Southeast Alaska is filled with forest service cabins that provide unique places to spend a weekend and connect with previous visitors. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)

I Went to the Woods: Popping the bubble

A good weekend off the grid will put your focus on the cluttered chaos of nature.

By Jeff Lund

For the Juneau Empire

There are lots of bubbles. Some involve trapped air, but most are metaphorical. Sports leagues have had bubbles. Communities have them. Close-talkers don’t understand them.

Sometimes you escape all of the bubbles, or enter a protective bubble. I’m not sure which analogy is the most fitting. Is it that a weekend charging into inlets squeezed between towering monolithic cliffs is escaping the chaotic, shallow bubble of the modern life? Or is that same experience more like entering a protective bubble that shuts out all the inconsequential garbage of daily life?

I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter. The point is that feeling of clarity that is only achieved after an extended period outside the normal routine. You reenter life and discover that what pecked at you Friday did not matter. In a tangential way maybe, but as far as something worth taking daily energy to address, most falls short of true importance. You took a break from reading about inflation and stopped checking Dogecoin every nine minutes. Easily. When you were out there, there was no temptation. No twitch. You discover what can, and should, be banished from your bubble. It’s not that those things aren’t important, but the disproportional impact they have over you, versus you having over them, can be debilitating.

A good weekend off the grid will put your focus on the cluttered chaos of nature. You feel small which in turn makes your problems seem even smaller.

You realize that social media did not start the outdoor flex, but there is a charm to how it used to be done. Read the log entries in a forest service cabin for evidence of this. Apparently, someone caught and released a 50-pound halibut from a kayak, someone else camped under a rock, another kayaker cut through three-foot waves to make it to land. Someone was so proud to state they have been adventuring in Alaska for nine years without using a forest service cabin, that they went in the cabin to write the entry, then pitched a tent in the rain on the grass out front. Additionally, “Doug pooped.” Thank goodness.

I’m more of a reader than a writer when it comes to those forest service log books. Maybe because I don’t know what to say or maybe because the red squiggly lines don’t appear under the ink of a misspelled word. But they are fun to read by lantern as the wood stove turns the shelter into a sauna.

It is tempting to remark about the expense of the cabin relative to a La Quinta off a freeway somewhere that, for the same cost, provides serviceable Wifi and enough of a breakfast to at least get you started. But that’s exactly the thing and attitude you’ve escaped.

The whole point of inflating your sleeping pad on the 40-year old wooden bunk is to remind yourself that life isn’t found in a screen. You’re present with whomever you are sharing the experience with. You think about all the people from the local bubble, Southeast bubble, Alaska bubble or some Lower 48 bubble who enjoyed the same wood stove you did. This connects you to powerful commonalities. A bubble of faces you’ll never meet but it doesn’t matter. It’s good. It’s refreshing. It’s real.

When you return to the world you still see the same catastrophe opportunists and misery entrepreneurs submerging people in a marinade of stress and their own cortisol.

It will envelope you again if you let it. So you check the weather for the next weekend and make plans.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer in Ketchikan. The Kindle version of his book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available for pre-order on Amazon. His column, “I Went To The Woods,” appears twice per month in the Juneau Empire.

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