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MY ALASKAN SHERPA

A Friendship Forged in the Wilds of Alaska

Twenty-four years ago, I met Tom and Barbara Miller at a resort in Cabo, Mexico. Our friendship began when I floated over to ask what to drink at the pool bar. Little did I know that this casual encounter would lead to some of my life’s most profound, magical, and spiritual experiences.

 

It wasn’t long before I began visiting my friends in Hope, Alaska, a tradition I’ve upheld for over twenty years, each summer and even once during the winter. During these visits, Tom and I explore Alaska’s natural attractions. I’ve encountered Beluga whales, black and brown bears, bald eagles, Dall sheep, mountain goats, moose, salmon, seals, beavers, sea otters, puffins, and many mosquitoes. I’ve floated down the Kenai River, hiked trails and scaled mountains, fished for salmon, skied in hip-deep powder, cruised to glaciers, rafted the rapids, flown in a small plane around Denali Mountain, crossed the Arctic Circle, and visited Nome.

 

While these activities were unique experiences, my guide, Tom Miller, elevated them to an otherworldly level. Born in 1957 at Nome Hospital, Tom was taken home to Kotzebue in his father’s Cessna 170, cradled in his mother’s arms. From birth, Tom was destined for this land; his life intertwined with Alaska’s spirit and essence.

In this 1959 photo, baby Tom, wearing a red hat, stands on the sea ice in Kotzebue with his brothers and dear friends, Charlie and Freda Goodwin. Behind them is his dad’s Cessna 170 plane.

This summer, the abundant snowfall from the past winter caused the plant life to thrive like never before. The long, sunlit days spurred the vegetation to grow in abundance, with fireweed, lupine, lichens, sedges, dwarf shrubs, and the ever-threatening Devil’s Club dominating the landscape.

 

During our excursions, I noticed that Tom’s connection to the land had reached a new mastery level. Most impressive was his innate feel for the forest. When we were neck-deep in red elderberry, unable to see the trail, Tom advised me to use my feet to find the way. Occasionally, he would drop out of sight, leaving me to search for the trail, wondering if I could find my way out alone. His presence was my compass, a steady hand in the wild.

 

I compare Tom’s ability to the Sherpas in the Himalayas. Sherpas are revered for their deep spiritual connection to the mountains, their knowledge passed down through generations, and their almost supernatural ability to navigate the harshest terrains. Similarly, Tom’s understanding of the Alaskan wilderness goes beyond physical navigation. It’s as if he communicates with the land by feeling its rhythms and respecting its spirit.

 

As I struggled to keep up, Tom moved quickly with grace, leaving me in awe. Each step he took was confident and sure, as though the forest guided his every move. He would pause occasionally, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, fully immersing himself in the essence of the woods. In those moments, it felt like he was communing with the forest’s soul, drawing strength and guidance from the trees, the soil, and the air around us. His connection to the land was palpable, a testament to the deep bond he shared with this wild and beautiful place.

 

I felt a profound sense of peace and connection as we continued our journey. It was as if the forest had welcomed us into its embrace, revealing its secrets through Tom. His guidance was about finding the right path, understanding the land’s language, and moving harmoniously.

 

In those moments, I realized the true magic of my Alaskan Sherpa. Tom’s wisdom and intuition turned our adventures into a spiritual journey, a dance with nature that left me humbled and in awe. Each step we took was a testament to the bond between man and land, a reminder of the beauty and power of the natural world.

 

So, every summer, I return to Hope, Alaska, not just for the breathtaking landscapes or thrilling activities but also for the chance to reconnect with the deeper, spiritual side of nature. With Tom by my side, each journey becomes a pilgrimage, a testament to the enduring friendship that started with a simple question at a pool bar and has grown into something truly extraordinary.


 

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