Saturday, May 12, 2012

Growing Up in Alaska

Growing up in Alaska, surrounded by the beauties of creation, I was very aware of God. The Psalmist wrote, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork" (19:1), and I was constantly reminded of His presence, no matter where I went in Alaska. I was never much for organized sports, but I loved to hike, climb mountains, ride my bike, and enjoy God's handiwork.

Walking home at night, I loved to study the sky with the Bear, the Dipper, the great North Star, undimmed by glaring lights that wash them out in big cities. The heavens portrayed a God bigger than His vast domain.  Often, the aurora borealis flowed across the winter sky with its mighty swags of glowing, colorful bands as though the Creator was painting with sweeping freestyle strokes, inspiring awe that the great Creator would care about me.

I remember one Christmas while we lived in Juneau, the capital and largest city in Southeast Alaska. The snow-covered mountains looked like strawberry ice cream cones. The sun rose mid-morning and set by mid-afternoon that time of year. The days were short, but the twilights lingered before the long nights fell. The sun made up for its brief appearances later. In the summer it rose in the wee hours of the morning and didn't set until after bedtime.

Lots of snow fell during those years in Juneau. But school was never cancelled. We pulled on pants under our dresses, bundled up in coats and scarves, and walked on sidewalks that often weren't shoveled. It was great fun--usually. One time, hurricane-force Taku winds picked me up and set me down in waist-deep snow in a driveway that slanted down from the street to the garage door. Another time instead of walking down many flights of stairs over a big hill to the street below, we slid over the hill on cardboard. Great fun--until I landed on a rusty nail sticking out of a board at the bottom. It pierced my thigh and bloodied my clothes.

My parents operated a children's home during my early years in Juneau. We had a dog we named Taku. She was part wolf, Malemute, and German shepherd. On cold winter nights she would howl to the wolves in the woods, but with us children she was as gentle as a lamb. The little children would climb all over her, even stick thier fingers in her eyes, and she never snapped or growled at any of us. One day she disappeared. We suspected the neighbors did away with her. They were afraid of her because she was part wolf.

When we moved to the tiny fishing village of Pelican on Chichagof Island, one of the large Islands that formed the Alexander Archipelago in Southeast Alaska, we owned a dinghy. The town was strung out above the water along the cliffs on a boardwalk that stretched a mile or more from end to end. Rugged mountains that stood regal in their ermine capes rose on either side of Lizianski Inlet. When they reflected in the still waters at their feet, my foster sister and I would take the dinghy out and take turns rowing on the inlet in front of the combination church and parsonage where we lived on the hill above. When ferocious winds blew off icy blue glaciers, whipped up frothy whitecaps, and sent clouds racing, rowing would be folly. One time we were out rowing when the wind suddenly whipped up whitecaps all around us. We had some frightful moments rowing against the wind and waves back to the neighbor's dock.

One of the highlights of my childhood was the times spent on boats. When I was two and a half, I arrived in Alaska on my uncle's mission boat. My earliest memory is of that trip. We jumped at every opportunity to sail with him. One summer my dad worked on a salmon troller. The owner had to have a spinal fusion mid fishing season, and his eighteen-year-old son needed a fishing partner. One week my dad took me along as chief cook and bottle washer. What a wonderful memory!

My twenty plus years in Alaska from 1948-1970 provide the setting for much of what I write. There's a good reason Alaska is called "the Great Land." I've been in forty-six states and several foreign countries. I've seen many beautiful sights. But in Alaska, everywhere you look is grand and beautiful! I have lived most of my adult life in New York State, but I'll always be an Alaskan at heart.