What had begun to feel like a protracted ice age—having spent half a year in a landscape leached of colour—followed the joyous onset of spring in Wasilla, Southcentral Alaska. Where the dominion of winter finally permits the release of snow and ice from her frozen prison. A new world about to mysteriously surface, bursting with energy, and the capacity to restore life in all its manifestations.
Sweet grasses on the verge of flourishing to feed the bears that are awakening. Trees and plants about to blossom again. Blue Jays chirping at the top of their lungs. That’s springtime for you: it explodes life and brings back warmth and wellbeing to your soul. Both of us being beyond keen for a profusion of green.
Starting out as Northern Winter newbies last November, we acclimated fairly well to the bone-dry if not bone-chilling Canmore air. And assimilated to the local’s way of living. Namely, always making time for the season-long festival of enjoying all the usual wintertime activities, such as scaling snow-capped mountains like Lady MacDonald in the Rockies. Plus appreciating the occasional warm “Chinook wind” scantily coming through, not to mention witnessing controlled avalanches— avoiding natural ones where possible.
For many—definitely not all, the anticipation towards winter in Alberta is palpable. I, for one, adored every outdoor opportunity. Including putting my dear mum through her paces when she dropped in for a visit from England, and exposing her to a week of frigid cold. As initiation tests in the depths of Canadian winters go, she passed with flying colours—blocks of ice for feet, blue lips and frozen eyelashes notwithstanding. Such a trooper, the old gal! Gloriously giving me her sweet undivided attention as only mothers know how.
Days before our Alberta departure, friends invited us along on an authentic Canadian dog sledding experience. Although the dogs were Alaskan and the tour company was run by a Brit! Cue ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen.’ Pairs of male and female huskies padded their way through a beautiful spot known as Boundary Ranch, deep in Kananaskis Country.
Never have I seen such striking eyes in canines: such dark, expressive pearls. Some hinted at playfulness, mischievousness; others were wild with excitement and took everything I had to calm them down and let other packs race ahead. Dogs aren’t supposed to have eyebrows but I swear some had folds that could move independently. They conveyed amusement, impatience and one bore a befuddled look that reminded me of Stan in Laurel and Hardy when he realized his time on the snow was over.
Wonderfully cared for and not over-worked, around the trail the pampered pooches jogged, pulling me in the sled at the occasional command of the musher. Smoothly skirting around snowy bends, a little uphill and lots of descents, paw-trodden paths set a course through the powdery soft white and forested mountain valley. A high high after pulling the reins on the trip for a while in Canada.
With characteristic Alaskan hospitality via a splendid pitstop with friends in Seattle, both shelter and supper were offered with alacrity. Yup: we reunited with the Fishhook Fatties. Picking up where we left off with the Fatties was, and always is, a seamless endeavour; no effort or fussing required, just the act of supping a craft beer and stories to swap. The sky swept over us, cozy with cloud but endless in its promise of refuge.
Most mornings in Wasilla were cold ones: the sun often looked like a little white button stitched tight to the sky. Early dawn and the forest was filled with mist and grey-blue light; the enchanting half-light that comes at both ends of the day, when the small unseen things come out to feed. Frequently, we awoke to watch the odd moose saunter by, with the innocence of perfect wildness and the sun’s benediction on its head.
First up on the itinerary: a boy’s weekend of snow machining around Denali National Park, set to be a stunning one. That is, in more ways than one. With just a handful of miles remaining back to the cabin suddenly saw Jason come a cropper (fall heavily). Having kept pace for 250-miles with the guys who’d been snow machining since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, Jason popped into reverse having taken a wrong turn.
Easily done, he hit the throttle a tad too hard, which threw him off balance and backwards off the machine. Plop. In the snow. Except he landed with the force of his bodyweight onto a rucksack containing an unforgiving camera—smashing straight into his kidney, sending him into a pain-induced agony.
Stunned by the blow, a blood-curdling scream preceded checking for blood in his pee, things weren’t exactly looking rosy for Jason. Why is it the most ridulously unlucky events happen to a man who ordinarily obeys the rules, applies common sense and avoids the extreme perils, yet still manages to fall into absurd situations?
I wonder if the spirits get bored and need a giggle although not furtively but with great big guffaws. The world is tragic, and we all suffer arbitarily now and again but at times, Jason does so preposterously, that the crests of mountains seem to bend together in raucous laughter.
Inching his way back into Ian and Kristina’s house, immobilizing back spasms and T-Rex like cries were just the start of it. Hampered by the fact that sitting and waiting to coalesce for Jason is one of the most miserable occupations known to him. The advent of this latest saga collided in my head like the bits of glass in an old-fashioned kaleidoscope.
Thoroughly worn out from recent events, Jason fell asleep at once, the pain in his back dulled by potent pain meds, a muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatories. He slept long and hard like a cat, wrapped in a drugged blanket of anelgesic prescriptions and exhaustion. Now it was full dark, and the medication had worn off.
Still dog tired but at the same time very much alive by the jolting muscle contractions charging up his spine, whipping through him like warning flicks of a scorpion’s tail. On permanent standby, I remained on hand to help the guy tread through treacle each day. I guess flinging me to the floor and commiting ravishment was out for a while…
The long days of rallying and recovery seemed to be veering away from spring, not yielding towards it. Moving more than just a muscle was a risk Jason cared not to take for experiment’s sake, in spite of his over-eagerness to function by himself again. He required my help with every small endeavour, activity and act of being human. Not inclined to quibble with the details, he looked at me, eyes blue and brilliant as the sky behind him.
Snatching the conversational ball away for a moment: “Listen to me, Jase. You’ll feel stronger next week and much stronger again the week after, just wait and give yourself some time. We have time so BE PATIENT.” It felt as though that conviction was made of feathers and not iron; still it was mine to motivate. Jason glared for a moment, looking like a disgruntled pelican, and I repressed a strong urge to tut in powerless frustration for him.
He rolled his eyes towards the ceiling, a fervant look of someone who means to bend reality to his will. Worn out as much as worn down from the grizzly outbursts of torment. “I ha—argh!-hate feeling like this,” he gasped through jaw-clenched teeth. His expression rippled through every ghastly degree of pain, like water when a stone is thrown into it.
After three elongated weeks of recuperation, restorative nights of not exactly bonelessly contented stupor but something hinting towards—he awoke one morning feeling human again. His gentle-eyed demeanour was back, the Jason I knew and loved. “I think I’m starting to feel better,” he noted with some incredulity.
“Oh,” the syllable holding profound relief and my shoulders rose perceptibly, as though a burden had been lifted off them. The whole of Jason’s being radiated peace and I could see that reassurance had begun to ascend in his presence.
Some say: ‘Where there’s pleasure, there’s pain.’ After seeing Jason endure nigh on a month of nightmarish discomfort, I’d say the post the painful part, pleasure can ensue. Courtesy of a seasoned Alaskan bush pilot—although not just any flying aficionado but one of the Fishhook Fatties to boot—we got to soar the skies in his Super Cub above the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
As Fridays go, hanging out on cloud 9 lapping up the glacial vista of Knik, snaking out of the Church Mountains and tumbling into an iceberg-studded lake that feeds the Knik River, will do nicely. An incredible experience, particularly when we landed on thin ice and spent a couple of intense miles in search of a solid enough surface to take off again! No one’s bad, just a real piece of the Alaskan story.
Magnificently, Mother Nature also decided to light up Jason’s tortured soul with a solar powered jig. Unexpected joy came to us all one night, on our way home from an evening with the Fishhook Fatties. Out of nowhere, the northern heavens hung out great curtains of green fire, filling the sky with colour and dancing forms and vast spears of light flashing from one horizon to the next in a dazzling display of power and majesty.
Faces glued to the sky, as opposed to eyes glued to a lens, the horizon moved the lights about, hung the colours, and sent great shafts thundering clear across the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. A phenomenal first to see this heavensent parade, it was no small miracle. Even if recovering from a WWF (World Wrestling Federation) accredited back breaker was.
Next stop: Juneau. And mainland U.S. thereafter for more biking adventures.
NB: Thanks kindly for your patience while we paused the blog and stay tuned folks!