Summer breezes played tag in the shade under the thin stand of trees. Balanced on the back of a horse plodding slowly behind three other horses, I looked around, loving the earthy woodland smell and the sound of calling jays. Coming to visit this “Dude Ranch” with my sister-in-law had been a good idea; she loved horses.
Hot sun dappled through the tall tree-top canopy. Deer flies buzzed annoyingly around my head, always staying out of slap range. Suddenly, my horse began to run. I bounced around on the leather saddle like the tenderfoot I was. Then I began slipping more and more to one side until finally I crash-landed beneath the horse. Miraculously, the horse stopped running and didn’t step on me. I rolled away from its hooves.
An hour later, none-the-worse-for-wear, I sat in my mobile home living room visiting with Arnie’s sister, Ann. Four years younger than my husband and married for just one year, my sister-in-law told me her husband had gone to visit Alaska. A cool breeze fluttered the light nylon curtain at one of the open windows.
Ann said, “Ben wants to stay. He told me to get airplane tickets and come join him.” I had done very little travel in my lifetime. I was sure Ann had done even less. My only flight experience was a 15-minute buzz over Marshfield in a small plane with Daddy when the airport opened in 1960. On that late summer afternoon, Ann was 21 and I, 24.
Did the idea of flying to Alaska alone scare Ann? Then, an idea popped into my head and I blurted it out, “I’ll go to Alaska with you!” The idea gained momentum in my mind, like an avalanche sliding down the steepest slope on Mount McKinley. It never occurred to me to consult Arnie, my husband. For that matter, it never even entered my mind to ask him if he wanted to come with us. In my totally self-focused state, I began to make plans.
Ann and I flew out of Mosinee in early September. The plan was for me to stay with her and do some sight-seeing before returning to Wisconsin eight days later. Changing airplanes at different airports was exciting. The house Ben had rented on the outskirts of Anchorage was pleasant. I saw Mount McKinley from their back-bedroom window.
My call home to let Arnie know we had arrived safely in Alaska didn’t go well. Arnie didn’t want to talk to me. He refused to return my, “I love you.”
The following days were a whirl-wind of seeing glaciers, visiting a river where miners panned for gold and viewing damage done by the huge 1964 Alaskan earthquake. We dined at a revolving restaurant on the top of an Anchorage sky scraper with the wife of my mother-in-law’s cousin.
The woman told us termination dust had fallen on Mount McKinley the night before and that meant she had to very quickly salvage everything she could from her backyard garden. I asked, “What’s termination dust?!”
Smiling, she explained, “It’s the first snowfall on the mountain top, signaling that summer is over; terminated. The nights will soon begin freezing and everything will be ruined if not harvested soon.” Ann and I volunteered to help her.
The cousin’s house was in a beautiful, well-established Anchorage neighborhood. I was astounded by her lush garden. The raspberries were huge, so were the cabbage heads, carrots and potatoes. We made trip after trip with loaded arms from the garden to the house. At one point I exclaimed, “I had no idea gardens in Alaska could be like this!”
The older woman glanced fondly at her backyard and pointed out, “Our soil has rich volcanic ash in it. Plus, although our growing season is short, we have more hours of sunshine than you do in Wisconsin.”
When I returned home, Arnie was very angry with me and gave me the cold shoulder. He said he didn’t think he loved me anymore. For the next several months we struggled to get along. I missed the good relationship we’d had before I flew off to Alaska by myself.
During those heartbreaking, unhappy months, I felt as though Mount McKinley’s termination dust had followed me home, morphing into marital termination dust. With work, prayer and perseverance that didn’t happen. Eventually, our lost love was found again.