Everything I Love Is Here: Reflection on Alyeska (Alaska)

by Janis Bell

My husband, Richard, and I traveled to Alaska in August. Our first day there, we visited the Anchorage Museum, which is filled with Indigenous artists’ paintings. I found myself drawn to a brown bear painting and kept returning to look at it.

At first, I missed seeing what the artist, Alvin Amason (Sugpiaq-American), had written on the bottom. “Everything I love is here.” “Here” is Kodiak Island, where the artist grew up and his family has lived for generations. He paints not only from his own experiences but also from stories told by his grandparents. His grandfather was
one of the first Alaskan native master bear guides. Sugpiaq means “real person,” the way the people in Alyeska described themselves prior to Western contact.

Throughout our trip, I kept repeating to myself the phrase “everything I love is here.” For me, when I say, “everything I love is here,” I mean York County. I must admit, I haven’t always felt this way. Yes, Alaska is unique, but so are York and southcentral PA. Yet it’s not about comparing or being better than another place.

As a follow-up to our trip, we took an OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) class at Penn State York entitled “Adventures in Alaska.” When the presenter shared his pictures of Kodiak Island, he had my full attention. I wanted to see what artist Alvin Amason loved so much. But I couldn’t see it. That’s when I realized the love for a place is in the eye of the beholder. To say “everything I love is here” is another way to say this is home.

Before going on our trip, we happened to see a friend who has been to Alaska several times. He told us, “Alaska has eagles the way we have robins.” So, I was disappointed when I only saw them at a far distance sitting in trees. “Are those eagles?” I kept asking my husband.

Janis created her own version of the sign that resonated with her in Alaska. She painted the eagle and replicated the message, adding “York, PA.”

Of course, I didn’t have to travel to Alaska to see an eagle up close. In the spring when we were driving just outside of our neighborhood in York, an eagle swooped down in front of our car. We both gasped as we said, “Was that a bald eagle?” We were at once stunned and exhilarated to see an eagle in the wild within walking distance of our house in York.

Of course, everything I love is here. I just need to have eyes to see it.
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