Monday, November 25, 2013

The Silence of Snow in Alaska

A few weeks ago we ventured about an hour outside of Anchorage to Hatcher's Pass, a dead-end road near the top of a mountain where we like to play in the snow.  The small European-style lodge is nestled among the mountains that form a quintessential glacier-made U-shaped valley.

Me x-country skiing in my Skhoop, with the kids, Nala and Bruce up ahead.
Warm fuzzy mitten made it into the picture too :)
The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the car was the silence.    Snow has an incredible muffling effect.  Even if a car is driving up the road, its sound is subdued.  And more often than not, there is not a car driving there.  Aside from the generator occasionally running to make electricity and the crunch of skis or snowshoes trapsing across the snow-covered tundra, it can be completely silent.  In some places in Alaska, you can still encounter a noticeable absence of man-made sounds.

I had forgotten about the silence of snow.  The peaceful chill of a snow-covered valley.  After nearly a year living in Mexico last winter, the silence of a mountain valley full of snow was impressive and made me pause.  I breathed in the silence.  It filled me up.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Time Flies - And Then It Doesn't - Bringing Life Aboard to Life on Land

At home in Anchorage, Alaska since August 5th, we are now sailors living on land, our sailboat home thousands of miles away.  S/V Northern Passage is out of the water "on the hard" at a marina in Mexico.

It's funny, although we are now rooted to the earth, some days I feel more adrift here in this small American city than I did when I was actually drifting on the sea.  I'm sure my friends from Manhattan and Boston are chuckling at the thought of Anchorage, Alaska seeming fast-paced.  I'll admit, compared to their cities this one is far less busy.  But still, there are streets and traffic lights, shopping malls and grocery stores, schools and restaurants and theaters.  And people.  So many people intent on getting somewhere, doing something.  It is busy, just on a smaller scale.

When we first arrived back home, I didn't have a car because all of the keys to our VW van had been lost since we departed 15 months before.  I moaned and complained about the fact that we had to wait for the VW dealer to order ridiculously expensive keys and it would take almost two weeks for them to arrive.  Yet secretly, I was relieved.  My friends brought me food.  I started to unpack - carefully - one box at a time.  I hung out with Nina, my friend who spent the summer at Fish Camp living off the grid in central Alaska along the banks of the Yukon River catching filleting smoking jarring fish.  She was feeling similarly overwhelmed living back in Anchorage. 

Together we eased into our life here.  We hung out in my clean, empty house.  Drank tea.  Laughed.  Shared stories about our time away.  Breathed deeply and prepared to venture into the world.  My friends instinctively gave me space and love, pampered me as I made this transition from sea to land.

But one day it happened - the keys were made and I got behind the wheel of my beloved VW microbus.  And I drove.  And I drove.  And I drove.  I am afraid to add up the hours we spend driving our car or biking from place to place. Now, we have to be purposeful about stopping and making time for exploration and experiencing nature.  Yes, even in Alaska!  Before, during our life at sea, we explored every day.  We experienced new places, natural wonders, weather, wildlife, sea states every day whether we were traveling from one place to another or we were anchored down in a cove or a town.  Although we were traveling we weren't "busy."  Time passed in a very different way.  It went slower, I swear!

As I drove from one errand to another yesterday, I marveled at the passage of time.  Home for three months already!  I swear I just blinked and the time passed.  Why does time speed ahead at this groundbreaking pace here on land?  Why are we so busy?  Aboard the sailboat it went slower.  If we had an "hour glass" aboard the sailboat, I imagine that two hours would pass before it would be empty.  Here 20 minutes would pass.  Sigh.

All this said, the transition to land has not been as difficult as I imagined it would be.  I feel more grounded inside than I ever have been.  I approach this life with more ease.  I say "no" more often than I used to and I spend more time at home than I ever did before.  The house has become my boat, my "cabin," my refuge.  I am grateful to feel this way about the home in which I live.  Before we sailed, I was always running away from it.  Now I run toward it.

I think J.T. may have said it best - I've been humming this song for a couple of days now:

"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain't nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we're on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride"