When I was first taking ground school in Fairbanks, learning how to fly in this wild land, my instructor was a tall, grizzled man with a cheerful, laid-back humor. But as he stood before the class that day, he grew very still, and serious. He looked each of us in the eyes in a complete honesty, from a depth and stillness of soul that is anathema to our modern tv-raised hyper culture, and quietly spoke truth.
"If you stay in this - keep flying up here - it's not if you know someone who's not going to make it, but when. Listen up, look around, and pay attention, so that it's not you."
I have a friend, a park ranger who is from the same gentle mountains as I am, and we are both given to agree that the Appalachians are heart-warming, nurturing, gentle, and full of life. They do not compare, but contrast Alaska. Alaska's beauty is breath-stealing. She will catch you and force you to stillness, to awe, at her might, her glory, her grandeur, the sheer scale and wildness. She will strip back your illusions, and blast away your pretensions. She is shock and awe - and she is trying to kill you.
If you're hiking the Appalachian Trail, it's hard to die. Up here, it's easy. The land is not tame, and though we can sit in the city and ignore the earthquakes under our feet, the volcanoes around us, the glaciers that once ground the land down and still can, cough through the smoke of forest fires and smugly note we're above the danger point for most tsunamis, bitch about road closures from avalanches of snow or freeze-thaw loosened rock... It is only our ignorance, self-inflicted, that lets us think we are safe from nature.
That awareness of death weaves its way through our culture - everyone has lost someone, and understands that the land will claim its own if you do not respect it... and sometimes even then. There is no reason to be timid, no reward for cowardice, as it will kill you just as quickly. So it is better to reach for the stars, to climb the mountains, hike the backcountry, go fishing on the Bering Sea, and accept the glory of life with all its danger inherent.
You are going to die. So live, and live well. Love, and let yourself be loved. Enjoy yourself for who you are, and become the person you want to be. Reach out to your friends, to the family you were born with, the family you choose, and the family you make. Because all we are given is a birth, a death, and an uncertain span between to write our names in the hearts and minds of those around us, making our immortality in their memories.