In 1976 I moved to Alaska with my daughter to help care for my sister and her family. I was on the end of a painful divorce and my sister needed help. There was nothing else needed to convince me to go.
I arrived in summer and I was shocked at how beautiful and warm it was. We went bike riding in the hilly neighborhood behind her house. The days were long and luxurious. The local radio stations were playing Elton John and Kiki Dee – “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” – on what seemed like an endless loop. That summer would be the first of many in Alaska. I have such fond memories of the splendor that is Alaska.
The mountains looked black to me from all the dark rich evergreens. I do not know how many times I asked why the mountains looked so black. From Earthquake Park (a residential neighborhood that was decimated in the Good Friday earthquake of 1964) to Mirror Lake and on to Mount McKinley, it was all amazing, Looking out over Portage and Matanuska glaciers, you cannot help but stand in awe of nature’s forces. I cannot help but wonder if the glaciers have receded in the 44 years since I lived there.
This was the time my sister, BJ, and I grew to love and depend on each other. She was the reason I took this journey with my daughter. After her recovery from back surgery we lived together and had adventures together. Our children bonded and we became a stronger family as a result.
Living in Alaska is an every day adventure. It was not unusual to be late for work because of moose blocking the roadway. You NEVER confront a moose! I worked shift work as a switchboard operator on Elmendorf AFB. On nights the northern lights were on display we climbed onto the roof of the building to observe the dancing lights in utter amazement.
Alaska requires you to immerse yourself in all she has to offer. Ivory and jade and gold nugget jewelry was plentiful . I even had a pair of jade polar bear earrings, but sadly only one of them survived the years. We wore parkas and mukluks to keep warm. Cars required head bolt heaters to insure they would start in the morning.
Winter brought termination dust (the first winter snow to appear on the mountain tops) and spring brought breakup (a muddy mess of mud left as winter snow melted away). Winter days were short but summer days languished until midnight.
I have driven the Alaska Canada highway twice. It is a long but breathtaking journey. We almost got trapped in a little town called Fireside when a major forest fire was on our tail. (Fireside was ravaged by the fires). I have hiked Arctic Valley with my children and felt more earthquake tremors than I ever wanted to experience. I have picked fiddlehead ferns on the edge of the forest and watched in awe as the salmon fight their way upstream to spawn.
I hope to go back someday but I fear it will have changed more than my heart can handle.