We are 30,000 feet above the earth, flying back to the Lower 48. Our Alaska adventure is over, and as so frequently seems to happen when we open ourselves to the possibilities, it turned out to be so much more than we had anticipated. We came to see the aurora – and we certainly got that! The aurora only put on a show for us one night, but what a night it was. I didn’t realize how fortunate we were to catch the aurora – I think if I knew then what I know now I never would have conceived the notion of coming up here for a week and hey! just catching it.
The first two nights we were here were overcast; after that the stars came out, but Miss Aurora proved elusive all but that first, incredible night – and as sheer luck would have it, that was the night we were positioned to travel to the top of the mountain at Chena for best viewing. Auroras take place 70 miles up, which means that assuming clear skies, an aurora can be visible for thousands of earth miles. Last Friday night while we were at Chena, Marge –who had traveled to Churchill on the Hudson Bay the same time we set out for Alaska – saw the same display that we did. But the Grabeaus, who traveled to Iceland over New Year’s explicitly to see the aurora, had only “moderate” success on their trip. And Ken and Ruth have traveled extensively in Siberia and throughout Canada and Alaska. And we just threw the proverbial dart at the wall. So there are no guarantees here.
Anyway, we came 4000 miles for the aurora, but with few other expectations of what we might find. As happens with Rotary, we were able to take advantage of connections and stay with acquaintances, and out of that acquaintance and our time together, the friendship grew. Exponentially. Peggy and I found we have a lot more in common than our Rotary governor year – starting with the fact that both our Dads were career Coast Guard — and she and Mike warmly welcomed us into the family circle and introduced us not only to their sons and their families but to a way of life that is adventurous, independent, strong, respectful of Mother Nature. And even though we haven’t traveled far from Fairbanks this past week, our time with the Pollens gave us a hint of the vastness of this place.
My mother, as it happens, is somewhat of a snob about Alaska. She’s visited three times, and she is firmly of the opinion that traveling the panhandle – especially traveling it by cruise ship with several thousand of your closest friends – is not “real” Alaska. “You have to see Denali,” she has told me umpteen times. Well, sorry, Mom, the road to Denali is closed in winter! As are many/most of the cultural and tourist attractions. We’ll just have to come back.
So yes, we came for the aurora. And we are leaving with photos of the northern sky and much more, even though Denali is off-limits: A strong desire to return. We have a saying in Maine, “if you can’t handle the winters, you don’t deserve the summers.” And the same holds true in Alaska – really holds true in a place where the thermometer is at minus 20 to minus 30 at breakfast time! So yes, we’ll come back and see Denali – and so much more!