Pictured here to the left is the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet (of the Pacific Ocean.) It was so-named because on his last journey, Captain Cook tried to navigate it in search of the elusive Northwest Passage, but was confounded by the tides and shallow depth. Which caused his explorers to turn, and turn, and turn yet again before finally realizing they probably weren’t getting to the Atlantic that way anytime soon. Hence the name. Turnagain.
I’ve hiked some portion of the mountains on the north side of the arm (the photo is taken looking west.) And at one point, I stopped and stood in the sunshine, three thousand feet above the arm, and imagined an 18th century mariner’s disappointment at what he saw before making one last accursed turn. It’s a useful metaphor for optimism (imagine what we’ll find!), pessimism (why bother?), or pragmatism (might as well try and see what happens), depending on your bent. I’m in the latter camp, if you wondered.
Somewhere way to the right of my photo, far beyond the frame, is Japan. And to be honest, I’m not sure what awaits. I have an idea of the stories that I’ll write as a result of the trip. But it’s a struggle for me to quantify why, exactly, it’s important enough for me to leave my family, my job, and a lot of unfinished everythings to go write about a disaster that occurred seven years ago. But I suppose the best answer I can come up with is this:
I had to.
The stories I’m going to write have burned a hole in me for months, and in one case, years. Look, I get a lot of ideas about things I think I want to write about. Thankfully, I can most of them because they’re crappy ideas. But others stick around until it feels like I might actually go to pieces if I don’t get them down on paper. Sure, I’m deeply connected to the tsunami. And while I respect that personal experience of a thing is more than enough to justify artistic engagement with it, this time I need to do something besides rely on my own memories, read books, and research online. I need to see, to touch, and most of all, to feel the effects of the tsunami in order to feel like I’m doing what happened in 2011 any justice.
And so, I will turn from what it’s in front of me to that which is behind, around, and within; I’ll turn. Again. And I’m going to look as hard as I can for answers I maybe didn’t even know existed. We’ll see what happens.