Thursday, May 20, 2010

An Alaskan Affair, A Short Story by Mike Furches

Charles was walking alone across the open tundra. He realized he was on ice. The vastness of the open sea pulled him. All around him he saw the mountains and their peaks covered or tipped with snow. They reached as high and as far as the eye could see, to the endless vastness of the sky and the borders of heaven.

As the sun shined on the peaks Charles saw the reflections of the shadows mixed with the glistening of the snow. The dull gray rocks seemed small, but Charles knew they were really quite large. He was after all, at least three miles from the nearest mountain and there were other mountains as far as the eye could see in all directions.

In the simplicity of the grayness of the rocks, Charles was amazed how much color the color of gray possessed. There were many tints, all of them seeming all the brighter and more brilliant next to the contrast of the white snow. There were blue tints; light and dark tints, as well as shades of brown and green. All of these colors, and more, positioned against a backdrop of deep royal blue sky sprinkled with white silky and fluffy clouds. All in all, it was a beautiful day.

Charles didn't know what it was that was driving him on in this course. He had a family back home that he deeply cared about, especially his three daughters. Charles could only think of enjoyable memories when it came to his children. They were and would always be mystically linked to him. He knew they were a part of him. They came from his roots and lineage, a part of the continuation of his soul and spirit. His children were something he had tried to cultivate in appropriate ways. Ways where they would be successful when they were grown. Success for his daughters would come from places other than wealth. It would come from relationships, family and morality. Charles wanted richness in the pleasures of life. He wanted wealth from the security of being involved in something where his children would leave their mark on those around them for an eternity.

Charles was growing further apart from his wife but he tried to keep their marriage together. As they grew older they were unlike some couples who grew more in love and found out how much they had in common. Charles realized how they were different. While raising the children Charles knew his wife had been a good mother. He was grateful for her.

Charles had not changed much since the wedding. He remained in many ways the kid he was while growing up. There were the simple and small ways his wife had changed. She didn’t take the time to care for herself like she once did. This impacted her physical appearance and her emotional makeup. Charles wasn't mad at her; he just realized how they had grown apart.

After arguments with his wife, Charles often took long walks to reflect on his life and to calm down. He was having an affair with the surroundings he had grown to love, the beautiful terrain of Alaska. He occasionally left home for long walks that lasted the day. His wife and children never understood or accepted him doing this. His family knew he was so caught up in his work through the week that he often times didn’t get home until late. His family just wanted him to spend more time with them.

Several times a week Charles went to the local pub to spend time with friends. He never drank alcoholic beverages, just coke or water. Going to the pub was a way of relaxing and spending time with his friends. It was a way of relaxing he had never experienced with his wife. This was something his wife never understood or accepted.

As Charles continued walking he got lost in the beauty of his surroundings. He accepted that he was enjoying the privacy and beauty of his surroundings more than he did his time at home. Here, there was no arguing, unless he decided to let loose and argue with God. This was a rewarding experience though, it was from the occasional arguments with God that he seemed to understand himself and God better. Charles had friends that knew him well and warned him about the dangers of taking his long walks without letting anyone know of his whereabouts. Alaska was still a wilderness and she possessed attributes that made her so.

The mountains and snows were unpredictable. There was the animals and ice. Animals got hungry and bears, especially if awakening during the spring hibernation, were known to stalk humans. One of the greatest dangers was the enormity of the lakes and seas. They would freeze in the winter and form barren tundra of frozen ground. The ice was so thick in some sections that large semi trucks drove over the ice to deliver items to various locations.

As thick as the ice got, in the spring it would began to thaw and often times took to the grave those on it at the time it broke apart. Charles reasoned with his friends that none of them knew the circumstances he was going through at home nor of the confusion he was constantly going through in his own mind. To him, this was a justification that blinded him to the reasoning presented by others.

Charles never got over being raised in the environment he was. He was raised in the country, the child of a farming family. This was difficult not just on Charles, but on every family and child growing up on a farm. The 1970's were rough and the grain embargo years of President Carter didn't help. Seeing families loose everything they had worked so hard for made it difficult for Charles’ mother and father. Eventually, the hard times hit home. When Charles grandfather and grandmother lost their farm of over 50 years Charles father started drinking and the alcohol shortened an already short temper. It was his observations of this that kept Charles from consuming alcohol throughout his adult life.

The years preceding the loss of the family farm took the greatest toll on Charles family. Charles did his best to lead a advantageous life, but there was the nightmares and flashbacks that shocked the past memories into the present. The nightmares had vivid images of his mothers and fathers last years together. Years of arguing, fighting, and taking the anger out on the children. The children were never physically abused but the spankings came more often and for things not always their fought.

It was not the recollection of these memories that Charles was having nightmares about. It was the time he walked in and found his father dead from a self inflicted gunshot wound. It was after this brutal discovery Charles mother moved to Des Moines. Des Moines wasn't a large city to most but to Charles, after growing up in the country it was as if he was visiting another planet. Charles was never willing to put the blame on anyone else other than himself. "Each person is responsible for their actions." He told his friends while discussing various topics after work at the pub. This opinion not only helped develop bar room friendships but it was a philosophy Charles accepted and believed. It was an idea that was rural America and a part of Charles most essential roots.

For a moment Charles was frightened and realized he was daydreaming again. On occasion he walked for miles just thinking and daydreaming. It was as if he was not aware of his surroundings.

It was the roar of a falling glacier, which awoke him from his stupor. A glacier had shifted and caused a small avalanche some ten miles away. He saw the powder starting to cascade down the mountain, growing in size as it fell down the steep frozen and sterile mountain. The snow was starting to melt now and as it melted the glaciers often shifted, and fell. They sounded like a loud, constant, thunder clasp. Even though Charles was a safe distance from the tons of falling snow, he could still distinguish the thunderous sound heard from miles away The avalanche momentarily took his attention away from the struggles he was going through regarding his relationship with his family, wife, and friends, but mostly with himself.

Charles watched the avalanche in the distance for what seemed like hours but it could not have lasted more than three minuets. It was here that Charles took a break and looked at the beautiful clouds. He could see many reflections and shapes as the sunlight shone through the clouds. It was as if God was using his fingers to point rays of light to the earth, highlighting points of the mountain and ice covered sea around him.

Charles lay down and looked at the large white delicate clouds and the designs. He recalled his childhood were he did the same thing in the fields of Iowa. It was there where Charles was taught by his father to use his imagination to distinguish various shapes and objects in the cloud formations. It was amazing to Charles, even as an adult, how imaginative the mind was and how it could be told something existed that was not in reality there. He knew for example that one of the clouds he was looking at could not be mans' profile, yet, he could convince his mind that what he saw was the profile of an elderly man.

The ice Charles lay on did not feel cold due to the down jacket he was wearing. It was a jacket his grandmother gave him when he had left Iowa to go to college in Wyoming. It was one of the last things his grandmother gave him before she died of a heart attack during his freshman year while on Christmas break. Charles was pleased that he had not grown much since college. He was now 38-years-old and out of college for 15 years. If anything, he was pleased that he was in many ways, in better shape now than he was then. While in high school and later on in college he was not that active. He concentrated mainly on his studies in agriculture. It was later, after realizing he would never make a decent living farming that he changed his area of studies to finance. After college he started taking long walks to get into shape.

While watching the clouds Charles closed his eyes and thought of some of the pleasant times he had had with his grandmother while growing up. He thought of the times when everyone in the family got together after church for dinner. They would watch the Bears of Chiefs play football on television. While Charles was not athletic it was fun having the men of the house enjoying the game and getting into ritualistic arguments about who the best players were in the history of the game. He recalled the fine meals his grandmother always prepared. There was always more food than they could eat during lunch but after snacking through the day there was never any left by the time the second televised game of the day was over.

On occasion He remembered his dreams but on others had no idea what he had dreamed. On this occasion he could not remember his dreams but knew he had a good nap by the way he felt. He felt good and started walking again. He could walk for another hour or so and still have time to get home to his family before dark. He was 15 miles from home and he had almost 5 hours to get to his jeep which was parked at the edge of the park. This was important even though it was early in the spring. The bears were still in the lowlands looking for food and it could get down to 20 below zero.

At times like this Charles realized how much he loved his surroundings. There was the mountains, sky, he even enjoyed in its own strange sort of way, the weather. It was also at these times that he didn't want to hear his wife complaining about taking a full day on the weekend to spend time alone, walking. It wasn't that she didn't want him doing the things he enjoyed. She just didn't understand the need for him to be alone or away from the family during his free time. He did this without letting them know where he was at.

To Charles, the mountains and spring of the year in Alaska was as if he were having an affair with a woman he deeply loved. He loved her aroma and never tired of looking at her. He remembered every little detail. There was her body, the curve of eyelashes, the darkness of her eyes and the small blemishes which were not really blemishes but small details to accent her overall beauty. He could be in her presence for an eternity, never wanting anything more than her companionship and the fullness of a conversation dipped in romance. To touch and caress while in conversation about anything from a movie to the way one felt about the other. Any conversation would be an easy conversation because it was not so much the subject matter of the conversation as much as it was the joy that came from being in her presence. Naturally, if on occasion more were to happen, then that would be something beautiful and enjoyed to the fullness of which God intended. Yet it would not be any one thing which would be the basis of the relationship but instead the magic of everything combined.

Charles felt all of these feelings about Alaska, yet, in the manner that resembled an affair. It was an affair which took from one aspect of Charles’ life in order to give to the other. This affair at times had him questioning, what, and who were right, and what, and who, were wrong. It was an affair were the love of youth had been lost to a new love of vigilance and challenge. Was one right while the other wrong? Charles didn't think so. He knew how he felt about his surroundings; he knew how he felt about his life and family. He didn't fully accept what others thought as right or wrong. He saw and lived life through his own perspective. He needed time to follow his own heart.

The spring was a time of growth and change; one never knew what would happen. For Charles, this lack of understanding was one of the beautiful things about Alaska. There were other things he loved and were drawn into. It was not unusual to see animals come out of hibernation. He could sit at a distance and watch the games of flirtation with the birds, bears, foxes and other animals that played with each other. The games of flirtation were in a good, clean, decent, sincerely pure way, as romantic as anything Charles had experienced for many years. He had the joy of seeing Gods creation at work and the joy and pleasure those things bought him were worth the risks he took. For Charles, to see nature replenish itself and go through the ceremonies and rituals of spring were a spiritually uplifting thing. To realize, that creation renews, forgives and seemingly forgets was a message which Charles needed.

Charles thought that the risk he was taking was something God wanted for him. This involved the risk of taking the long walks in environments where others did not know where he was. To others, it was as if reason had been lost. To Charles, reason was not lost, he knew he had a family and a responsibility to that family, yet, he also knew how much joy and pleasure the walks and time alone brought him. He was convinced; this could not be bad. Observing the beauty of Gods creation was something others should understand. To Charles it was not so much that he had changed over the years; his family had changed.

In the early days, Charles and his wife did things together; they loved the company they kept with each other. They took long walks and were involved in all types of activities. Yet, for a number of reasons, some his fault, he had become bitter towards those around him for not trying to understand him or his past. He blamed everyone but himself for the disintegration of their relationships, and he was tired of the confrontations. He was going to live his life, to the fullest and most satisfying way possible.

Charles had been daydreaming as he walked across the ice. He was now wide awake, it was starting to get cool, but he was within site of his jeep, some mile or so away. He was now whistling away the tune of Mr. Blue Sky by The Electric Light Orchestra. He was thinking about how beautiful it was, and how it was nice that it was starting to warm up. It wasn’t as cold as he had expected and he was looking forward to the spring and warm weather. As he walked across the frozen lake he began to feel and hear the ice beneath him began to crack, and break.

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