So you think a writer’s life is rough, frought with poverty, brutal criticism, and rejection. You ain’t seen nothin’. We’re just back from Alaska, an end of the summer trip. Whole towns were getting ready to shut down for the winter. Tour guides were planning their trips south to California, Arizona, and Hawaii. The overnight temperature in Fairbanks sank to the 30s—and it was only the beginning of September.
So I bring to you two inspiring stories from Alaska. What a tough life it is now, but before mod cons, those who sought their fortune in the gold fields, men and women alike, endured incredible hardships. Few became wealthy; those who thrived established laundries and boarding houses and other enterprises to support the prospectors. Nobody had an easy life. Among the many stories of loss and survival is that of Anna DeGraf, who hiked the rugged Chilkoot Trail in 1897, lugging her sewing machine. Her clothes were tattered and her feet wrapped in rags. She was searching for her son, who had left for the Yukon in 1892. She lived in various villages in Alaska and made her living sewing tents and clothing for the miners and costumes for the dance hall girls. She finally left Alaska for San Francisco where she worked as a wardrobe manager for a showman until her death at 91. She had to have muscle, grit, perseverence, and a core toughness, and even so, in the end, she never found her son. I see parallels with a writer’s life.
The second inspiring story is about a dog named Stickeen and it’s written by John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club. The full story of Stickeen is available free on the Sierra Club website. This story changed the way people felt about animals. In the 19th century, biblical adherents insisted that animals had no intellligence, passion or souls and were placed on earth to serve man. (Women had the same status.) Scientists also diminished the ability of animals, saying they were only capable of instinctive reactions and not original thought. Muir’s story of Stickeen showed a different truth—that he and Stickeen were made of the same stuff, differing only in degree. As Muir said, “He enlarged my life, extended its boundaries…Stickeen was the herald of a new gospel, that of the fundamental unity and sanctity of all living things.”
Although we took a cruise on the inland passage from Vancouver to Seward, then a bus to Anchorage, we rented a car and drove up to Fairbanks. I kept notes on our itinerary and will be glad to share it with you since services were few and far between on the drive.