The bush pilot gunned the engine of the DeHaviland Beaver float plane as it glided across the bay. We gently lifted off from Ketchikan, Alaska, on the final leg of a journey taking me to a five-week locum tenens job in Klawock, Alaska. During the 45-minute flight, I surveyed the stunning scenery of the vast Southeast Alaska wilderness, which spread out in all directions.
Klawock is located on the Prince of Wales Island, which is the third largest island in the US. The island is accessible only via float plane or a once daily three-hour ferry ride from Ketchikan. During the winter months there are many days when the float planes can’t fly due to weather. The island gets 120” of rain yearly, and it has rained nearly every day. The temperature however, is in the low 40s, and we haven’t had any snow yet.
After my first few days of work at the Alisha Roberts Medical Clinic, I discovered that the pace of life in Alaska is much slower than I had anticipated. My wife Lynn came for a visit during my third week. She enjoyed the slower pace which gave her time to reflect after her father’s recent death.
On Saturday, we travelled 30 miles on gravel roads to the village of Kasaan to see the totem park. We hiked through the rainy woods to the park where we encountered more than a dozen antique totem poles, and an old clan house. It was a marvelous experience!
The next day, we went hiking on Cemetery Island. Southeast Alaska is a rain forest so the forest is very damp, and everything is covered with lichen and moss. Along the trail we encountered several large trees that had been toppled. I was struck by the lack of deep roots, which is due to the abundant rainfall, making it unnecessary for the trees to sink deeper roots. The huge uprooted trunks were lying at crazy angles with their flat roots ripped from the earth. It was so striking that I took several pictures of the trees.
During the ensuing week, the sight of those fallen trees kept coming back to me. They could be used as a metaphor of human life. When I was born, my only “root” was the umbilical cord. Then during my childhood and early life my parents and wonderful grandmother Amanda helped me to form some first tentative roots. Then teachers, neighbors, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and other numerous mentors helped those roots to multiply, and sink deeper. These roots gave me a strong foundation to begin medical school where other positive influences continued to strengthen them.
After medical school and internship, my roots continued to be nourished by my lovely wife Lynn, practice partners, colleagues, and other friends and family. Now unlike those toppled trees in the forest, I feel “firmly rooted”, and hopefully I can withstand almost any wind of adversity. Our deep roots make us truly blessed.
Note: Stuart Embury, MD, has been writing columns for the Cornhusker Family Physician for nearly 20 years. To read more of his work, visitwww.nebrafp.org/online/ne/home/publications.html. This article is scheduled to appear in the Spring 2008 issue.