You know those goals that seem frighteningly out of reach for SO LONG, and then suddenly are right on your doorstep? Well, a couple of weeks ago I had one of those moments as I graduated with my M.S. in Environmental Ethnography from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
|Graduation with my advisor, Dr. Philip A Loring|
When I made the decision to attend graduate school, I knew that it would seriously limit my out-of-Alaska (or “going outside” as Alaskans say) travel opportunities for a few years. I was very fortunate during the course of my masters program to be able to frequently travel around Alaska, particularly the Kenai Peninsula, and was treated to a few trips “outside” as well (such as to the RNC last August). However, that yearning to stretch my legs and plan a new trip was powerful, especially over the seemingly endless winter Fairbanks experienced.
So, over the course of the spring semester, I began to plan a road trip that would achieve several goals:
1. Let me get out of Alaska (and this endless winter)
2. Let me see things and visit places that have great intrigue for me
3. Visit family I haven’t seen in ages
and, most importantly:
4. Relax and enjoy some vacation time without obligations or any major concerns
This last one was especially important because, quite frankly, I am bad at transitions. I tend to feel adrift without hard goals and something to focus on, and I knew that I was entering a period of transition as I finished my masters degree (yay!), but was still awaiting a final invite from Peace Corps (boo). As readers of this blog are aware, I love travel and moving and discovery, and so felt that the best way to transition was to get myself out doing something I love.
Thus, my road trip plans were born. I was fortunate to have my friends Adrienne and Mariah who, originally, both planned to make the trip from Fairbanks to southern Idaho with me. Sadly, Mariah wasn’t able to make it in the end, so Adrienne and I both graduated May 12th, and left Fairbanks May 13th, bound for Canada.
|I reflexively duck when I drive over a covered bridge. Same
low-ceiling parking garages.
Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, BC (Day 1)
Whitehorse, BC to Liard Hot Springs, BC (Day 2)
Liard Hot Springs, BC to Jasper National Park (Day 3)
Jasper National Park to Banff National Park (Day 4)
Banff National Park to Yellowstone National Park (Day 5, 6, and 7)
Yellowstone National Park to Salt Lake City (Day 8)
From this point, Adrienne would need to fly home to work, and so I would continue on alone. You’ll note that the travel days become less concrete, mostly due to visiting with family and not being entirely sure how long each stay would be. Additionally, I made plans to visit family for a special project I have long wanted to work on (more about that in a moment), and so the communities in which they reside are scattered in amongst park visits. Have I mentioned that I love national parks? Anyhow, after a fond farewell to Adrienne, I would go from:
Salt Lake City to Zion National Park (Day 9 and 10)
Zion National Park to Grand Escalante National Monument (Day 11)
Grand Escalante National Monument to Grand Canyon National Park (Day 12)
Grand Canyon National Park to Santa Monica, California (Day 13, 14, and 15)
Santa Monica, California to Santa Barbara, California (variable days)
Santa Barbara, California to Yosemite National Park (2 days)
Yosemite National Park to Aptos, California (variable days)
Aptos, California to Redwood National Park (1-2 days)
Redwood National Park to Crater Lake National Park (1-2 days)
Crater Lake National Park to Portland, Oregon (variable days)
Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington (variable days)
Vancouver, Washington to Tacoma, Washington (variable days)
Tacoma, Washington to Whistler, BC (1 day)
Whistler, BC to Vancouver, BC (2-3 days)
Vancouver, BC to Wasilla, Alaska (3 days)
All in all, about 10,000 miles of travel (give or take a few hundred miles), visits with all of my parent’s siblings, and a chance for me to see many, many things that I’ve long wanted to see. A huge impetus for the trip, as I mentioned, was to see family (including some new, young cousins that I had yet to meet) and to work on a project that has been brewing in my mind since last summer. During my masters work, I was able to interview many fishermen about their livelihoods and come to understand how they wrap up their personal identity in their fishing activities. During those interviews, I was able to record both my father and uncle talking about their work. I realized that during the interview, I was hearing stories and seeing sides of them that I had never been privy to before, and it sparked the idea to record the oral life history of all my aunts and uncles, and comb through family photos to scan and digitize them. I had learned through my research that allowing someone the time and attention to describe their own life as they perceive it to have occurred is a very powerful window in their past, and something that may help future generations (and perhaps current ones) appreciate them for who they were rather than who we saw them to be.
My goals for this project were varied, but it came down to me being the family member with the time, means, and desire to learn about our family history, cobble together pieces of family tree held by different siblings, and create a more complete catalog of stories, photos, and other mementos. My hope is that someday, younger generations on both sides of my family will take up a similar interest in our heritage and come knocking, and I might pass all I have collected and learned onto another generation. Without this project, it’s possible that much of our family stories and details will die with the baby-boomer generation.
With all this in mind, my next few posts will detail the legs of my trip and my experience getting to know my family as an adult and becoming the carrier of stories and memories for my generation.