Summer in Alaska often brings visitors from afar and Alaskans demonstrate the best in hospitality whether the visitor is a former colleague, a friend of a friend or a long-lost cousin.  This past July, my guest was a cousin—not long lost but someone I’d been inviting to visit for a very long time.  It was last April at his sugarhouse in Vermont that he promised a visit this summer.  We emailed back and forth and came up with a short window of opportunity—a week in July.

Burr is actually my second cousin, our grandfathers were brothers; we’ve carried on a “drop by and visit” relationship for most of our lives.  Being four years older than I, we missed attending Montpelier High School together although we have often mused about our similar yet separate experiences in the MHS Band.  While I put my alto sax to rest after college, he continues to play his trombone at jazz and big band gigs throughout New England.  We like to talk music.  And both being Morses, we like telling stories.  Burr took over the family farm after his dad diversified it in the 60s; that means he hasn’t milked a dairy cow as an adult.  He instead herds busloads of leaf peepers in the fall and becomes the patriarch of sugar on snow parties during the height of sugar making season in the spring.  Burr and I hoped for ample visiting time during his stay in Alaska.  We know there are plenty of stories to share, especially since we’ve both ended up as entrepreneurs.


Our goal was to have a good time, and that we did.  His plane had no more than hit the tarmac when he was whisked off to Silver Gulch and a Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival concert.  Coffee in hand, we skirted the Golden Days Parade, imagined whale-sightings in Point Hope while watching the blanket toss at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, attempted to view the Red Green Regatta only to discover too late of its cancellation.  Plan B was quick in coming—we headed to Pioneer Park for the Governor’s Picnic and a look at the Pioneer Museum and Big Stampede Show.  The Riverboat Discovery served as an instructional aide in moving busloads of people in a short space of time, something Burr does during peak foliage season at Morse Farm back in Vermont.  A leisurely drive to Denali Park allowed stopping for a famous Monderosa burger, visiting Nenana, enjoying 49 State Brew in Glitter Gulch, and enthusiastically boarding a park bus in Denali to see the wilderness and track down Fannie Quigley stories at the end of the road in Kantishna.

We met our goal but the real outcome of the visit, though, was the gem of the time we had together, the development of a warm, genuine relationship which grew deeper with each conversation, rich in content and thoroughly Morse-like in character.  It was akin to syrup-making.   Burr’s vantage point of the 64th parallel was 2 visits to Russia and his lifetime of work on the 45th.  My vantage point, different by far from having a bit of lived experience on the 64th, offers a perspective enhanced by quality of light, vastness, and an extreme mixture of heat and cold on a widely swinging pendulum.  Burr and I come from the same stock, saplings from the sugar maple.  We come from generations of sugar makers.  And while Burr is interested in birch syrup made here in Fairbanks, we both know that what makes syrup tasty is the high sugar content present in the sap of sugar maples, unlike birch.  Being a Morse, I’d no more tap a birch tree than a spruce.

Burr and I both hark back to our roots; we enjoy recognizing how we’ve grown planted in two different places, how our ancestral roots bond us and how our varied experiences lead us each to rich lives.  While spending our adult years in different longitudes produced different results, we are able to comprehend our sameness and differences.   When Burr sees a pickup truck with a Greer tank in the back, he thinks sap gathering.  I look to see if the tank is empty or full of water.  When Burr warms his hands with a morning cup of joe and watches skate skiers skim the Morse Farm cross country trails, I watch the northern lights dance overhead while my coffee pot sputters the end of its brewing cycle.

May you encounter a root from your past and have your experiences and recollections be as meaningful as mine are.  Take time to listen, let the stories seep in like the sweetness of maple sap.   Savor the goodness.