A month is a long time to be someplace without your family—your spouse, your children and their spouses, your granddaughter, now out of school for the summer, your siblings and their families—and your other beloveds in the normal rhythms of your (my) life. A month (so far) is a long time to be moving among the shifting, emergent memories of your childhood and adolescence and family of origin, the ghosts of when they (and you) were all young, your parents at the age when they moved here that they could be your own child now. Looking out the residency’s cabin’s windows into the thinning but still bright light at 9:30 last night, I was hit by a surprise tsunami of grief of missing my parents—my father gone from the earth now for more than 17 years, my mother’s Alzheimer’s progressing—of missing the energy and optimism and confidence they had when they lived here in their 30s, of missing their clarity and surety, their strong bodies and minds and indomitable spirits among this exact angle of light at this precise latitude and longitude; this familiar quality of windy, cold air; these same steep mountains and churning waters.
I’m here now in person, and everything I witness is so present and vibrant: The thousand shades of green of a Southeast Alaskan early summer, with sunset at 10:43 PM and sunrise at 3:43 AM and darkness relegated to winter and the other end of the world; the snow and ice melt running down the mountains; the freshwater rivers pushing into the saltwater inlet. I’m here now, and many people who knew my family and me when we lived here that one decade those multiple decades ago are also here now, familiar faces despite the age progression, telling stories that circle around and sometimes contradict, sometimes parallel, my parents’ (and/or my own) repeated perspectives on the same long-ago incidents. I’m here now, among others—but my parents are not, not here in Skagway or Dyea, not anchored to earth anywhere anymore, and of course I didn’t rationally expect them to be. I much prefer my adulthood to my childhood: I didn’t make this trip out of a sense of nostalgia, but on a quest for moving forward with greater understanding, processing this place and its meanings through my current creativity. What I didn’t anticipate was how keenly and constantly I would find here my parents’ lingering, fading presence wherever I walk and turn and gaze, how much I would wish that their shimmering could solidify.
R. joins me on Sunday—flying from Austin to Seattle and Juneau and Skagway over the two days that it takes—and it will be his first time in Alaska and in this town where I was raised, seeing me in the space that shaped me. We’ll share ten days together here before we return to Austin—ten days of hello, and goodbye, and there we were.