Last year I posted a short tribute to my mother’s love of Alaska (and her love of travel in general). At 92, she was in the midst of her latest trip to Alaska (her 13th or 14th trip to Alaska, I think). She has family, nephews, that live there, and they have so many times graciously invited her to spend the summer months with them in their incredibly beautiful state. That last trip was a tough one, as she developed a severe attack of pancreatitis, which almost took her life. It was a long summer after we managed to get her back home to the Houston area – with months of hospitals, surgeries, and lots of pain and struggle. She lost 40 pounds and we all thought we were saying goodbye – but it is not wise to give up on a woman with real grit, which she has in abundance. She has now regained 30 of those pounds and is out raking leaves and mowing grass, getting ready to celebrate her 93rd birthday in a few weeks.
I think I’ve found a word for the connection my mother feels with Alaska (never having lived there herself) – “grit.” There is that incredible beauty, of course, that draws all of us tourists who go there in the late spring or summer. But the most amazing thing about Alaska (and the northern parts of Canada) is the “grit” of the people who live there year round. My mother’s sister and her husband raised their family there, and the tales of the dark and cold of winter bring images hard to visualize for a denizen of the southern states. They are “don’t give up” people, hardy and determined in the face of challenges I find hard to imagine. That has always been my mother – a woman who just keeps putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what challenges she faces. She would have been the same had she lived in Alaska like her sister, just doing what had to be done.
So for my mother and all those hardy souls everywhere who teach us about courage and strength and everyday “grit” – they deserve to enjoy the gleaming snow on our continent’s tallest peaks and the wildness of an untamed part of the world – a harsh land that lifts the heart and soul of anyone who loves both the majesty and the endurance of nature.