Place can be so powerful, right? Don’t you have at least one place that strikes you with each visit? You’ve heard this phrase: no matter where you go, there you are-typically during a lecture about why or how you’re trying to hide from your problems, but I believe that each of us has found places that ARE magical for our soul. Healing in that they help us problem solve, grow, or reflect. Maybe a placemance can only happen when you go there at the right time, without a plan or without thinking about it being the solution to your problems. Maybe it can only happen when you are ready to be yourself, hoping to experience all it has to offer, just like a relationship with another person. But when I reflect about my placemances, I have to admit that none of them have ever happened when I’ve been satisfied with myself and life; they simply blew me away at a time when I needed it.
I’ve spoken to others about the idea of these love affairs with place and it seems to me that everyone has at least one that they return to again and again. Sometimes, it’s where they grew up, but sometimes, it’s just this hole in a country that no one has heard of-ever. Sometimes, it’s a trail nearby or a water hole a few towns away. Then there is that guy who can’t stop talking about an entire country that he can’t get out of his system; he lives to figure out how to keep returning to it, until he can finally move there.
I have a couple of placemances from my life thus far, including parks nearby where I live now and Crete, Greece, but my infatuation with Fairbanks, Alaska is way up there. There will always be a spot for Fairbanks. For those of you who haven’t heard of Fairbanks, no one would be surprised. It’s in the interior of Alaska, and only a select type of humans live there year around. At least on purpose. I remember the day that I first stepped ground into Fairbanks, which also happened to be my first time to Alaska. When my plane landed on that tarmac in 1995, I had no idea what I was doing; I was a bit lost actually. Fairbanks would become one of my best placemances that I would grow, cherish, and nurture.
This was me upon arrival: I was a senior in college, for degree #1, but on year 6 for trying to finish it. I was “recovering” from a break-up with one of the true loves of my life. I was broke. I had no real direction when it came to jobs after graduating and I don’t think I really even wanted to figure that out just yet. I was slacking on my hobbies and the things that help me to cope. Basically, I was in some sort of denial stage and didn’t recognize that. I went there because I was accepted into an exchange program that offered cheap out-of-state college options. All I had to do was write an essay. I simply was trying to roll with life and going up north sounded like a good idea.
Anyone who loves Fairbanks should be questioned. On the surface, it can seem like the worst place to live because as a town, it isn’t very pretty. Loaded with poorly planned strip malls, it sprawls with neglected looking buildings and the new ones look missplaced. In the summer, it’s very dusty and in the winter, it is inhumanely cold. It’s hard to go anywhere without taking 5 days off to get there, nevermind the cost of that. There is only one brewery, and it isn’t the best one in the state. It should be because living there in the winter earns you a minimum of several good beers per day. The professional opportunities are limiting. There are people there who don’t want to be around people and are really upset that you’re there. The skiing sucks. Well, maybe it doesn’t suck, but it is only for one type of person who is going a bit cabin crazy, and has to get outside even though it’s -20. If you’re into guys, you also have to really love carhartts and plaid-flannel shirts (I loathe both, but have created this idea in my mind that it is just the AK men club mentality and has nothing to do with the interior package) because that is the thing that men there where most of the time. If you’re into girls, the fashion is also very limiting and there is a small group who tries to maintain some sort of feminist quality with their wardrobe. I could go on-the list of things going against Fairbanks is pretty extensive.
But, once you look a little closer and dig a little deeper, it’s beautiful. The kind of beauty that most places are jealous of, and most people never find. The rolling hills and the domes, the pop of the fall colors, the best bonfires, magical ice art, and hot springs. Little gems like the Wolf Run Dessert house. It also has this area called the Goldstream Valley, which is considered a favorite section to homestead in for the locals. The hiking there is inspiring, just like many places, but there, you can really see the open land of the state for miles and miles. It is chock full of both landscape awe and people of the pure kind. There, I have found some of my favorite on this planet and I don’t believe that several of them being in Fairbanks at the same time was an accident. I know now that I was supposed to meet all of them.
My very first home in Fairbanks, Alaska was the large Fox Hollow cabin off Miller Hill Rd. that is still there today. I recently got to go there again. In all honesty, it’s a neglected structure that could burn down any moment, but it has more heart than anywhere else I’ve lived. The minute I walked into that place, I just knew I was home, and eventually, I fell in love with Fairbanks. Staying there meant terrible sleep patterns combined with stoking the wood stove on your shift; otherwise, everyone in the cabin would freeze. There were many nights when we did freeze because figuring out that stove really was rocket science. It meant I had to chop wood and being from Georgia, just saying that is comical. It meant I had to haul water-often. Going to the bathroom was always a challenge in the middle of the night because I had to go down a ladder from my loft, and then down a seriously sketchy set of stairs that usually had ice on them. This is where my clumsiness would win the battle. I had no land line phone, and this was back when no one had cell phones. The driveway leading to the cabin was full of crater-like potholes (and still is to this day) and my Buick taught me some real hard lessons about how to get unstuck in both snow and mud. The mud was way worse. But, it also meant amazing star and aurora gazing on the back deck with hardly any bugs, staring into the wood stove, cozy nights with mouth-watering dinners, the sound of nature 24/7, some of the best sleep you could ever have when you met your fire stoking shifts, seeing your friends in a really happy state unlike any other, and just this satisfaction that you finally are getting something right.
I think part of me was just trying to prove to myself that I could live simply, but the other part of me was doing it because that’s what a lot of people do there, especially in the initial years. It’s this novelty that wares off after a while, but in the midst of living there, I learned more and more how to be grounded with those surroundings and that type of living. The peace that you can have out in the woods is irreplaceable-this is why people bust their bodies going backpacking and climbing-but it’s even better when you can live in them. When people talk about their favorite trail or place in the woods, they always smile. This is me talking about that cabin.
Today, I got a posting from a group I’m following called the Inca Rally. One day, I’ll try to write about them, but today, they posted this: “GO at least once a year to a place you have never been before.” I don’t know if I believe in the concept of soul mates, but I do believe that places can bring us to amazing resolutions about who we are. I do believe that some places are the perfect connections to our soul. So, cheers to that! Cheers to getting out there, and finding our placemances, and working on them just like we must with our relationships. I’m sure they happen for all sorts of reasons. The beautiful thing about them is that you really don’t have to travel far to find them-any type of person can develop a placemance, and be a better person because of it. Whether you go to Southeast Asia this year because it has been on your bucket list, or go hiking on some new trail, do it. You have another chance at a great placemance, at finding somewhere that makes you a real healer for yourself, and in my book, that can give you a better reason to get out of bed tomorrow.
This is what is called no regrets.