August 11, 2019
“Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.” -John Steinbeck
Here I am, back in the lower 48. I have left Alaska, but Alaska has not left me. Like the salmon in the rivers, Alaska is in my blood. Pumping through my heart. Firing my memories. Feeding my soul. My first visit to this state was a whirlwind of adventure. New sights, sounds, and smells. New friends and experiences. New understanding of the land and environment, the wildlife and flora, mountains and rivers, glaciers and fjords. I have a new appreciation and awareness of true wilderness. Rare places on this ancient Earth – all too quickly spiraling into oblivion. There is a magnificence to this place. It feels boundless, borderless, and pure. I imagine this is how the young Earth looked. Pristine and untrampled. There are hints of our advance. Cruise ships and wilderness lodges. Hunting outfitters and seaplanes. Oil derricks and mines. Still with all of this – all of these modern trappings infringing on the sublime serenity, it is barely noticed. Alaska remains intact and wild, for now. We are trying our hardest to kill her, though. Our damnable greed seems to know no bounds. Just as I was leaving the state, news that environmental regulations had been removed to clear a path for the Pebble Mine. The project will probably be the largest strip-mining operation in the United States, and will effectively erase a complete ecosystem in Southern Alaska that is home to half of the worlds Sockeye Salmon. The fish are already in trouble. This summer, record heat in Alaska has shocked the residents and caused several immediate effects. Some of the waterways are now too warm for the salmon. Entire rivers of the valuable fish are dying off before they reach their spawning ground. Salmon is king in Alaska. More valuable than Klondike gold, or Arctic oil, or boatloads of tourists. Salmon is the blood of Alaska. The great Capitalist machine will eventually devour this precious place, just like the lower 48. Our only hope is to delay her demise as long as we can. It is worth fighting for. Even if you never get to see it. Know that it is there, and that it is important, and that it is worth protecting.
I am the luckiest man. My luck preceded me through most of my Alaska adventure. The moment I landed at the tiny King Salmon airport; I was picked up by Davis from Branch River Air. He took me straight to their office and put me right on a plane with pilot Jeff. The weather was perfect. Perfect for a very special place. A place that does not see good weather very often. A place that is usually inaccessible. Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. This is the least visited of all 419 NPS units. Only an average of 100 people each year get to see this place in person. Jeff flew me south across the Alaska Peninsula to the Aniakchak volcanic crater. Approaching the rim, ringed with clouds, I stretched to see the bottom. Then, surprise! Surprise Lake appeared just as we cleared the rim. Jeff circled the float plane around the crater, decreasing altitude. Then he landed on that beautiful green volcanic lake and parked the plane on a gravelly beach. We were the only people there. Probably the only people within a 100-mile radius. Jeff laid on the beach watching the weather while I hiked a short distance around the six-mile wide crater, half a mile deep. The towering rim looks like a giant tsunami frozen in stone. Inside this bowl, sun shining down, hiking on the pumice and tundra, I feel alone but not lonely. I feel insulated, yet vulnerable. This is a fortress of introversion. All contained, internal. Cut off from the outside, but complete – containing multitudes. A lifetime of curiosities to explore. It felt like an outside inside. I have been to many wonderful places. Places that stir the heart and mind; but I have never been to a place that felt like this before. My clumsy mortal metaphors don’t match the experience. In true introvert fashion, I couldn’t even articulate what I was feeling for days. Still, it seems unreal – like a dreamscape – a psychic materialization. There is a place for all of us on this Earth. I found mine, and I doubt any other will ever come close to Aniakchak. Jeff flew me back to King Salmon. As soon as we left the crater, I started plotting my return. Until then, I carry it with me. I always will, even though that brief moment in time and space has ceased.
Parks visited since August 1st:
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve
Alagnak Wild River
Katmai National Park and Preserve
Kobuk Valley National Park
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
Noatak National Preserve
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Seattle Unit)
Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve