The sentence has been on the top shelf of the literary cabinet, a nugget well-worn by repetition, teetering on the brink of triteness. I’ve resisted using it, despite the temptation to join others who’ve lifted the line from the movie released 14 years ago.
You remember it: Forrest Gump.
“Mama always said life is like a box of chocolates; never know what you’re going to get,” Forrest said, lavishing credit on his mama. Without further adieu, I apply this line to a recent cruise adventure begun in Los Angeles. It was on Carnival’s Pride to the Mexican Riviera. Through divine intervention or “blind hog luck,” our “box of chocolates” was the seating assignment for dinner with an intriguing couple….
Dr. Steve and Kay Grubis are as neighborly as can be, despite having no neighbors for the better part of two decades.
They are the only inhabitants on 8.4 million acres in Alaska, 300 miles north of Fairbanks in Gates of the Arctic National Park.
Drawn to scale, their lives are amoebic on the smallest hair of the snow-flocked bearskin rug that is the vast region they call home….
Former faculty members at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, they decided to walk away from traditional teaching in 1991. Instead, they would move to the top of the world, offering their guide service.
Living in a two-room cabin of 340 square feet with shortened doors, no plumbing and access only by float and ski planes, they committed to “re-connect” with nature.
It meant saying “good-bye” to their son and his family in Fairbanks, and “hello” to the grandeur of a colossal mountain range, sparkling lakes, rushing rivers and ever-threatening dangers posed by severe weather, bitter cold and savage animals…..
Oh, they didn’t go there to die, quite the contrary. Their “hello” to the Arctic introduced them to their “cathedral.” They began their summer guide service in 1984; when they acquired the cabin in ’91, the challenge was to live there year-round.
Their cabin was built by an explorer in 1943. He offered them a lifetime lease with an option to renew, just in case their son chooses to relocate….
Their lifestyle, not for the faint of heart, is a “spiritual existence of contemplation and reverence.”
Safety concerns remain paramount, and they don’t leave the cabin without a gun.
Wolves and bears abound, with some grizzlies weighing 700 pounds. “Bears have the strength to knock down walls, but they don’t know it,” Steve laughed….
Typically, they’ve scheduled annual flights to Fairbanks for supplies, returning with two plane loads. There’s been no TV, no phones and no Internet. Lately, however, they’ve established satellite phone contact with park headquarters. (The park is TWICE the size of Connecticut!)
The couple hosts friends and clients during July and August, but frigid temperatures and raging storms from September through June limit their contact with the outside world.
Now and again, friends “drop in” to check on them. One client, a Swiss Air pilot, sometimes drops Swiss chocolates as he flies over….
“In many ways, we’ve lived like our ancestors did across the centuries,” Dr. Grubis said.
They’ve seen, heard and experienced natural wonders that defy description, including avalanches crashing across several hours and the thundering hooves of hundreds of thousands of caribou in migration.
It is the land of many mysteries. One is that wolves set to howling when they hear the power saw crank up….
The couple bought a motor home in 2000. They’ve since spent 2-3 months every few years traveling about.
Teachers at heart, they answered their call to the Arctic with no regrets. They’ll be back there again this summer hosting a four-day symposium funded by the National Park Service.
It is planned to help 10 participants develop programs for children to reconnect with nature….
As the years roll by, they realize that the challenge of living in an Arctic cabin year-round becomes more difficult. Still, they are adding to their memory bank, collecting memorabilia and making new friends.
This was their first cruise. They’d have sailed sooner, but the nearest “dog-sitters” were 300 miles away. Last summer, their aged dog, Monk, died. Now, they can cruise when they choose.
Google “Steve and Kay Grubis” for fascinating pictures and accounts on the Internet. Or, with luck, maybe you’ll dine with them nightly on a cruise. Smiling waiters serving sumptuous food add to the memories, and they’re liable to break into song at any time….