Monday, October 21, 2013

My Juneau Year

I pulled up to the last house on a dead-end road out of Juneau at 4:30am. After more than a week and 4,000 miles on the road and ferry, I turned off the ignition. Silence. The silence was deafening and the darkness was, well, blinding. I couldn’t remember darkness like that! 

The M/V Columbia pulled in to Juneau from Bellingham that morning, and I rolled off in my 12 year old Toyota Avalon, “Dent” (use your imagination with that name). Every last earthly belonging of mine (including Kameko the cat) was inside. It was an absolutely clear, crisp pre-dawn morning. I couldn’t possibly be in Southeast Alaska. It is always cloudy and raining here, isn’t it? I see stars. Lots of them, too. Maybe I’m a bit hysterical after my long, cross-country journey.  Anyway, they forgot to leave a light on for me so when I turned off the car it was literally pitch black… not even city light bouncing off of low clouds to illuminate the driveway six miles from town. It was just black. The absolute darkness in that instant was startling. Holy smokes, I’m here. I’m here in Alaska!

I had spent the better part of 15 years in the city- first Houston then Boston. There was always light and noise. Always. Those things were just part of the perpetual background. One time, in the middle of the night, the power went out in my neighborhood in Boston, and the sudden silencing of refrigerators and air conditioning units woke me up! Just like a loud bang would. Here, however, at the last house in Juneau, it was the cloudless, blustery night that woke me up. I was starting a new life in Alaska. I was finally here!

31 and single, I decided to fulfill a dream of mine to live in Alaska. I quit my job, sold or gave away most of my belongings and brought only what I could carry in my car to begin a new chapter. Although I already was familiar with Juneau and had family here, I did not have a job or friends and still thought I could get lost driving around. I decided that my best tactic for quick insertion and assimilation was this: Just Say Yes. Just Say Yes to every opportunity that would come my way. Just Say Yes to every party, every favor, every gig… Just Say Yes to every invite humanly possible.

I wasn’t a very Just Say Yes person in Boston. I’m not sure why, but oftentimes I found myself hiding out at home while all my friends went out. It was probably a combination of slight depression and anxiety, but I wasn't an unhappy person. Boston can be an overwhelming place. I worked at a performing arts college which was one of the most social workplaces imaginable, and I had an enormous circle of amazing and creative friends. I loved that, but I still didn’t fill up much of my free time with social activities. I even spent most of my weekends with my parents on Cape Cod instead of getting involved with events around the city. I often joked that my weekends on Cape Cod were responsible for my singularity. 

Fast forward a year and transport a few thousand miles away, I'm busier than I've been since college! Of course, I spend my weekdays in the office, but my evenings and weekends are usually filled with all sort of activities. I love it! I thrive when busy, and boy have I been busy - especially this fall. Because of this Just Say Yes attitude, I've been involved musically for the first time in years with the wind ensemble, opera, and symphony. I've also been doing great with my graduate classes at University of Alaska, and I've been in a Tabata class (a form of fitness regimen). Add onto that, social gatherings, hikes, housesitting gigs, parties, clubs, etc. It's been rather wild. I was particularly amused by one weekend recently. The following is a calendar view from a weekend in late September. Busy, right? What it doesn't really show is that I had a paper due Monday night, and then I was moving the very next day, too. 

I wouldn’t say that I became a different person just from moving to Juneau, but I do think some of my perspectives have shifted. I have the confidence now to do things I wouldn't or couldn't do before. If I could pack up, leave my home, friends and family, and settle in a land far, far way, I could Just Say Yes to so many things that I would have easily found an excuse to say No to before. 

We so rarely put ourselves into new and scary situations, but when we do, we grow. The scarier and bigger the opportunity, exponentially the potential for growth. By giving ourselves new opportunities, we give new avenues to learn and see the world in new ways. I highly recommend it. I'll always tell a college-bound teenager that the most valuable decision they can make is to go as far way from home as possible. I've been saying that for years. My time in Texas after high school was probably the most influential decision I made until now. 

Some friends I've made here have told me that they've felt empowered to adopt the same philosophy, and off they go! They're getting involved and meeting people that have (like them) lived here for 30+ years. It's hard to imagine that you wouldn't meet someone else your age after both living in a small town like Juneau for 30 years, but I guess it can happen! 

So off I go: into the next year in Juneau. Speaking with my mother the other day, she said she's often reminded of me when she watches television because they are showing a lot of Alaska tourism commercials back east. She said she hoped I was happy in Juneau. She knows that I am, but I reinforced the fact that I could barely be happier here. Juneau is an amazing place. There isn't a day that goes by when I'm not struck by it's beauty and wonder. I look at the mountains, ocean, glaciers, wildlife or people and give awe. I can't really convey the feeling. I'm no poet. 

The only thing that could have made this last year (and future ones) better, is if more of my family and friends could be here with me. I'm going to become an auntie for the first time any moment now (my sister is due October 21 with her first son). I likely won't meet him until he's a year old. I will eventually, and I do miss them all terribly. It's by far the hardest and worst part of my decision, but I knew that is what I signed up for. 

So go forth and Just Say Yes to something new that someone invites you to tomorrow. I promise you won't regret it. 

and now a year in pictures:

My first day in Juneau - hiked to Herbert Glacier

Tsunami Warning. welcome to the Pacific!

My First (and second) pair of XtraTufs

First social gathering - Election Party!

Housesitting Downtown

Got a Job

"Dent the Car" had a rough winter

I ate King Crab and lots of it

I met the Governor

I played trombone with the Thunder Mountain Big Band

I was approved to begin a Masters of Public Administration

Got some skis! ...hope to use them lots in my 2nd winter...

I made it even more official

Winter sunrises can be pretty great

I bought a bike

I brought the Bunny Barhop to Juneau

Had a boyfriend, then I didn't

Had a fish, then I didn't

It got pretty cold
They actually paid me to play trombone

I also joined the Wind Ensemble

We hopped until we dropped

See? I ate lots of King Crab

I made some friends

I saw some Killer Whales from the shore

I saw many porcupines

I went kayaking at the glacier

Hung out with some Sea Lions

I went kayaking out in Lynn Canal

Springtime came along eventually

Spent a few weekends at public use cabins around town

Flew over some glaciers in a floatplane

Mom and Dad came for a visit

I was almost swallowed by a pod of Humpback Whales

Whales whales everywhere!

This brown bear ate some salmon

Met these guys at Pack Creek, Admiralty Island

I volunteered on Admiralty Island with my Wilderness Volunteers

Napped on Admiralty Island

Worked on my botany skills

I was the Indiana Jones of Admiralty Island

Climbed Mount Juneau
Climbed Mount McGinnis (with some king crab)

Climbed Thunder Mountain

I got cold

Loved Juneau in it's natural beauty

I fell in love with the Chilkats
...and Berners Bay
.... and the Mendenhall River

I saw many mountain goats
This bear dog climbed into my car

I experienced my first negative tide

Found out about primroses

I walked ON a glacier

I walked UNDER a glacier

I experienced the Taku River

I only wish a glacier and a mountain were also in this frame. 

The Mendenhall is the greatest treat of Juneau

I sailed on a 42' sailboat

I took this picture of this dog
I caught this salmon (and many more)

I walked ON a glacier this other time

I walked UNDER a glacier this other time

I honed my photography skills
I picked a lot of invasive weeds

Kameko helped me with my course work

I traveled far, far away to Haines, Alaska

I sang America, F**k Yeah kareoke style on July 3rd

I found out what nagoonberries are

Found a successor to Dent the Car

I moved.... a few times

Kameko climbed a tree

I made the newspaper
I housesat this wonderful cabin

I convinced my boss to bike to work
I hung out with my Ranger friend and some brown bears in Haines

I met my Cousin-nephew
The last cruise ship left for the season...

...and Fall arrived

...and it was glorious

Godspeed - Katy Goes North


  1. I loved it all, you've really stepped out. Thanks for being you, such an inspiration. The story and pictures are such fun and beautiful. Love Lilly and Saadi

  2. You had a friggin awesome year! Love all the pictures (and descriptions!) miss you xo