Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Three years

... that’s how long I’ve lived in Alaska.

Geoff and I moved up here the way many people do, driving up the Al-Can with little more than a job offer and a small car packed to the roof with worldly possessions. Geoff had already technically “moved” to Alaska three months before. He flew back down to the States to coax me away from my comfortable life in Idaho Falls. I did not want to make the move north, and convinced myself over the summer that it wasn’t going to happen. But then a rather casual job interview I had conducted over e-mail, mainly, yielded a real offer. “How do you feel about Homer?” I asked Geoff. The last time we had been through Homer was July 4, 2003, when we were crammed with about 50,000 other tourists on the Homer Spit. Geoff was not thrilled about Homer, but he saw it as a reasonable compromise.

We first crossed the border on Sept. 9, 2005. We spent my first night as an Alaska resident camped at a state park. I can’t remember the name of the park, but I do remember it was the same place we camped as tourists right before we left the state (not including an ill-fated jaunt to the Southeast, which is another story all together) in 2003. It was the first time Geoff and I had stopped driving before dark in four days. I lingered on the dock and watched the sun set behind craggy silhouettes of black spruce. The was a deja vu sort of comfort to the scene, and something in it made me feel like I had come full circle, like I had made the right decision - even though, outwardly, I was less than convinced.

We spent our second night in Alaska with old friends who had moved to Palmer a year earlier. They also happened to be hosting a group of fellow Outside expats who were on their way out of the state after finishing up seasonal jobs in Denali National Park. That was an ongoing theme during our trip - lines of RVs were streaming south. We seemed to be the only ones heading north.

We drove down the Kenai Peninsula on Sept. 11. It was this beautiful sunny morning and autumn leaves lit up the landscape with yellows and golds. The mountains climbed straight out of the Turnagain Arm; their peaks were already brushed white with snow. It was one of those jaw-dropping drives that anyone would feel privileged to experience as a tourist, and I couldn't get over the thought - I live here.

That quiet sort of awe continued until we crested the last hill of the Sterling Highway. I think anyone who has ever moved to Homer must have the experience of rounding that bay view corner for the first time forever burned in their memories. We were suddenly hit with a panoramic vista of Kachemak Bay, hugged by the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Kenai Mountains, and the Homer Spit stretched out like a ribbon across the bright blue water. I was in the passenger's seat, eyes wide open, bottom lip hanging out, voicing what I could scarcely believe - I live here?

The rain moved in that evening and we spent our first night in Homer wet and homeless. I started my job at the Homer Tribune the next morning, and that afternoon we looked at apartments. Everything we saw was cramped and expensive and kitschy until, almost as an afterthought, we checked out this place on Diamond Ridge. The "one bedroom loft" turned out to be a 2,000-square-foot cabin on two acres of land. The landlord was out of town, so we had to peer through the windows. The spacious interior was all wood. The view through tiered glass carried for miles. We called up the landlord and, sight unseen on both ends, asked her when we could move in. In true Alaska fashion, she said, "You can move in tonight if you want."

Her friend couldn't bring us a key until the next day, so we knocked on a neighbor's door and asked him if we could borrow a ladder. He took one look at these two people he had never met, who were driving a car with Idaho plates, and in true Alaska fashion, grabbed a ladder from his yard and helped us break in through the kitchen window. He proceeded to spend most of the evening with us, helping unload my car and talking our ears off about oyster farming and the ten feet of snow we could expect in the winter, and before he left, offered Geoff a job. (The job didn't pan out; the ten feet of snow did.) I remember staring out the window that night at the pink light of yet another incredible sunset, just as a cow moose and her adolescent calf sauntered through our back yard. I couldn't get over the satisfaction - I live here.

Sometimes I think I gave up on Homer too quickly, and sometimes I know I did. But there is one thing I know for sure - I wouldn't trade my experiences from these past three years for anything.

22 comments:

  1. I was only in Alaska once seven or eight years ago. We actually spent several days in Homer. The people we went to visit lived in Soldotna, but had a piece of land overlooking Kachemak Bay that they had put a camper on. I remember getting up in the morning and walking out the door to this view that was unreal, with all the flowers out,the Bay and the mountains. I still can't imagine waking up to that every day. The other thing I remember very vividly is seeing several bald eagles just sitting on the Spit every time we went out there. I had never seen one outside of a zoo or a rescue and they were all over the place.

    I never went to Juneau, but I did go to Seward and for some reason whenever you talk about Juneau I picture it as Seward. I think because it rained the whole time I was there!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, yes and yes...true alaskan fashion!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice post. After reading this whale of a tale I yearned to move there as well. Then the ten feet of snow comment ... I'm staying here. A few thousand miles south!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This post makes me yearn for Alaska as well. I only spent 8 days there myself - about 10 years ago after graduating from BYU. We rented a car in Fairbanks, and just drove wherever. I actually spent a night on the beach in Homer - the first week of September (we drove a lot!!) The scene you described of driving down the Kenai peninsula is almost the exact way I remember it, only that a school of beluga whales were surfacing not far from the highway - I spent 2 hours on the shoulder of the highway just taking it all in. I fell in love with the beauty, and have wished to be there ever since. I actually applied for a job in Palmer a few months ago, that didn't pan out. And because I now have a mortgage and 2 kids, I'm a little less "flexible", but I'm still waiting for my chance to be an Alaskan. The 10 feet of snow doesn't even scare me.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's funny for me to think of you, Jill, as anything *but* Alaskan. You and Geoff personify the Awesome American Alaskan in my view. Glad you made the move; I'm jealous that you are staying in the north as I head south; happy that you are so happy where you are.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Kathy9:32 AM

    I agree wholeheartedly with Jennoit! I fear you are getting ready to leave us and even though I've never met you I live vicariously through you and enjoy knowing we are in the same town! Alaska is more a way of life than a place to live and you seem wired for this kind of living. Don't go Jill!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Very beautifully written post.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great story. Love the "I live here." comment. I remember my first year living here (also 2005) thinking that a lot. It was like being on vacation every single day. Scenery that I would travel thousands of miles to see before, was not just outside my front door.

    I have a friend who is making a similar journey as we speak. She is driving up here from Pennsylvania. She is probably somewhere just outside of Whitehorse right now and plans on crossing into Alaska on Saturday morning. And even though I already live here, I am somewhat envious of her.

    Julie

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow, great post. I like the changing emphasis on "I live here," from "I live here" to "I live here." I lived there two winters, moved back south, and have been working on angles to get back since.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I agree with other posters - please don't give up and leave that wonderful place. I too live vicariously though your blog. Yours is the FIRST blog I read every evening - I can't wait for the beautiful photo(s) and the eloquence and insight you share through your words.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous3:04 PM

    I can't believe it has been three years already. I still remember that late summer when you told the fam you were moving to Alaska...and "What the...???" was our only response. And just weeks later you were gone. I still love telling people my oldest sister lives in Alaska...you have no idea how many conversations, and lines in my papers in school you have been in. :) Happy 3-years-in-Alaska Anniversary big sis, I love you.

    ---Sara

    ReplyDelete
  12. I look forward to reading about your experiences each day. As I read this post, I kept expecting to hear you bid adieu to life in Alaska...

    ReplyDelete
  13. Jill:
    When I pulled up your blog today, my first thought was "Oh, no" with a sinking feeling in my gut. I thought for sure you were writing that you were leaving Alaska. For purely selfish reasons, I sincerely hope that doesn't happen; your words and pictures transport me to an Alaska I've only known in my imagination, one that grows richer with each of your posts.
    I know it's a bad time in your chosen field. I'm a journalist on the other end of the country, and the situation is as bleak as I've ever seen it. But we do the best we can, day by day, and we hold onto those things that continue to drive and inspire us: sometimes it's a sense of place that brings us those much-needed moments of grace.
    I envy the peace and beauty you've found in your sense of place. Please don't ever take for granted the value of your surroundings on your personal journey. You have a rich, beautiful story to share, and I'm sure I'm just one of many of your readers who is happy to go along for the ride.

    ReplyDelete
  14. You're past the 2 yr cutoff, each subsequent year it's harder and harder to leave Alaska- or so the theory goes.

    ReplyDelete
  15. And thanks for sharing them here.
    I can't get over the fact that you have lived there for 3yrs either :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Here's to the Hope that you'll call Alaska Home(r) for many years yet to come. =) But if you decide to go, it will never leave you, and I know you will have many grand adventures wherever you wander.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hey, did you know the Trib is hiring again? Hahaha. They have even moved out of the basement, I hear. We still have the view, the rain and the snow. But there's a road out!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Julie ... I know what you mean. I'm always envious myself when I learn of someone who is moving or who recently moved to Alaska. I remember how special that first year was. It's the honeymoon year that can never be duplicated.

    Sara ... yeah, I remember what a bombshell Alaska was for the family. That was all my fault, in not being forthcoming about my ideas. Honestly, the plan really didn't set in motion until that August. Geoff and I had talked about it but then I decided I was definitely not going to move. Then he came down to Utah and I got that job offer in Homer right at the same time. The planets just sort of aligned. I blame you, Carey :-) So, um, what's the Trib hiring for ... ?

    And this is purly an anniversary post. I feel dedicated to life in Alaska at this point, and am continuing to fight for my residency. I am going through a tough time right now with my job, etc. But in writing this post, I realized that I did give up on Homer too easily. The going got a little tough, and I fled south. I really don't regret moving to Juneau, but I don't want to be left wih regret about moving away from Juneau, either.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Wow. 3 years! And you've been in Juneau nearly 2! That's pretty good. Since I have never been to Juneau I can't vouche for it. But Homer was AMAZING. Gorgeous. I can see why you miss it. I miss you sister!

    ReplyDelete
  20. The Homer Tribune, Alaska’s Best Weekly, has an immediate opening for an enterprising reporter interested in covering general assignments, city and borough government and a range of other areas. The successful candidate will cover breaking news and events, produce regular community features, contribute story ideas and consistently meet deadlines. Applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree or two years professional experience with solid clips. At least three references from immediate supervisors. Recent journalism graduates with strong intern clips showing sound writing skills will also be considered. Must be a team player. Full time and long term. Photography and design experience (Quark/ Photoshop) are a plus. Please send clips and resumes, along with an introduction letter, to: jpascall@homertribune.com. No phone calls will be accepted. (9/27)

    ReplyDelete