Alaskan summer has arrived. Temperatures soar to around 60 fahrenheit, the sun blazing in bright, clear skies. Meltwater trickles from snow-capped mountain peaks. Our yard, brown yesterday, has gone green overnight and exploded with dandelions. I wake up at 3 AM, watch the periwinkle sky fade to light blue painted with streaks of pink and yellow. Around 6, I step onto my rough wooden balcony in the crisp morning air, my warm breath visible in the freshness of the day. It’s all birdsong and the rustling of grass, nothing else, just silence. I watch a wave of golden sunlight sweep the distant mountains purple, pour over the ocean and the mudflats, finally spilling its rays onto the marsh. I scan the horizon for moose or bear or beluga. Not this time, but maybe later. I think that this must be the best place in the world to grow up, to every single day wake up and stare out at this. Everyone, including my teenage brother, is up and moving before 6:30, and I wonder if it’s genetic, or simply that if you’re not a morning person, you’re missing out.
I get in the car, my old blue Subaru from back in the day, drive to meet Nic and Reid for breakfast. There’s no question of where we go when we say breakfast. We head downtown, to Snow City Cafe, our favorite for ever and always. Reid and I order Snow City Lattes, and Nic drinks black coffee like an old man, like always. I eat eggs benedict with salmon cakes, we have toast with Alaskan berry jam. Afterwards Reid goes home and Nic and I look out at the sea, the shipping yards and the mountains.
I go into the mountains. Through the slushy, slippery snow, mud and gnarled juniper trees. It smells like tundra and old snow and everything fresh and real and wild.
I climb up to the highest saddle, balance on a pile of old beams of wood, stinking of tar like near the railroad tracks. Sit quiet and listen to the snow melt. Higher up, I assess the situation. Rock climbing seems to be the only option up, to glasade down the snow fields afterwards, but it’s steep and looks tricky. I pass a group of teenagers in sweatpants and gym shoes. You goin’ up? they ask. We’ll see, I’ll look at the trail, I tell them. Ah, you’ll be fine, you look like a rockstar. After that I can’t turn back; scramble up and kick my hiking boots into the snow to climb the last few feet. Up there it’s just rock, flat and warm, surrounded by beautiful sweeping peaks. I cruise around a bit, chill in the grass, scope out higher mountains for another day when the snow’s gone. Floatplanes criss-cross overhead, dipping low, buzzing the mountaintops to the delight of hikers and tourists alike.
Our family friend Michael flies his float plane into town from the distant fjords and forests he calls home, surprising us with treats he picked up along the way – beef jerky for Devin, Nutella for my dad (to put in his coffee), a bar of Tiger’s Milk for me (because you seem like a Tiger’s Milk kind of girl). He tells of Lake Hood, floatplane runway and parking lot, how idyllic it was when he touched down. The green grass, blue sky, white mountains behind the dazzling sparkles of the blue water… hundreds of colorful planes lined up, everyone outside, jogging and biking and playing with their kids and their dogs, everyone happy, everyone beaming, everyone in their T-shirts. Would have been an amazing photo, you would think, where on earth could this be?
We go out to dinner and listen to his stories, wild Alaskan adventure stories, risking lives to capture the song of a rare bird on an island in the Aleutians where no one’s set foot for 240 years, floatplanes and freshwater barnacles, the men of Dutch Harbor. Huge mountains, huge waves, huge boats, the weather and the earsplitting sounds of clanging steel… everything is so big and so formidable it’s scary. Those men are so tough, the toughest anywhere. Don’t know how they do it. Wouldn’t do it for all the tea in China. There’s talk about the weather, of planes, of how things weathered the winter. This is the first time I’ve been able to go without three layers of fleece this spring, Michael says with a smile. It’s been cold, snow down to the water.
Devin and I listen to the Alaska talk, simple and happy and all dependent on the wilderness. I’m happy to be home, where everyone is positive and energetic and outside, everything’s tied to the weather and the nature, the animals and lakes and planes, the ocean and the tides. The real things. We’ve gotta get you over to Kachemak Bay, Michael grins. Put you in a kayak and get you some blue mussels, drop you off at Loon Song. I smile, remembering Loon Song, the cabin in the mountains where I drank water for the first time in my life. Nothing tastes as good as that water. I get tired, almost falling asleep in my seat. Ah, she’s at half-flaps! my dad exclaims. I smile at the Alaska slang and at home, I crawl into bed amidst beams of glowing sunlight. Summer has begun.