There were 30 or more fish-focused bears at Brooks Falls. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

That first ember of excitement you feel burning inside from the moment you decide it’s time for a new adventure is an invigorating feeling. From the initial destination-dreaming phase to signing the trip form’s bottom line, you can sense the flames of positive energy building. You start to prepare yourself by reading about and researching the places and wildlife you’ll be experiencing. You happily anticipate the departure date, thrill on the day you actually embark, and are absolutely exhilarated on Day One of the tour.

But at some point during your trip-of-a-lifetime, you realize that the thing you so eagerly awaited for months—sometimes years—will soon be ending. Inevitably, sadness sets in. For some, it comes upon arriving back home and first stepping foot in the front door. For me, it comes much earlier than that: it hits smack-dab in the middle of the adventure.

Farewell, new world

Saying goodbye to a place we’ve come to love during our travels and letting go of it might be the hardest thing a nature traveler has to do—probably because we go to some of the most beautiful spots on Earth.

“Porch talks” are part of every great trip. ©John T. Andrews

A few years ago, on a trip to Alaska, a place I had dreamed about seeing from the age of four years on, I was overwhelmed with the sadness of knowing my time there would soon be ending—after just seven days of a 14-day tour. Sitting on the porch steps of my cabin at Brooks Falls on a Sunday afternoon, I suddenly felt a wave of depression wash over me. I think it gave my heart a drenching because earlier that morning a small group of us had taken a hike to the platforms at the falls to see the grizzlies fishing. The hours there had been spectacular: it was one of those perfect Alaskan summer days of warmth without humidity. The rising sun had made the clear water sparkle, as if it was infused with small diamonds. The only sounds were that of the falling water and the occasional splashes and vocalizations of fish-focused bears—at least 30 of them. I felt like I was looking through a window to a different world; glimpsing one only a few privileged people get to see.

Then, on that porch a few hours later, I realized that this world—or planet or alternate universe—was soon going to be lost to me forever. In a few days, I’d be in another realm, the one out there. I’d be on several planes in several crowded, noisy airports. I would have to return to a world the grizzlies knew nothing about. It wasn’t that these two worlds collided in my mind; heck, they never even brushed up against each other. An incredible melancholy took over, and I still had half of my trip to go.

When a few of my fellow travelers and our guide joined me on the porch a half hour later, I brought up the topic of travelers feeling sad at the thought of leaving a place—before they’ve even left it. Our guide had fun with the contradiction in that, and he broke into huge sobs of pretend-crying. I got the point; it did seem silly to be sad while you were having the best time of your life. And long, protracted farewells may only make the actual physical act of leaving harder. In my defense, however, I knew that the guide would be back at Brooks Falls in two weeks, with a new group of people on another glorious trip.

“I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” sings Joni Mitchell in “River.” ©John T. Andrews

The literature of leaving

If leaving a place we love is so hard, you may ask, then why isn’t it tough to leave home in the first place? I think the answer is because you know home is a place you’ll return to. I’ll probably never see the bears and Alaska again, and therein lies the sadness.

It’s been noted by several writers that while there are tons of books about going to exotic locations, there are very few on leaving them. It seems that here’s where stories “leave” off and songs take over. One of my favorite songs, in fact, is about leaving: Joni Mitchell’s River. It is another of her songs, however, that most think of as the essential “leaving” song: Urge for Going. In fact, some have even suggested that Canadians, such as Mitchell, have the “cultural edge on farewells.”

I don’t know if it’s due to my being an American and thus steeped in its culture that makes it hard for me to say goodbye, or whether it’s just on account of my personal tendency to want to hang on to those things that seem so capable of being lost forever.

I tend to want to hang on to those things that seem so capable of being lost forever. A place full of grizzly bears certainly fits that bill. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

A place where dozens of grizzly bears can fish in peace in a sparkling river certainly fits that bill.

Did you ever have a hard time saying goodbye to a special place? How do you separate from the places you love?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,