(My first attempt at hyperlinks, so have fun!)
I’ve been holding a secret to myself for a bit. See, I was waiting for just the right moment for a public unveiling, and was also wary of speaking too quickly, lest it fall through. Since the tickets have now been purchased and the itinerary set, I’m spilling.
I get to go on a trip! A business trip! A paid-gig business trip! Where? To Dutch Harbor, Unalaska.
Where was that again, you ask?
Take a moment if you haven’t before to get a good look at Alaska. It’s a pretty big state. From the southeast peninsula across to the Aleutian islands, it actually spans the width of the lower 48 (the appropriate term for “continental US”, according to the sourdoughs).
Now, I live on the Kenai Peninsula, the piece of jutting land that lies between the SE Peninsula and the Aleutian chain, roughly bigger than Vermont and smaller than West Virginia. Soldotna lies in the north-central part of the peninsula. Cook Inlet, the body of water between the peninsula and the mainland, is the part of the ocean that I see when I go for a drive. In the summer, I go fishing for halibut there, and in the fall I often see the local pod of beluga whales surfacing as they feed along the coast, their backs gleaming like snow. During the winter, Turnagain arm fills with pack ice and looks not unlike a martian landscape, barren and obtrusive. When you watch it go out in the spring, you understand why they call it “breakup”.
Though my home is on a particularly flat stretch of swampland dotted with stunted spruce forests and moose, the Chugiak mountain range runs like a backbone along the southwest side of the peninsula and cradles the Harding Ice Field, one of the four remaining ice fields in the US. Roughly the size of Rhode Island, the Harding Ice Field feeds over 30 glaciers and the Kenai Lake, the source of our beloved Kenai River.
When I look out across the inlet, I have the opportunity to view a link in the Ring of Fire. Three active volcanos are within sight from my house, the most picturesque being Mount Redoubt, a snow-capped monument that rises over 10,000 feet directly from sea level. (Or, if you’re not into peaceful views, check out the mushroom cloud it gave us in 1990.)
This, in a nutshell, is my Alaskan world (that, and the rain and snow). I’m a little disappointed to admit I’ve barely scratched the surface of this great land. If you take a look at our road system, you will see that the majority of the state can only be reached by plane. If you don’t own a plane (which most Alaskans do), you are denied access to “Bush Alaska”, where all the real Alaskans live.
At the same time that my husband George will be journeying north up the Haul Road toward Prudhoe Bay in search of caribou, I will be flying to Dutch Harbor. Take a look at this map and see if you can find it. Have you found it yet? It’s the town furthest on the left. My first Bush town visit, and it’s all the way out on the Aleutian chain! I’m getting paid to perform for the people of Dutch Harbor, 733 miles away--approximately equal to the space between me and Russia as I sit here typing. It’s the same distance as a drive from Washington DC to Birmingham, or Chicago to Atlanta, or San Diego to El Paso, or Louisville to New Orleans.
I’m counting on a completely new experience there. I can’t wait!
(I'm dedicating this entry to Nora, my "Es-chemo" friend and former college roommate, who is missing her home in Unalakleet while undergoing a bone marrow transplant in Seattle. Hope this makes you smile, Nora!)Tweet
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