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I told you to be patient, fine, balanced, and kind.

My mood was less than favorable this morning when I woke up. I didn’t feel nearly rested enough which, I half blame on the two occasions I woke up to two of the three cats I’m currently living with getting sick. This was followed by me waking up late to feed the pets, breaking a coffee mug, and spilling one of the prepared cat breakfasts all over the kitchen counter. Lets just say that this morning, the unrelenting meowing and husky whining that normally puts a smile on my face was hardly amusing. I half considered calling the day quits at 8:55 a.m.
Instead, I made my usual pot of coffee, did some laundry (thanks, Oliver), took Lily for a nice run around Green Lake, and went to the Yakima fruit market. As I was walking around checking items off my list, I had noticed an older woman also doing her shopping. She had the most beautiful, deep blue eyes I’ve ever seen and we ended up chatting about some tangelos. “Have you ever tried those?” She asked me. I responded saying that I hadn’t but anything that beautifully orange had to taste delicious. “Are you a vegan?” My face lit up and I responded with a smile accompanied by a nod. “I am too. Don’t you just love shopping by colors?” Finally, in this foreign state with billboards, endless traffic, and people around every corner I had found a kindred spirit.
I explained to her and another woman who had probably overheard us talking that I had just moved here from Alaska so for me, the fruit market is like heaven on earth. They both smiled and welcomed me to the area and wished me well. I continued chatting with my kindred spirit, who I later learned is named Sherry, for a few moments just about how I was fairing so far. I told her that it’s nice but the amount of people here and all that comes with them is taking some adjusting.
What was so amazing about those two women, particularly Sherry, was that even in a largely populated state, she made me feel like I was back home. For the past few days, the only verbal communication I’ve had with other people has been thanking the delivery guy for dropping off my pizza. So, I guess what made me feel so wonderful about my five minute interaction with this stranger was her effortless love and grace for a young, somewhat lonely woman.
I truly believe that these sorts of little life moments are immensely important to our wellbeing as individuals. I will probably never see Sherry again but I will remember her genuine and kind spirit for a long time. Its people like her that I find give me the best inspiration to have a gentle soul as well as an authentic compassion for other people.

Love,
Brittney

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Getting There is Half the Fun

Day 1:

 

I swing the car unto Main St, a chorus of honks behind me (never let a Juneau boy drive in the city). Up till now I’ve been disoriented, lost, the carefully worded direction from Brittney my only hope of finding the hostel I stayed in six years ago. In the rearview mirror I see a sign, draped over an overpass, announcing the entrance to Vancouver’s china town, and memories begin flooding back. I look right and there it is. The same green door, the same rusting lead based paint, metal numbers and a handwritten sign announce it as the entrance to the C&N Hostel. I step out of the car and onto the sidewalk, the same one I’d dragged my duffel bag along. Looking down the street is, yep, the sky train. The same one I’d thrown my bag into to keep the doors from closing. And the same bus station (no discarded bag of weed this time though the smell seems to have melted into the walls). With all the memories come the emotions; fear, excitement, anticipation, and a new one: loneliness.

 

Far to quickly I’m saying goodbye to Brittney, watching that beat up pathfinder we love so much pull away down main street away from me, the passenger seat empty. It feels so wrong and for the first time since I arrived in Juneau, I am totally, completely alone. I fight the urge to chase her down, open the door, and insist that she drive me home. But it’s not an option, these are the choices we made, that we needed to make, and Cannamore’s don’t quit. But they do drink beer.

 

Kokanee is one of those brews that I should have no business liking, it’s essentially the coors light of Canada (which would make Molson’s Bud Light I guess?). But it’s something of a comfort food for me, reminding me of Paul’s, Alert Bay, and everything I needed reminding of at that moment. I sit quietly in the noisy pub, the echos of pool, laughter, and obscenities ricocheting around me. I grab a paper and try to read it but my eyes fade in and out of focus. I just want to be there. If I can’t be with Brittney than I need to be on that island. The closest thing to therapy that I have.

 

I leave my tip on the bar and head back to my room, an old battered tv sits on top of the decrepit fridge, by a miracle of God, it turns on. And I begin mindlessly flipping through the seven channels available to me. An image of massive mountains blanketed in green, a woolly layer of fog beneath them makes me stop reflexively. I stare in awe as the narrator announces the location as Robson Bight, Johnstone Strait. I mouth wordlessly as frame after frame of orcas, orcas I recognize, remember, flash on the screen. Surfacing, diving, breaching. I was going back, my pain and sadness lessen somewhat, the dull ache remains, but whether you’d call it God, the universe, or karma, I had my sign. We were doing the right thing.

 

Day 2

 

Just how I left it. The coastal town of Port McNeil hasn’t changed, save for a new gas station, in six years. That ridiculous, “world’s biggest burl” is still there, probably because no one has any idea how to move it. Fishing boats still rise and fall with the tide in the harbor, the ferry to Alert Bay leaves at the same time, I don’t think they ever did mow the baseball field. I was prepared for the opposite. To be ready for things to be different than I remembered them as a naïve starstruck 19-year old. There’s still the same winding road just out of town that leads to the familiar campground. I find a tentsite, nestled snugly under the shadow of a massive cedar tree, and with a great sigh of relief let the backpack fall from my shoulders. After three weeks in suburbia and skyscrapers, my tent is beneath fir, aspen, and spruce. The smell of a forest, centuries old, more rejuvenating and refreshing than the strongest cup of coffee.

 

I’ve been unable to contact Paul or anyone else at the lab since I left Vancouver and my lack of will power has left surprisingly low on cash. If nothing changes I plan on taking the 8:40 ferry to Alert Bay, at least than I’m a little closer. If I don’t hear from Paul tomorrow…. well, there really isn’t a backup plan, I can’t afford to drop another $15 bucks for camping, I may be sleeping under a bridge. A younger couple next to me continues to giggle, play cards, and be cute, making me miss Brittney all the more. I will punch them in the face if they don’t stop.

 

Day 3

 

My next night is not on Hanson Island. Still bleary eyed, I stagger off the ferry and into Alert Bay, hoping against hope to see Paul’s tiny aluminum boat, affectionately known as, “the car,” moored in the small boat harbor. No such luck. I’d awoken to an email from Paul, telling me to call when I could, and headed out in search of a pay phone. But damn the cellular age, every pay phone in Alert Bay had apparently been deemed a waste of space, and unceremoniously ripped from the ground. With 60 pounds of gear on my back (who knew chic peas could feel so heavy), I stagger to the visitor centre. I knew Paul had a house here, if only someone had the good grace to tell me where it was.

 

The teenage boy at the centre looks at my blankly when I ask for a payphone. The poor kid, he was here to point people to the totem poles and Namgis first nations long house. Not deal with lost vegabonds with dark circles under their eyes and shaking legs. As he searches for something helpful to say I have expect him to just start regurgitating totem pole facts out of habit. Against the odds I ask if he knows where Paul Spong lived. There are, after all, only 300 people that live here (imagine Gustavus confined to a two mile island). Now he’s really nervous, “I can’t give out personal information,” he stammers.

 

It makes sense, I suppose, but I can’t be the first goofball looking for, who Alexandra Morton lovingly called, “the chronically tardy New Zealander.” There was no convincing the kid to bend the rules just this once though, and, unsure of where to go, I start walking back towards the terminal. On a whim I walk into the boat harbor office to find a middle aged guy with dark hair and four days worth of stubble on his face. Sensing a kindred spirit I state my case.

 

“Oh Paul!” He chuckles, and glances out of habit out the window into the harbor. “I see more of you kids trying to get out there than you can imagine.”

 

Graciously he lets me use the phone, and I call the lab. Contact. Paul has two boats, the miniscule “car” and the much bigger June Cove. Just like the last time I was here, the June Cove is in the shop, leaving them with just the tiny, compact car sized boat to get around. As we talk, an older lady with flyaway white hair, alpaca sweater, and friendly face walks into the office. “I know where Paul lives!” She says after talking with the stubbled harbor master.

 

Paul tells me to sit tight in Alert Bay, he’ll come for me as soon as he can, and we hang up. The lady introduces herself as Linda, and happily offers to drive me to Paul’s place on the other side of the island. I find the hidden key to the door, and collapse on the couch. I feel exhausted as I glance at my watch: 10:45.

 

Day 4:

 

Tuesday morning and the waiting game continues. Paul’s house overlooks the western end of Johnstone strait, I can see Hanson Island in the distance. Cup of coffee in hand I scan the water with the spotting scope, hoping to see the car moving steadily towards me. But something else makes me forget all about it for a moment. The crystal clear water of the strait ripples, a phalanx of black pin pricks emerges and my heart skips. I wasn’t going to have to wait for Hanson Island to see my first orcas, they’d found me. The pod is several miles out and traveling east, away from me. I strain my eyes trying to keep them in focus. I follow them until my eyes start to water and return to my now chilled cup of coffee. I grab Paul’s phone and dial the lab again. On my third attempt I get through, “I’m leaving shortly,” he announces, “I’ll be there around 11.”I set the phone down, my heart racing, throwing backpack, coffee, and oatmeal back into the back pack, every few minutes I rush to the spotting scope like a kid checking to see whether Santa has come yet or not. I’m ready to come home.

 

 

Thanks Alaska

I sat in more traffic in one afternoon than I had in the last five years. I watched a homeless guy grab a stack of free newspapers, turn to me, and ask if I’d like to buy one for a dollar. I’ve gotten lost, paid 22 dollars for parking and 9.50 for a Sierra Nevada. I don’t know what I expected.

After all, we did just move to a city that has four times as many people as the entire state we just left. I guess they all have to live somewhere. But the magnitude of change is staggering and I don’t know if I could ever get used to it. What’s more though, I don’t think I’d ever want to either. Every square inch, from Bellingham to Seattle has mans’ fingerprints. Shopping malls, on ramps, and suburbs sprinkled liberally up and down each side of the I-5. Somehow I imagined Washington feeling more… earthy, natural. And perhaps compared to L.A, New York, or Houston it is. There are parks of course, with beautiful running trails hugging the shorelines of the lakes, huge oak, fir, and cedar trees creating a beautiful canopy, scattering the light on the trail ahead. But it’s hard to be enamored when bike, jogger, and dog walker stream steadily past, and traffic from the nearby interstate thunders by. It is nature, but like everything else, mans imprint is noticeably present.

This is not meant to be 500 words slandering Seattle. I’ve met some fantastic individuals, the city is clean, the people environmentally conscious, and orca paintings are splattered over countless buildings. Alaska has simply spoiled me with natural wonder and peace. A quiet secluded cove, an imposing glacier, and a curious bear never that far from hand. Perhaps I didn’t realize how bad I needed that until I left. I miss how easily accessible it all was. That 15 minutes could get me to a picturesque stream, fly rod in hand, coho salmon bubbling below the surface. Here it takes two hours, the river damned two miles further upstream. I understand the amazed looks of people on my tour when I explain Egan is our highway. That getting stopped at a light was a traffic jam. That a glacier in your back yard is a huge deal. I understand why people come to Alaska in the first place now. Seeking something that’s still natural and wild. And, sadly, why they expect to be able to find it within two hours of leaving their cruise ship.

We’re not going back to Alaska though, at least not in the immediate future. But we do have the next best thing waiting for us, on that little island, nestled in the middle of what could easily pass as Southeast Alaska, just with bigger trees. If I want solitude, starting July 21st I’ll have it. Free of freeways, traffic jams, and warm running water. Maybe I’ll be craving some taste of civilization come next April. Will desire the luxury of heating the house by just turning a dial. But right now I kind of doubt it. Some people would call it “roughing it.” Or maybe just, “a great life experience while you’re young.” But now I think it’s the only place I truly belong and I blame Alaska for making me this way, and I’m eternally grateful for that.

Cryptic Canadian Road Signs

We awake early on day two, relieved to discover we’d made it through the night without a bear investigating our cat food soaked tent. We disassemble the tent like a pit crew. If we learned one thing from New Zealand, it was how to get our beloved little tent stuffed back into it’s bag in just a couple of minutes. We throw everything back into the car and leave Teslin Lake, a million mosquito’s, and a quart of blood behind by nine o’clock.

Fifty miles down the road leads to gas stop number one. Being the OCD type that I am I’d mapped out our feel stops in a meticulous and embarrassing way weeks in advance. Fueling in Canada is a giant tease. You glance at the price and your heart leaps. Here we are, in the middle of nowhere, and gas is just a buck fifty-three! What riches! We’ve budgeted for nothing. Honey! Run in and buy the finest box of wine this gas station has to offer!

But than reality returns, you’ve been fooled by America, it’s damn stubbornness, and the Imperial system. There are 3.79 liters in a gallon. $1.53 x 3.79 = $5.80/gallon. There is weeping, gnashing of teeth and you stand there, pump in hand, begging the numbers to stop ticking up.

The weather is fantastic with just enough clouds punctuating the sky to keep the sun from baking us as we make our way south along the Alaska highway. Whomever is riding shotgun has one primary objective, keeping Prince Porter happy. He continues to bounce back and forth between driver and passenger and occasionally makes a bid to crawl under the wheel toward the gas and break pedal, just to make sure we’re paying attention.

When I was one, my parents and I moved to Alaska and we spent ten days driving the Alaskan highway with me strapped firmly in my car seat. As I grab Porter after his fifth attempt to control the gas pedal I solemnly vow to never attempt that with my hypothetical children. One hyperactive kitty was enough. At least we could scruff him if we had to. For Penny the rabbit, life had not changed in the slightest. She lounged comfortably right behind the driver’s seat. Food, water, and litter box less than half a jump away. Every time I glanced back I was met by two big brown eyes staring intently into the back of my seat.

The biggest battle though was the CD player. The 1996 Pathfinder had been welded long before the reign of MP3s, bluetooth, and FM transmitters. Our phones and iPods sat helplessly in our backpacks. So we went old school, burning CD after CD and cranking the volume out of the one good speaker on the passenger side. Tragically, she must have been built before anti-skip technology as well, and every jolt or bumpy road would cause the CD to skip so maddeningly one of us would angrily punch the power button. We turned off the Alaskan highway and onto highway 37, the Cassiar highway and began to head south. This was so entertaining we almost didn’t need music anymore. The road narrowed, the concrete cracked, and the dividing lane disappeared. Two miles in we rounded a corner sending gravel into the trees. I looked ahead to see a miniscule red square crudely propped up on sticks next to the road, maybe six inches high. By the time I opened my mouth to ask Brittney’s opinion we’d flown past it and into the hidden pothole it was “marking.” Thus was our introduction into Canadian caution signs.

We spent the day navigating the highway, constantly watching for red caution squares. We reached Kinaskan Lake campground that evening and were greeted by a gorgeous lake reflecting the sun, clouds, and mountains. We “splurged” on wood for a campfire. When gas is $5.78/gallon, five bucks for wood feels like a steal. Porter promptly dove into the woods attempting to hunt squirrels and failing terribly. A feeling of peace began to fill me. The stress and doubt of the day before slowly being replaced with excitement. We were living the life that we had talked of since we’d returned from New Zealand. We had to be the oddest vegabonds the campsite had ever seen with the prowling kitty and curious bunny that kept sticking her head out of the tent. But as the fire crackled and the evening light made the lake glow, I knew we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Every Minute From This Minute Now, We Can Do What We Like Anywhere

I do most of my thinking while I’m jogging. And most of that time I’m trying to decide what to write about next (or baseball, I think a lot about baseball). Since the day we started the blog, I’ve been mulling how to write my farewell to Juneau. I could write about my ten favorite memories, or the people that have impacted or changed my life the most, or whales, I almost decided to just default to whales. But how can you capture a place, it’s meaning, and it’s significance by simply rattling off a list of names, locations, and events? For me, that doesn’t do Juneau justice.

 

Driving down Egan towards the bridge I stared south to the mountain range beyond the Taku River, trying to commit the image to memory and not swerve into oncoming traffic at the same time. But no matter how hard I tried to memorize the view, the shape of the peaks, their contrast with the field of greenery on Douglas Island, and the suns’ sparkling diamonds on Gastineau channel, the image fades. We look away and become distracted, the picture blurring and distorting. In a year you could show me a picture of that channel and the mountains beyond and I would probably recognize it. But heaven forbid I try to describe or recreate the picture in my mind.

 

It is, tragically, how our memories are. The harder we try to hold on to pictures and moments, the quicker they seem to slip into some buried folder in the back of our minds. Instead, I will try to remember the way Juneau made me feel. The emotions it dug up, the feelings and passions it drove to the surface, and the influence it will have on me for the rest of my life.

 

I came here because it was still Alaska, it had a university, and it wasn’t Fairbanks. It was my three step selection process and precious little thought went into it. I just knew I had to get out, try something new, and that I couldn’t handle another winter of darkness and 40 below. I arrived brimming with nerves, self doubt, and little confidence. I felt pressure to prove myself in class, find a research job, and be successful. It was turning me into a nervous wreck. I had to have life figured out and understood, and had to have it now.

 

But Juneau started to quell those demons before the ferry even hit the dock. My welcoming committee featured paired breaching humpbacks on a 70 degree day. I began to feel a level of peace and belonging just a few nights later, camping on the beach as the echos of breathing humpbacks ricocheted off the rocks. I began to relax and listen to myself. I accepted David for David. From curly hair to gangly limbs. I became comfortable in my own skin, and stopped asking “what should I be getting out of life,” and instead wondered, “what do I want out of life?”

 

And I think those are the emotions I’ll leave Juneau with. I have grown to embrace myself for who I am and where I’m going. I know that I don’t need an office or a career if I don’t want one. That as long as I’m happy with myself and my direction it’ll be alright. So now, five years later, it’s almost unbearable to leave. And when I stop and think that everything I own is going to be crammed into a car in just two short days it makes my head spin and eyes well up. But Juneau made me this way, shaped me to one day leave her. She gave me the bravery and strength to walk away. And for that I’ll be forever grateful

 

So Saturday morning I will stand on the stern deck of the ferry and watch Auke Bay pull out of sight. I’ll follow the road past Eagle Beach, Bird, Gull, and Benjamin Island, and slowly past Berner’s Bay. I’ll soak in as much as I possibly can and one last time, remember exactly how Juneau made me feel.

Our Best Ideas Are Imagained in Bars

I wrote Paul the next day, and after 48 hours of constantly refreshing my email, got the answer I needed, “you and Brittney are more than welcome to come work next summer.” We celebrated the only way Juneau folk no how. We threw on our nicest Xtra-tuffs, and found a bar. It was as if countless doors had just cracked open. We could do that expedition kayaking trip in Canada we’d always talked about, hike the Pacific Crest trail, move to Seattle, get a caretaking position. Caretaking, it always seemed to come back to that. There was such an idle romanticism about it. Imagining a winter in some tiny log cabin. The wind, snow, and waves buffeting and rattling the walls and windows, as we curled around the wood stove, spruce wood crackling heartily. It was an easy subject to get lost in by your third glass of wine and fourth IPA, but somehow, it just kept on returning to the front of our minds. Our best ideas are imagined in bars.

 

Shortly after Paul’s answer, I’d sent word to Evan, the British fellow I’d met at the lab, announcing I’d be making my triumphant return. What happened next can be credited to God, karma, or the universe, but regardless, remains one of the biggest miracles of my life.

 

“They’re looking for someone to watch their place over the winter,” he wrote, “how cool would it be to be there for a year?”

 

I stared at the computer screen. This was a movie, stuff like this doesn’t just happen. Your dream job doesn’t just randomly appear in your dream location, two weeks after you decide you’re going back. Brittney barely got in the door before the question was out of my mouth, and I still may have been hyperventilating to much to get out anything beyond, “Paul’s… lab… caretake…. winter.” But when I finally calmed down enough to speak coherently again, I still couldn’t get the entire question out entirely.

 

“Yes,” she interrupted, “why are we even discussing this? It’s happening.”

 

The one trouble with communicating with Paul and Helena is, even in the year 2013, the internet on Hanson Island has a tendency to self combust on a semi weekly basis. This can lead to unanswered facebook messages, missed skype calls, and at times, weeks between successful contact. This was one of those times as I crafted a carefully worded letter via facebook, hit send, and waited. Days passed. I watched whales, Brittney paddled, and I checked my messages as soon as my butt hit the sofa every night. And it is funny how we get our answer when we least expect it and need it the most.

 

Which is exactly what I needed on a rainy and foggy August day. There was no flying, the whales were far from caffeinated, and I was escorting 14 people that varied from disappointed to fuming that Alaska had the audacity not to reenact a National Geographic episode for them. But what I remember the most was the rain. It was the classic southeast Alaska drizzle, clouds wrapped snugly around the trees, everything you touch drenched. Brush against a devils club leaf and you’d be wringing your pants out the rest of the day. Even after you wiped your hands on a towel, the moisture seemed to cling to your fingers, beading up and evaporating, making your fingers awkward and clumsy. The van’s windows fogged up immediately so when I tried to dramatically point out the first view of the Mendenhall Glacier, all anyone saw was gray. I smiled sheepishly as they walked off into the mist and rain, praying they would find a bear in the salmon stream. As soon as the door closed I slumped onto one of the seats and pulled out my phone.

 

It was just habit now to load facebook and hold my breath, waiting for the little message sign to pop up. I glanced at the screen, double taked, and looked again. And there it was, the message that threw the door wide open, tearing it off its hinges. The pets were welcome and so were we, all winter long if we could handle it.

 

The rain didn’t matter anymore, or the grumpy people, the long diving whales, or the fact that I had just knocked a bottle of water over and into my boot. In my mind we were already Canadians, already taking the June Cove into Alert Bay for supplies, perched on a frosty observation deck watching the sun rise. It didn’t matter that it was more than a year away, we were closer than ever to living out a dream that we had only dared talk about deep into the adult beverage of our choice. But more than anything it was empowering. We didn’t need careers, 9-5’s or a house to do what we loved. Just a little spot on a rock to call are own. To challenge ourselves, and see what we were really capable of.

 

I can’t imagine how those people must have felt, climbing back onto the bus, cold, wet, and frustrated. They must be still trying to figure out, why was their guide was suddenly so damn happy and grinning from ear to ear.

These Are the Places I Will Always Go

So, why than, did it take me six years to go back? What could possibly have kept me away from orcas by moonlight, leaky kayaks, and nights rocked to sleep by the whisper of an ebbing tide? My problem? I listened. In the months after I returned home I was told by teachers, my peers, adults, and the world in general that, while my journey was a great story and adventure, that was all it could be. I needed a real job, security, a 401K, a mortgage and three mini David’s running around eventually. And for years afterward I bought it, and tried to push myself into that square peg.

 

I busted my butt my sophomore year, taking 35 credits and somehow got the highest GPA of my collegiate career. And for the second time in my life, I decided to take a chance, and transferred from 40 below and 18 hours of darkness, to the rain soaked, humpback infested world of Juneau. And while the scenery may have changed, I still felt an obligation to the same life goals, because, well, that’s what you were supposed to do. I got a job in Glacier Bay my first summer in southeast studying humpbacks. It should have been my dream job, a foot in the door to a career with the National Park Service. But, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t relight the fire. My bosses were great, the venue breathtaking, and the work challenging. But I struggled with the scientific and calculated way everything was done. Standing on the boat, bobbing in the chop created by a juvenile humpback breaching again and again. I wanted to cheer, to whoop, the nature worship bubbling just below the surface. But I felt I couldn’t. Maybe it was unfair to compare the whole situation to my brief time at OrcaLab two summers ago, but it just didn’t fit.

 

I remember the first time orcas swam past the lab that summer. Paul, camera in hand leaning so far over the rail of the porch I thought he’d fall into the ocean, hollering at the whales as if it was the first ones he’d ever seen. I wanted that raw emotion, that childlike wonder and joy that bubbled over like a pot on the stove. But I kept searching, opening doors and closing them.

 

I returned to Juneau, met the love of my life, and married her. Two months later we ran off to New Zealand for three months and lived. Spending way to much money, learning how to milk cows, and having the most important conversation of our life. In a town called Rotorua, over strawberry milkshakes, we finally voiced what both of us had been burying, maybe for years. We didn’t want careers, the idea of being tied down to one place to long terrified us, and as far as kids… a cat and a rabbit seemed like plenty right now.

 

For me, the next location was obvious. It had been in the back of my mind for years, waiting for its chance to emerge. We returned to our seasonal jobs in the tourist industry. Brittney a kayak guide, and me a guide on a whale watching boat, our third season in tourism. In July we hiked Mount Roberts, flying past the tram, trying to leave the masses of people as far behind as possible. We reach a small outcropping of rock and get comfortable, our dialog has been brief and abbreviated. After hours in the woods together we know what the other needs. If you passed us on the trail you’d assume we were fighting. We don’t hold hands, there’s never much joking, laughing, or talking, not on our hikes anyway. It was more of a joint meditation, taking solace and peace in knowing the other was healing with every step. I remember going hours on the Abel Tasman trail in New Zealand with us barely saying a word and being so thankful I wasn’t alone.

 

We talked about the cruise ships, sitting below us in Gastineau Channel, and our never ending discussion about how we feel about the industry. Were we exploiting the land we loved or were we ambassadors? Was standing on one of 35 boats, preaching the wonders and magnificence of a humpback worth the bellow of twin 350 engines in the water? Words start tumbling out of my mouth, frustration, confusion, and guilt. The words of a man who can’t do it anymore.

 

Like she always does, Brittney just listened. Letting my words and troubles wash over her as the yoke loosened from my shoulders. She let me go until I was spent, head in my hands, still staring down at the boats. How did they still look so big from up here?

 

“You need a break,” she finally said. “If you don’t know that what you’re doing is right, that it’s not helping, we need to find what is right, what is helping.”

 

I nod, the next question holding hopes, dreams, and fantasy in its answer. “I need to go back.” I say, it’s not a statement, it’s a question. We were a team, bound at the hip, and I could do nothing if she didn’t go with me.

 

“Back to Canada, to Paul’s?”

 

“Next summer, I can’t believe it’s been five years. I never thought I’d be gone so long. I guess I kind of lost my way, but that’s alright,” I turn and smile, “it led me to you. I want to show you this place that means so much to me.”

 

She just smiles, “if that’s where you need to go that’s where we’ll go. I want to see it with you.”

 

Words catch in my throat, the emotions dragging them back to my stomach. Fortunately I didn’t need any as my wife, confidant, and best friend laid her head on my shoulder and wrapped her arms around me. I looked, south down the channel, past the cruise ships and habitation, toward the wild and untamed Taku and Stephens Passage. I could almost hear the orca’s calls, ringing in my ears. I thought of mornings on the observation deck, runs in the woods, Helena’s cinnamon roles, and even the ornery June Cove. It may have taken me five years to figure out, and six to finally put it together, but I was finally going home. And this time, I wouldn’t be coming alone.