Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cheechako no more

Exactly one year ago Sunday, I shut my car door, rolled the keys forward in the ignition and eased the Suby down my parent's driveway.
This is a much anticipated post, albeit a bit early.
Cheechako: The term used for people who haven't spent a full winter in the north. They're also often referred to as tenderfoots. I actually arrived in the state on June 4, 2008.
I'm a little premature in my declaration, but for the sake of my blogging schedule for the next few weeks, and because winter is over, at least down here at sea level, I'm going to officially declare myself no longer a chechako.
(For those who need to know, it is still snowing. Road riding in Summit Pass and Cooper Landing this weekend there was fresh snow on the ridges at 4,000'.)
Over the last two days I've been going through some of my posts from the past several months, and over and over again I've asked, "Was this real, was this me, was I there, did I really see that, did I really take that picture?"
Some of those pictures, there's nothing I can write underneath them that will ever allow me to express the emotions tied with them, the way I felt as I stood and snapped them.
There are pictures on this blog, for whatever it's worth, that make me quickly blink back tears.
When I left East Middlebury, I was fulfilling two dreams. I was going to a place I'd been once before, and knew thereafter I wanted to return to. I was also getting in my car and driving it until the road practically ran out.
I didn't even have a physical address for my final destination, nor sure exactly what/where I was going to.
It was the epitome of the post college grad dream.
A year later, I'm still here on the shores of the Kenai River,
It looks much the same as it did when I arrived, and as I set up equipment for fishing this summer, I couldn't help but stop and think, "I really call it my life."
It's some how normal that I live "up here."
In the last frontier, I have a real job, I work a 9-5, I commute to work, I get stressed, I get tired and sometimes I hang my head exhausted by life.
When I lift my head though, I see things very few others get to.
I've spent a year of my life living in a place where only 50 years ago most of the population lived off the land or starved. Back then, getting between here and Anchorage would have been easier with a horse or 4x4 than low clearance station wagon.
I've adapted habits to suit a climate that freezes over for 6 months at a time. I can go skiing when the mercury drops to minus 30. I've seen near boiling water freeze in mid-air when thrown skyward at minus 40. I've felt my own flesh go from cold to numb to dead faster than the world's best speed reader could zip through this sentence.
My life's been dictated by the eruptions of an active volcano.
The ground here threatens to shred everything the humans have built upon it.
My neighbors continually put my own trials and tribulations to shame with their daily fight to eat, avoid being eaten and pass their genes onto the next generation before returning to the earth.
I look both ways before I step out my door on fall mornings for bears walking through the yard. In the darkness of the winter night I drive well below the speed limit, my eyes keen to the dark silhouettes of half ton ungulates that meander across the highway without warning, threatening both the unwary driver and moose with a swift bloody death.
On a high mountain ridge, I'm blown away not by how my species has dominated the world, but how by how meek and insignificant we actually are despite our innovation.
"You have to want this place," I feel like I've told many, "otherwise it will devour you."
There are many here that shouldn't be.
For all its hardships however, there is beauty like truly nowhere else on earth.
Those of us who do survive up here, wake up to a dream every morning.
For me, I've been graced twice, to have both kind and generous people around me whom I'm forever indebted beyond compensation to; and a job that lets me do what I love and truly get to know the community and it's characters like no other livelihood can.

But my evolving story is no different than most of those I've met here.

"I came up here for a summer, a year, became two years, it's been 5/10/30 now, I'm not sure if I'll ever go back down, I better decide, pretty soon..."


Tom said...

Great post.

The Saratogian City Desk said...

Congrats on the mile stone, but don't stay up there too long...

Anonymous said...

sounds wonderful! Enjoy reading your adventure.