Prologue from The Call of the Last Frontier
I am alone on a beach in Alaska. I have been isolated here for eighteen months and might as well be on another planet. It is wintertime, and a storm is blowing mist off the Bering Sea waves as they crash onto the black sand at my feet. I cradle my frozen self and stare out across the endless white caps of the angry sea. My coat is soaked, but I don’t care. I know people are out there, I remind myself, for all the good they will do me here.
Memories from my childhood in Detroit surface, and I leave this sandy spit for the busy city streets, if only in my imagination. I remember the hustle of people along the city sidewalks and the conversations heard as people pass by, hurrying to their destinations. I picture myself standing on a busy street corner with the smell of fresh wet pavement and the sound of water splashing under the tires. A sprinkle of spring rain touches my face and then I am pulled back to my reality. Thick Alaskan raindrops painfully pelt my tender skin as the wind picks up. Cold rain runs down my bright red cheeks, and the sting shifts to a freezing numbness. My tongue licks the ocean’s salty mist from my lips.
A rusty blue Suburban sits on a dune in the distance, overlooking the beach from a primitive road. My family awaits my return, watching the storm’s action from the warmth of the old school vehicle. No one else ventured out today.
“Come out of the storm!” The raging waves and wind drown out my husband’s voice. He is becoming impatient and worried as I stand in the furious wind. He hollers to me. “You’re soaked. Let’s go!”
I steal another moment of solitude. Efforts to transplant myself back to Detroit fail. I face the turbulent sea before me. Not a soul is in sight; I feel so alone on this spit. How did I end up here of all places? I feel stuck, helpless to change my circumstances. The tiny Aleut village of thirty winter residents is a mile down the black sand road. I seldom see any of them. Only nine school-aged children cross my path daily.
The creak of the rusty Suburban door is lost in the ferocious wind. My husband’s voice radiates across the beach as he steps out into the storm. “Come on!” He is worried about me. Am I losing my grip as he did last winter? He recognizes the signs of cabin fever.
As I turn my back to the sea, the wind presses my red coat against my body. Rain peppers my backside, drenching my remaining dry spots as I work my way back down the beach and climb the hill to my waiting family. They are all I have out here. We spend every waking hour together, and yet my loneliness reaches to the depths of my soul at times.
When you live in a city like Detroit, it’s hard to believe there is a place like this. When you live in a place like this, it’s hard to believe there is a city like Detroit.
– Melissa L. Cook, 1996
Other Posts on Challenges of Living in Remote Alaska
An Alaskan Thanksgiving – Stocking the pantry in remote Alaska
My Alaska Romance – Who Knew? – Recognizing my love-hate relationship with bush Alaska