Losing Light

Pioneer Peak

The sky clears. Five women squeeze into one dusty red sedan and head for the Butte, a destination delayed too many times by bad weather. It’s late August, the rainiest month in Southcentral Alaska. We lose five minutes of daylight a day.

This time of year, Alaskans rush frantically to complete our impossibly long list of things we wanted to do this summer: Hiking, weeding, berry picking, brush clearing, fishing, climbing mountains.

We’re a hiking group, women in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who meet once a week during summer to hike a different trail. Our goal today: the top of Bodenburg Butte, a chunk of mountain scraped and scoured by the glaciers that carved the Matanuska Valley. The trail begins with a gradual ascent up a wide gravel path. After a short dip, the real climb begins—505 wooden and dirt-filled steps that lead to the summit.

The parking lot is nearly empty when we arrive at the trail head. Grabbing snacks and packs, hiking poles and water, we hike through a cool, still-dripping forest of birch, alder, devil’s club, nettles and picked-over wild raspberries. Small soggy piles of bear scat appear along the trial. We pause to see what the bears have been eating, but with our loud chatter and clicking sticks, we have no fear of surprising one.

As we dawdle, taking pictures, identifying wildflowers, waiting for each other to catch a breath, I realize how much I appreciate the company of these women who, like me, want to keep moving, to do the hard physical things while I can, while our knees still function, our backs stay straight, and our feet can still grip the soil and pull us up the mountain.

We reach the top and fan out to savor the view. Over one edge, a patchwork of dark and light green farms spread beneath Pioneer Peak. On the other side, the Knik River spills out of its cracked and dirt-streaked glacier, spreading tendrils over the valley. As we pose for pictures on top, we are joined by other women. One, in a flowing pale blue dress with matching headscarf, snaps pictures of her children on a ledge with the mountains as backdrop. The girl wears a long black and white skirt; the son a red shirt with black pants. As the wind grabs their clothes they are flags fluttering on the mountain top.

Soon a parade of women with babies joins us—bright-eyed babies, bald and curly headed, light and dark. Babies in snugglies pressed against their mothers’ breasts, and babies in backpacks wiggling to be set free.

It must be women’s day at the Butte. Strong women, young and not-so-young, climbing, sweating, toiling.  Taking in this view, savoring the last days of summer.

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