We almost moved out of Alaska. This would make us part of “The Leavers.” You know, the super close friends that become like family. They move away and take a gigantic piece of your heart with them. The ones you think of during dark February nights, the ones you wish you could join across the bay for a hike, the ones you miss.
We question The Leavers. Was it the winter? Too hard to make a living? Aging family? Some reasons we understand, others we judge. Winter — ha, learn to ski.
This past spring I found myself considering becoming one of them, leaving this enchanted bay for other waters, new adventures. All I could think about is what I would miss, the gigantic piece of my heart that I would leave behind. I started writing love letters to Alaska.
I will never find a place like you anywhere on this earth. I remember that first day in 2004 when we drove from Anchorage to Homer, bedraggled and exhausted. The mountains were purple. The first time I saw “purple mountain majesties.” At that time I saw no fruited plain. Now, having been here nearly 10 years I know it was fruited, just not the kind I was used to.
I will miss the mountains across the bay, they guard me so. I feel tucked in when I look and see them aglow or dusted with snow or when they are fogged in thick so I can’t see them. I still know they are there. They won’t go away.
I will miss your smell. The pushki scent so sweet and thick when your idea of summer is in motion, always motion in your summer. Summer is not a time for sitting and sipping anything. Summer is get-your-ass-in-gear season. Make hay.
Oh, we made hay. Remember that first summer when we fell in love with you because of the farm? Mossy invited us to hay at the end of the bay. We hayed until midnight and it still wasn’t dark. Every muscle ached and we climbed up into the loft of the half gone homestead cabin with the green weeds for a floor. In the morning the loft was sewn in with spider webs. We had to clear them to climb down the ladder and get back to it, back to haying at Swift Creek.
Later that day I snuck into the real cabin and made lunch for everybody. Bean burritos. I will never forget standing there in my dirty overalls cooking the beans and folding the tortillas. I carried the plate out to the rest of the hayers. Their faces, seeing me with food, looked as if they had seen the Mother Mary, not just a dirty woman with hay in her hair. We had hay everywhere, we ached, we had rashes, it was bliss.
And Alaska, I will miss your way with people. You have a way of hardening folks. Thickening skin. Stripping away what used to be normal and fixing a new compass inside each one of us. Why in the world would anyone think of moving anywhere with a harder winter? I am. You have changed me. I now fear hot weather.
I will miss your money, Alaska. You give it away so quickly. I like the money from the oil even though I think you should probably protect yourself more. Still, I like the money. One October our little family got $12,000 just because we live here.
But, at the same time, my dear Alaska, you are so rich, please don’t let yourself be cut and bled for all your natural worth. You are perfect. You don’t need to be drilled or mined; you will be fine with sustainable practices. In fact, you will be far richer in the long run.
Thank you for your fish, berries, nettles and wood. You have fed us, kept us warm on the coldest of nights, you remind us that food is near by.
I like your fashion style. I don’t think we are the worst dressed. I went to the Anchorage airport and the tourists didn’t look any better than we Alaskans. I could, of course, tell the difference between the two.
XtraTufs aren’t what they used to be, switch to Bogs. You can buy Bogs locally that were designed just for Alaska fishermen and fisherwomen (that’s a lie, you have to buy a man’s size, but they still rock).
Thank you for having stores where I know the owners and can feel good when my money goes to a family I love dearly or even one I just kind of know.
Alaska, you have sunk your teeth into me and I love it.
And, there were things I wanted to say to Homer, particularly.
Thank you for helping me raise my children. Thank you for having the best library I have ever used. Thank you for caring about your resources. Thanks for banning plastic bags because killing whales just to make grocery shopping easier stinks.
You are so deeply rooted in my soul I am not sure I can live with out you. Your people have treated my family with so much love it takes my breath away. Take care of each other, because what this community has is rare.
Life took an unexpected turn and I thought we would be moving. We are not. We are staying in Homer and I am so glad I never had to send this letter.
Andrea Van Dinther has lived in Homer for eight years. She is a free-lance writer, polar bear guide and mother of three.