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Never Seen Clouds Like That

I tried to take a picture from the airplane on the way in, but it’s not everything I’d hoped it would be:

Problem with shooting from a cellphone camera out the window of the Coach cabin, I guess. What doesn’t come across is the depth of these clouds, their flowing structure, the literal way they formed and shifted before my eyes. It was, to use an awful cliche, like watching a special effect. Two masses coming together in an archaic arch, almost forming a perfect circle, as if creating a gateway through which to fly. On descent, I look down and see receding glaciers, can make out the termination point, the multiple fractures splitting further apart by meltwater that’s thawed, frozen, and thawed again. The forests go on beyond comprehension, the sheer size of the wilderness is stunning, and it is all, without a doubt, terribly, gloriously beautiful.

I have suspected for a long time now that I am not, for the most part, a terribly adventurous soul; at least, I’m not anymore. Maybe it’s a product of age, but I suspect it’s much more a product of personality. I had some bad experiences traveling alone when I was young, and they did damage such that I’ve never fully recovered. While I like travel, and while I love visiting new places, the actual process of leaving my “comfort zone” is something that I find harder and harder to do these days, and the burden of such things as language difference is such that I inadvertently balk before committing to such trips. This is one of the reasons that Michael Palin is one of my heroes, all things Python aside. And I suppose it’s yet another reason that I write; after all, I get to visit on paper all the places I will most likely never set shoe-leather to in my life.

Alaska is beautiful, and I can say this with tremendous authority on the basis of one flight and three long walks, but saying Alaska is beautiful ain’t a newsflash to anyone that’s ever heard of Alaska. Anchorage itself oddly reminds me of growing up in Salinas, California, before the Salinas Valley had a population explosion and, in true California style, began pumping out mini-malls and housing estates as fast as the migrant construction workers could raise them. Same feel to the architecture, the small town intimacy. You can walk all of Anchorage in less than a day. Biggest difference? Salinas didn’t have a tourist economy, or at least, the tourist economy it had was devoted to the handful of Steinbeck scholars came, making pilgrimage.

It’s that tourist economy that does it, that creates such a powerful feeling of not belonging here, of not having earned the right to it all. After all, the temperature is still hovering in the 40s, and there’s sunlight, and the snow I’m seeing is on the Chugach Mountains and not on the streets here. This isn’t winter, this isn’t close. It doesn’t take walking around with a camera hanging from your neck and a guidebook in your hand for the locals to make you as a tourist. I’m a PNW boy — and anyone who want to challenge me on that, they’re in for a fight — I’ve got my denim and my flannel and my boots and my Columbia Sportswear cover, and yes, Portland ain’t Government Camp, but I know what it’s like to live in the shadow of mountains and forest. The locals I’ve met at the con, they ask what I’ve seen of their state, and I tell them, and I add that it’s all lovely, and they cluck and shake their heads, because, y’know, Anchorage with its population of 300,000, that’s the city, that’s not Alaska. Makes no difference where you came from, and it’s not how I look, I know that; again, it’s that sense of belonging, of having earned this place, and I so clearly don’t have it, and I can almost all hear them thinking, “Pussy.”

More and more when I travel, I look at these strange and wonderful places, and I wonder what it would be like to live in them. Not simply idle imaginings, but thoughts of quite literally and wholly decamping from Portland and moving to the Strange New World. It’s not quite fantasy, and yet not quite serious consideration, either. Somewhere in between, fed by curiosity and something…else. Something I haven’t yet put a name to. And no, it’s not dissatisfaction with my life or my home, it’s not that. Wanderlust, maybe? A desire to reclaim that curiosity and sense of adventure that I lost when I was far too young to be traveling in France on my own? I don’t know.

It really is something else, here, though. Certainly a place I wish to return to, when I can bring with me the people I love, and take the time to see just a little sliver of the so-much-more that I’m missing.

Because, you know, I’m not here to see Alaska, or to even see Anchorage. I’m here for a mystery convention, to sit on a panel and to sign my books and to read my writing and to, mostly, catch up with DHS and meet some of his other clients, who are, uniformly, pretty terrific. In particular, I’ve gotten to finally meet Michael Koryta and Sean Doolittle and Theresa Schwegel, all of whom I greatly admire, and all of whom, I’ve discovered, are wonderful people. Doolittle won the Barry Award last night for his novel, The Cleanup, Best Paperback Original. Pick it up. It’s good.

Me? I’m done for the day, at least until the drinking starts tonight, and back in the hotel room, writing. Because, you know, when you’re surrounded by snow and ice, at least in the distance, that’s the time to be writing Whiteout: Thaw.

5 Responses to Never Seen Clouds Like That

  1. stealthbunny

    Visiting someplace while at a con, especially when a guest, is no time to be seeing the PLACE. There’s just… well, no time.

    My sisters, who have both been to Alaska (it’s one of the three states that I haven’t been to) swear by taking one of the cruises. At least for part of the Seeing, anyway. Just keep away from the bears if you are camping or fishing. The story of the fisherman who wouldn’t give up his fish to the hungry kodiak bear that was chasing him for it is only hysterically funny (at least the way my brother-in-law tells it) if you aren’t the fisherman.

  2. mercuryeric

    Great damn post. Beautiful pic.

    Triply good that you’re working on Thaw.


  3. jesterwitch

    Hey Greg,

    Elena here; It was great to meet you! I’m very happy we got a chance to chat! Thanks for all of the great advice on how to get my foot in the door to the comic industry. I will take what you said and put it to good use. ;) Add me to your friends list?

  4. jesterwitch

    And here’s the link to
    Almost Live With Paul and Misty

  5. kozemp

    The Phillies win the division, I finally get Springsteen tickets, and Rucka is writing the new Whiteout, all on the same day.

    There is a God.


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