The first time I saw Denali up close, it snuck up on me. In 2009, I had done some fancy four-wheel maneuvering with my cousin Mike and a group of new friends to his gold-panning acreage 17 miles or so beyond the pavement. We were way out on Petersville Road, hilly, willow-covered, difficult country off the Parks Highway by the Trapper Creek turnoff. The town of Talkeetna is due east, but the Susitna River slices a dose of no-access-thataway between the two places, so the turn to Talkeetna off the Parks Highway is well to the south.
The vastness of Alaska is practically impossible to grasp, even when it’s right in front of you. One way I like to help describe it is that the drive I’ve done now a couple of times from Anchorage to Anchorage (via Denali, Fairbanks, and Tok) makes a 1,300 mile circle. Yet it looks downright insignificant when superimposed on a map of the entire state. The place is just…immense, no matter where you are: on the rivers, in the mountains, or in the interior. No wonder Alaska holds such a mystical, far-away reputation.
In June and July, I spent another month of my life in that great state, doing a reprise of earlier trips with my cousin, Mike. With a friend, we first drove those 1,300 miles, and then we spent 16 happy (if cold) days on the Alsek River, crossing in and out of Alaska and British Columbia along the way. On several occasions, I got to witness the land slipping by under the wings of an airplane. This blog is dedicated to those varied and artful aerial views. Enjoy.
The first batch of photos is from the flight between Anchorage and Juneau, along the southeastern coast overlooking the mountains, icefields and glacial rivers of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park.
Before our group formally came together in Palau last March, I joined a pre-trip day-long visit to Palau’s southernmost island of Peleliu. My original interest in visiting the tiny Pacific nation was driven in large part by curiosity about my father’s service in WWII. He was a naval aviator in the Pacific theater, flying kingfisher float planes on reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions. Much was written about the war, and in particular Peleliu, in the history books I had been reading to prepare for the trip, but somehow it had escaped me that it was part of Palau. I was excited to see it.
While in Palau, I added to my lifetime hours of snorkeling by factors of ten. As a novice, I was in that delicious “beginner’s mind” world where everything seemed wondrous. Our guide, Ron Leidich, is a lifelong biologist/naturalist and knows every fish and coral and grass and mammal (yes, we saw one) that we saw under the surface of that azure water. Although I don’t remember most of the names, I do remember his utter enthusiasm about the underwater world of Palau, and his joy in sharing it with us as if for the first time.
During the year of focusing on writing a book, recently, I had a hiatus from wandering (ok, except for Egypt in December…). It helped me realize just how much I love being at home. I really do. It’s seductive to have your things in a semblance of order and routines well in hand. There’s something to be said for sticking around and showing up for all the stuff of daily life. You get to be with friends, of course, including the four-footed sorts. There’s time to attend to various stacks of neglected detail. I even got to chip away at that accumulated pile of good intentions.
At a certain point, however, when the intensity of the project died down and the demands on my time took a turn, I was reminded of the road…and it has been calling to me ever since.
Five a.m. in Chicago, Saturday, December 19. It’s two p.m. in Cairo, and Luxor, and Aswan, and lunch is already finished. This morning is the one when I know I have finally returned across the time zones, when I awaken feeling refreshed and present, after three nights of trending this way. And already, Egypt feels like a dream to me. It was a more amazing journey than I ever thought it would be.
“Every now and then, bite off more than you can chew,” says the quote on the paper end of my Sweet&Spicy teabag from Good Earth this morning. No problem. I do this all the time.
The first realization that maybe I was trying to do too much came in seventh grade, when the only time left in the day to practice piano was 5:30 a.m. I played quietly, and pondered the thought that this was probably not normal, but that’s about as far as that idea went. All my life, I have delved into a wide array of opportunities because, dang it, I don’t want to miss anything. Sports, adventure, games, reading, thoughtful conversation, joining rescue and other assistance groups, serving on various boards of directors, raising a child, training dogs and horses, lately, firefighting. Why not? Everything is fodder for a broader life, a chance to learn new skills, try new things, push forward into the unknown.