Confession: I am South American. I don’t do winter sports. And I was raised swimming outdoors in ocean water every weekend. As a result, Alaska isn’t “natural” for me.
I have this love/hate relationship with Alaska, as I think most people do who weren’t born and raised here. It’s definitely not a ‘meh’ state. It’s always going big or going home, in everything from sunlight (and lack thereof) to snow. Winters are long and hard on my joints. Summers are short and sunny even during midnight. It’s very extreme.
And very beautiful.
One of the reasons why we have stayed as long as we have (and plan on staying) is the way homeschooling has just opened up doors for our family. We have a family we could have never imagined. We live in a way that feels almost fairy tale like. And I’m so thankful!
Just a few Sundays ago we went on a homeschool fieldtrip organized by our charter school. Drove three hours one way to sit on a boat for 5 hours, and do marine biology lessons and experiments. And whale watching. And sea lion watching. And glacier watching.
It’s the part of Alaska you fall in love with, the views that leave you breathless. The smell of rain and pine trees that I’m sure I would never smell in any other place. It’s the big ocean and the big mountains all in one panoramic view.
Then there’s an almost unbelievable amount of homeschooling support in this state that has afforded us to be here. Paid for by their school (and not my pocket). Learning about our ecosystem and being surrounded by kids just as interested and curious as my children.
My children (and I) learned:
- Alaska (south of the Arctic circle) is indeed a rainforest.
- We are so rich in phytoplankton that it is visible in our waters from outer space.
- Alaska is the final frontier to many species of pelagic birds – birds that can swim and fly. These birds have dense bones to help them really fly underwater but can still get airborne.
- Marine mammals have had multiple adaptations which help them survive in these cold waters.
- The tail of a humpback whale is worked by a muscle called a peduncle. It is so powerful that in two swipes it will get a whale completely out of the water and into the air. That’s 66,000 lbs!
- Otters have such lose fur that they can literally grab their back, bring it in front of them for grooming, and put it back.
My kids got to look at and identify plankton under a microscope that they caught in the bay. And they learned a lot about how unique our state is, the state I’m learning to fall in love with after all these years.
We also went outside and learned how to spot humpback whales by watching the patterns of the birds that feed around them. We came to understand their behavior and know when they were going to dive for a long time.
How many people in the world could honestly say they’ve seen a humpback whale?
We also spotted sea lions resting on rocks to conserve their energy. And so many birds.
I can get tired of the long, dark winters… but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of exploring the beauties of this place with my children and seeing the wonder in their eyes. When you are in front of such big wildlife, you are more aware of how small you are in comparison to the rest of creation – and more in awe that God loves you THAT much.