Everyone who visits the Alaskan Interior and chooses to stay has a story to tell about the why of that decision to remain in one of the harshest climates in the country. For some, it's in the long stretches of unmarred wilderness, the larger-than-life landscape, the fierce rivers and the mountains that are forever adjusting and readjusting the human sense of scope and importance; for others, it's the appeal of living in solitude in the "last frontier," on one's own, "off the grid," those end-of-the-roaders tucked away in tiny cabins somewhere in the most remote valleys and meadows, eking out a subsistence life, living off the land, by their wits and stern will – hunting and fishing, trapping, perhaps gardening a little in the summer, often tending a secret "cash crop" among the vegetable furrows. Others came to live purposefully in the land, among its greater and lesser beasts, to study them, to experience them in their natural habitat rather than studying them in laboratories or at a safe distance beyond the wire fencing at a city zoo. Some, like myself, came here for the adventure AND the decent living wage that a writer or researcher can earn here while working with students, where it is also still possible to carve out a little time for contemplation, for solitude, for writing.
I'd told myself I was coming here to teach, to write, to study, to live in a way that meant I was constantly being confronted by the age-old questions that have troubled humans for centuries: Who am I? Why Am I here? Where am I going? I'd told myself it would be good to be among others of my "tribe" – writers, scholars, researchers: those who are most comfortable in the periphery of things rather than at the center of them.
I am no different – no more remarkable nor any less so – than anyone else who traveled north and fell hard for something almost-unknowable and then wanted to stay in its company. I have returned here every year since I moved from Fairbanks four years ago, circling back again and again to what I first loved, to what I've lost – or what I've, perhaps, given away. Isn't that the subtext, after all, of all the great love stories and travel adventures of our literature: the hero's journey, Campbell called it. My story, though, is less than heroic and it gets all tangled up with a creature that looks as if it lumbered out of the Ice Age one gray twilit morning and stumbled right into modern history.
And so I return, again, deep winter, to the far-off place that set its indelible mark upon me and helped to shape me into the woman and the writer I am today. When I arrive, my daughter, Kelly, and my granddaughter, Sarah, are waiting by the baggage carousel, waving wildly, both of them, with that bright toothy smile they inherited from me. Sarah tells me it is warm outside tonight, almost 10 above. And there are stars, she says, still in awe of what is beyond her, still amazed at her good fortune in being this very child in this very place. It is good to come home.