Authors: Luanne Rice,Joseph Monninger
If I could put my hand on the north star,
would it be as beautiful?
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
I made it. I suppose it would be more accurate to say I can see how I
make it in the next few days. I am at the last stage, as far as the planes can take me, at a fishing camp called Laika Star. From here I travel by dogsled, a prospect that both thrills me and fills me with no small amount of fear. You remember how I loved Jack London and read it to Paul when he was ten? Suddenly the prospect of a real mush stands before me, and I am not as intrepid as I believed myself to be. Strange when dreams come face to face with reality. I am to meet the dog driver tomorrow. She will go over my equipment and supply anything else that I need. It should take about ten days, which is a long time to be in the Alaskan bush in winter.
I think of you often here. I’m not sure you would like this country. Alaska is vast and lonely and haunting. It’s one thing to hear about it, another to travel it. Most of the state’s population lives near Anchorage or Fairbanks. Good roads connect those two cities, but the rest of the state relies on planes. You know all that, of course. I’m sorry if I’m telling you more or less than you need to know. It’s been years—back to our courtship, really—since I wrote you a true letter. And I am beyond email, or any electronic communication. Even to call would take a satellite phone, and I suspect we should stand by our decision to take a break for a while to sort out what our marriage means or how it should end. Letters seem like a more reasoned way to communicate. I hope you understand and I hope you’ll write back.
I also wanted to say I know you think this trip is a bad idea. I understand. I do. But I have to see where he died, honey. I just do. I don’t know if it will change anything, or bring me any peace, but I feel I must do it. I can’t go forward until I know more. I want to know how he spent his last days, and what he thought and felt, as least as far as such things are knowable. I’m sorry if my need to do this causes you pain.
On a lighter note, I should mention that you would like my cabin. It is a model of efficiency and low-tech elegance. Everything is fashioned out of logs, like a boy’s dream of a Lincoln Log cabin. Martha Stewart meets Sergeant Preston of the Yukon! A Vermont Castings stove sits in one corner, and you can open the doors to the stove and it becomes a fireplace. Beautiful, really. I have it running now and the room smells of cedar and pine and oak. The beds are firm and the linens top quality. The trout and salmon fishing around here is world-class, I gather, and they routinely fly in some big names. In the dining room I’ve seen pictures of Bobby Knight, the famous basketball coach, and George Bush Sr. The proprietor, a man named Gus—shouldn’t all proprietors be named Gus?—pointed out a dozen more photographs, but I just nodded and did my best to appear impressed, because clearly I was supposed to know who they were. TV stars, I guess. I didn’t recognize any of them, and that simply confirms that I am hopelessly out of date.
I am eager to hear your news, but I will understand if you decide not to write back. I am not trying to gloss over the troubles we’ve had in our marriage. I understand that we may not be capable of mending our life together. I want you to know that I am sorry for my part in our rifts, and that as hurtful as I have been at times, it was never my intention to do anything but love you. I failed, of course, but I did not mean to fail.
I have a way to get the mail quickly to you, as remarkable as that must seem for someone writing from the Alaska outback. Gus puts his mail on the regular plane to Anchorage, but the bush plane operators provide a FedEx connection. FedEx does an overnight thing, and if it all hits correctly you can get mail to anyone in the lower forty-eight in about three days. They claim when it works right it is faster, if more expensive, than regular mail. So I want to get this in an envelope before I go to bed.
Before I tell you about meeting the dogs, and the wonder of all that, I have to tell you a funny anecdote. It turns out that you have to feed a woodstove all night! I must sound like a bumbling idiot, but I went to bed without giving it a thought, assuming, I suppose, that Gus had some form of backup heat. I woke at two in the morning and I have never been colder in my life! I don’t know what I was thinking. Plain stupid, really. Stocked properly, the stove can easily make it through the night and keep the cabin warm, but I didn’t think twice before going to sleep. So, you would have watched your husband on his hands and knees, blowing carefully onto a twist of paper and tinder, trying to get the last dying embers to flame up. I did it, too, and I have never seen a more welcome sight than those first few flames. I fed that fire with more tenderness, more attention, than I have lavished on anything in years. (That sounds horrible…I should lavish attention and tenderness on you, shouldn’t I?) But you know what I mean. Eventually the fire got going and I filled the stove full, and the cabin is so well insulated it began warming up in no time. I glanced out the window at a thermometer on the porch post and saw it had dropped to-10. Cold, but not as cold as it will get. Not by a long shot. I climbed back under the blankets, and sat up in bed and gauged the heat as it moved slowly through the cabin. Wonderful, wonderful heat. I tried to go back to sleep, but I felt restless, and a little excited to be meeting the dogs in the morning, so I read a while,
The Three Musketeers
, of all things, but I couldn’t quite get involved. I finally gave it up and I slid out of bed one more time to open the doors on the stove. You can imagine the wonderful light the fire gave. I hustled back into bed and watched the flames for a long time and I felt a million things.