Lucius Stebbins, in the third book of his Remembering My Life series of poetry (see my previous post introducing these poems), writes of Alaska and Alaskans:
Alaskans seemed to live on dreams
A land it was
Where dreams must never end
For if they did, they'd know
That dreams were all they had to sew
The fabric of their life
Which often was
A strife against the wild.
At left is my mother, standing on the highway that went from Palmer to Anchorage, probably in the vicinity of The Butte. We lived on the flank of the mountain behind her.
We lived in Alaska from 1951 to 1956, and it was a magical place to live, but we were cushioned a bit against what Luke Stebbins calls 'the wild,' as we had been brought up by the government to work on a hydroelectric project. There were lots of people there, Lucius's aunt and uncle included, who were homesteading, dealing on a daily basis with the Alaskan wilderness.
Our house was provided by the government, but there were many people who lived there, at that time, who lived in basements--subterranean houses with nothing on top--because it was quick, inexpensive and easy to heat. Later, when they had proved up on the homestead and could afford it, they could build a regular house on top of the basement.
I used to beg my dad to return to Alaska, but he would always remind me that I wasn't the one out trying to start equipment at forty below. Ah, yes. Lucius mentions the road from Anchorage to Fairbanks in the winter:
Five hundred miles the span
Attached by one thin road
In winter narrowed down to snowy tracks
Between two icy banks
That sometimes rose
Ten feet above the cars
How perilous the drive, the wind,
The snow and icy fog
Easy to be lost at fifty five below
Luke writes of other things that I remember, of moose and bear wandering freely. I never met a bear, but we had moose aplenty around. One slept under my bedroom window.
He writes of riding the train to fish or hunt and having the train let him and his party off in the middle of nowhere and pick them up days later--only they were stranded because of a flood that kept the train from running for several days. My dad used to fish and hunt in that manner, but he was never delayed in his return.
Luke Stebbins' poems are treasures to me because they unlock memories, things I haven't thought of for years. I'm reminded of a beautiful land and tough, resilient people that I count myself lucky to have lived among over half a century ago.