**That is a picture I took of Denali, just 2 days ago.**
My daughter and I hiked up, up the mountain, our legs burning as we climbed. Both of us were in skirts and my sheitel (wig that some Orthodox married women cover their hair with) was soaked through, but we were grinning. My husband and son had opted to take the shuttle for the 2 miles or so, but my daughter had been determined to take the trail and the views were worth it. We looked out over a pristine valley of arboreal forest, beyond which rose rock cliffs and, far in the distance, the snowy peaks of the Alaska range, Denali, the highest point in North America, among them.
We spent 3 glorious days in Denali National Park.
We cooked our kosher food over a camp fire, slept in our 2 tents, and prayed our prayers to the sounds of ravens and squirrels. One morning, as I davened morning blessings, a rather pushy squirrel nearly climbed up my leg. Another morning, it was so chilly I could nearly see my breath in the tent as I whispered Modeh Ani. In between, we saw all kinds of wonders. On a bus ride, we saw mother brown bears and their cubs rushing to eat as many soap berries as they could before winter, caribou foraging the tundra, moose disappearing into the trees, ptarmigan wandering, and arctic ground squirrels popping up out of their dens. We saw valleys carved by glaciers and glacial rivers, mountains colored by mineral deposits, and “the mountain,” Denali, rising up above everything, mysterious and distant.
Hashem truly blessed Alaska with an overabundance of wild beauty.
Our fellow bus riders, when they found out that we were Jewish and kept kosher as we passed them the packaged lunch that came with the tour and broke out our granola bars, asked us if it was hard for us to keep kosher here. In fact, I’d almost say it’s easier to keep kosher camping than it might be traveling in urban areas. Since we already needed to pack most of our food for the trip, we just packed what we would normally eat. The dehydrated camping food I’d bought was kosher and actually was pretty tasty. I made a kind of chili from it that we used in tortillas to make burritos. It’s easy enough to buy kosher granola bars for hiking. The only downside was that I forgot the kosher marshmallows I’d spent so much money to order online for the trip, but we’ll use those later.
Beyond kosher, we had the most beautiful backdrop for our normal observance and prayers.
There was some sadness as we packed up yesterday to drive home. This was probably our last trip to Denali. My daughter was sad that there was a hiking trail we didn’t take. I wanted to tell her, “We’ll take that one next time,” but I stopped short, realizing that there may never be a next time. Instead, I talked about how there are hiking trails in the lower 48 and many of them are very pretty. I talked about how we could camp down there without much worry of moose or grizzly bears, particularly where we’re considering moving. Inside, though, I wanted to stretch out that time. If there was a way to transport a fully functional Jewish community up here so that we could stay…I’d do it in a heartbeat.
But…there isn’t. In order to complete our conversion process, we must move.
Once we move, the kids will be in day schools. In high school, both kids will likely be in boarding schools. Our lives won’t have much time left in them for finding mountains to climb.
But, yesterday, sweat soaked and grinning, we climbed and there is meaning and value in the climb, even if we never reach the summit.