A bit of Alaska

It is late afternoon and the dusk is settling on the bare yard outside my window creeping into the corners and in-between the posts of the white fence. Another year has rolled over. And as I look up from my kitchen table on the bluish snow outside, as I ponder this week’s baking shifts and darkroom sessions, the recent holiday festivities and dinner parties, it strikes me that I could have written the same post last year; same table, same yard, same workload that keeps me busy.  But last year’s winter saw me getting ready to put every-day life on hold, pack the suitcase, lock the door, load the car and wander with the only goal of making photographs. Instead of flour, I would be mixing chemicals, become a darkroom chef, a traveller, a collector of pictures.  Now the year has gone by and I am settling back and getting comfortable, just like the winter outside has finally made itself home after a few brief visits of the first frost.

Last year I made my home in Alaska, in McCarthy, a small remote town with an insular lifestyle, protected not by the ocean but by the wilderness of the largest National park. I worked in town and  lived in a log cabin a few miles down the road. There was no electricity, Internet or phone, not a bathroom or running water, just an outhouse a few steps across the grass. Yet, I lived a life of luxury. I would spend long weekends reading by the wood stove, listening only to the raindrops falling on the roof. At times I would leave the four-wheeler parked and walk the four miles home instead. I could sit for hours on the deck and watch the nature around in the changing light of the day and in the passing seasons of the year. Even now, months later when I close my eyes, I can see the letter V shaped birch tree by the outhouse, or the branches winding around the thick tree trunk by the metal bench, or the bend in the road where trees suddenly grow thin and one can see the silver river thick with mud winding in the valley and the mountains tall above it. They stand out in my mind as clearly as the colorful residents of McCarthy. If you asked me what kind of a tree grows outside the town house I have lived for three years, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.  

Back home my days soon become just as busy with work and errands as before. But some things are harder to pick back up; cellphone, emails, Facebook, all the news that take my focus away from the moment which as an artist I feel compelled to observe even when there is no camera by my side. I try for a while to rejoin the digital age and then remember the words of my teacher who one evening after a darkroom session advised me, “ to protect and nourish my creativity as I would a child.” So I close my Facebook account, find a simple phone without Internet and spend the few extra minutes a day walking to work in the quiet hours before dawn. I cannot always escape into Alaskan wilderness. But perhaps I can bring a bit of Alaska home; enjoy the moment, turn off the noise and listen to the silence; the bright silence of a full moon rising above winter beach, the hushed silence of the darkroom that lets me hear the voice of the print, or the deep silence of January that drowns the sounds of the day in sweet soft snow.