Sunday, September 27, 2015

Something new in my own backyard

Okay, I know that it was right here that I said, “When I think about the downsides of living in Alaska, it has nothing to do with cold or even dark. It has to do with what I call the ‘one-road-north-one-road-south’ problem. By the time you’ve lived here 30 years, you have traveled every square inch of what you can do in a 3-day weekend.”

But I must have missed a few inches. Recently, I’ve discovered some really stunning trails practically right around the corner. I don’t like steep and I don’t like sliding on scree coming down. I like rolling terrain, leafy, sound of creeks, fall colors, that sort of thing.
Mostly I like the element of surprise, as in “Where are we?” because this place is so quiet and isolated and did we really just get here by walking around the block? That actually happened a few years ago. Even though we’d lived on the same block many years, Tim and I somehow never quite walked to the end of one cul-de-sac. When we did, we discovered the Helen Louise McDowell Sanctuary. Yup, right there, hidden in plain sight in the middle of Midtown. With boardwalks over the wet parts even.

So a few months ago, we started using the Anchorage Park Foundation’s mobile app. Tim and I would find ourselves in a certain part of Anchorage, and we’d click on Find a Park Nearby. (Sort of along the lines of Find a New Thing to Do Together.) The blinking blue dot would take us to a park, and when we got there, we’d click on the Passport, and it would “stamp” that we’d been there. We’ve now been to 51 of the 205 parks in the directory.

We have found beautiful places! Right off the bat, we found Forsythe Park. There was a little playground, but as we set off on a trail, we ended up curving round and round. We found a family collecting mushrooms. The trail kept going and going. Eventually, we were in that “Where are we?” place.

Right near home, we discovered Carlson Park. That’s another shocker: there you are, walking through a neighborhood full of houses, and there’s a little sign so you turn in. Suddenly, there’s a wide, open, green space right up against Lake Otis. And there are canoes there. So you imagine lolling in a canoe on a lake on a sunny day, and you’re transported.

And sometimes, you can get so transported you get hopelessly lost. That’s what happened when we wandered into Old Rabbit Creek Park. It was a déjà vu sort of experience because a friend had taken us there once before. Things looked vaguely familiar, but not enough for us to keep our directions straight. We ended up on the opposite side of where our car was parked … and kept coming out in the same place. Over and over again. Finally, a helpful guy escorted us to the right trail junction.

So, am I still feeling stagnant about Alaska’s “one-road-north-one-road-south” problem? Even though we’re still finding these new-to-us places? I’m not sure. I think I like the newness of the discovery more than I appreciate the discovery in itself. Is it the beauty of the trail or the fact that the trail was unknown to me till that moment?

And the fact is, it’s still a trail. If there’s anything in Alaska, it’s trails. Old trails, new trails, it’s still a trail. I can reach my fill of trails. (“A tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?” – Ronald Reagan) Is that jaded or what?

Most times, I’m a total creature of habit. I only run on the Coastal Trail for my regular runs. It takes a lot of oomph for me to even consider a new route (but that’s exercise). Even so, I keep thinking of my most recent find; how after two trips, I still haven’t made it to the waterfall. I can hardly wait to head back out again to find it.

So what’s the right recipe between familiarity and discovery, old-shoe comfort and new-thing thrill? That depends. On whether I’m feeling tranquil and content … or irritable and dissatisfied. Nothing new in the Third Third about that.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Been loving that sanctuary for a few years now, since before it was finished even. But your pictures are so much more poetic than mine.


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