I have a tendency to indulge my mind in many ways, and one such pastime is to analyze and compare. In leaving the Skagit, this activity became a daily pursuit, at times bordering obsession. One cause for concern was in the inevitable relinquishing of my usual haunts, particularly those paths I had followed so often that I knew each twist and turn, individual plant, and resident bird I might hope to find there on a given day. Would I find such places in Alaska? How could I hope to replace the fields around Corkindale Creek, where Western Meadowlark sing, American Kestrel and Northern Shrike perch atop young Douglas Fir, Townsend Solitaire flycatch during spring migration, and Willow Flycatchers flick their tails from tenuous perches during the hot and still summer months?
Perhaps, the answer lies in the question. In essence, there is no replacing such places. For me, it is commensurate to a loved one lost. Yet, the heart has a remarkable ability to heal from these partings, and my own heart has a great capacity to love and connect with new people and places. Already, I can feel this transition happening. I notice it most in small moments – listening to community members playing music at open mic at the Homeshore Café and the overwhelming joy of ending a song of my own to the sound of resounding applause and an embrace from a friend; walking the Forest Loop trail at Bartlett Cove and pausing to find a moose, complete in its own realm and seemingly oblivious to my presence, crunching on plants floating atop Blackwater Pond; eating surprise homemade pie from a supervisor after a long day working with students at the park; making dinner with friends with ingredients gathered and grown by hand.
Most recently, in moving to a new home, I have discovered a charming, winding path called the Nagoonberry Trail – the nagoonberry is a fruit of great acclaim here in Southeast Alaska, and it is gathered by many Gustavus residents (Gustavians?) and made into syrups, jams, and pies of all shapes, sizes, and flavors. These walks can be a bit lonely, and I rarely leave home without a can of bear spray by my side. Yet I feel both empowered and full in this exploration and newfound connection.
Fall is ever-present each day I wander along, sometimes slowly and deliberately with camera in hand, others more quickly while the rain pours down, always with binoculars around my neck. Along the edge of the trail, ripe Highbush Cranberries glisten enticingly, and I am easily swayed to pause.
Shrubs and flowers have gone to seed, the cottonwood are turning resplendent shades of crimson orange and flaming yellow, and the fields of fireweed are reminiscent of hovering ghosts of down.
Foraging flocks of Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet emit tinkling sounds, solitary howling can be heard in the distance (a neighbor’s canine or its wild counterpart?), and Merlin fly with powerful wing beats, landing temporarily before taking flight again in pursuit of unsuspecting shorebirds. Even the introduced and now prolific dandelion cannot escape the onset of autumn.
It is invigorating both to feel the changing of the season and also to try to imagine what this world will reveal this winter and coming spring. As I walked the trail this afternoon, I was reminded of words of wisdom shared with me by a dear friend from the Skagit. He told me that planning for the future is all well and good; however, things work out quite differently more often than not than the best of intentions can foresee. If we allow space in ourselves for this metamorphosis, we are often pleasantly surprised.
A pair of Steller’s Jay, seen from only a few corners of Gustavus, and a gregarious Dark-eyed Junco greet me upon my return to my home on Same Old Road, and I am thankful for Southeast Alaska and the ability for one’s spirit to be renewed in time and the nuances of place.