Seeing with our hearts

“Oh, Betty, you’ve just got to see it with your heart and your eyes!”

These words stuck with me throughout our recent incredible trip to The Last Frontier, Alaska.

They came from a 75-year-old adventurer, Sally, to her 85-year-old friend, as she struggled to get her camera working properly while we were up on a glacier near Denali.

Yep, Betty and Sally flew up with us on a de Havilland Otter, a turboprop plane operated out of Talkeetna by K2 Aviation. As eight of us loaded into the plane, Brad and another taller gentleman were instructed that they could sit anywhere but the back. My assumption was that even though the aircraft is the quintessential bush plane, and has incredible STOL (Short takeoff and landing. Good in case moose happen to be on the runway. Seriously. It happens there), a heavy tail doesn’t help.

As I strapped on my seat belt, I got a little nervous seeing that the plane was manufactured in my birth year. Granted their turbo props had been upgraded, but I was still a bit anxious, knowing at this age sometimes my body doesn’t want to fully cooperate. I said a silent prayer, hoping that today this plane’s systems were all in working order for our flight.

As I was untangling the cable to my headphones, I heard my daughter Kyle’s voice behind me.

“You just press the headphones in at the top to make them fit,” she said.

I turned around to see that she was helping Betty and Sally. It both warmed my heart to see Kyle assisting them, and to see their gratitude in their eyes.

Take-off was quick and easy. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we didn’t experience any turbulence from heavy, low-lying clouds. We flew up from the base at Talkeetna, the launching pad for many of Denali’s climbers.

We were flying a popular route, both for drop-off of hikers at base camp, as well as for those of us ultimately landing on a glacier. I’m grateful I didn’t discover this information from an FAA Denali flight information guide until just now: This can be a very high volume route during May and June. Aircraft are leaving Talkeetna and flying the most direct route to “base camp” on the Kahiltna Glacier. Watch for “One Shot Gap”: minimum altitudes 8500 ft MSL, listen, stay right, watch diligently for opposite direction traffic, listen for reports of downdrafts and turbulence. Don’t get caught with no way out.

I’m sure Betty and Sally were glad not to read this before our trip as well. Kyle might have been helping them with more than their headphones.

The Denali peak, at 20, 320 feet, was clearly visible throughout our flight. It is majestic, snow covered, incredible and almost beyond words. As we flew around the mountain, it gave me an even greater appreciation for those who scale the monster. Over 100 climbers had reached the summit the week we were visiting.

We flew through a section called the “747 Pass.” The name was reassuring, because from my perspective, it seemed as though it was just wide enough for our small plane to fly through.

The pilot brought us down a few thousand feet before landing on Ruth Glacier, in an area known as the Mountain House. Yep, there is a small cabin, built by a famous pioneer aviator, Donald Sheldon in 1966. We could see the house on the rock outcropping, with the outhouse nearby, seemingly on the edge. Wouldn’t want to take a wrong turn on that early morning trip.

We unloaded from the plane, one at a time, carefully on to the softened snow below. We all stumbled over the tracks from other plane landings, our sun-protected eyes still blinded by the glaring sun and bright blue sky.

Kyle and our son Ian threw snowballs at each other, Brad and I hugged, simply in awe.

And Betty and Sally tried to take pictures with their camera. I felt sorry for them, knowing that for all of us, this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

That’s when Sally offered her sage advice.

So true.

We should take in everything with our eyes and keep it embedded in our hearts.

Our time on the glacier was up entirely too soon. Our pilot ushered us back into the plane. Betty was having a bit of a challenge walking across the snow back to the plane, so I offered her an arm. Then, with an apology for getting a bit too personal, I pushed on her backside to help her up into the plane. She giggled at my comment. Or maybe at my goose, I’m not sure which.

Before we took off, Brad gave Sally one of his business cards, suggesting she email him, and he would be happy to send her pictures he had taken up on the glacier. Her eyes glistened as she accepted his card and offer.

Our flight back was smooth, no apparent downdrafts or turbulence and certainly didn’t experience the “no way out.”

We landed safely, and the adorable ladies, gushing with their gratitude, were kind enough to grant my request of taking a picture with them before we went our separate ways.

This Alaskan trip was symbolically our last frontier, as it was our 50th State to visit with our children. It was the completion of a mission we began in earnest after losing our daughter, Claire, in 2000.

I know I will hold on to all the big and small memories of all our journeys forever in my heart.

And just maybe I’ll share them all with you some day.

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Ode to Libraries

It’s National Library Week.

My first recollections of a library were of that glorious smell of old books from the branch at the school in my hometown. I long for that aroma of vanilla and mustiness all rolled into one. I remember curling up on a metal staircase in the library, finding a perch by a window and taking in my primers.

I learned to ride a bike at an early age, the incentive being the bookmobile that magically arrived a mile up the road from our home in the country. I’d hop on my little banana seat bike, basket laden with the previous week’s selection of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, past the pump house that provided the water to irrigate the surrounding corn fields, and onto the road that dead-ended into what was my grandparents’ farm.

There I’d find the library on wheels, waiting patiently for me.

I’d stand up my tippy-toes, reaching high up on to the shelves for a new Bobbsey Twins adventure, or to see if Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were available to read. Again.

My high school library fed my fascination with all things Edgar Allan Poe and helped me embrace Shakespeare. On to college, and the quiet spaces got me through exams and research papers.

Then my love affair took a break, as I entered the workplace. Not much time to read, as I made my mark in sales and management.

I got married and had three children faster than you could turn a page.

And the library took a whole new role in my life.

In its collections and story time programs at first, and then, in a way I never would have imagined.

When our ten-year old daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly, the library provided sanctuary.

First within the endless bereavement books I read, trying to find answers where there were none, and then as the site of the children’s book festival we established in Claire’s name.

These days I’ve been blessed to be in sections of libraries that many people never have reason to visit. Places that require special permission to enter and have names like Archives and Manuscripts Division and Rare Books Room.

These places, with their old book smell, take me back to that metal staircase, getting lost in letters and hoping to learn to string them together to form a word, a sentence. And they take me forward to places that allow me to create story.

For libraries have seen me grow from that little girl learning to read, to a woman honoring her daughter gone too soon, to the writer creating books now found on their shelves.

So thank you dear libraries, and all the incredible librarians and staff who have fed my passion, supported my mission, and helped with my writer’s journey.

I think we should celebrate you EVERY week.

Fifty words before breakfast

I found a writing challenge while scrolling through Facebook as I enjoyed my coffee this morning.

“50 Precious Words” is the theme.

The contest is inspired by Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, which has over 700 words, but only 50 unique words.

So, children’s book author Vivian Kirkfield is encouraging us to put our thinking caps on and to keep the ink limited.

Even though my poem has 50 words in it (for those who know me both as writer and friend know that I would push it to the limit), it has a lot of back story.

It’s a reflection of my awareness that as I’ve segued into my role as Claire’s Day Founder versus Claire’s Day organizer, it’s time to keep working on my dream.

It is my goal to write something significant every day. It might be 50 words, or 1000, but I’m writing every day.

And, that at some point, should I be blessed with grandchildren, that I will have many books that “Nana” has written to share with them.

It is my hope to complete a manuscript a year, in the hopes that I’m published once a year.

Lofty? Perhaps. Impossible, absolutely not.

As the Queen in Alice in Wonderland so famously offered, “Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

In my case, fifty words before breakfast.

Enjoy my entry!

Nana’s Story

by Julie K. Rubini

We cuddle together, book opened wide.

It’s my favorite, because of what is inside.

Dragons,

Castles,

A beautiful queen.

Knights,

Bad guys,

and everything in-between.

But, the best part is at the end,

on the book flap,

where there is a picture

of Nana, with me,

sitting in her lap.

 

Holding Point

Don’t you love reading a book that leaves you hanging at the end of a chapter? You can’t help but read on to the next chapter, and before you know it, you’ve read the entire book. Mystery writers are famous for finishing with cliffhangers.

While writing my biography of Millie Benson, I learned that another term for this practice was called a “holding point.” This is a more accurate reflection of my memories of nearly holding my breath in anticipation of whatever was going to happen next in the Nancy Drew Mystery Story I was reading at the time.

Recently I met an up-and-coming mystery writer at one of my book signings. Her name is Abby, and she is pictured here with her sister Madeline. Abby shared that the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories were her favorite books. She was thrilled to be buying my biography of the original ghostwriter of the series, and getting it personally signed. Abby, if you’re reading this, I was just as thrilled.

Abby sent me a note after our meeting, asking permission to use the character names of Nancy Drew and Ned Nickerson in a new mystery series she was creating. It almost broke my heart to tell her that I did not have the right to do so. Just as my book reflects all the massive permissions I had to obtain for images and text, so too would she. Simon & Schuster holds the keys to the Nancy Drew kingdom.

That was okay, Abby responded. She had a different character’s name in mind anyways.

I love that.

Life is full of holding points. We don’t know where it will take us, but we can’t wait to find out. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out the way we hoped for. But that’s okay. We come up with a new ending to our chapters. We hold our breath, turn the page, and carry on.

Thanks Abby for the inspiration.

Julie with Nancy Drew fans