For some reason a baby’s life isn’t measured in years until it’s more than 24 months old. A mother will say, “Oh, thank you, she’s 15 months.” Or, “He started walking at 13 months.” Prompting me to to try to do the math in my head. Okay, 13 months is easy, but I seem to have trouble with anything over 15, often relying on my fingers to count backward from 24 or forward from 12.
Like Mothers Day, I never really understood the concept behind the practice. In the case of Mothers Day, I always thought I should be celebrating my mom, but in this holiday happy America, I’m going out to buy cards and flowers for grandma, mom, wife and mother-in-law. But I digress. By way of monthing babies, I never really understood why a 12-month-old cannot simply be a yearling until it no longer is.
After spending a year-and-a-half in Alaska, I think I at least understand the latter, never the former.
And so we’ve reached the 18-month point in the infancy of our Alaska adventure. I can say with conviction that I have not just come to Anchorage, the other Alaska. Sure, I live within its boundaries, but I’ve traveled to the wet and windblown Aleutians, the frigid Arctic, the rolling interior and the ruggedly beautiful Southeast.
Words are useless descriptions for the parts that make up Alaska. Grandiose isn’t a big enough word for never ending lands and waters of the 49th state.
I missed the glory years of uncle Ted and the pork barrel political system that established the simple, yet effective infrastructure of this state. But I’ve now seen two sessions of the Alaska State Legislature, and two special sessions, if you can call them that without smiling.
I’ve met the celebrities, unfortunately. And I’ve met the unsung heros, the teams of Alaskan huskies that travel not just the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail but the thousands of miles of the Alaska almost no one sees.
I stare out at Denali every clear day, and on cloudy days, I know The High One is always there, wreathed in clouds of its own making.
A year and a half is not enough time to have experienced all of this. No, not the time but the measurement. That’s why they say a baby is 18 months. Because it’s not just a year, it’s 18 of something. It’s 18 months of changing diapers, 18 months of sleepless nights and midnight feedings. You don’t measure that in the tiny space of a year. You give it some weight.
It’s the same with living in Alaska. You don’t live here for a year and a half, you live here for 18 months over two winters, one of which broke all the snow records. You don’t spend a year in Alaska like you spend a year in Italy. It’s not the Grand Tour, except it is, grander than any stay in Rome or Venice, its works of arts just as grand and much, much older.
You move anywhere in the Lower 48, and you have the same road signs, the same television schedule, the same triple A baseball teams. For every hour you drive, you’ll find a McDonald’s an Arby’s and a Wendy’s. In Alaska, you drive 15 minutes in any direction, and you have a new vista that will take your breath away. It’s a proliferate landscape hardly full, but full enough of diffuse people.
The last place I lived where I counted the hard years was Hawaii. It was not measured in months but the total time we spent there.
Alaska at 18 months is as much a mystery to me today as it was when I could only imagine it. When I dreamed of fishing its rivers and seas, of flying its mountain flanks and traversing its trails.
It’s a dysfunctional family you can’t give up on, which is the only reason I can possibly give to the fact that the legislators still have jobs. A dream of gold replaced by oil by hard wishers and the romantically hopeful.
A resource-rich wasteland with magical views and two seasons.
You don’t measure Alaska in miles or in years spent, until you’ve been here 30 years and traveled more miles in a month than the average American travels in 10 years.
Bring on the terrible twos.