“You’re not leaving today.”
These words were spoken to me during a recent trip to Shishmaref. A heavy curtain of fog had appeared that morning, and this particular community member, an elder named Cliff, doubted the plane’s ability to take off. He was right. My flight was canceled, and I was stuck for an extra day.
The fog couldn’t stop me like it stopped my plane, though, so I took a walk down the beach. Visibility was at a quarter of a mile, meaning objects in front of me came as surprises: here a boat, here an out-of-season snowmachine, here a cluster of racks covered in drying seal meat and intestines. And to my right, the Bering Sea, which was still icy in mid-June and which reflected the snowy white color of the sky. Eventually, I turned around and saw that I could no longer see the homes of Shishmaref at all. Still, I knew I had only to retrace my steps, and I’d be back where I started.
As I prepare for the end of my volunteer year in two weeks, I find myself feeling a lot like I did on that beach. The future is foggy. I cannot see exactly where I’m headed, and I know I will be constantly surprised by what appears on my path. Soon, Nome, too, will be lost in the fog of memory. But I’ll always feel its presence in my life. And I know that if I want to return, all I have to do is retrace my steps.
The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the moose spaghetti I’ve eaten, the sea ice I’ve golfed on, the Christmas blizzards I’ve sledded during – all of these will continue to affect me in ways I can’t even fathom yet.
So thank you and quyanna, Western Alaska. You’ll always be with me. I’m not leaving. Not today.
For a much sillier reflection on the past year, listen to this week’s audio blog using the audio player above.