It’s late afternoon Saturday when we arrive in Tok, the last town in Alaska before crossing over the Canadian border.
Making a stop at Three Bears for a few groceries, we’re appalled by the exorbitant prices. This makes Homer’s grocery costs look cheap!
Selecting a few necessities, we also take advantage of the restroom facilities.
While in Fairbanks, we’d looked up where a local congregation of our church was meeting - Eagle River. Greg asks the checker how far it is from Tok.
“It’s about 80 miles north of here.”
Oh boy. We aren’t heading north, we’re headed east.
So he asks the man if he knows of another branch in Tok itself.
“One of the leaders of your church lives in town. His number’s in the paper.”
Sure enough we open the newspaper and locate his phone number. Greg calls him up, tells him we’re passing through, and wondering if there was a place to attend church tomorrow.
“Church is held at our house. Why don’t you come over here tonight and you can stay at our place.”
He gives us directions and we head south out of town passing roads with names like “Moose Nugget” and “Borealis”.
Locating their home - a quaint house in a pine forest clearing, fronted by a square, wooden corral with two large and hairy draft horses - we’re welcomed in, to the warmth of a fire in their wood burning stove.
We talk. The transformation from strangers to friends ensues. They share their story, we share ours. We connect with commonalities, learn from our differences.
Parents of ten children (four still at home), home schoolers, and tough Alaskans, we’re inspired by their spirit, strength of character and authenticity.
I’m also fascinated to discover new information - like that Tok is the coldest place in the United States - averaging -60 below, with a record low of -75 below Fahrenheit.
I learn about the ‘critical’ forest which surrounds Tok and which is on the brink of a massive forest fire that would destroy the whole town, and how they’re instead using those trees in a bio-mass fuel project that heats the entire high school.
It’s getting dark - which in Alaska means it’s late - we make up beds on their futon and on the floor, then settle into sleep.
We’re up early, and scuttle out to our truck for church clothes, shivering in our winter coats as a cold wind blows, despite the sunshine.
Our host saunters out to feed his horses while we’re hastily digging through our truck. He’s wearing a t-shirt.
“Ahhh. We don’t get many mornings like this,” he comments.
Alaskans are grown tough.
Breakfast is hearty pancakes made from freshly ground whole wheat flour with home made syrup.
Bellies full, we dress and help prepare for the meeting to be held.
An hour or two after I thought it would start, other families finally begin arriving - six or seven in all - many with tattoos, some single, others married, a couple of teens, a few more children, some empty-nesters, all with a smile and a welcoming hand.
Our host conducts, then invites others to share their thoughts and feelings. There is an atmosphere of warmth and sharing that connects us to each other. I’m moved by the stories shared as I recognize our common humanity - we love, suffer, exult, cry, laugh and live, regardless of location or personal history.
After the meetings a couple with young children invite us over for lunch. Reluctantly bidding our new friends goodbye, we follow directions along roads cut through timberland.
Their home is located on forty acres of forest, a charming log home with a guest cabin.
A scrumptious meal is served over engaging conversation. The children play perfectly together.
Stories and adventures are shared. A game of spoons in the sunshine, exploration of a nearby pond - a lunch invitation turns into dinner then an overnighter as our fast friendship strengthens.
One of the sweetest fruits of wandering is the discovery of friends who were once unknown - strangers - but ‘kindred spirits.’
The transitory nature of our meeting intensifies the rapport, and hastens the connections.
Knowing that soon we’ll say goodbye ensures that the marrow is sucked out of each moment. The ‘adieus’ give rise to great encounters.
In the morning we bid a sad farewell, sweetened by expressions of admiration and affection, and warmed by a mantle of friendship.
Visiting Tok, Alaska? Make sure to stay with our friends at their Cloudberry Cabin B & B
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