I’m a fourth-generation Texan and I’ve lived here all but 3 years of my life. Both of the times I moved elsewhere for a short period (Long Beach, CA and Little Rock, AR), I couldn’t wait to get back to the Lone Star state. Over the past few years, I’ve traveled to many beautiful, faraway places, but on each trip I still look forward to coming home to watch the sun rise over the lake in my back yard.
I’ve traveled to many of the “lower 48,” to western and northern Europe, Mexico, Central America and a number of Caribbean islands. I enjoy seeing new places, meeting new people and learning about other cultures. I’ve found a lot of “nice places to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
This year, for the first time, I discovered a place outside of Texas that felt like home. And I found it in a land that seems, on the surface, very unlike the hot plains of the DFW area where I grew up – in the mountains and glaciers and seas of Alaska.
The weather might be different, at least in winter (something we don’t really have much of down here), but Texas and Alaska, the two biggest states in the U.S., have a lot more in common than the fact that they dwarf those wimpy New England states that you can drive across in half an hour.
If I had to name the characteristic that makes the two seem so much alike, it would be the independent spirit. It saddens me to say Texas is in danger of losing that. As more and more people have flocked from the east and west coasts where the economies have tanked in recent years to Texas where business is relatively booming and jobs are more plentiful, my homeland has started to change.
Incredibly, those same people seem set on voting in the same policies and laws here that created the very problems in their former states that caused them to flee. I’m not saying resistance is futile; we Texans remember the Alamo and we won’t go down without a fight. But for the first time in my lifetime, I fear for the future.
But this is a travel blog, not a political commentary, so I won’t dwell on that. My point is just that Alaska feels like Texas used to. In a word, free. It’s so big and so sparsely populated and so very, very far away from the center of federal operations in D.C. (3720 miles from the U.S. capital to Juneau) that it has escaped much of the creeping effect of “government gone wild” that today reaches across both sides of the political spectrum.
Of course, there’s also a superficial reason for falling in love and I can’t deny that’s part of it: Alaska is beautiful. It’s beautiful in a way that Texas – tough and strong and feisty and lovable as she is – can never be. Maybe part of my attraction is like what a middle-aged man feels in the presence of a flirty 20something runway model. Much as he loves his wife of three decades, he can’t help comparing the model’s smooth skin and silky hair to the wrinkles and gray streaks that his beloved now sports and admiring the former’s curves and curls.
Texas has never been a beauty queen, even in her youth. The lake I live on (pictured up top) is still one of the prettiest areas in the metroplex – but the drought has altered the shoreline and the building of a new highway has taken much of the wildlife away. Even here on the waterfront, it’s just not as lovely as it used to be. But Texas is mine. It’s comfortable. It’s home.
I’ve been to the east coast where the glorious fall foliage attempted to lure me, and I’ve been to the west coast where the balmy seaside weather, winter and summer, dangled its temptations, and I’ve been to Europe where the history and exotic food did its best to make me want to stay. I’ve been to the winter wonderland that is Copenhagen in the winter and I’ve seen the seven amazing bridges over the River Tyne in Newcastle but I’ve always been faithful. The closest I ever came to geographic infidelity was in the Scottish Highlands, when I laid eyes on the breathtaking vista of the Isle of Skye, but even then, I’ve never even for a moment seriously thought about moving … until I saw Alaska.
It’s not just the thrill of looking up and seeing bald eagles soaring above my head. It’s not just the exhileration of looking down from the passenger seat of an 8–seat de Havilland Beaver float plane onto the face of a tidewater glacier calving into the sea. It’s not just the wonder of the unspoiled wilderness that seems to stretch into forever. It’s not just the mystery of the Misty Fjords that resemble some uninhabited, newly discovered planet.
It’s not just the friendliness of the people or the abundance of the wildlife or the cleanliness of the mountain air or the fresh scent of the forest or the glassy beauty of the frozen lake. It’s not just the taste of grilled wild halibut that melts in my mouth or the sound of the Tlingit tongue or the touch of the soft fur of the fox and wolverine.
The reason I love Alaska – after an admittedly whirlwind courtship – is none of these and all of these. It’s mostly that Alaska feels like starting over. Alaska feels like a second chance. Alaska feels to me, today, like what it must have felt like to those who journeyed there in gold rush days.
Maybe I’ll never get the opportunity to find out whether the reality of Alaska could ever match up to the dream. Maybe she’s better remaining a sweet memory of a one-night stand or a clandestine rendevous that happens once or twice a year. Maybe the drudgery of daily life there would take the shine off. I don’t know.
I just know that, right here and now, I am smitten. Totally infatuated. Hopelessly in love.
Check out my detailed reviews of both of my trips to Alaska:
Miracle in Alaska (May 2014):
Back to Alaska (July 2014):