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.