The first time I came to visit Kodiak, I arrived in the hazy dark before dawn. It was October and almost flat black outside the plane windows at seven in the morning, just traces of light on the horizon. I was headed to this small island because a certain commercial fisherman I’d been talking to on the internet had told me so many stories about it that I dreamed green islands and doodled log cabins in the margins of my sketchbooks. I wanted to see for myself, both if it was as beautiful as the stories and if there was any chance for people like us to have a future together.
I’d spent my flight from Anchorage a week earlier staring out the airplane windows at the utter blackness I can only imagine was a remote part of Canada, praying to see a light of some kind. Anything to give me some idea of where we were and if there were people down there somewhere. I wanted proof I had not entirely left the world I knew. No lights appeared. I think I wrote an anxious journal entry about how I hoped they had roads in Alaska. (Spoiler: they do)
I resolved that my flight to visit Kodiak would be different. I spent that hour-long flight in the dark pretending to nap and convincing myself my stomach ache was just because I’d gotten up early and not because of nerves.
My first real memory of this place is not the slow, fall morning outside or of the mountains shrouded in mist, but of the warm light in the small airport terminal and Nic standing there waiting for me, looking handsome and comfortably disheveled in Xtratufs and grease-stained Carhartts.
I admit the possibility that I might have originally found this place attractive for reasons beyond the scenery.
Especially when you consider that the fog cleared only once during the first week I spent here. Mostly it stayed low and close, wrapping the island in a thick blanket of salty damp and hiding the mountains from view. Throughout the week Nic kept pointing into the misty distance and saying, “Imagine a mountain right there. Really. Right. There. I promise.” I nodded, but couldn’t imagine what sort of mountains the mist might be hiding. They couldn’t really be that impressive if they could disappear so completely by a little fog.
Without a view of the mountains and the surrounding sea, I was left with a strong impression of dripping green trees and forests carpeted by layers of soft moss so thick that our footsteps made no noise, of dark still water in the harbor, and of the eerie scream of eagles in the mist.
The one day it was clear, we went up Pillar Mountain and stood under the huge wind turbines, so much larger and louder up close, and I got my first sweeping view of the entire island falling away from me on all sides into the Pacific. It took my breath away.
Or maybe it was the motorcycle ride it took to get up there. I’m not sure.
I’ve lived here a little while now. I’ve seen much of the island and on both dark days when the fog clings close to the cabin, cutting me off from the rest of the world, and on bright, sunny ones where the green mountains are almost overwhelming in their sudden majesty and the mossy forests turn golden with dappled light. I have yet to see winter snows, but I’d wager those are beautiful too in their way.
I was walking through a store in town recently and came across a framed print of a poem about how spending time on an island will leave you changed, how for the rest of your life the “tides beat through your sleep.” I feel I’ve been here long enough to say that I think maybe there’s some truth to that. There’s definitely something about this place, something that creeps into your bones. If you let it.
Maybe this all seems like nothing more than romanticism, but I freely admit that Kodiak is a rough, rainy little fishing town (Third most dangerous in the state!) covered in boat grease and salmon scales. I find there is a beauty just as arresting in hard work and kindness and woven heaps of brightly colored line as there is in the most untouched vista.
So, if you get the chance, you should come visit Kodiak and see for yourself. Come and find out if you’re one of the ones the island calls to keep returning again and again like the salmon.
If once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won’t know why and you can’t say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You’ll never be quite the same.
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