Note: This is the first of my posts reflecting on our recent vacation to Alaska.

[Following a peak time, a person is] “more apt to feel that life in general is worthwhile, even if it is usually drab, pedestrian, painful or ungratifying, since beauty, excitement, honesty, play, goodness, truth and meaningfulness have been demonstrated…to exist” (Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, 2nd ed.: 101).

“…I shall go down from this airy space, this swift, white peace, this stinging exultation. And time will close about me, and my soul stir to the rhythm of the daily round. Yet, having known, life will not press so close, and always I shall feel time ravel thin about me; for once I stood in the white, windy presence of eternity” (Eunice Tietjens, “The Most Sacred Mountain”)

*****

Never in my life have I seen such rugged, majestic beauty as we encountered in Alaska. Literally around almost every turn in the road, there was something new, awesome, overwhelming in its scale. Bald eagles dotted the skies in Valdez. Snow-covered, glaciated mountains surrounded every town where we camped inmt mckinley small our RV. And then there was Denali, whether the incredible vista we saw as we dry camped on the Denali Highway or the view of Denali (Mt. McKinley) itself from various vantage points. Dall sheep surprised us sitting in and beside the road or displaying their curling horns on the mountainside above our shuttle bus. I could go on and on.

denali sheep smallThe six of us traveling together wondered several times whether people who lived in Alaska ever got tired of or took for granted the wonder in their backyards. If you saw such things every day, would you simply shrug  and go on with your business, as we ultimately did when we saw the umpteenth moose? Would you be so concerned with making your living in a harsh land that you would cease paying attention to the world around you, other than to make sure a grizzly wasn’t ripping up your garbage or a sea otter wasn’t too close to the prop of your fishing boat?

Whatever the answers to such questions, Susan and I thrilled to all Alaska had to offer. Indeed, we were so enthralled that we didn’t watch TV for the two weeks we were there nor did we access the Internet other than to send an occasional hello home or check the weather in places like  Soldotna or Homer.

Of course, when we returned to the Real World and switched on the tube, there was the same old stuff about politicians’ scandals, murder, a bad economy, and conflict in the Middle East. The Presbyterian Church was still divided over the usual issues. My mother was still sick.

Still, there is grace and wonder around every turn. There is no Denali in Starkville, no Dall sheep or majestic eagles, other than in our pictures and memories. Which means we just have to look a little harder to catch a glimpse of the Eternal.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham. Photos by Susan Cheatham.

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