I received two emergency transfusions. I was on oral iron and IV iron for two years.
I never stopped thinking about the promise I had made.
From my Alaska Tales:
There are no sidewalks in Bethel. But there is an intricate collection of sewer lines, above ground, heated and very unsightly running everywhere in town.
I also quickly learned why it was called the bush. The only trees are some straggly looking evergreens. There is little or no grass, just some random weeds and bushes around here and there.
From Bethel, I was required to arrange flights with any of the several small airlines out to assigned villages. The planes were tiny and looked as if they were powered by rubber bands. Upon seeing my first bush plane, I nearly sank to my knees thanking God I wasn’t famous, thinking of Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline and clinging to the hope that would keep me safe. There aren’t any regularly scheduled flights. When they are ready to go, the pilot shouts the destination in the “terminal” and you load yourself up and hope for the best.
My first flight with a bush pilot was interesting. A native pilot, realizing I was green as grass with lightning speed, asked innocently “First time in Alaska?” I knew I couldn’t fake it, I replied, “First time for a lot of things, baby.” He decided to have some fun. After asking my weight, he put me in the co-pilot seat. He then flew low over the tundra. Along the way, he spotted a bear romping along and tilted the plane so I could see it. I think he was seeking a slightly different reaction than the “Oh, wow, so cool!” exclamation he got. I made it a policy to always thank the pilots for a safe trip. This became more of a talisman as I saw some of the airstrips they were required to land on. Our lane on the farm looked more substantial than these bumpy, gravel paths that were usually not lit. Without lights to guide the pilots, they have to make split second decisions regarding landing in fog, high winds, blinding snow, or rain that quickly turned to ice on its way down.
The pilots all had their own stories. Being a bush pilot is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the US. I don’t like thinking about what that means since I’m the cargo.
A couple of the pilots are older Viet Nam veterans. But the rest appear to be much younger, cowboys who are braving the last frontier. Some look like they are running away from something, others like they are running to something. Their stories were unspoken, yet clearly read in their eyes. Sometimes, when they learned I was a psychologist, they would pour their hearts out with stories I found sadly familiar. Some left because of love entanglements that went wrong. Some because they couldn’t find work in the lower 48 and this was their last hope. Others were just looking for a challenge wanting to pit themselves against an unknown force to see who might win.
I always tried to ask the pilots their names, after all, they knew mine . . . and my weight.