Two Weeks Later

Here is what happens: You go some place amazing, Alaska, say, and you literally have to start from the ground up.

You do not have words for the very surface you’re standing on. Is it muskeg? Tundra? Permafrost?

You look up from your feet and gaze around you. Is this a forest, even though the trees are bent like Dr. Suess creations, tiny in the harsh climate? If it’s a forest, what kind is it? If it isn’t a forest, is it high alpine? Alpine desert? Dwarfed alpine?

You hike through a valley and see large piles of scat every fifteen feet. Is it bear scat? Black or grizzly? What’s the difference between a grizzly and a brown bear, anyway? If it isn’t bear, is it moose? What is the plural of moose, anyway? {Answer: musock.}

Later, you hike toward a glacier. But first there is the moraine. Is it fluvial moraine? Lateral moraine? How deep? How old? Melting at what rate? Up on the ice, how why do things melt in lines? In pools? What is the difference between a crevasse and a moulin?

There are the people, too. Start in the city, for instance, where on an particular summer evening it is 11pm and the Barnes and Noble is jam packed. There is free wi-fi and music over the loudspeakers. Couples walk hand in hand. Children jitter about. You feel certain your watch is wrong and that it must be 4pm, but it is not.

In the small towns, you blend in surprisingly well in your Carhartt’s and day pack. You sneak into the local spots. At night you try a few bars. In one of them you can see six men with red beards from where you are sitting – and that’s without turning your head.

You also take the train. The engineer mistakes you for a local too, gives you a prime open-view seat, and the rest is history. Three weeks later he emails you: “Keep in touch. I might not ever see you again but I’ll never forget you. You were the highlight of my summer. Think of me when you see a train in the distance…” He tells you perhaps you should join him for a few weeks in Mexico, where he lives each winter in this little house that he built. He is 32 and handsome and driven and you haven’t been right since you met him.

Right? No, that’s wrong. You’ve been more yourself than you ever have been before since you met him. And that’s the catch, isn’t it? That you go places and meet your best self out there in the great-big-beyond. You think you fall in love with the place or the person, and what you’re really falling for is the possibility that you could be a better, stronger, human being on this planet than what you are currently.

So your better self is wandering around The Last Frontier. She’s digging her toes in, making a nest, hunkering down, planting roots—whatever you call it. Back in Carolina, the every-day self closes her eyes at night to the sound and feel of the train car rolling along those hot, steel rails. It’s a lullaby, really, cradling her memory of seeing her best self through the eyes of a man. It’s dangerous territory, that train in the sleepscape of memory. Dangerous but so, so sweet.

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