Reporters spend a lot of time talking to people: people they don’t know, people they do know, people who really don’t want to talk to them and people who really do.
When I’m not in the office, I don’t do a lot of talking. I’ve taken up an interest in weekend boat rides, which I like because I can see a lot of Alaska’s beauty without having to do a lot of talking.
Lately, I’ve been hitching rides on water taxis with an empty seat and I’ve ironically learned that some of my favorite conversations happen on the water.
A couple of weekends ago I tagged along on a water taxi bound for Jakolof Bay. A woman and a child were bringing some groceries to Seldovia. I sat outside next to their 12-pack of canned Pepsi for the 30-minute ride, clutching my armrests a little tighter over the waves and laughing when ocean spray hit my cheeks.
The late winter sunrise gave the densely forested islands a gorgeous golden hue. To the tune of the humming motor, the tiny boat bobbed along the mostly calm water and I closed my eyes to soak in some rare winter sunlight. An alpenglow Alaska range lined the horizon under a nearly full moon.
When we dropped our passengers off in Jakolof, the captain and I chatted while waiting for our next group. We talked about how I am from San Diego and he said his mom lives there and hasn’t been able to get out much during COVID.
The young couple we picked up was headed to the waters near Halibut Cove. After loading backpacks as big as barrels and a duffel bag full of firewood, they told me that they had rented a public-use yurt and were going to snowshoe to Grewingk Glacier in the morning.
Over the sound of the wind, they asked me what I did for a living and how I came to live in Alaska. They said they were both academics and that if they moved from Seldovia, they would probably go to New Zealand. Freedom, the woman said, is about seizing every day.
There wasn’t a dock when we arrived at the couple’s drop point. We got the boat as close as possible before they pulled on waders and jumped off the side. Backpacks and firewood in tow, they waved from the shore while the captain pushed us off of a sandbar.
I moved from padded seats near the stern to the heated cabin, now the boat’s only passenger for the ride back to Homer. Through the back window, the sun shined on snow-covered mountains against an azure sky.
“Do you want to see how a boat gets filled with gas?” the captain asked when we neared the harbor.
We idled up to Petro Marine Services and waited patiently while a man in a hoodie jogged across the wooden deck to fill ‘er up. The inside of the cabin was covered in faded maps of Kachemak Bay and Kachemak State Park and I traced the route we’d taken that day with my finger.
When we pulled back up to the dock, the clouds had started to roll in. I waved goodbye to the captain and thought about whether or not the couple had made it to their yurt yet. I’m excited for the next sunny day.