The news in our nation and world gets so heavy at times that I can barely think about it. As my regular readers have probably noticed, I am writing less and less about political subjects and more and more about more pleasant ones. To lighten the mood today, I decided to share a personal story from many years ago.
My husband is an avid outdoorsman. He is also a private pilot, hunter, and fisherman. I cannot tell whether he flies in order to hunt and fish, or whether he goes hunting and fishing as an excuse to fly. Either way, he enjoys all three activities. I am my husband’s first choice for a companion in his adventures. I do not particularly relish the actual shooting or fishing, but I do enjoy the flying and hiking. Our quests have included numerous hunts. I was the shooter on several occasions because I was the lucky (maybe unlucky) recipient of the permit. My husband never asked me to hunt Dall sheep with him, and I was content to stay home. Then I made a fateful mistake, and I do not know why I did it. I merely mentioned that I was getting in such good condition with my exercise that I could go sheep hunting, and my husband accepted my statement as an agreement to go with him. Several months later he was still expecting me to hunt sheep with him, and I could find no reason why I should not go.
The hunting season for Dall sheep in Alaska starts on August 10 every year. Several days previous to the opening day of the season, my husband and I began collecting the gear and supplies needed for the trip. We laid everything out on the floor of the family room, and my husband began checking my stuff. As this was my first backpacking trip, I understood that he was much more qualified than I was to decide what should go and what should not. I agreed when he eliminated many of my items, such as the extra pair of socks and a book to read, but I put my foot down when he wanted to eliminate my lip balm. I reasoned, “This does not weigh very much, not even half an ounce.” He replied, “Every half an ounce counts when you are climbing a mountain.” Trusting in his experience, I eliminated numerous other things, but I held tight to my lip balm. We were finally ready for an adventure in the great Alaska wilderness.
Awaking early on August 9, my husband and I made preparations to leave for the hunt. The sky was clear with beautiful sunshine all around us, and the temperature was a balmy 65 degrees. We were pleased with the perfect conditions. We knew that we could safely fly through the mountain passes and around the high mountain homes of the Dall sheep. After putting our hunting gear and supplies in the truck, we drove to Lake Hood, which is located next to the Anchorage International Airport. There we secured all the items in the blue Cessna 180 on floats and prepared the aircraft for takeoff. We settled into our seats and tightened our seatbelts. We soon lifted off the smooth, brownish-green water of the busiest seaplane base in the world.
We left civilization behind a short time after lifting off the lake. We flew over several blue-gray rivers filled with silt from melting glaciers, and we saw numerous sparkling waterfalls tumbling down mountainsides. I was amazed at the lush green Alaska wilderness and the beauty of the mountains and valleys. When we arrived in the area where we should see some sheep, we descended a little to look for the small white spots near the tops of the mountains. When we found the sheep, we dropped a little lower in order to see if they were full-curl rams. We finally found what we were looking for on Black Mountain. We circled a few more times to be sure and then landed on a high mountain lake with beautiful turquoise-blue water. Ironically, the lake is called Sheep Lake. We tied the airplane to some trees and brush along the shore of the lake, changed our hip waders to hiking boots, put on our backpacks, and started up the mountain.
My backpack did not seem heavy as I began climbing, but it became heavier and heavier as I fought my way through the trees and brush on the lower part of the mountain. I was particularly grateful that I had listened to my husband when he insisted that I keep my load as light as possible. My pack became exceedingly heavy by the time we reached a mountain meadow about four hours after leaving the lake. There we set up our camp for the night, beginning with the tent.
I could not believe the size of the tent, which was so small that two sleeping bags barely fit inside. We had no choice but to leave our packs outside, covered with black garbage bags to keep them dry from the dew. I was a little concerned about bears, but we had seen no sign of them as we climbed. We cooked our freeze-dried food and ate dinner before preparing our backpacks for the morning. We packed everything needed for a day on a high mountain - but nothing else. Our lunch for the next day consisted of jerky, granola bars, candy bars, nuts, dried fruit, and plenty of water. The evening was pleasant, warm enough to be comfortable and without mosquitoes. We climbed into bed early and were asleep before the sun went down about 10:00 that night.
My husband shook me awake early the next morning as light was coming into the tent. We dressed, ate a quick breakfast of warm, homemade granola, and hoisted our packs once again. We hoped that the sheep were in the same place that we saw them the previous afternoon. We moved to the back side of the mountain, so the sheep would not see us coming. My husband was carrying the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight rifle and hiking in front of me. I had a fairly easy climb at first because my backpack was nearly empty. The situation changed quickly.
The mountain became steeper, and the footing was less secure. The numerous patches of shale rock were difficult to cross without losing stability on the steep side of the mountain. I stopped often to rest and to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery surrounding me. I kept thinking that we were nearing the top of the mountain. However, each time we reached the “peak” I saw another one just ahead. After a couple of hours of steady climbing, we arrived at the top of the mountain and saw the sheep about 80 yards below us. They were grazing on the sparse mountain grass and were totally unaware of us. We were in an ideal position for shooting.
Hastily getting into position, I took the first shot and missed. I aimed too high. The bullet went over the ram’s head, and all the sheep started running down the mountain. I quickly handed the rifle to my husband, who shot and hit a big ram. The sheep started tumbling head over heels down the mountain. I wondered how far it would roll but soon saw that it stopped behind a boulder. We slowly made our way down to him through the patch of large rocks. We cleaned the animal, skinned it, and boned it out, a job that took several hours. I appreciated the surgeon gloves that allowed us to work and still keep our hands clean from the yucky mess. We divided the weight between our packs. Then we ate lunch on the side of the mountain before heading down to camp, an ordeal that hurt our knees. We traveled slowly, but we eventually arrived back in the meadow about two hours later. We broke camp, loaded our gear, and prepared the airplane. We headed home to Anchorage, having achieved another successful hunt.
As I reflect on our adventure of hunting Dall sheep, I see a great comparison to the fifty years since our marriage. Just as I trusted my husband to advise me in preparation for the hunt and to take me safely to and from the hunting site, I trusted him in many other areas of our marriage. These areas included providing for our family in order for me to be a stay-at-home mother and making good decisions on our investments in order for us to have enough money for retirement. We worked as a team in order to hunt the sheep, and we work together as marriage partners to make our household and family run smoothly. The difficult climb up Black Mountain resembles marriage and life in general. Just as I thought that I was nearing the top of the mountain and then seeing another “peak” just ahead, we face one challenge after another in real life. Even though our trials changed over the years, they kept coming. We continue to work together as we move onward and upward, even through difficult times.
My husband and I had a goal to find a Dall sheep and bring it home. We scheduled and organized for the hunt. We climbed higher and higher up a very steep and difficult mountain until we found the sheep. We also planned and prepared for an eternal marriage. We work extremely hard and go through many tough places as we climb higher and higher towards the celestial kingdom and eternal life together. We know that the reward comes only after the climb.