Summers around here remind me of the filling of a balloon. You can fill a balloon with air or water or chocolate pudding if you like (“Now and Then” reference, anyone?) but at some point, the balloon breaks.
This town is the balloon and the Summer fills it with parties and get togethers and events and concerts and bear sightings and bear run-ins and happy tourists and grumpy tourists and hard work and long work and it just keeps coming. The good and the bad just keep coming and filling it up until the town bursts.
In a tiny town where everyone knows one another and everyone is in the same balloon together, it feels tighter and tighter as the Season goes on and at some point, the balloon breaks. The tension is released and the contents are freed.
This last week, the balloon broke for me the moment that the Lake broke.
Every Summer the Lake breaks.
The Season is spent in anticipation of the day that the subglacial waters of Hidden Lake far off in one of the resident glaciers will heat enough to break through their icy confines and head our way. Unlike the picture above, the amount of water is immense and the lake hides beneath the glacier. The release turns our rivers into beasts.
Last week the Lake broke with a vengeance. Boy did she move.
The water rapidly flooded from its origin miles away down to the River which divides the town in two: the East Side of the River and the West Side of the River (we live on the West Side, the side which is more remote. The East Side houses the restaurants and hotels ((which makes it sound much larger and industrialized than the two restaurants (one of which is also The Bar) and two hotels actually shape it to be. Heck, we still have dirt roads and the businesses provide their own power by generator. It’s no downtown New York or anything, but compared to the surrounding areas it definitely resembles a sort of town)).
As I was rushing to work that day I was stopped at the footbridge while people slowly crossed. Slowly is an understatement. They stopped, took pictures, stood in awe. Frustrating as it was to wait there with their complete disregard for my existence and/or need to cross to make it to work, I’m lucky it happened because it caused me to look around and notice what was occurring. Suddenly I realized: the Lake broke.
People were gathered at the other side watching the waves of water fly much much higher than they had all Summer or even in the past near decade. The River, which normally rushes and alerts you to her presence by way of a solid outpouring of water was now screaming her power with almost wavelike rushes. The energy around the water was intense and the freezing glacial waters sprayed up towards the walkway.
But off to work I had to go. I felt moved by the sheer volume and height of the water but still in the zone of the Season: work.
I spent the evening working at The Restaurant and listening to reports from excited tourists and Locals alike of the River.
“It’s higher than its been in 10 years!”
“It’s almost to the grates on the bridge!”
It was too much to just hear about. The Chef and a Manager whom had been stuck at work all day had to check it out. It was 7 o’clock and the whole town was down there by now.
If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry, you know that 7pm is the Witching Hour. It’s the time when your night will either get thrust into mayhem with table after table after table, or when you’ll realize it’s going to be a slow night.
Seeing that there were little to no tables at the time we thought their leaving would be fine. They had to check it out, we all agreed. It was a moment all should witness.
Not more than 5 minutes after their departure the crowds began.
Within 10 minutes I had almost 10 tables to myself.
Ugh, we should have known.
It went as smoothly as it could and just as the rush faded, the two returned, stoked from their adventure all the while apologizing for the unexpected rush we had just endured.
After a 9 hour shift I was tired but as I walked closer to the bridge to meet The Chief, I felt the energy of the earthly event start to grab hold of me. It wasn’t just the Lake that had burst, it was the whole balloon. I could feel it. There was an energy around it, a wildness celebrating not just this amazing happening but something else:
The end of Summer.
Never in my life have I ever welcomed the end of Summer. Not once. But this year, I feel it. The Lake breaking, to me, was the pin in the balloon of the ever-building Summer intensity. The annual event had happened and now, it was time to enjoy the last bits before the Fall. It gave a new perspective in the unending rush: the rush was about to end. Enjoy it before it is over.
I walked towards the bridge when suddenly…
in the starting shadows of 11pm I saw two familiar shapes: CindaLou (our pup) and The Chief.
They had both independently left the impromptu party at the bridge celebrating the Lake break: The Chief due in part to the overwhelm of the crowd and also to find me. Cinda left due to the fireworks going off. She is not a fan. As soon as the fireworks started firing, The Chief assumed she’d scurry but hadn’t seen in which direction she’d left. Needing a break from it all himself (crowds and crowds after Winters of solitude will seemingly never stop overwhelming Winter dwellers, self included) he started walking my way and we all ended up meeting in the middle at the Watering Hole.
The only way back home was back towards the crowd and so we all steadied ourselves for a change of pace and headed towards our car on the other side of the bridge, open to the possibility of staying at the party for a while to celebrate.
Cinda, did not get that memo, nor did she agree to it once it was proposed.
As we approached the gathering her ears clung closer and closer to her head, hoping to drown out the booms in her thick fur. She panted as we stood and decided to stay or go. Halfway through the discussion we both looked at her at the same time: she looked miserable. As she caught our eyes, her ears perked up with our attention and she nodded in the direction of home, her body promptly following. If there was even half a chance we were leaving, she was taking it.
She was halfway across the bridge before we conceded and started following her home.
We were both fine with missing a party but I needed a moment in the water.
We paused on the bridge, much to Cinda’s chagrin. If she had hands she would have been tugging at our pant legs but instead she whipped out the puppy eyes and tugged at our heartstrings. Still, I told her to wait on the other, quieter, side. I needed a moment.
The Chief and I held onto the rail and looked beneath us to where the water was pummeling against the legs of the bridge and over the boulders beneath us. The sturdy metal bridge was rocking back and forth in a way that could have made a weak stomach seasick. Hours before a huge rogue iceberg had been swept towards the bridge with the heavy current. It had pummeled into the structure and rocked the watchers standing upon it. Hours later there was another iceberg, beached but ready to run at the slightest influx in water.
It was a beautiful moment there on that bridge, listening to the rush below, feeling the intensity of the movement and holding on just a little tighter.
Nature, is amazing. Water can move boulders, change landscapes, destroy and bring life. It can be kind or cruel and of course that always depends on which side one looks at it from but that night I felt the calm in the crash.
We went home that night, happy our Lou had led us away from a party and towards home instead. It was a quieter celebration for me, an ability to finally take a deep breath. To see the finish line in sight.
The great break had shifted something in me and seemingly most of the locals in town. There was a renewed calmer energy about town. But not only did the break shift us, it shifted the land.
That mass of water had to continue somewhere and the farther the massive surge went downriver from the bridge, the closer it went to the banks of the West Side by our home.
I went out to explore.
The entire River channel had switched.
In the braided rivers of Alaska, it’s common for rivers to switch channels, but seeing it happen so swiftly only gave greater clout to the power of water. I walked upon the new shore that just days before was all rushing water. I explored that which had been left behind and felt the intensity with which the water had changed the landscape.
I’ve always been drawn to water but I thought it was simply due to living near the Pacific Ocean. Water had always been in my day-to-day. Even if I wasn’t at the beach I lived my life around it. I used it as my compass to orient my world around. Now, living hours from the Ocean, I realize it’s not just the Ocean I crave, it’s water in general. Every day that I can, I walk the paths from our house down to the River. I sit on her banks, take her temperature, listen to her and look for the treasures she unearths.
No matter how despondent my mood at the beginning of my walk, going down to her banks always lifts me from a funk. I still orient towards the water and still, towards the West. My point of reference has always been water.
I love living in a place where an act of nature is cause for celebration. Where fireworks are set off to high-five Mother Earth and the whole town hoots and hollers to her.
I love living in a place where there are natural phenomena on the daily to celebrate but I also love living with a person whom doesn’t have to see the end to every party to celebrate in his own way and whom also lets me celebrate by myself in a moment of quiet in the middle of the wind tunnel on the bridge with the water rushing below. I love living in a place where every walk shows me something new, a change to the Earth I feel I know so well and yet still lose the path on regularly. Just the other day I became so distracted by the changes of the River that I walked right past the last shortcut home.
And so, I took the long way home.
Here’s to the finish line finally coming into sight and to enjoying the moments in the midnight sun that we have left. Despite the rush and rumble, I’m sure I’ll miss it dearly at times come Winter.