Stompin' on the Terra

"And he said, 'Stomp upon the Terra.'" – Lord Buckley (via Hunter Thompson)

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Location: Plum Island, Massachusetts

31 March 2011

Quickie Adventure

Looking east up Turnagain Arm toward Portage

A friend was chastising me recently, wondering where the blog accounts of my adventures in Alaska were. I had to reply that, sadly, there hadn't been much in the way of adventure since I returned north. Rather, I've mostly been preoccupied with the punch list for my house, playing beer league hockey and the various aspects of my job search.

Well, hockey ended this past weekend (we lost in the championship game, 1-0) and the punch list is in great shape (got most of the insulation up in the basement yesterday). So following the quite-encouraging lunch I had today with some folks regarding a potential job opportunity, I took a drive out the Seward Highway to Girdwood and back.

Looking due south across Turnagain Arm near Girdwood

The drive east-southeast from Anchorage to Girdwood is about 35 miles long or so, and winds alongside Turnagain Arm, the eastern fork of Cook Inlet, which leads up from the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean to form the triangle at the base of the Chugach Mountains that is Anchorage. It is, without question, one of the most beautiful drives in North America, if not the world -- especially on a sunny day after fresh snow. Mountains leap up on either side of the arm, which is transited by fierce tidal currents daily. Glaciers wind down toward sea level at the head of Turnagain Arm and winds equal in ferocity to the tides often race the length of the fjord. Dall sheep bound around their craggy cliffs above the roadway.

The south-facing slopes above the Seward Highway with minimal snow for March

And in winter, the scenery is even more impressive. The mountains are swathed in snow, even in this thin-snow winter, and form brilliant-white teeth biting into a sky that is that unique-to-high-latitudes shade of blue. Streams of snowmelt cascade below retreating avalanche deposition. And the mudflats at low tide are gouged by the retreating and advancing current, while the flats are littered as far as the eye can see with huge blocks of iced mud tilted in all sorts of non-right angles.

It was, today, quite exactly what the doctor ordered.

Mt. Spurr and the Tordrillo Range visible through the haze across the mudflats and Cook Inlet

As I ponder various opportunities -- both in and out of Alaska -- for the next stage of my life, it's always rewarding to get out into Alaska, even if it's just for a Sunday drive (on a Thursday). And as much as Anchorage is home and is comfortable, it's not capital-A Alaska. But all it takes is an hour-long drive along Turnagain Arm to make me wonder: why in the hell would I ever think about leaving Alaska? What a wonderful, special place.

On a bluebird day after an overnight snowfall, it's THAT good a drive.

(Thanks, Sam, for the kick in the ass to get outta town.)

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21 March 2011

Channeling George and Kevin

I had planned to write something a couple of weeks as I sat in the shade in my pseudo-home of the past eight months: a self-storage lot in Solana Beach, California. I sat there watching, well, my life, essentially, get packed up into three large wooden crates for shipment to my more-rooted home in Alaska and a couple of thoughts occurred to me.

The first was: "Holy shit! I need to lighten my load!" This feeling was strengthened a couple of days later when the moving company (in a turn of events as shocking as Claude Rains finding out there was gambling going on at Rick's Cafe Americain in "Casablanca") declared that the actual cost of shipping my stuff north was going to be a little bit more expensive than their estimate: 60 percent more expensive. Gulp. Well, what could I do? They had my stuff in the aforementioned wooden crates in a storage yard in beautiful downtown Poway, California, and I was 3,800 miles away, back in Anchorage, Alaska. I told them to get the stuff moving north.

The honesty of moving companies notwithstanding, the fact remains that I have a ton of crap that I don't use that often. And unlike a lot of my friends, I actively purge my belongings on an annual basis. But some of the things that had always seemed so important took on a new role as I realized their density made for expensive shipping. I mean, do I really need all those books I've been toting with me for a couple of decades? The complete works of Jim Harrison and Tom McGuane…do I need them on hand 24/7 or will the memories of how those works moved me suffice? And if I absolutely must reference something from my collection, wouldn't a public library (like the one I'm sitting in right now) enable me to accomplish that goal?

The second (and contradictory) thought that occurred to me as I watched those crates filling up was: "Wow. Forty-five years and that's all I have to show for it." I felt like Kevin Kline in "A Fish Called Wanda" when he shoots the empty safe and yells out, "Disappointed!" Friends and acquaintances have actual lives to look back upon: families, kids, homes, second homes, loves, losses, fine china, sentimental gewgaws, hand-me-downs, inexplicable gotta-haves and so forth. Me? I have a lot of toys (i.e.: sports gear), a huge bed, a dresser, kitchen tools, a gajillion CDs, a few hundred hours of Grateful Dead concerts on cassettes and a ton of books. Not much to show for 45 years, is it?

Regardless of whether I have too much detritus or not enough, the experience was profound enough that I will definitely be doing an item-by-item recalculation once everything arrives here in Alaska in another couple of weeks. Expect a few changes...