Now that our writing residency’s over, my friend Joan and I have been trying to do non-writerly things. We went to Harry Potter, we hiked up the Chugach Range behind her house and pulled sweet blueberries from their tangled green carpet. We corralled her four dogs like sheep into the back of her burnt orange SUV where they screamed their sound and fury all the way to Girdwood. I am trying to not think about the work this coming year will bring, but I can’t. While we weave through blue canyons and watch fog rise steadily, smoky, over rivers of pastel-green glacial ice, I am thinking about the book I’m supposed to write. It’s not about here. It’s about New Orleans, but I can’t be there, and I don’t know where to go so I can write it. I look at lit cabins and talk to people who say they would move to Alaska in a second if they could, but I don’t know where I’m supposed to live or if I’ll ever decide on one place as home. This worries me a little bit, not in a way that preoccupies me, but in a way that makes me feel like I’m trying to remember a word and it’s almost in my mouth, and then it’s gone.
On the narrow highway outside of Anchorage while the dogs were baying in the back, I saw this black blocky shape galloping across the mud flats the tide had left behind. “What is that?” I asked Joan, who veers into oncoming traffic anytime her eyes leave the road. She crossed left over the double yellow, then skidded into the gravel on the right-side shoulder. “I think it’s a bear! It IS a bear!” Joan’s anxious hands moved up the wheel, back down, back up. We watched the bear some more, and I could tell Joan was getting worried, which is what she does, which is why she’s rescued four dogs and a husband and a house with raw floors.
Through the long shoots of fireweed and alder on the highway’s edge, we watched him sprint back and forth on a slippery strip between the ocean and the smaller ocean closer to the shore. He was on a stranded sandbar, pounding across an almost silver, ice-white island. For a second, looking at the water and the bear under the heavy fog, I thought it was winter. I think I kind of forgot where I was.
The bear threw his front paws down, brought his head in great swooping motions from the ground up towards the sky. We sat and watched. We couldn’t really do much. He looked panicked and like he was trying to get somewhere and couldn’t. I wondered how he’d gotten himself out there. I reminded myself: you are in Alaska, you got yourself here. This felt satisfying and deliberate, unlike writing or thinking about writing. I haven’t written for weeks because being around other writers sometimes does that to me.
Tomorrow, Sara and I take the ferry from Homer to Kodiak where her family lives. I miss the sun and my mom. I love the sound the bananas make, a weighty thunk, when Joan tosses them at her chickens. I miss the green parrots in the trees on Jefferson Street that I never noticed until my fourth year living in Louisiana. I love to watch the eagles here ride the current above timber line like they have nowhere to go. I will miss Alaska when I leave, like everywhere I have spent time, and I wonder if going more and more places means leaving more pieces of ourselves behind. I heard that people given only one option are on the whole happier than those who have too many.
Joan and her husband have folded some blankets and packed their F-250 with bread and red wine and their pile of hyper dogs. I keep looking through their books and stealing small handfuls of cashews from a jar. I decide on Oprah Magazine so I don’t have to commit to anything too serious, but inside an article by Michael Cunningham says, "A writer should always feel like he's in over his head."
The kitchen still smells like the halibut omelets we had this morning. Bursts of wind make this house shift and click and a calico cat slips between the rooms like my being here means she needs to keep secrets. I think of the bear whose movements might have been pure excitement, like the ones of Joan's dogs, and instead of hoping he'd make it back to where he’s supposed to be, I realize (with a little jealousy) he’s probably been there all along.