A decade of memories at Eklutna Lake comes rushing back

I was solo and running along the trail along Eklutna Lake about a month ago when the memory hit me. It was the way the sun hit the yellow leaves with the blue-green water sparkling behind it; the warm windless mid morning sun rising. It looked the same as it had some other morning when I was there over 10 years ago.

Walking was more my speed then, and I was with female friends — how many, two? There was a general feeling of recovery in the beautiful fall day, paired with triumph that we had stories to tell. Something about guys. It was likely a Sunday hangover and repentance walk when we got to talk about how ridiculous everything was, and feel some measure of health and adventure from our decision to walk it off.

We were young and smart but also making not great decisions, which were also funny. We were in Alaska, and that made our drama at least feel like it was kept in check. It wasn’t just dating and what happened when we were predictably drunk downtown on a Friday (again). We had Alaska, hiking and adventure. The backdrop provided a good perspective for our lives.

That’s why we were at the lake.

The wild thing about the brief, intense throwback was that it was clearly the same lake, same view, but over 10 years had passed and my recollection was dream-like. I got shapes and feelings, not specifics.

I felt like I was recalling something from a totally different “me.” I knew my experiences were also hers, but so many parts of my life have changed so drastically since then that I was surprised I could house both my present experience and this past in the same brain and body.

I also thought about how lucky I am to have lived in Alaska for long enough, and visited Eklutna Lake so many different times, that memories can layer. I have this place as a point of reference for different phases of my life. The lake is just the lake. It doesn’t actually change all that much. But my fleeting experiences add up to a mosaic of my enjoyment of this one particular place, like a collage made of slightly different pieces that add up to one picture.

Other memories from Eklutna:

Hiking with two new friends I was introducing for the first time to the lookout bench, and feeling relief when they seemed to (cautiously) get along. This was the same era as the first memory, single and junk-showing my way around Anchorage. I was happy to expand my circle of people with whom I felt a sense of camaraderie.

Driving up the Alcan with my new husband, and making it as far as Eklutna before we needed to stop and camp one last time before heading to our new apartment in Anchorage. It was late October, and cold but snowless. The sun rose brightly, but with little warmth, across the lake the morning we packed up.

Paddling out on the lake in a two-person kayak with my sister who was visiting from out of town. Before imagining this as a heartwarming and pastoral moment, know that she was loudly declaring “NAYTCHA” in a mock Boston accent every time she spotted a tree. We were both also slightly worried about my dad falling out of the kayak that he shared with my sister’s (very patient and calm) boyfriend.

In subzero temps and shadow, trudging up toward Pepper Peak midday December with two friends from the Valley who’d picked me up at my house. I’d spent the morning painting which felt wonderful and productive, and I enjoyed getting my afternoon exercise fix in with those two. Having the plan and talking the whole time we hiked, even through face coverings, made the mini-adventure enjoyable instead of just plain cold.

It’s humbling for me to consider that I’ve lived basically only two places in my lifetime long enough to layer long-standing memories. The first is my home state of Massachusetts, where a particular stretch of Route 9 that runs through Framingham brings back waves of memories so thick I can’t parse them. When visiting a few years ago I saw that the AT&T store had moved from the crest of that one hill after that stoplight, and I felt shockingly disoriented and sad.

Then, there’s Alaska, and Eklutna Lake that I’ve visited so frequently, by choice, as an adult that I also have too many memories to count. The humbling and reassuring thing about Eklutna, vs the AT&T store, is it doesn’t move. The light on it changes day to day; seasons are different. But it’s still the same lake, a lot older than me and with a whole lot more years to live beyond me.

That’s reassuring to me somehow, that a place like that has the capacity to simply exist, independent of human life spans, and to support not only my memories but countless others like mine. If that lake had ears, it would share too many stories to know.