Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring storm

When I was a kid, I loved April snow. It always came after a bunch of 70-degree days coaxed new colors out of the shadows. Spring painted the grass with vibrant greens, buds opened up on the trees and daffodils sprouted from sweet-smelling mulch. Then, suddenly, almost without warning, I'd wake up one morning to a fresh coat of winter.

Adults liked to stand at the window and complain loudly, but it was like Christmas morning to me. I'd rush outside into the moist air, infused with the same sharp coolness as a glass of water full to the brim with ice cubes. The cold made me feel alive, and I'd often break out in a run along the wet sidewalk, trying not to disturb the pillows of snow that covered the bright green grass. I'd bend down and grab a handful of wet powder, letting it drip through my fingers. I'd return the seashell-shaped snowball to the grass and giggle about the novelty of it all. April snow wasn't just unique and fun; it was a completely different way of looking at the world - an affront to time itself. Sometimes I would stop and pretend that I had actually traveled back in time, to some happy day in the winter, in a place where I was free of the march of seasons, of obligations, of the inevitability of growing up.

Every time I return to Salt Lake City, I feel the strange and halting sensation of traveling back in time. But it's different than my childhood daydream. It isn't a feeling of freedom, exactly, but more like a disorienting awakening - as though the last five or so years never even happened. Alaska, Homer, Juneau, snow biking, endurance racing, Iditarod, Anchorage - it's as though all of it was a crazy dream I concocted during an extended nap, and I've recently woken up to my real life. I have dinner with my family, I visit my college and high school friends, I go to shows downtown and dance around like a 23-year-old who doesn't have bad knees. I feel like I'm me again. I feel like I'm home.

So when I woke up this morning to an inch of fresh snow in my parents' front yard, many of those childhood feelings returned. I was giddy and I couldn't wait to get outside. Only these days, I put on all kinds of specific clothing. I hop on a bicycle and pedal away from the neighborhood, up to the foothills that in my childhood seemed impossibly far away, and into the canyons that were once mystical and unknown places - only now, they're close enough for a quick afternoon ride. And coated with fresh snow, the mountains are stunning and inviting, but mostly they fill me with longing for the place I now call home - Alaska.

Since I returned to SLC, just about everyone has asked me why I moved to Anchorage when I could have just moved back to Salt Lake City. It's a good question, because Salt Lake City does have most everything I love about Alaska and more - my family, good friends, easy access to the desert. My answer so far has been, "I don't know. I guess I'm just not done with Alaska yet."

It's difficult for me to explain how the place itself has become a part of me. How Utah is beautiful but Alaska can be downright otherworldly sometimes. How I know many of the state politicians by name and all of their quirks. How I appreciate those quirks and all the other funny customs that make life interesting. How it's relaxing to live in a place where judges wear Xtratufs and snow pants beneath their robes (right, Craig?) How I feel connected to other Alaskans in a way that never resonated for me as a Utahn. How those Alaskans have almost convinced me to use the word "snowmachine" (although I polled my Utah friends, and they agree with me that a snowmachine is a device that manufactures snow for the purpose of covering ski slopes.) And, most of all, how there are so many places in Alaska I have yet to explore, that I long to explore, that I have to explore.

They ask me if I'll come back to Salt Lake City someday. I probably will, just as I'll probably go back to Juneau, and even Idaho Falls. I never leave these places completely. They become a part of me, a part of my story, and like April snow, they sometimes return at surprising times that really make the passing of time seem more like a circle than a straight line.