Magical Mountains

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It’s hard to fathom the scope of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Over 13 million acres, including nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, are there. That’s the size of some countries—six times larger than Yellowstone. In the heart of those extensive icefields, glaciers, and arêtes, you’ll find Ultima Thule, an adventure lodge run by a quintessential Alaskan family—three generations committed to a legacy and a home they gladly share with others. I met the Clauses eight years ago and knew even then that their story couldn’t fit into a few pages of a magazine. Like the land where they live, they live big, and at the same time manage to stay grounded—knowing what’s important at the end of the day.

I visited Ultima Thule shortly after a baby I was trying to adopt from foster care was taken from me because a kinship placement had been found. The baby’s aunt would raise him, but it rocked my foundation. I memorized his smell, read to him, and covered him with kisses. Then on the appointed day, I went to social services, said goodbye, and left empty-handed. A few weeks later, I headed to the Wrangells to get lost so I could find myself again. I never spoke about my loss to the Clauses, but I could have, maybe should have—they would have provided a soft place to fall. Instead, I let the mountains speak to me. I mushed across a glacier pulled by a team of dogs, a few who had recently raced in the Iditarod. I flew over mountains, knowing that some had never been stepped on by humans. And when three prominent peaks poked their heads through the clouds, I asked our pilot if he knew their names. He said: Logan. Bona. Blackburn. I took photos and wrote the names in my journal. I wondered about the shifting foundation that built them to be so solid.

When I returned from the Wrangells, I got a call from social services about a new placement, a little boy, thirteen months old. I sat down with the caseworkers and listened to the boy’s history. They showed me a photo. They asked me if I would become his foster mom and adopt him when the time came. Then they told me his given name: Logan Bona Blackburn.

My son is eight years old now, and he’s seen photos of the massive mountains that bear his name. One day, I’ll take him there, back to Ultima Thule, because it will still exist, and I’ve no doubt—so will the magic that lives there.