Marge went to Alaska just to see the Northern Lights. She had no intention of staying, but only witnessing the glorious green lights dance across the sky. Almost 40 years later, Marge is still in Alaska---and not because she still hasn’t seen the Northern Lights.
“I had another trip to Africa planned right after that,” Marge told me, who is now in her nineties. “It took me forever to get there,” she laughed.
Alaska is the kind of place that latches on, offering up fists full of birch trees and glaciers and ice caves, and nevering letting you leave without reluctance. I am not sure I will ever find a place as beautiful and wild as Alaska. I’m not sure I want to.
Just like Marge, who ended up staking her claim in the Last Frontier and starting her life there, I understand that desire to stay.
It started when I saw the Aurora from the plane. After trying to close my eyes for about an hour, I gave up and went to look out the window, wondering if the lights of Anchorage would appear below. But what I found made me believe the plane had crashed and I was now floating through the clouds, on my way to heaven. That could be a very accurate way to describe the Aurora: heavenly and eerie, all at the same time. And the fact that the plane was practically flying right next to it, I was sure this was God’s way of welcoming me into His arms.
I was transfixed and promptly turned to everyone within in earshot of me and told them to look outside. There were quiet intakes of breath, as the few that I had told saw the spectacular display too.
It continued when we stopped at Portage Glacier near Girdwood. It was a bluebird day and my friends and I could not contain ourselves. We hopped out of the car and sprinted across the frozen Portage Lake, which was now covered in maybe three feet of snow---so maybe it was more like leaping. The lake was vast and endless, with powder-topped mountains in every direction. We quickly found the best spot to make snow angels and let the sun soak us in warmth, as we sank into the snowy drifts, absolutely blissful.
Even when I had to take a trip to the ER (I went too hard in the powder), it didn’t matter a whole lot to me, as long as I would be alive enough to go snowmachining in the following days.
This was a way of life I could get used to. When nothing else mattered and even the little things that had the potential to spearhead a day just couldn’t.
I understand the reasoning, if only a little better, of people like Chris McCandless, who just wanted to feel what it meant to be wild. While his tactics were not well-planned or executed, I admire his desire more to go somewhere like Alaska, where you could make your way as a wanderer and have it be acceptable. Or people like Richard Proenneke, who thought the shores of Lake Clark would be suitable to build himself a cabin. He built everything from scratch including his spoons and bowls.
That’s what I came to really love about Alaska: you could be just about anything and live just how you liked. Whether that be in a dry cabin, a bus, a camper van, or a boat you could do it and make a living selling your chainsawed wood carvings of bears or by building a cabin for someone else, or even starting your own fishing business. Alaska showed me what I think I was taught to forget when I went to college: the craft of building your life by your own standards and means. Big markets and industries play a part in the fishing and even gold mining in Alaska, but chain stores, corporations, or chain-anything for that matter comes second, if at all.
And it showed in the kind of people I met---they are raw in the sense that every guise put on to make it in a competitive job market or quality of life is stripped away. They are some the realest people I have met, whose families have been there for decades. It was refreshing.
I’m not saying you need to quit your job if you work for a big corporation or that you must go buy a tent this very minute to get back to you most “organic” self. All that is meant is simply to consider what truly makes you happy and turn that into a lifestyle. Anything is possible when joy is present in each decision, and that seems to be the norm in Alaska. Whether it be a salmon filleter, a dog musher, or a landscape painter, Alaska cultivates this culture of weathering the storm together, with joy present above anything else.