Who's to say what draws us to new places or prompts us to return to old ones?

Heart holds room for 2 homes

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2000

"The small plot of ground on which you were born cannot be expected to stay forever the same. Earth changes, and home becomes different places."

-- Alla Renee Bozarth

I moved in June. Left Alaska for Lake Havasu City, Ariz. Traded my car for one with air conditioning. Packed in everything that fit, including my dog and two cats, and headed south.

It wasn't the first time I'd left Alaska.

My sophomore year of high school, I lived with an aunt and uncle in Nuremberg, Germany. My freshman year of college, I lived in Bellingham, Wash. In the early '70s, before my daughters were born, I spent two years in Los Angeles, Calif.

Alaska was always my home. Each time I moved away, I knew I'd return.

In the mid-'80s, when my two daughters were 12 and 14 years old, we moved to the Southwest where I attended the University of Arizona in Tucson. While there, we spent a weekend in Lake Havasu City and I fell in love.

Not with some one, but with some place.

Lake Havasu City is the best Arizona has to offer. It sits amidst the Sonoran and Mohave deserts. To the east, the sun rises over rocky, desert mountains. To the west, Lake Havasu, "blue water" in the language of the Supai, creates a boundary between Arizona and California. Between the mountains and the lake's 45-mile shoreline, the city lazily stretches across a terrain where cactus takes root and sand is plentiful.

In the summer, temperatures rival the nation's hottest. In the winter, they rival Alaska's hottest summer temperatures.

For 15 years, I was haunted by memories of that weekend.

Last March, I spent a couple of weeks prowling around desert country in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Rekindling my love for its sparseness,

mystery and intensity.

In May, while surfing the net, I stumbled across an ad for a reporter with a Lake Havasu City newspaper. I couldn't believe what I had found.

So, I sent off an envelope with some samples of my writing and a letter saying I was interested. I told my family and close friends that I was sure I didn't stand a chance of being hired. But what I really thought was that living in the mixed world of desert and water was a dream too good to come true.

Not long after sending the material, the editor of that newspaper called me.That was followed by another phone call. That was followed by an offer.

After several days of thinking it over and discussing it with those closest to me, I made my decision. And I started packing.

Lake Havasu did not disappoint me.

The mountains were more beautiful than I remembered. They were the sun's final boundary before it rose into a cloudless sky and sent its scorching heat down onto the parched land. The mountains' jagged, rocky faces were softened by the dusty purple colors of sunset when the evening sun sank in the west.

And at night, to the tune of coyotes howling and wild burros braying, the mountains' black silhouette stood in sharp contrast to a glowing moon traveling on its journey across the star-filled heavens.

The lake was exactly what the Supai word said, a brilliant blue. Formed when Parker Dam was built in 1938, it was filled with Colorado River water warmer than some baths I've had. On weekends, it roared with the echo of boats and jet skis, as water-starved visitors came from all corners of the country.

Believing Alaska's green-leafed birch and cottonwoods were part of my past, I was welcomed by the outstretched spiny arms of cactus. Palm and eucalyptus trees offered shade.

Adding to the city's charm was the London Bridge, originally built in London, England, in 1831. The McCulloch Oil Corporation purchased it in 1968 for over $2 million, and used it to lure people to the newly designed city. The job of rebuilding was completed in 1971. In its shadow, I heard languages spoken from all over the world.

Then there were the smells. The tickling, gritty, dusty scent of desert sands. The refreshing, cooler scent of the lake. The heat that filled my body each time I inhaled, not unlike the way Alaska winters have chilled my lungs. Heat heavy in the air; heat reflecting off the mountains; heat rising up from the earth.

For two months I breathed in Lake Havasu City.

Then in August, my father's health became a concern. For a couple of weeks, the telephone delivered medical updates and results of tests. Finally, it brought a call from my brother suggesting I come home. I flew back to Alaska

for a week to join my dad and other members of the family when he had appointments with his doctors. We discussed the situation and what we, his children, could do. And I decided that Lake Havasu was to far away.

On the last morning of the drive back to Alaska, I had breakfast in Glennallen and visited a gift shop next to the restaurant. Among the

T-shirts, cards and hats, a unique item caught my eye. A salmon cast in silver was designed to wrap around the finger. A small gold nugget marked its heart.

Salmon are known for their strong ties to home and an ability to sniff out the streams of their birth.

When I left Glennallen, the salmon was with me. As my hand guided the steering wheel those last remaining miles, the salmon kept my eyes focused.

Tonight there's a fall wind blowing outside my cabin, bringing the smells of a land four generations of my family have called "home." The rich scent of cranberries and the thick smell of leaves recently fallen onto damp ground. The salty smell of Cook Inlet and the distant smell of winter.

As I inhale, they mix with the smells of Lake Havasu City buried in the riverbed of my memory.

Nothing stays the same. Home has become different places.

McKibben Jackinsky is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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