Big Island, Few People

I had put an offer out, that I’d like to help out on a trip to Barrow, Alaska.  The Institute of the North was planning an emerging leaders meeting there in the coming weeks, and given the small staff of 2 or 5 (full-time and total), I thought that perhaps I could lend a hand, even if it were simple intern duties, coping, coffee getting, etc. Nils Andreassen, my boss, most likely saw directly through my ploy to go on a free trip to the northern most US City and geographical point to see polar bears, but politely, or perhaps understanding the allure of such a trip, offered up a cheerful “maybe, we’ll have to see if I can grab another ticket. Plan to go for now…”

It ended up not working out, (the plane was full), though he quickly shot me an email offering, almost with remorse or apology, (should the emotion be felt through a two sentence email.) a trip to Kodiak Island instead. I accepted of course – Kodiak being on my short list of places to see, though in all honesty most cities, villages, and boroughs are on my list, – Alaska being nearly 1/3 the size of the lower 48, there is a lot to want to see.

We left on Friday the 10th of December amidst light snow fall and pitch darkness. I was surprised the size of the large jet, considering we were flying to a city only slightly larger than my home town of 5,000 people. Nonetheless, we boarded the jet, and after a quick deicing we took off into the night. A mere 35 minutes later, a rough landing on a small runway welcomed us to the “small” island, at least the size of Massachusetts.

There is something about flying; the vacuum-packed cabin, the incessant humming of engines, the compact seating, the relatively rapid travel, and in most cases, the boarding and exiting through long corridors of flimsy aluminum sheet-metal into climate controlled buildings, which give you the impression that you have not actually gone anywhere.

This is exacerbated in the dark, and while I collected my bags, I desperately looked about my new surroundings, hoping to witness the nuances of this place which could confirm the information on my ticket: That i was indeed in Kodiak.

Nils rented a new, red Toyota Camry for our crew of five. Carolyn Kineen, a program director at the Institute, her husband, and her newborn: Sylvie – who has the cutest baby-eyes I have ever seen She states at you with a directness which makes you question your own self and wonder how there could be any evil in this world.

We drove around the island as the sun rose slowly over the Alaskan terrain. I noticed quickly a strange lack of snow despite it now being December and having required deicer amidst heavy snow fall back in Anchorage. The island reminded me of Maine and thus conjured nostalgic memories of summer vacations with my family to the small town of Boothbay Harbor. The grey sky against evergreens, hills, and rocky coastline gave me a feeling of calm which washed over me with a cool complacency. I watched the scenery pass with pleasure. Suddenly I saw them.

Two Bald Eagles sitting atop a large pine, glaring at the road below. I had seen told earlier that bald eagles nearly outnumbered the seagulls in this island city, and that it was not uncommon to see trees dotted with five or more eagles. I had seen a few already on the trip up to Alaska and around Anchorage, but the grouping of the birds made it feel like a new experience, as if I had never seen one before – a confirmation of mainland folklore.

After5 an hour or two of driving we stopped in at our bed & breakfast to unload our things. The room was filled with art, food, and comfort. The chocolate truffles were of particular interest to the group, a dark, rich ball of semi-soft chocolate dusted with the powdery delicacy of coco. I later learned these had been made locally – a focus the B&B owners wove into much of their establishment, and throughout much of the town.

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Before assisting with the emerging leaders meeting I took a walk into downtown Kodiak, if you could really make such a segregation in such a sparsely populated place. Fishing boats, canneries, processing facilities and other fisheries-based businesses lined the streets. Three wind turbines sat atop the hill to the south west of the marina. I learned it powered a substantial amount of Kodiak’s homes and businesses and wondered why they did not build more if they ad already had such success.

The wind was cold and the sky was grey with coming snow. It made for poor picture taking conditions with my new camera, though upon stalking a bald eagle which had perched on a nearby cargo unit on the pier, I though my opportunity had come to capture the essence of the enormous creature to share with my friends and family back home. Before I had got within range, I was graced not with a photograph by with the awesome display of a take-off and fly-by, just feet above my head. The experience reminded me of the inability or at least inefficiency of a camera in capturing emotions and experiences as they are actually perceived. I was glad to miss the shot, and the memory, at least for now is filed in my mind.

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