A little over a year and a half ago, I received a call from Alaska offering me a permanent job with the National Park Service. It seemed like a message from the universe, the payoff for years of struggling as a seasonal employee, changing jobs every few months, tightening the belt each winter, wondering if I would be hired back the following spring and if the budget would decree an early or late start and end date.
That call seemed like the end to all of my troubles, an opening from the heavens with rays of light streaming through: a permanent job, recognition of accomplishment and value in my field, health benefits, a steady income. I moved to Alaska, fell in love with a tiny community in the wilderness, bought the home of my dreams, took long walks on wild beaches with binoculars and spotting scope in hand. I finally felt like I found a place where a misfit could belong.
Yet, the universe is one of those strange places where entropy seems to run rampant where it pleases. During my first fall furlough, I left my husband, moved to Alaska with my Toyota and a U-haul filled to the brim, four cats, two dogs, and tried to believe that I was still living a dream. I still loved Gustavus, spent time with wonderful, strong women, walked on wild beaches, and played music with friends. I sat on my couch, looking up into the high ceiling at the beautiful wooden panels of my cozy home and wondered if it was real. My intake of hard liquor increased, but it seemed to take the edge off of the dark Alaskan winter.
Or did it?
I think it was January where I really hit rock bottom, and then I seemed to keep right on digging deeper and deeper down into the rock, below the rock, and on. I just barely made it to the subtle hint of spring. I could sense balance being restored, felt a bit steadier on my own two feet, and began listening to an inner voice whispering for itself for the first time. I found motivation once more to immerse myself in school and my job, colleagues shared trainings and conferences in the field of sustainability education, and I found that inner voice urging me on to advocate for myself and effect cultural change as I was learning to do from academia, life, and official NPS trainings. “Go for it,” the voice seemed to say. “It might be a bit brazen, but you will learn so much and be able to bring many new ideas and skills to education. You are a student. It is your job to learn and innovate and make the world a better place.”
What say you, oh mighty universe?
Apparently, this was not in keeping with what the universe had in mind or with the structure of my job and role as a student employee. Trainings were refused, and my dedication to my position called into question as a result of this wanton attempt at self-advocating. So I dug in for the long haul, enduring humiliation, disappointment from all sides, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and frustration. It was a long, painful summer. But I suppose that we learn and grow by leaps and bounds through the challenging experiences more so than from the steady times of even keels.
This past summer, I came to understand what people in Gustavus meant when they said “see you in the fall” at the start of the summer season. My friends all seemed to disappear into busy schedules, visits from friends and family, wilderness adventures, gardens, significant others, and the perpetual activity of days where the sun merely rests for a moment before filling the sky once more.
So I retreated into my own world. I fell asleep early each evening, unable or unwilling to stay awake. I tried to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel where my life would make sense again.
I stopped playing music.
I wasn’t invited to music gatherings.
Gustavus carried on, but I felt as if on the periphery, a voyeur watching and wanting desperately to be invited to join in.
With the fall came a second furlough, time for a much needed break and an adventure on the open road. I traveled south with a friend, stopping along the way to visit with family and friends. I arrived in Arizona in the middle of October, exhausted and worn out. Alaska seemed a hazy dream.
Now here I sit, wondering where I belong in the world. Alaska? Arizona? Timbuktu? All of my careful plans and expense calculations seem laughable two car mishaps and $1,000 in repair expenses later. Even my cat insisted on fleeing from Alaska—$495.
So what is my message from the universe?
Is it to return to Alaska to sit in my office in the dark, stay in Arizona, or seek refuge in another realm? I can feel a shift in the universe with every step I take and each choice I make. Should I walk the dog in the canyon or drive to library? I will drive to the library, wrap my car around a concrete slab attempting to park, and wrack up another $500 deductible in my auto insurance claim history. At the rate of my current expenses, the monetary universe may decide, as I won’t have the resources to travel any great distance.
I am just a blink in the eye resident of Gustavus. Would I even be missed? I thought for so long that I would live in the Skagit forever, and then I thought perhaps Gustavus would be a community where I would be rooted for decades to come. Maybe, I need to channel my inner Jewish heritage and take to wandering. Most grocery stores have an ethnic section with matzah and Manischewitz these days, so I can eat and drink accordingly.
If you are still with me after all of these self-indulgent paragraphs, I hope you will take heart when I share a small secret—all those who wander are not lost, and in many ways I am more myself and more in tune to that inner voice than I have been for a long time.
I am playing music—sometimes for hours—each day, sharing stories, forming verses and chorus, and learning from a musician friend and colleague.
I am taking refuge in the home of a wonderful friend and his family.
I am well fed and healthy, I need not turn yet to matzah, I am kept warm inside as the nights grow cold, I take long walks in canyons filled with beautiful boulders cast upon with long shadows from the sun.
I miss howling with my dog. I miss my home. I miss Gustavus.
Is it time to move on?
I keep listening for a sign from the universe.