Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Last day at the office

I have the best view from my office. True, my back is turned to it most of the time, where I sit facing a wall, planted like a slug with eyes fixated on a screen while my fingers frantically adjust imaginary words and pictures. But on rare (increasingly more rare) occasions, I stand up and walk to the window, where my second-story workplace looks over Gastineau Channel. In the summer, the salmon return to the hatchery across the street. Their smooth bodies churn up the shallow water, a roiling silver mass of gulping mouths and leaping tails. People line the shoreline with fishing poles — snaggers — plucking the fish out of the chaos in fantastic leaps and fights. Sea lions come too, and every once in a great while, orca whales, plying the narrow channel between two civilized towns. In the fall, I watch ribbons of fog caress the mountains, flowing like silk down a thick carpet of spruce trees. Snow creeps lower until it touches sea water, and then I know it is winter. During long stretches of cold, the channel sometimes freezes over. Tiny ice-breaking tug boats guide massive barges through the cracked white surface. The sun arcs low behind Douglas Island, casting the building in near-continuous shadow. Slowly, the sun climbs higher, reaching farther to the north, and then I know it is spring. Snow creeps back up the mountain, children run barefoot through the wet grass, and the return of the salmon is just a few short weeks away.

Wednesday, March 31. Thick clouds envelop the hillside, but there's a break in the west, a shimmer of sunlight, casting a golden glow on the water. I stand on the balcony to soak in the moist air, clogged with the earthy smells and sweet taste of new life. This view, this job, has been the one constant in my life since I first strolled into the office on Aug. 7, 2006. Since then, I've moved three times (at least three times, and that's just counting my permanent residences.) I've lost a relationship. I've watched friends come and go. I've watched co-workers come and go. I've left town myself and wondered whether I'd ever really come back. But the office was always here. It was always waiting for my return.

I breathe deep and realize this may be the last time I'll stand here. I feel a rush of emotion, manufactured maybe, a mixture of nostalgia and mourning for a past that will never return. I realize that once I step away from this office, I will release the last anchor in my life, the last one, and will truly become a vessel adrift at sea. There will be no ice-breaking tugs, no narrow channel to guide me home. There will only be a vast and unbroken ocean, and unlimited directions from which to travel.

Dark descends as I finish up the day's work. I clean out my desk, extracting little trinkets I haven't thought about in three and a half years. There's the hand-drawn sign my co-workers made me when I returned from the Great Divide last summer. There's the glass award I received from the Society of Professional Journalists for best news page design. There's the emergency Power Bar that is at least three years old. I stuff them all in a plastic bag. The office is strangely still, quiet. As usual, I am the last one to leave. The goodbyes have been said. The newspaper has been put to bed. I do what I've done most every Wednesday night for the past three and a half years — I turn out the lights, descend a flight of stairs, and step into the cool night.


  1. Ah man, those last days are always tough, releasing memories from the grind. Congrats on the closing of a chapter and the start of a new one, Jill!

  2. Good luck, Jill. You will find success in your new adventure. You are such a good writer. Keep in touch with us. I read your blog every day and you are truly an inspiration - keep smiling.

  3. My favorite quote"“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

    You should never have to say I wish I could have, and you have often inspired me to do the same. Thanks

  4. Dear Jill,

    You strike me as a soul adrift, with all the good and bad things that come with that; you are free to do what you like, free from ties, and sometimes lonely as a result. I wish you happiness, and enjoy reading about your adventures; sometimes I wish I could help.

    Recommendations seem useless, but maybe I'll make one anyways--have you read Madame Bovary? Or the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? These are both novels about what it is to search for freedom, and how lonely freedom can be. They might help you understand your predicament, though I doubt they will help you out of it (if that were even what you wanted).

    Keep writing, and we'll all keep reading. Best of luck in Anchorage.

    your loyal reader,

  5. That view is amazing.

  6. I known those exact feelings...only I left a job I truly enjoyed because of a company buyout and subsequent transfer. I'll never forget the gut wrenching feelings as I kept glancing back one more time as I left. At least you feel the exhilaration of new frontiers awaiting. But even the bad times are part of who you are; part of the symphony that has made you "you". We wish you well! Let the symphony continue!

  7. Might see you on the trails in Anchorage. Break-up has arrived here. Soon the fun will begin!

  8. always, you so eloquently put things into writing that we all feel. I've had a few 'last days' in my life. Each one has bittersweet memories. Retiring from the Navy was my hardest. Joined up as a wee lad of 17, and upon that final day, seemed my entire life had been in the service. Talk about throwing off the bow-lines and heading off into the unknown! Happy and sad at the same time (kind'a like sweet and sour chicken) oxymoron for sure.

    You seem to be the kind of person who makes the best of whatever situation you are in...a classic survivor. I have no doubt that while you have fond memories of Juneau, you will make new ones in Anchorage very quickly. effectively now have the largest state in the union as your new playground (from Juneau you were locked into a substantially smaller stretch of the US).

    I've been to Anchorage a few times and always thought to myself that I could live there someday (well, except for the bitter cold and dark of winter maybe...but you seem to excell in that aspect).

    Good luck to you and I will be anxiously awaiting the dirty details of your continuing adventures.

    Another loyal reader.

  9. Thanks for allowing me to live a vicarious life in Juneau through you for the last few years. I absolutely love Alaska in general and Juneau in particular. Your blog and photos have been one of the few ways I can stay connected for the 350 days each year that I'm not there.

    I wish you the very best in your new adventure further north. I have a sneaking feeling that some good things are in your immediate future. Hang tough!

  10. Hey Jill~ just finished your book... a great read!

    I backpacked Buckskin Gulch/Wire Pass years ago... we had to swim some sections, the water was so deep! It brought back good memories! I am no hardcore athlete... I just like to cruise along, whether it's mtn biking, backpacking... whatever. But for whatever reason, I like to read stories like yours... I find it interesting to see how much the human body/mind can endure.

    I agree with "steve-n-winter," great quote! Another one is "To seek new lands... one must lose sight of the shore for a long, long time."

    You're young, & have an adventurous spirit... you'll be just fine.

    One more good quote for ya:
    "All who wander are not lost..."
    enjoy the journey!

  11. We have all left jobs...and you so nailed it with this one Jill

    A++ and all that stuff

  12. Jill, this post is some of the best writing I have ever read. Fabulous. Very best of luck to you in your new adventures, you will do well wherever they take you. I'm a fellow Utah native who ran a business in tiny Driggs, Idaho for fifteen years; moved on from it recently and am now into a great new chapter in Park City. Change is good. Maybe I'll see you on a trail somewhere, someday. Cheers.

  13. The Enemy as one 'without whom Nothing is strong'. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickiering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

    -from The Screwtape Letters

    And so it ends, a simple closing of a door and the click of the lock, stepping into the fullness of the future and the emptyness of the moment, the journey begins.



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