No place in the world serves itself up completely at first sight. But some places take more time to know than others. Well, know is a strong word. You could put 20 people in an empty room for a few hours and, at experiment’s end, they’ll still each have their own take on the space.
I visited Alaska for the first time 21 years ago. I was 29. At the time I lived on NYC’s Upper East Side in a small studio apartment that had a half-sized sink in the bathroom and, in a spot far closer to the stove than to my bed, one closet. My clothes often smelled faintly of dinners past.
That first trip came courtesy of a frequent flyer ticket. I had always wanted to see Alaska but figured it would be a one and done sort of deal. A few glaciers, a bear or two, and then I’d head back home and plan whatever came next.
I can still recall conversations from that trip with people who remain friends to this day. (And those conversations included one with Chef Kirsten Dixon. It was on my first float plane flight. Dixon told me to hold onto the bottom of the seat during turbulence, that it would keep me feeling grounded and hold nausea at bay. Works wonders. Seriously.)
I can close my eyes and picture the awkward landing of a swan on a pond just off the Copper River Highway outside the small town of Cordova. The bird, a massive thing, was all grace and elegance until it hit the water. Then, it skidded. It was a cartoonish moment and I imagined the swan thinking Holy hell. Will I stop in time? WILL I STOP IN TIME!?
The swan skidded back to elegance just before smacking into the land (though I’m pretty sure it looked at me as though to say I totally planned that).
And I can remember how intensely sad I was when I had to fly home. I had never so missed a place before leaving it.
Part of the sadness was just in returning to normal life. You know the feeling. But I also knew that this was no one and done trip. My brain was tumbling with all I had seen. There was no checking Alaska off a list for me. Now it wasn’t just a postcard image.
Already a freelance writer, I added travel writing into my mix. My trips from NYC to Alaska got longer and longer. I bought lots of cold-weather gear. And better hiking gear. And camping gear.
For a belated 40th birthday gift to myself I hired a guide to take me on my first backpacking trip. We flew out of McCarthy to Steamboat Hills. No other people. Just bluebird skies and a view of the Wrangell Mountains that stretched into Canada.
I wanted to know the names of each mountain, learn about the geology, plants, and wildlife. I wanted to tell people about the beautiful quiet of the place, of the massive holes brown bears carved out in pursuit of a snack of Arctic ground squirrel.
Back then I was a committed New Yorker. I figured I would keep up the back and forth.
Then life tumbled. I decided I needed to leave NYC for a year. I spent a summer in Alaska. Then went back to the east coast. Then I spent the next summer in Alaska (but that trip was sandwiched by two-month cross-country road trips to and from the east coast). That summer wasn’t enough either.
I realized I needed to experience day-to-day life in this place.
So, in 2013, I packed my car up again and drove to Alaska for what was supposed to be a one-year stay.
And with every day in what I thought would be my temporary home, I both learned more and added 27 new items to my mental list of things I was curious about.
So, that year? It’s been seven. I’m still here, living on Dena’ina land (aka Anchorage).
That’s the here of the newsletter name (and a podcast launching in June).
Yes, I still write about Alaska for magazines and newspapers, but there’s much much more I want to learn about and share. I mean, seriously, the artists alone! (If you’re not familiar with the work of Sonya Kelliher-Combs, click here immediately.) So, that’s what I’m going to do. From right Here in Alaska, I’ll take you around all 663,300 square miles of land and onto the waterways. You’ll meet the people who live here and learn about the issues that impact them. You’ll stare up at bluebird skies and, at times, deal with some truly horrific weather (and that’s when you’ll be happy I’m your stand-in). We’ll get around by skiff, snowmachine, float plane, and more.
I’ll also share stories from other local media. Some national media too. I’ll fill you in on AK products that deserve attention around the world. (There are some seriously good food products coming out of cottage-industry and commercial kitchens around the state.) And, yes, I’ll even dole out some travel advice here and there. (Don’t worry: I don’t get paid for recommending things. If I mention something, it’s because I like it and think you might like it. Period.)
I’ll take you far beyond the reality show version of Alaska and add depth to those postcard-perfect pictures in your mind.
For now, watch for the newsletter on Thursdays. (Maybe late Thursdays.) I’ll let you know if that’s going to change. Alaska curious about something specific? Give me a shout at email@example.com.
Oh and, every week, I’ll introduce you to [trumpets blare]….
The Alaska Dog of the Week
(Want to make other people smile by gazing upon the joy that is your Alaska dog? Send a photo of your pup, her name, and three facts about her to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
What could be better, right?
See you next week,
p.s. While the weekly newsletter will always be free, paid subscriptions will be rewarded with bonus issues and extra bits of fun. Cancel at any time—though, hopefully, you’ll want to hang around Here in Alaska for a good long time.