Today we end our final stop on the Alaskan tour before heading up to Vancouver to head home after two weeks of adventure from gazing at Bald Eagles to trying reindeer for the first time, and even liking it! If you don’t know, Alaska’s State Motto is North to the Future. It was adopted on the centennial of the Alaskan Purchase and is described by Richard Peter, a Juneau journalist at the time, as “a reminder that beyond the horizon of urban clutter there is a Great Land beneath our flag that can provide a new tomorrow for this century’s ‘huddled masses yearning to be free’.”
Ironically, anything that I’ve seen, experienced, and witnessed seems to come in contradiction to what we, in the lower 48, deem as the future. When we think future we think progress and the ever-increasing presence of technology. Yet, most of the time traveling around the state I had very little internet access and phone service for that matter. It seemed as soon as I had the chance it was the first thing I grabbed for, that somehow I had to tell the world what I was doing, seeing, and experiencing here in Alaska. It’s become our way of life in many ways. We begin to adopt this mindset that the rest of the world cares about everything I am doing with my time! It’s easy, as I’ve mentioned in other posts on this trip, to get lost behind the camera and phone and miss what is before your very eyes and allowing it to speak to you and change you in some ways. Maybe the future isn’t all about technology and advancement, but back to the very basics of human contact and relationship and the experiences we share.
For many of us, suburban life has also become part of our way of life. We want to escape the ‘urban clutter’ that Richard Peter referenced and problems that have come to exist in our many cities in the country. There is very little city life, as we know it, here in Alaska. Many of the towns that we visited have no form of government. They manage to work out problems on their own. Of course, that has it’s downside as well when it comes to hospitals and the basic care of the people, which is lacking in many parts. The capital, Juneau, can’t even be accessed by road. In order to arrive in the city you must come by boat or plane. It’s incredible to think, knowing that I can get in the car and drive to Annapolis whenever I want back in Maryland.
At the same time, I don’t want to glorify, idealize, or even somehow romanticize Alaska. We met many who have spent their lives living off the land here and calling it home. Not one said they would ever leave it behind, however, they would also never deny how hard it can be. We have become so accustomed to running to the grocery store rather than living off the land, hunting, fishing. We have often lost that sense of hunter and gatherer that has been in the very DNA of the founding of this country and even prior to becoming a country, Natives who lived the life. Them too, though, we deemed as an obstruction to what we call progress. That doesn’t mean that all progress is bad. In many ways it is necessary and helps humanity. But if we lose the struggle and tension within ourselves of progress and yet remaining grounded, we begin to lose sight of our very humanity and the magnificence of a God that continues to reveal new ways of relating, understanding, and simply being ourselves.
Progress does not always mean getting better, despite that we’ve often equated them that way. Progress as humans on this journey, keeping our eyes on the future, means so often falling and facing defeat and finding within ourselves the hope to get back up, learning from it all, and growing deeper in love. When we view it through that lens so much of the other stuff just doesn’t seem to matter and can even go days without a phone or internet. It’s amazing to think that it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t even have that ability and yet we somehow think we can’t live without it. We can.
This was always a ‘bucket list’ trip for me and I don’t even know what would be next. It’s the one place that I have always felt drawn to visit. There was a mystery to it all being so far away from the lower 48, even, at times, feeling like I was in another country! It was a lot of traveling, miles and miles of traveling, viewing, reflecting, experiencing, laughing, among other things, but it in no way has disappointed. One of the best things about it, that mystery is still there. There really is a mystique to the place like none other. Maybe it is the fact that it remains so undeveloped in a world where we can’t go a mile without another building, Wal Mart, or Starbucks, so often showing my own selfishness and ‘better than’ attitude. We have become so accustomed to convenience that we have so often become less patient and so impulsive, thinking we can have what we want and when we want it.
In many ways, Alaska has slowed me down and quieted me down. One of the hardest things is going back, knowing that the chatter of work and life will soon take over. That’s not to say that they don’t have their own version of it all, but this time, as hard as it is to believe at times, especially considering the fact that I’m currently sitting on a Princess Cruise ship, was a time of pilgrimage into the often ruggedness of my own soul, from the icy glaciers, the deep, blue waters, and the wild peaks of Denali. It’s all here and it’s all within me now as well, catching a glimpse of the way God not only creates the world but continues to recreate me with each experience. I
n some ways, Alaska probably is the Future, but not in the ways we have come to expect. It may, at times, be considered the last frontier, but after spending time here, I can say it’s more the beginning of a frontier to a deeper reality of the mystery of our lives and the frontier journey we’re all invited into in our lives. As they can tell you here, life really is what you make of it. Sometimes the more we think we need to advance and make progress comes at a great cost. As a country and world we have to ask ourselves what really is most important and just because we can do things doesn’t mean we should. What’s most important is relationship, encounter, experience, human contact, life. We truly have all we need for our future. Can we now accept the invitation to live counter-culturally and find value in what matters most in our lives? That’s really the question and reflection for all of us in this life.