My time is winding down here in McCarthy, and so I’m trying to enjoy the last week of my time in Alaska, which isn’t hard to do with all the September sunshine, a welcome relief after an Angry August of rain and cold. It’s also easy to enjoy the time here because as more and more folks disperse in the annual Alaska diaspora, the bar empties out save for locals. Last night I was chatting with a local buddy at the bar. He lives in McCarthy now, but he’s originally from California. We started talking politics and culture, and eventually he began reminiscing about attending Iraq War protests, back during the Bush years. The protests seemed to have left a distinct impression on him, mostly negative. They felt a bit ineffective, quixotic even. He mentioned a certain festival type of atmosphere, with fire jugglers.
A few years back, before coming to McCarthy, I worked a two summers in Glacier Bay National Park. The glaciers there, however, were not very accessible. For one thing, they were Tidewater Glaciers, meaning that they terminated in the water, i.e., the Pacific ocean. One summer I worked on a tour boat, so I saw them every bloody day, but actually getting up onto the glaciers was a whole ‘nother story. Watching the glaciers, day after day, made me feel a bit like a Medieval peasant gazing up at the lord’s manor, up on the hill.
I want to pass along a great opinion piece that ran in the Guardian a few days back, written by Kim Heacox, an Alaskan writer who lives in Gustavus, a very small bush community snuggled up next to Glacier Bay National Park. I worked two summers in Glacier Bay, one of the truly special and one of the most wondrous places I’ve been, and I met Kim during my stint there. It’s a good piece and a plea for some sanity: Over the years, I’ve walked many visitors into the Tongass national forest in Alaska, and watched the city tinsel drop from their eyes. They often sit quietly and look around, and for the first time in a long time breathe from the bottom of their lungs.I live here, I tell them.
My inhibitions, fighting my intuition Premature premonition Showin me the demolition of these phony niggas So ahead of my time Even when I rhyme about the future I be reminiscing ~ J. Cole, Fire Squad We’re starting to see proper sunsets here in McCarthy, which gives me the distinct impression that summer is on the wane, this despite the fact that it was so hot the other day that even on a short, fairly easy hike, I came down with a mild touch of heat exhaustion. It’s starting to get dark late at night. If I have to get up and take a piss, I can still see my way around and navigate, but it’s dark enough that I have to pay attention lest I turn my ankle on a rock. It won’t be long before I’ll have to dust off the ole headlamp for late night trips to the toilet (i.e., the first bush I can find).
It was a bit spontaneous, but I decided to hike Bonanza trail. I cheated and drove a wheeler up most of the way, but I hiked the most hellacious and steepest section. It will be a slow recovery for the knee. Last time it took several years before I even began to feel like I was nearing 100%. I’m resting it quite a bit, but it’s mid-summer and the needs of my soul were greater to me than resting the knee. So up I went. The views from the riddgeline above Bonanza Mine are nearly 360 degrees, and there’s always something about getting way up high that gives me a healthy sense of perspective. I always get just a touch of vertigo when I’m way up in the clouds, so the whole experience can get quite surreal, even spiritual one might say. The hiking was good for me, too. I’ve been doing daily walks, but it’s not the same thing as a few hours of vigorous hiking, goat-like, up a steep incline. Note: Those are …
Like most little Alaskan bush communities, we celebrate the Fourth of July with great gusto. We’ve got creative floats in a community parade (and since our parade line is rather small, all the floats circle around and parade through downtown a second time); we get jiggy with tacky red-white-and-blue apparel/decor; and, of course, since this is Alaska, we drink a fifth to celebrate the Fourth. So, we’ve got plenty of the traditional flag waving enthusiasm, but McCarthy has a disproportionate amount of free-spirited, open-minded folk, and there’s enough of a hippie influence out here that being patriotic doesn’t mean being a hater — quite the opposite, in fact.
There’s epic mountains and breaching whales and raging rivers and scary bears and grizzled men with beards, but one of the natural features that most intrigues me about Alaska is the light, specifically the yuge swings of light and dark. The weirdness of the solar cycles gives the place a certain mystical feel. Most of the year, this area of Alaska is gaining or losing about 5 minutes of light a day. Things are always changing, always in flux. I never feel like anything is static or settled. Perhaps it’s a Buddhist-y thing, for me, or maybe it’s just the nature of nature itself, a part of life that we tend to forget in modernity, where we spend a good deal of our lives indoors and/or in front of screens, mostly disconnected from the natural world we evolved to live in. Whatever the reason, it feels refreshingly primitive to me to be in a place as dynamic as Alaska, especially on summer solstice where you can stay out all night and never need a flashlight …