Settle into the gray.
Those are the words which emerged as I stared out across Resurrection Bay, taking in the sights and sounds of the Alaskan coastline. There was a light drizzle as a thousand shades of gray danced across the sky. Never had I felt that gray could be so uplifting, so soothing, so peacefully powerful. Never had I seen gray so nuanced as I did against the mountain range carved out from glaciers millions of years ago.
Part of me was disappointed. The previous three weeks reported sunny and warm temperatures in Seward. My arrival coincided with a return to traditional southern Alaskan weather — cool, gray and rainy. (It is a rainforest after all.) But I had made a deal with myself that there would be no whining, internal or otherwise since my first trip to Alaska would be beautiful and magical and special, regardless of what the weather brought.
Turns out, those thousand shades of gray were really quite perfect and its perfection came in the form of constant change and constant surprise.
With 11 other women through the Green Edventures program, I took to the beach of Resurrection Bay one morning ready to kayak the magnificent fjord. The clouds were so low, they met the waterline on the horizon. It became more intriguing on the water as the wispy clouds glided softly along edges of water and rock. As I settled into the gray I noticed less that the clouds blocked my view of the mountains and more how it added depth to the scenery. It was quiet and soft and magical.
“You have the perfect day for kayaking,” our guide, Mikey, told us. “Sunny days mean windy days and make for some rough water. When it’s overcast, we have it perfect. I love days like this.”
A few days later, we found ourselves hiking in Kenai Fjords National Park en route to climbing Exit Glacier. Greeted by another round of cool temperatures, low clouds and on-and-off drizzle we joked about living in our rain gear. We powered through the hiking path, wearing nothing but t-shirts and lightweight hiking pants as the strenuous inclines kept us toasty warm. Our guides once again were ecstatic at the weather conditions.
“These are the best days to get on the glacier,” Steve said. “When it’s sunny, everything always looks the same. When it’s like this, the view on the way up and into the valley is constantly changing. And when we get on the glacier, the blue colors really pop against the gray sky.”
Sure enough, step onto the glacier and the shades of blue stand out magnificently against the dull sky. Shades of blue which can only be replicated in a Group of Seven painting, or perhaps a Disney Pixar movie. Shades of blue which while photographed, never do the actual view justice.
I sealed in the memories as best I could, returning home after a week in what I believed was the most beautiful place on earth. Still fighting through the worst case of jet lag I’ve ever experienced and a the requisite travel head cold, I opened my email and found a note titled “News” from my friend Tracy Jarvis.
My heart sang. I hadn’t heard from Tracy in nearly a year. We had worked together for the better part of a decade in a coaching relationship. She guided me through some very difficult periods of life. She encouraged me. Challenged me. Supported me. I relied on her heavily at times and had missed our regular conversations. She had backed away from her coaching relationships when she started to develop health problems. Of course I understood. She needed to focus on herself, on her health, on doing what she needed to do. Taking care of yourself is the best way to take care of others. She taught me that.
I eagerly opened the email. And then my heart sank.
She was writing to tell me she had been dealing with ovarian cancer for the last seven months. She was now in hospice. This, in essence was her goodbye to me.
I wept as a wave of profound loss washed over me.
There is no way to adequately explain the impact that Tracy had on my life, just as words to describe the Alaskan landscape fall far short in conveying their actual intricacies. But in my first waves of grief, I thought of the view of Resurrection Bay. I thought of the interplay of the clouds with the mountains and the sea.
Settle into the gray.
Because it is in the gray moments that magic happens.
It is in the gray where everything calms down.
It is in the gray where intricacies and depth are revealed.
It is in the gray where intense pockets of beauty burst to fill your soul.
Part of the magic of the Alaskan views I experienced came from the clouds and the shades of gray. Gaze across the bay and you might not see the mighty mountains on the other side. Turn back three minutes later and they stand tall and magical with wisps of white circling their edges. Wait another three minutes and the view will clear completely, revealing the ancient glaciers slowing carving out their mark against the rock.
As I settle into the gray of my grief, I know that the view will change, constantly and in mysterious and magical ways.
Tracy would appreciate that life metaphor. And I can hear her voice asking me to explore it deeper. And so I settle further into the gray, waiting to see what beauty and magic and opportunity are revealed as the clouds continuously shift.