Ordinarily Extraordinary   17 comments

What’s the most unusual experience you’ve ever had? Have you included it in one of your books?

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Alaska, yo!

Mount Washington, New Hampshire October 2001

Growing up, my childhood just seemed normal because the circumstances I encountered were similar to the circumstances of many of my friends.

They didn’t seem unusual because they were ordinary — for Alaskans. Everybody gets trapped in an outhouse because there’s a moose in the yard. Or sometimes a bear. What’s weird about swinging a machete to clear an airfield as your first high school summer job? Doesn’t everybody need to rebuild a section of public roadway so they can rescue their car from a mudslide because the government that owns the road is hundreds of miles away?

Given that background, I think I might have had a lot of unusual experiences by the judgment of most people, but they seemed ordinary to me, so how do I answer that question?

I literally had to ask my husband, who has lived here 35 years now, but didn’t grow up here to name some unusual experiences we’ve had. Brad ran his suggestions by his father who moved to Alaska in October because when you live in this weird place, a lot of odd experiences just become ordinary.

We came up with several experiences my father-in-law decided were “amazing.” Then I wanted to pick one I’ve used in my writing. That narrowed the field.

Unusual Experience

We went hiking in New Hampshire, at Mt. Washington. When we hike here in Alaska, the days are longer than 12 hours because the summer sun lingers. Last night it went down after midnight. The sky never got dark. I call it “sun dip” where the colors of sunset bleed right into the colors of dawn, which was a little after 3 in the morning. Although I was mostly asleep, there are no curtains on our bedroom window, so I kept waking up to admire the beauty and then going back to sleep. We sometimes go for long bike rides or even hikes after work and every softball game we played in the church league started at 7 in the evening, and no, the fields don’t have lights. Consequently, we don’t give a lot of thought to what happens when the sun goes down because it doesn’t go down all summer and hiking isn’t something you do in the winter. Winter – below zero degrees, dark, feet of snow. Winter is a different country entirely from summer. The sun goes down, sometimes less than three hours after it came up … but our period of civil twilight is nearly as long as the entire day, so you have lots of time to get back to your car and snow … well, it’s reflective.

Hiking, Mt. Washington, October, New Hampshire. Yes, the sun goes down there. We were having a good time. We took the tram to the top of the mountain and planned to hike down to the parking lot. Well within our physical condition and the energy level of our seven-year-old daughter (who is now an itinerant musician and busker who leads her friends on “unusual experiences” like hiking mountains. Who ever heard of getting out of the car and climbing a mountain just because it’s there? Ivyl!)

Thank God we brought her.

We’d paused to change our two-year-old’s diaper and give his dad’s shoulders a break when I noticed the shadows were longer than they’d been five minutes before.

“Hey, Brad, when’s sunset?”

He looked up from explaining something nature-y to Ivyl. His first expression said “Woman, why are you bothering me?” Then the deer-in-headlights expression replaced it. Uh, oh-oh.

“It’s been a while since I had to think of that.” His gaze flickered around the beautiful site we were standing in and then the sky to the south where the sun was visibly dropping toward the horizon. “Twenty minutes — maybe.”

“And how far are we from the parking lot?”

“An hour, if we run.”

Get the toddler in the backpack and start moving. Imagine a Scooby Do episode when they first encounter the “ghost.” We’re booking down the mountain as fast as we can go. To our right is a drop-off that in some places would spell death. Meanwhile, the sun is doing what the sun does. The shadows grow longer and longer and the path becomes harder to see until we stop running because we can’t see.

It hadn’t snowed yet, so the pathway wasn’t reflective. We neglected to bring a flashlight because we’ve never needed to carry a flashlight while hiking. Now what? It gets cold in New England in October overnight. We weren’t going to stay on the mountainside with no gear. We had cell phones, but no reception (this was about 20 years ago). We’re standing in the dark on the side of a mountain, on an unfamiliar trail with two small children and inadequate gear for an overnight.

Time to improvise, baby!

Even back then, cell phones had a flashlight function. I remember ours were called “lanterns” and they were sufficient to get your key into a lock, but they sucked for going down an unfamiliar trail with a cliff to one side. Brad admitted he couldn’t do it after a few turns of the path when true darkness enveloped us.

And the Hero is? The 7-year-old!

“I can see the path.”

Okay, kid. We’ll humor your delusions.

“Really, you can see the path? Which way does it bend?”

“This time to the right. But I’d need light to see it.”

The two-year-old bellowed his agreement. He didn’t like the darkness, we think. We handed Ivyl one of the cell phones and showed her how to keep the lantern on. She extended her skinny little arm and started down the trail.

“Come on. It’s easy.”

Brad and I couldn’t see much except the white of her jacket illuminated by the lantern, so I grabbed the shoulder of that jacket and Brad put his hand on my shoulder and we followed the 7-year-old down the mountain. It was so dark that when we reached the parking lot, Brad and I didn’t realize it until Ivyl said “There’s the car.” Uh, what car?

Everything is fair game for fiction

I’m telling this story casting Brad and I as ill-prepared, oblivious risk junkies and bad parents. They lived! Okay? Yes, it might have created the wild non-violent anarchy of our daughter and that baby has grown up to be a rock-climber who seriously considers climbing the Hurricane Gulch Bridge. But Alaskan parents figure if their kids survive to adulthood without being eat by a bear or stomped by a moose, we’ve done our jobs.

Hurricane Gulch Bridge, Alaska 2020

How did I use that in my bad parenting example in my writing?

The third book in the Daermad Cycle fantasy series is still in development and there’s a scene I’ve already written about a dark night when Padraig and Tamys, two of the main characters, have to find their way home without a torch. Under a new moon, Padraig can’t see any better than Tamys who was blinded in an accident in Mirklin Wood. He’s been learning to navigate his world of darkness using his as-yet-unacknowledged psychic gifts and, when Padraig admits he can’t get them home because he can’t see the road, Tamys takes over. Many of the elements of that scene come from that trip down Mt. Washington clinging to the jacket of a brave and adventurous 7-year-old. Look for Fount of Wraiths sometime in the future.

Posted June 15, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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17 responses to “Ordinarily Extraordinary

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  1. This is a great story, Lela. You have no idea how often this very thing happens to people hiking in our mountains here in South Africa, and they are locals too.

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    • Well, that’s good to know. We’ve got caught like that several times and Brad feels badly about it. Our daughter says “Thank you, Mom & Dad, for making me brave.” Her life is a high-wire act without a net. Our son is a risk-taker who plans ahead with safety equipment.

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      • There is nothing wrong with learning to plan ahead or with learning how to be self-sufficient. We become more adverse to risk when we have our children as we are responsible for them. There are people getting lost in our mountains fairly regularly. So much so that you have to sign a register before you start on a hiking trail so that rescue parties can come and look for you if you don’t get back by twilight.

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      • We’re generally well-planned for Alaska – bears, moose, rain gear, wool socks even in June (just in case), set the compass to 23′ declination because of how far north we are. We get sloppy when we’re in lower latitudes. Part of it, I’m sure is that we don’t feel the danger here like we do here, part of it is because we can’t drag our box of supplies with us, but I think a lot of it is just that we “think” we know what we’re doing because we do it all the time in what we perceive to be a much more dangerous place.

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  2. Ah, the gift of young eyes (mine are shot)! Your daughter is obviously one of life’s free spirits. Good luck to her!

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  3. Happens to us a lot in Virginia too. The “oops factor.” In the days before cell phones I decided to go for a long ‘loop’ on Mt. Marshall in the Blue Ridge. I was younger then and my eyes were pretty sharp but it got cloudy and REALLY DARK! I had a little beagle with me who helped me hold the trail pretty well but I couldn’t read the blazes and markers. I had to guess the last little bit of it where you crossed the Appalachian Trail coming out. Thanks to Lucky the beagle I made it out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dogs are great. We had a Samoyed-cocker mix when I was a kid who knew as a command “Find the car.” My mother, who grew up on a prairie, had no sense of direction in the forests of Alaska and she insisted on taking us berry-picking. I doubt I’d still be here if the dog hadn’t loved the car.

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    • Have you walked the Appalachian Trail? We were watching ‘A Walk in the Woods’ recently with Robert Redford playing Bill Bryson. Great film.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I just sent this story to my seven year old granddaughter (at the risk of being banished from the herd). Her mother will remember the time on Calf Mountain when she tried to follow after me on the trail. She saw a large figure ahead on the trail leaning on a tree. She approached only to be surprised as who she thought was me bounded up the tree (it was a bear)! Bad parenting? I’m the champ!

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    • Oh, my! Our kids were nearly stomped by moose a couple of times, but my husband was alone during the only close encounter with a bear we’ve had. I had one when I was a kid, but that wasn’t my parents’ fault — unless you consider they raised me here where there are bound to be bear encounters.

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  5. Okay, this is weird, but in the hills of Missouri ( I was 6) to get me out of their hair during my annual 10 days stay my grandparents said, “Go exploring” and tied me to a goat. Because the goat knew when, and how, to get home by dark. I never considered it odd but by today’s standards?
    It’s not every day but there are daughters out there who are more dangerous than sons. I had a client. His daughter wasn’t old enough for a driver’s license. But she was a trophy-winning dragster driver. Go figure. If you can’t trust a girl with dragster or a blowtorch, who can you trust?
    Moose in the yard. I blew coffee through my nose.

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    • Not making the moose up. There was a mama and calf in the alleyway this weekend. The goat makes sense. I’ve got friends with goats and sheep. Sheep are dumb … dumb … dumb, so they put the bell on the goat and the sheep follow them. The goals are smart enough to run away from the bear — and avoid the road. I used to use our Labrador retriever as a kid sitter when our daughter was little. Cana wasn’t going to let Ivyl wander anywhere Cana couldn’t go — like out of the yard and she was a well-trained dog, so she knew her boundaries. She’d just impose herself between Ivyl and whatever danger she was headed for and when the kid bamboozled her, she had a special bark suggesting I should stop gardening (or whatever) to deal with my child. Loved that dog!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger, or so they say. Looking back, we had some crazy adventures with our daughters, tomboys all. No moose were ever involved but it was enough to give us plenty of memories, always recounted with beer and laughter. Now one of them is farming cattle in Queensland, the others are saving lives in hospitals.

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    • Queensland is a quite adventuresome place. I think my daughter is in NoCal harvesting a free market cannabis grow, but we keep watching the videos of that silliness in Seattle because she hung out in that park all last summer — while working at Boeing, she was busking at nights. That sort of thing would be just up her alley — not the protest end so much, but the “oh, there’s a crowd, good time to make money” part.

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  7. Have you ever been in a deep cavern with all the lights out? Talk about dark!

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