In Alaska, there are many ways to die.
You can die in the air: bush plane, float plane, an airliner in wind and fog. You can die in the sea: barge, skiff, a ferry plunging in the trough. (If you are a sea lion, you can die in the jaws of an orca halfway between your rock and the waves. I have a picture of blood and frenzied sea lions if you are the sort who needs proof.)
You can also die with your feet planted firmly on the ground: bear, cliff, swiftly-shifting weather.
You have come to the edge of the world. The sun is lower. The shadows are longer. Death lurks out in the open here.
When you become a mother, you count all the ways there are to die: babies sleep but do not wake, daughters fall on the stairs, sons are diagnosed and named incurable.
Later, the ways are counted for you, but they are not the deaths you have already met in your imagination.
One day, you do not recognize how much your boy struggles to breathe, but the pediatrician does. She calls an ambulance from the exam room.
Another day, you forget your child’s epi-pen. Thank God, that stranger in the corner of the shop had one in her purse. You learn, to your sorrow, that death is folded within each moment.
Silent. Hidden. Utterly inseparable from love.
In Alaska, there are so many ways to live.
You live in the air: bush planes and float planes fly low. You soar like an eagle, skim mountaintops, explore islands empty except of bears.
You live on the water: the taste of salt spray on your lips, a diving fin whale almost at your fingertips, sea otters like floating teddy bears.
You live on the land: black-tailed deer who are not afraid of you, tide pools filled with sun stars and blood stars and the deep breathing of anemones.
You have come to the edge of the world. The sun is lower. It is a dazzle in your eyes all day long.
Of what consequence is death when the air is like glittering glass?
If you are a writer, you are often alone. You retreat from family and friends seeking the quiet you need to write.
But one day you step on an airliner. One day you step on a bush plane. One day you wade through the water and heave yourself into a skiff. One day you taste salt spray all the way to Harvester, an island like a boulder tossed across the sea.
You journey to the edge of the world, and you discover you are not alone. The world is as full with stories and with storytellers as it is full with the glory of God.
The stories you find on Harvester Island are intimate with death.
There is the story of the old man and the young boy. They vanished on the water, leaving behind only a dog in a skiff and so many broken hearts.
There is the story of the unhappy wife standing on the edge of the island rock with a small suitcase in her fist. She has arrived at the end of her road. She is alive, but she has already died.
There are so many ways to die, but in Alaska, you learn what is true in every place on earth: there is only one way to live.
The only way to live is to die.
The only way to live is to arrive at the end of yourself and then to keep going (you can do this via bush plane, you can do this via motherhood or marriage or any great attempt at love).
Love is what remains, at the end of yourself, at the end of every beautiful story, at the end of every terrible one, too.
Love is our home. It is the place where death is only a fading legend. A tale we will tell again and again until, like glass smoothed and polished by the waves, it loses every sharp edge.
One day, we will let that old story go; we will drop it there, on the black gravel of the beach. For we have traveled 10,000 years, and we are ready for new stories.
Written in the airport in Anchorage, Alaska. With love for all the writers who traveled to that boulder in the sea. I am glad to have met you, there on that line between rock and water, life and death, stranger and friend.
Oh my gosh! Tears streaming! I love this. Need to reread and imprint some sentences on my heart, like this one: “only way to live is to arrive at the end of yourself and then to keep going (you can do this via bush plane, you can do this via motherhood or marriage or any great attempt at love).”
So glad to know that this touched you, Erin. Much love to you.
Words beautifully said, and photos beautifully shown! Thanks, Christie!
Thank you, Voni! What a gift this past week has been. Your Alaska is stunning.
thank you for beautiful words and pictures! I so enjoy your writing!
Bea, thank you! It is a joy and a privilege to share them with you.
Christie—gorgeous writing. A lovely tribute to the special week we spent together. I am so grateful.
Thank you, Leslie. Harvester Island has become a spacious place and a fertile field. I am so thankful for my time there.
Oh Christie, that last line: “One day, we will let that old story go; we will drop it there, on the black gravel of the beach. For we have traveled 10,000 years, and we are ready for new stories.” Pure truth and beauty. I’m saving it and savoring it today. Thank you.
Thank you, Shelly.
“The only way to live is to arrive at the end of yourself and then to keep going .”
Yes. The seed that falls to the ground and dies and gives forth life.
I love this post Christie! Hope your time was wonderful!
Oh, it was, Danielle. Can’t wait to tell you all about it. And if you haven’t read Leslie’s memoir Surviving The Island of Grace – you must! Gorgeous book.
Beautiful words and beautiful pictures. So looking forward to your book.
Thank you, Kim!
“The only way to live is to arrive at the end of yourself and keep going…” This has brought me much encouragement as I’ve turned that thought over in my mind these last few days. Thank you, dear friend.
I’m so glad. Thank you, Melissa.
Wow Christie! You have reached out with your words, strengthened the bridge between us and touched my heart. Thank you 🙂
Lynn, oh thank you for your words. Thank you for reading along. Hugs.
This is a gift, Christie. Crystalline, pure, reflecting the light of our time in Alaska. Maybe next time we’ll get to see the bears!
Thank you, Julie! And about the bears – I (almost, sort-of) hope so. 😉