September 8, 2011

Sunny Side of Life #11


“It’s not the journey that matters; it’s who you travel with.” That quote from a greeting card is the perfect description for my August trip to Alaska. There were three of us, all former school librarians from the northern Chicago suburbs, who’ve kept in touch over the years, even though we moved to schools in different, far away states. Roz now lives in Alaska, and she hosted Fran from Hawaii and me from Oregon for ten wonderful days.

Alaska is, of course, a wonderful sightseeing state, all the more so when the mostly wet weather forecasts turned out to be wrong. As we went north on the Parks Highway towards Mount Denali we were teased with occasional glimpses, and we finally saw her in all her glory once we reached Talkeetna. It was such a brilliantly sunny day, we hopped on a small tour plane, and flew above it and around it, while the pilot pointed out all the major points of reference for those who actually climb the mountain. The ridges are so narrow, it’s hard to believe that anyone can walk on them without falling.

The weather was equally beautiful for other sight-seeing trips: taking a paddle wheeler down the Chena River in Fairbanks, going on a catamaran to see and visit 26 glaciers in the Harding Ice fields, and walking into Exit Glacier. But it really wasn’t the photo ops that made the trip—it was the fun of being with other people who share some of the same background and most of the same interests. The three of us stopped at nearly every library, bookstore, and gift shop along the way, sharing our finds and admiring each other's purchases. When a head-on crash down the road stalled all the traffic to Seward, we not only talked books but took turns reading one of our picture book finds aloud: a funny update called “The House That Moose Built.” After news that the road wouldn’t open for another six hours drifted back down the long line of parked cars, we turned around and went back to Anchorage for the night--but we probably could have giggled our way through the remaining time with other souvenir books. Another excellent reason for buying books as gifts and keeping them in the car.

The other great part of the journey for me was meeting and making new friends and acquaintances. The Anchorage couple that put us up on our several passes through the city are now my friends as well as Roz’s. So is the bookstore owner in Talkeetna who enjoys some of my favorite authors, and a small town librarian who shared information and a book about Michael Healy, a minor character in my biography on Berta and Elmer Hader. Many of the waiters and shop people will stick in my memory even if I don’t ever see them again. They enhanced our whole trip with their caring spirits, specialized knowledge, and recommendations about the area.

It definitely was the people I traveled with who made this journey truly outstanding. And isn’t that true of our personal journeys through life? There are a few people who sour our experience, but so many more enrich it. Sometimes it’s fun to just be with our mirror images and spend time doing only the things we all enjoy. Sometimes it’s fun to be with people who lead us down other paths we never knew existed. The three of us often talked about our former library coordinator who made us far better in our professions that we ever would have been by ourselves. Unknown to the greater world, her life started ripples that went far from her home in Illinois. It’s the connections.

Researchers into the aging process are unanimous in pointing out that social contacts are important to a healthy life. It really doesn’t matter how much we have in common, as long as we can appreciate each other’s talents and backgrounds. Many of these friends can receive and offer the timely support we need. We don’t have to go it alone. Even in perfect Eden, Adam needed a human companion.

In this time of my life, when I lose so many good friends, it’s important that others enter my circle. I have discovered I have to get out of my comfortable rut occasionally to find these others. After all, I would hate for my circle to shrink down to hula-hoop size! So thanks to all of you who enrich my travels one way or another. As another saying goes, “many people enter and exit your life, but a few leave footprints on your heart.”

Cheers to all of you who do.