mostly because I was tired of unfulfilling hours of work for other people. It wasn’t that I was lazy, not exactly, I simply realized my own limitations and desires. Also, I wanted to do my own thing. I liked my freedom.
But I can choose where I go and what I do. In this life that’s a lot.
For now, I’m lucky enough to be able to write half the year in the relative solitude of the wilderness and work out in the world in an attempt to gain money the other half.
Which has brought me to Alaska.
And though my sister isn’t here with me and though I’ve yet to see whales, I have the summer ahead of me to discover what this territory is all about. I’ve made it and here I am.