In Italy, I savored solo Trenitalia rides that allowed me to practice the beautiful language with random seat companions. I talked with citizens from all over the country— teenage girls to aged men. During my fifth week in Alaska, a two-day tidepooling excursion to Homer reminded me how much I enjoy traveling da sola.
Twice a month Homer receives extreme minus tides, and the vibrant marine productivity of Kachemak Bay promises excellent tidepooling. I spotted my first wild Alaskan moose along the marshy boardwalk to Bishop’s Beach, and as I gently turned over crusty rocks bald eagles soared above me. Their wingspans are longer than a human being! Underneath the rocks I found red sea cucumbers, blood stars, sun stars, funky looking crabs, chitons, sea urchins, eels, shrimp, and many more unique creatures.
This trip was especially meaningful to me because my family has spent so much time by the ocean. My father used to take me tidepooling at the lighthouse every Sunday, where we would wade through slippery seaweed examining periwinkles, starfish, sea urchins, crabs, anemones, sea worms, eels, and if we were lucky, a horseshoe crab. In the summer, my mother, sister, and I snorkeled over flounders and lobsters at the local beach.
On my first morning in Homer, I happily explored near a little girl whose curiosity reminded me of myself fifteen years ago. The second morning, I met an inquisitive middle-aged couple who somehow sensed that I know quite a bit about the intertidal zone. They asked me so many questions about what we were seeing! My knowledge gleaned from growing up on the New England coast and SCUBA diving along the Great Barrier Reef is such a wonderful gift to pass on to others.
In Homer I was also thrilled to feel my grandmother’s presence. She passed away when I was very young, so long weekends at her childhood cottage on Loon Island in Little Sebago Lake in Maine were sacred experiences for me as a little girl. We fell asleep on horsehair mattresses listening to the call of loons— my grandmother’s favorite animals. After my father launched Restless two summers ago, a pair of graceful swans circled their wings around and around the boat as we were dancing up at our boat club. These cousins of loons seemed to be my grandparents blessing Restless. In Homer while wandering the docks of the marina I chuckled at such classic Alaskan boat names as Pursuit, Born Free, Intrepid, Lip Ripper, and even a Restless! And as I was thinking about how well Restless’ steel hull would slice through the Bering Sea, I spotted a lone Arctic loon bobbing silently nearby in the still ocean. I have not seen a loon in years, and receiving this sign from Grammy made me very happy.
Homer is supposedly one of the best small art towns in America, but I must confess that after visiting its many galleries I think this distinction is somewhat overrated. Anita, I wish you had been with me to evaluate! The Pratt Museum had an amazing live camera focused on brown bears fishing at McNeil River Falls on Kodiak Island, and I was heartened to see so many enthralled visitors. But by far the best public educational center I visited in Alaska was the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, headquarters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Its exhibits that emphasized saving wildlife for wildlife’s sake deeply impressed me… and even though I harbor mixed feelings about Teddy Roosevelt’s extravagant hunting escapades, he certainly had phenomenal insight to conserve so much of our country’s wild lands.