I am horrified.
There is the strong sense that I could be wrong. I run down the menu with what I can and cannot eat. I distract my nerves with a glass of Angelique Cabernet Franc, a necessary indulgence. I am hell bent on proving friends wrong that indeed I can have a foodie life on my diet, and Portland, a perpetual self-inflicted culinary orgasm should be the perfect place to do this. However… at the Aviary while the food is pretentious in description and reeks of cleanliness in design, there is a generous weight on cream, breading, and a scandalized love affair with cheese. Shit.
A few generous sips later, resolved, I order the tempura green beans. The breading is a rice flour, somewhat forgivable. Now for the other reason I am here.
I start again.
It is January 11th, a little past five-thirty in the evening, and my career as a National Park Ranger, has come to a close, at least for now. I am celebrating. I am mourning. I am musing.
In my journal, I am creating a list of what I learned in the last five years. It’s funny, at least to me, the first item on the list is How to climb a rope ladder. Even though, throughout the course of the last five years, I came terms with my identity, my sensitivity, and discovered who I was, and yet, the first item that pops in my head, is that I learned how to climb a rope ladder. Maybe it’s because that the sensational thing to say or maybe it’s because I am trying to avoid the obvious sentimental side of my nature. Either way, the truth is I can climb a rope ladder on a moving cruise ship, dangled over some of the most dangerous waters in the world. I, a former suburban couch potato, began my adventure with that act. In hindsight, and to connect those two thoughts, I think, by pushing myself physically, I was preparing myself for the emotional battle that lay ahead in the coming years.
Following on the list: Love exists in different forms, but mostly as a song sung by your fingers. This is important too. This is what the public didn’t see, at least at first. The hands love, the hands sing. I stumble in my thoughts. I sip the wine, ignoring the pain in my chest, and try to gracefully get a long green bean in my mouth. I am unsuccessful and their cold sweat sauce smears my beard. Sigh. I hope the cute blond next to me does not notice.
In Alaska, I learned how to listen to the light, that if you jump on a frozen lake it sings back, how to look at my feet to see what’s above and that my head is 7 ¼ inch long oval. I also learned my mom is human. When she visited Alaska, she reminded me that these sanctuaries, these places I have chosen to live are quiet; the places between the beats of your heart, this she said when she was human, and not my mother. She said it again when I chose to leave.
I learned community is not place, but people, that glaciers are flowing rivers of ice, and how to make blueberry jam. But most of all I learned to kiss. I learned who I am— I am a gift to this world.
I take a break from listing, and give over to the sentiments of wine and write a love letter to Alaska, and one of advice to the future owner of the journal.
Places can break your heart. They can heal. They can teach if you listen- if you’re brave. If you can climb that rope ladder, the ship will take you all the way to a place where the heart first learns to sing. This I learned. I raise my glass, alone and not alone, and silently I say goodbye.
My friends have arrived, and I am quickly distracted by the sundries and tipsy enough to comment on the cursive of the cute blond sitting next to me, which leads me down a rabbit hole, where I learn that he is a singer/songwriter for the local band Brainstorm which specializes in African guitar music? Am I flirting? My friend immediately becomes interested in the contents of her purse, while I fluster through a conversation. I never get his name. The evening calls and I leave with my friends. I wonder what he was writing in his journal. I wonder if he wondered about mine. There is that, I suppose.