This morning, it is fall. I made a fire in the wood stove, stepped out onto the back deck, and was enveloped by an autumn morning. The mist I noticed earlier had nearly disappeared, but there remained moisture in the air no longer reminiscent of summer. The crispness to the air feels damp and dying. It is a familiar yet foreign sensation. Autumn has always been my favorite season, despite its foreshadowing of winter looming.
I grew up in Massachusetts and went to college in Maine, so autumn for much of my life consisted of crimson red, deep purple, fiery orange, and brilliant yellow. This was an easy autumn to fall for, both comfortable and familiar. It took time to adjust to the North Cascade oranges and yellows with hints of red, all wrapped up in shrouds of mist and cloud. Yet over time, I fell in love with the mystery and elvish romance of this fall, and it too grew familiar, though winter was certainly not something I looked forward to in Washington State – regular power outages and frozen pipes. So, now I find myself in transition yet again after spending nearly seven years of my life in Washington.
Here I am on the edge and in ways I have yet to discover. Water, forest, and mountains extend as far as the eye can see in every direction. My home here borders Excursion Ridge and wilderness to the east for many miles before one reaches Juneau. Islands inhabited by brown bear, deer, tree, and rock stretch to the south. To the north and west, Glacier Bay National Park expands for 3.3 million acres and is joined by multiple wilderness areas to create a 24 million acre World Heritage Site, second in size only to Antarctica.
Just as autumn begins, I will be leaving this wild, mystical place on the edge of wilderness. I return to a husband who awaits my return with baited breath and to critters for whom, Labradors aside, I have long since ceased to exist. My husband tells me from time to time that his greatest worry is to one day wake up with all that brings meaning to his life gone from his consciousness – to be once again alone in Omaha, Nebraska, far from the west, the ocean, the mountains, the birds, and me. Will this be Alaska for me? When I think of returning to the Skagit, I am reminded of past relationships gone awry. My love and I part ways, sometimes amicably but more often in heartache and pain. My relationship with the Skagit has been one of intense passion but always with a deep sense of imbalance and the increasing realization that we would not survive the long haul. This truth became ever apparent, yet as in many relationships I could not allow myself to let go. It was not until the Skagit began to relinquish its own grasp and I was left hollow and lost that I began to let go of my own firm hold.
And just as that door began to close, in synchronistic fashion another opened to the north. Here I sit in Gustavus. A year ago today, I would never have anticipated all the change I would experience – of place and of self – yet here I sit. As difficult as it will be to leave Southeast Alaska where I am just beginning to explore community, wildness, and my own capacity for change, it is my hope that I will find closure in returning to the Skagit and feel an even deeper happiness and fulfillment in returning to Alaska as winter follows fall.