Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Gift of Kodiak

South-central Alaska from space - Kodiak is in the foreground
So, for nearly two weeks now I've been in Alaska.

I have two active research projects in Alaskan marine biology, and although almost all of the work is analysis and writing that I can do from Galactic, I occasionally need face time with my Alaskan colleagues.  That's what brought me up here.  I've been catching up with old friends and colleagues and colleagues who are also friends while Alisa gets to stay back in the tiny private marina in Stanley, boatschooling both boys and generally keeping ahead of them without any adult backup.

Sorry, babe.

The gift of Kodiak
The groups that fund my research are keen for the work they support to be presented to the general public.  "Science outreach" they call it, and I'm generally a fan of the process.  Most of my work is funded by public money, and I'm happy to report directly back to the public on what comes out of that work.

On this trip I made some public presentations in Kodiak, the commercial fishing town in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska that we sailed away from eight and a half years ago.  I stayed with old friends, I revisited old haunts, I caught up on the news.  I took a banya, which is a requirement for any bona fide visit to Kodiak.

Kodiak, the island, is a completely remarkable place.  Kodiak, the town (it sometimes puts on airs and calls itself a City), is physically unimpressive.  To be charitable.  More often than not, it comes across as a grimy working town, a supremely utilitarian settlement that hasn't been prettified for visitors in the few hundred years it has existed.  It can be especially ugly during a winter like the one we're having, with a strong Niño creating a grey, oppressive, rainy winter completely devoid of the white magic of a snowy Alaskan landscape.

Even though Kodiak is a working town, it can also be a hard place to make a living in.  There are plenty of people who are just getting by in Kodiak.  People warn me that methamphetamine and heroin use are strongly on the upsurge.  Acquaintances mutter uncomplementary things about the schools.  My male friends in the town have generally aged quite hard in the years that we've been gone.

For all that, Alisa and I are very excited at the idea of eventually sailing back to Kodiak and settling down.  It remains home.  It's the only place in Alaska where we still have a strong community.  And that community is made up of some very remarkable people.  Kodiak, like the rest of Alaska, attracts fantastic people.

All that, I suppose, gets at what I was thinking about when I titled this post.

Kodiak is a magical place that has the extra magic of never making you think that magic will play a role in your life.

Kodiak is a unique place with a supremely everyday reality that tempers my expectations even as I'm excited at the idea of sailing back there some day.  Kodiak is the place where Alisa and I have been lucky enough to run up against a handful of very remarkable people with whom we share the place.  (Check out the work of my favorite living Alaskan artist in the pic above.)

Kodiak, in the end, remains our secret place in Alaska, and the world, the place where Alisa and I still think we will go ashore some day and look to make a less peripatetic life with our boys.

Kodiak is a gift...

Alaska is a gift, too...we still have great friends sprinkled around non-Kodiak parts of the Great Land.  This pic is from the day DRR took me up to Hatcher Pass to find some snow.

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