When I headed north for Alaska, I was searching for something. I left with anti-depressants and panic pills in my pocket, certain that I would continue to experience difficulty filling my air with lungs and breathing normally. I was afraid of leaving my life in Washington behind. I had not set off on my own for many years.
By the end of my first summer in Alaska, something inside of me had changed.
“You are different,” an friend told me. “More confident and grounded in yourself.”
There was truth in her words. I had survived the summer. More than that, I had thrived. I had begun to envision a new identity as a musician and started playing music again. I felt the thrill of life in a new place in a remote corner of the Alaskan wilderness.
This confidence was newly rooted and still shaky.
I spent a painful two months in Washington.
During that time, a friend wrote to me in an email, “it will be darker when you get back.”
I headed north once more at the end of a cold November, thankful to have my sister with me on the journey through the Inside Passage.
I left her at the Juneau airport a few days later and continued the remainder of the journey to Gustavus alone.
On the ferry were familiar faces, young and old. I was thankful for the company. The community of Gustavus is remarkable and unlike any other I have experienced. It was a gift to be a part of it for a time.
The winter was a dark and difficult time.
Another friend had told me that when she first got word of a job in Alaska, her coworker had chided, “Alaska? Be careful. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
I experienced this first hand. Of course, I am odd myself, and for a time I did not question the odd treatment.
Oddness is one thing. We are each odd in our own ways. Abuse is quite another. And after some of the worst abuse from a once friend and supervisor, I decided that my shaky confidence would not survive if I stayed for much longer.
Back to the lower 48 to take refuge in Arizona and then to a new life in Massachusetts.
It is from Massachusetts that I write on this overcast morning. It may be cloudy, but the sun is working its way into view.
This past weekend, during a busy Lowell Folk Festival, I walked across town with two visitors. When I told them I had moved here from Alaska, one of them chastised, “You gave up Alaska for this?”
I did. There are moments when I miss the wilderness and the sense of community. There has not been one moment when I have missed the abuse I received for being odd in a way that some individuals found threatening.
I am in Massachusetts. I am who I am. And I am my own blessing.