Near the end of a year that began chronically stressed and dysfunctional in Juneau Alaska and closed with my Mountain Boy, Jamie and I unexpectedly back full circle where we had started in Tennessee, I find myself with mixed feelings about 2011.
I spent some time this afternoon, on a cold and drizzling and grey day looking back over blog posts from this past year.
It has been a messy and hectic year.
Actually a messy and hectic two years.
We have lived in three states in 2011 - Alaska, Wyoming and Tennessee.
When we left Juneau on the ferry that would take us to Bellingham Washington we left Alaska numb, exhausted, directionless.
And now here we are at the end of the year back in our home in Tennesee, reconnecting with our grown children, reconnecting with what was once our familiar and stable lives in the south, finally settling.
There will likely be a few blog posts such as this one, which contains pictures of some of the "special" that we saw along the way this year.
There was a lot of special.
In retrospect we saw much that was beautiful, much that I am so very glad that we saw, much that we likely would never have seen if we had not dared to make a huge move to Alaska.
I am sorry to be gone from Alaska because I miss it very much.
But I did get a chance to live in Alaska. And Wyoming. And not everyone gets that chance..............
The picture above was taken at sunset at Statter Harbor in Auke Bay Alaska, about 15 miles outside of Juneau.
I passed the harbor twice every day on the way to and from work and in almost 14 months never got tired of looking out across the channel as I was driving by.
Looking to see what the sky was doing, what the water was doing, whether or not the mountains were "out".
I also stopped at the harbor often, usually on the way home, using the slow moving rhythm of the water and the boats as a way to decompress from what were always chaotic and busy days at work.
There was a small restaurant at one end of the parking lot that was open during the Summer and LC and I ate there frequently while sitting at the chairs and tables that were set up outside.
LC and I walked the piers often, me taking pictures of the boats and people, both of us looking out over the channel and mountains while quietly talking.
This sunset picture was taken in January as I was in a rush after work to get to the gym at the UAS student recreation center.
I stopped briefly to take pictures at Auke Lake and as I finally approached Auke Bay looked out over the channel and was suddenly pulled out of my introspection about work and my hard-charging "must get to my workout" mode when I saw the red sky.
It was stunning.
I had seen lovely sunsets since arriving in Juneau but this one was different.
The sky was on fire and the world was filled with a dramatic combination of color and shadow.
I took this and many other pictures of one of the loveliest sunsets I had ever seen from the small gas station slash convenience store slash liquor store located at the top of the hill, stupidly electing to not go down to the water because I was in a hurry to find a stair climber in a gym.
A beautiful beautiful place regardless of the time of day and regardless of the weather.................
I visited Mendenhall Glacer while up in Juneau for my interviews in November 2009, again within an hour of my plane landing at the airport when I moved up to Juneau and many many (many) times before we left Alaska.
This glacier is (rightfully so) world famous because it is both extremely dramatic and beautiful but also accessible.
It is visible from the parking lot and easy to walk almost right up to.
There is a small and sandy beach adjacent to the glacier along with a huge and amazing waterfall that drops noisily and beautifully down into Mendenhall Lake.
I visited this glacier during all seasons, during all weather, during the day and in the evening, mostly alone but sometimes also with LC and Jamie.
I walked back country trails with a short-term room-mate I had for a while when I first moved to Juneau.
And I walked shorter, flat and friendly trails closer to the parking area.
There is a trail that parallels the glacier and the glacier is visible even as the challenging trail climbs steeply.
At the peak of the trail I stood on a wonderfully blue and crisp day, looked out over the glacier from on high and then saw for the very first time a portion of the ice field that extended on forever behind it.
This particular picture was taken in January or February of this year.
Walkers and skaters and even mountain bikers were engrossed in their activities on the frozen lake.
The glacier was blue as it is so often on cloudy days.................
You could see Eagle Beach from the Boy Scout Trails and you could see the Boy Scout Trails from Eagle Beach.
They were side by side with only a small and always freezing and fast moving creek separating the two.
Located about 25 miles outside of Juneau these places were close to the Unabomber Cabin where we lived and was without a doubt both LCs and my favorite places in Juneau.
Endless numbers and types of birds, mountains so beautiful they would leave you speechless, pine trees and bears and fish and sandy beach and seals and otters and wildflowers in the Summer.
The most gorgeous place I could ever imagine or ever hope to see.
I remember standing at Eagle Beach looking across the stream at the mountains and wondering how I could ever leave this place.
A place so beautiful it could make you cry...................
By the time we found ourselves in Kalispell Montana LC and I were unable to slow down because our brains were moving so fast.
Moving so fast that we could not even keep up with them.
We did not want to live in Kalispell and so explored during day trips further north, putting additional strain on our overloaded truck.
Concern for overloaded trucks just put more strain on our overloaded brains.
When you decide that you can pick anywhere in the country to live - anywhere at all - where do you even start?
We needed to slow down but neither one of us were able or capable of doing that at that point in time and so we drove and looked and drove some more.
Constantly moving because we couldn't stop.
Northern Montana was very lovely and reminded me very much of Alaska.
Words fail when trying to describe exactly how we both felt at that point.
I had worked so hard. Tried so hard. Fought so hard. I was exhausted and completely demoralized.
And a man with a military and law enforcement background, a man who was used to solving problems, had been compelled to watch helplessly from the sidelines while the world closed in around me in Juneau.
He was exhausted as well.
Small, isolated, financially hurting and depressed northern Montana towns did not seem to be the answer to the question "where?"
But as I stood looking out over this mountain range in Northern Montana, and then looked back at my Mountain Boy and my puppy waiting for me in the truck with its overloaded bed that was completely covered by tarps, I did not feel like I knew the answer to anything at all.
I just knew at that very moment while standing in the sun and in the snow, that this mountain range reminded of Alaska and I missed it..................
A week later we were in Cody Wyoming.
As we drove closer and closer to Cody my heart sank as I looked around at the treeless, snowless, desolate, monochromatic beige of the landscape.
We pulled onto the main street in Cody, climbed out of our trucks and I looked at LC doubtfully.
"It looks like the Afghan-Pakistan border region."
He looked doubtfully at me as well and I knew that LC had been thinking much the same thing.
We had booked a lovely off-season cottage for a month, booking it even before we left Montana because we both realized that we needed to stop.
After the narrow streets of Juneau the wide open streets of Cody were welcome.
Not because I hated the narrow streets but because I needed space.
Metaphorically and physically I needed space.
Space to breathe, to think.
Looking at the endless and uninterrupted beige terrain around me I also knew that Yellowstone was only 50 miles away, and had suspicions that the beige would disappear not too far outside of Cody.
Shoshone National Forest is beautiful and extensive and filled with rivers and streams and pine trees and mountains, and in the Winter untold numbers of animals that drop down out of the mountains to graze.
This was the very first big horn sheep I had ever seen and I saw him about 15 miles from Cody.
On that day, and on many late Winter and Spring days we continued to drive out to the national forest and saw more sheep, buffalo, deer, antelope and elk.
It was a place filled with natural wonder and I was in wonderment...............
While at the rental cottage LC and I found a small house to rent only a few miles from Cody.
It was very small and fairly cheap.
A clean and unadorned lunch-box sized home that was basic housing in the most real sense of the word.
Most importantly BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land was right outside the front door.
Endless acres of public lands to walk and bike and explore.
Room to breathe.
The old woman who lived next door received free rent in exchange for caring for the handful of horses that belonged to the owner of both properties.
The woman owned one horse named Dixie (the adult in this picture).
Even though there was still snow falling irregularly in April this baby boy was born to Dixie on a warm and sunny afternoon.
I had seen other animals delivered before but never a horse and I watched intently as Dixie gave birth to this little guy with the long legs.
In this picture Petey is about one hour old, and over the course of months LC and I watched him begin to grow and fill out and become the high kicking and spunky little boy that he was................
The East Gate of Yellowstone National Park was supposed to open early in May but was delayed first because of unusually high levels of snow in the passes and then because of the threat of avalanches and mudslides in those same passes.
On one more drive through Shoshone National Forest we eventually found our way (again) to the East Gate in mid May and were disappointed to find that the gates were still closed.
On the way back to Cody LC and I on the spur of the moment, pulled off the highway when we saw a sign for something called Wayfarers Chapel.
We had both expected to find a small rustic church in the mountains but delightfully found a beautiful outdoor chapel instead.
Not long after we arrived at the chapel I looked up and saw this elk.
About forty feet from me she was alone, was not injured, and although curious and watchful of us she did not seem to be alarmed.
LC and Jamie were behind me.
I did not turn to look at them because I was afraid to take my eyes off the elk.
Very very slowly I lifted my camera and snapped a picture of her, took a step towards her, snapped another picture, all the while certain that she would run away into the woods and disappear at any moment.
But she didn't.
I was stunned and so very pleased, and kept slowly walking towards her one step at a time.
When I was closer to her than I thought I would ever be able to get she turned and trotted off towards the woods.
Standing in place I continued to follow her with my camera, taking as many pictures as my camera could handle.
When the elk began to move away from us I again assumed that this very sweet and very beautiful large elk would simply disappear into the woods.
Instead, as she reached a section of the trees she stopped and turned to look at me again.
As I watched her I realized something that was really interesting.
Her head was hidden in the trees but her body was still completely exposed and out in the open, and every once in a while she would pull her head up out of the trees to look at me.
As she did that I realized that this elk really thought that she was invisible to me.
Since she could not see me she thought that I could not see her either.
A few minutes of this and she finally headed back into the woods for good.
I turned finally to look at LC and we both laughed.
Both of us completely delighted at our hugely unexpected and wonderful encounter with a wild animal............
In mid June LC, James and I headed up to first the small ski resort town of Red Lodge Montana, and then continued beyond Red Lodge curious and eager to visit the so-famous Beartooth Highway.
We knew that the high levels of snow throughout the entire region had put all park and mountain highway openings behind schedule and so we also knew that even in mid June there would still be snow up in the mountains we would be traveling.
But neither one of us were prepared for what we saw during that trip on the Beartooth.
Snow skiers, snow parasailers, snow mobilers and tobogganers.
A barren landscape completely and absolutely covered in snow.
A recently plowed highway with 25 foot snow banks immediately on both sides of the winding, switchback filled paved road.
Neither one of us could believe that we were seeing snowbanks so high that they towered over the vehicles in mid June.
Thankfully we brought jackets with us when we left the warmth of Cody but did not really think that we would need them.
We saw tourists who were unprepared for such conditions and laughed in sympathy at the shorts and t-shirt clad folks as they smiled gamely for the cameras while they posed next to signs in the cold wind.
A long and extraordinary experience that LC and I will never forget.....................
And finally three pictures of one of our trips to Yellowstone in late May and early June..............
This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. You can waste it or use it for good. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something that you have left behind...let it be something good..............Author Unknown