Working on open-mindedness

Posted: Sunday, February 29, 2004

Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire.

Since the time I knew I'd be moving to Alaska, back in September, I've been working on exercises in creative thinking (open-mindedness, actually) with my mother, who last month turned 75. Much work lies ahead.

For most of her life, and certainly for most of mine, Mom has tended to play it safe. A native of west Texas and a life-long resident of the state, I've thought that maybe her relative inexperience with other places, people and cultures is a big part of her inability to see life's much larger picture. That's not it, though; change, uncertainty and the taking of risks just don't meld with her nature.

When my wife Deana and I first talked of moving to Juneau, Mom had trouble getting over the whole notion of Alaska. Her reaction was tied entirely to stereotypical images of some parts of the state: expansive ice fields, igloos, polar bears and 24 hours of darkness for extended periods. And so very, very far away from the rest of the continental United States. Juneau's inclusion in the temperate rain forest meant little, if anything, to her.

"What if you go to Alaska and it's cold and dark all the time and is really awful?" she was quick to ask. "You'll hate that." Actually, she meant she'd hate it.

"Well," I asked in return, hoping to open her mind to the possibilities, "What if we go to Alaska and it winds up being the greatest adventure and experience we've ever had? What if Juneau were the best place (among 10) that Deana and I will have ever lived and it exceeds every expectation we could have of the place?"

Mom said nothing for several seconds and I could tell she was actually trying, as best she could, to see beyond her preconceived notions.

Since our arrival here I've talked to Mom a good bit about the things Deana and I want to do as the spring and summer seasons approach: hiking various trails, catching a trophy salmon or halibut and maybe even hang-gliding. Those discussions usually turn to the downside.

"Be careful on the trails because of the bears," she says. "Fishing in that part of the world can be really dangerous and please, please, please don't do something crazy like hang-gliding. You could get killed, or worse." This from a woman who spent 40 years as an operating room and emergency room nurse.

The risks are real, I tell her, but we intend to squeeze a lot out of life while in Alaska. There's probably a lot we'll do here that we wouldn't do otherwise. And if not now, when?

As the tourist season approaches we're down to making plans for Mom and her husband to visit, probably in May or June. At 81, Mac is ready today to hop a plane and get here. He's read about everything he can get his hands on pertaining to Alaska and Southeast, and he wants to experience as much of it as he can. Mom's worried about two things: getting here on the warmest days of the year and how to keep her feet dry.

Every week I say essentially the same thing to my mother on the phone. "Mom, what if you come to Alaska and it's a little colder than you expect, it rains more than you want and your hair gets wet, but it's a wonderful adventure because you see and do things you've never even imagined before?" I keep getting the same pregnant pauses.

As I said, I have work to do.

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