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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?