Lost in Alaskan Wilderness, I Found My Anti-Home

By Chia-Chia Lin for the New York Times

To say that Alaska is what you make of it suggests unconstrained entitlement; it’s something the colonizers could have said. At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Alaska is one of the last places in this country where you can wander millions of acres of land, doing whatever and sleeping wherever you please. If someone might have objected to your actions elsewhere, here he would simply never know.

All that summer, I thought I had ventured to Alaska to try on a different way of life, one that tested my self-reliance and competence. I wondered if I’d failed. Now, years later, I believe I was simply searching for a place I’ll clumsily call an anti-home. I mean an antithesis to my own childhood home — for in the backcountry I’d found quiet and stillness and the edge of happiness — but I also mean a place at odds with all notions of home. A place with no safety net, no walls, no sense of enclosure or intimacy or kinship. A place of exposure. It was not so much that I wanted to prove something to others, but that I had a question for myself: Who was I, in a place like that?

With trail hiking, the questions are limited: Is that the path? Which fork should we take? But in the backcountry, the questions are so numerous, so overwhelming, as to achieve a nearly rhetorical pitch. Forward or backward or right or left or any of the degrees in between? Where did that mountain come from? Will we ever see another human being?

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