Thursday, December 15, 2011
A half-hour ago I was shoveling snow while snow fell, a futile effort at best but one I was compulsed to complete to restore order after being gone for what feels like weeks. Then, the skies lifted, lightened, a melon-colored sun burst through the grey-blue snow-heavy sky, and the world lit up. I stood in awe, finally feeling at home again.
I do love my little space in the world, but this week, I have been away. On another planet, sort of. An island, anyway, in a world I've never experienced before. This week, I traveled above the Arctic Circle to Kotzebue, one of the places I cover for the paper, to get to know the town a bit, meet some people, take some pictures, etc. I've been stumbling in an attempt to understand what was so impactful about this trip. There's no way I can roll it all into a neat little package - it was a collection of moments and other-worldliness that is hard to describe.
Here's a moment - a writer friend who lives up in Kotzebue took me out on his Skidoo - they call them snow-gos. I sat behind him as we zipped out onto the ice. The wind bit my face, the air felt different, and around me, there was so much space. A sense of joy welled up in me, and I don't really know why. We scrambled up a snow-packed hill, rising to the top of a point from which we could see for miles and miles. Rolling hills of tundra were dazzled with the unexpected appearance of a golden sun. The wind zipped by us, cleaning the ground and everything around it till grasses came through. It felt wild and peaceful all at the same time. It felt otherworldly. I could not stop smiling.
Another moment - a storm blew in, and winds zoomed through the town. I came out of the post office and was smacked by a wall of wind so hard that it nearly knocked me over. I laughed at the silliness of being an ignorant human in a place like this. Everyone around me was doing their normal thing - just dressed a little more warmly. Goggles, for example, were standard wear. They didn't even drive in cars - they took snow machines and four-wheelers everywhere, even in the storm. Their lives were not built around avoiding any experience of their surrounding environment. How novel.
A third - a midnight walk through the town - I would have walked out on the ice if I had had any idea how to keep from getting lost beyond lost. The moon came out against the midnight dark sky, the air stung a bit, but only in a teasing way. I was alone, but not afraid. Somehow, solitude fit here perfectly. I walked, breathed, thought. I could have gone on forever.
A fourth - sitting across from my friend while he sliced narrow strips off a caribou leg as casually as if he was spreading peanut butter on some white bread. Eating muktuk and seal oil and berries in bear fat. Food from the land, whether grown or harvested, feeds my soul. It's my religion. I was so grateful.
It is always enriching to get away from your world, experience another one, but this one seemed to fit for me in a way that was surprising. I expected to be impressed byt the Arctic, but I didn't expect to fall in love with it at first sight. I did.