I am in a coffee shop, a proper one, tucked inside an old house in the historic section of a town that’s near my own. It’s a bit noisy to really dig too deeply, but digging into my own thoughts and imaginings isn’t my goal today. Today I am alone, and am here to conduct research on various online databases. I have gnawing hunger to research life in Elkmont when it was a resort village, before the national park system took over and before the synchronous fireflies were world-famous. There is, of course, a narrative floating around my ears like a butterfly and I don’t want to make the mistake I made during Men in Caves (research during/after, instead of before). I want to feel confident in my knowledge, and let the words and dialogue flow from the real place as much as it flows from my own head. The advantage to this new project is that I still live near to Elkmont. When I started Men in Caves we were a month from moving away from Alaska and the mine. Elkmont can be reached from my house, in less than an hour. I can go there and hike or camp with my family, soaking in the essence of the place.
We have had lots of rain in the past few days, which makes me very happy. I love storms, frightening as they can be sometimes. I love the way the wind blows the trees, carrying in fresh smells and cool air. I love the sound of rain on the roof, and love to watch puddles form in the yard. I love the way that birds sing after, loud and strong and full of praise for the rain.
On the drive here I was thinking about this city lodge in a large Anchorage park, where we took most of the photos for our picture book project. The lodge is quiet and warm, and perched on the top of a large hill that’s used for cross country skiing and sledding in the winter and frisbee golf in the summer. In August, these wonderful fairy tale sort of mushrooms explode from the mossy ground at the foot of the trees, flashing their poisonous colors of orange and red, spotted with white. Moose crash their antlers against the trunks of white birch, full, strong, and dangerous in their rut. The air smells of leaves and decay. When winter hits there is nothing subtle about it; snow falls in clumps and swirls and covers the hill quickly. Once there is enough packed on the ground, children descend on the hill with their sleds, their heads and hands covered in wool and their small bodies wrapped in snowsuits. The bright colors of the wool, fabric, and the gaudy reds and oranges of their plastic sleds, are some days the only colors besides the bright white on the ground and the pale baby blue of the sky above. When they sail down the hill the noise is magnificent, their happy shouts and the whoosh of the sleds makes the cold air crackle and fizz.
I’ve been lucky in my life so far. I’ve dipped my toes into both oceans, and have walked on many mountains. I’ve known the heat and the green of the south and the cold and the white of the north.