Apr 4 2011

Wandering Outside

After seven years of existence and living in the land that has become my reality, I have finally been pulled away from everything that is familiar to me. The day was coming and I knew that it was approaching but its startling arrival has thoroughly shocked me creating a numbing sense of disbelief.

Flying above the land I love and staring out across the horizon, the waning sunset has created a ghost like blue-orange crescent above a completely black landscape far below. A star filled night sky sends waves of emptiness and loneliness deep inside my fragile inner self. Locked inside this aircraft for the next seventeen hours was a hell I never thought I would have to ever endure yet there I was staring down at a ground far below that I would be much more comfortable gazing up from.

This place Texas welcomed me with open arms and a heat that stifled me, a humidity cloaked heat that instantly left me seeking anything with air conditioning. I would find out that the temperature outside was only in the mid 70’s, but after six months of living in temperatures below -20 degrees Fahrenheit the 70 degree swing in warmth felt horrific.  As I eventually come to the hotel I breathe a sigh of relief for the security of my room especially after being lost for forty minutes on a twenty minute drive from the airport.

All I could think about was sleep but after thirty-three hours awake I was wired having gained my second wind. I went for a drive and lost again I so too became, but this time I was prepared for the strange land around me. I drove short distances and then returned to roads that I recognized until I was comfortable enough to head out in search of a restaurant that was suggested to me including stupid proof directions. As it happened I was only lost for twenty minutes this time and when I finally found one of my landmark streets I found my way to a place to eat and no it wasn’t the place I had set out for not too long ago.

The hotel seemed so foreign to me then and sleep was difficult at best, now it is a welcome friend each time I return. I laugh at myself from those first couple days of weakness and insecurity given that since then the temperature has been casually rising to the high 80’s in the last few days. Housekeeping doesn’t know what to make of me having the A/C running morning, noon, and night and keeping the room at a comfortable in the mid 50’s.

It’s hard for me to think that everything I love is over 4,000 miles away and my dog is not at my side for the first time in almost six years. Settling in and creating some routine became my mission, normalcy my drive or else I would never calm down and focus on the task at hand. Work was the reason for my Texas trip and the sooner I finished the training assigned to me the sooner I can get home. I began running a path not far from the hotel and being involved with work gently brought me back down to earth and out of the hysteria I was feeling from being so far from everything familiar to me.

It seems as if the universe was conspiring against me and the futility of my existence in this place. First, the inability for me to be able to drive more than three miles in any direction without being helplessly lost and then the second issue, my laptop acquired a virus and the hard drive completely crashed. It took all my savings and a bit of my recent paycheck to cover the cost of this much needed item. The new laptop came at a perfect time when the weather has become very hostile to the pursuits of running, mainly winds with speeds of 30 mph and again temperatures reaching the high 80’s. I know how it seems but living in the desert for thirteen years and with what amounts to endless days of wind, I had grown a healthy distaste for the blasting and blowing beast that waits just outside my door.

Thoughts of home seep into my consciousness whenever I sit idle and only then do I become lost in the thoughts of my best friend Equinox and what he is thinking about regarding my sudden and lengthy absence and how he’s coping without me. I know that as time goes by I will adapt to this place and as routine slowly engulfs me I will feel the need to run away and escape less and less which each coming day.

The woods and hills that surround my home have been replaced by buildings and streets that look identical from one to the next, slowly as I adapt   these things are beginning to be identifiable and I am driving through town with more confidence. Having to replace my laptop also left me without the ability to upload photographs since the software needed to transfer images from my digital camera and cell phone are both in Alaska. For now only words will have to do but I will still take photos and when I return to my home I will edit and upload the pics to the article. All I can do for the time being is slowly expand my education of the surrounding geography and engulf myself in work. I will run when I can run as long as I don’t succumb to heat stroke or dehydration and find pleasure in the more subtle things that peak my need to learn more.

Having returned to the land of high speed commuting, valleys of asphalt, manicured lawns, and predictable retail stores I will breathe as I breathe and live as I live. After all what more can a person ask of themselves?

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Mar 3 2011

The Hollow

The air has become very thick as of late, thick with reflection and thought. Though I’m not going anywhere permanently yet but away for a short time non the less, and it has awakened certain emotions. I am amazed how I can see the world around me and say to myself that this is a place to explore and discover what I am capable of. Land that has the potential to show me just who I am and find out what if any boundaries I have, and these boundaries have become very simple. An inability to hunt and kill anything, living without internet and cell phone connections, and television.

The land is different, when it comes to land there is no boundary only capability, what am I capable of and what level of experience I’m willing to endure if the situation suites the course.

The land seems to just be there, filling the void and allowing the sky to have a place of reference, but as it sits idle, breathing gently and allowing all to travel and wander it’s most subtle trails, it has lessons to teach each of us if we just open our eyes and look at the answers. The wilderness is more of a classroom than I ever thought, each day I am coached and taught something new about myself, but it has always been about who I am and what world I love to live in, now things are evolving, turning around and mirroring my emotions. I was stunned the other day as I re-read a story I wrote not even realizing that while I was writing about the weather and a nature that I had absolutely no control over, I was also in a sense describing a world that I exist in but never saw the mirrors in that world that were reflecting images of myself back to me.

Every trip out on the trail I have injected more of myself on to the landscape, so much so that I can begin to see traits of myself in that landscape or visa-versa. Wandering along a dimly lit trail as snow softly falls about me has no longer been just snow fall on a lonely trail, but is now a metaphor for the tears that silently cascade down my face from an empty heart left vacant so many years long past.

Driving home at night has become less a commute in the darkness or even an adventure on a wonderful Alaskan road, but a drive through my own heart, each turn and straight-away a focal point on my emotional life.

The land around me has become my guide in life as I trip and stumble my way through the emotional aspects of my existence. How I went from the land being a part of who I am and myself becoming the land around me doesn’t matter, the results equal any other consideration.

I and it are one and feel the same, it knows what I feel and I feel what it knows, silly as it is that is as it is. Lately each time I go out on the trail skiing along, smelling the snow and the cool dry air, the trees shedding last weeks heavy snowfall and the clutter of debris on the trail left behind by an evil wind storm that tore through the region not to long ago I can sense and feel the adjustments being made by natures hand and the soft sigh of the trees around me, resting from another test of their ability to survive and exist, proving worthy to stand amongst the others.

Traveling along the trail was almost a tour through an alien world where the guide was lost and I was left to explore on my own. As time passed I became more confident I felt stronger and more capable as to be able to travel the winter trails and letting my guard down. I never conceived that my physical self was ever in danger or threat, no contemplation what’s so ever. What I wasn’t ready for was the awareness of where I stood emotionally and what it meant to feel something about myself, another, and the world around me. I knew how I felt about the world around me, gliding through the winter kaleidoscope as often as possible, but I didn’t know about what I truly felt about being alone, truly alone.

Filling in the void of emptiness within me with the pursuits of each day hasn’t solved the issue of my emotional position. We think we are fine, that we have survived this or that in our lives and are mentally breaking through and moving on with our live. True as it might be, we are healthy and stable, moving on in our lives to forge forward and grow into a life we know we are ready for.

I can ramble and babble forever about the emotional emptiness left by the loss of a companion or the want to have somebody in our lives, but as we travel the land and trails via ski’s or with a backpack, we search endlessly for that meaningful person that fills in the blanks, answers the questions and makes those trips on the hills more than a futile attempt at self mutilation.

As everything is I am breathing, learning and growing into each day and every new sunrise that chooses to lift its head above the land and allows me to bask in its warmth and brilliance.

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Jan 27 2011

Lower Angel Creek Trail

It has been two years since the last time I had laid tracks on the Lower Angel Creek trail, that was an incredible introduction to this amazing place. Since that time I have hiked a small portion of the Chena Dome trail that begins at the same trailhead and rapidly rises up along the eastern skyline of the Angel Creek valley. I have spent two days backpacking the entire 32 mile Chena Dome trail all the while the Angel Creek valley was in sight and during the summer the sun can be seen reflecting off the waters of the creek itself.
I’ve ran the Upper Angel Creek Trail, a multi-use trail that had been under construction for three years and travels just above the valley floor, climbing and descending along the east side of the valley and passes along beautiful groves of birch trees, artesian wells and marvelous spruce tree forests.

The lower trail is only accessible by foot, or ski in the winter time, the rest of the year it is a bog of water, tussocks and mud. In the winter it is magical and very unique, a trail that is smooth with very little variation and can be quite fast and enjoyable.
The last time I was here with my ski’s it was later in the season so more people had accessed the trail leaving ruts and grooves along the trail and made it a very long day of trying to control the directions my ski’s tracked, all in all not the best of days. Don’t misunderstand me, I still loved being on the trail and experiencing the wilderness in this magical place. I was just frustrated by the conditions of the trail itself and the over use of it late in the season.
This time was much different and much more special since I didn’t expect that there had been very much traffic on the trail this soon in the year. I was right, the temperature was about -10 degrees F and the sun was shining without obstruction making me jumpy and excited to be off on the untracked trail.
Since the trail was untracked and there was a thin layer of fresh snow about an inch or two thick, the skiing would be a bit slower because of the cool air, the snow crystals had not been compacted or even slightly melted. The snow in the interior of Alaska has very little water content so this dry snow develops a great deal of friction when ski’s travel on top of it.
Today I didn’t care, I even began the day early expecting slow snow conditions and very happy when I was proven right. After skiing the first quarter of a mile to gain the trail proper I was pleasantly surprised to see that a snow machine had been on the trail recently and that meant the trail would be faster than I had thought.
The first mile was wonderful as I ski’s along the sun was a constant witness watching my every move, my every stop and I welcomed the sun with glances over my shoulder to catch the rays on my face. Equinox was running free and he took full advantage of it jumping into the powder, flashing down the trail only stopping now and then to smell the occasional markings.
After the first mile ironically the snow machine broke off to the left on its own trail leaving me to ski the trail untracked. Right at the same time the sun dipped behind the hills to the west never to be felt again and bringing the air temperature down easily another 10 degrees to a cozy -20 degrees F. The trail wasn’t at all bad having been broken out some time ago, I can tell by the two inches of untouched snow that nobody had traveled on the trail in atleast a month since that was the last time there was a significant snowfall.
Skiing along it all felt like I’ve been here a dozen times in the past as I ski along I look up along the ridgeline recalling traveling along the top in the summer two years ago, or the upper Angel Creek trail and regaling the amazing six mile run I had along it last summer turning back at a wonderful artesian well. There is much more snow here in the valley than in the valley my cabin resides in, and I feel somewhat jealous at the thought of it.
The trees are rich here and grow full and wonderful without any clustering or competition from other species, no alders to be seen in site and the birch trees have their favorite spots while the spruce tree grows where ever it chooses.
I’ve arrived at the gentle climb that I remembered from my previous trip, a slow ascent up through a small grove of birch trees that constrict the trail enough to make you feel as if you were traveling through a tunnel.
It’s energizing when I exit the trees an descend the other side of the climb, it’s almost as if I had wandered into some portal that delivered me to someplace different and new but at the same time similar to the previous land. All the open land dotted with spread out spruce trees is now full of a thick woods of spruce and the occasional birch tree.
Just up trail is the public use cabin located at about the four mile point. It is a lovely cabin that can hold maybe six people easily and more in an emergency. The cabin made for a nice rest stop before heading on along this pristine trail, a mile or so later I was brought to an interesting decision. The trail finally crosses Angel Creek for the first time, and the overflow ice was like a wave flowing over the trail, but very soft, I can see water welling up from the weight of my dog stepping on the ice.
I was not in the mood to step out of my skis, walk across the ice then sit down and pick ice out of my boots to clear them so I could get back into the ski’s bindings, so we called it a day there. I turned back and ski’d up to a point on a small rise to hook Equinox up on the tow line and we skijored back, making the distance back to the cabin in wonderful time. We stopped there to let him rest for a bit but the cool air was beginning to take a toll on my sweat soaked layers of clothes and their insulation qualities were diminishing rapidly, so I sent Equinox on his way pulling as he could to close the gap of distance and time and still enjoy the view.
Eventually we came back on the portion of trail with fresh snow machine tracks and thus improved our speed, and not a moment too soon as Equinox had faded to a gentle trot, so we just worked our way home to the trail head and the car.
Magical, mind bending, eye opening, everything that I could imagine a trail to be this trail lifted me up to see the world around me in a fresh light and as always this is the only of my world I want.

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Sep 15 2010

Going Home

Originally I was a Californian, and then I became a Las Vegan of which I was happy to be, and lavished in the baking sun of the Mojave Desert. Then it happened at great expense and to my own fault I became an Alaskan.
Though the decision to become an Alaskan was made fairly quickly, and without much thought, it was a move that had an incredible impact on my life.

For me moving to Alaska became a great pilgrimage, artistically as well as spiritually. I was deeply involved in my landscape photography and writing. I would feverishly hit the road attempting to photograph as much as my brain could absorb, completely unaware of how overwhelmed I had become by the world I suddenly thrust myself into. Gone were the great expanses of nothingness, micro worlds of fauna and nature tightly bundled in the desert to survive, exploded in savage freedom among the rolling hills and flat river deltas of Alaska’s interior.

I waited until my first winter to focus on my artistic mind, to narrow down the band width of expression that had become so jumbled in my mind.
With winter came the simplistic reality that I had been craving and began actually flexing my creative senses. Now it began to dawn on me that this is where I was supposed to be and vowed that in time I would open my gallery and write a book about what it is like to photograph in Alaska. So many books out on the shelves show all those wonderful images of Alaska’s incredible bounty of nature and wilderness without talking about the experience (both physical and emotional) and what it took to get those images.
I wanted a book that talked about the drive and less about the destination.

Then a life altering change took place that redirected the path I had chosen for myself, divorce.
Divorce removed all my artistic passion. My willingness to express any words on paper or shoot a single frame of film had drowned and sank into the depths of the depression I was experiencing. I was abruptly forced into enslavement in the common workforce of the everyday man.
Such a man, that I went to great lengths to leave behind, but there I was working two jobs seven days a week for a couple of years trying to make ends meet. Once the opportunity came to actually have a couple of days off a week I jumped at it and reveled in the time away from the drone of humanity.

In time I migrated further and further back into the wilds around me again, running the local trails, backpacking everything I saw.
The craving was growing inside me again. In winter I exploded with love for the world around me, passion welled up from within some lonely place in my body and oozed out in a rebirth that at times left me in tears.

Cross country skiing allowed me to travel further back on trails that few people if any travel when it’s twenty degrees below out, but I was breathing in the silence and emptiness of a place devoid of humanity. If and when somebody approached, another skier or (and most often) a dog musher the interruption was like a freight train blowing past me.
I started seeing things differently, in a way I haven’t seen things in quite some time. It even took a year for me to realize that my mind’s eye was looking at everything as an opportunity to photograph, that I was experiencing a want to describe what this world offers us if we just take the time to stop and stare at what’s in front of us a little longer.

Maybe I have become more mentally stable as time has gone by, separated further and further from that dark period in my past. Maybe my mind is forgetting the pain and returning back to me that person who I once was minus the whole marriage thing.
Time is affording me the opportunity to get back to the world I belong in, and if I don’t begin to place one foot before the other, I’ll lose the path all together, so here I go…….

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