Picture: A Thousand Words for Home
For Juneau, Alaska
In a thousand words, picture:
On November 15, 2020, the hour is blue.
I, behind the camera, stand still with time.
Tinted rain hangs idly somewhere between sky and asphalt road.
Let me show you what solace looks like.
The wind rests its breath. A deluge with no angle, the melted snowflakes dangle like a billion bits of blue suspended from the dripping clouds. The ones that met the ground in moments just past flow like watercolors, blending earth with sky and flakes of first snow. Carotene colors the sparse leaves of deciduous trees. The blurred background is dappled with crisp hues of red alder and black cottonwood. Evergreens cut shadows into the horizon. In mere minutes, they’ll be kindling for the dawn. They stand stoic at the foothills and on the faces of the Mendenhall Towers, twin mountains at the edge of home.
It’s an image of nature, trimmed down to four sides, four corners.
I hadn’t known perfect rectangles were shapes ever found in Creation.
Look, and you’ll see that time dresses in shades of cerulean and cobalt. By definition, the blue hour denotes the handful of minutes just before and just after day; it’s when the sun saturates the natural world in a sheer tone of blue. Now, there is no sun, and the moon in imitation has taken leave behind the clouds.
The shaded hue of the hour gives no promise to the approaching day.
There were days in the midst of the pandemic when the winding road was the only way to seek sunshine. Daylight time in Alaska, even in the southern parts of the panhandle, is wistfully brief. The early blue hour arrives later and later, while its evening twin comes earlier each day, whittling down the light hours in between.
Every raindrop is a microcosm as it dutifully refracts Nature’s hours into minutes into seconds into memory.
Nevertheless, in Alaska, we learn that in Nature, even the darkness needs his nightlight. Five hours before the blue hour, green had streaked across the night. Plasma, her maiden name Aurora Borealis, was a coy presence, toying with onlookers just above the Mendenhall Towers and the serrated treeline.
She was a luminous sighting in a time of deep blue.
Then, there is the road, the only man-made piece of the picture. Like a hurried brushstroke of gray with a stripe of yellow centered on the rough asphalt, the road carves a trail across the image, its figure wound around the mountainside.
A blemish? Not quite.
In the long pandemic months, my family and I traveled this lone, winding path along the mountainside on our way “out the road” countless times.
The two-lane asphalt road hugs the hip of the mountain as it carves a curved path north among the trees. Its east side is all steep mountain, its west side changing with the ride. Here, the road is bordered to the west only by the Gastineau Channel, a water body half a mile across that separates Juneau from Douglas Island. The road follows the shape the water has made in the land, always running parallel to its predecessor.
To me, it’s always been a nameless path leading to a nameless place somewhere in the middle of the Southeastern Panhandle. And it’s dignified in this way. Simple familiarity needs no label.
The road tapers out of view around the upper right-hand corner of the image.
Should we travel further on, we would arrive at a number of auspicious places: Sunshine Cove, Eagle Beach, Echo Ranch. Each of these was frequented by my family and me in the quiet months of a pandemic winter.
From my place behind the camera aperture, I find snowflakes in the rain.
The snow is condensed in the Gastineau, solid on the ground, and evaporated in the rain.
Twelve degrees colder, and the image might be of a different effect. It’d be slower. Some days, it feels like breathing ice, and everyone smokes, exhaling lungfuls of gentle mist. Inhale cold. Exhale cool. Inhale ice. Exhale snow. In Southeast Alaska, breath becomes a byproduct of the atmosphere.
On the nearer mountains, giving the illusion of being just feet behind the nearest birch, one million flakes compose the image of a beast in the mountainside. A great patch of pines makes up its staring eye and open ear as its gray-white maw opens wide for the wild creatures of the summit. In the distance, the Towers are capped with a dusting of the soft, white flakes like powdered sugar. Snow is sweet.
A small snowflake story:
People say that every winter, one septillion ice crystals fall from the sky.
In one single four-sided image of Nature in the North, one million more snowflakes dangle, pendulous, in the shape of rain.
In this time of deep blue when a path out the road has become second nature, understanding fills the image.
If all of nature is one congruous entity, could it claim a picture? Could one scene demand more focus, the rest subjected to the background or a place just out of shot? Seen from the aperture, it’d be inevitable, for how can any man-made device capture nature’s grandeur, which runs in all directions across space and time and memory, always a thousand words out of frame.
The raindrops finish their fall to Earth. The wind wakes at last and teases the deluge into a slight slant. In the space between sky and asphalt road in a small town in Southeast Alaska, a girl faces east as the wind blows west and welcomes nature, in perpetual motion once more, into her lungs.
In my hometown, you recognize that only nature itself fully fathoms nature. Only nature knows the sting of iced air in her lungs, hears the bluebells chime in the eddies of wind, feels the visceral joy in the image of living.
Elizabeth Djajalie is a writer born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, a beautiful place that she still calls home. Her passion for writing is fueled by the belief that writing, as a human expression, gives words to one human voice. She loves articulating this shared voice through writing of all genres, and her works–from nonfiction to poetry to humor–have been recognized by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and the National Speech and Debate Association. Outside of writing, Elizabeth enjoys tennis, singing, and making music with her friends.
For more on Elizabeth and her work, visit By E. Djajalie