My mind has lately taken up residence in the dramatic and beguiling geography of Alaska. Lately I’ve been planning upcoming trips to Las Vegas and Iceland, but a recent development in the health of a beloved aunt has shifted my attention. Instead, I am frantically scanning airfares for flights from the Midwest to Anchorage sometime this fall, and the words of my grandfather echo in my ears – “Elijah went up/in a chariot of fire,/but I go up/on jetflow and turbine;/and I shall do/what Elijah never did:/I shall come down./ Fortunately,/the course is northward.”(Oliver Everette, God Has Been Northward Always, 1965)
I never knew my grandfather, my mother’s father. He died long before I was born. As a child, I would listen to my aunts and uncles, cousins and parents, as they discussed him as a father, grandfather, pastor, poet, and man. I gazed at the sepia brown windows into the past. My grandfather in his 1930s football uniform. As the grown pastor standing among his congregation, stern-looking in his Lutheran alb. A softness to his eyes that made me want to crawl into the photo and curl up on his lap to be lulled to sleep by his rich soothing voice. I actually heard his voice when I grew older, through a precious radio recording of Grandpa reading his poetry on Alaskan public radio. It was as if I had known that voice all my life, infused into my blood, heart, and soul.
Grandpa was a Lutheran pastor, a poet, and a professor of English at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He was even the poet laureate of Alaska from 1965-1967 and his poetry still resides on the shelves of the public library in Anchorage. His writing spoke of the mystical force of Alaskan geography – the long, cold, dark winters, the Northern Lights, the turning of seasons. He saw the hand of God in Alaska’s forbidding far north – in every dance of the Northern Lights or creeping tendril of frost on the windowsill. In the holy stillness of snow and ice. I drank in my grandfather’s poetry growing up as a way to know him. My grandmother was my life best friend, but her husband was my kindred spirit and mentor as I discovered his legacy of writing. It was through him I fell in love with Alaska.
Now as I search for affordable flights northward, I feel Grandpa’s legacy pulsing in my heart. I have only visited Alaska twice, but while there, I could feel my connection to the Earth, Grandpa, and my own faith strengthen until it felt tangible, as if by hiking up into the mountains, encountering a moose as I strolled a city park, or witnessing the burning of the skies at summer solstice, I was walking hand-in-hand not only with my Grandpa, but the entire world. Alaska is magic. The mountains, pushing straight up out of the seas, cloaked snug in a white blanket – speak to my spirit.
Enjoy the following selections of my grandfather Oliver Everette’s words. All come from his collection of poetry titled “God Has Been Northward Always” published in 1965. I’ve pair each excerpt with one of my own photos from Alaska. To expand the slideshow to full screen, go to the “Menu” box on the lower lefthand side and click on “View Fullscreen”. Press “Esc” when you are finished to exit the fullscreen view.