the last frontier.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

I had never been to Alaska before.

The farthest north I think I've traveled was with my high school chamber choir, up to Vancouver when I was 16. I remember walking around downtown, sun barely beginning to set at 9pm, amazed by the difference just traveling up the continent had. It was a warm summer evening, folks out and about enjoying the relaxed environment. The promise of unfamiliar sights and sounds was stirring in my soul. I remember feeling excited about what each day held on our trip.

Alaska was no different.

From the moment I stepped onto our first flight out from Fresno, to the last evening watching the sun set over Mount Susitna across Cook Inlet, the entire trip was filled with unfamiliar places, faces, and a sense of adventure and exploration I hadn't allowed into my life for many, many months.



My primary reason for being in Alaska was for work. I traveled with one of my colleagues to visit our partners at Cook Inlet Tribal Council, where we facilitated three days of training with some of their employees. As draining as that can be, it was fulfilling to talk with partners, hear their experiences, and join with them in their efforts to better serve and work with their participants. I felt like I was learning something new everyday, instead of blindly walking through my typical day to day routine.

The work we did with Cook Inlet Tribal Council was refreshing. Being able to work face-to-face with people, rather than behind a computer editing video footage was a change of pace I didn’t know I needed. I heard stories, I shared them, we worked together and found common ground. We planned together ways to continue supporting their participants, employees, and our shared partnerships. I found myself feeling grateful for my continued work with IMAGO each day.

Every morning began at a local coffee shop, Steamdot, where Michelle and I sipped artisan coffee drinks as the sun slowly began to rise over the eastern mountains. When work was done, we usually found ourselves at a cozy diner, called Spenard Roadhouse, where we ate the best chili I have ever had, and tasted more local delicacies around town. Even though it was a crisp mid-40 degrees, that didn’t stop us from sampling a local ice cream shop recommended by many of the folks at CITC.

Our last two days were spent exploring outside of Anchorage, the city center where we had been located for most of the week. Even just driving around the city had me staring out of our rental car window, watching golden leaved trees pass by, raindrops slowly sliding down road signs and parked cars. Every so often we would come around a turn to a glorious view of the mountain ranges, so close within our sight they became a common backdrop to our photographs. But as we drove out of the city limits, the beauty would continue intensifying, filling our perspective with new sights to take in.

The two hour drive out to Palmer led us by a river for most of the trip, which ended at Matanuska Glacier, where the melting ice flowed directly into the river we had followed all the way up here. A huge chunk of ice sitting at the base of a mountain may not seem too exciting in words, but it was truly something to behold. After adjusting to the large dip in temperature, we stuffed heating pads into our gloves and took off with our guide for a three hour trek around the glacier. We slipped metal spikes onto our boots and stomped around on that glacier, up and down, in and around, this slowly moving sheet of ice that had been there longer than anyone could fathom.

We saw the brightest blues, encased in lines of ice that never seemed to end. The steep terrain of the glacier had spots where it looked like none had traveled before, coved in small divots looking oddly like fresh snow. It felt like we were explorers, on an untouched planet, as we slowly hiked in and around one of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen. I often found myself turning back towards the mountain ranges, and just letting the beauty of this place wash over me.





The next day, we drove around Anchorage while it slowly drizzled looking for wildlife, and ended up in Eagle River just as the rain let up. A short hike took us to a stunning outlook over a small river surrounded by more trees and mountains. I had been carrying around my camera taking footage throughout the trip, but for a short time I set it to timelapse mode, and left it on a handrail while I stepped away to take in the view, hands free. I’ve always been a fan of nature, but the silence and solitude that these places provided was unlike anything I had experienced lately.



Maybe it’s because I’m back home, where the familiarity of things prevents me from seeking out the spaces and places that remind me of the true beauty of this world. Or that I’m not really feeling in touch with my faith, which used to connect so deeply to the creative God I know and love. It might have something to do with the way I’ve fallen into a routine, which I love and enjoy, but doesn’t provide me the crisp morning air and misty mountains this trip did.

Regardless, everything about Alaska felt like a breath of fresh air that I’ve needed, slowly filling my stale lungs and reminding me of the beauty that exists in this world – through mountains of ice, through people and their storied histories, though communities and pockets of people who share their souls with you. This world has a tendency to feel depressing and worthless when I watch the evening news, but it feels vibrant and hopeful in the midst of mountains that tower over you, and people who embrace you even though you’ve known them for less than a day.

As we trekked back from Eagle River, I found myself repeating an old hymn in my head, coming to mind at a perfect time and place.

This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world,
I rest me in the thought.
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas –
His hand the wonders wrought.

I am thankful for this trip to Alaska, coming at a time when I needed a reminder of the beauty that exists in this strange and wonderful thing we call life. A reminder of the Father that exists beyond time and space and staleness and worry. A Father who remains steadfast when we consistently move towards instability and fear. This is His world. And I take rest in that fact, when my lungs feel the staleness settle in, when the beauty seems too familiar, when I long to feel the crisp air fill my nose again.

To more adventures, to more moments of peace and realization, to more moments of finding yourself in the Father’s world.

What a beautiful place to rest.

Respectfully submitted,
Leah

1 comments

  1. I haven't been to Alaska myself but I always wanted to visit that place and experience all the cold and glaciers and the snow at farthest your sight can go, so I m loving your pictures and your trip

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