(I just came across this story I wrote for a college English class 12 years ago. Jared and I had just married in the Spring, and had honeymooned to Alaska for summer jobs. Apparently still in the honeymoon stage, I let him drag me on an unexpected adventure! Photos follow the story…)
“Stop! There’s one right there!”
“Right there! See it? Slow down!! Shhhhh! Oh, I hate these brakes!”
As I point wildly, my husband is patiently veering to the side of the highway. I begin to frantically dig through our pile of weekend camping equipment in our spacious van lent to us by Jared’s parents for the summer. Finally finding the camera, I fumble it in my hands, and pop half of my torso out of the passenger window to carefully snap pictures of the shaggy looking black bear standing only ten yards in front of us.
“Just take the pictures! Don’t stop, keep snapping,” my husband whispers.
“No, I’m waiting for the right one!”
“Just go ‘snap-snap-snap-snap!'”
Problem is, I’m always trying to get the perfect picture, hoping to market my amateur photographs in the Alaska photo market someday. I can see a brief preview of my brutal reactions in two weeks when I get my photographs developed. It’s the same reaction every time: “Oh, man! There’s some road in this one!” or “There’s not even one good one in here! He was looking away every time!”
This kind of photo shoot may be an unusual experience for most people, but for my husband and me it’s a weekly affair as we drive through the Yukon for an escape from our seasonal employment in Skagway, Alaska. This time we’re driving with no real intent, waiting to see what adventure lies ahead of us. In the Alaska and Yukon—this could be just about anything.
As we’re driving we come across the sometimes tiresome, but always beautiful, tourist attraction of Emerald Lake. It sparkles bright blue/green, colored by ancient glacier silt and crushed seashells (we have memorized the tourist narration by heart). We pull to the side of the road and I pop out of the van, determined to get the killer picture this time.
“Ack! I can’t get the entire lake in the picture from here!” I say despairingly.
“Have you ever climbed that mound to take the picture?” My husband points to a stumpy mound, set just on the opposite side of the road as the lake.
“No. Have you?”
“Yeah, once…it’s pretty good. Want to go?”
I look at the sandy mound set direclty in front of what I would call a mini-mountain (hardly tall enough to be called a mountain, but too large to be called a hill). The two provide a unique contrast to the very large, stern-looking mountain that is towering behind them. Despite my total lack of energy today, I can get up that mound.
I mumble a “yes,” and head up with him close behind.
Once at the top I get an improved photo of the colorful, seamless lake. But I point out that the entire lake still doesn’t fit in my viewfinder.
My husband exlaims “Well, how about going up this little mountain right here? It’s not much further up!”
I groan. He always does this sort of thing.
I begin to follow him, but the woods are thick and I’m not excited. I stop and let him hike alone to the top. It’s only about thirty feet above where I’m standing—but all the same—I’m not in the mood.
“Wow! It’s beautiful up here, honey! You should come up,” he beckons with excitement.
Argh. Okay—just this one time.
I start trekking through the broken-down trees sprawled over an overgrown path. I make sure that Jared’s aware that I’m not enjoying this, and in doing so, yelp painfully whenever spider webs brush my face, or I find poor footing. I’m being a pain, and I’m enjoying it.
Once to the top I discover that it is, in fact, very beautiful. The trees clear out a bit and there’s a flat walking area. We stand at the south side and get a beautiful view of Emerald Lake. The weather is so clear that there is not even one little break in its calmness. I snap some more photos, still disappointed with my inability to fit the entire like in the viewfinder. After all, it’s not that small of a lake, but I guess I have high expectations. Wandering a bit at the top of this mini-mountain, we find ourselves facing North, with our backs to the lake, looking across a dark valley where above it stands a daunting mountain. This time of summer it’s thriving and its bright colors of green stand out against the horizontal stripes of brown rock sediment. It’s a checkerboard of color, with a tad sprinkling of snow at the top.
Jared gets a smile on his face and I know he’s up to something. “Let’s climb that one. Imagine the picture you could get from up there!”
The sparkle in his eyes tells me he’s serious, and I hope that the glare in mine communicates that I’m not.
He begins to hike down the north side of our mini-mountain, straight into the deep valley below. “Come on. I’m going! You should go, too!” he says, practically laughing. I’m about to burst into an absolute fit, but I bite my tongue for now and follow.
As we fight our way through the dense, mosquito-infested valley, we’re purposely loud, attempting to warn and scare off any bears that might be in the area. Jared’s nonexistent trail begins to take an upward slope, where it remains at a nearly 45-degree angle for the duration of our climb.
In the Yukon—that means really tough terrain.
My efforts to ward off the bears consists mainly of bitter remarks regarding how I’m not very happy with jared, and how I absolutely hate mosquitos. “We didn’t even bring repellent, Jared! We didn’t even grab our water bottles! And I don’t have my hiking pants on!” The list goes on and on, and Jared is being terribly patient and kind, and yet immovable. Not only does my complaining not deter him, he’s acting like it doesn’t irritate him in the slightest!
I just hate it when he’s too nice to me. Can’t he just get mad at my attitude and turn around so we can go home?!”
He instead returns my comments with encouragement. “You can do it, honey! Just keep going! Let’s just make it to the next big rock and then we’ll stop, okay?”
Before I know it we’re to the next big rock, and the next, and the next. He continues to repeat his encouragement, pushing me on to higher goals.
He can be unbelievably energetic sometimes.
Two hours after we’ve left the comfort of our car, we reach the top quarter of the mountain. The only thing that’s keeping me going is Jared’s excitement, and my eagerness to snap photos of Emerald Lake, which is disappearing quickly beneath us.
Wow. These are great photos.
My arms and legs are scratched, I’m parched, and my attitude hasn’t improved. After an exhausting week or work I’m already physically beat. I stop just short of the top, and as Jared mounts the top ridge I’m still standing twenty feet below him.
“I’m not going all the way up there, Jared!”
“Come on, honey! Look how close you are. I’m so proud of you!”
I’m getting sick of this enthusiasm.
Then all of a sudden his voice changes to a loud whisper. “Oh, wow! You have to see this! There’s a herd of Dahl sheep up here!”
“No, there’s not. Nice try!” I remark, trying to catch him in his lie. But one look at his face and I know he’s telling the truth.
Pulling together my last bit of energy, I scramble up the remaining terrain to the top of the mountain until I catch a peak of the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life: Pure, undisturbed nature.
Emerald Lake is now merely a speck in my viewfinder, and as two Dahl sheep wander near us we drop frozen to the ground. They curiously watch us—practically posing for my camera—but I’m unable to take a good closeup.
Argh! The frustration!
They soon walk up a ridge and stand with their silhouette against the bright sun. I snap wildly until my digital camera memory is full, and then I drop the camera impatiently to my side.
I hold my breath and instead capture it in my mind.
I let out a deep breath, and find myself reminded of what real art is. Here, standing on a mountaintop in the middle of the Yukon wilderness, I recall that my existence up until this point has been staged upon the creations and artistic accomplishments of man. I go to school in man-made buildings, I sell man-made materials, and I cater to customers that step off a man-made cruise ship. I realize that I have been, like many others, so focused on my own and others’ artwork that I have failed to really see the most perfect work of art.
Now, I take in God’s work with all of my senses.
I feel the chill breeze on my warm cheeks, breathe in the sweet smell of pine trees, and I look around at the vast canvas around and below me. I’m reminded that this is real art, and I’m not the master artist.
This is the best picture of all—the one that can’t be taken.
(I just came across this story I wrote for a college English class 12 years ago. Jared and I had just married in the Spring, and had honeymooned to Alaska for summer jobs. Apparently still in the honeymoon stage, I let him drag me up this darn mountain! Below are photos from our adventure.)