The Bright Edge of The World: An Illustrated Extract
Illustration: Alaska (c) Fiona Woodcock
Received at Vancouver Barracks on June 5, 1885
Wolverine River, Alaska Territory
April 13, 1885
Dearest Sophie, my love,
I do not know the chances of this letter ever reaching you, & certainly it will be a miracle if it does, but I have to seize this chance. The Indians we employed on Alaska’s coast are to leave us now. We send them back down the river with a report to Vancouver Barracks, letters to loved ones, & a box of photograph plates Lieut Pruitt has taken thus far on the trip. They have orders to bring everything to Perkins Island & send via steamer to Vancouver.
Sophie, you do not know how precious your letter is to me. Your words have filled me with much joy & love; they keep me through the toughest days. I travel with different eyes now, eyes for home & your arms & your love & our child. It is remarkable, & at times overwhelms me, to think of how full my life has become. Just a few short years ago, I had no such ties. Each night’s camp was home enough. It may be why I had so little fear. What did I have to lose? Nothing compared to now.
I do hope you are being well cared for & want for nothing. You must not worry for me. We are bone tired but safe. Already we’ve encountered many strange & unexpected adventures, which I do not have time enough to recount here. So often I have wished that you could see this land for yourself. We walk past glaciers that would bring tears to your eyes for their majesty, & the Wolverine River is grand. As is my wont, I have been dedicated to my personal diary. I hope you have been as well. I long for the evenings when we can read them aloud to each other & share our days.
Illustration: Allen writing by Fire (c) Fiona Woodcock
I watch for your birds. So far sighted: camp robbers, magpies, ravens, bald eagles, chickadees, redpolls (Pruitt helped me to identify that flock), grosbeaks. We have also come across a handful of game birds -- grouse & ptarmigan -- but they quickly went the way of the cook pot when we were lucky enough. When we stop to rest, we hear woodpeckers & owls in the forest, but do not have time to seek them out. The trapper Samuelson who accompanies us says we may also expect migratory birds, waterfowl & raptors, to begin to fill the skies as they travel north. I will keep my eye out. I have no doubt that you would spot & identify dozens of others, & I am sorry for my poor skills as your assistant.
As I write, an Indian by the name of Skilly sits nearby. He knows some English, but looks as wild an Indian as I have ever seen. A tube-shaped shell, called dentalium, pierces his nose. His black hair is cropped short as if cut with a dull blade. He wears a parkie made of caribou hide trimmed with wolf fur. Around his neck he carries a beaded scabbard for his knife -- these are a source of great pride & the Indian men do not remove them even to sleep.
Skilly wants to know to whom I write, & when I told him this letter is for you, my wife, he asked if you are pretty & good. Of course, I said.
He says he, too, has a wife at home, though not as pretty as he would like. He says he hopes she is faithful to him while he is gone.
Illustration: Sophie (c) Fiona Woodcock
I did not know before now that he left behind a family. He says they have three children, with a fourth born not long before we left. I am sorry to know that we drew him away from these responsibilities. He has proven himself quick on his feet & faithful in his own right. I wish him safe travels back down the river to his family.
Our progress so far has been slower than I expected, but we prepare to enter the canyon I so often told you about. Once we have passed through it, I will be more at ease.
I hold out hope that we will reach Saint Michael’s, & passage back to Washington Territory, before winter. If for some reason you do not hear from me again for many months, do not be alarmed. I will not be able to send word again until we near the western coast. In the event that we are delayed for any reason, we will spend the winter with the Indians. I beg you, Sophie, do not lose hope.
In your first letter, you asked when I fell in love with you, so I will tell you. It was that very first day, when I rode through the woods near your schoolhouse & passed right beneath you. I nearly fell out of my saddle when I heard the rustle of your skirts overhead. You apologized for startling my horse, but otherwise did you notice me at all? I had never seen an adult woman, skirts & all, in the branches of a tree, but more than that, it was the sound of your voice, gentle, so full of delight. – Didn’t I tell you we would find something interesting up here, you said, & you continued. – Yes, you are right! I see that now. You will become an expert before this day is out.
It was only then that I noticed several children sitting on the various branches around you. I asked if it was some insect or bird that you all examined, but you shushed & waved me away. There you were: lovely, brave, & utterly oblivious to me. I think it only served to kindle my affection.
Now you carry our child, Sophie, & you become all the more extraordinary to me. Each passing day as I think on it, I love you more.
I must end this letter. I hope you can read all that I have crowded onto these few pages.
Be sure that the Connors’ girl takes good care of you. Sleep late, eat as much butter as you desire, please do not climb any trees, stay well & know that I think of you each & every day.
Your adoring husband,
P.S. Know that my love is steadfast. I march back home to you.
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