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.