John, our new neighbor, was lost, and we had lost him in an Alaskan winter. The kind of far north winter that had grainy snow that crunched when you walked on it. Snow so white, so bright, shadows disappeared, and you’d walk out into thin air not knowing, falling so soft, not caring, just a whoop, then laughter. The air so clear, so calm, so cold. Water vapor turned into tiny ice crystals that hung in the air. It was our beautiful Alaska, but now John was lost and it could become his deadly Alaska.
It was our beautiful Alaska, but now John was lost and it could become his deadly Alaska. (photo ©Michele Cornelius|Dreamstime.com)
Two weeks earlier, his wife Esther, my wife Diane, and I had driven John up the Steese Highway so he could look for gold in the frozen creeks while they were low. John was a dreamer, but then so were we. It was 1971, an era of back-to-the-land movements, when I was 23 and Diane was 24. We’d only known John for ten days, but we drove him up that highway so he could have his dream.
When I lived in Alaska, I interviewed the youngest girl to summit America’s highest peak, Denali. I interviewed then-12-year-old Merrick Johnston before her 1995 climb. She said she used to be afraid of crevasses, but after plenty of training she liked to stick her head in them just for fun. My news director interviewed her after the climb. He asked, “How did it feel when you reached the top?” Her answer: “I had to pee. Then I threw up.”
When I lived in Alaska, I interviewed the youngest girl to summit America’s highest peak, Denali. (Photo © Brian Longmore/Dreamstime.com)
Today is the official release date for my book, They Only Eat Their Husbands: A Memoir of Alaskan Love, World Travel, and the Power of Running Away, and while I’ve spent recent weeks in a flurry of excitement, now I feel kind of like Merrick did on the summit of Denali. I’ve been drinking chai today and I need to pee, and if I think about the book too much I might throw up.
On one of the closing days of an Alaska summer, my husband and I take his sister and her husband to the State Fair in Palmer. When I lived in the Last Frontier, I enjoyed the fair year after year, even though it’s small – because it’s small. This will be a perfect way for siblings and in-laws to enjoy an activity together, regardless of differing interests.
Dale’s brother-in-law, Nathan, and sister, Luann: the Alaska State Fair is a perfect place to enjoy an activity together, regardless of differing interests.
My sister-in-law, Luann, has suggested we go to The Beach Boys concert at the fair. A California Girl flying from Denver to Alaska to see The Beach Boys? That’s too much irony to pass up. However, I wonder, “Aren’t they Beach Men yet?”
As our car approaches Seward, Alaska, clouds crowd the mountaintops. When we reach Resurrection Bay, they’re sagging low and heavy, like pregnant women ready to give birth. Certainly their water is breaking. Nonetheless, I call the kayaking company, to see if they’re planning to go through with the 3-hour guided paddle at 1:00. It’s 11:00, and they’re still not sure. They’ll decide by 12:30. The forecast calls for 3-to-5-foot waves, but often those forecasts come to nothing.
When I was a TV reporter in Alaska, I traveled to Barrow, the northernmost outpost of America. I covered a story on the last sunset of 1990, and explored a few things Inupiat people do to deal with the long winter night. When my memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands, comes out next year, it won’t include the whole story. I thought you might enjoy this tale of strong women…