Place Where You Live:

Talkeeta, Alaska

Dedicated to Mike Sterling, 1958-2013, Chief Navigator, Ice Tester, and a downright amazing Father.

My dad and I had this ritual. It was a once of year sort of thing, and depended solely on the brief fall that gifted Alaska. You could sense it’s coming as the temperatures dropped and the animals fell to sleep. When the summer shriveled with the first frosts of the season, and the streams grew another layer of ice each night, we knew it was time.

This ritual came with formal attire; fleece and mittens, hats and socks, and my sturdiest boots. I always avoided dressing too casually for fear of committing an Alaskan fashion faux pas: underdressing for the cold.

You see, my dad and I would spend the entire day hiking through the wilderness from one frozen pond to the next, slipping and sliding down the sloughs like little roadways through the dense forest. It was a journey that sent us tangled in trees, entwined with devil’s club, and me; cold, but utterly, and joyfully lost.

My dad always knew where we were. He could turn and point directly back to the house. A generous superpower when it came to living a Walden life in the “Thoreaus” of wilderness.

As chief navigator and ice tester, my dad left the speaking to me. Sometimes I would sing, sometimes I would keep quiet and let my thoughts swirl around behind my eyes. Most often my musing would spill from my head, tumble from my lips, and cascade into my dad’s open ears.

Bears stirred in their beds, and geese glanced down as they fled the bitter wind, my chatter breaking the quiet Alaskan wilderness. Hand in hand we would slide across the glassy sloughs, the sounds of our footsteps echoing for miles as we walked and walked until autumn froze into winter.

My dad and I had this ritual. It was a celebration to welcome the winter, a party for the dying land, and a lesson in life. All things eventually come to an end.