I live and write on Lingít Aaní, and gratefully acknowledge the past, present and future caretakers of this beautiful place, the Jilkaat Kwaan and Jilkoot Kwaan.

 I left the comfort of grandbabies and a big family breakfast Sunday to fly to Juneau to attend a  friend’s memorial service ( you may recall elementary teacher Rene Walker’s obituary? It was for her.) I boarded the plane on the lovely, clear, warm and calm morning, and the pilot said we’d be flying over the ice field. I kind of wondered what that meant, but figured it was just the little jag near the Mendenhall Glacier the flights from Haines sometimes take near the end of the (about) 90 mile flight to Juneau. Well, he flew us straight up and over the mountains across Lynn Canal from Mt. Sinclair the entire the way to Juneau.  Nothing but ice and rock and snow and steep cliff walls and jagged spires and while I’m sure it was all very grand, I could not look. At each swoop and turn and sudden drop beneath us, the Swedish tourists in the plane oohed and ahhed and pointed their phones. I pulled mine out and texted our location and route to my family, just in case. Then I tried not to cry, I was so afraid, and what with the purpose of my journey, and the recent comfort of waking up in bed next to a three year old granddaughter and teaching her to sing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” — it was impossible to breathe, much less relax. Pretty soon I was convinced this might be my last flight ever, literally, and so I tapped the pilot on the shoulder and mouthed ” be safe.”  He grinned. I shut my eyes and prayed. I glimpsed the water and hoped we’d head back out to familiar territory, but we soared up between two peaks very close together. I texted my family that I loved them. By then I was sobbing with big shoulder shaking ones. The tourists chuckled.  I vowed I’d never fly again.

The only trouble was I had a round trip ticket and there was no ferry until tomorrow. I was supposed to be home for a cookout with my family, and I really, really wanted to see them all again. Especially my grandchildren. I wanted to teach Caroline another song. When I returned to the airport after the service, I requested that we don’t return over the ice field. There were just two of us on the flight, and we were both from here, but the pilot was surprised. It was a great day for the ice field flight. Clear and calm. He asked if I was the nervous flier. I assured him I was not. I did not tell him two of my next door neighbors have died in plane clashes, or that I can look out my window and see the place where another plane full of sightseeing folks crashed on  a lovely day like this one. I didn’t say my husband always assures me that commuter flights are the safest. Instead I said, “please fly the regular commuter route to Haines.”

At the memorial service, which Rene had planned, a Mary Oliver poem was read, the one called Such Singing in the Wild Branches. It ends with, ” Is it spring, is it morning? … Does your soul need comforting? Quick then– open the door and fly your heavy feet; the song may already be drifting away.” Rene knew she was dying in a way most of us never will (even though we all are terminal, when you think about it) and wanted to remind us to live each day completely. I kept my eyes open on the lovely flight home, and I thought about that, and how if I ever do fly over the ice field again, I’ll try to see the beauty, and hear the song of the the glaciers and the ancient  earth. I hummed Ode to Joy, which had closed her service, and was sorry I had wasted that hour in the plane crying. I mean, if my concerns were realized, shouldn’t I leave this earth with joy and rather than fear? Shouldn’t  we all, and don’t we all have at least that choice?