Taking her ailing mother on a snowy camping trip in Alaska’s remote Talkeetna Mountains, novelist Eowyn Ivey finds herself on a tense adventure
By EOWYN IVEY, The Wall Street Journal
WE WOKE IN THE DARK to an icy tapping on our tent, a sound that persisted through the night. At dawn, I unzipped the door and looked out. Several inches of new snow covered our tent, and more ominously, a thick fog had settled around us. The dramatic peaks and rocky valleys of the Talkeetna Mountains had vanished.
“Damn,” I said. No one would be coming for us in this weather.
A few days before, a bush pilot had flown me and my mother, the poet Julie LeMay, into this remote camp in a Cessna 185. The skies had been blue and the tundra a kaleidoscope of autumn colors as we set up our tent. Maybe winter would hold off just a while longer, we thought. We were pushing the calendar; September in Alaska’s high country often brings snow. But we felt a certain urgency ourselves.
For years my mom and I had talked about making this trip, and then she was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. We considered going after her surgery, between her weekly chemotherapy treatments, but the oncologists advised against it. When white blood cells are obliterated, a fever can be life-threatening. Once all her initial treatments were done, and she was months into one of her many temporary remissions, we seized the day—we went to the mountains to hunt for sea fossils.
The Talkeetna range, northeast of Anchorage, is renowned for its fossilized ferns, insects, mollusks and petrified forests. In 1994, the skeleton of a duck-billed dinosaur called a hadrosaur was found in the area.