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.
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 …
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 …
The bar is set a bit higher in Alaska, so far as rating trails is concerned. A hike rated “Difficult” in the Lower 48 is more likely to be rated closer to “Easy” when up in the wilds of the Great North. Hence a trail rated “Difficult” in Alaska is usually a hike that has nary a trail at all. When in Alaska I don’t rate a trail “Difficult” if I’m not doing some serious bush wacking. Such was the case on a hike I did on Sunday, along McCarthy Creek — and by “creek” I mean a raging river. I had expectations for an easy go of it, but parts of the trail had been washed out by the aforementioned “creek.” After getting through the worst of it, though, I was still smiling, albeit a little less enthusiastic than usual, as you can see from the photo, because it’s hard to not be happy with views like these.
I got out on the bike for a few rides this spring, out among the big trees. Big Basin Redwoods State Park is only a short ride from the house — round trip of a little more than 20 miles or so — and there are several low-traffic roads to cycle on, here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here’s a few pics:
The North Fork Vipassana Meditation Center is located in the foothills of the Sierras, just south of Yosemite. Not a bad place to do a retreat. I wasn’t, in fact, sitting for this one, though, just serving. 10 straight days in the dish pit, though, was enough to leave me feeling just a bit not my self, which of course is somewhat of the point of the path of the Buddha, the no-self thing, etc. So a service retreat is sort of its own form of growing process. We had some wacky weather: snow, sleet, heavy rains, and even a bit of thunder storm. All that plus a good soaking of sunshine. The place was starting to green up and will soon be popping with spring colors, what with the mix of rain and sunshine.