Monday, November 3, 2014

Alaska Shorts: Stopping at Girdwood, by Bill Vaudrain

Bill Vaudrain

I’m once again on the Seward Highway, headed south out of Anchorage.
Another trip to Alaska, this is the latest of many
that over the course of the past several years
have helped keep my battery charged and life in focus.
I pull into the Tesoro in Girdwood,
stopping for gas, some coffee, and a stretch
before resuming my pilgrimage down the Peninsula
for another crack at those Kenai Kings
and the halibut at “the end of the road.”

As I enter the temple of the gods of petroleum and caffeine,
several “twenty-somethings” bustle past me out the door
with just-purchased loaves of bread and packages of cold cuts.
They sit down amongst a sprawl of backpacks and hiking boots,
enjoying the feel of the cool, green grass their newly-liberated feet
as much as they are enjoying their hastily made sandwiches.
With food in their mouths and glaciers on their minds,
They smile and agree in unison when I walk past them and ask,
“Was it a good climb?”

At the pump next to mine, gassing up a very muddy Firebird,
is a young man with slicked back hair,
wearing a leather jacket and a new pair of blue jeans.
He’s occupied with wiping a splotch of mud
off of his obviously expensive cowboy boots.
Satisfied with the condition of his footwear,
he returns the nozzle to the pump and he’s back in the ‘Bird,
heading north to answer his own “call of the wild”
a weekend spent in the bright lights of Anchorage.

Sitting on a picnic table is an older gentleman,
wearing a string tie and a crisply-pressed white shirt
He’s looking up at his wife of forty-five years
who’s in the passenger window of a Winnebago with Arkansas plates.
She’s in sunglasses, wearing a kerchief on her head.
He has a map spread open on his lap and he points, and she shakes her head.
He moves his finger and points, and she shakes her head.
Again moving his finger he points,
and is greeted with a nod of approval.

He climbs into the Winnebago and pulls out onto the blacktop.
I see the “Good Sam Club” sticker on the rear window,
next to the decals from most of the states west of the Mississippi. 

“Sam’s” halo is in place and he’s grinning down at me.                                                 
His vantage point doesn’t afford him the opportunity to see where he’s going; 
what's on the road ahead is a mystery.
But, like the couple up front and most of us here on life's journey,
he knows exactly where he's been.
And that's what makes him smile.

         
                  
Bill Vaudrain has been an English teacher for the Ocean Tides School in Narragansett, RI since 1996. In 1981, after years of hiking, camping, and climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Bill and two of his friends realized a long-standing dream by having the adventure of driving to Alaska from their home in Rhode Island. Over the intervening years, he has made well over a dozen trips back to Alaska. He has fished for salmon on the Kenai Peninsula, panned gold from isolated creeks, and seen the Northern Lights dance across the frozen winter sky. His writings are based on his experiences.

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