A decade of memories at Lake Eklutna is back in full force
I was solo and was running along the trail along Eklutna Lake about a month ago when the memory hit me. It was the way the sun hit the yellow leaves with the blue-green water glistening behind it; the hot, windless mid-morning sun rising. It looked like there was another morning when I was there over 10 years ago.
Walking was more my speed back then, and I was with some friends – how many, two? There was a general feeling of recovery in the beautiful fall day, coupled with a triumph that we had stories to tell. Something about the guys. It was probably a Sunday hangover and repentance walk when we got to talk about the ridiculousness of everything and feel some form of health and adventure from our decision to let go of it.
We were young and smart, but we didn’t make big decisions either, which was also fun. We were in Alaska, and at least it felt like our drama was under control. It wasn’t just about dating and what happened when we were predictably drunk in town on a Friday (again). We had Alaska, the hike and the adventure. The backdrop provided a good perspective for our lives.
That’s why we were at the lake.
The crazy thing about this brief, intense flashback was that it was clearly the same lake, the same sight, but more than 10 years had passed and my memory was dreamlike. I have shapes and feelings, not details.
I felt like I remembered something from a totally different “me”. I knew my experiences were hers too, but so many parts of my life have changed so much since then that I have been surprised to be able to harbor both my present experience and this past in the same brain and body.
I also thought about how lucky I am to have lived in Alaska long enough and to have visited Lake Eklutna so many times that the memories can overlap. I have this place as a point of reference for the different phases of my life. The lake is only the lake. It doesn’t really change much. But my fleeting experiences add to a mosaic of my enjoyment of this particular place, like a collage made up of slightly different pieces that add up to a single image.
Other memories of Eklutna:
While hiking with two new friends, I was introducing the observation bench for the first time and felt relieved when they (cautiously) seemed to get along. It was the same time as the first memory, a single and junk showing my way to Anchorage. I was happy to expand my circle of people with whom I felt a sense of camaraderie.
Driving up to the Alcan with my new husband and making our way to Eklutna before having to stop and camp one last time before heading to our new apartment in Anchorage. It was late October, cold but without snow. The sun rose brightly, but with little heat, across the lake the morning we packed our bags.
Paddling the lake in a two person kayak with my sister who came from out of town. Before you imagine this as a heartwarming and pastoral moment, know that she would say loud and clear “NAYTCHA” with a fake Boston accent whenever she spotted a tree. We were both slightly worried that my dad would fall out of the kayak he shared with my sister’s (very patient and calm) boyfriend.
In subzero temperatures and shade, trudging to Pepper Peak at noon in December with two friends from the valley who had picked me up from my home. I had spent the morning painting, which was wonderful and productive, and I enjoyed doing my afternoon exercises with these two. Having the plan and talking about our hike all the time, even through face coverings, made the mini-adventure enjoyable instead of just plain cold.
It’s humiliating for me to consider that I’ve only lived in essentially two places in my life long enough to overlap long-standing memories. The first is my home state of Massachusetts where a particular stretch of Highway 9 that runs through Framingham brings back waves of memories so thick I can’t analyze them. On a visit a few years ago, I saw that the AT&T store had moved from the top of this hill after that red light, and I felt shocking and sad.
Then there is Alaska and Lake Eklutna which I have visited so often, by choice, as an adult that I also have too many memories to count. The humiliating and reassuring thing about Eklutna, compared to the AT&T store, is that he doesn’t budge. The light changes from day to day; the seasons are different. But it’s still the same lake, much older than me and with many more years to live beyond me.
It kind of reassures me that a place like this has the ability to simply exist, regardless of human lifespan, and to support not only my memories, but countless others like mine. If this lake had ears, it would share too many stories to know.