A Mind of Alaska
One of the two books I’m currently reading is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, which takes place in Alaska, a place that has captivated me since reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. In the latter, the story she told felt secondary to the setting she described. (When my therapist mentioned she had also read The Great Alone, I discovered that she is actually from that same region of Alaska. She says the book is quite accurate in its depiction. I just about died asking her questions about growing up there!)
What do I love about Alaska? I’m attracted to its extremes. It’s extremely vast and extremely remote; it is extreme in its seasons and in its quietude. Plus, in Alaska exist things I wouldn’t otherwise ever experience: grizzly bears, whales, glaciers, volcanoes, the aurora borealis.
I’m further drawn to Alaska’s ruggedness, although this draw befuddles me. My mom describes me as sensitive and high-maintenance, while a friend adds that I’m city rather than country. It’s true: my health is delicate, I enjoy my creature comforts, and the only camping I’ve done involved an RV. If anything I should shudder at the thought of being in a state so sparse.
Yet in a place like Alaska, I imagine life being stripped to its basics. Free of noisy stimuli competing for your attention, you take care of your needs, and you spend free time with hobbies and the people you love. Considering I regularly grapple with existential angst and decision-fatigue, to live somewhere as untouched as Alaska would be to simplify one’s existence and also challenge it in a way that would force your focus to the present. Alaska’s intensity lends itself to a holiness of mind that I rarely encounter.
Though these days I live in Sunny Southern California, I am enjoying my visit to Alaska by way of Ivey’s novel, in which a married couple move to Alaska in the 1920s. The couple yearned for children but never were able to have any. After an evening in which they build a snow-girl, it transforms into a living girl who resides in the forest. She visits the couple and begins to trust them. I’m curious to know about the girl, who cannot tolerate indoor warmth, whose father was an alcoholic. And I wonder what happens to the couple who, far from their extended families, still feels regret and sorrow for not being able to create the family they wished to. Surrounding their personal struggle is snow, so much snow, and moose, and kind neighbors, and a warm seat by the fire.
Tonight my husband and I plan to have a date night at home. I’ll pick up some popcorn and kombucha from the store, we’ll get out the bananagrams and a deck of cards. If we throw on a soundscape of winter wind and crackling fire, perhaps we can imagine being nearer to the snowy tundra than we are to the beach.