AK 2010, Day 10: Alaska Is a Small State
They all warned me. KB told me, Lila told me, Compton told me, Jeremy told me. Between last year and this year’s visit, I must have been told a dozen times: “Alaska is a small state.” Of course, what this means is everybody’s connected to everyone else somehow, and in The Last Frontier it’s much fewer than six degrees of separation. They also meant that Alaska wouldn’t be what it is without all the chance meetings that inevitably take place…
It’s Saturday and KB and I have worked hard at the desk all week. There’s live music at a bar nearby and we’ve decided to take the day off and check things out. It’s called a “LiBerry Benefit,” and it involves 10 bands for 12 hours of music, berry pie tasting, and a fundraiser to build a library in the teensy town of Ester. This year’s sponsor for the event? The Golden Eagle Saloon.
When we first arrive, there are just as many kids and dogs as there are people. A small crowd, but a crowd nonetheless, and local beer on tap with some decent bluegrass musicians boogying on stage. KB and I have just claimed two stools at the bar and are set to order. I turn around to take it all in, and that’s when it happens. First the profile. Then his frame. Then there they are, those hazel green eyes looking right at me and I think for certain it must be a mirage but it is not.
Right there. Hundreds of miles from where we said goodbye and more than 365 days later and—I’ll admit—dozens of fantasized reunions in my mind—there stands CDB, the single most intoxicating man I have been with in my entire life. He’s the Alaska Railroad engineer that introduced me to the Talkeentas, took me berry picking in Whittier, taught me how to cook halibut and salmon, and effectively turned my world on its head for four lovely, long, life-altering days. I’d given up on ever seeing him again, let alone really wanting to after being so unimpressed with his inability to keep in contact. I finally reached a point where figured what was good was good, and there’s no repeating that kind of magic. So I let it go, and worked hard at putting my energy elsewhere.
We hug and I am speechless. What can I possibly say? Being annoyed would be pointless, being overjoyed would be false, but being transfixed—well—that’s about all I can pull off in the moment. He starts talking, something about being up in Fairbanks for an eye test and no wonder he found me here, considering I like bluegrass music and all. He’d been following on Facebook and asked about my recent fiction prizes and even knew about this trip, though he completely ignored attempts at hiking plans. It’s almost like communicating with a different species up here, those Alaskan men. God help them.
“You little shit,” I say to him, and I mean it, though I can’t get myself to say it harshly. Our knees touch, our hands, and there they are again—those eyes, those broad shoulders, two dimples dotting his smile, his fantastic natural smell—and just like that, I’m gone. He’s asking about the writing, telling me about his sisters, summarizing this summer’s favorite books. He’s a earth-smart, ex-lumberman who reads voraciously, born and raised in Oregon, and worked his way to the top tier in the AK Railroad Association so he only works 6 months a year up north, then spends the other 6 months on world travel and building his house in Mexico. I don’t think I could make up a more appealing character even if it was my own short story.
“Aren’t you going to be in Denali a few weeks from now?” he asks, then proceeds to explain he’ll be just 20 miles up the road from me all of September. He’ll day hike with me in the park he says, and yes, he still has his guitar, and yes, we can cook fish.
I try to collect myself and weigh my options. This person will never give me what I need in the long term. I’m a real, hard, love kind of gal. That much has been established. So I can play this off and walk away, I can be a fool and fall like crazy, or I can aim for something in between that I’ll settle on calling just plain FUN.
We keep talking. Drink more beer. Slow dance in a saloon in what feels like the most fated, anticipated moment of my life. Later, we say goodbye in the sun (darkness is hard to come by here), and set a date for two weeks from now.
Back at the cabin, the world is everything and nothing. I walk out onto the porch and gaze at the cloudless sky. I look long and hard and breath out into the night. That sky—it must be the only thing big enough to hold all that I am feeling.