Tucked away on the top of the bookcase in our bedroom are two Alaskan Brewing Company ale bottles. Almost 20 years-old now, the labels are so faded it's hard to tell what the picture is on them.
But I can tell you.
In the background are snow and tree covered mountains which shelter a log cabin. And in the foreground is a floatplane moored to a dock.
Steve and I drank these when visiting my parents in California. We'd travelled, as we did each year, from Scotland, and at the time were just starting out together, and kept the bottles as a reminder of what we wanted out of life. So much has happened since then - the death of my mother, the birth of our sons, three homes bought and sold, emigration, the thrill of career advancements, bitterness at job losses, brief homelessness, loss. Hopelessness and joy, heartache and celebration, fear and strength. I think most people can relate, we're not unique.
But one thing remained constant throughout all these years, a desire to live somewhere like the illustration on the beer bottle.
And now it's actually happening. And it came out of the blue. We're moving to a remote bay in southeast Alaska, accessible only by floatplane or boat, so Steve can manage a salmon hatchery there.
I have to keep repeating this to myself. After the year from hell it's sometimes hard to accept our fortunes have change so dramatically.
Going from a holding pattern to having goals again has turned my mind around and I feel strong, warrior strong. I know we have made the right decision.
In our previous two trips to Alaska, I felt almost disappointed. I'd assumed I would arrive there and that would be that, I'd never leave. But neither place we visited felt quite right for us. The people were great, the scenery stunning, but...but sometimes you just know. Both times it felt like Alaska was saying not now.
This sounds trite, but every time we have made a move we have looked for a sign. Hoping for a good one like a rainbow or something seemingly twee like that. Once, and I kid you not, we were en-route to a new home and a crow fell stone-dead out of the sky right in front of our car. The place ended up not being the right fit for us and we quickly moved on.
Signs are simply a way of getting your head to believe what your heart already knows. And arriving in Ketchikan on the clearest of days, in one of the wettest parts of the US, was a good omen. Flying north we could see clearly what we were getting ourselves into, ocean alive with seals and sealions, endless mountains covered with trees and snow. Steve spotted a bear and her cub, the snow was dotted with mountain goat tracks. Getting out of the little float plane at the dock I was immediately reminded of the beer bottles. It was a dream, for whatever that's worth, come true.
Yes, there was rainbows. I knew it was right.
Trust me, I don't expect every day to be beer bottles and rainbows. We've lived in so many places we're experts on the challenges faced when adapting to new environments and communities . But this is what we are good at, this is our strength. And maybe Alaska wanted us to wait until we had gone through some really, really tough times to make sure we were ready for what she is about to offer us. We long ago decided not to take the comfortable path in life. And this seems like the next logical step.
But it's not easy leaving the Okanogan Highlands either.
We have lived in some incredible places, both in Scotland and the US. Beautiful places. The kind of places people want to visit and are on postcards and calendars. I well up with tears sometimes when I think about friends I can no longer just be with, without having to talk, just enjoying their company and listening to what they have to say. We are very, very lucky people.
And Tonasket has been even more than that. We have always been searching for the right place for us to stay forever. I know I personally want to find the place where I would be happy for my bones to bleach when I'm finished this life's adventures. So far each time we've moved on, that's it - I leave part of my heart and take away memories, but look straight ahead, never thinking about turning back.
But, if I had to come back to somewhere it would be here, in the ponderosa pine, the sagebrush, the snow and the wildfires, with the bears, moose, lynx and wolves. With people who take time to enjoy the truly simple life and don't worry too much about what the rest of society wants us to do.
And two of the best dogs a person could hope to have in their pack are buried under the thin, sandy Okanogan soil.
But for now, it's all about heading north.
That's where life's compass is pointing.
It always has.