We were not even out of the driveway yet, when my date for the evening cheerfully announced from the backseat that she and her sister were going to Alaska when they grow up.
My brain immediately untangled the nonsense of this sentence and my heart sank into my belly like a torpedoed battleship.
“Oh?” I said, trying to keep my head clear of the sirens that were going off inside of it. “Really? Both you and Clara?”
I watched my eight-year-old daughter’s head shake up and down in the rearview mirror. “Oh yes, we talked about it. And when we are older, we are both going to Alaska.”
I slowly turned a corner on the wet roads and headed toward the highway. “Why though?”
She sighed and placed her forehead against the window, “We are just tired of the cold. We want sunshine and trees, and we want to grow peaches and pineapples and mangoes and have a summer that is more than just a few weeks long where we spend every day saying that we wish it was like this every day. You know?”
And I did know. I knew all too well.
You see, what Lydia was referring to was a conversation that we had earlier that same week. We had been talking about how strange it is that some Nouns in our language are turned into Verbs. And we were bringing up different examples of this. “What does it mean to Truck something? What does it look like for someone to Google a question? Can I pen you a letter?” and this turned into a discussion of what action would be associated with other things. Such as, Alaska.
My daughters had looked at me with furrowed eyebrows. “Yeah,” they said, “What would it mean to Alaska?”
I pondered this for a moment or two. “Well,” I told them, unknowingly preparing to dig a grave for my heart, “To Alaska would mean to smile to your family one last time and confidently walk away and then only come home to visit on holidays. That’s what it means for someone to Alaska.”
They had both agree, quietly, that this was the correct answer. And I had smiled, proud of my own cleverness.
Now I was sitting in my car, watching my daughter as she looked out the window at the world, and my heart tumbled down an endless staircase inside of me.
My children are part of a strange generation of Alaskans. Their grandparents came to Alaska, driven by a sense of adventure and a desire for freedom and space, and an unconscious attraction to the feeling of distance. It’s the pioneering spirit that made Alaska the place that it is. It is the hearty spirit that chooses to live on the outskirts of the planet and be outsiders to the world. And it is the thing that binds Alaskans together. Ask any Alaskan why they are here, and you will be rewarded with a story of adventure and glory. Is it any surprise that this same itching for discovery and this same desire for adventure, would someday live on in the hearts of two little girls that would look out at their world and themselves be filled with an inspiration to Alaska in the opposite direction?
I choked back my emotions and tried to smile. “Lydia, Sweetheart, I hope someday, when the time comes, you will be brave enough to Alaska.” I reached my hand into the backseat and another smaller hand reached forward and held it for a moment and then it let go.