Heading North

Heading North

Journal entry, 15 September 2016

We have lifted off from Juneau and are headed for Yakutat. I love this feeling of exploring life on the margins of the human world, where everyday life becomes edged with this mixing zone between our human world and the wilderness. I love this feeling of adventure and exploration, of nature and purpose, of excitement and the unknown. And for me, returning to my roots. Part of me is coming home.

It is cloudy outside our window. It was rainy leaving Juneau. My jeans are stained from work and I’m wearing big dirtied boots on my feet and a puffer vest around my torso. And that is ok, acceptable, normal here. Alaska. I love this word. I love the way it sounds, the way it lingers in my ears, the emotions it provokes, the wild it inspires. The beauty it hides in its own stunning harshness and extremism. I am desperate to venture into the interior.  To gather photos and videos of this marginal world, to wake up to wild Alaskan skies and fall asleep under towering trees. Alaska. It holds a fierceness that I just don’t feel in New Zealand. Fiordland is shrouded in mystery and secrets, but Alaska has fangs and teeth, claws and brute strength prowling the ridge lines and playing in the blueberry patches. New Zealand has deadly weather, fatal precipices, raging rivers. Alaska has all this, and glowing eyes in the darkness. I am eager to get out into this world, my boots on my feet, my camera on my shoulder, my pack on my back, Simon at my side, bear spray ready.

As I write, the plane takes us over sharp mountain peaks, breaking the cloud and becoming enshrouded again. All rock and snow and ice, they look vast and immense. Their slopes falling down and away from us, and then disappearing to cloud once again. Soon everything is cloud, and we start to descend through it, catching glimpses of a new landscape.

I have flown low over ocean before, coming in to land, wondering when the water might give way to some solid surface for the runway. I have flown low between mountains, wondering how far the tips of the wings might have to stretch before scratching the edges of that hard landscape. I have flown with the chopper above the tangled mess of native New Zealand bush canopies, scouted mountainous ridges, dropped over sheer cliffs. But never have I flown low above the spiky tops of towering conifer forests. Spruces reaching up to points below, like a pin cushion or bed of nails just beneath the plane, expanding to flat bushy trees at their base. They disappear not far towards the horizon into scattered fog, obscuring the rest of the world around us, and they are interspersed with small meadows and streams. I imagine that the wheels of the plane might just brush the tips of the spruce and rustle their branches as we drop lower and lower, like running your hand along tall grasses growing in a field. I look for brown bears as we fly, and eventually the trees end and the runway appears. We land heavy and hard on the wet tarmac, taxiing past spruce. We have arrived in Yakutat.

We are in Yakutat because we are flying on the ‘milk run’. The rows of seats on our plane go from 28 at the back to 17 at the front where they end in a wall with a door in it. The rest of the plane is reserved for cargo, and that means this plane makes a stop at every town along the way. Everyone leaves the plane in Yakutat, almost, there are maybe 8 or 9 of us left, and then the plane, or at least the back of the plane reserved for passengers, fills back up again. We are heading at last to the destination that all of this trip is about. Cordova.

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