One of my dreams has been to visit England. England is the land of a major portion of my ancestry; it has the roots of my religious expression and tradition; and is the site of many beloved stories and movies from childhood. Yet this year when it came time to decide on a vacation plan, despite Nancy’s suggestion we consider England – somehow I knew it was not right for us this year. Looking at a list of railroads we would like to ride I suggested, on a whim, Alaska. So we started to make the plan bit by bit, in the process extending the trip (and the budget).
Taking the Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Denali we arrived at noon. Dernali National Park (formerly Mt. McKinley National Park) is larger than the state of Massachusetts and over it reigns Mt. McKinley in clouded splendor. Arriving at the hotel we inquired about the possibility of a tour in the afternoon. The one offered was an 8 hour tour beginning at 2:30pm – a Tundra Wilderness Tour. Nancy was thrilled at the possibility. Still dealing with jet lag I did the math and saw a possibility of not getting back until 10:30 pm (2:30 AM Rochester time) but agreed it would be a loss to be here and not see the park.
And see the park we did. Towering snow crested mountains, rivers of ice frozen and hardened by the frigid temperatures of winter slowly releasing their grip and allowing the water to renew the earth in life-giving streams. Our guide and driver by the name of River (says he was named by “hippie parents in 1967”) told us to keep a sharp lookout for signs of wildlife. The group on the bus was friendly and observant. Soon we were seeing in the distance caribou, then a moose lying in a thicket. And we happened on grizzly bear singly and with cubs digging for roots to eat. Then Arctic ducks, snowshoe rabbits, Arctic ground squirrels, grouse, and Doll Sheep. River told us that if anyone was to ask us to play poker that day to accept as we were a very luck group to see all of this wildlife and so near the road rather than afar off.
As we headed back towards the park entrance, we stopped at a scenic overlook. After a few moments commentary, River asked if we wanted to take a few minutes to sit quietly and listen to the bird songs. We sat in silence on the bus allowing the almost mute sounds to slowly rise into our consciousness – hearing the birds, insect noises, wind, and the flowing water in the distance. After several minutes he started the bus and we drove on back to the drop-off point. When we were under way Nancy leaned over thd whispered to me “I didn’t realize how much my soul needed this. The sound of water and the call of the mountains are powerful and healing,”
I recall as an elementary school student learning the King James Version of Psalm 121 “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, From whence cometh my help? This sojourn with nature in Americas last frontier has been healing for us both.
It has also reminded me that we indeed need times of quiet in the midst of creation in order to reconnect with the creation of which we are a part. We are surrounded by a symphony of these sounds of creation which we usually drown out with noise, tv, radio, music, talk and chatter.
But it is the quiet, the sounds of the creator and the creation which ground us. Unlike our ancestors in faith we have to work at finding these times to reconnect. We thank River for his reminder in asking this bus load of people to sit quietly for a few minutes to listen to God’s symphony that the wilderness is a place of healing as well a s a place of challenge.