MY HOMETOWN IS A LITTLE KNOWN MUNICIPALITY OF JUST OVER 7000, but as of late has become the new location of several political journalists and the starting point for the new conservative superstar of American politics.
Wasilla, Alaska, rests in the belly of the Matanuska Valley, a place famous for giant produce (think 100+ lb cabbages) thanks to near 24-hour daylight during the peak growing season.
It is on the way to Anchorage if you’re arriving by road from Canada, and on the way to Denali National Park if arriving by plane in Anchorage. Wasilla has small town charm, I guess, but most of the buildings are low and nothing special to look at; half the year they’re covered in snow, the other half, mud.
The real charm is the landscape this town was plopped down in: neighborhoods are still on dirt roads, forests are still rich in life, the streams are still clear, and the mountains are so close, rugged and blue you feel like you’re standing in a postcard.
My childhood home looked out over the mud flats, a huge expanse of land that sunk to sea level in the 1964 earthquake and has since turned into marshland scattered with moose, bear, and enormous flocks of migrating birds (mostly geese and crane, both of which make their presence known with a cacophony of sound that is utterly and indescribably chaotic, irritating and gorgeous).
The pond up the street from our house wasn’t much to look at, except when beavers moved back in and built a dam or the occasional muskrat lingered for a few days. A little further up that dusty road was the creek salmon traversed in the summer, and we ice skated on in the winter. If you’ve never seen a creek literally moving with salmon on the way to their spawning grounds, you’ve not really experienced the full cycle of life.
It’s like staring into a fire late at night before crawling into your sleeping bag and gazing at the stars; you’re mesmerized, and even though you know there are wonderful things around you to see, you can’t break away.
My friends and I used to ‘rescue’ salmon stuck in the shallows by heaving them into deeper pools, until we were old enough to realize that handling the fish at this point in their migration was neither helpful nor legal.
I haven’t lived there for many years, but visit occasionally. I always make time for that creek, and try to be there late in the summer when the salmon make their annual trek. Sitting and watching those waters now is like bearing witness to one of the gravest tragedies of our time – they’re so still.
While the politics of Wasilla and the vast state of Alaska are becoming talking-head sound bites, I can’t help but be drawn back into thoughts of the life that pulses through that landscape. It is eloquent and primal, rugged and fragile, my hometown, a world away.