Sunday, February 8, 2009

My thoughts upon arrival - A little backdated

My first day in Alaska. Before even arriving I can feel the difference in vibe, the difference in people. At the gate in O’Hare, the other people waiting like me are eager to talk, happy to interact and make connections. They do not ignore each other with an adopted manner of distain like I am used to. Soon we are all joking and sharing our McDonalds back and forth.

The flight attendants on my Alaskan Air flight are more friendly and relational than any I have ever known – and I have done a fair bit of flying. I pass one attendant sitting on an arm rest chatting with other flyers as I head to the restrooms at the back of the plane.

The shuttle driver between the airport and hotel gives me tips about how to navigate my new life in Soldotna, AK. He tells me where to eat and where not to eat. “If you ever meet Hobo Jim,” he says to me, and I am waiting for his warning to run the other way or not to accept his offer to see his gangrenous war hero toes. “If you ever meet Hobo Jim, tell him Hi from George.”

I rehearse it: Hobo Jim, Hi from George.

What a world.

The next morning I awaken in the hotel, a distinct parallel to my first morning in a hotel – almost the very same one which is itself across the street – in Anchorage almost three years ago. This time darkness still blankets the streets, and I have no idea how long the dark will linger. We’ve marked Imbolc (I’m sad to say I marked it barely at all this year, although I had my own celebration of fertility) so the deepest of winter is over.

At eight o’clock the night has loosened its grip. At nine it is positively light out, and around nine thirty I become aware of a piercing brilliance when the sun clears the mountain top.

It doesn’t matter how bright and beautiful Anchorage greets me today, because Kenai is not ready for our plan to land. We wait in the Anchorage airport two extra hours before we can be cleared to board and take-off.

I arrived at the airport much earlier than I needed to since my plans with Shane fell through. It would have been the right amount of time early for a normal flight in a normal airport, but when I arrived at the gate a sign told me:

20 minute check-in strictly enforced to allow for on-time departure.

I was an hour and a half early. This was clearly not O’Hare. When I did check in, the gate agent sent me to the gate which I arrived at directly – without passing through a security point of any sort.

I texted Lisa: um… no security check for my flight. none. not even a metal detector. should i be worried? or just amused?

Lisa: Amused. And pleased! Anyway what terrorists are going to bother with a puddle jumper to kenai? :)

Me: im not wried abt terrorists so much as the Alaskan roughneck hunter who wants to shoot a moose out the window

Lisa: Lol. You have a point

When we finally got on our flight, I saw no evidence of rifles or any other suspicious contraband. The flight attendant barely spoke English and dropped all the articles, among other essential words, in her take-off speech (“Float cushion located beneath seat. Take arms put through straps”) and sometimes I swear she was speaking Russian. Of all the international flights I have taken recently, this lady has spoken the worst English of any of them.

Just as I suspected, we rose above the settled cloud cover and skimmed its upper surface on our journey south. The mountain tops gleamed yellow in the sunlight and baby blue in the shadows. As we approached Kenai, I assume we passed Mt. Redoubt – and I was seated on the correct side to see it – but I could not identify it from the many peaks and ranges. Soon enough Redoubt will blow and then this part of the world will be covered with black ash that will ground all flights and obscure the sun better than any condensed water vapor does on a daily basis.

I could see through the thin clouds to the ground below. The dark green and black trees gave way to shining rivers. No, that must be snow, because no rivers are running at this time of year. Even in the summer they barely flow above 32 degrees, so in the winter they freeze solid. I can see patterns in the trees, cut like crop circles: X’s and arrows and chains of arrows like so <-<-<-. As we get closer to Kenai the trees give way to more clearings of snow and I can trace snow machine tracks that cross and crisscross.

I meet Michelle and her beautiful daughter at the Kenai airport and I am arrived. The drive from Kenai to Soldotna is beautiful. When we get out at Fred Meyer, I absolutely love to weather. It is sunny, it is blue, and the air is crisp cold but there is no wind. It is my favorite weather for winter, perhaps of all time. With days like this, no one can convince me that Alaska is anything less than perfect.

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