The title of Richard Mueller’s book is “Alaska On My Mind.” And he’s not kidding.
Alaska is so much on the East Wenatchee man’s mind he’s now, at age 85, yearning to go back and relive some of the adventures of his earlier years.
His daughter Gretchen Stark, however, is not so enthusiastic about the idea, to put it mildly.
Richard’s self-published book was written as part of his senior writing group and printed by Commercial Printing Inc. in Wenatchee.
In 1957 at age 29, he had been hired as a land examiner with the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks and made the drive from Wisconsin alone — much of the way on dirt highways — in his 1953 Chevy Carryall. There, he built his own log cabin in the wilderness, hauling logs down a river with his boat and hoisting them to his cabin site with a winch. A one-man job, he says, though acknowledging he did receive some help from his new Alaskan friends.
Building and living in that cabin through the harsh Alaskan winters was the “ultimate high of my life,” says Richard, who also was often working 16-hour days for the BLM.
That life was one of sled dogs, hunting, fishing, dodging aggressive wildlife and surviving, despite the bets to the contrary by his BLM co-workers.
Richard now lives in the Colonial Vista Hearthstone senior living facility. He walks a lot with his dog, works out and charms those he meets.
The book took him years to write and he says he doubts he’d ever have finished had he not promised his wife, Jerry, shortly before she died in 2010, that he would do so.
He met Jerry, a “vivacious redhead,” shortly after she’d launched on her own Alaskan adventure, moving from California to Fairbanks where she worked at a radio station in the same building as the BLM.
They were married eight months after being introduced by an office “matchmaker” and she moved into his small cabin. Among her many attributes, Richard says, was her ability to cook a “mean moose stew.”
After Gretchen’s birth, she slept in a dresser drawer in the small cabin. But with his parents coming to visit and see their new granddaughter for the first time, Richard and Jerry knew it was time to leave the cabin and find a home with plumbing and electricity.
He was working for the Alaska Division of Lands in 1963 when Richard saw injustices over the sale of lands that rightfully belonged to impoverished natives. Speaking against those injustices cost him his job with the state, he says.
His Alaskan adventures did not end, however. He worked in real estate, flew his own plane and reveled in the expanses of Alaska with Jerry, Gretchen and their second daughter, Katrina.
In 1985, the real estate market in Alaska tanked and he and Jerry made the difficult decision to return to the Lower 48, moving to East Wenatchee, where Gretchen now lived. He has been here since.
In 2011 while still mourning the loss of his beloved wife, Richard returned to Alaska with Katrina for a visit. He kissed the runway after they landed.
He’s sold about 150 copies of his book at $30 apiece. Friends, family, fellow residents at Hearthstone and people he meets on the streets have been his main customers. He plans to sell the book through Amazon.com once they figure out how to do that.
Meanwhile, he orders them 10 copies at a time, as needed. You can call him at 886-4642 if you’d like to buy a copy.
Mostly, the book has made him want to return to Alaska and build a new cabin that he’d live in until age 100. It would be nice to find a woman to go with him, he says with a smile.
“A person has to have a soul mate, someone to talk to,” he says. “But there’s not many women who want to go to Alaska. It doesn’t look that promising, really,” he acknowledges.
“You’re not 30 anymore, dad,” Gretchen reminds him.
He may not relive that Alaskan adventure but it certainly is on his mind.
Cal FitzSimmons is editor of The Wenatchee World. Reach him at email@example.com.