Alaska Again but New This Time

Zaley spent her first night in Sitka last night. Even though we hung a comforter with bears on it over the thin window shade, she woke with the white sun pouring in through the shade's edges around 4:30. Zaley greeted the day with one fist in the air. Then she ate a bowlful of Cheerios (or spread them around, just as good), on the aluminum-flecked carpet. Luke crawled around her picking up tiny glinting shards of metal till we couldn’t see anymore of them snagged in the short white fibers.  

We are living in a spacious, brightly lit two bedroom apartment with large windows facing Mount Verstovia to the right and Gavin Mountain to the left. Down below the window is a rusty maroon flatbed truck and abandoned containers from the backs of other trucks. And down below our apartment is a company called Alaska Skiff where they make and repair aluminum boats. They usually open at 7 AM. Luke told me to be careful about saying I liked our apartment last night until I heard the workday begin in the morning. I braced myself for it at 6:30 when he brought the baby back into bed with me. When I asked him how loud it really would be, knowing my husband is not one to exaggerate when he knows it will negatively affect my happiness, he said: “It’d basically be the loudest thing you could ever imagine.”


So, the bracing continued. Spike came over and showed the baby his huge mouth for a half an hour, much to her delight and my relief so I could brush my teeth and count how many hair products I have left here in storage over the years, each year forgetting how many I have acquired and how little I use them, while Luke was loading the comforters from last year (covered in bright blue shampoo from an unfortunate stacking mishap in the storage unit) into our washer. Improvement #1 from other summers: the washer comes accompanied by a dryer!


Despite my dread of coming up here this year to what the inside of a migraine headache might sound like (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching the movie Pi—not Life of Pi, just Pi) the worst I’ve heard from the depths of the metal working down below are a couple of pipes dropping and some dull thuds. It could be that business is slow still for the season. It’s 48 degrees outside and spitting rain. More like loogey-hawking rain. A little more violent and F-you than spitting rain, but not an all out vomit of precipitation.


I tell Zaley “It’s SUMMERTIME” overly enthusiastically every time we go outside as I lift her fleece hood over her pointed ears. It actually does feel like summer, when we are all together up here, even though it’s so cold it makes you wonder why anyone on earth would choose to be here when it’s 80 everywhere sane people live. This morning, at Murray’s, the fish supply shop, a friend of our who moors his boat next to Luke’s pointed at Zaley and said, “You know she’s the whole reason he’s doing this up here, right?”


It reminds me of the priest I talked to in Spokane, who I told of my ambivalence (and often dread of this time of year) who said, “You’ve been asked to do something very generous and affirming of your husband.” I suppose affirmation has a way of keeping going, of cycling back to its giver, if that’s really what I’m doing. I would like to think of my time here as a measure of generosity. Maybe then I won’t complain as much, and I’ll like myself better.  Zaley, so far, does not seem to mind the rain. Her hands are always curious and warm.


Last night, we watched the movie Promised Land on the slumpy futon here (one thing I have yet to see gotten right in Sitka is the furnishing of any home we’ve lived in with an even halfway adequate couch). It’s a movie about a town that can’t decide how best to move forward—towards impending poverty or towards dependence on natural gas and greed. It’s about how much we value our homes and how these values shape the way home changes (or doesn’t).


I looked around the apartment, at the exposed pipework along the ceiling, at the baskets sitting on top of the cupboards from some long-ago renter, and I realized how easily our idea of home can shift. This apartment with its slanted ceilings and electric heating units and the buzzing dehumidifier—which is doing its part to mitigate the sound of a skill saw cutting through a sheet of metal downstairs—will, I know, feel like my life in only a few days. The process of familiarization goes even more quickly when you live like we do, never getting too comfortable in any one place, and always having to reorient to a new set of windows, new buttons on a dishwasher, a new key in a new confusing door.


We bought a crib from a woman with two little girls today, who moved here last year from Asheville. When I told her I’m from Denver, she said she could live in Colorado for the rest of her life, the weather there is so nice. She was wearing a puffy coat that went down almost to her knees. She said she’d see me around town for sure and that she has lots of girl stuff to give me from when hers were babies, which sounded like something a new friend would say. Maybe it’s having a child or maybe it’s getting older or maybe it’s just that I’ve hung around with the wrong people before that, recently, right when I meet a person, I know they’re a person I’ll want to continue to be around. I’m hoping this will help me in a town where my friend Jules says she didn’t have any friends for the first 13 summers she spent here.


One other thing I noticed today is that I seem to always forget how small this town is. The guy painting the inside of the house where we bought the crib ended up behind us in line at the Sea Mart an hour later. A friend we ran into at Murray’s is fixing his boat up in the shop next to our apartment. They both waved at me, making me feel that pleasure of familiarity even though we’re still in the rusty part of transitioning (after picking up moldy bathrugs realizing there was no hand soap in the bathroom; still pulling underwear out of various pockets in my suitcase and hoping I chose the clean pocket). Usually, people can’t quite place me—the girl who haunts corners in the library and the coffeeshop—but like I said, this year feels like it will be different. People already, after seeing us two places in one day, remember Zaley’s glacier blue eyes and her victorious lifted fist.