Saturday, May 25, 2013

Leaving Kodiak

We will be leaving Kodiak in a few days. This time it is not a vacation. We are moving offisland as people say here. Traveling by ferry to Homer, a thirteen hour trip, and then driving the Alaska Highway. The ALCAN is a mostly two lane road that stretches from Alaska and through Canada. It is a long, slow trip that takes several days even if you drive 12 hours a day. There are few passing lanes which you are aware of when you are following a house size motor home for miles and miles. There is abundant wildlife and numerous frost heaves. As I said, it is a long, slow trip but not one without it's pleasures. There is the wildlife: bear, moose, elk, caribou, bison, and fox, perhaps even a dall sheep, if you are lucky. Then there is the scenery that makes you think you are driving through a national park: mountains, glaciers, crystal clear lakes and eccentric road houses and peculiar small towns of only a few people to several hundred. It is a trip of a lifetime that we have been fortunate to drive three times. The first time was our trip to Kodiak from New York State in 1999. I was coming to be the pastor of a church on the island. We had no idea what we were in for; we were looking for adventure. We found much more than we had imagined. Kodiak Island is well off the grid even for Alaska. There is that long ferry ride or a much shorter plane trip. But, if you are bringing your stuff there is only the ferry. On the ferry you meet people who will be taking up residence on the island, too. You meet other Alaskans who travel by ferry often, so much so, it is referred to as the Alaska Marine Highway. It is essential transport out here. Kodiak is called the Emerald Isle and pretty soon it comes into view. In the short summer it is a lush green. It is well stocked with berries, salmon and bear who feast on both and grow large. The bear are always in the back of your mind, when you are on a bike ride or a hike. They are close by and stories of bear sightings in town are a staple of coffee shop talk. Bears are not the only thing Kodiakans have in common; there is the weather which often is dramatic, volcanoes spouting, earthquakes and other natural phenomena. All these things bring people together as does tragedy like fishing vessels going down. People prop each other up in times of storms, death, and days upon days of fog and drizzle. They support one another in other ways to make a life here on this island that one of our friends described as a "place of severe beauty". It fits. And the often inhospitable elements of life here have shaped a most hospitable people who have learned to share their lives in special ways. I will miss the community most, the people. Kodiak is a unique blend of many ethnic groups with surprisingly rich harmonies. I will miss the diversity of Kodiak. One learns that Kodiak is not an easy place to live. Some people don't make it long here. There is little shopping, and mostly you make your own entertainment. People get together for meals and games. A hike with a cookout on the beach is planned. Whatever you want to do: fish, hike, take a bike ride, or hunt is literally right out your back door. Kodiak does not offer you everything you want but it does give you what you need, even if you didn't know you needed it when you arrived. It teaches you some good life lessons, too. You learn patience as you wait for the weather to clear so your plane can get in. You learn flexibility as you know your plans depend on the unstable weather, and transport off an island which you do not control. You learn that life is much richer when sources of artificial entertainment are fewer. Life is fuller when choices are more basic. You talk to people; you read books; you take walks. It turns out to be a life you may not have chosen; how could you have known you would like it so much, but you're glad it chose you.