|We're up early the next morning as we've still got to travel down to St. Mary's. The hotel has a continental breakfast we scarf off of, but e'en so, the Waffle House's siren call draws us and before long we're sitting at its counter. Later on in the day, Mary, Gretchen, and Sarah will all feel the effects of stomach sickness. Group consensus blames the Waffle House, but I'm feel fine and find myself wondering if the hotel or the boat ride is to blame.|
|We've been joined on our journey by Henry, a wee plastic hamster Sarah got from a toy-vending machine early on in the trip. In addition to getting fed bacon at the Waffle House, Henry will see some grand sights on the island and accompany our campfires and adventures.|
|The Winn Dixie's just across the street and it's there that we go searching for food and it's at this point that I witness the genius of my companions. You see, I have one large problem and one littler problem with food (but, since this is my blog, let's call them "tragic flaws" in the heroic, Shakespearean sense). The big problem is that I always over-estimate how much food I need and end up carrying around a lot of stuff I never end up eating. Rather than getting a bellyache, I get other kinds of food pains. The little problem is that when I'm hiking myself, I'm perfectly content to have everything either dried, salted, or in the form of powder. It's utilitarian and doesn't taste that much worse (does it?). Plus every bag has a number of little numbers printed on it which one can use to figure out if one's belly is telling the truth about whether or not one's had enough food.|
But not so these ladies. We have fresh fruit, pita bread, and Mary actually buys a red pepper.
I leave the store feeling nervous about the possibility of starvation.
|From there it's a straight shot south to St. Mary's… and the liquor store. I'm not much for alcohol under normal circumstances—the List has 14 on it, generally characterised by their lack of alcohol—and find that I hold the heretofore unfelt opinion that alcohol and the wilderness should not be mixed. Perhaps it's my own purist ideal of wilderness travel asserting itself, or maybe I'm remembering the scattered beer cans I find around fire-pits in otherwise pristine areas. Maybe I am a prude. As we sit in the car, rain drizzle-winding its way down the 'shield, waiting for the store's 10AM opening, I stiffle these opinions. After all, if I am a prude about drugs, alcohol is more acceptable than most.1|
We arrive at the ferry terminal early, and pull our backpacks in under the shelter. The weather's gusting rain at us and the sky is a low, loose, steely gray. Having time to dispose of, I wander out into the (I discover) beautiful little town to drop some postcards. All my good intentions and a wallet full of stamps to the contrary, I'm still terrible at getting these out—sorry, everyone! Wandering back, I pass through some side streets where the gusted rain is leisurely dripping down from moss-covered trees.
Returning to the terminal, I find that it's been swarmed by perhaps two dozen scruffy campers. Looks like we're gonna have company! Or not. It's a Venture-crew leaving after a week on the island. And now that they've come off, it's our turn to go on.
If only we'd heeded the warning, the horror that awaited us might have been averted….
Mary and Gretchen have boarded the boat and I'm still standing on the shore. But where is Sarah? The man from the boat is yelling in my direction and waving his arms. We cannot wait much longer. Sarah appears around the corner of the building, moving at something approximating a run, her swaying backpack preventing a smooth motion. That jog continues right up until we're all on the boat. There are a couple of older folks inside on the lower level, and us. The captain's pretty relaxed about things and basically gives us free range to roam the lower and upper decks.
|The trip to the island's supposed to take around an hour. As we pull away from the shore and begin winding between reed-beds, a stiff wind whisks across the water, turning it into a gray chop. And the time has come. To make a choice.|
I have a job offer in Juneau, Alaska. The only place I've ever been that I could imagine myself living. I have dreamt—repeatedly—of that place. Of climbing mountains, of kayaking with whales, of climbing on glaciers, of hiking through dripping forests, of grabbing waffles from the Southeast Waffle Company, and paninis from the Wharf. But the job I've been offered there isn't that great. It looks like I could spend a very long time clicking on photographs of Greenlandic glaciers I haven't visited, clicking control points. My potential boss has said he doesn't know why I'm applying for the job, given how beneath me it is, but he knows I'll do an excellent job and he's tried to make the offer as good as he can. He's matched a pay rate, spoken about trips to Fairbanks to integrate me with the crew up there and the possibility of my transitioning up there later to continue work on more difficult projects.
And then there's the U of Minnesota, where I've been offered much more difficult work. Work that I'm not sure I'm capable of doing off-handedly, that I can't see the solutions to before I begin. Work that's in Minneapolis, a city I keep trying to leave again and again, but always end up coming back to. Work offered to me by a guy who makes me so excited about the science, I forget about the city.
And this is what it Always Bloody Comes Back To. The tension between TravelWildernessAdventure and AwesomeScience. I want, desparately, to combine the two or somehow make them compatible. But I'm not sure how, or whether I even should. It's a decision I've been putting off and putting it off's been made easy by the two potential employers, who have taken months to move to this point, the point where I have offers from both of them. I'd been ready to call it quits with Minneapolis and then, in a single day, they put everything together. I'm about to lose cellphone reception for more than a week. I have emails from both of them. They want to know. They need to know. Now.
These were the big issues for me. There were other considerations: friends, family, isolation, living situations, pay rates, but somehow I felt like these could be coped with. The looming meta-choices menaced over me.
A dolphin rocketed out of the water off the starboard bow, leaving a trail of spray in the air and, in that moment, I realised that perhaps I'd been thinking about things wrong. The choice was not between Alaska and Minneapolis, adventure and mundanity, science and boredom. These were the shades of a false choice I had conned myself into making. Alaska is indeed symbolic of much that I hold dear, but choosing not go to there does not exclude me experiencing such things. Wherever we go in life it is incumbent upon us not to accept life as it is, but to craft life as we choose it to be. The dolphin represented this: my seeing it now at this time was the product of such life-craft and, no matter the choice I made, such moments could be crafted again. Alaska could make such things easy, but if I remained conscientious, Minneapolis would present its own opportunities.
And I knew where I would go.
I called Minneapolis first, to confirm. The phone rang, and I left a message.
I called Juneau second, and someone picked up. I had forgotten that Juneau is four hours behind Cumberland Island, but I don't think that's the only reason the person on the phone sounded annoyed. "Speak.", he commanded me as I fumbled apologies for having called to early. Not that I needed to, he knew the call could mean only one thing.
So it was done. I hoped, and hope, that all this didn't allienate me from the U of AK; I think it would be smashing to work with them someday. Today, though, was not the day.
The boat pulled up to the docks and we depacked at the porch of the ranger station. RangerLady called us in and explained that we would be the Only People On The Island this entire week (HOW COOL IS THAT?!). That the Boat Would Leave and it would Not Come Back (SWEET!). That there would be No Help (Who needs help anyway?) and that we assumed All Liability (Gladly!) once it was gone. That we would Probably Die (May we die in the forest!).
We nodded, and nodded again. Suitably non-terrified, we walked out into the forest.
Arriving in the campground, we chose a site close to the marge of the forest—you could see the silhouettes of dunes through the trees—with a hidden highway-trail to the bathrooms. Laying down our packs we followed the trail out towards those dunes, past a little ampitheatre, past a make-shift shower, through some dense shrubs, and out onto a board walk leading over the dunes (which are fragile).
From the trees we passed into some large sandy/grassy dunes…
…and then out into a less-topographic, more tree-vegetated section…
…and then out to the ocean itself, which I cunningly did not photograph so you'll have something to look forward to tomorrow.
|We found a clear, if vaguely mucky, spot of ground, which wasn't hard in the campground, and put the tent there. All around us was evidence that these trees (wind-shorn live oaks) occasionally slough branches, so I was glancing above to see that we weren't under and obvious fall-line. A few feet in any direction, dense saw-palmettos obscured everything, and darkness was beginning to fall.|
|There was a nature talk at four and, afterwards, we educatedly watched the ship head away. Then, alone, we commandeered a wagon and began gathering firewood.|
Late that night, once darkness had fallen, I went down to the sea.
The cloud cover was dense and there was no light except an odd gray ambience which showed outlines and little else.
I asked the others if they'd come, but they said no.
So I went down to the sea alone and walked out and out to where the sea, the land, and the sky all met, comingled, and became one. And, alone, I joined them.
1I'm reminded of the time Dirk and I fled a shelter in the Smokies after three others turned it into a make-shift marijuana den.
The above took place in January 02011, I first began writing it all down in March, and have just now finished the photo sequence in the middle in July 02011.
Some things above were true, others were not. As a result of staying in Minneapolis, I have gone on some adventures: Milwaukee, New Orleans, Florida, Kentucky, Ann Arbor, Colorado, several visits home. This year I've been fortunate to be able to visit almost everyone who's asked me to, though sometimes only briefly. I've also been fortunate enough to make it to at least one friend's wedding. Important moments in lives and friendships like these would not have been possible were I a few (thousand) miles North.
I'm also convinced that I work for one of the nicest people possible. What I do is interesting and it generally excites me. The conversations I have with my professor leave me feeling energised and hopeful for science and the world in general.
I've also been able to move into the Student's Coop on campus and experience living in this intentional community. I think the most important thing that's come of this has been its juxtaposition with another group I worked with at the U and have been trying to be less involved with. If you work with one group for too long, you begin to feel that every group most function as yours do, and this other group was, administratively speaking, dysfunctional. As a result, it's been a great thing to work with a group that's got it together. We know at any given time where the money is, debts and encumberments show up at my door every month, our administration meets regularly makes action points and gets through them, meeting minutes and other news come to me in three different formats. Words like institutional memory are used and serious thought is put into how to do it well. The thankless tasks of management are thanked. Seeing these things gives me hope that some of what I've experienced working with other groups is anomalous. It might even recharge me…
However, in some ways this hasn't been enough, as I write this in July, I find myself pining to be elsewhere: preferrably some place wild and foreign, away from Minneapolis. If I'm lucky, I'll leave for the Olympic Peninsula in a couple of weeks and maybe, afterwards, head north to Alaska until September or later. It's true that most of the time that I'm in Minneapolis, I'm happy. But my default attitude regarding the locale doesn't seem to be satisfaction, which is disappointing. But, I know that if I were in Alaska, I'd have dissatisfactions there as well, so, as I said above, you have to make the most of it and create your own experience.