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This was what Hannah missed. Cool windy days in summer. Walks along the beach scattered with rocks, the occasional lava stones, seaweed and starfish. Seals and otters spying them on the shore and curiously watching as she walked with her dog. The fuchsia of fireweed come fall. Colors dancing along the ground against a backdrop of deep green spruce. Termination dust, the first snow to coat the mountains. Moonlight on the snow. Northern lights making a show late in the night. The curious quiet of winter when the snow muffled all sounds. The muted crunch of snow under boots. The bite of winter air and breath of wood smoke. Stars bright and bare against the sky.
Hannah recalled the night she arrived in Alaska well. She was 8 and wide awake despite having flown for over 12 hours from North Carolina. The lights of the town glittered ahead in the dark sky. Hannah leaned her forehead against the plane window and watched as the black night gradually filled with tiny lights. Hannah thought they must have been over forests and mountains for hours because she had seen nothing but darkness for as long. She peered down at the lights as the plane flew lower and the lights came close enough for her to see reflections on the water. Hannah knew the water must be the ocean for the town they were flying to, Spruce Creek, lay along the shores of Kachemak Bay. Hannah watched as the lights shaped a town in darkness for her, she saw the streets curving up hillsides and winding along the ocean. She could see what she guessed to be the downtown. A few neon signs shone boldly in the night. They appeared awkward in such a remote area, but they were easy to read, even from the plane. Hannah didn’t know if she should be comforted or offended that there was a McDonald’s.
The hum of the plane was strangely soothing. The runway shone out in the night, the lights inviting the plane down. As they landed, the tiny plane bounced and rumbled. The whir of the motors grew louder. Hannah would forever associate that particular sound with Alaskan nights. It heralded their arrival. She worried about arriving in the dark and cold. The plane felt warm and safe. She wanted to stay. Her mother hustled about getting their bags out of bins and shaking Hannah’s father awake. They clattered down the plane stairs and hurried across the cold landing area to the airport, if you could call it that. Small and utilitarian, the baggage area held about ten bags slid through by hand. There was one car rental place, staffed even past midnight.
Hannah remembered sitting in the car as they rolled slowly out of the parking lot. She heard the distinct sound of tires rolling over snow packed roads. Hannah’s memories of the rest of the night were vague. She recalled being covered in a heavy quilt some time later and then awakening to bright sun. Twenty-two years later, she remembered her first look out the window. She’d stared out at the mountains they’d flown over in the dark. Snow covered peaks stood stark against a bright blue sky. Deep green spruce trees dusted with snow were scattered across the view. Sun shone against the ocean bay, and Hannah had watched the wind whip waves along the water.
Hannah sighed and looked out of her apartment window. She was probably 4000 miles, give or take, away from Alaska. Her view here was of a coffee shop across the street. She lived in a small town in Western Massachusetts. The town’s main street was picturesque in its quaint charm, but it lacked the wild sense of Spruce Creek. After arriving in Spruce Creek, her parents had remained there, so the rest of Hannah’s childhood was spent in Alaska. Graduate school led her to Massachusetts. Just as she was finishing up her degree, the news came that her parents had died in a plane crash in rural Alaska. That was 6 years prior, and Hannah had yet to return to Alaska.