Back from the Last Frontier

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Two weeks ago, Jeremy and I returned to Brighton from a 10-day trip to Alaska with my family.

This was my third visit to Alaska, though this time I got to go further west and further north than I’d ever been before. Whereas on my first two trips we boarded a small ship in Seattle and sailed up to the Inside Passage, this time we flew to Anchorage and spent just three days on the boat, cruising around Prince William Sound. After the cruise, we rented cars and drove up to Denali National Park for a few days, before heading back to Anchorage, and then Seattle, and then to our respective homes around the world.

I’ve written before about the difficulty of describing a place like Alaska, and even after my third trip there, it hasn’t gotten any easier. It’s too vast for me to grasp, and the things you can experience there are so drastically different from “everyday” life that there’s almost no reference points for them—unless you happen to habitually see humpback whales lunge-feeding in fjords or house-sized pieces of ice tumbling off the face of glaciers and plunging into the sea, in which case: lucky you.

I kept a journal while we were on the boat, but reading back now, it all seems fabulously unreal. Was it really just a few weeks ago that I was watching mommy and baby seals bobbing on ice floes in a frozen bay? Or that I stood on the deck of a ship at midnight, surrounded by silence and fog and looming ice, feeling as though I were at the end of the earth? Or that I landed on a glacier in a helicopter? Or that I woke up in a lodge to the sight of Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range glittering in the sun on the horizon?

As I sit in my flat in Brighton, listening to people and buses going by outside, surrounded by ticking clocks and humming computer equipment, watching a dove on the balcony (the only wildlife I usually see, apart from seagulls), Alaska seems like not just another life, but another universe.

And it is. And I adore it because it appeals to the part of me that loves to be awed by natural spectacles and craves to be far, far away from most of the rest of humanity. Maybe I’d go stir-crazy if I actually lived in some remote Alaskan town. But I wonder if it would really drive me any more crazy than the noise and grime and hassle of Brighton. I guess it would just be crazy in a different way.

Anyway, coming back down to earth: Alaska was great, and I did get to experience some things that don’t defy description—like my brother proposing to his girlfriend on the last night of the cruise! That was a lovely and unexpected event, and while my family won’t be returning to Alaska next year, we’re all looking forward to a wedding in the spring. Yay!

There was also a lot of very good food consumed while we were away. Anchorage, for instance, delighted me with its range of coffee shops and nice places to eat. If you happen to be passing that way, I highly, highly recommend the Snow City Café, where they do fabulous breakfasts and make an espresso milkshake which made me and everyone else who tried it literally moan with pleasure. And if you find yourself in Talkeetna, Alaska, you can get a tasty pizza at Mountain High Pizza Pie, but you also shouldn’t pass up the Wildflower Café, which makes an outstanding wild salmon sandwich.

Oh, and Alaskan Amber beer is great, too—and, much like the case with Guinness in Ireland, my brother swears it tastes better in Alaska than anywhere else. But then, most things probably taste better when you’re consuming them while sitting on a deck in the midnight sun, surrounded by clear water and snowy mountains.

As for all the rest, the things I can’t really put into words, the things that do defy description (and there’s a heckuva lot of ‘em), all I can say is, thank goodness for Flickr.



Lovely post, very evocative. It’s a place I’d love to visit myself someday, so thanks for the culinary tips!

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