Every day it gets a little bit brighter, but not by too much. The sun sets a couple minutes later than it did the day before, and while the difference is gradual, I feel a new buoyancy and relief in me. Spring is on the way. But before that, it’s still winter, with cold snaps and crisp blue skies followed by weeks of straight snow, falling in tufts, coating and cleansing all it touches.
With January comes the legislative season in Juneau, and the city swells slightly with legislators and their staffers and journalists and lobbyists and whoever has a vested interest in politics. I’m grateful for the new energy, my curiosity bobbing its head to peek at what the ongoings of local politics brings to this place: drama! confrontation! compromise! history!
I stepped foot into a legislative building for the first time last week with a few other of my program fellows, wanting to witness the beginning of the legislative session and all its performance. We followed our point of contact, the founder of the program and a local state representative, through the capitol building as he weaved up staircases and past offices and people held up by their suits and pencil skirts; and as he marched straight into the legislative chamber, we briskly followed, and were stopped abruptly by the pages standing outside the opened double doors.
“Hey, woah, where are you going?”
We reared back like surprised horses and stood awkwardly to the side, pressing ourselves against the hallway walls as legislators and staffers walked in and out and boomed their greetings to one another, ignoring us. Our representative friend was nowhere to be seen, and we bemusedly absorbed the procedures required of us. No jackets or bags, we can put them away for you, and there’s no more standing room, so you’ll have to wait outside the doors during the introduction; the girl scouts will come in an recite the pledge of allegiance, there will be an elementary school brass band, and then people will leave the gallery and you can take seats.
I felt like an insect, huddled to the side and feeling like a nuisance, and I laughed at the absurdity of it all. While the session was public, this was hardly what you’d call accessible.
After the ceremonial reciting of the national anthem and some other talk about a nation under God (bleh), we shuffled to the now open seats in the gallery. What followed was fascinating to watch, a whole system of processes for decision making and value signaling which will happen almost every day in these strange, gilded halls: legislators passing notes, guests being introduced, objections, recesses called, simmering tensions and questions. I’m looking forward to getting acquainted with all of it (and sneaking into receptions held throughout the city and talking to anyone, everyone).
The end of winter is the cusp of an outpouring of energy. When the snow melts and the clouds clear and the sun remains in the sky into the evening, everyone in this city will change. One of my friends here is a full-time writer in the winter, but can never write in the summertime because he’s constantly working outside, jumping between the luscious islands of Southeast Alaska, working on a documentary or hunting with his family. “I almost don’t want spring to come yet,” he said laughing, “I’m not quite done with this book, and soon I’ll be itching to be outside.”
While winter’s been difficult, it’s also been a special, specific season of quieting down, listening deeply, groping around in the dark and discovering other senses with which to perceive the world. And I’ve been moving, keeping warm through an internal energy: sending letters back and forth to one of my closest friends from college; participating in an email chain with some friends where we update each other on our lives and projects; writing and dancing (in my room) every day, skiing every Sunday; working on video projects; getting over heartache with the practiced motions of a Buddhist or stoic or dancer or whoever is supposed to be able to let things go when they need to go.
I wonder what springtime will bring? I already feel myself, petals itching, preparing to bloom.