It's difficult to write when you're in the thick of things. I have so many photos of my road trip that I'm dying to share, but the process of camping all around Canada without wifi made that rather cumbersome and now the adjustment to the move is occupying the majority of my brain processing. One of my most impactful lessons from June was that expectations are hardly ever like reality. Knowing a couple months in advance that I would have to embark on a 4,000+ road trip with my dog, I spent a great deal of time "preparing" for the move just by anxiously obsessing over emergency tactics I would need if anything went wrong on the drive. But I had spent all of my emotional capacity on the road trip, so I scarcely thought about what life would feel like when I got to Alaska.
My job will be great. I've already done all of the same things in previous jobs, so this will be a piece of cake.
Sure, my living situation is funky, but at least I have a place to stay!
Fresh produce? Shopping in Alaska can be weird and expensive, but soon enough we'll grow our own garden and fish all the time and learn how to hunt.
I can be enduringly optimistic. Sometimes bullheadedly so.
I was completely apprehensive about the road trip, when I really didn't need to be. And I was completely naive about settling into my new home, when I should have given it more realistic thought.
I packed all of my belongings in a little Toyota Corolla and moved across the country to live in a tiny Alaskan town that's as isolated as an island. Of course I feel strange! It's a huge adjustment. I just hadn't fully thought of it that way, perhaps in part because I needed to be so excited about the destination to get through the journey. Or rather, I had thought about it, but couldn't really internalize what it would actually be like until I got here.
Let's just talk about my reality here for a second.
It is stunningly, jaw dropping gorgeous here. Ocean, lakes, streams, glaciers, waterfalls, rainforest, late night sunsets, silvery scaled salmon, snow-capped mountains rising straight from sea level. There is no denying the sheer natural beauty of this place and that is the principle draw.
What also can't be denied: as impressive as my Instagram feed looks right now, the behind-the-scenes are less so. My "room" is actually a laundry room, there is no door, and I sleep on an air mattress. My roommate is a wonderful woman with two sweet little boys, 8 months and 3 years old. There is no privacy. It is absolute chaos at all times. Sometimes it smells weird and no matter what we do, it is filthy. Our street is not paved so all five of us (I'm including the dog here) track in a monumental amount of dirt on a daily basis. Any time the dryer and/or washer are running (which is a few times a day with little kids around), everything in my room gets steamy and slightly damp. Peter lives in the U.S. Forest Service bunkhouse in a dorm-style room with a roommate or otherwise out in the field backpacking and camping for over a week at a time, so we neither live together nor see each other all that often. Food is expensive and sometimes poor quality. Between eating fewer vegetables and stress and difference in climate, my face is irritated to no end, which makes me all the more self-conscious about meeting new people.
There are a lot of quirks about this town that the residents seem to take for granted. It's different from elsewhere, but it also seems expected upfront that you already know how to navigate these differences from the first moment you arrive. There's no at-home mail delivery (UPS exists, FedEx doesn't, but USPS is king here). P.O. Boxes only. But in order to get a P.O. Box, you need to know your physical address - that's fine, but my street doesn't have a street sign and there's no number on my house (I had to do some sleuthing to figure that one out).
Let me interject here to just say - I'm not naive about the realities of living in Alaska. I've lived here before. But I think I temporarily had a selective memory when getting ready for the move - each time I thought of an inconvenient factor, I just ignored it.
If it sounds like I'm complaining, you're probably right. Yesterday I talked to my mom on the phone, and while she was actually trying to offer helpful solutions, I brushed them away, selfishly wanting to vent without constructive input.
I didn't want to live in Boulder anymore, but I had been there long enough to have things "just so." Routines, running, yoga, walking to work and walking home at lunch to take out my dog, washing dishes while listening to favorite podcasts, weekly gourmet dinners with friends to watch Game of Thrones, frequenting our favorite coffee shops, and arranging photogenic Le Parfait jars neatly on open shelves.
But perhaps living in Boulder was starting to make me fussier than I knew. And now Alaska has come to fix that. To get me messy and dirty and remembering what it means to feel frustrated, lonely, overwhelmed, and - most of all - alive. These aren't inherently bad feelings. More so, they are a call for me to embrace newness and ignite an awareness. My biggest challenge is to just recognize how I feel right now and acknowledge the feeling without judgement. Discomfort is not bad. Newness doesn't last forever (even though it sometimes feels that way). As a culture, we don't talk about it that often, but it's okay to feel isolated and confused and depressed sometimes. It's been several years since I turned up in a new town not knowing anyone and feeling like I had to grope my way through the dark for a while. Right now is simply a time period for me to remember what that's like.
Even with the challenges here, there is so much that is fascinating and heartening and beautiful. I haven't even been here two weeks and I can already tell that Cordovans are fiercely proud of their small town. They're vocal about intentionally shaping their community and about keeping it a certain way they like it (whether they agree on what that looks like is another matter). While it's hard to break in as an outsider, residents have a small town ease, chatting whenever their paths cross and waving to familiar faces on the road. Community events are frequent. There are no national chains and instead small, local grocery stores. Homes are identified not by address but by the name of the person who lives there ("Yeah, it's over by So-and-so's house"). What I suspected would be the plus and minus about living here seems true: it's isolated, which means access is hard; it's isolated, which means it's a truly localized, generally self-reliant community. How cool. Isn't that why I wanted to come here in particular?
Less than two weeks in and I've already backpacked to a backcountry cabin and scrambled around mossy rocks to get to waterfalls. I've looked out the window from my desk at my new job and watched seagulls circling over the ocean expanse right in front of me. I spent all yesterday tromping for hours down a stream in waders, taking in the sunny views, counting salmon populations and helping sample otoliths. On my morning walk with Fenton, I picked ripe salmonberries - just outside my door - and topped my oatmeal with them minutes later. I've hiked several times with the dog on the trail just a couple minutes from our house, through rainforest and over muskeg, congratulating myself at the end with a handful of tiny wild blueberries. At every turn, it is just as possible to see a bear just around the corner instead of a human, a sort of wild roulette. Today, with a torrential downpour outside, I have a rare day with a quiet house to snuggle under the thick woolen blanket Peter got me for a late birthday present to sip coffee and nap and read.
Believe me - I have no intention to overlook these wild wonders. I am immensely grateful.
Change can't happen until you change the circumstances. I wanted a radical change from Boulder living, and while Cordova may not be my forever-home, it is a radical change. I thought my transitionary phase was coming to a close, but in fact it may have just begun.