In Col’s kindergarten classroom, there was this landform model, into which you could pour a cup of water, watching it flow down the drainages, fill up lakes and empty into the ocean.
I keep thinking of that here in Alaska, where we’re visiting Dan’s brother. How it’s like someone is pouring water into the state of Alaska, except the cup never empties. The mountaintops wear wreaths of clouds. The water spills into creeks and rivers and oceans; it tumbles into the earth until the plants are so green, they look like living rain. Then, the plants exhale mist and it feels like the best thing that ever happened to your skin, your hair, your eyes. The green here is like the wild and fanciful dream of someone perishing of thirst in the desert.
We go salmon fishing with Dan’s brother, and unlike in Colorado, where everyone’s secretive about their honey hole of a hunting spot, here, the fishermen (and women and children), line up shoulder to shoulder, dip-nets poised to catch the spawning salmon wriggling upstream.
Along the beach are over a hundred tents, pull-behinds and campers. Col and Rose frolic in the vast sandbox of the beach. The tough Alaska kids go shoeless in the fierce, bone-bruising wind, and just as you sigh in relief when the wind dies down, the biting bugs flare up.
“If it’s not the wind or the rain, than it’s the mosquitos; it’s always something in Alaska,” someone says at fishing camp.
“They’re very patient,” Rose says about the people who spent the day wading in the cold waters, waiting for a salmon to tangle into their net. And tough. We watch mothers and grandmothers drag their salmon-entangled nets to shore and bash the fish over the head with rocks, small bats and even a pair of heavy, rusted scissors. Blood splatters boots, waders and hands.
By Day 3, we get slightly desensitized to the bald eagles, the never-setting sun, and even the steady drizzle.
“I’m a little suspicious about that dead seagull,” Col mentions, which I believe means he’s a little curious. “Me, too,” Rose pipes in, “I’m a little mysterious about it.”
The seagulls, like the sun, never sleep, and when I crawl out of our tent at 3 a.m., I can hear the seagulls screaming, dragging fish heads across the sand while the sun, instead of setting, has simply swung around the top of the world to northeast to begin again.
Col and Rose love the beach. They bury their boots and each other, make friends with other windswept kids, marvel at the changing tides and collect and lose hundreds of shells and rocks.
The four of us sleep in a three-person tent, crawling in at some undetermined, ridiculously light hour and fall asleep amid barking dogs, campfire storytelling, kids riding dirt bikes across the dunes and seagulls arguing over fish guts. Somehow, it was the best sleep I’ve had camping in a long time, here in this northern land.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org.Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.