Western North Carolina Woman

the journey of river chickadee chapter four
by robin brown

January 30th, 2004. Day Three of My Journey from Fairbanks, Alaska to Asheville, NC.

This is the Evening of the third day. We have made it to Fort Nelson, British Columbia. It is only -10º Fahrenheit this evening. It almost feels pleasant! Today was a long day. We have fallen into a comfortable routine and there’s very little stress about it. We simply take care of our selves, our vehicles, and our gear. Kootenai gives me something to care for as well. She makes it fun by adding her puppy spirit to all we do. Her bright eyes and cold nose show her affection for me, and right now I feel that I receive much more than I give. A half hour of frisbee in the dark parking lot of a hotel or truck stop in exchange for puppy kisses and adoration—it’s a pretty good deal.

The day was spent rolling down the Alaska Highway, which isn’t really a highway. Most of the driving today was on a winding, hard, frozen, snow-packed dirt road with chuck holes and ice flows. Yep, that’s the Alaska Highway in the winter. Our average speed was about 40 miles per hour. I am grateful that it is winter and we don’t have to deal with the dust. The day was filled with the inspiring winter scenery of mountains, tundra, rivers, animals and trees framed by brilliant sunrise and sunset. In the morning and evening, without the light of day, I have only what I can see in my headlights, snowy shoulders along the road, the silhouette of trees and the shine of icy rivers and creeks. Of course, up ahead are the tail lights of Uncle Paul’s truck and overhead is the bright starlit sky. This routine is very peaceful and conducive to thinking. I’d have to say it has a healing aspect to it. Healing; yes, I have healing to do and that takes time. A good friend of mine in Fairbanks gently reminded me before I left, “In order to begin something new, something else must end.” These days of driving are helping me realize all that has ended. The silence of driving and the soothing feel of nature all around me are helping me to say good-bye in my heart.

We reached Liard Hot Springs today about mid day and took a break from driving. With towels in hand, Uncle Paul and I eagerly clomped down the board walk toward the pool. Liard is a natural hot spring that is improved enough to provide an unheated dressing room, wood steps and a nice gravely bottom to the pool, but not enough to cost anything to swim. The trees arch over the pool, their frosty branches heavy from the frozen moisture almost touching the water. In the dressing room I peel off my parka, my light jacket, my snow pants, everything down to my long johns. I’m trying to decide just how much clothing I need to keep on for the dash over to the pool. I’m getting cold fast and I finally opt for my fleece sweatshirt over my swim attire and my bare feet inside my boots. Everything else gets stuffed in a bag as I wonder how I will do it in reverse, when I retreat from the pool. I’ll worry about that later. The hot water stings my skin but then begins to soak away the stiffness from my muscles. My hair freezes stiff. We chat with three other bathers, and watch each of them when they leave, studying their method of getting out of the pool, getting something on the feet so they don’t freeze and then dashing to the dressing room which feels about 15 degrees colder than the air near the pool. I finally went last, deciding to stand on the top step in the pool and keep my feet in the warm water while drying and dressing most of my body. Finally I step onto my towel and hop on one foot while putting my sock on the other. Pants and boots last. With head wrapped in a towel and covered by two hoods, I walk back to my truck, pleased that I have retained some of the heat of the pool.

We have seen a lot of animals today. The morning started out with a lone coyote running down a snow machine trail along the road. I slowed the truck and he trotted along, parallel to the road, giving us a good look. Finally Kootenai could not contain herself and barked enough to alert him and off he went into the woods. We saw a cow moose leading her calf off into the brush and looking over her shoulder at us protectively. Then later two buffalo were lying in the snow on the shoulder of the road, the mist from their breath freezing on their hairy heads as they chewed their cud. We stopped for a closer look and they continued chewing, unperturbed. One of them dozed off into a nap with his eyes closed and his nose in the snow, propping his heavy head upright. After that there were two caribou. There were three beautiful bull elk and then two more later on. We finally saw a whole herd of buffalo grazing and laying around on the side of the road.

All this I recorded on video and dear Uncle Paul patiently waited as I slowed and stopped for each sighting. You’d think it was my first trip to the Yukon! Kootenai began to figure it out. As soon as the truck slowed and the camera came out, she knew the window would go down and there would be some living creature to see. She would run to the window in anticipation. I finally figured I had to roll down the passenger window first so I would be able to video out my own window without her ears in the picture!

Reflecting on the day, I was mindful that all the animals we had seen today except for the lone coyote had companions. We were created by nature to have companionship. This was comforting to me and gave me hope for my own companionship. Kootenai is wonderful but she’s not my species! Though I haven’t been divorced long, I have been lonely a long time. I yearn for a best friend and hope this journey will lead to that as well.

Companionship is not the only thing I hope for. Success in school and finding my life’s work are the reasons I chose Asheville for a destination. I will be attending the Center for Massage and Natural Health near Weaverville. I want to work with people, help them in a very direct way. I also want to learn to live with more health for myself. I believe that learning massage will set me on this path. I finally put some music in my CD player this evening. As the sun set on this third day, James Taylor sings my theme song: “Gone to Carolina in my Mind.”

Robin Brown grew up in rural Montana. She lived for 18 years in Alaska. In January she left job, ex-husband, friends and life as she knew it to move to North Carolina to attend the Center for Massage and Natural Health in Weaverville, NC. She and Kootenai, her one year-old Australian Shepherd, are adjusting very well to life in the South. Kootenai recently got a shave to help her stay cool and to help Robin adjust to dealing with ticks!


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