Sunday, February 5
I get up relatively early (at least for this Alaskan sojourn)—9 am—to teach Sunday school at 9:30. There are about twenty kids, from kindergarten to sixth grade, and they’re a lovely bunch. The teacher is a good story teller and she recounts the tale of Isaac and Rebecca with love and patience. She’s clearly grown up with a Chabad background, as there are lots of references to HaShem and frequent interjections of bli neder. But there’s the Alaskan twist—she wears her long skirt with heavy mukluk boots and has that hardy, independent streak that brings folks here. I lead the morning tefillah with the kids, show them how to put on tallit and tefillin and share a song for Tu B’Shevat, which arrives next week, in the thick of the Alaskan winter.
In the afternoon, I take my longest drive of my stay, to Chena Hot Springs, sixty miles out from Fairbanks. It’s a gorgeous trip, mostly following the frozen river and snow-blanketed forest. The place is a big complex, with a couple of lodges where many folks stay the night (remember—Chinese couples trying to get pregnant under the aurora). I soak for about an hour and a half in their outdoor pool. It’s amazing to be in 104 degree water while it’s -6 outside. The rocks around the pool are all covered with snow and ice, and the steam is so thick in the cold air that it’s hard to see anything. But the water is soft and sulfurous and feels fabulous.
I drive back to Fairbanks, listening to the end of the Super Bowl. Of course the Patriots win. It’s that kind of year—a Trumpian team for a Trumpian season. But out here, the Super Bowl feels small and far away and pretty damn insignificant—which, despite all the hoopla, is exactly what it is. I enjoy dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, rest for a bit, and go back out for one last night on Clearly Summit.
There are far fewer cars up there on a Sunday night, and no busses at all. Just me, a few young Chinese students and a middle-aged Texan tourist. We wait. And wait. And wait. For three hours. But nothing materializes other than a faint glow. At 2:00 am, we all head home. Surprisingly, I’m not disappointed. Yes, I’d have liked to have seen the aurora one last time. But in a way, this only makes me feel more fortunate to have seen the show I did on Saturday night. Rarity is part of what makes things beautiful. If the northern lights played on cue, they wouldn’t be as special. Besides, even without the lights, I love being out in the bracing cold and dark. I think to myself: sabbatical is off to a good start.
Monday, February 6
I sleep late, waking around 11 am, after getting to bed at four last night. Tonight, I head back to Seattle. I call Janet and talk with her. The challenging part about this sabbatical is being away from her and the kids so much. I miss them dearly. My time apart from them only makes me more aware of how extraordinarily lucky I am to have them in my life.
I work out at the student rec building at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. I’ve managed to do this almost every day of this trip. It’s a little like the Boise YMCA: quirky, a tad ragged at the edges, friendly, warm. A place of community.
Then back to pack. I gather up my things, do some laundry, head to the airport, return my rental car. My flight is delayed again and again and again and we finally leave around 9 pm, arriving in Seattle around 1:30 am. More late night hours. Check in at the Belltown Inn, finally to sleep before my day with Tanya at Bastyr. Then home to Boise.