Going to the Mountains: A Lesson from my Father

Going to the Mountains: A Lesson from my Father

By Adela Rivera

Note: This is one of the stories from our Father’s Day podcast episode, “To Dad, From Daughter.” Listen to the full podcast here->

One summer, back in my high school days, my dad and I went fishing in the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. As we drove up the scenic Seward Highway back home to Anchorage, with a cooler loaded with salmon, I remember my dad gazing at the mountains before us and saying with a certain awe, “Man, look at that…it’s so beautiful, only in Alaska.”

Of course, I was just a teenager, and the gorgeous landscape before me meant nothing. I was jaded by my years spent growing up in The Last Frontier.

“Yeah, sure,” I had responded dismissively, brushing it off, because to a fifteen-year-old, there was nothing more than mounds of rock in the background.

Bird Creek, Alaska

A few years later, I left home for college in the Lower 48, trading that lush scenery for a concrete jungle. But I wasn’t away for more than a year before I received the most heart-wrenching phone call from home.

Between sobs, my mom and my brother relayed this story:

Dad had been dipnetting for salmon on the Copper River, like he did every summer. But this time, as he was hauling in a net, he was struck by a massive heart attack, and collapsed on the shore. Despite everyone’s best efforts to resuscitate him, he was gone.

I flew cross-country from Annapolis, Maryland the next morning.

And I buried him.

And so began this long, slow process of grieving, in which I could not for the life of me be consoled.

As heartbreaking as it was to bury a parent, I found peace in one thing – that my father died in a beautiful place, doing something he loved.

Some witnesses say that before he collapsed, he had two fish in his net. I’d like to think that as he left us, beneath the peacefulness of the mountains, the warmth of the sun, and the crisp, Alaskan air, his weary soul was finally at peace.

Kenai River Mouth Dipnetting, Alaska

My dad was the only person that could ever really talk any sense into me. And maybe that’s why when I lost him, I lost all sanity myself.

And maybe, that wasn’t a bad thing.

Somewhere, between the Dark Ages, and the Renaissance that I’m striving for now, I found the trails.

I found a love for hiking that took me to the depths of the Grand Canyon and the peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains. Between starry nights spent in Joshua Tree and Sunday mornings on Angel’s Landing, I found myself running towards the wide open spaces that I had shunned as a teen.   

Maybe I was looking for solitude.

Maybe all I wanted was resilience.

Maybe I was searching for my dad.

Years ago, that scenery hadn’t been enough.

But now, it’s all I’ll ever want.

My dad was the only person that could ever really talk any sense into me. And maybe that’s why when I lost him, I lost all sanity myself.

And maybe, that wasn’t a bad thing.

Mount San Jacinto Peak, California

I realize now that maybe Dad wanted to raise a family in Alaska, because he understood –

That nature will never cease to comfort us, even in our darkest moments.

Glenn Highway, Alaska

Really, all I want to say is this –

Dad, thank you.

Thank you for teaching me that it’s okay to fawn over mountains and wide open spaces. There really are some lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom, and I will always be grateful for the ones I learned in the Great Outdoors, when I had you by my side.

Prince William Sound, Alaska

This piece is by Adela Rivera. You can find her on Instagram, @hatchersblues

  1. Michael says:

    You can see your father in your face, I know a little about him from your words, treasure him always girl. I bet his grin is even bigger now for your finding a connection. Thanks for sharing

  2. Molly says:

    So touching. My dad was always dragging us kids outdoors to hike or bike or ski. Now that I’m an adult, I am so grateful for his persistence and drive to share his love of the outdoors with us — in spite of the whining. Thanks for sharing.

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