Soldotna is not very diverse in the traditional sense of the word, but come summer, the RVs and passenger planes bring in people from all over the world, and I think, I should always live in a state that can be its own brand name—Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, probably not Delaware or Oklahoma. I think there’s a ratio to be deduced between how far one has traveled and how many ball caps that say “Alaska!” are in his grocery cart. Now that the motor homes have motored north despite cataclysmic gas prices, I know something about myself I didn’t know a month ago. I love tourists. I love that they think where I live is a kind of promised land with gilled manna swimming through the waterways.
Clara loves accents and foreign languages, and yesterday a man from Switzerland gets her giggling with his heavily consonantal Swiss-German. She, a connoisseur of body language and good intentions, understands that he is friendly and talking about fish. In fact, he points to his spread of groceries and says, “Fishing red sockeye on Russian,” as if that explains the strange combination of prosciutto and gummy bears.
Ordinarily, my conversations in the grocery store line more closely resemble this:
Older woman with more coupons than me: “How old is your baby?”
Me: “She’s 15 months. Kinda small for her age.”
Woman: “My grandbaby lives in Washington, so I never see her.”
Me: “Yeah, we’re all kinda displaced up here.”
Woman: “I went to visit last spring and she wouldn’t let me hold her.”
Then Clara waves or reaches for the woman, this time hearing sadness in the woman’s body language, and it reminds me of how I feel in church when all the super nice ladies let Clara yank their jewelry just to keep her happy during “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” I think, you are so nice, but I wish you were my mom. Or, I wish you were Aaron’s mom. One of these ladies, Rosanne, and her husband Larry had their stuff packed and their house nearly sold so they could move to Oregon to be with their grandkids. At the last minute, they decided to stay. She told me they’ve been here 35 years, that this was their home.
I don’t know what 35 years in one place feels like, but I know that until the tourists come to town and help remind us why we’re all here, most of us are holding other people’s children, or letting other people hold our own, and feeling a mix of deep affection and heartbreak because they remind us so much of the ones we love.
So when there is so much emotional conflict even among the two-for-one Hershey bars and celebrity gossip, I can’t help but think about where I am and where I’m going. Neither can my mom, who yesterday reminded me that eventually it will get awfully pricey to travel as a family. But yesterday, the sun was shining and I was living in the most vivid, quiet, clean, expansive place on earth. I told her to call me again when it was raining. She said she’d keep an eye on the weather report.
To celebrate the sun, we took another kayak ride down Moose River. Clara slept in my arms, and Aaron got a little sunburned. Days like this happen once a year, I hear.
Here are some shots from the day:
There’s something so beautiful about symmetry.
One happy guy.
It’s not an Alaskan summer until Aaron has his annual baptism by glacial runoff.
I gave it some thought. It doesn’t get any better than this.