I’m not really into water. I enjoy being around, but definitely not being inwater. Especially big water: oceans, fast moving rivers, rough rapids. I’m an earth sign and a land critter most inclined to rocks, snow and ice under foot.

In Alaska, there’s a lot of water. And, I reasoned, in order to fully experience Alaska, I needed to embrace water.

I started with Kachemak Bay, the gorgeous band of saltwater that stands between Homer and the glaciated Kenai Mountains. Kenton’s hand built wooden skiff sat so low that when we motored across the bay, our bodies were level with the surface of the blue, the waves, the crests and white caps. He took us out on mussel gathering missions, hiking adventures, joy rides. The boat became a way of transport to the mountains, the water not an obstacle but integral to adventure. I would burrow against the wind and watch the sea otters flip and splash, watch the waves gain dimensions and iridescent colors as the sun hovered on the horizon for hours in late evening.

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We moved on to glacial rivers. Literally, rivers pouring out of lakes at the mouths of glaciers. Cold rivers, wild rivers, the kind of rivers you really don’t want to fall into. Rivers that channeled and braided, oxbowed and eddied around sheer cliffs, on whose banks dozens of bald eagles swooped and perched on the branches of evergreen trees. Rivers whose waters churned brown and slate with glacial silt.

On one river, Alayne’s visiting sister, Leigh, led us. A Pennsylvania river guide, she’d never floated an Alaska river before. She steered us into the Grewingk River, none on board, not even our captain knowing what awaited. The river met us with strong, dirty rapids. We met it with eager arms and ready paddles. We glided, jerked, highsided, laughed and gasped. It was a dance–we danced with the river. The river led, our Puma raft followed. And we all stayed dry, mostly.

The ultimate water experience presented itself two days before my departure: work on a commercial fishing boat. Stay out on water night and day, be confined to a boat, surrender control to the water. I met the crew of the aged, steel Chimpmunk fishing vessel in Homer Harbor at midnight. We departed into calm waters, the engine chugging steady, the sunset in its second hour. For a while I visited with Chris the captain and Matthew the deckhand, and then set to sleep in the cabin.

The cabin became a cocoon. I drifted off to the loud chug of the engine. Warm diesel fumes filled my nostrils and dreams. I woke at intermittent moments and marveled at the soft sway of the ocean waters, then burrowed deeper into blankets and sleep. At 6am I woke to hot sun and was greeted on deck by glassy waters turned a pink bronze. The volcano Illyamna was also bathed in bronze, as was Mt. Redoubt above which hovered a still full moon.

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We let out the net, waited for hits. Reeled it in. Slimy, still-live salmon flipped forcefully out of my gloved hands and slapped the steel deck floor. We tossed them in the ice chest repositioned the boat and began the cycle again. Midday sun baked the boat, we exchanged warm layers for tshirts, we contemplated a swim in the ocean. The tide came in, our net filled faster. The boat rocked gently in still calm waters.

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At dusk, we turned toward Kasilof. My time on the boat was ending, I had a plane to catch in 24 hours. Matthew and I stood at the helm as the sun turned the inlet into glitter. I squinted across the water, absorbed it. Who knows when I’ll see water like this again, I thought. But then, I may see it sooner than I expect. Afterall, I’ve got a job on the Chipmunk for next summer if I want it.

But I’m not ready to trade the mountains for the ocean, yet. Though it sure is nice to have experienced the other side.

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