As I flew farther away from Los Angeles and closer to the frigid temperatures of the north, I struggled to get my thoughts under control. I was definitely excited about this internship, but there was a creeping sense of apprehension at the realization that I was flying to Alaska. ALASKA. At the next moment though, I’d be gripped by disbelief. It was a long flight, to say the least.
It wasn’t until I caught a sight of the mountain ranges on the short 30 minute flight from Anchorage to Cordova that I felt a sudden burst of joy. From my window, there were snow-capped mountain peaks as far as I could see and enormous glaciers snaking their way from the mountains. Pristine blue waters around the mountains mirrored the skies. I was falling in love and I hadn’t even landed yet.
At the Cordova Airport, I was warmly greeted by Melissa Gabrielson, a wildlife biologist at the Cordova Ranger Station. “You came at a great time!” Melissa explained, “It’s been a dry winter and it’s also been raining a lot these past couple of weeks, but we just recently got this snowfall.”
After we got my bags, we got into one of the Forest Service vehicles and drove toward the town of Cordova. Throughout the journey, Melissa excitedly pointed out several landmarks that wouldn’t usually be visible on most days.
“When people arrive, it’s usually rainy and cloudy,” Melissa dropped the car visor down as we drove into the sun, “but now you can see Queen’s Chair, the Heney mountain range.” As we drove through the two mountain ranges and around a bend, a huge icy lake greeted us. “That’s Eyak lake and there’s Mt. Eyak. There are lots of hiking trails around here. We actually just passed one.” I tried my best to absorb all the information, but I kept looking from one side to the next so much that I felt like a windshield wiper. It’s a wonder I didn’t get dizzy.
We dropped off my bags at the new bunkhouse and then got right back in the vehicle so that I could get a tour of the Cordova Ranger Station and the town. At one point, I asked if there were any places or fields where one could go for a run. Melissa immediately took me along Orca Road, which winds its way right alongside the bay. We saw sea otters frolicking and riding some very choppy waves.
“Bald eagle!” Quickly, I turned in my seat to look out the window. “No, bald eagles! Were those really bald eagles?”
“Yeah!” Melissa confirmed. I had never seen a bald eagle before, so I just couldn’t believe I saw a group of them soaring the skies.
Once back at the ranger station, Melissa showed me where I could take a shortcut to the pier. We both departed with “See you tomorrow!” and I walked down a hill to reach the edge of the bay. The wind whipped my scarf around so that I had to pull it down multiple times, but the despite the wind chill, I reached the water and looked out at the setting sun. I just couldn’t believe this would be my home for the next couple of months.
It began to darken so I hurried back to the bunkhouse. Snow crunched underneath my boots and I paused to watch two eagles soar almost effortlessly to the top of the trees in the forest.
I thought, “Okay, I believe I’m in Alaska.”