Monday, September 24, 2012

Interlude: Farewell to Fairangel

Low-lying cloud + fall tundra foliage
"They congregated round me; the unstained snowy mountaintop, the glittering pinnacle, 
the pine woods, the ragged bare ravine, the eagle, soaring amidst the clouds 
- they all gathered round me and bade me be at peace." 
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus
     Took one last little stroll up the Pass as a sort of goodbye to this neck of the woods... man I am ever really gonna miss having such a splendid and surreal "backyard." Much like Maine - which, apart from ticks & tourists, I also miss very much - managed to log in quite a few miles of memories, and sore but satisfied muscles too. A couple days before loading up the U-Haul we hiked a ways up the Reed Lakes Trail to catch a brief window of good weather amidst the recent flooding and storms. The constantly shifting, shrouded landscape always brings to mind an enviro-analogy between pornography versus eroticism: that which is partially revealed will always captivate the imagination and arouse a longer-lasting passion. Not that Alaska is coy in the least, as by way of flogging the metaphor there's more than a bit of S&M entailed with every outing. Just remember to pack protection, and have respect.

"You're off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way." - Dr. Seuss

     Part of this post is carried over from an abandoned essay back in early June, when I first started making progressively deeper forays into the Talkeetnas and the grudging retreat of deep snow kept opening up more and more new ground to cover. It had been a long, slow tease watching the gradual unveiling of the land from underneath the winter coat and the first blush of greenup starting to color the view. Fast-forward to a fall that felt like it came and went as fast as our temporary residence.
     While writing this I walked out back of the chalet and watched a cow moose with her baby browsing in the backyard, and the magpies seemed to yammer out another admonition over my intrusion. Such interludes serve to remind us of how special and tentative all our experiences are in the context of and contrasted against such a primal place. Or at the least make me wonder why I still insist on going outdoors when we have indoor plumbing.

"Help - I'm berried alive!"

     Lots of images squirreled away, from micro + macro, panoramic to the personal, but always above all else are the ones that were never framed by any lens other than the simple optics of the open eyes. It's the gear you pack inside your head that will ultimately shape perception and memory, and nothing can ever possibly compare to seeing it in person, being a part - as opposed to apart - of what is at the core of our connection to being alive. While I can count on one hand the (two-legged) partners I've ever been comfortable sharing the trail with, being "out there" is paradoxically the shortest distance between myself the entire rest of humanity. It's also the quickest way to find one's self as well, or, to quote one of my titular druids: "The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness." *Required reading for any outhouse aficionado.

     The above shot was taken from taken from 30 miles away while hiking Pioneer Ridge in the neighboring Chugach Range. It's looking back at Hatcher Pass, and one can see in the upper center where Independence Mine State Park sits cradled by the surrounding peaks. Slightly to the left towards the bottom a cliffslide area alongside the Little Susitna is visible as a patch of white, and, rightward below that is another speck that's approximately where we've called home for much of 2012.
     Alaska distorts one's sense of time and space, putting a perspective on where you're at that is both deeply centering, and at the same time deeply disconcerting. Not the least of which is all the scattered ruins of historical - and many contemporary - attempts at carving out a life amidst the rawness of it all. Simultaneously inspiring and defeating to see the rustic remains of so-called "frontier" culture leavened between the rock, water, ice and earth: to know your temporal place while finding your personal space.

“Ever wonder where you'd end up if you took your dog for a walk
and never once pulled back on the leash?”
  ~ Robert Brault

     Two strays, both a little gray about the muzzle but always happy to hit the trail. Speaking of grey (or "arctic blonde" as I've heard it huffily referred to as), the one regionally apropos term I'll carry away with me in the mental knapsack is "greywacke." A big hat-tip to hiker and author Shawn Lyons for his introspective musings published in "A Walk-About Guide to Alaska Volume Three: Palmer Area and Hatcher Pass." Also guided in part by the fine folks staffing the USGS map store on the campus of Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Cheers for the Alaska State Parks too - one of the best investments you can ever make is picking up a season pass.

“If I were to name the three most precious resources of life, I should say books, friends, and nature;
and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature.”
- John Burroughs

   One minor regret is to not had nearly enough time to explore more of the Chugach Range - pictured above is one of the handful of hikes taken on the northern edge of the state park at Eklutna Lake. And there are a few more nooks and crannies left for later... I suppose I'll savor this sweet spot in the center of a giant gobstopper of a state that's still going to take a lot of licks to finish.
     Still, there are gifts I can keep unwrapping over and over again from where I've been and what I've seen so far. Case in point was this spring, through a pair of binoculars I got to observe the single-most transcendent scene to date in all my time outdoors: through a faraway pass, against a wall of rock half-hidden by a low-lying cloud that obscured the peak, a Golden Eagle soared in and out of the mist. For ten minutes the scene held me transfixed in wonder, at least until the tail-slap of a beaver a mere dozen yards in front of my pond-side perch scared the complete crap out of me. I might forget our anniversary or to pick up more cat litter on the way home, but I'll always have total recall of that moment, without ever having to even close my eyes. Which, by the way, can really freak out the passengers in your truck by the way. Alaskans have a peculiar, organic augmented reality which can overlay any given situation, usually known as daydreaming at work about the last trip you took.

     So here's to another series of adventures: rather than the usual "one door closes/another one opens" cheesy Hallmark platitude, I'll turn again to the wisdom of Muir: "Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world." And since the ply of my Bristol board comes from such a pulp, maybe it's not too far a stretch to see a blank page as another way to keep revisiting these peak experiences. Though it's far more likely they will find their way into another funny, which, after sharing the trail, sharing a laugh is the next best thing.
     Better get packing...

Yo Dawg...


  1. What a wonderful remembrance. You have a thirst for life that I really admire, Jamie.

  2. "Ever wonder where you'd end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash?"

    When I was ten, living in Maine, a friend and I went into the woods with his dog as a snowstorm grew thicker and thicker. We'd watched too much Lassie. We followed the dog's flickering hindquarters, then its tracks, finally losing those as the snow fell heavily enough to fill them almost immediately. We have no idea where we went in those shrouded woods. For a while we thought we might be the subject of a story like Donn Fendler's ( Our fourth grade teacher had read us that Maine classic, a chapter a day after lunch. We finally climbed over a rock wall after dark to see the lights of his family's farm house far across a field.

    Seemed like about two feet of snow fell that night. The drifts were much deeper in places. But my friend was a Maine boy: we were out at sunrise to do his paper route.

    Oh yeah: and the dog was home and warm when we got there, having dropped us and headed in more than an hour before we managed to find our way out.

  3. Thanks John - now if can only follow your example and learn how to write a wee bit better! Speaking of - congrats on the Dwarf Star finalist, and the Extinction Countdown series is alarmingly educational as always.

  4. Cafiend: The last book I bought in Bar Harbor was the recent graphic novel adaptation ("Lost Trail") of Fendler's misadventure - been meaning to contact the artist (Ben Bishop) and do a review of it. I confess to pulling an arrogant Alaskan attitude at the kerfuffle, but on the other hand it is a tale many a boy and girl will relate to.

    And as for the dog: one more reason why cats are so much smarter (or at least act that way) since they never get off the couch to begin with.
    "Oh, you almost died? Clean the litterbox and fill my bowl."

  5. Thank you... nice place = easy to take pictures + notes (as you are certainly familiar with).
    Always enjoy reminiscing and mentally retracing my steps in Maine to your hikes... Bird-Dog says hello to Kelley!