After a leisurely breakfast in Anchorage I rented a car and headed down Seward Highway towards Homer. No more than 20 minutes outside Anchorage the city falls aways and the marsh rushes up to take its place. Potter Marsh and the Mountains clothe the Turnagain Arm like a brightly colored sari. With the looming mountains on one side and the freshwater marsh on the other, my head was swinging so quick back and forth I had to pull over and speed back to the jutting boardwalks over the tall grasses.
I walked the boardwalk for half an hour taking in as much as I could before getting back in the car.
An excerpt from my journal at Potter Marsh:
"Of course the scale is what hits you first - what at once looks both looming and figurine. My chest felt contracted into my back. My eyes protested with a dull ache, flailing between my feet and the peaks.
A blue streak cut through my gaze. My eyes shifted focus, pulling back to the yellow grassed marsh I was standing in. Another blue streak glided by, luffing its wings until it caught the wind and locking into a float. Those half-moon, arced wings, that so often find their way inked onto skin, filled the marsh. If I've seen a Tree Swallow before I don't remember it. In the modest trailing marsh of the mountains the swallows vie for you attention. Or rather, they don't. They aren't there for you at all. You've traveled all this way to see them, but you didn't know it."
The drive from Anchorage to Homer is five hours of non-stop beauty. At times I was thankful to be alone and have the freedom to stop as I pleased and at other times I wished I had a companion that I could shake with excitement.
"Gradually as you drive the mountains kneel down to the lowlands. The scrubby pines take their place. Straight and starving they line the road.
Somehow I missed the transformation. How far back was the last peak? How long have I been in the bush? Somewhere in the last few miles I had started breathing smooth even breaths again. The mist and heavy snow had rolled back, releasing my lungs. To be out from under the gaze of the mountains was a relief I hadn't expected. "
"The grassland here is so beaten down by the weather its a dull ocher. At a speed it blends together like smooth sand. I passed a valley of those squat green pines and had the most surreal feeling that I was driving through a cactus stand in the middle of the desert. It stretched back forever but then it was gone around the bend and I was back in Alaska. "
Follow the small sign for Ninilchik and you'll feel like you've stepped into a Russian wonderland. Ninilchik is not technically an incorporated town but what it DOES have is a distinct Russian dialect, a blend of imported Russian and native Dena'ina Athabaskan, specific only to this place. Few are left who speak it and I saw no one but other tourists in this little town making it feel very much like a ghost town making it easy to imagine this as the original town the Russians from Kodiak Island built when they first came in 1847.
From the overlook where the church sits you can see the Aleutian Islands, the fabled Ring of Fire.
When you finally break out of the trees the steep cliffs catch you before you tumble into the expanse that is Kachemak Bay. The tension sprang back into my throat immediately. As far as your eye can stretch the mountains run further.
By the time you pull into Homer, neck stiff and hips protesting, there are few emotions left to feel.