To Say Goodbye

Leaving Alaska was harder than I thought it would be.

There were moments, admittedly, when I would have jumped on the first plane out of Fairbanks I could have found. Moments like my car not starting when it was -30 F, not seeing the sun much for a few months, and feeling far from what was familiar and known.

But there were also moments that Alaska gave me that feel like they jumped out of a poem and into my life. Moments like seeing the peaks of Denali rising and falling as I drove along the Parks Highway, no clouds surrounding the mountain as they normally do. Watching moose eat frozen berries outside my house. Running a 10k in direct sunlight at 11 pm on the summer solstice. Fishing with my colleague and eating the trout I’d caught for dinner that night, beaming with pride as my tiny fish sizzled in a cast iron skillet.

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This stained glass piece of Alaska was in the Fairbanks library. I always thought it was so beautiful.

These moments caught me and gripped me the days before we left on our voyage. Through tears I found myself saying, “I don’t want to leave.” But I also had this feeling deep in my gut that it was time. It was a season and the season was ending. I think there’s some level of grief involved in letting go of seasons, even if they’ve been hard and challenging.

Alaska gave me more than I think I’ll ever know. Hindsight is, of course, much clearer than the present, but I am so thankful for the courage and strength that it lended to me. The word tough is synonymous with Alaska in my mind, and I can’t help but think that it made me a little bit tougher. I was able to teach and be with students and people I’d not have known otherwise, and I loved the experiences it gave to me. Not every day was pretty and perfect, and most were pretty mundane, but together they changed me.

I think that a challenge about leaving a place is being willing to start over somewhere new. It’s recognizing the part in your heart that a place occupied, thanking it for what it gave you, and knowing that it will always be there. But it’s also opening yourself up again and being willing to start over. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it’s important. When I miss Alaska (which I do, often, despite what I said when pounding ice pack off my steps in negative temperatures last winter) I’m reminded that Alaska will always be part of me in some way, and just because I’m opening myself to life in a new place doesn’t mean that time wasn’t important or valuable.

So maybe, the biggest part of saying goodbye is being willing to say hello, too. And I’ve gotten to say hello to some pretty wonderful people and things in this new season.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any that lie behind.” –C.S. Lewis

What I’ve Read Lately

Lately is a broad term here, dear readers, as I haven’t been faithful to update this little corner of the internet as much as I’d like. But as I wrote in my last post on bookstores, I have found a lot of peace in transition through books and reading.

As life has slowed and settled into a rhythm here in North Carolina I’ve found yet again that books have a grounding and staying power that is very important to me. I thought I’d share a few reads from the last few months that I’ve enjoyed, and in turn I simply ask that you share with me! The only thing I love more than giving book recommendations is receiving them.

 

  1. The Library Book by Susan Orlean. My aunt gave me this book for my birthday, and I absolutely loved it. I love the library in the same way my dog loves peanut butter, although with less salivating. I feel joy even looking at its presence. Being there makes me feel peace. This book was about the Los Angeles library specifically, and also recounted an arson fire there that took place in 1986 and one of the major suspects. It taught me so much about what libraries offer to communities. One of the biggest takeaways was this: the library is the only place that you can go and nothing is expected of you. You don’t have to ascribe to a certain belief system, belong to a club, turn in homework, or buy something. You can just be there. I love that.
  2. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende. I picked up this book at the wonderful little indie bookstore in Haines, Alaska, hours before we boarded a ferry and left the state. I read this book on the ferry and I loved it very much. I don’t know if my love of it was clouded by instant nostalgia for this place we called home for so long, but if you are curious about what life in Alaska is really like, this is a great start.
  3. Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, also by Heather Lende. This book is a continuation of If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name. I love Lende’s writing style, and she was a columnist at the Anchorage Daily News and also on NPR. She’s clever and thoughtful. I loved both her books.
  4. North by Scott Jurek. In the running community Scott Jurek is a familiar name as he is a famous ultramarathoner. A colleague in Alaska gave me this book in our secret Santa gift exchange, and it was really fascinating. He recounts his story of trying to break the fastest known time for completing the Appalachian Trail and how his wife Jenny crewed for him. It was really well-written and enjoyable.
  5. Aimless Love by Billy Collins. One of my intentions for 2019 is to read more poetry. Billy Collins is one of my favorites. He was the poet laureate of the U.S. a few years ago, and his poetry is a gift. This book is delightful.
  6. The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest who lived and ministered to adults with developmental disabilities, and this book chronicles his musings on the spiritual life of those beloved by God. It was a beautiful book about God’s unfailing love and I really enjoyed it.

So as spring slowly unfurls, wherever you are, pick up that book you’ve been thinking of reading. I promise you won’t regret it. Read on, dear ones.

On Bookstores: A Love Story

We recently packed up all our earthly belongings and moved from Alaska to North Carolina. While the Army did a lot of the moving for us, we drove from Fairbanks to North Carolina, which was no small feat.

Driving across the country (with the assistance of a ferry for four days from Alaska to Washington) was as difficult, wonderful, and beautiful as it sounds. I’m a person who likes having roots, so it was hard to slowly peel my Alaska roots out of the ground and hold them, preparing to slowly settle somewhere else.

One of the many things Alaska taught me was how to become grounded, and I found  reading to be one of the most helpful tools to do so. I’ve always loved books, but Alaska helped me re-love them in a new way.

As we traveled across the US, mile by mile going farther and farther from our first home that we loved so much (how does one say goodbye to a place as magnificent and difficult as the Forty-Ninth state? Ask me in a few years, and maybe I’ll start to have an answer) I found myself wanting to be as grounded as possible on our trip. And so, with every possible stop, we made it our goal to go to bookstores we found along the drive. Derek’s enthusiasm and wholeheartedness for my idea was a reminder that I am indeed married to the most wonderful human I know.

In Haines, Alaska, where the ferry departed from, I found The Babbling Book, a charming bookstore that had a dog. As rain pelted from every angle we sprinted in to the bookstore to find calm, quiet, and a few dog pets. Haines, like the bookstore, was charming and delightful, and as we prepared to move on in this massive adventure and undertaking, running my fingers over the spines of some books and shopping local made me feel calm. I bought a book by a local author, If You Lived Here I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende, and devoured it on the ferry. (Heartily recommend, by the way.) We also visited the Haines Library, which was absolutely delightful.

A week later we found ourselves in Seattle, and I felt like a newborn baby thrust suddenly into a urban world. The crowds, noise, and bustle were overwhelming. After spending fifteen minutes at Pike’s Market, I looked at Derek and said, “let’s go to the bookstore.” He nodded, and we found ourselves at Elliott Bay Book Company. The loudness of urbanity was stilled as we wandered and perused the huge, beautiful bookstore. I bought a book on poets and a card game about Shakespeare’s tragedies.

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Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Washington

In Rapid City, South Dakota, we took a slight deviation from books and instead headed to a used record store, which held similar delight. As I fingered through old records and tried to find an Eric Clapton record, (I did) Derek was hastily thumbing in the nineties section trying to find Ten by Pearl Jam (he didn’t.) Right as we were leaving I saw the soundtrack to The Sound of Music for $1 lying forgotten in a corner, snatched it up, and imagined how good it would feel to listen to the sounds of my childhood in wherever our new home was.

I suppose this is to say: life will always be moving along, and will always feel a bit unsettled. But I also think that it’s good to find the things that make you feel at home no matter where you are, and hold on to them. For me that’s a good bookstore (or record store) with stories I’ve read or heard and also stories and songs I haven’t known yet, reminding me that possibility and lessons are always right around the corner.