“It’s not like Alaska isn’t wilderness – it mostly is. But most Alaskans don’t live in the wild. They live on the edge of the wild in towns with schools and cable TV and stores and dentists and roller rinks sometimes. It’s just like anyplace else, only with mountains and moose.”
– Tom Bodett
David says living in Anchorage is a weird combination of familiar…..and not.
I say – EXACTLY! And we’re not even talking about mountains and moose. But that too. I snapped this picture at the recycling center yesterday, because….mountains. It’s not particularly good, but I captured it because of the mountains. The thing is, I hate going to the recycling center. It’s a sorting chore that exasperates my brain and I put it off for as long as I can stand the clutter of cardboard and bottles and milk jugs and paper accumulating in the little outside room that leads to our fire escape. When the piles start falling into the walkway it’s time to go. Preferably that happens on a clear sky – not (literally) freezing cold – day.
When we first moved up here in the fall of 2012 there was no curbside recycling for homes in downtown Anchorage. When I called to set up our utilities, Waste Management told me they were planning to implement curbside recycling later in the fall, but until then I’d have to take stuff to the recycling center myself. Eventually we received a note that curbside recycling was postponed till spring. Cue #alaskatime. Two years later, we got an extensive pamphlet from Waste Management about the dos and don’ts of commingling in our soon coming recycling bin. Shortly after, the bin was delivered: WOOT! what delight – tossing our recycling in the bin and dragging it curbside! Sadly, the joy was short lived. We soon learned that we’d be moving back to Oregon within weeks……Back to Oregon where we can recycle nearly everything with easy convenience.
When we returned to Anchorage 13 months later, we moved to an apartment building downtown. The commercial zoning means I’m back to watching the weather for the most pleasant days to sort paper, cardboard, bottles and milk jugs into great blue dumpsters at the recycling center. With mountains in the background.
I made a couple stops after the recycling project yesterday and then swung by our downtown elementary school to get Ethan at the 3:30 bell. A couple minutes before students would come running out the back door to flood the school yard where I stood waiting, an announcement over the intercom: Parents – we are releasing all students out the front door. There is a big bull moose inside the fence, on school grounds. The message repeated several times as parents abandoned routine and moved to meet their kids at the front of the building. When the bell rang, Ethan came out the front door, green backpack slung over his shoulder and a wide smile across his face. There was a buzz of excitement as kids and parents exchanged knowledge of the moose. Many of us walked to the side of the building to see this guy ambling along the fenced perimeter of the schoolyard, munching grass and snacking on trees. School staff diligently kept people out of the schoolyard on all sides as the huge moose took his time wandering about completely unperturbed by the all the people watching and waiting. Within the half hour students and parents had mostly cleared the area and the moose found the exit and nonchalantly turned up the hill. We continued to watch as he took his time crossing busy L Street while drivers stopped and waited. From there he continued his grazing walk through the neighborhood. We went home.
This morning a friend asked me if moose are a normal part of life here (so common we don’t care) or if seeing them is a “special” moment. It’s a good question. And my best answer is: Both. This is partly because we really do have to pay attention when we encounter them. Due to their tremendous size and unpredictable nature – when they’re not just all chill, taking a munching stroll through the schoolyard – they can be dangerous. We see them pretty commonly, but we never ignore them. Sometimes they rearrange life – a race, or a hike, or a school yard routine. They get hit by cars and people die. And even if they’re simply hanging out, posing no imminent threat, their presence is a reminder that in spite of our schools and cable TV and stores and dentists (and roller rinks?), we really do live at the edge of wilderness. I call it #alaskamagic. Moose walk right here among us: wild, dangerous, and beautiful.
In the commonness of our daily living, there is a magnificent, beautiful call to look up. To look further. And to breathe in the wonder.