I’ve recently returned from the first vacation I’ve had in four years. And it wasn’t just any vacation… it was a bucket list vacation. I traveled to Chena Hot Springs outside Fairbanks, Alaska with one of my closest friends to see the Northern Lights.
The first time I went to Alaska was in the summer of 1988. My boyfriend and I drove the “AlCan” from Santa Rosa California to Fairbanks Alaska in a dark brown Econoline van. There was a bed in the back and bug netting on the windows to keep from getting eaten alive by Alaska’s famous mosquitos. It was an exhausting, beautiful adventure I will never forgot, even though my boyfriend and I split up the following year. I swore I’d go back to Alaska one day and finally I did, this time in the Fall.
Fall in the Alaskan interior is icy but not yet frigid. The snow is new and it sparkles like it is covered in silver glitter. The sky looks dark blue against all that crisp white. I had no idea how much I would love the sound of snow under my feet; it really does crunch! I’m a California girl who doesn’t ski so couldn’t imagine how cold 12 degrees really is. But once I figured out how to wrap a scarf properly to keep the cold off the back of my neck, I fell in love with the touch and scent of that shivering, dry air.
And we saw the Northern Lights! It was a cloudy night so we assumed we’d miss them, but at 1:30 in the morning, the clouds thinned and a section of the Western sky opened. There was a bright white glow, tinted yellow, with absinth green streaks radiating from the top and spreading across the sky over our head, softly visible through the thicker clouds. It was quiet and still in the night and the cold pressed against my snow boots and two pairs of socks but I was transfixed. I didn’t care that we only saw one tiny piece of the Aurora Borealis; I saw the Aurora! A child hood dream at the top of my bucket list had come true.
This trip was more than a bucket list adventure, it was also to test my ability to let go of control and leave Rhia at home for several days. I have left her with one of her dads for weekend now and then, but this trip was different. Rhia’s needs are more complex and her health more tenuous. I flew a thousand miles away to the wilderness with limited cell service, trusting that my father, her dad and both of her caregivers could take proper care of her and handle any emergencies that might happen. I was nervous and felt guilty, but I went.
And Rhia was fine. She missed me, but instead of punishing me with angry outbursts and demands as usual, she asked, “Did you have fun with your friend?” My dad said she only yelled at him twice when he forgot to do something. Nothing bad happened when I left. She didn’t fall or get sick or stop breathing or any of the hundreds of terrors I imagined before I forced myself to pick up my suitcase and go to the airport.
Rhia has matured and I’m learning to let go of being in control of her well being. Perhaps I can go on another trip next year, maybe a longer trip, even farther away.
Where in the world should I go?