adjusting to a new life in a new town

As of yesterday, I have been in Cordova, Alaska for a month. It seems like no time at all has passed since I drove off the ferry (and, essentially, very little time has passed), but also July has felt like one of the longest months of my life.

So far, my highs are really high here and my lows have been pretty dang low. It's a constant assessment of how I'm feeling, which I think is pretty natural for a cross-country move.

Yesterday, my one month moving anniversary, was a splendid day.

I woke up bright and early to help trap glaucous-winged gulls for an avian pathogens study as I have been the last few days, which ensured I got a few hours outside (and meant going home early several days this week). The whole process is a bit ridiculous, baiting the gulls with fish heads and bread and waiting until enough gather to deploy the net launcher. Then a chaotic several minutes of calming the birds to keep them from flailing in the net, sticking baby socks over their heads, and untangling them. We weighed the birds and then took measurements and samples. Overall, it was actually kind of fun and not as gross as one might imagine.

And then an afternoon where I got to take a 4.5 hour flight all over Prince William Sound for work.

The premise was for data recording schools of herring, sand lances, etc. in different areas - which we did do, but we also got plenty of time to cruise around just about everywhere in the sound (except glacier territory, which I suppose is fine because Cordova has enough of those to look at anyway). On this momentous day, we had multiple sightings of orca whales, a couple rainbows, a huge brook of sea lions, and fantastic views.

I am proud of a multitude of things this month. I had to navigate a helluva lot of newness and uncomfortable situations – not always with grace, but often with reflection and gratitude. So much has been so new to me since I've gotten here, and I'm pretty pleased with how I handled myself.

I jumped straight into learning on many occasions, literally getting my hands dirty hacking open salmon heads to extract otoliths and holding gulls while processing physical traits and samples. For a former English major who has not taken a biology class in over a decade, this is a big deal.

I’m also proud of speaking and feeling my truth this month. Recognizing that it’s okay to have a hard time, to cry, to be numb, feel lonely, feel scared – as long as these feelings don’t impair action.

We are broken apart so our parts can be rearranged into a sum that is greater than our current parts.

This whole month has been a lesson in gratitude, how gratitude somehow multiplies positive change and is the best tool for managing a difficult situation. Bad things happen to good people, without warning or reason, because terrible, challenging situations make new opportunities possible.

Sometimes significant change can’t happen without significant upheaval.

I've had to sit with myself and think hard about whether I'm satisfied because I've had an excess of time when I don't have anyone else to be with. I've spent a lot of time hiking and reading and napping. But there's only so much to occupy the self when you're alone. I like to be alone, but this has been the type of aloneness where I've crawled deep into rarely traveled crevasses of my mind and gotten lost. It's been deeply unsettling and also self-affirming. Do I like what I see? Not always. Sometimes.

I think my parents raised me well and the caring in my family is mutual. I've chosen compassionate friends and a kindhearted partner wisely. My intuition, when I'm smart enough to use it, serves me well.

For the most part, I've managed to surprise myself. I am more resilient than I give myself credit for. We all are stronger than we think. This month I had moments of doubt and sheer anxiety, but a lot of the time I waded through an inexplicable calmness. Not knowing what is coming next and often being okay with it.

I got to witness so much rallying support from wonderful people, true examples of human kindness when no one expected anything in return.

There are also the small instances of friendship. Perhaps seemingly insignificant when you're already settled in your environment. But when you feel exposed and raw because of a big move, seeking out new connections seems occasionally insurmountable. Being honest about being lonely (though still being positive), has helped let others know that I want to make new friends but haven’t fully been able to on my own. So when I’ve received small invitations – for lunch, for a hike, to watch a movie, to go to a meditation practice – they’ve had a big impact.

We're all doing the best we can. And I've had times since getting here that my "best" is not up to my usual standard. And that's okay. Honesty and self-compassion are key when facing difficult situations.

With a significant life change, I think it takes time in "threes" to achieve homeostasis. Three days to recover from the initial shock. Three weeks to start to take ownership. Three months to start feeling settled. And at least three years (if not longer) to have that undeniable feeling of home.

Moving headlong into August, I’m looking forward to developing more normalcy now that I’ve experienced the initial shock of living in a new place. Better eating and more of an exercise routine (rather than just the aimless wandering I've been doing lately).

I plan to experiment with saying yes when invitations come my way and being proactive about making friendships. I also want to be proactive about getting in touch with friends and family far away. I'm proud of being introverted and deep thinking, but I'm also aware I sometimes use it as a social crutch. Now is not a time to fold into myself. It's time to reach out and say, I need companionship. I want to explore this new home and I can't do it all by myself.

I'm coming around to Cordova, slowly but surely. There is something undeniably special about this town. I'm confident that few places are like it. Saltwater, freshwater, rainforest, mountains, snow, glaciers. All this surrounds a small town that behaves as a small town does. Perhaps a bit insular but also neighborly. Functioning by word-of-mouth. With all of the wildness of bears and moose and whales around.

It may or may not be my something, but this place is something else for sure.

Iris Rankin

Soulful questioner, exuberant organizer, here to find the balance between discipline and delicious relaxation. Iris Rankin is the founder of Project Intention, a values-based community focused on living day-to-day with purpose, planning, and heart. Iris encourages women to adopt the self care practices that make them feel divine, the planning tools to hone in on their essential wants and needs, and the emotional resilience to express their most authentic selves.



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