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Things I know two months after moving to southeast Alaska.


It’s strange how quickly a new place can belong to you. Or how quickly you can belong to a new place.

Somehow the days toppled over one another and now you’re here, comfortably erudite about this new place that was formerly intimidating in all it’s luxuriant novelty.

You now know that the bulk section at the gimmicky health food store actually presents a better deal on oats and nuts than the packaged stuff from the A&P. And you now know never to poke fun at the fact that here, A&P stands for “Alaskan and Proud.” No Alaskans will laugh with you; they’ll just give you the side eye.

Alaskan and Proud. Makes me smile every time.


You now know that the fastest way to walk from here to there involves stairs and shortcuts and is nothing you could ever learn from Google Maps.

Google Maps' awful recommended route in blue. Superior short-cut-tastic route in yellow. From my office to the bus.

You now know that you must leave the office by the 7th or 37th minute of every hour in order to catch the bus from the main station, even though four days out of five it will be a few minutes late and you needn’t have hurried. But you should still hurry, because sometimes the bus is on time and you will find yourself sprinting full-tilt in a clammy panic, thanking your lucky stars if you manage to whip your bus pass out in time and stumble aboard, or, alternatively, cursing the gods that you’re a distance runner without a lick of fast-twitch muscle if you timed your departure poorly and now must endure a moment of enormous frustration amid a hefty carnival of exhaust fumes as the bus’s rattly butt pulls away without you.

Late, 4 times out of 5. Just so they can laugh at you sprinting down the street that fifth time.

Luckily, you now know that you can fill the half hour before the next bus with the book that this fickle public transit system has trained you to keep handy expressly for this purpose.

You now know how to tell the difference between a hemlock and a spruce just with a quick glance at the bark. You know all about glacial rebound, and muskeg, and that a beaver’s favorite tree is black cottonwood, and that those white dots far up on the mountain are goats, and that the hoot of a saw-whet owl becomes wickedly annoying after about 7 seconds.

The spruce bark on the left looks more like potato chips. The hemlock bark on the right looks more like bacon. Mmmm.

You now know that cow parsnip can give you a sunburn, stinging nettles feel oddly soothing after few minutes, and devil’s club spines are delighted to lodge in your hand for a week before you can force them out. Those suckers hurt.

You now know that children are happy to spend two hours outside in torrential sideways rain and stand-me-up wind as long you act excited about it.

You now know never to do hill repeats at Cordova Street after dark because that’s when the bears raid the apartment complex trash. Even though it’s really the perfect hill for medium-length repeats.

Garbage kills!


Speaking of bears, you now know how to say both “black bear” and “brown bear” in Tlingit. You also like the word for “whale.”

Speaking of whales, you now know that if other options fall through, you may at least have some future in creating nature-inspired art.

My ephemeral masterpiece was washed away by the tide a few hours later.

You now know by heart the stretches without streetlamps on your dark morning runs. Your ankles know them too.

You now know the exact distance from B street to the bridge, and you now know that somehow even though it is slightly downhill on the way out, you will always run it significantly faster on the uphill when you come back.

You now know that if you’re taking over 19 minutes to get to the bridge, you’re probably going to surrender and call this a recovery run. You now know that if you’re taking less than 13:30 during a speed session, you’re a lot speedier than you thought.

You now know that to get the precise distance on the way back, you should take your split exactly as you pass the house with the Tlingit killer whale.

If I ever were decisive enough to stamp myself with a tattoo, I believe it might be this.

Clearly, the learning curve is steep around these parts. Sort of like the mountains.  

I’m interested to see what else I’ll come to “know” through the months of November through March, which I am highly anticipating to be dark, rainy, gloomy, and rife with opportunities for character-building.

If you’ve had something of a life transition recently (a new city, school, job… anything), what is something “you now know” about your new life that you never could have known in advance?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. 10/30/2010 15:33

    wow. i feel so smart.

    i now know that i truly am not a new england girl! i kept thinking that once i got out on my own i’d feel okay here but after living on my own i realized that nope. i need a change of scenery.

    i’ve also learned what bars have not-college guys. something i totally could have learned before moving but, as a college girl last year, didn’t really see the need. but i’m a quick learner 😉

  2. 10/31/2010 03:10

    I’m completely freaked out by that bear picture. I freaked out when I ran across a possum. If I ran across a bear I would wet my pants.

  3. 10/31/2010 07:37

    I am so, so envious of your life out there. Not kidding. You are having an adventure, and I hope to follow suit next year. I know now not to laugh at bad-ass Alaskans, lest they sic their bears/buses/rain-resistant children on me. Sadly, I can’t tell you the rules of besting suburban mothers driving SUVs. Even after years of practice against them, their logic eludes me still.

    • 11/03/2010 10:23

      Suburban mothers driving SUVs are a grave danger. And they may be worse in New Jersey than anywhere else. Except maybe Massachusetts. Okay, New York too. It’s sad that I can’t spell Massachusetts after living right next door to it my entire life.

  4. 10/31/2010 12:34

    is it really creepy that i have also been following your blog for awhile, but haven’t commented either? haha awesome! glad you enjoyed the race report. 🙂

    i totally understand about the learning curve…i’m wisconsin born & raised and moved to boston for grad school last year. one thing i’ve learned that alcohol is sold until 11…except on sundays when it’s only sold until 6. which i found out the hard way when i was searching for wine for a thanksgiving dish and literally ran to 7 different liquor stores hoping one would be open…they were not.

    i also cannot imagine running in a place where bears roam freely. you have guts! it’s too bad the bears stole your medium repeat hill…lame.

    • 11/03/2010 10:29

      I can’t tell you the number of Sundays in Georgia last year that I strolled into the grocery store thinking I’d pick up a bottle of something only to remember YET AGAIN that alcohol isn’t sold on Sundays. Which I should already be used to since it’s the same thing in puritanical Connecticut.

      Alaska doesn’t do the Sunday thing though.

      • EmGem permalink
        12/05/2010 12:21

        Alaska State Law doesn’t restrict sales (except between the hours of 5:30 am and 8:00 am *LOL*), but local laws throughout Alaska are oftentimes much more strict. Some of the villages in Southeast are “dry” and all alcoholic beverages are banned.

        Here in Sitka, you can’t purchase alcohol until noon on Sundays; every other day it’s 8 am. Not that you usually need to buy alcohol before noon… but it is a shame when you want to have a mimosa with your Sunday brunch. =)

        Also, another interesting restriction is that many places (like Wrangell) can’t sell alcohol on election days until all the polls are closed. I had never heard of that anywhere else.

  5. 10/31/2010 15:38

    What a wonderful post! Some stuff us normal American people never have to think about. 😉 Love the bear photo, that thing is huge!! And the whole get-to-the-bus timing is hilarious. Secret staircase is also super cool. Fun stuff.

  6. 11/01/2010 07:43

    I think if you’ve learned all that in only two months, your learning curse is pretty good! Good luck over the next two… I could handle the wind and the rain and the bears, and I’ve lived places with erratic public transportation, but the lack of sun during winter time would be a serious problem for my soul.

    • 11/01/2010 07:43

      Curve, I meant curve.

      • 11/03/2010 10:31

        Nice Freudian slip. I do have a learning curse. Only it involves math… and not being able to learn it at all. 😉

        I’m getting nervous about the dark rainy winter. Luckily Juneau is pretty far south and we will still get plenty of daylight compared to the more northern latitudes in AK.

  7. Dot permalink
    11/01/2010 10:29

    love the “ephemeral masterpiece’, it also could be a performance or installation piece that is ongoing….Ho appropriate that a runner makes artwork that moves–or doesn’t remain still for very long. Great textures and imagery from Alaska, very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

    • 11/03/2010 10:37

      I like that insightful interpretation! The textures and imagery are very unlike anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Juneau/Southeast is a very soggy, cloudy, cozy place with beaches and channels all nestled between the mountains. There is certainly a dreamlike quality to the entire place.

      Well, except when you get caught outside without your rainpants in the sideways precipitation. 🙂

  8. 11/01/2010 10:59

    Haha “Alaskan and Proud,” that’s great!

  9. 11/02/2010 01:37

    You’re talking just like a local. Can’t help with the life-transition question, but having been to Vancouver I now know ephemeral rock sculpture is popular at Stanley Park. Yes, that’s Canada, but I’m thinking people up in that neck of the woods have an appreciation for public art and human endeavour.

    I now know a little more about Alaska. More than I learned from Northern Exposure. I also know after seeing this video that training up there in winter turns one into a bad-ass runner.

  10. 11/02/2010 15:45

    Love this post! I totally agree its interesting how quickly we can adapt to a new environment. But yikes that bear! I would have freaked.

  11. Greg permalink
    01/02/2013 17:43

    what kind of spruce? im trying to identify some local trees with almost identical bark

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