Here’s the Thing: What’s old is new again

I’ve spent every summer growing up in Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. There is always the same feeling during the month of June. A sense of discovery. From a child to now, there is always something new to experience.

For instance a few weeks ago on my son’s field trip we found baby halibut while looking down into the tide pools. They are tiny, but fully formed. It blew my mind. After 32 years of living here, I can’t believe I’ve never seen hundreds of semi-translucent, half-inch sized halibut.

As safely as possible, we’d scoop them up with a scallop shell. This might not seem like a big deal, but it was to me. Maybe I need to get out more. Discovering a place of constant adventure and treasure in your backyard is indescribable.

As a small child, I was encouraged to go outside and play, but not without consent during bear season. The beginning of June is the time that hungry bears come out of hibernation and go looking for baby moose kabobs. I did not want to be a kabob, so I would run when going from the house to the shop garage, a separate building where my dad worked on cars. We lived in deep Nikiski, and in case you’re not from around here, its reputation is very much treated like the Wild West. I will not shatter that illusion, because I like being associated with the outlaw type even though I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket.

Mostly I played in the trees and sticks like a feral child, except on Sunday mornings when my mother would make me wear frilly dresses, white gloves, and white tights to church. I looked like Indian Shirley Temple. Thanks, Mom.

As an older child, June simply meant we were no longer in school and could play! I had a few best friends and we would rotate houses, so I could get out of the woods and into civilization. We would play on the empty elementary school playground, steal the neighbor’s garden veggies, play the other kids’ new gaming systems, camp in the backyard, and when someone’s mom was feeling generous on a hot day, she would drive us to the creek.

We were nervous of bears, moose, earthquakes (the “big one”), poisonous anything, menacing thorn bushes, drowning, and my personal fear, getting lost. At the same time we were fearless with our 3-wheelers, dirt bikes, or whatever life-ending machinery your parents allowed. We were reckless, but somehow lived. My 10-year-old daughter has a couple toys like that, but naturally they’re all from her Papa. Thanks, Dad.

As a teenager, June meant working at the cannery processing salmon or the Kenai City Docks sorting salmon species for commercial fishermen. It wasn’t fun when the nights would get cold and you were covered in fish guts from the “slime line.” The docks were always a joy, even on long nights. I loved having my feet dangle off the dock with my best friend, watching the sun barely go down and back up in between boats docking, and seeing the random aquatic species the fishermen would bring in. It reminded me of deep sea fishing on my dad’s boat and catching the occasional octopus, tangled crab, or sting ray.

By my late teens I’d been overseas multiple times and traveled most areas of the United States. Every time I come back to Alaska the fresh air, clean water, and overwhelming scenery on the drive from the Anchorage airport to my bed in Kenai always confirm it’s where I belong. I moved to Seattle, which was perfect for me, then gladly moved back to Kenai after graduating.

I did not like Alaska when I moved back. It felt dead. Everyone was the same. I was emo, aimless, and bored. June was not exciting. It was a work month, just like every month. Work, work, work.

Then my deadbeat boyfriend (or whatever he was at that time) decided to grow up. He worked hard, decided to pursue me, and by October I married a man in a brown corduroy suit. For the past eleven years, I’ve been in love with him and our life here. Alaska felt new.

Here’s the thing: I’m in my 30s and am lucky to now raise my kids here on the Kenai Peninsula. They will have their own stories to tell. They will have their own experiences. They offer so much more in this area than I had growing up. I cannot stress that enough. Coffee shops, way more stores and places to eat, a solid community that continues to grow, but with the same mountain and ocean air I grew up breathing.

Bob Ross says it best, “God was having a good day when he made Alaska!”

Kasi McClure enjoys being a wife and mother of two in Kenai. She can be reached at columnkasi@gmail.com.

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