Monday, May 10, 2010

Other places

They found a few places. More than a few, really. All of them were something you'd mark in a guidebook to dream about. The Louvre, Big Ben, The Parthanon. Alaska had its own natural equivalents and some minor ones. Even just a trip downtown was a glance at something magnificent. They chose many of these to see, even in the long cold Winter they had landed in. They didn't know that there were sometimes dead bodies hiding around the corner from the ice sculptures, and that opportunity was a depressed madame from Fairbanks who doled out loads of cash but presented them with a dark catch. Cruelty, boredom, mediocrity. They immediately started in on projects that would replace the creative holes in their still humid Southern hearts; well, Ben and Theresa did, Alex went to his new preschool and blissfully made friends. It was lonesome to pick him up at 5:15 in the pitch dark, not seeing daylight with him at all, facing the hour (sometimes hour and a half) trip together back to the town where they were still staying with friends.

One of the places they found was the museum, large and filled with natural cold pockets that rushed in from the icy street. There were balene boats and stuffed moose and dioramas that fascinated Alex. Theresa always felt at home in a museum so it was a small refuge.

Another thing that brought them the stimulation they craved was a row of parks downtown that were filled with art installations made of ice: ice labyrinths, ice busts of men on poles (a Northern homage to Vlad the Impaler?), cars trapped beneath thousands of gallons of ice. They stared and half-smiled at the multi-colored lights shining through the sculptures and vaguely worried that Alex would run too fast and slip and fall. They felt protected somehow, all the signs from when they were questioning their move focusing onto a pinpoint. It was new and novel and perfect. They loved new and novel like they would have loved a second child.

One more place (and of course there were so many in those first three months!) was an Alpine tundra heaven called Hatcher Pass. It cut its swath through the mountains and hid an abandoned gold mine and soggy muskeg beneath its twenty feet of perfect white snow. On certain days when the sky was periwinkle it stood in perfect contrast to the impossibly high white mountains and they wanted to stay until it got pitch dark; but they didn't have warm lodging, the one inn they could afford was closed in the Winter, so they drove back to civilization and held pictures in their minds of huge moons and mountain goats and what they thought might be hidden underneath all that snow. In the summer they would pick blueberries and gorge themselves on them like grizzlies but now that was still a mystery, an eternity away.

It was frightening, too. They had to cross an icy bridge on the way to and from the city, and one evening on the way home their van was lifted in the high winds off of the bridge, and Alex grew silent as Theresa screamed like someone around his own age. Her scream collapsed into racking sobs and she muttered, "Can't do it anymore, can't do this anymore...". They made it back alive of course, but the basement they were living in had flooded, and what little they had brought with them from the South was now sitting in a small lake, and was beginning to smell of mildew. The winds were Chinook winds, warm but destructive, and snow was breaking off and melting at an alarming rate.

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