A woman sitting on rocky beach next to water in Alaska.

words and photos by Ann Olsson ::

There’s something about packing your bags and leaving a place close to your heart, knowing you’ll never live there again. This is how I felt in May of 2016 when I made the journey out of the wilderness surrounding Fairbanks, Alaska and into the relatively big city of Madison, Wisconsin.

At that time, my husband flew up to Fairbanks to drive with me to our new home in Madison. As we started our road trip, I saw dark clouds in the distance and smelled rain in the air.

Before this move, while en route to visiting Wisconsin for the first time, I sat by the airplane window. Looking down from this view, I saw only a flat patch of agricultural landscape. I could feel my stomach turn and my heart tumble. I felt empty. Not a single mountain as far as the eye could see, just a flat landscape.

Flat grass trail with meadows on each side and trees in the background.In Alaska, I lived in a dry cabin. It had a woodstove that heated a room which served as living room, kitchen, and dining room. It had no running water. I remember night trips out to the outhouse, gazing up to the sky. I remember those forever-changing northern lights that danced above, switching from light green to pink.

There’s something about those sights that make you forget about the type of cold that makes your legs go numb.

The Northern Lights

During summer, those light shows constantly fought for attention against a stream of biting mosquitoes and the breathing in of smoke from wildfires raging across the state. I recall those long summer days, wondering if was 10 in the evening or 3 in the morning because of the everlasting light.

Orange sky and clouds with purple mountains in the background in Alaska.

Alaska: They call it The Last Frontier, a place where people go to hide or live off the land. I called it home.

Back in the car, I watched the landscape from my window. Following the Tanana River, we moved further from the cabin, the landscape changing, and then changing again. Deep forests, river beds, large mountains, and then more mountains that loomed in the distance.

Eventually, all those mountains were in my rear view mirror.

I felt excited for a new chapter. I also worried about adapting to a city that didn’t have mountains on the horizon.

I felt closer to nature when I lived in Alaska — that sometimes-so-unforgiving nature. Alaska is a place where you learn to love the elements or you spend a pretty miserable life fighting them.