Alaska Mileposts

Funny to realize how far we are into the summer. The days have learned how to fly.

Looking over the season, at the things I’ve done and yet to do, at the visitors that have come and are coming, at the noticeable way the weather is changing here, I took a moment to closely examine my calendar. And I realized I’m more than halfway through my time in Alaska. In 58 days, I’ll be settling down into a (hopefully not too) packed car for the long cross continent drive home.


My Alaska experience has been different that I thought it would be. Not necessarily in a bad way, but also not in the best of ways. It’s been more beautiful than I imagined it could be. It’s been scarier than I imagined it could be. It’s been more intense than I imagined it could be.


Honestly, maybe secretly, I was hoping I’d find a place that felt like home here. That hasn’t happened yet. I’ve found much to love here (namely, the glaciers) and much to temper it with (namely, the deadly wildlife). I’m still enjoying the experience of being here; soaking up the culture and scenery; embracing all the varying opportunities that I can. But… home still beckons and I’m watching closely for approaching autumn.

Alaska Mileposts

of spring moments

 And, just like that, another weekend has come and gone. This one held a special note of significance as it was my last one in DC until the fall. Next weekend will see me in New Orleans and the one after, I’m off on my way to Alaska. This weekend held some of my favorite things in DC: a lazy, rainy morning spent drinking coffee and hanging out; a game night with friends; a sunrise birding stroll in Rock Creek park; rooftop happy hour (complete with the returning chimney swifts!). Spring weather has genuinely settled in and it’s the perfect time of year to be outside in DC. 

 

I’m so excited for things to come. Seeing my Yosemite girls at Jazzfest in a couple of days. Heading out on a new life adventure this summer. Yet, I carry a balancing weight of fears and anticipated hardships. A (arguably overly) healthy respect for the wildness of Alaska (the Sierra on steroids seems an accurate analogy). The step back in to a long distance relationship. 

Such is life, right? One adventure pushing into another until you notice the days are breezing by and calendars can’t quite contain the flow…

of spring moments

Of the ornate

Six months in DC and I’m still working on checking places and activities off my list. This city has unending things to do: public buildings to visit, paved trails to walk, theaters to attend, bars to frequent, friends to meet.

Last week, I finally found my way over to tour the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court building, and the US Botanical Conservatory. These places are all close together (hence the combination one free day) and all close enough to where I’m interning that it’s justifiably surprising I hadn’t made it over yet just far enough of a walk that I wouldn’t have time to make it during a lunch break or after work.

The Library of Congress immediately moved to the top of my “places I recommend to visit in DC” list. The Thomas Jefferson building (the Library takes up a block of three buildings, but I think the TJ is the only one with public services) is quite possibly the most beautiful building I’ve ever been in. It’s just gorgeous. And a docent-led tour is a great way to learn some of the 200+ year history of the Library.

The Supreme Court building is also impressive. Not nearly as ornate as the Library. But there’s something very powerful about sitting in on a lecture (their tour equivalent) in the building’s only courtroom, facing the justices’ chairs (8 right now since Scalia’s chair was given to his family), knowing the impact of the words and decisions spoken in that space.

I can tell I’ve lived in DC for a while now when the most striking thing about my experience at the Botanical Conservatory is the lack of security. Funny how perspectives change to adjust to new norms. I’ve grown so used to airport-like security when I enter any federal or institutional building, that I don’t flinch at walking through a metal detector and I’d never think to carry around nail clippers or a multi-tool in my messenger bag anymore. Anyway, the conservatory and outdoor garden themselves are nice. The serenity of being surrounded by plants and (albeit well-controlled) nature is something I’ve missed as a city resident. The CA poppies were a nice treat; making me long for Hites Cove and the hillsides above El Portal. The painting is a scene of Denali that I’m really looking forward to checking out in person at some point this summer.

Of the ornate

Of the blossoms

DC is in its full spring finery. Bright flowers, warm breezes, and later sunsets. All signs of certain spring and coming summer.

We’re in the middle of the annual cherry blossom festival; many of the 3,800 Japanese cherry trees are blooming around the tidal basin on the National Mall. It’s wonderful to see this beautiful side of the city – a striking juxtaposition of cold marble and warm nature. If I’m on a mission to see how much beauty and grandeur I can find in DC, I’d say I’m on the right track (along with some 1.5 million others)…

Of the blossoms

of 133 days

Sometimes you want to craft an elegant missive skirting around to a point. And sometimes you want to shout the bottom line at the start and work toward recovery and explanation. I think today falls to the latter.

I’m moving to Alaska.

With necessary elaborations and conditional statements. I’m moving to Alaska for the summer – 133 days to be precise. I have a unique opportunity to go work with Alaska Geographic running a visitor center on national forest land. And how could I say no? Glaciers, grizzlies, almost constant daylight. New birds, new trails, new everything.

DC has been a hard sell for me. I’m surviving the urban experience, but it in no way provides me with a fully engaging and healthy life experience. But I don’t want to give it up. Because it is exciting. And because Paul’s here. But I need more. Usher in Alaska to provide the balance to the scales.

Extreme urban in winter. Extreme wilderness in summer. …that’s the theory.

I’ve never been to Alaska. It’s always been this sort of mystical place in my imagination – stuck up there at the very top of our continent with its promise of being ‘the last frontier’. Will it live up to the high hopes I have for it? I can’t wait to find out!

Let the countdown begin to an 8-10 day drive across a fifth of our planet from the heart of DC through Canada (somewhere else I’ve never been) to southern Alaska that will mark the start of an indescribably intense adventure in nature. And to start wrapping my mind around this crazy reality, I’ve picked up a little bit of light reading:

bears
required Alaska reading

 

Cheers to returning to the seasonal life and following wherever the path may lead!

of 133 days

of crocuses and mud

Spring is on its slow way in.  

 

I spent my Sunday exploring more of what I think is the hidden gem of DC: Rock Creek Park. This park weaves itself throughout the city. I went out with a Meetup group and our nine miles took us in a big loop hopping through neighborhoods and alleyways to follow the trails that cross the park. 

In spite of the chill air and clouded skies this morning, it feels like spring is almost upon us. From the warmth of the intermittent sun to the surprise of a few wildflowers, talk trended to spring festivals and summer plans. I’m grateful for the winter we’ve had, but also I’m ready for some strong sunshine and green growth. 

of crocuses and mud

of five months

I moved to DC for a person. And for a different, broader life experience. In many ways it’s been absolutely worth it. In some ways, it’s been devastatingly disappointing. Overall, it’s been an extremely interesting give-and-take that I never expected.

  • Defining home and purpose have become tangibles. How long does homesickness last? When does a new place start to feel like home? Why do we, as a society, define ourselves by the job we’re paid to do?
  • I’m not nearly as healthy here. There’s no easily accessible hiking, no rock climbing, and the so-popular incense in yoga studios makes me ill.
  • I’m much more intellectually engaged. This was a pretty big lack in Yosemite. And now I have it in boatloads. Politics, news, trivia, all of the above.
  • Speaking of, two words: pub trivia. So. Much. Fun.
  • My phone is my lifeline. I’d be lost without Google maps (though sometimes I still am even with it). And without the social connections of Facebook and Instagram.
  • Distance doesn’t diminish friendships. I value my girlfriends in Yosemite beyond measure.
  • Three hour phone calls and videochats are a real thing. In spite of time zones.
  • People here are cold. There’s a whole strangers etiquette that precludes unnecessary eye contact and practically forbids acknowledging other humans in any way.
  • I still have birds. True, mostly house sparrows and European starlings. But there are also fish crows that sound like squeaky toys. And cardinals arriving to sing early spring choruses.
  • You can find something for every interest here, no matter how obscure or unusual. Mostly via Meetup groups.
  • I’m incredibly sensitive to air, noise, and light pollution. There’s a lot of them all here.
  • Migraines. Is it the air quality? Is it the tap water? Who knows, but I’m not a fan.
  • Almost every day is a day to get dressed up. It’s much more effort to put on a dress and makeup than hiking gear and sunscreen, but I like it. Go ahead and call me #trendy.
  • I’ve found I can go days without stepping outdoors. (Yes, this is quite embarrassing to admit).
  • I get bored. So very bored.
  • I love food. Therefore I love, not only the restaurant scene, but also the ethnic grocery store scene in DC.
  • I’ve had a hard time finding a job here. That’s a humbling first for me.
  • The Smithsonian and my internship are my grounding force and routine. Volunteer management isn’t a direction I was necessarily trying to go, but it’s interesting.
  • It’s been some time since I’ve lived with someone. I love cooking for two, sharing all those inconsequential little moments, and learning another human being on such an intimate level.
  • The sheer amount of stuff that’s accumulated between two people versus one is staggering, be it books, dirty dishes, or general clutter.
  • I play D&D now. I hear it’s becoming more mainstream; we’ll see. It’s incredibly fun camaraderie, it’s so very creative, and it’s so valuable for just the laughter it inspires.
  • Museums and libraries also make this place for me. This is where most of my disposable time goes.
  • Mountains. How have I not mentioned mountains yet? My heart aches for mountains.
  • I am solidly in the middle of confirming I can do anything, for a little while.

For me, DC is a timed experience. I came in knowing that living here would only be for a relatively short time. I can convince myself to embrace all the good and bad of it by knowing that it’s only for a time. I choose to not entirely dislike it here because I know I’ll only be here for a little while. And I already have non-east coast plans coming down the pipeline.

I started writing this morning with the idea of finally getting around to reviewing and posting the various museums and galleries I’ve been to in DC (mostly the Smithsonian ones because, let’s be honest, those are the free ones) before I got distracted by the bigger idea of DC. And I conclude with hundreds of pictures with their myriad of stories still sitting in front of me. Consider that a promise of things to come…

of five months