All too Surreal
Most of my day was spent flying, from Seattle to Anchorage I was in a standard commercial airline plane but the plane I took from Anchorage to Homer was unlike any plane I had ever been in before. It was small, red, and had two rows of single metal seats. I could see my pilot and his view out of the plane. I had made friends with a kind elderly woman named Pearl while waiting to board, and she sat across from me telling me what views would be the best. As our plane took off I was surprised by the amount of noise, I could hear and see the propellers of the plane. I wanted to share my excitement with Pearl but there was no way to catch her attention. The flight was short, and as I entered the Homer airport I was blown away by its size, much smaller than the Anchorage one. It was just one room with a check in, and a small baggage claim. I started to feel a little culture shock, “So this is Alaska,” I thought, but I had no idea what Alaska consisted of at that point.
Colin handed me a bouquet of wild Alaskan flowers as he picked me up to take me to The Two Sister’s Bakery. The moment I stepped out of the airport, I was overtaken by the freshness of the air. At the bakery I got just a lemon cupcake, because my nerves had my stomach in knots. It hadn’t sunk in yet exactly where I was. We made it to the harbor where I met Marian, the owner of The Saltry, for the first time. She was frantic and brief in our introduction because she was busy loading supplies for the restaurant. Colin took me to their skiff, which was loaded with fresh Halibut producing a smell I was not familiar with. He left me standing in the skiff to watch over the load as he climbed up the dock to retrieve a stock of propane tanks. I stood there taking the deepest breaths, filling my lungs with the best air I had ever experienced. I was on the water, it was like glass stretching out in front of me holding up a seemingly endless amount of boats, and I reached down to feel its temperature. It was cool and clear. I could see into it a few feet. I stood back up and did a three sixty, absorbing as much of the scenery as I could. I saw indigo, snow-capped mountains just passed the boats. I heard seagulls diving and squawking. I felt the cool, clean air on my skin and realized the air of Chicagoland was dirtier than I could have comprehended before this moment. It was in this moment, by myself standing in the skiff, that I finally knew where I was. This was Alaska, and it was phenomenal.
On our journey to Halibut Cove, I was further amazed. I sat at the bow of boat, knowing that it was here where I would get the best view while also feeling as much of this new air as possible. I was introduced to a species of animal I never heard of before. Their bodies resembled ducks but their color and actions were that of penguins. Our skiff skidded through a large population of what were common murres, so many that the water seemed filled with black rocks. But as the boat approached them, they dipped and dived down deep into the ocean. Adam, Colin’s brother and the chef of The Saltry, told me they could dive down 350ft. These incredible birds entertained me for the rest of my trip, alongside the other wildlife I interacted with. As we waded into Halibut Cove and approached the boardwalk containing The Saltry I remember noting that it seemed smaller than I had expected. I realize now that the restaurant and boardwalk seemed so small because it was alone in a vast wilderness. In Alaska the wilderness is dominant unlike where I was from, a place dominated by human industrialization. At this point, my nerves were gone and I filled with excitement for adventure.
The First Day
My excitement for adventure was fed quickly because right after being shown around The Saltry and settling into Colin’s cabin, I hiked to Grewink Glacier with Colin, Adam, and their friends Hunter, Elsa and Chelsey. The hike was thrilling, and the glacier magnificent. We gathered around a fire and took pictures with the view. It truly felt like a dream. I remember the hues of blue on the glacier, the stark whites of the ice, and the grays of the rock well enough to paint it.
When we arrived back at The Saltry it was community night. All the Halibut Cove locals were gathered for a superhero themed party which consisted of a feast of moose ribs. During dinner I was able to familiarize myself with the people, and learn plenty about the land as well. They all had stories to tell. I felt welcomed and cared for, they all asked me about my life when introduced and answered my questions about theirs. The children were heavy in theme, and truly fearless like super heros. I watched two young boys jump off the ramp to the boardwalk during high tide, and caught their excited faces on video as they jumped. Each time I watched it I was amazed, these children really get to live their lives incredibly every day. Everyone who was there live their lives to the fullest each day, the land they live on seems to give them gratitude for life. I felt it as well, my surroundings were so beautiful that there was nothing worth worrying about.
That night Colin took me to the top of the island, where we watched the sun slowly set. I had just practiced yoga peacefully as I took in the view of Ismailof Island, and I sat down next to Colin in the tall grass. He was laying on his back with his eyes closed. I looked passed him at the sky, and about twenty feet away there was a bush down the hill some. From behind that bush came a bald eagle, flying up and over me. He was so close I could have touched him had I lifted my arm. His feathers were glossy on his powerful wings, and his talons were terrifyingly long. My jaw dropped instantly, and Colin looked up at me asking what happened. Before I could answer a second eagle flew from the same place, over the both of us and followed behind the first. I was completely mind blown. Colin laughed and said to me, “Welcome to Alaska Emi.”
Colin and I woke up early and made breakfast for The Saltry crew. We got prepped for a morning of adventure. Clem Tillion was taking me, Colin, and our friend Chance to Tutka Bay. Clem had never been to this specific location, so it was just as exciting for him as it was for us. It was low tide, and many small islands covered in mussels and barnacles were visible. We stopped at Grass Island, and got out of the boat to explore. My feet crunched on top of mussels as I climbed carefully, looking for interesting shells and stones. I balanced on a seaweed covered rock in tree pose for Colin to photograph,
and I photographed him there as well. I felt so free and full of adrenaline as I explored the tiny island. My adrenaline rush came in handy at our next location of adventure.
We left Grass Island to continue our journey. As we made it to Tutka Bay, we approached a waterfall high up in the trees. We unanimously agreed that this was what we wanted to explore. We got out of the boat and walked along the seafloor until we came to the end of the waterfall, a small river dragging out into the water. I knew this was only visible because it was low tide. The little river created from the waterfall was covered in moss and climbable rocks. I walked along it as we reached the base of the fall. I was astounded as the crisp, misty water rained on me. Clem
was flying his drone around us as I tried to take in the moment.To this day, it still feels surreal as I watch the drone footage. I can see myself actually there in the moment, but it’s hard to believe it still. And thus, I was full of energy as I climbed up the slippery rocks, through the trees, and along the water. It was all so fresh and clean. The water was clear like crystals and cool to the point I wanted to drink it. My lungs felt rejuvenated. I could not keep a smile off my face, my body felt like it had yearned for a moment like this. I meditated on a rock in the middle of the fall…I had never felt so much peace at one time. I felt a true connection to nature. There was something inside me that told me I really belonged where I was. Our adventure to the waterfall in Tutka Bay was the first time I decided I never wanted to leave Alaska. If I could wake up and have mornings like this each day, my life would be pure bliss.
The boys ate lunch during our boat ride back, and I gleamed out at the water in contentment. After our long morning of adventure, Colin and I attended dinner at The Saltry. Another Saltry crew member, Sara, worked on her day off so that him and I could have a date night. Adam prepared us a six course meal, sampling the entire menu. We sat at the edge of the boardwalk, with the best
view, and ate in wonder. I had never eaten most of what I was served, and it was also the best I had ever eaten. Each dish was beautifully prepared and put together. I remember feeling like each one was a work of art, not only on the plate but as I ate too. My favorite was the halibut. We also ate beet salad, marinated vegetables, oysters, salmon three ways, and chocolate cheesecake! I ate my meal with hot apple cider and watched eagles fly through the Cove. We talked about my experience thus far, and what was to come in the remaining days. I was so grateful to be in that moment with him. I had never dined so well, especially in such an incredible location. I felt truly blessed.
After our dinner, we went to the top of the island with a bottle of wine and watched the sun set. The sky was consumed by brilliant hues of orange and red. I took a picture of Colin with the sky that I later painted when I was home in Indiana. I was fascinated by the way the warm, yellow light silhouetted his face. I laid my head on his shoulder and thought about how lucky I was. Very few people are able to make connections to stay in Halibut Cove like I had. Colin believed I was capable to make it out there on my own, and I could never thank him enough for that. The experience he granted me by giving me the opportunity to come to Alaska was life changing. I was also grateful for the best date I had ever been on. In that moment, I dreaded my departure from this beautiful land and him. I hoped that we would be here together again in the future.
Colin was hard at work in the kitchen, and I was on my own walking around the island. I had visited the horses and rabbits, sketched some, and was feeling really inspired. I walked into the kitchen to make myself a hot chocolate and chatted with Colin some on what I had been up to. He suggested I ask Marian if she had any spare watercolor paper I could use to make a painting. Marian is a very established painter, she studied in New York and works mostly in oil paint. Her works consisted of fauvism inspired depictions of Alaskan life. Being a painter myself, her talent was both admirable and intimidating. I wasn’t sure if she would give up some art supplies for me, but I had become comfortable enough with her during my stay that I went ahead and asked. She was very excited by my inspiration and did not hesitate to take me up to her studio to find paper.
Her studio was incredible. A tiny cabin with paint covered walls and small windows with great views of the Cove. Her ideas for paintings were scrawled out on the walls, on pieces of paper pinned to the walls, and on small canvases lying all over. She had a pile of used palettes in one corner, which was great to see because I also save my old palettes. I was so ecstatic as she handed me an 18x24inch hot pressed piece of watercolor paper, stretched and ready to go. Her studio was everything I ever dreamt of. I think my amazement was evident because she told me I was more than welcome to paint there, and to use what ever of her materials I needed. How incredible! I could not fathom the opportunity I was being given. I strangely felt at home as I painted in there, like it was what I was meant to be doing.
My trip to Tutka Bay was the most inspiring part of my stay so far, so as I started sketching ideas onto the paper I channeled those moments. An image I had on my phone of landscape perfectly reflected into still waters is what I referenced the most. But I also wanted to incorporate the colors in the sky I had seen while watching the sun sets with Colin. I wanted the reality of the landscape to be contrasted with the expressionistic colors in order to create a very surreal scene, because that is how it felt to be in those moments. I played music, danced, and painted away in pure bliss. It was Independence Day, and I felt appreciation for my country deeper than ever before. I was in one of America’s most beautiful locations, and I was free doing what I loved most. I stopped occasionally to walk down Park Ave and admire where I was. I also occasionally stopped while in the studio to admire where I was. I felt like a true painter as I worked in there, independent and capable of creating anything I could dream of. Painting in her studio made my goals for my life so clear. I wanted a studio just like Marian’s, in a small cabin located in beautiful wilderness that was constantly available for inspiration. I also enjoyed the concept of being off the grid, being away from most civilization seemed to clear my head of inhibitions and worries.
When I finished the painting, I was proud and willing to show it off. I received positive feedback, including from Marian. I also did not want to stop painting. That night at dinner I painted the scenery in my small watercolor sketchbook, and tourists came up to me asking me about my work. They also asked me about the island, and I was able to answer most of their questions at that point. One tourist asked me if I was Marian’s daughter, since I was artistically talented and was sitting at the locals table. I was beyond flattered, but I told her I was visiting just like her. I talked about my work with Marian and her friends, and was flooded with support. Painting in her studio was very stabilizing for me as an artist. I often struggled with self-doubt, but after being granted the opportunity to use a professional painter’s studio and receive support from several incredible artists I felt sure of myself, my work, and my goals. Halibut Cove is a community of kind artists whom I would never forget.
That night, when the sun had finally set, we celebrated America’s independence by the beach with Halibut Cove locals. I had made plenty of friends by this point, and had fun sitting by a fire and lighting off fireworks. Every one I had met continued to welcome me, always engaging me in the activities. I was sad knowing I would be leaving shortly, but I made sure to appreciate each moment. The sky was dark indigo, lined with glassy black waters and black rocky sand. The fireworks were still barely visible in the light of the moon. That day I was proud of who I was and what I had accomplished. It was the best Fourth of July of my life to say the least.
The Last Night
My flight was taking off bright and early in the morning, and because of that I had to be in Homer the night before in order to make it on time. So Marian, being the incredibly kind woman she is, offered her cabin in Homer to Colin and I for the night. I said goodbye to those I had spent time with during my stay, and boarded the Danny J to Homer Spit. We stopped at the grocery for ice cream and snacks before heading to the cabin. We went sightseeing as well, because I was curious about the homes in Homer. Most were small cabins, but there were also larger homes. They all had beautiful views. Marian and Dave’s cabin was tiny and on a large block of land. The view from it’s front porch faced Halibut Cove. Their home away from home. It was so incredible, I did not want to look away to enter the cabin. I knew I would be leaving soon and not be able to see such breathtaking landscape. But the cabin was cozy and welcoming. A simple kitchen,
wood burning furnace, a bathtub, and a lofted bed. The lofted bed was beneath a triangle window that looked out to the view of the mountains. We spent the night laughing, and enjoying each other’s company as much as possible before I had to leave. My world felt so small yet greatly significant. We were by ourselves in a tiny home in beautiful Alaska. There was no one I would rather be with, and I was so grateful to be able to spend that last night with him. I dreamt of having a home like that cabin some day. Living with the bare necessities, in an area dominated by nature, with someone you love seemed like a wonderful life to me. I realized what truly was important in my life, and again I felt truly blissful.
In the morning Colin sweetly woke me up and we reluctantly got ready for my flight. The sky was bright purple and seemed to be saying goodbye. I was sad as I took final images of the indigo, snow-capped mountains. Saying goodbye in the airport was rough, but I was happy still knowing what I had experienced. I grew closer to Colin in a way I was incapable before, because he had been to this beautiful land and had it change his life, and now I had too. Therefore I understood. One final kiss before I boarded my small plane and took off back to “reality.” I was forever changed by the stunning land of Alaska, by the people of Halibut Cove, and by what I had discovered about myself during my adventure.