27.8003° N, 97.3961° W
By Andrea Spofford
As I wait to check in for the Anchorage to Kotzebue leg of my trip, I find myself counting the cities where I will stop along the way: Corpus Christi, Houston, Seattle, Anchorage, Kotzebue. I'm watching my dogs right now as they run on the dock. It was in the nineties here today and I spent four hours on the boat, my fishing rod an Ugly Stick, my bait croakers, waiting for nothing, not even a flirtation or a hint, the small fish vibrating in my hand when I put it on the line. The boat was nice and it was hot and everything was just sun and salt water. From one of the southernmost points of the United States to one of the northernmost, my coordinates will change from 27.8 North/97.36 West to 66.89 North/162.58 West tomorrow morning. I'm not a cartographer and I can't read maps that well--I know topographies only so far as they can tell me the hill I will have to climb. But what strikes me about these numbers is how fascinated I have become with them, the difference between 28 degrees North and 67 degrees North being the difference between this coastal place and that tundra place, the difference between two contrasts and the in-between I will fly tomorrow.
66.8972° N, 162.5856° WMy writing process has been challenged by this trip because I don't know what to research. When I approach a poem or an essay I approach idea first, research second. This is similar to how I approach scholarly writing too--idea first, research second. I can't do that with this trip because I don't know this place; I've been saving PDFs to my desktop, printing out what I think might be useful, but Alaska--the entirety of it--is too large a subject and the place we are going is so unfamiliar to me that I don't know where to begin. In my writing, as in my physical location, this is the difference of about forty degrees. I've been writing lately about in-between spaces, the what-ifs and intangibles brought up by our natural environment, the impact of vistas, worries of environmental carelessness, how I fit into the picture. I know that, for me, writing about environment always comes back to an obsession with physical place and the coordinates where I stand; tomorrow those coordinate change and my landscape changes and my writing changes too.