North to Alaska

“Mormor, Bapa! Come on, there’s a lot of cool stuff at the top of the hill.”

Tristan, age nine, leaps and bounces in the trampoline-like mat of vegetation.

“You run back up there and learn all about it,” I say. “Mormor”—his grandmother—“and I will stay and rest a bit in the tundra.” 

“Okay, Bapa—if you’re sure.” And he leaps back up the hill.

Me enjoying comfy tundra. Jo Sommers photo, used by permission.

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Alaska has a way of wearing a man down. 

The first time we visited, in 2010, at age 65, there was enough bounce in my bones and enough tingle in my tendons to hike with a group up the mountain that overlooks the Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau. We scrambled over exposed roots, clambered through corridors of rain-slicked rocks. It was a tiring, yet exhilarating, trek.

This trip, at age 76, Your New Favorite Writer—still an enthusiast—strategically avails himself of frequent rest opportunities. 

Elsie, Katie, and Tristan at top of impossibly high tundra hill, enjoying Sidney’s lecture. Jo Sommers photo, used by permission.

Our time on the tundra in the middle of Denali National Park is precious. The softness, the springiness, the sink-in-ability of that blanket of tangled vegetation covering the deep permafrost challenges the hiker to walk without falling down and taxes one’s pulmonary system—especially going uphill. 

On the other hand, should you happen to fall down, you couldn’t pick a better place to do it. You almost can’t get hurt falling into the soft tundra. 

It’s an even better place to sit and rest, watching the mountains and listening to the enthusiasm of younger hikers as Sidney, our mountain guide—the young lady who carries the bear spray—points out wild blueberries and other flora just up the hill, telling which ones humans can eat, which ones the bears like, and so forth.

It’s a fine, warm day. Denali, the mountain, was out a few minutes ago and we got to see its peak before it was re-cloaked by its very own weather system. 

Denali seen behind Wonder Lake. Denali National Park and Preserve photo by Albert Herring. Public Domain.

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We have come here because we like Alaska; but even more, we want share it with our daughter, Katie, and our grandchildren, Elsie and Tristan. This resembles nothing they have experienced and nothing else they will ever experience—possibly not even in long future lives. 

Panning for gold. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

For a time, we have lured them from their telephone screens into the powerful beauty of the real world.

Later today we will pan for gold in Moose Creek. Lucky Tristan will find a flake in his pan and have it laminated on a piece of black paper. A speck of gold to carry with him forever after. Or until he loses it, which is likely. But the important thing is, he will find it in his pan and will always remember that. 

Elsie, age twelve, will find one too but lose it on the way to have it laminated. That will be all right, though, because she will find prizes of her own in the wilderness, including sightings of bears and moose and the chance to befriend a young adventurer, Rhys, traveling with his own family.

Katie and Mormor will not try panning for gold. They will opt for a horticulture hike instead, another rewarding adventure.

Old Bapa—Your New Favorite Writer—will stand in the creek swishing gravel around his pan, to no avail . . . but will bring home gold anyway.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Lacey

Sunday was Mother’s Day. Our daughter brought dinner and wine, a plant for her mother, and of course our grandchildren, 11 and 8.

The kids, with help from their father, had given their mother a lovely flower arrangement.

The five of us ate, drank, talked, and played games. But in all this festivity, one more mother was . . . well, not overlooked. Rather, celebrated not for her motherhood but for herself.

Lacey, a thirty-pound English Springer spaniel mix, came to us about five years ago from the Columbia County Humane Society. She had already been a mother at least once, maybe twice, by the time we met her—but that was all behind her. She came to us as a spayed four-year-old.

Lacey

She was a bit shy but soon meshed into our household routine. In temperament and docility, as well as looks, she was a reincarnation of Walt Disney’s “Lady,” from Lady and the Tramp. She loved to go on walks, to play and frolic in our backyard, and especially to sit in our front bay window and yap annoyingly at anyone or anything in the street outside. 

Lacey trotted into the vacancy left by our previous dog—a superannuated Siberian husky. She was a welcome change of pace. 

We discovered that Lacey did not have two brain cells to rub together. She could play all day chasing stray light reflections around the living room. When she saw a dog in front of the house, she ran for the back door so she could bark at it in the backyard. But her lack of intellect was overbalanced by her sweetness. 

Lacey’s sweetness was legendary.

If she was Lady, her Tramp came along in the form of Midnight, a terrier/husky pup about twice her size and endowed with an unreasonable share of rambuncity. He was doughty, all male, and became her loyal foster brother. 

Our neighbors have a gorgeous male Siberian named Bruce. When Bruce is in his backyard, and especially when he deigns to come to the fence, he is a rock star. Both Midnight and Lacey unleash an orgy of barking, running, jumping, and hysteria. Bruce then pees on the fence and strolls away. 

Midnight spends most of the day patrolling the backyard for signs of Bruce’s approach. When Mister Cool makes his appearance, Midnight erupts in a cacophony of barks. Lacey springs from her perch in the bay window, races out the back door, and zooms across the yard for the sighting. The sight of Lacey dashing to the fence on stubby legs, stripping her gears, is both comical and endearing. Worth the price of admission.

Lacey has given us her full measure of love and devotion. 

What I am leading up to, Dear Reader, is that Lacy’s afterburner has been quenched. No more headlong dashes on Bruce patrol. Last year, at around age eight, Lacey developed a cancerous tumor in one of her mammary glands. The veterinarian removed it surgically, with a good margin around it. Lacey bounced back from the operation, and we hoped for the best. 

But the cancer came back. It was clear that no matter how many surgeries she endured, the cancer would keep coming back. We opted to let her live out her life as best she could.

The past few months have been a good time for Lacey. Only recently have her energy and her appetite begun to flag.

We scheduled a peaceful passing at our house Monday, May 10, assisted by Journeys Home, a veterinary euthanasia service.

Our Mother’s Day, May 9, was shadowed by this foreknowledge. Near the end of a happy time, when our daughter and her children had to say goodbye to their lovely little friend of the past five years, the floodgates were opened. It was a rough way to end the day. But an honest one.

I told them that if we want the love, we must bear the grief. That about sums it up.

The vet will be here in a less than two hours to escort Lacey on her next journey. She has been a good dog. What more can be said?

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P.S.—The traveling vet arrived on schedule. She was gracious, caring, and capable. Lacey departed peacefully, mourned by quiet tears.

RIP.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer