Surprised by Alaska

When my husband announced that he was planning to take me to Alaska, I shrugged my shoulders and reluctantly agreed, secretly hoping he’d change his mind and take me to the beach. Now, I love the mountains. I was born in the heart of Romania, Transylvania, a region surrounded by the dark, curvy Carpathians, with mountainous images tattooed in my heart. I visited phenomenal European Castles erected on mountain coves, signposts of an ancient history, powerful richness, and aristocratic pride. I’ve witnessed sunsets and sunrises that take your breath away for a few good minutes, the air swirling in your throat, signaling to your brain that forgetting is not an option here. Scenes that speak to the most intimate neurons sparked delight hardly able to process. The mountains held my heart and my honeymoon, too. He whisked me away to the alpine inlet of the Smokey Mountains to dance and make love. Bears and woods, rocks and leaves shuffling on the wintery wind, cuddling the little cabin of our brand-new marriage.

So, I have been a mountain girl for as long as I remember. I switched to the beach after my sister passed away three years ago. My best friend and immigrant-soul in America, my sister basked in the sunrays like dolphins in the oceanic blues. She spoke the language of the beach—whatever that is. She quivered like a duckling when the heat and sunshine, sand and waves, sun and water hit her Romanian-grown skin. It wasn’t hard to see the beach on her, really. No squinting required. She was not a mystery; she was just my opposite. After her death, I tried to catch her spark for the ocean. The beauty of the ocean is bigger than my sister, but I can’t help but feel a little closer to her when my feet drag the sand and my throat inhales the salted breeze. It’s an experience I choose to associate with her, a few days-monument in her honor. I realize that the ocean speaks to me because it spoke to her: and now I am trying to interpret its beauty in my own soul.

We were flying 38,000 feet in the blue, rounded atmosphere. Nothing but endless blue horizon, daylight, and a few clouds beneath. Until real mountains, covered with snow, and undular crescents greeted us at our height, peeking up to declare the majesty of the Alaskan mountains. They felt so close to the plane, inviting and strong. I should have known that what I was about to witness was nothing short of majestic wonder in this land. I gasped and filed this image away in the lobes of my memory. I knew it was rare!

Anchorage reminded me of my hometown somehow. There was an air of Eastern-European living in some buildings, names, culture. Block of flats, wooden cabins, “Olga’s” and “Nadia’s” stores, the grey colored bricks, the drinks without ice, the Slovakian waiter, the simplicity of small homes, the homeless on the streets, and the kindness of some hard-working people. To me, the city is both American and Eastern-European, remnants of a Russian culture mixed with the new world. I was home twice: here and there. A two-worlds-city that spoke to my old and new heritage. An immigrant city with roots in Russia but with a trunk in America. Its otherness spoke to mine and I simply loved it…

But nothing prepared me for Alaska then when I witnessed the vast Pacific Ocean cuddling the mountain edges. The highest heights reflected in the depths of the watery lows. This world was going as high as it went deep—in front of my gazing eyes and brain overloaded, playing catch-up at every angle. How can anyone absorb such mystery? How can humans stand on their feet and not realize that our smallness is privileged to walk on such grandeur? The snowy peaks, traveled by elk, moose, and bear entertained by the waltzing splashes of orcas, whales, and sea lions. The animals of the air companioned by the fish of the sea. Trees basking in the fussy sun, waves rolling in the stubborn winds. Pulled and tugged, filled and held from above and beneath. The majestic view of the ocean kissing the mountains, or the mountains hugging the ocean, draws the mortals in and drowns their meager words. Glaciers moving slowly over the land, draping behind deep, cold fjords.  How can I speak when such majestic views overwhelm the senses and overload the brainwaves? The divine Creator of all, glorified by heights, depths, and breadths—all standing in the same place. When I saw snow next to green plants, clear blue waters next to brown rocks, winter next to summer, black bears next to grey whales—I knew I was standing in a unique place. I knew this was not an accidental frame! It must be the one majestic Hand of the one majestic Creator that can ever paint such one glorious frame. As I stood still, feeling like a queen and a beggar at the same time, my mind tried to catch up with the unfolding beauty all around me. What stories are they telling? Who can fully grasp the splendor of the mountains caressed by the cold waves? Is there anything more beautiful than mountains and ocean in the same blink?

The trip to Alaska gave me mountains and an ocean. I held my husband’s hand, kissed his lips, and delighted in his face, celebrated by lavish woods and icy waters. We hiked trails, rode bikes, rested on rocks, climbed mountains, boated on the ocean, and strolled along sealines. Equally surprising to me was that the “mountain” in me delighted in my sister’s “ocean.” I was fully in the mountains, and fully at the ocean. I don’t have to choose between mountains and oceans. Like Alaska, I can have both.

Today I miss Alaska. Hundreds of seconds and thousands of blinks recorded and erased views and clips. I dream of Alaska at night and smile when I remember it in the day. I know I am forgetting more than I can remember. But if he ever plans a trip back to Alaska, I will shrug in delight and joyfully agree, even squeal some: Alaska is nothing like I have ever imagined or dreamed. It is so much more!



  1. Anca, this is so beautiful, I feel as if I am there! God gifted you with a wonderful way with words, to express His awesome creations, that some of us will only “see” in your beautiful words! May He continue to bless you in your writings, and your life. Love you ❤️❤️

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