Monday, July 11, 2016

Great Expectations

Today in Alaska
Great Expectation

I didn’t expect it to rain so much. Here where the overcast days never grow entirely dark and a continuous soft drizzle blends with the cool sweeps of the breeze coming off the waters of Kachemak Bay.

“Is this a usual summer?” I ask Tom, Fay’s husband. “With so much rain?” Though I’m asking on a day when the sun has broken through the clouds to reveal sweet patches of blue. Redemptive blue. Comforting warmth. I’ve been outside the entire day, getting a touch of sunburn with joy.

“Yes,” he says. “It’s a little depressing. I come from Montana with the open blue sky and it’s gloomy here a lot.”

Before arriving I’d asked Fay what the usual summer temperatures were. “Usually in the 60s and 70s. Though sometimes as low as the 50s and as high as 80.”

In the month I’ve been in Alaska, we’ve had a lot of 50 degree days. And a handful of perfect summer days that highlight the snow tipped mountains and the glaciers that cling meltingly to the ground between the peaks, that cast sparkles across the water, and dry up the tall grass.

I hadn’t done much research beforehand. I figured so long as I had the appropriate clothes for work and weather I could figure out the rest as I went.

My expectations had been to work the summer in Alaska (and work is a hodgepodge of jobs. Gardening, weeding, watering, clearing up brush, picking strawberries, hilling potatoes, mowing, raking, taping and bedding, sanding, pulling nails out of 2x4s, painting windows, cleaning, picking wild spinach off the beach, helping with a garage sale, weed whacking, being chef’s assistant as Fay makes a wedding cake, making town runs, dump runs, haying, and doing whatever else might come up); to work and to see Alaska.
This Alaska I’ve come to has more rolling hills than I expected. More people. But then again, I came from the wilderness where I was a crowd of one among the moose, coyotes, birds, and other fauna. A town of five thousand is a horde. And summer brings tourists and fishermen in droves. Even on the homestead where I stay with Fay and Tom there are people coming and going like ants.

And yet, there are also mother moose with their babies wandering in the yard, eating the tips off the raspberry bushes, trying to get at the caged off trees. There’s the porcupine that sniffs at me as I weed the raspberry patch and ventures close enough to eat leaves off the row only just opposite of where I’m working. There are rumors of bears. There are whales in the water, halibut, sea otters, king salmon, starfish, clams, seagulls. I imagine that a little farther away from Homer is the Alaska that I’ve imagined. Unpeopled (sparsely peopled anyway), thick with wild, untamed.

My imagined Alaska is rife with whales, whales that greet you as you walk along the beach, whales that can rest undisturbed in the waters that should be theirs alone to share with the other water things, whales that spout and sing and dive and swim.

On a boat trip to Seldovia I see them, these whales. An Alaskan dream come true—humpbacks whales that spout and breach and float lazily at the surface of the water. And wonder what it would be like if they could sleep in peace without a score of boats gathered around them like hovering nannies.

What must the bears think of the tourist sightings at their feeding places? Do they mind the clicking cameras, the low-flying planes, the helicopters? Do they hope for a misstepping tourist to add to their lunch menus?

Around ten o’clock each day I yawn, ready for bed, but feel odd when outside it still looks bright as the afternoon. Surely there’s a balancing point between making the most of the available light and getting proper amounts of sleep. I’ve been getting plenty of sleep.

The sun sets around 11:30. Even then, though, the sky stays dusky and half-awake until the sun rises again sometime just after four A.M. I sleep fine, but it’s strange this never-darkness. Night continues on, and I, with the blinds drawn, sleep with a blanket pulled up over my head because the sky never turns black enough to showcase stars, I sleep through the twilightly half-light of this Alaska summer. And my dreams attend me.

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