Where everybody knows your name

At the Juneau airport, I nearly always find a Gustavus friend to visit with before we fly our separate ways. I was sitting at gate 11 at the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport yesterday morning and feeling blue and lonely, thinking about how unlikely it would be that I would see anyone I knew. No sooner did I have this thought and the entire Bruno clan magically appeared from around the corner. I gasped and pointed in disbelief. What a most excellent surprise. Hugs were exchanged, and we all sat on the floor and visited before boarding the plane. In Seattle, we shared a few more moments over breakfast before they boarded a plane bound for Hawaii and I awaited the arrival a plane that would carry me north.

The weather in Juneau was as bleak as Seattle, and as the plane landed with a long drawn screeching, burning rubber on the runway, I felt the familiar anxiousness welling up from within. Will the planes be flying to Gustavus? Will I get home tonight? I was exhausted after starting the day with a 2:30am wake up to an unfamiliar artist singing the familiar words “words are flowing out like endless waves into a paper cup, possessing and caressing me”.

I jogged down the stairs, looking up at colorful cut-outs of scoters, turned the corner and headed to the Air Ex counter. “So far, planes have only been able to make it Hoonah and Gustavus,” came the reply. Temporary relief until I realized that I still have an hour and a half until take off in a tin can with wings. The weather could do anything. But like a well-trained human, I asked to borrow the rolling cart, went to baggage claim, and returned with my bags. 69.3 lbs. No freight charge!

Tic tock.

Tic tock.

2:10pm.

All aboard!

We loaded up, sealed ourselves in. I particularly enjoyed reading the slogan on another Air Ex plane. “We all can, Can Can!” What does that really mean?

The clouds were low but the Mendenhall was still visible. Thin waves of conifers lining the shore between the water of the Lynn Canal and the clouds heavy with moisture.

I watched the scene below, to the side, and up ahead. I love seeing the realm of Gustavus appear. Closer and closer, and a tiny strip of pavement materializes. Houses are hidden. We cruise right over the runway, as if flying over town completely and then curve back around, touching down quietly and simply.

Almost home.

I remember the first time I landed in Gustavus, an owl pillow tucked under my arm, binoculars around my neck, my new supervisor waiting for me at the gate. I had flown from London to Juneau the day before after attending a friend’s wedding. I was exhausted and about to make a first impression. I had no groceries. I was literally fresh off the plane, unaware of what it meant to live in a community with 20 miles of road, 10 of which were paved. If you are familiar with the pilot episode of Northern Exposure, you can somewhat relate to my first drive through “town”. This is “the road,” is a typical introduction as you turn onto the road leading away from the air strip. Upon reaching the antique gas station and the main building across the way with a bear statue perched above the grass: “four corners”. To the left is the “other road,” that which leads to the public dock.

This time, I was met with the familiar faces of the Air Ex employees, who unloaded the plane and wheeled a familiar cart toward a slushy parking area. Moments later, a familiar car pulled up, and my dear friend Emma popped out of the front seat. We packed up the car, piled back in, and headed off to negotiate the slushy terrain. Emma filled me on the most exciting of town on-goings as she skillfully made her way down “the road” and onto Good River Road, one notorious for sliding into ditches as the snow and ice and slush accumulate.

One fluffy cat and accoutrement and a quick errand later, and we were parked on Same Old Road, making trips on foot through my snowy driveway and into my beloved home. Hugs were exchanged, and it was me and Fin, alone in a quiet space with our thoughts. I am pretty sure his consisted of wondering where his new friend Sequoia—the playful Burmese mountain dog who belonged to friends who had watched Fin for the past two months—had disappeared to, and when Yarrow would be getting home from school to lavish him with the kind of loving attention bestowed only by a little girl.

Before the final trip with belongings into the house, my neighbor walked by on her way home from work. More hugs and “say hello to Kona and tell him I will come by in a bit”. Not five minutes later, I heard a knock at the door and in burst Kona in red snow boots, a black dog by his side. He was afraid I had forgotten to stop by. As if anyone could forget to visit Kona! Kona has been a wonderful neighbor and friend, periodically bursting into my house and keeping my cats well entertained. He has even searched for the skittish Puck by headlamp. After one visit, Izzy lay on the floor panting for some time before returning to his usual mischievous wanderings about the house.

I followed him home and received an exciting tour of favorite Christmas presents, observed Kona communicating in code with her new baby sister Aurora, now crawling along the floor, watching with big, blue eyes.

A wonderful, home-cooked dinner and such wonderful company was more than I could have hoped for, and I felt happy walking home by headlamp. I barely made it to 7pm before collapsing into bed.

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