I Took a Trip to Alaska

Did you ever play road trip games with your family? Growing up in Ohio—”The Heart of it All,” but the center of hundreds of miles of farmland, small towns, and boring highways—road trips were a rite of passage. My sister, Sarah, and I would be stuffed to the gills in the family station wagon, each insisting that we have our pillows, blankets, backpacks full of books, and snacks to tide us over. Travel-size games like Pass the Pigs were well-intentioned, but not great for the bumpy backseat. One of the Swank family favorites was “I took a trip to Alaska.” This game helped my sister and I survive hours and hours of travel and required no physical accoutrement. 

You may be asking yourself how to play. Simple! You and your travel-mates will go in a round. Person 1 will say, “I took a trip to Alaska, and I brought an {something that begins with A} APPLE!” 

“I’m up? Okay! I took a trip to Alaska, and I brought an apple and a {something that begins with B} BASKETBALL.” And on and on it goes. 

Each player has to remember all of the preceding words until the end of the alphabet. If one person fails, the game is done and you have to start all over. Personally, I like the kind of games that make your mind work. For children and young adults, it’s easy to get in the apple-basketball-candy-dog rut. The last time I played, I challenged my cousin to a new version while swimming in Costa Rica. Each lap correlated with a letter of the alphabet, and all words had to be in Spanish. Despite years of Spanish-language estrangement, executing the laps was much more difficult than thinking of appropriate words. 

Now that I live in Oregon, road trips take a little bit more mettle unless you’re driving straight up/down I-5, or over the mountain to Bend. Everything else brings the risk of driving through the night. If you have scads of free time, it’s no problem. If you want to arrive at your destination in time for dinner, you fly. 

I haven’t played the game in years, but recently I had the opportunity to take an actual trip to Alaska! Obviously, a road trip to Alaska takes a labyrinthine level of planning that I was unprepared for, but spending hours in the car by myself didn’t sound appealing anyway. The trip had been in the works for over a year, and pandemic be damned, we were going to make it happen. Six of us were flying in from 5 different cities across America to celebrate our dear friend Mandy’s 40th birthday. At first it didn’t seem like we were going to be able to follow through with it, but when we found out Alaska had made it mandatory to get proof of a 72-hour Covid test to enter the state, we heaved sighs of relief and comfort. Overall, I’ve seen a somewhat lackadaisical approach to pandemic travel in the US, aside from closing public bathrooms, which infuriates me to no end. (How are we supposed to wash our hands if we can’t access the bathroom??? And that is another blog for another time.) Because of this, I have used extreme caution when going anywhere farther than an hour.

Alaska is one of those places that is perfectly unique in every single way. Such isolation and utterly captivating topography has created a stark, yet somehow lush picture that gives each visitor a feeling of complete awe. The indiginous culture, ingrained for eons, tells stories; the hardy wildlife, like polar bears, whose coats have turned white to blend in with the snow, has adapted to conditions that seem un-bear-able to many (I’m so sorry); much of the art is made with natural resources—true story, I bought earrings made with Alaskan marten penis bones!

Below are some of the memories I collected during the 5 days in Fairbanks and Denali National Park. It cannot possibly present all the grandeur that is in Alaska, but maybe it will give you some ideas for what to expect if you ever take a trip there—and it could give you a new vocabulary for your next road trip game. “I took a trip to Alaska and I brought an abalone, a bunchberry, a caribou, and a dogsled.” 

I’m also curious as to your favorite travel accessories. The softest travel pillow, great earbuds, a perfect toiletry holder, anything! Comment below with your favorite accessory and let me know where you want to go next. 

Books Are Our Friends—Part II

As the gorgeous state of Oregon burns around me, I take this time to meditate on healing. Healing the earth, our hearts, and our world dogma. And, because I promised myself I would, even though I’m feeling on edge and don’t particularly want to, I am catching up on my writing, including a sequel to my blog post about my dearest friends: books. This—writing—helps me heal. I hope you are finding your own ways to heal during this dark time. 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Some say that listening to an audiobook is not an effective way to fill our brains with information because of the lack of engagement. Think about all the things we do while we listen to audiobooks: clean the house, go for a run, wash the dishes, and most commonly, drive. Do you feel that you are able to fully engage with a book if you’re doing something else while you listen? Are old fashioned books better because they demand more of our focus? (If you read the first installment of this post, you already know that I prize old-timey paper and glue.) 

I am curious what my readers think about this, because I assume you are all avid readers. But here’s the thing. I don’t actually want to write about cognition today. Unless it’s a textbook or for work, I have a choice on how I take in information. If I want to listen to Gone Girl while belly dancing, I’ll do it. I’m not going to—it’s a waste of both a great book and quality dance time. But, if I really needed to multitask this way, I certainly could.

Today, I want to write about a different aspect of the listening-versus-reading debate. To me, the thing that stands out is not the cognition, but the experience I have with the words themselves. I’ll give you a few examples. 

Bill Bryson’s humble, foible-filled travel writing always makes me giggle. I adore Bryson’s writing because it takes me on a journey right beside him. I’m there while he’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, listening for the shuffling of bears and glancing over his shoulder every mile or so to make sure Katz hasn’t dropped dead. I harrumph with him through small town America, where one cannot simply walk to the 7-Eleven—everything must be managed through personal transportation. At least once a chapter, I stumble upon a line so authentic that it makes me chuckle to myself. Bryson doesn’t hold back on the embarrassing indignities of real life, and I love that about him. He spells every single detail out without me having to think about it. Therefore, it’s very easy to listen to him on the way to Costco. I can easily perform other activities because I don’t have to work that hard to be satiated.

Conversely, from the moment I pressed play on Delia Owens’ audiobook, Where the Crawdads Sing, I knew I wouldn’t be able to merely listen to this book. This was a book to be read with my eyes. This was a collection of words that needed to be rolled around in, as in a warm mud flat on the edge of a bayou. Delicious words that looked and felt sumptuous, that needed to be feasted upon visually as well as internally. Immediately, I turned it off so as not to ruin the experience further. 

Did you catch the difference there? Bryson paints the picture for you, while Owens makes you paint the picture yourself, do some of the heavy lifting. Have you ever started listening to an audiobook and then turned it off because you could tell it would be better to read? Just me? Personally, I love helping out with the heavy lifting. It makes my brain happy. So, now I wait for Where the Crawdads Sing to pop up in my queue at the library. Some books are worth the wait. 

Shorts :: The Jungle

This short piece was written in the jungles of Costa Rica, about two and a half hours’ drive from San Jose, weather / traffic / landslide permitting. This was my second trip to my family’s permaculture property in Lanas, VerdEnergia Pacifica, where the nearest neighbor is several kilometers away and we sleep in open air structures, listening to the sounds of the night. A full telling of my experience will follow in the next few days after I get my bearings back.
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In the meantime…
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I walk my eyes from front to back, methodically. Over creek, through canopy of wide-heavy planks, colors of the jungle peek through fronds–the fuchsia, the amarillo, a population of green vast as the ocean’s blues.
I find the twist in my stomach questions many flavors of life; tongue stumbles on unknown textures, prickle here, tickle there, sour-sweet thing with no known ceiling. Sun blinds the limits of the jungle, and the moon illuminates mischievous beings.

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