They say that visitors are like fish—they start to stink if they hang around for more than three days. I guess that might be true of some guests, but for me, hosting my sister for the past month at our guest cabin, I would describe her more like a flower than a fish. Her time with us seemed too short, and it took her a good while to bloom while she was here. She arrived tired and pale, and spent the first few days here resting…sleeping off stress and fatigue. By day three, she had a little bit of color in her cheeks and her energy level was definitely improving. In the beginning, she had lots of trouble traversing our property. She complained that the walk from her cabin to the outhouse was a “workout” even though the distance is only about 5 yards. (It is straight uphill.) On her first day here, we walked down to the lake together, and she slipped and fell in. She was laughing so hard, she had trouble pulling herself out. That first day, she not only fell into the lake, but she also shot her first gun, and saw a mink close up and personal. Over the next few weeks, my sister learned to navigate the terrain better. No more falls into the lake, although she did fall off the stairs to our cabin one late night when it was dark. (I hope she has more good memories than bruises when she gets home.)
During the course of her stay, she devoured many books about Southeast Alaska. She was especially interested in our “Bear Tales” book that chronicles gruesome details of bear attacks in Alaska. She began to put together her own plan of survival in case she was attacked while she was here. In the beginning, she said if a bear broke into the guest cabin while she was asleep, she would simply hide under the covers, but as her stay progressed, she became more active in her bear defense plans. She talked about scaring him away with the fire extinguisher or shots fired from a BB gun. She also spoke about grand getaways where she might jump off the 2nd floor deck of the guest cabin and dive into the water to escape a grizzly attack. She wondered if we would be able to hear her scream, so we practiced one evening, but we didn’t hear a thing. We finally agreed to charge our walkie-talkies so she could signal us if she needed help. It’s a good thing to be prepared and alert for bears in this part of the country. I was afraid she might become too obsessed with the thought of a bear attacking her, so I wanted to her to see a bear in the wild. I thought that if she could see how skiddish they are of humans, it would help her understand that not all bears are out looking to attack and eat humans. We have seen many bears eating salmon on an area of our lake known as “Bear Beach”. We went there several times, hoping to spot a bear, but no luck anytime sis was with us. On another part of the lake, we did spot a young moose sloshing through the marsh, and we were able to get pretty close in the boat so that she got some good photos. Her wildlife tales from her visit consisted of a mink, a moose and lots of bald eagles.
One of the books she read talked about the Dalton Trail and all of the gold that has been mined from this part of the country. She decided that there is gold on Bear Beach, so we took her there to dig up a few buckets full of “pay dirt” to sift through back at the house. While we were at Bear Beach, I was impressed with how confident and unafraid she was. She walked all over the place, inspecting the half-eaten salmon left by bear earlier that morning, and the bear scat (poo!). She got close to the trail that bears take back into the woods. She peered in and stood there for a long time. I was impressed with her bravery, although Nate was close by (holding a loaded Marlin 45/70 that could drop a charging bear with one shot.)
Like us, my sis was amazed at all of the beautiful flowers in Alaska. She was impressed with the vegetables from Nate’s garden, and the flowers we have growing on the deck which have been grown from little seedlings. She says Alaska was nothing like she imagined. The colder temperatures in summer (50’s and 60’s) didn’t feel that cold. She was also stunned at how clear and blue the lake water is on Chilkat Lake. She says our little cabin on the lake is like a little slice of heaven.
During her second week, sis was feeling very energetic. This is no small feat because she has lupus and is sick many days. She says she felt amazing while she was here, and that it was a combination of the peaceful rest and relaxation, good, fresh home-cooked meals, and the brisk air temperature. So, while she was feeling good, we put her to work. She weeded my flower garden next to the front door of the cabin, picked blueberries, and split firewood for several hours. She ate more blueberries than she harvested in her container, but she was mesmerized by how plentiful the bushes grew around our property and how delicious and sweet they tasted right off the bush. The next day, we drove to Friendship Mountain to pick more berries. We came home with loads of elderberries, blueberries, and watermelon berries. Sis’ favorite was the watermelon berries.
This visit was the first time in our adult lives that we got to spend so much time together, one-on-one, without our children, or anyone else. We baked our favorite childhood cookies, tried to remember cheers from our high school days, and watched an assortment of old movies.
By the third week of her visit, sis was lugging her own water down to her cabin, helping us load everything from lumber to provisions into the boat at the landing, and she had a nice, healthy glow on her skin. All signs of stress and fatigue were gone, especially from her face, as she was thriving, living moment by moment, day by day, in the peacefulness of the mountains. She said her favorite part of her stay was the days we went boating and looking for wildlife. On most of these days, we would motorboat to a certain area, then kill the motor and just drift in the wind for hours. Sometimes we would fish, but most times we would just look and listen. She used to ask me why I liked deer hunting and said she couldn’t understand sitting in a blind for so many hours. I would try and explain to her the peacefulness of just sitting in nature, watching and listening. I think she understands it better now.
The days we spent together on this visit, we were like frontier women—splitting firewood, canning strawberries, washing dishes by hand, hanging out our laundry to dry on the line, washing our hair in buckets of hot water heated over the fire. At one point, she said to me, “In your wildest dreams, did you ever think that we would be together in Alaska cutting firewood with a 20 ton log splitter?” My immediate answer was, “No.” I never thought I would be in Alaska at all, but then again, I never thought I would have the opportunity to be on this big adventure. So, while I never specifically dreamed it, I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point in my life that would be so fulfilling or so amazing.
Our mother was a novice painter, and we have many fond memories of her painting flowers, and memories of her teaching us both (and our children) how to paint flowers. I encouraged sis to paint some flowers on canisters in the guest cabin in memory of mom, which she did. Then, she wanted to throw them away because she said they looked like a kindergartener painted them, but I love them. They remind of my sister and my mom, so what could be more beautiful?
I will always think of flowers when I remember my sister’s first visit to our lake. When she first arrived, she was like a plain flower seed, but when she left, she was a beautiful flower, and we were the lucky ones who got to see her bloom.