Nikki Aufiero practices a handstand at Fourth of July Beach near Seward, Alaska, in April 2019. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikki Aufiero practices a handstand at Fourth of July Beach near Seward, Alaska, in April 2019. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Tangled up in Blue: The other ocean

I got confused looking out at Resurrection Bay recently.

The horizon was clouded, none of the mountains that typically line the coast were visible from Seward, and for a brief moment I thought I was looking out at the Atlantic.

I grew up staring out at the vast emptiness of that easterly ocean while playing in the sand on New Jersey’s beaches. Sometimes a sporadic barge or two would dot the coastline, or a fleet of charter boats heading out to find that day’s bite. Is that dad’s boat? I wouldn’t be able to tell until it moved in closer, a more defined stroke on a very, very blank canvas.

Staring off at the ocean from Resurrection Bay has rarely reminded me of home — the waves don’t break the same way, different types of ships pass by and there are islands and mountains.

But, when the horizon was clouded and I saw nothing except flat light sky and the Pacific, I was reminded of the other ocean.

A friend recently flew over all of the land separating those two oceans to visit Seward (and me). Within hours of her arrival, tragic loss started tugging her back toward the Atlantic. Her vacation turned into a weekend away and we threw all plans out the rental car window.

What do you do with a friend who has just a handful of hours to spend in Alaska? What do you do to show off your home to someone you love, whose visit is clouded by loss?

Before her arrival, I thought of how excited I was to show Nikki my newfound love of mountains, a landscape so foreign to us East Coast beach dwellers. I had planned out hikes and trips up and over the world below, but instead we stuck with what we know. We stayed near the ocean, closing our eyes and spotting those same old smells and sounds.

I was relieved, looking out at Resurrection Bay, as Nikki and I sat on a towel wrapped in blankets and coats to stay warm.

The mountains were illuminated by the sun peaking out from behind the clouds. The waves were breaking in different directions, sometimes crashing into each other and sending speckles of saltwater up into the air. The black sand beach below our towel was more rock than sand, flat rocks that felt smooth in our fiddling hands. Surfers clad in thick wet suits walked along the shore, boards tucked under their arm the same way they do back home.

I was relieved at how familiar it felt, to sit by Nikki’s side on the beach.

We debated how long it would take for the rising water to reach our blanket. It inched closer and closer, but never quite got to us. We talked about what we’ve done, how far we’ve come and what we’ll do in the future. We reflected on loss, wondering what good can come from pain. We decided — a lot.

She walked around, putting her hands into the sand and sending her feet up high. She pointed her toes, bent her legs, showing the mountains around her that, although she wouldn’t conquer them this time, she was just as tall and strong as they are.

I was relieved that we found ourselves laughing, falling back into familiar jokes and the same smiles that we’ve shared for years as friends, side by side on the beach just as we’d always done.

I wasn’t confused. I knew we were far from the blank canvas of the Atlantic Ocean, but I was relieved that Resurrection Bay brought us home again.

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