I've been to many parts of this great country.
During my travels, I've been awed by the natural beauty that abounds in America.
But nothing has impressed me as much as the sights of Alaska and the memories created by our recent trip to this northernmost state.
Flying over the Alaskan mountain ranges prior to our descent into Anchorage, my mother, my husband and I looked out the window of the plane to see mountains still deep in snow despite the fact that the calendar read "June". We talked about how intimidating this country must have been for settlers and those seeking their fortunes during the gold rush. We couldn't begin to fathom the bravery they must have possessed or the hardships they must have endured just to survive a year in the snowy, desolate wilderness.
This would be my mom's first sojourn to this part of the country. Mom has always dreamed of visiting Alaska, but never thought she'd see that dream realized. Sometimes, with a little help, dreams do come true.
Alaska is a land filled with diversity. There are towering mountain spires and lowland marshes. There are clear mountain streams and rushing rivers filled with glacial silt. Constantly moving glaciers crack like thunder as they inch slowly down the mountainsides. Wildflowers bloom in some regions while snow still covers the ground in others.
The coastal waters team with life as do the skies, valleys and mountainsides. We were fortunate enough to witness a grizzly bear lumber across the valley of Denali Park and a mamma moose stand watch over her two youngsters on the outskirts of a forest. Giant eagles flew over our heads in Seward and a gray whale and her calf breached near the bow of our boat in the bays surrounding the Kenai Peninsula.
We experienced the "rustic" side of Alaska while staying on Fox Island. An hour boat ride brought us to the lush green island with its rocky shoreline. The lodge itself was anything but rustic and we found ourselves in the company of two other couples staying at the lodge. On this remote Alaskan island, it wasn't the beauty of Alaska that monopolized our conversations, but the beauty of love.
Michael and Marlene were on their honeymoon. One week into their marriage, we laughed as they spoke happily of the pre-wedding float they created for a parade in Fairfax. The entire bridal party and most guests participated in the parade. The wedding and its festivities followed in the afternoon. A week later, they were still recuperating.
We chatted about the coincidence that five of us shared - a widow, a seasoned married couple and newlyweds - for we all met our spouses on blind dates! We talked about soul mates and weddings and love.
But the sweetest example of love came from P.J. and Laurie.
We all watched P.J. and Laurie as we dined family style in the main lodge. Laurie was completely unaware that P.J. was harboring a secret. Only the nervous tapping of his foot under the dinner table gave it away to those of us who knew what was about to unfold.
Shortly after dinner, P.J. led Laurie down the rocky beach to a small cove on the pretense of listening to a presentation by the island naturalist. They were greeted instead by a roaring bonfire, roses and wine. Laurie, at first, thought it was the most elegant naturalist presentation she'd ever been to. But then, with dawning awareness, she began to understand. There, with waves lapping softly at the shore, P.J. bent down before Laurie and asked her to marry him. If she agreed they would marry before they returned to their home in Florida. She said yes.
The next day, while Mom begged off, we all hiked to the ridge of the island. As we reached the top, we gazed down upon the bay below. Surrounded by the lush green forest, we listened and looked upon the glory that lay before us.
The silence was broken by our 22-year-old guide and naturalist, Sam.
"I've been so impressed by the examples of love that you've all shown me. One day I hope to find my soul mate. In honor of you all, I've chosen this to read to you."
And Sam read from Homer's Oddessy: "… For there is nothing mightier and nobler than when man and wife are of one heart and mind in a house. A grief to their foes and to their friends great joy, but their own hearts know it best."
It was a touching moment as each couple held the hand of their loved one and absorbed the words that echoed quietly in our heads. Reluctantly, we turned and headed back down the path. I'm sure that this was a moment none of us would soon forget.
Mom called our trip to Alaska "the trip of a lifetime". And she was right. For sometimes, dreams do come true - for everyone involved.
Theresa Larson is the administration manager and bi-weekly columnist for the Lodi News-Sentinel.