The world’s grumpiest human is turning an overpriced piece of halibut over on his fork as he stares vacantly past my left ear. It’s been a long day and he looks exhausted. This busy restaurant on the infamous Homer spit is one of at least a a dozen serving the daily catch to tourists eager for some real Alaskan seafood. I bite into my thick, juicy halibut burger. A decent human being would have offered their traveling companion a bite by now, but I’m in no rush to break the irritable silence between us.
Homer spit is four and a half miles of contradiction that extends out into the spectacular Kachemak Bay. A natural phenomenon, the thin strip of sand lures visitors into open water where an expanse of rocky shores and pristine glacial peaks beckon, all the while hosting the highest concentration of tourists I’ve seen in all of Alaska. We are here for fish and chips, to buy trinkets, book charters for nature tours, water taxis, and fishing, to camp on the shore, or have a pint at the infamous Salty Dawg Saloon.
Halibut on the Spit has been the only activity Diesel and I have agreed upon since we left Anchorage yesterday. Before our meal we were disagreeing about whether to stay overnight on the Grace trail hike the girl from Hope told us about or try and finish it in a day. Diesel wants to do an overnight, but I’m not keen on having to depend on my 14 year old tent if the weather turns or about spending all that time alone with the grumpiest human in the world. So we’ve decided to think about it and let the water taxi know in the morning. So far we’ve been thinking about it in silence. If I weren’t the world’s worst communicator, I’d probably be able to initiate a conversation. Instead, I’m pretending the friction is normal and hoping that it will go away on it’s own.
We’ve decided to stay the night outside of the hustle and bustle of Homer at a place called Seaside Farm. The Lonely Planet described it as more like burning man than a hostel and hinted there may be livestock, musical jams and campfires. I know before we get there that it’s going to be my kind of place.
Pitching our tent on beautiful, grassy meadow overlooking Kachemak Bay is every bit as fun today as it was yesterday in Hope. Later, we make our way to the top of the hill to the kitchen pavilion and campfire where we are greeted by three other campers.
John is spending the summer here with his 9 year old son, Liam while also visiting with a grown son he has in town. John’s long, sandy brown hair is pulled into a loose pony tail and he says that his goal is to achieve financial freedom by spending less. I like his calm, self assured manner. Maddie and Dan have been making an annual trip to Alaska six of the last seven years and have stayed at this farm for a portion of their trip every single time. A few days earlier while the two of them were in Seward, Dan proposed to Maddie atop Mount Marathon. Maddie tells the story of how she confessed that she really doesn’t enjoy hiking halfway to the top and it’s just about the cutest engagement story I’ve ever heard.
I notice that we have been accepted into this group of strangers and I suspect they assume we are a couple. They are curious about Diesel’s accent and how we ended up on this trip together. Diesel is his usual magnetic self, talking about Denali and offering alcoholic beverages around the circle. Dan asks what we are going to do tomorrow.
I think we’re gonna go fishing.
I nearly snap my neck turning to look at Diesel. You’d rather do that than the hike?
He runs his hands over his hairless head. I think you would really like fishing.
I don’t want to go fishing tomorrow. But if that’s what you want to do then go. I’ll find something else to do, it’s totally fine.
You would have so much fun fishing tomorrow.
I am not going fishing tomorrow. If you would like to go fishing, please feel free to go fishing.
Diesel shakes his head and looks to our three new friends. This girl man, she is a crazy driver, you know…like every ten seconds we almost went off the road.
I decide that there will not be a fight around the campfire tonight and manage to force out a laugh. Every ten seconds! Yeah I’m the worst driver in all of Alaska. I pull my hood up over my head.
Are you an astronaut? You look like an astronaut!
Yes. Deep breath. But I’m a warm astronaut. Fake smile.
Oh man, I bought this knife today and she was so mad. He is talking to the group but glances sideways at me. She started yelling and everything.
Really? We are about to have a fight at the campfire. I press my lips together, hard. Are you sure that’s how it happened because I’m fairly certain there was no yelling.
Mercifully, Liam joins the fire circle and the conversation splinters as John introduced him to me and Diesel. It’s getting late, the midnight as sun is sinking as low as it will go and it’s angled light puts a glow on everything. The meadow, the bay, and the distant peaks are all illuminated with what looks like fairy dust.
I’m listening to Jon talk about wanting to walk the Pacific Crest trail and thinking that he’d be the kind of traveling companion you could have a really comfortable silence with when a loud voice behind us interrupts our conversation.
OH MY GOD, NO WAY!
Diesel turns and is on his feet in seconds, calling out greetings in Spanish and shaking hands with a young man and his equally young girlfriend. The two head straight towards the four of us and immediately begin shaking hands around the fire. They recognize Diesel from the hostel in Anchorage. The young man is Victor and the girl is Louise. They are from Santa Barbara and Victor starts exclaiming loudly to all of us how he loves to dominate conversations.
Yeah, I just like to get right up in people’s face and just start talking with them, you know?
I believe I know exactly what he means.
The two of them have been camping near Grewingk Glacier for the last two days and they take turns telling us just how amazing the experience was for them being alone in the wilderness watching huge chunks of the glacier splinter off and plunge into the lake below. Calving, it’s called. Then Victor tells us all about growing up in the city with his mother’s nine siblings and cousins how he isn’t allowed into Canada because of a DUI. He feels like he’s got the last laugh by flying over Canada to get to Alaska.
Where is Canada from here? Dan asks, smiling.
If this is Alaska, Louise answers by turning sideways and raising her right arm by her side so it is almost perpendicular to the ground. Then this is Canada. She uses her left arm to indicate the area between her arm and the rest of her body.
According to Louise, my home and native land is migrating into the Pacific Ocean, specifically the Gulf of Alaska.
Yeah, but which direction is it from here? I see Maddie put her hand on Dan’s arm and lock eyes with him.
Louise doesn’t miss a beat. West. She uses both arms to point to her left. Canada is west of Alaska.
I guess technically if you travel west long enough you will indeed reach Canada. Eventually.
Well, Liam and I should say goodnight before it gets too late. John coaxes his son from the warmth of the fire and they make their way across the field.
I’m suddenly very tired.
Louise picks up a large piece of wood and drops it unceremoniously onto the fire. I wish when my science teacher told us everything was made of matter I had thought about fire. Fire isn’t made of matter.
Yeah! Victor nods and offers her a drink. You could have had such a mic drop moment.
Dan leans forward with wide eyes. I teach science!
Maddie once again places her hand firmly on his arm. Babe, we better get to bed, too. Big day tomorrow.
Just like that we are down to the final four around the campfire. Victor and Diesel have a conversation in Spanish while Louise and I chat about what we do in our normal lives when we are not out exploring the wilderness. She makes a reference to a reality tv show about hip-hop stars that I’ve never heard of.
You’ve seriously never heard of that? If you want to know what’s going on in American pop culture, you have to watch it.
I don’t really think I care that much about American pop culture.
American pop culture is influencing the world right now. She puts her left hand on her hips and leans forward, wagging the forefinger on her right hand. This is what is influencing millions of Americans right now. If you don’t know what’s going on in pop culture you are out of touch!
Ok. I’m out of touch. I really want the conversation to be over. And to be looking out over the meadow at the ocean and listening to the soft breeze as the wind collides gently with the row of trees without the overpowering noise of heated conversations.
But I realize that she’s right. This girl, Victor, his numerous aunts and uncles, their offspring and most likely the majority of their friends are far more interested in some ridiculous reality tv show about hip hop stars than they are in the actual reality of how the excess of our daily lives condemns even the seemingly untouched corners of the earth. Like the calving glacier the pair spent the last two days admiring. They both said it changed them, but I wonder if watching a glacier crumble in front of them is enough to make them think about changing anything about their lives in a metropolis thousands of miles away. A lot of other good people are probably the same.
Which means it’s up to the hip hop stars of the world to direct change.
Behind me Louise and Diesel get into a heated argument over what sounds like a colossal misunderstanding. He is adamant that plastic bags are killing the ocean and she is furious that he is blaming her for climate change. It gets loud. Fast.
Look at this beautiful place. I don’t know if either of them have heard me but I know that tomorrow I’m going to be exploring the bay in front of me that now sports hues of purple. The mountains that rise from the distant shores have a patchwork of snow on their peaks and I just want to escape the last 48 hours and get lost somewhere in the valleys between them.
I am adrift. The magnificence of the Alaskan coast in front of me, the disintegration of a romantic fantasy, the fragility of this landscape, the reality of my own helplessness to preserve it and the lack of sleep over the last two days. It’s a surreal paradox. I feel a swelling in my chest that I can’t attribute to any single emotion.
Diesel has left and Louise is beside me, apologizing and I don’t have any energy left to care about how either of them are feeling.
I just think this view is amazing.
They say that hope floats. They also say that it’s darkest before the dawn. While both may be true, what I know for certain is that sun has retreated into the horizon as far as it will go tonight. And the concoction of emotion brewing inside me in these early hours of Tuesday morning is starting to take the firm shape of resolve. For all my dreams that have met their end recently, this is the start of something.
Let’s get to bed. Diesel mumbles on his way past the two of us. We’ll set the alarm for the Grace trail tomorrow.
I say goodnight to Louise and follow him across the sunlit field.
To find out how I got myself into this predicament, click here