The Cicada Song: Power through collective efforts 

When it’s cicada season you know it the second you step out the door, and sometimes before you have even left the house. This could be in instances when your dog brings various slobbery, dead and half-eaten cicadas into your kitchen, or when the cicada symphony is so loud you can hear it before you even open your front door. That’s the thing about cicadas, they have a presence, a collective presence. 

Until we started foster parenting, I had sort of forgotten that many children are afraid of bugs. Probably because I was the weird kid who would lift up rocks in search of insects for hours. They fascinated me. I would become completely absorbed in their little worlds and always needed multiple prompts to come in for dinner. 

“Ah!” He screeches grabbing me around the waist and hiding behind me. 

“It has a stinger! It’s going to sting me!” He continues pointing at a cicada in the midst of its sloppy, heavy flight. 
I reassure him that they do not sting. “Then what do they do?” He asks. 
“Shhh listen. Hear that?” I say pointing towards the trees and the hissing symphony. “That’s what they do, all together they do that.”

The cicada he’s hiding from comes dive-bombing towards us again and crashes onto the porch. I allow it to crawl onto my finger and show him its fire red eyes and golden transparent wings shining in the sunlight. 

“And this,” I continue, “is where it came from,” I walk over to a tree in our yard and show him the beige brown empty encasing of cicada skin, still clinging to the bark of the tree. 
“See it never used to be able to fly, then it changed and shed its skin,and when it came out, it was really different.” 
“What’s wrong with that one?” He asks, pointing to a cicada that has not yet emerged. 
“Nothing, it just hasn’t come out yet,” I reassure him and he bounds along into the backyard looking for his football. 

Days become weeks and more weeks and each day he checks the not-yet-emerged cicada. It has turned a deep black color and those fire red eyes hiding behind the thin layer of skin have lost their glow. I finally break the news to him and he gives a only slightly defeated shrug. 
I stand there as he walks off and I think about that cicada though. I think about how sometimes we do all we can for a positive change and it doesn’t work. How sometimes you use all the right techniques and the child’s tantrum rages on, how you call 20+ dentists and no one takes his Medicaid card, and sometimes when you reach out to countless workers to advocate you only get met with frustrated “We’ll get to it”s and voicemails you could recite by heart. Foster care is not for the weary, although it can make you that way. 

But as I look at that dead cicada, I still hear the collective song of all of those who did come out of their shells. I instead think of all of the times something did work, all the times someone answered my calls, all of the appointments I was able to schedule, all of the times I have tucked him in at night and he smiles in a way I know he feels safe. I think of all the times I have earned my wings. 

If you focus on the song you can have hope. If you focus on the song, you realize your collective efforts have meaning and make lasting change, despite any dead cicadas along the way. 

I turn back around and see our kiddo on the back porch. A cicada has landed dangerously near him and he lifts a foot as if to squish it. I want to stop him but instead I watch. 
The cicada crawls slowly towards him and he lowers his foot away from the insect. Instead, he squats down and watches the creature dragging its heavy body along. It adjusts its wings and then it flies away. 

Another cicada to join in the song. 

Grounded in Knowing Yourself 


If I had to choose a favorite smell it would either be wood-smoke or the smell of the bottom of my dog’s paws. I know, weird right? But sometimes after a long day I’ll press my nose into those warm scratchy black paw pads, nestled in tufts of white husky fur, and just inhale. It smells like the musty scent of dog mixed with the grassy soil smell of fresh earth, and it is amazing. 

I don’t know when I allowed myself to realize what my favorite smells really were. It wasn’t long ago though. 

But we all do that. We get caught up and day’s slip away and our routine becomes numbing. Before we know it, we don’t even know little things about ourselves because we have no time for even minimal amounts of self discovery and validation. 

When we know who we are and we accept it though, that’s when we become grounded. We become anchored with enough security to reach out and learn about, connect, and feel for others too. 

When you take advantage of opportunities to understand yourself, you will get to know your limitations too. It’s like looking out into the ocean before you go swimming and knowing there are sharks somewhere out there, you just want to forget that part. And we can get really good at forgetting.

 I have discovered that, for me, compassion is like a fuel tank. It’s not consistent. Sometimes it’s full and I greet the day with a golden glow and an invisible super hero cape flowing behind me. I want to save the world and absolutely everything and everyone in it. I stop on the sidewalk to pick up worms drying in the sun. I pack extra granola bars and tiny oranges, just in case I run into homeless people. Those are the days when my compassion tank is full. 

Then there are the days when I leave the worms, I avoid eye contact in the check out lanes, I choose the car lane furthest from the man with the cardboard sign on the corner. There are days where my soul feels like a storm is coming. I can’t see rolling black clouds, but I know I’ve used up all of my sunshine. 
Maybe we all have those days. 

But maybe something as simple as remembering and honoring those quirky things about ourselves matters more than I often give it credit for. Maybe validating our own existence and limitations is a start to validate that of others, even, well, the earth worms. Maybe honoring limitations doesn’t make us weak, it just makes us human. 
And maybe, just maybe, one day I will make a candle of dog-must and earth, even if I’m the only one who buys it. 

Peace crystals and tough love: A foster care moment 

“Look I found a real live crystal!” His voice bubbling over with the elated joy one usually can only truly experience in childhood. He lifts the stone to the sky and the late afternoon sun fills the stone, exuding a warm pink glow. 

I am sitting on the back porch thumbing through paperwork and setting appointments in my calendar. Becoming a foster parent forced me to change my scattered artist ways and become at least a bit more organized and parent-like. 

He brings the crystal to me. I am surprised he found it. A small piece of rose quartz I had bought years ago from the Native American craft store, Spirit Wind. I am still unsure how the quartz wound up in the backyard. 

“And here’s another one!” He bounds up onto the back porch holding yet another piece of rose quartz laced with bits of topsoil trapped in the cracks and crevices. 
“You keep one and I’ll keep one,” he states decisively as he hands me the dirtier quartz. A late spring breeze blows and expands his oversized t-shirt he insisted on wearing today, and yesterday. 

I smile, as I carefully take the quartz from his hand. “Thank you so much. I will keep it in my room and whenever I see it, I will think of you.” 

“Yes! We both have our special crystals!” He exclaims reaching his stone for the sky in a Power Ranger pose. 

“Let me tell you something else about these crystals bud,” I say bending down at his eye level. “These are really special crystals they are called rose quartz and they are known as the crystals of peace and love.” I rub some of the soil off of the stone and turn in in ways to catch the light. 

“Yes! This is the greatest!” He squeals as he sprints into the house and starts washing the rock with dish soap. He wraps it in paper towels with the gentlest precision, as if he is wrapping an egg. 

I smile as I watch him bring the stone to his room. But as I turn to walk back outside, I hear him say in the softest voice, as if whispering it to the quartz, “Now that I have this, nothing bad will ever happen.” 

My stomach sinks and my soul shrivels. I step away to breathe and gather my words. If only there were a rock like that, I think. 

“Hey buddy,” I knock on his door and I see he’s holding and inspecting the rock under his bedside lamp. “I have to tell you something about this crystal,” I gently take the stone and hold it up eye level. 
“I already know it’s a special..” 

I interject, “No, it’s not a magic rock. It’s just a rock. Bad things will still happen sometimes. Life is full of good things and bad things too. Most of the time we can’t stop them from happening.” 

His smile fades and his chest deflates as his shoulders sink into a slump. He runs his fingers over the crevices and bumps of the pink crystal, the magic, gone. 

“But this rock. Well it is special though,” I say rising my voice on the hopes of age appropriate honesty. “See this rock, well it is a rock of peace and love. Every time you see it, it reminds you that you can make choices out of peace and love, no matter what happens, even when bad things happen.” 

Still slightly slumped, he sighs and says nothing, he is holding the quartz near his heart. “But still…put yours in your room,” he says gently as I close his door. 

I place mine on my windowsill, just like I said I would. The milky pink glow emanates from the stone as the setting sun sheds its last bit of light for the day. I think of him and journey we are on now together, a journey full of good and bad things. I keep looking at that crystal as the sun goes down. 

Who knows, maybe it will end up being a little more magical than I gave it credit for. 

Lost Boys: A foster parenting moment


I rub my tempes and mumble the phrase, “We all do the best we can with what we’ve been given.” It’s a great thing to remind yourself of when you feel like punching someone in the face. It doesn’t always work though. I breathe deeply as the driver of the beat-up pick up truck who just cut me off in traffic tosses yet another piece of trash out his window onto the expressway. I can feel the initial prickle of my anger dissipating as I remember that if I had been dealt the same hand in life as this guy, I’d probably be cutting people off and littering the earth too. No one’s really any better than anyone else, we are all just doing the best we can most of the time. 

I turn the dial on my car radio and the song Lost Boys comes sweetly singing out of the speakers. Sitting there in a sea of red tail lights and preoccupations related to my work day, I change the station before the song is even over. 

The night after a particularly rough and rage filled night, our foster child asked me to color with him. It was the start of a new bedtime routine. All of my hopes of keeping his engagement and sense of calm hung on those coloring book pages and 38 different colors of freshly-sharpened pencils. 

While coloring together, he requested a song, Lost Boys. I fumbled through my phone and streamed the song through YouTube, praying the song wouldn’t freeze and thanking God for the start of a more peaceful night. 

And then he started singing along. 
It was like my very life force came to a screeching halt and all there was was his voice. My soul was struck by the resounding truth and validation of the lyrics with his circumstances. A song of being a lost boy, of following Peter Pan to Neverland and finding a place to fit in, despite the hand life has dealt you. My throat was tight and my eyes welled for a moment. We kept coloring. Coloring and singing of lost boys and Peter Pan. 

We all do the best we can with what we’ve been given. And that night, I did the best I could with a coloring book and a song, and so did he. 

It occurred to me then that maybe that’s all I had to do. Be a temporary Neverland. Let a kid be a kid in the midst of the chaos and messiness of life. Chaos and messiness that can happen to any of us, the best of us. 

“Neverland is home to lost boys like me and lost boys like me are free,” we lifted our voices together and the music notes danced on sketches made from colored pencils and the two of us doing the best we could. 

Beyond Mountains: Our foster care journey begins 


“Beyond mountains there are mountains,” a Haitian proverb that has had a pulsating presence in my soul over the past several weeks. It makes me feel expansive, hopeful. The words take me back to Alaska. A place of endless mountains, of feeling small. Feeling so wonderfully small. 

Maybe I’ve clung to that proverb because that’s what I need most lately. To feel small again. But after our long awaited foster care certification, there naturally came a child. And naturally the child came with little possessions but big baggage, a big past and was in need of very big support. 

And suddenly with it all, I had to be big too. Big enough to remember all the paperwork, the appointments, the acronyms, the workers. Big enough to make big decisions for another human being I didn’t even know existed weeks ago. 

I have to be big enough to hold, big enough to give, big enough to set limits, and big enough to forgive. I have to be big enough to wipe faces and wipe tears. Big enough to pour out all I have and big enough to hold the pain and trauma as more comes spilling out every day. I have to be big enough to be safe. Big enough to be whatever I need to be. 

But being big makes you tired. Being big makes you dream of being small again. And being big makes me long for mountains. 
Even the thought of endless snow covered caps sends a chill of hope down my spine and a weight lifts from my chest. A place for my soul to stretch out. A place to feel small. 
Beyond mountains there are mountains, I whisper to myself during the screaming rage. Beyond mountains there are mountains I think to myself as I mend the scraped knee after an intense bout of basketball. Beyond mountains there are mountains, I say to myself as I rock and reassure during the thunder storm. Beyond mountains there are mountains, I remember with goodnight hugs and best attempts to answer tough questions, questions that no child should ever have to ask. 

And when I curl up in my own bed at the end of a long day, I make myself small. I make myself so small. I listen to my heart beat, a steady pulsating sound in the night. Tomorrow I will be big again. I will do all I need to do again, hopefully a little better than I did it today. 
And as I lie there I remember that beyond mountains there are mountains. 

Perceptions 

Perceptions are like plastic wrap. They give you a glimpse of what’s inside, of what you think is going on, but they never give you the whole truth. What you thought was your leftover grilled chicken could turn out to be some unidentifiable growing ground of green, and blue mold. Clinging condensation on the interior of the plastic wrap could be enough to confuse you between leftover tacos and beer cheese dip from a party one too many holidays ago. Perceptions give you an idea but perceptions, well, they aren’t everything. 

Sometimes I wear that “I donated blood” sticker as if some degree of true altruism was actually behind my motives. I wear it as if I actually did it for a wounded solider or for a recovering car crash victim in a local hospital room somewhere, when really, I do it for me. I do it because lying there draining bags of my warm, deep red life source is one of the only places I allow myself to lie down with my eyes open. I do it because there I can momentarily release my fierce over self-reliance and never-resting industrious drive. I do it because it feels so good for someone in white scrubs to smile and bring me an apple juice with a carefully bent straw. Perceptions aren’t everything. 
 

We skip stones along the still waters of comfort as if we actually want to know other people. Like when we ask how someone is doing, expecting nothing more than a one word response. As if skimming the surface actually does anything. But we always do that. We always skip stones. 

But really all we want, is to be swimming. Swimming to the bottom of the last margarita where we can let go of what ails us. Weights of the world lifted in waves of salty sweetness and warm tequila. How good it feels to feel safe enough to be a semblance of our authentic self, regardless of how many sips that takes.  

And as I leave the white washed walls of the blood donation center, the receptionist smiles wide, her lipstick is dark red. The right arm of my sweater is rolled up revealing a wad of cotton swabs in the crook of my elbow secured with a band of white tape. The receptionist thanks me and hands me that “I donated blood today” sticker. I smile back and press it against my grey sweater. Squinting, I step out into the late afternoon sunlight where I peel the sticker off and tuck it into my pocket. Shadows of the trees lining the parking lot create shapes that could be anything. Anything you want them to be. 

Perceptions are something but perceptions aren’t everything. 

Finding the horizon line: A misty day in Resurrection Bay


I’ve had an affinity for nature of the north ever since I was a child. It was in my blood somehow, a pulsating presence and connection with whales, seals, and wolves; I yearned for the cold. By age 6, I was carefully constructing “pop up” books of humpback whales, complete with facts and the most recent calls-to-action related to their conservation and protection that I had read at the local library. I must have been such a curious sight to many. A Cincinnati girl pretending to be a wolf running freely in her back yard, telling everyone how to conserve creatures of the Arctic seas, and waiting patiently, with intense eagerness, all year for the first snow fall. 

This connection I had with creatures of the cold was unexplainable. Creatures I had never seen and yet could somehow I could always remember with all of my senses touching the bumpy yet smooth skin of a giant humpback whale or running my fingers through the indescribably thick fur coat of an Arctic wolf. It was as if my soul already knew these things. And now, as I sit on the snow covered beach of Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska, it’s like my inner child finally came home. It’s like the place I never saw but always remembered, the place I always knew with the deepest sense of my being. 

A quant, quiet town in the winter Seward is, with more closed signs than open ones. Seward’s straight streets and looming western-themed, saloon-style buildings are reminiscent of the gold rush days when towns like Seward first sprung up on nugget laden hopes of frontiers-men who had traveled from across the country (and world) to test their gold-finding luck and brave the wild and the cold. 

I’m sitting here watching the bay as an otter passes. Free and careless he twirls and turns while pawing at his soft brown face. His little eyes are beads of black placed strategically near his tiny nose making one think that even God after creating him had to step back and admire just how adorable the creature was. 

Resurrection Bay’s blue skies have started to fill with snow-bearing clouds and a low hanging mist. The snow highlighted mountains once splayed out majestically against a blue-bird sky and reflective in all their glory against the water, have now become more hazy and less visible. 

A storm is rolling in from the sea and snow begins to fall as a winter wind begins. It stings at my face and I snuggle a bit deeper in my snowy seat crunching the mixture of snow and smooth, black pebbles below me. I’m completely comfortable in my bundled layers. The littlest bit of my breath that escapes from my scarf covered face reveals a small appearing and disappearing cloud against the cold air. 

As the mist thickens the horizon line becomes impossible to distinguish, everything becomes shades of soft gray and muted sea-blue. But in its own way, the snow billowing, misty bay is just as beautiful. It’s softer, tranquil now. One is left to determine where she believes the sea ends and the mountains begin. Seagulls call out as the fly through the wind and increasingly snowy sky. A bald eagle swoops toward the water and disappears as he ascends into the thickening mist near the rocky and snowy cliffs of the encircling mountains. 

I imagine I can encapsulate the moment. Completely hold it in its vidid authenticity forever, somewhere safe within me. Somewhere in a still and spacious place of my soul. I imagine what I would be like if I became more like this moment, if I allow it to become a part of me. And as I close my eyes again, I’m the 6 year old girl running through the backyard howling and free as the wolf, I am the whale swimming and leaping with salty crashes as I reach for the sky then slap down against the sea. 

I lift my head and feel the snow melting as it hits my face. I am six years old. I am free and I am home. 

Turning back: A lesson from Flat Top Mountain 

“Flat Top Mountain? Well sure it’s just about seven miles from the city,” welcome center volunteer, Bob assured us with a wide grin as he pointed out the mountain on a map. 

“Now some people hike all the way up it but that’s not for me,” he continued, scratching at the bout of white hair atop his head. “There’s a nice little over-look though at the base and that’s only a short walk and you can see all of Anchorage.” 

My husband and I scurried off to the mountain and after a brief appreciative moment or two at the overlook area, we were ready to ascend Flat Top Mountain. The trail was covered in packed snow and lined with coniferous trees not tall enough to hide the looming white faced mountain ranges that encircled us. 

After clearing a small stretch of trees, the trail opened up spaciously in every direction revealing Flat Top in all her glory. 

“So we actually get to the very top from this trail?” I questioned, more to myself, as I cupped my hand over my eyes blocking the sun. I squinted at the mountain top and saw several tiny moving grains of rice that represented three people who had completed the climb. 

“Look they are parasailing!” Adam exclaimed as he squinted and pointed towards one the grains of rice who was now airborn, gliding slowly around the mountain on a bright blue and yellow parasail. I watched as the flyer’s shadow cast out over the mountain top. I wondered how far he could see. 

“Let’s go so we have enough day light to get up there,” I said decisively, surely I wasn’t going to let parasail man have all the fun today. 

Our hike continued with only minor inclination. We laughed and talked about Alaska and our brimming excitement after being on our trip for only one day. I couldn’t quite explain it yet, how Alaska was making me feel. It was kind of like coming home. I decided Curtis Welch, an Alaskan doctor in Nome, Alaska in the 1900s, described it best when he said Alaska provided plenty of room for him to stretch out his soul. Stepping out of the airport yesterday and seeing those mountains had been like stepping out of a small room you hadn’t realized you had been cramped in most of your life. There was this freeness and eagerness in my spirit. 

Adam turned to me while pointing to the trail ahead, small, iced-over footprints that inclined, almost vertically up the rest of the mountain. 

“I don’t know if we can do that,” he said, as he pushed his foot over the prints, testing their slickness. 

“I mean, even if we make it up, can we make it back down?” 

I frowned at the trail and turned my head to look up the rest of the mountain. The parasailers and tiny specks of humans were gone. 

“Yes. We can do it. I’m fine,” I stated decisively as I began my ascent. 

Before we knew it, we were half way up the ever steepening and icy incline. 

“I think we need to go back,” Adam said. His brow furrowed. “I mean look down there. I’m not saying we’d die but we would get seriously hurt hitting those rocks if we fell.” 

But the thing about turning back is that it feels like giving up. It feels like you chose comfort and simplicity over perseverance and challenge, and that doesn’t feel good. After some discussion, I reluctantly agreed to turn back. No sooner did I turn around and set my first foot in front of me did I realize just how difficult going back down was going to be. My foot slipped. I wavered and crouched until I basically crab walked my ass down the vertical part of that trail. 
Adam was right. We weren’t prepared for this. We were the Cincinnati tourists with no metal spikes in our shoes and no real experience mountain climbing. But somewhere along that slipping and sliding and ass-scooting descent of shame, I realized something. 

The sun warmed my face as I carefully meticulously placed each foot in the next most trustworthy and least slick appearing spot. What a sight we must be! I thought as my fear suddenly became humourous and turned into a moment of laughter. I turned around to check on Adam and smiled, he was scooting too. 

Maybe it is okay to turn back, I decided. After all, there is honor and humility in realizing your limitations and making decisions within that acknowledgement. It makes you real, authentic and capable within your own abilities. There is no shame in realizing we are small, in understanding our vulnerabilities. 

As we drove away, I watched Flat Top Mountain become smaller in the distance. I studied her rocky edges and snow blanketed face. Maybe one day I’ll make it to the top. She’ll still be here waiting and my soul certainly won’t let this be the last time I come to Alaska. I think it too needs all this space to stretch out. 

A snow covered valley in Girdwood, Alaska 


There’s just something about the mountains. Majestic, unwavering, awe-inspiring in their sheer magnitude. Sometimes it’s just good to stand there in observance of them and allow yourself to feel small. It’s good because when you are small, staring up at those snow caped peaks, your problems are small too. Your worries, insecurities, mistakes, doubts all seem even smaller in comparison. The realization of the smallness of what consumes your mind leaves way for greater contemplation, appreciation and the pathway for a more authentic existence. 

When one stands in reverence of mountains so great, it’s difficult to not see God’s fingerprints. The delicacy and intricacy one might appreciate in a piece of finely constructed pottery, one can also observe in the mountains. Staring up at the mountains and the large areas of coniferous forests, vast shadows splayed out on the areas untouched by the sun, jagged rock cliffs, one has to be sparked with at least an inkling of curiosity of where they came from. 

Mountains change your perspective too. This idea of feeling small, those massive yet intricate fingerprints of creation, how changed you feel in the midst of it all, you walk away at least little bit different every time. You walk away with an invitation for a more authentic existence. 

While spending time in Girdwood, Alaska, yesterday I took an evening run just before sunset. I remained mindful of each footstep, pacing myself while still being cautious for patches of ice on the trail. That is when the trees opened up and revealed a snow covered valley splayed out almost endlessly in every direction, mountains completely surrounding me. I stopped running and listened to the quiet. That’s the thing about quiet, it has its own sound. Thick, blanketing snow like that has an absorbing quality. As you stand there breathing and listening it somehow has a way to make your soul feel full. 

As I stood there, I allowed the very essence of me to absorb that realization of my smallness. And being small, nothing more than a single snowflake in the bigger picture of time and eternity, I couldn’t help but decide that purpose is so important. If we are small and life is fleeting, why don’t we live more of our lives as if that is true? Instead of seeking comfort and getting caught up in routine, why don’t we mindfully live every second to fulfill the purpose that each of us individually was born with inscribed in our very being? I became more still in that valley, my breath an ever appearing and disappearing cloud against the warm glow of a setting sun against the encircling range of mountain tops. 

When I started to run again, with the snow crunching under each of my feet and the blood in my veins becoming fuller with my quickening strides, I knew I was a little different. I remembered that I was small, yet significant. I remembered my life was fleeting yet this was all the more reason to live in a way that honors that realization. Because when you know something and live in a way that is consistent with that, you are authentic. And feeling authentic feels like standing at the base of an awesome mountain. 

What brought you to Alaska?


“So what brought you to Alaska?” My first go-to question when I found out someone was not born and raised in the ‘last frontier.’ My husband and I have only been in Alaska for three days and already the people we have met and their stories have been as fascinating and wild as the mountains and uncharted nature the state is known for.

Me asking this question all stated on the plane ride to Anchorage. The man sitting next to me came to Anchorage for a military assignment, “A long time ago,” and decided to stay. Our conversation progressed and he shared that since life is so temporal, fleeting, you may as well spend it where you want, doing what you want. He scrolled through photos on his phone of his kayak business he now owns in Alaska. They were pictures of smiling people and families against blue ocean waters with the backdrop of breathtaking glaciers. “After all, that’s the only thing we truly know in life right? That one day we are all gunna die. Everyone, everywhere. Death is an awesome equalizer,” he grinned a little wider as he said it. I nodded as he continued to scroll through photos on his phone. He ran his fingers over his wirey grey beard contemplatively, still smiling as he observed each of his photos with the upmost attentiveness. As if he were seeing each photo for the very first time. I glanced past him at the mountain range visible through the small plane window as we prepared to land in Anchorage, pinks and oranges of a setting sun splayed out over the perfect canvas of snow covered mountains. How could you not look at this everyday as if it were your first time seeing it? I thought. Maybe no matter where you live, though, that’s a good outlook to have, I decided as the pilot captain came over the speaker preparing us passengers for landing.

 
In the welcome center, we met a smiling, jovial, white haired with multiple missing teeth, visitor-center-volunteer. He eagerly showed my husband and I travel brochures and recommended areas to pull off the highway for photo opts. I naturally started to assume he was a born and raised in Alaska with his affinity for all things Anchorage, but after we asked for some travel tips for our voyage to Seward, Alaska, he smiled wide and placed his hand near his heart. “I have a soft spot for Seward,” he said, his voice a little softer and more serious. “See that’s where I decided to jump ship. I jumped off a boat when I saw those mountains, swam for shore, hitch hiked to Anchorage and been here ever since.” Jumped ship? How indescribably fascinating, I thought. But as I started to ask him more, he scurried off to assist a free-spirited looking man with a large backpack asking for directions. I watched him pointing exaggeratedly to assist the lost winter traveler. I guess sometimes you just know where you are supposed to be, I thought. Maybe I too could be more forward about things in life. When you know, you just know and that should move you to action. Hell, even if that means jumping into ice laced seas to get there.

 
I soon learned that not everyone who migrated to Alaska was running to the last frontier. Some people come to Alaska because they are running from things.
During a sled dog tour we met a guy, late twenties, dark hair and weathered skin, wearing layers of well broken-in snow apparel. His handling of the dogs and sled equipment came second nature as if he had been doing this forever. But he later shared that he was from Hawaii and came to Alaska because he was running from an ex girlfriend. Like literally running, fearing-your-life-and-safety running. “I gotta apologize if I seemed rude, I’m just a little jaded still,” he said to me as he pointed to where to sit on the sled. “Understandably so..” I said shaking my head as I took my seat on the sled. I guess if you’re going to run from someone, Alaska would be the place to do it, because apparently she hasn’t found him yet.

 
While in a local diner we met a woman with long blonde hair and the kind of blue eyes that can be described as piercing. She asked where we were from before she took our order, “No shit! That’s where I’m from too!” She exclaimed when we told her. We went on to share stories about changes that have occurred in the area over the past 20+ years since she’s been there. “I figured it hadn’t changed much. That’s why I left ya know,” she said as she placed the napkin squares down for our drinks and started to pour glasses of water. “See I was a loud, opinionated, outspoken women and in my time that didn’t fly. I wasn’t going to change who I was so as soon as I graduated from high school, I started traveling the world. I came here to see the northern lights and have been here ever since.” She smiled wide and looked up slightly. “You know I’ve thought about that place from time to time, but I have never looked back. I have never regretted making the decision to leave.” I smiled back at her and nodded. Because sometimes that’s the best thing you can do, look at someone in the eye, smile and absorb their words with your very being. A piece of me connected with her in that moment, that search for belonging and a place that accepts you as you are. And I was happy for her, truly happy for her.

Leaving the diner we drove along the mostly frozen waters lined with snow covered mountains and blue bird skies. I can see why people would live here, I thought as I closed my eyes and allowed the midday sun to cover my face.