One of the important themes of Alaska life is warmth. It can come in the simple satisfaction of turning on the heater in our conversion van to ward off the early morning Alaskan chill. For Dennis, who retired from the Healy local coal mine and therefore receives free coal for the rest of his life, it comes in the pleasure of rebuilding and modifying an old boiler to burn his “annuity” in an almost maintenance-free manner. It can be as costly as it is to the twin sisters Miki and Julie Collins who live north of Denali deep in Alaska’s roadless interior. After dog food for their mushing huskies, it is the most significant expense in their solitary and adventurous lives.
It can be a critical part of survival as Christopher McCandless, whose life was prematurely ended due to starvation and exposure, found out after he went “into the wild” and spent his last moments in a cheap sleeping bag feeding wood into a stove in an abandoned school bus just within the borders of Denali National Park. Summer warmth to the Caribou, Dall Sheep, Arctic Squirrels and Grizzlies of the Park comes with the opportunity for raising a new generation and feeding 20 hours a day to prepare for deep sleep, hibernation, or living off of lichen and grass in the long and frigid winter nights.
Warmth can mean many things, but the most significant for the two of us is not as a necessity of life in the far north, but the most common characteristic exhibited by many that we have met along our way. It can be the thoughtful act of turning on the electric mattress cover for two “new friends” invited for a delicious salmon Alfredo dinner and a much needed shower and warm bed. Another example of Alaskan hospitality came with an invitation for midafternoon “seafood snacks” resulting in a three hour, 6 course meal, including smoked Kenai salmon, Prince William sweet shrimp, local moose, fresh fruit, homemade cranberry liquor, and warm lingonberry muffins dripping in sweet butter. The meal was followed by wonderful conversation, a guided tour of the Healy backcountry, and a ride in the “DeLorean” (actually, the hydraulic lift traded for the DeLorean) revealing the majestic Alaskan mountain range visible from Cheryl and Dennis’s home.
The manner in which Alaskans welcome us has been a “warming” and rewarding experience. We better understand what “warmth” really means in this remote and spectacular state.
Posted in Delta Junction, home of Tamar!