I've been in Anchorage a few days now, and driving around quite a bit. It's still the town I grew up in, but it's also growing rapidly, even since I was here over Thanksgiving. I see more and more names I recognize from other places - Mens Wearhouse, Target, Massage Envy, Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, Sephora. Mid-tier chains and franchises that until now I've mostly associated with Tucson, or Phoenix, or Chicago. I even saw a sign for an outlet mall coming soon.
And yet, through it all, it's still Alaska. The Chugach range still sits to the east, watching in its timeless stoicism even as houses creep up along its foothills. Rather than groomed public parks with carefully-planted trees, most of the green is patches of wild overgrown birch and spruce forest left between even the newest housing developments. Wildlife wanders unafraid through people's yards, or visits the zoo
of a morning.
Sometimes I feel like I can see the seams between the place I grew up and the place that's here now: the slightly brighter paint where such-and-such a section of the Dimond Center has been renovated to make way for a new anchor tenant, or the grocery store that now sits on the field where I used to braid daisy chains. Sometimes, if I tilt my head and unfocus my eyes a little, I can almost see them both there, in the same space at the same time, and I wonder if our nostalgic mourning for things lost is fundamentally shortsighted.
While colorful hair is not unknown here, it's somewhat rarer than it is in Chicago, and I thus get rather more comments when I'm out and about.
The other day, I heard a little girl in a shopping cart squeal "She has pink hair!" I told her that where I live, there are people with pink hair and purple hair and green hair and blue hair and orange hair. Somewhat to my surprise, this didn't seem to shock her at all - in fact, she added with some certainty, "And violet!" I nodded and agreed, yes, violet hair was quite common.
I suspect that she already spends some time in a world where people have hair in every color of the rainbow. So I was merely confirming her knowledge that such a place had to exist in this world as well.
When I told my acquaintances that I was going to Alaska for a visit, I received numerous exhortations to post lots of pictures, mostly from my yoga friends. I suspect they thought I was coming here to go hiking, or camping, or fishing, or any of the numerous (and wonderful!) outdoorsy opportunities, and would thus be posting pictures of Alaska's awe-inspiring landscape.
In truth, though I may wander out to Thunderbird Falls or a similarly-easy hike later, for now I'm pleased simply to spend time with my mother, who doesn't go many places other than home and work. So here are some of my vacation pictures so far.
This is my mother's townhouse, which a local friend referred to recently as "the house at the edge of the world". It's surprisingly apt - it's on top of the hill, overlooking the Seward Highway, an interstitial space if ever there was one. In the summer it's a tree house, with the living room's large picture windows surrounded by birch trees in full leaf. In the winter, it becomes a hilltop castle, overlooking mountains and rivers and even the ocean in the distance.
This is the view between two of the trees on the left in the previous photo. Normally the Chugach range is visible here, but last night it went to bed early and pulled the cloud blanket up over its head.
This is my mother's very comfortable living room. I like to sit here with a lap desk and read or write letters while she bustles about in the kitchen behind me, or does beadwork nearby.
This is a bike path that runs along my mother's subdivision. Its destination (a business/shopping complex with a supermarket and a post office) is perhaps a bit prosaic, but it's surprisingly pretty along the way. There's enough dense growth even in these cut-down little greenbelts to get whiffs of that proper mulchy forest smell, especially in autumn.
Alaska, having long been ranked #50 out of 50 states when it comes to good restaurants, has been making great strides of late, especially in Anchorage. Unfortunately, it's still got a ways to go, as this rather sad attempt at a "charcuterie board" at a passing-for-trendy local hotspot shows. (Sharp-eyed readers may notice something missing.) Still, they're trying - they've got a nice mixture of relishes, here, and the presentation is nice. And in all fairness, it was only half as expensive as a charcuterie board in Chicago.
Brian (by his own admission) has an Argo Tea problem, to the point where he will at times walk five extra blocks to get to an Argo Tea because "it's on the way". I was entertained to find a rack of their pre-bottled tea at the Natural Pantry up here, and texted him this picture with the comment, "It's *always* on the way!"
Growing up, we nicknamed fireweed my "birthday flower", because it always first starts to bloom in mid-July. It's one of the things I truly miss about Alaska, and more than once I've tried to dye my hair this color.
Something else I genuinely miss: having drives like Turnagain Arm literally just south of town. In Chicago, I almost never drive if I can avoid it - it's a chore, something you do to get from one place to another. Out here, there are so many beautiful places only accessible by car.
My mother's balcony garden always seems to me to be the essence of the phrase "a riot of color". You can almost hear those firecracker begonias crackling and popping, the strident purple pansies demanding your attention while the miscellaneous hubbub of the violas fills the cracks.