After days of hiking through the park, I was in desperate need of a bath. That was my rationale as I peered at the glacial stream before me. Everybody was watching: The dall sheep on the ridge giggled at me with their permed horns, while the wild ptarmigan chortled in their fall feathers.
This stuff used to be second nature, so why was I having stage fright? Finally, with my mother urging me to get a move-on, I took a deep breath and stepped in. Suddenly what had been frozen for thousands of years was now rushing around my foot. I let out a girlish shriek, "Omigod, it's numbing!" I was cranky. I hadn't eaten in hours. My mom just smirked at me under her cascade of frosty hair.
"Welcome back, sweetie," she said. I gritted my teeth and continued to wade through the glacial stream, angry at my forgetfulness. After too many years acclimating to Los Angeles, I have to stand knee deep in freezing water to remind myself I grew up in Alaska.
"You know," Mom said afterwards as we loaded our packs into a government pick-up truck, "you should consider a career with the National Park Service." That was a new one. Normally, I get suggestions of commercial fishing. Alaska is mostly a blue collar, working-class state, where parents typically coach their children away from being struggling writers. Therefore every time I make my yearly cameo to The Last Frontier, I'm immediately put to work. The task this time: volunteer for Denali National Park to find some rare moose skull out in yonder tundra. Joy.