July 27. We leave our home in Mckinney where fissures crisscross the scorched earth we once called a yard and the heat wave rides high toward 107 degrees. Seven hours later we step off the plane in Fairbanks. It’s 63 degrees, and I feel a bit sorry for you Texans. There are flowers everywhere, happy flowers that aren’t cowering from the sun like their poorer Texas cousins. It is 9:30 pm and it looks like mid-afternoon.
I don’t know why other people write blogs. I can only say that it helps me to assimilate and to justify and to remember this strange life we have chosen. For most of us, age and memory don’t make good bedfellows and I don’t won’t to forget anything. So now I write. But mostly I blog because when I do, I feel nearer to all of you who follow what we are doing, to Ben and Jordan and Chris and Mom, Ralph and Virginia and the rest of my family and friends back where my roots took hold. When I blog I imagine us together telling new stories and sharing old memories. All your faces float by as I write; I see Mark and Cora planning their escape to the Bend, Ora Evelyn writing poetry, John playing guitar at a coffee shop in Fort Worth while Toni listens. Carl is in the air somewhere over the U.S. and Debbie is talking to their birds. Aunt Matt is in her easy chair reminiscing about her days on the high school basketball team, Mom is baking up something in the kitchen, and Dorothy and Oleta are playing hand and foot with Shirley and Dottie. Ralph is entertaining visitors with his marvelous stories and Virginia is painting. Ben is basking on a sunny California beach while back in Texas Jordan and Kari are hard at work raising our wonderful grandchildren. Christie is making jewelry as Mark putters around their new Texas home. I wish I could stop in and see you face to face, wish the miles were fewer; but of course they aren’t, so I write until I see you clearly. You are always smiling.
July 30. Lindsay and I depart Fairbanks, heading a point or two east of north, and are soon crossing the White Mountains. We can’t see them on this trip because the clouds thicken into soup. Visibility hits zero and the windows fog over. I think of the word “faith”, and chuckling to myself I write it in the condensation on the copilot’s window where it hovers alone in a sea of white. Faith in our pilot, a good one who knows his instruments and who knows every inch of the mountains below us; faith in my God, all sufficient for every need. He, too, knows every inch of our passage.
The skies clear as the Whites fall behind us. In the foothills below you can see the tiny settlement of Birch Creek, just a dozen or so structures, where two Russians discovered gold in 1893. Then, Birch Creek vanishes and the flats of interior Alaska stretch out before us. Few passengers ever sleep as they cross this region. It has a rare kind of beauty that holds the children and the old timers alike spellbound. Streams etch their way across the flats, meandering onward in search of easier passages than yesterday’s. Myriad oxbow lakes and thermokarsts dot the land as far as your eye can see, a masterpiece in greens and blues and yellows on an earthen canvas.
On the horizon a giant swath arcs into view. It’s the Yukon River and it dominates the landscape as we draw closer. It is a massive body of water intricately braided by countless sloughs and dotted by just as many islands. As we cross it, everybody’s eyes search its channels, looking for Gerald’s barge or checking the water level, but in another moment we are past it, and now everybody is looking for their houses. We circle the village, bank into our final approach and touch down. We have returned to our “house on the flats.”
Fort Yukon is cool, wet and verdant; unusually so, for historically it boasts some of the highest temperatures in the state of Alaska. We learn it has been cool and wet all summer. On the way home from the airport a neighbor tells us that it reached 84 degrees this summer. Once. “Have you enjoyed all this rain and cool weather?” I ask. He grumbles and a grimace screws up his face. Well, we all have our own idea about perfect weather.
This is our home now.