Leaving Alaska was harder than I thought it would be.
There were moments, admittedly, when I would have jumped on the first plane out of Fairbanks I could have found. Moments like my car not starting when it was -30 F, not seeing the sun much for a few months, and feeling far from what was familiar and known.
But there were also moments that Alaska gave me that feel like they jumped out of a poem and into my life. Moments like seeing the peaks of Denali rising and falling as I drove along the Parks Highway, no clouds surrounding the mountain as they normally do. Watching moose eat frozen berries outside my house. Running a 10k in direct sunlight at 11 pm on the summer solstice. Fishing with my colleague and eating the trout I’d caught for dinner that night, beaming with pride as my tiny fish sizzled in a cast iron skillet.
These moments caught me and gripped me the days before we left on our voyage. Through tears I found myself saying, “I don’t want to leave.” But I also had this feeling deep in my gut that it was time. It was a season and the season was ending. I think there’s some level of grief involved in letting go of seasons, even if they’ve been hard and challenging.
Alaska gave me more than I think I’ll ever know. Hindsight is, of course, much clearer than the present, but I am so thankful for the courage and strength that it lended to me. The word tough is synonymous with Alaska in my mind, and I can’t help but think that it made me a little bit tougher. I was able to teach and be with students and people I’d not have known otherwise, and I loved the experiences it gave to me. Not every day was pretty and perfect, and most were pretty mundane, but together they changed me.
I think that a challenge about leaving a place is being willing to start over somewhere new. It’s recognizing the part in your heart that a place occupied, thanking it for what it gave you, and knowing that it will always be there. But it’s also opening yourself up again and being willing to start over. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it’s important. When I miss Alaska (which I do, often, despite what I said when pounding ice pack off my steps in negative temperatures last winter) I’m reminded that Alaska will always be part of me in some way, and just because I’m opening myself to life in a new place doesn’t mean that time wasn’t important or valuable.
So maybe, the biggest part of saying goodbye is being willing to say hello, too. And I’ve gotten to say hello to some pretty wonderful people and things in this new season.
“There are far, far better things ahead than any that lie behind.” –C.S. Lewis