May 27 2013

Alone With A Stranger

Something has changed and I could feel it before even opening my eyes. There was energy in the air, like static electricity and it was everywhere. Winter has been clinging to every particle of soil in an attempt to maintain its grip on the landscape even snowing for the last few days, but this was April and something new was taking place. Normally this time of year I find myself slowly putting my ski equipment away, packing away all the cold weather clothing and reflectively watch the snow melt and recede into my memory.

This month nothing is going in the direction that we are accustomed to, it’s continuing to snow and the temperatures have remained slightly chilly this spring. Soil would begin to appear beneath the trees in the woods, the sun warms the landscape just before clouds silently slip over the horizon engulfing the skies and the snow gently falls on the melting snow blanketing the rotten old snow in a fresh, healthy shade of white. The snow continues to fall and the air remains colder than normal frustrating all of us who are itching to see springs arrival.

Falling Snow Early Spring

Willing winter to disappear and bringing forth the birth of an overdue spring isn’t doing it, as the seasons really don’t listen to us humans with our pathetic miniscule and selfish needs. The seasons move along at their own lazy pace, deciding for themselves when they are ready to move on. Impatiently, we struggle to fight off the urge to give in and pull the equipment back out of the closet to hit the trails for what could be one final ski of the year. Experience has proved that letting the season pass, quietly remembering the last wonderful ski trip with all its amazing memories is a far better way to move on to spring than heading out on this horrible snow. Floundering in the soft, melting crud that offers no purchase to my kick wax would only prove to be a futile attempt at reliving that same great day I last experienced on the trail.

Late Spring Snow

Late winter, early spring the snow continues to fall. Nowhere is any dark soil to be found, this winter that refuses to fade away relentlessly dumps more snow each day driving fear into our hearts that spring may never come. Even now with all this fresh snow it just isn’t worth pulling out my ski’s, this wet powder only covers the chopped up cruddy ice that lays just beneath it and would give way to the trash beneath at the hint of any weight. Staring out the window or standing on the porch, I watch this stranger whom I’ve never met maintain a stranglehold on my world. I’m over it, I want winter to end, the soil to dry up, the leaves to unfold on the trees, and the flowers to bloom.

The end of April comes and goes but the snow stays, weighing down branches in the trees, weighing down the thoughts in my mind. Never mind that the temperature has risen to just above freezing, the snow continues to fall. To what end this season will come is anybody’s guess, the strangeness of the season is so foreign to us all. Alone I sit and wait for this madness to subside and anticipate the return of a more rational spring to step in and push aside this craziness that consumes my life for the time being. In time, the snow will melt leaving the land to itself once again. The soil will dry and the clouds will fade away to a strengthening sun. The mosquitos will return and annoy all in this land while we duck, swat and wave at invisible and imagined insects that are seemingly constantly attacking our heads. The trees will turn green and the flowers will bloom, spring will arrive and the world will be right. Time will pass and we will forget what it felt like to go through the experience of winter’s intrusion into our spring, shortening our summer and erasing our perception of what was once a predictable change of season. Alaska just reminded us that though we know what to expect from this land we must always remember that everything is subject to change.

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Sep 20 2011

Falling Into Autumn

Like storm clouds drifting on to land from the ocean, once barely visible on the horizon, without warning they have overtaken the
beautiful sky above and darkening the land all around. The Birch trees leaves, in the most subtle of ways have turned from rich greens to a green/yellow and have begun to softly fall from the branches and in a causal manner wattle to the ground. Over the days, the leaves of the high brush cranberries have turned to pinks and reds.

The Autumnal Equinox is gradually approaching and the trees and plants are definitely in full swing to celebrate this amazing time of
year. For years I’ve had an image in my mind’s eye, an image that I wanted to turn into a photograph, but over the years I could never find exactly the image I had in my mind. The image is a composite of a multitude of images I had witnessed while living in Alaska, the trunks of bleached white Birch trees in a forest, a carpet of colors encompass the ground, greens, browns, yellows, and reds. I spent years searching for my image, driving everywhere I thought I could find it but it never came to me.

Until the other day, the other day was nothing special and nothing more than a lazy day off, and a day without plans. Instead of running or hiking I decided to walk my dog up the road from the cabin, the sun was fleeting and the clouds drifted continuously in front of the sun and changed the light at every glance. After about a quarter of a mile I just happened to be looking in the woods across the road when the light changed and I saw this wonderful combination of green’s, yellow’s and pinks. I ran across the road and burrowed through the hip rose vines scratching up my legs without care, and before me stood my image.

There it was, everything I had buried in my mind was completely laid out in front of me, even the Birch Trees had the most wonderful
white trunks that highlight the forest floor. I pulled out my cell phone as fast as I could before the light changed and took four or five images to study, I figured if it looked good on a smart phone, the image would be incredible on film. I stood on the forest just forty feet from the road for maybe ten minutes after taking the pictures, amazed that the picture I’ve imagined all these years was a mere quarter of a mile from my cabin when I have been travelling hundreds of miles indiscriminately for my image. Apparently, if you’ve envisioned something long enough it will, in time make itself visible to you.

Waves of leaves fall from the trees to the ground of the small roads and many trails that weave their way through the woods surrounding
me, I stand on the trail truly stunned by the majesty that has erupted around me. Running the yellow-carpeted trails I can’t help but lose track of my direction on the trail, the leaves distract me with a “Wizard Of Oz” feel that also hide the tree roots beneath their beauty waiting to trip me up. Driving down the road is as close to deadly distraction as I could possibly find, my head swinging from right to left trying to capture as many views as possible out of fear of missing one thing.

This time of year always slows me down a little, bringing me into a much more contemplative awareness about myself, my life, and
the world around me. I often write about the world I live in and how it affects me personally and spiritually and this is no different. As one season diminishes, all the qualities that have defined the beauty of the year ebb into our memories and hearts, we bare witness of the change, and in so being we are altered and reduced to the eyes of children seeing a new season for the first time. Time never allows us enough time to come to grips with the emotions we feel from the impact a season has on us, trying to understand our perception of this world is frankly a waste of time it would seem, as time would soon pass us by in natures brash hurry to move on to the next act.

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Aug 25 2011

Wandering Around

It began as a three day get-away from work, from town, from the daily grind that I‘ve been going through over the past year. As a coincidence
this three day escape just happened to fall on my birthday and just to make everything interesting I am also sick with some kind of flu-like bug thing. The plan was to run away, well drive away down to the Donnelly Dome region that lays just past Delta Junction Alaska and just before the great Alaska Mountain Range. The goal was to camp out for a few days, hike into amazing areas and photograph the way I’m meant to photograph, but this isn’t what transpired.

Waking up in the morning it became readily apparent that I wouldn’t be camping for three days, I felt like total crap. However, feeling like crap never kept me from a good drive and a good drive is definitely something I was craving.  The weather has been, and is quite uncooperative coming home with a successful day of photography would be iffy at best. Driving out of town and getting on the highway instantly relaxed me and the idea of not seeing town for the day felt so good. Once I arrived at Birch Lake the world melted away, I’ve always loved relaxing at this rest stop and watching Equinox swim in the water amongst the massive lily pads.

All week the rain has been falling seemingly non-stop, clouds trapping the days and nights from expressing their true selves. Today the clouds parted, they gently drifted apart in massive clumps of grey and white behemoths of floating demigods, staying back and seemingly retreating
from my advance. Driving into Delta Junction is always a breath of fresh air, so wonderfully laid back and simple. Delta junction isn’t simple in mind in as much as it is in lifestyle, kind of a throwback to a much better time. This town is so similar to an old west town by way of structure, the majority of the town is down one strip of road the highway, and you get the same feeling of arriving here.

The Donnelly Dome region was a quagmire of sharp light and fierce walls of rain that cascade down from the micro cells of storms that have escaped from the grasp of the brooding mass that is the wall of the Alaskan Mountain Range. Fall has come here faster than I thought, the leaves
are changing very quickly and the grass and bear berries have all turned to yellows and reds. Entering the great Alaska Mountain Range I always feel very small, insignificant at best. On the right and across the river is the Alaska Mountain Range jutting straight out of the ground, and on the left side of the road is the wonderful Delta Mountain Range smaller in stature but just as incredible. Rivers flow down from the mountains; melt off from the many glaciers high above, glaciers like the Castner glacier, such things that cause the blood to boil in any person’s body that houses an ounce of adventurous spirit.

It seemed as if nature herself was attempting to thwart any chance of shooting a single quality photograph. As I drive along the highway I come upon something I want to photograph, something beautiful and temporary. I love the light and as I get ready to pull around and find a spot to park it begins to rain, it clouds over and kills the light I was enjoying just a blink ago. I decided to just drive and wait out the sun, raining here
and sharp sun between the clouds blind and darken the world around me. My best pictures are the ones I quickly take on my cell phone. A stop at Summit Lake gives me a pause as my buddy Equinox runs down to the water to taste the crystal clear water. It’s sprinkling and a wall of water is waiting for me, stationary with my moment of pause.

There’s something about the smell of a lake in the mountains while It’s raining it finds itself inside you and becomes a part of you almost in as much as you become a part of the world around you. With a now self-reflective mood Equinox and I board the car and shove off chasing the
clouds. Paxon explodes on us very quickly, one turn and there you are just in time to make a very sharp right on to the Denali Highway. Today we are not going to drive through the highway, even though that would be wonderful since it is my favorite road trip in Alaska. Today the goal was to get within a few miles of the Tangle Lakes Region, just close enough the see the McClarren Glacier and the amazing land that I’ve pulled in close to me like a soft and comfortable blanket.

This land feel both ancient and new all at once, the world is stretched out everywhere I looked. The land finally relented and the sun exposes the world around me for a brief moment, a moment that was stunning. I was staring at the McClarren Glacier far off in the distance, a lake fills in
the fore ground and the land has fallen away from my feet. A moment of clarity surrounds me and I take a quick picture with the cell just as it starts raining again.

Brief moments of amazing splendor, brief moments of dazzling light and land have reminded me how special this land is. The drive back felt almost busy, the sky had closed in and the rain was constant. The light had flattened out, the wind was picking up my day of photography was
over. Places that I knew that were great locations for shooting were now wind-washed and covered in the darkness of the clouds. The world is ever changing in front of me, one moment the world is calm and at piece then I see a stream with a light twist through the soft hills, the color of fall hangs over its banks succumbing to the balance of the season. I slow to a crawl, and then the winds come and the rain drips slowly into my vision, poignant moments flooded by a reality I can’t control.

Returning to the Donnelly Dome Region the light was very sharp and fleeting as the clouds jockey for position in the evening sky. Pulling into the little space on the side of the road I strapped on my hand gun and loaded the pack for the hike in to Donnelly Lake, the light is changing and the clouds have pulled back. It seemed like a small island of light between the mountains and off to the north to Delta junction have opened up and with it a small window has also opened up to allow me a moment to photograph a brief bit of the world I see.

I was able to get a single frame of film that offered a view of my world, with it dark, grey clouds hang back in the distance, waiting patiently for me to close the shutter and put my camera away. I hiked around a small spot of the lake in the sharp light that would be here one moment and then all the light is gone the next. I fired off a few more frames of film and packed up, moving on back out to the car and the road. Hiking out was a pleasure, calm and serein a storm in the waiting and waiting for me to get my butt off the trail. As I hit the trailhead the first drops of rain begin to fall and quickly I load up the pack, unload the hand gun and get Equinox to jump back into the car. The rain falls as if it had been held back for a lifetime and the drive is narrowed to what is visible between two lines. Driving home I thought about this day trip, sadly short and terribly difficult to locate a time to shoot. It was a great time and a great escape from, my world of work and sleep, mindless droning of going to work,
doing the time and returning to my home to breath.

Breathing, existing, satisfied about my life, this place is a double edged sword. I live exactly where I am supposed to be doing things that I am meant to do but with it comes pay back. Work buries its ugly head into my world, not unlike a lot of people in this world. Life is out there waiting for me to explore and it is there for me to discover my role in it, a role I am slowly adjusting to. The land about me is begging me to introduce myself but at the same time it protects itself from me, I get a bit close and nature recoils but if I don’t commit enough the land begs me on. This place contradicts everything I thought I understood but I learn that how I see this land and just how much I devote myself to this world determines how welcome I am.

 

 

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Aug 17 2011

A Short Lived Summer

There is one place where I can stand perfectly still, doing absolutely nothing and look around me at the world with which I have
surrounded myself. There are always multiple conflicting emotions that confront me, haunting me sometimes and yet I love this place. I can never understand how being somewhere can evoke so many emotions and feelings that collide into one another and yet the level of peace I feel does in fact evaporate the uneasiness I feel.

Being out on the trail or breaking through an untracked area can be very unnerving for me, fear of the unknown, fear of what could be out there watching me. I think that the insecurity I feel is completely natural, that travelling outside of our comfort zone will create uneasiness that returns us to our basic sense of being and it is what helps us survive. Whenever I prepare to head out to the trail I feel so awkward, as if I am departing a world that I exist in but only partially belong in and entering a world that I partially exist in yet totally belong.

Trail running always involves getting in the car and driving to the trailhead, bagging up clothes, towel, water, and shoes rather intensifies the separation of normalcy and unfamiliarity. Some trails are very mundane and ordinary, requiring only time and distance as the challenge, then there are other trails that require total commitment. There are trails that require major planning if you are running a long distance, the Pinnell Mountain Trail for example is a spectacular 27-mile trail that weaves through an arctic environment just below the Arctic Circle. The Pinnell Mountain Trail is spectacular, I mean the drive to get there is incredible and the land is amazing to see. Out in the middle of nowhere and not seeing a car for but half a day on the road below at the trailhead really brings to light the necessity to prepare for the worst, yet hope for the best of experiences.

The dirt roads offer a different experience wild and unforgiving, yet close and comfortable. Even running the remote dirt roads here offer some concerns, far enough in and you must be aware of the potential for wolf or the occasional moose traipsing in to your path. Though I’ve heard
stories I’ve yet to experience it myself but I have heard of some people running into bears along the dirt roads I run. The Cache Creek Road that runs along for about 17 miles has had reports of bear dens below it, and the further in you go the more you become a part of what makes up the wild about it.

Nature in general is supposed to be foreign to us these days I think. We live in our houses, drive our cars to town or down the street to whatever our destination is. The slightest deviation from what we conceive as normal and comfortable can leave a person feeling rather anxious. I spend as
much time out on the trail as I spend in a more civilized environment and I can’t figure out which can be more unnerving. As I struggle through society, going to work, paying the bills the anxiety builds about making the payments, paying the rent, keeping the job and putting food on the table. Out on the trail, the real trail, the concern changes, the bills don’t matter, the job is of no concern and the house is just a place out in the pasture of my memories.

 

Running on the trail and taking in the smells, the soil, the trees, all the things that change my perception of what reality I exist in has a tremendous impact on me. Just being out there isn’t enough for me, yes sometimes after I have been injured during a race or during a training run, just being out there is satisfying for the moment but it’s more of a snack when what I really want is a four-course meal. People talk about the primal feeling or experience of traveling wilderness, yea I don’t get that. When I’m out running trails or backpacking, maybe just out for a day hike on one of the many trails around my home I feel like I’m in my element, where I belong and I complete a wholeness about myself. With all that said I also feel like a tourist, as if the world I enter is tolerating my intrusion but since I’m not doing anything threatening I’m being allowed to go as I please. I feel eyes on me all the time; the shadows watch me cautiously as I pass through their world.

Feeling observed and almost stalked would be the best way to describe the feelings I get sometimes during the summer on the trail. Throughout this wonderful world, all these things fill in the whole picture for me as I become a part of this incredible place. Running through the trees and
tussocks, the ponds and bogs that I pass by, my dog is running about recklessly peeing and pooping wherever he feels necessary. The woods hide many things that are not interested in being disturbed by man, but the occasional crossing of paths does occur and with these rare events, it can be very tense. The moose cow and her calf, the cow could very easily become defensive and stomp my dog and then turn on me.

The sun washes the land in a beautiful warm glow, a glow lost these last few weeks the rain dominating the summer this year. This late in the summer having the sun warm my face is a rare gift and a gift that shouldn’t be ignored. The ground will soon begin to harden, the trees will be
shedding their leaves, and the sky will gradually turn to a steel-gray. Every day as this world is prepares for the coming months of winter, enjoying the remaining late summer days with its fading green birch trees, and slowly yellowing grasses is an incredible pleasure, being out there to see it first hand is almost as special as the land itself.

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Aug 3 2011

Less Than Ideal

Every summer seems the same to me as I go through the same regime. I get all built up for the running season, the races that come
seemingly every weekend and the extraordinary amount of time work demands of me. I feel as if with the crazy workload from the job and the training I go through for the races I don’t have much time at all for inspiration and flowered writing prose.

Sad it is for me that writing is fundamentally the basis of my sole existence, only in that I am inspired to write for maybe seven months out of the year. During the summer I am in a sense trampled upon by responsibility, the idea of getting out to live becomes an effort in futility.
I think it is a matter of being overwhelmed with activity and work. The running and training compiled with the many hours of work really takes a toll on me mentally and the idea of writing becomes more labor ridden than pleasure.

Now that I think of it, I don’t believe that I am less inspired because it’s summer in as much as it is that the opportunity to get
out on the trail and into nature become fleeting moments of an hour or two here and there. I think it’s very odd that this is the case in summer because I work just as many hours in the winter yet somehow those great adventures are more
available to me then. Still days do come when a simple trot out to the trails becomes a small window of intrigue but not quite an adventure filled
with passion and emotion. Most of the trails around my home are only accessible during the winter since the soil is primarily peat bogs, muddy, wet, uneven muck that leave you gasping for a breath of air. As you battle your way around the many obstacles that at times can slow forward progress to a crawl.

I’m sure that many people feel the same frustration from something they love doing is restricted from them by daily obstacles, and
the frustration they feel that comes from it. This is my world the minute I open my eyes, the need to be out there and being a part of the world around me is an overwhelming sensation and being trapped in a job that has the sole purpose of paying the bills with no intellectual stimulation what’s so ever is maddening. I find that when I am not involved in a high output physical activity I lose the ability for abstract thought. My mind tends to withdraw into a form of mental hibernation to save itself for a more productive time. I spend my time letting my dog Equinox get in on the action, watching him bounce and play as I plod along on the local trails down below my home and across the valley. It’s still a wonderful experience hiking those trails, it’s just getting to the firm soil is a bit arduous.

Trekking over tussocks that survive in a quagmire of peat and mud, bushwhacking through the over-growth until my feet discover firm soil that waits for us across the valley, patients is definitely a necessity in this land I love. I think it is a frame of mind when it comes to the summer for me, so much sun light and hours upon hours to spend outdoors becomes very overwhelming after a bit. These days though the economy has left
me less than capable of going out on more extended adventures, preventing me from seriously doing what I most love, exploring. Oh and my dog ate my expensive sleeping bag and can’t afford to replace it until early winter, also keeps me from strapping on the pack and putting one foot in front of the other.

The worse feeling I have is when I know I should be out running or doing something, but injury or illness is preventing me from going out and getting it done. I always substitute my running with other activities, this being the hiking and local exploring. I have truly felt that not being able to pursue my running during the summer I have really evolved in the knowledge of the world around me. As I delve into the world of all the different forms of mushrooms I am startled and amazed by the unique nature of these strange and necessary fungi.

I live my life by insuring that I live it as full and wondrous as possible. If I can’t be involved in one sport, activity or function I will fill that void with another.
With all that said I can firmly say without any hesitation that winter is three months away and I am counting the days until I will be stepping into
my bindings and slipping down the road to the trail. Most things hibernate in the winter, I begin to breath and to live devouring the world with my hunger.

 

 

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Jun 8 2011

The Cries Of The Marmot

I take in a sweeping view of the land about me and I wonder why I do the things that I do. This is a place I know very well but not well enough to be completely comfortable within the realm of my own self. A quick six or seven miles to this very wild place doesn’t allow you to adapt fast enough and the bear paw print I found in the mud a couple of miles back adds to a light touch of insecurity. Though the run began in the sunlight and early summer heat, here the wind blasts across the open land and clouds close in, seemingly collapsing on the horizon in front of me.

The Plain Of The Monuments on the Granite Tors Trail, a very open plateau covered in spongy, soggy tundra as far as the eye can allow. Ghostly towers of granite stand at awkward angles and misshapen, the distance only intensifies the remote strangeness of the islands of rock. Black Spruce trees make up small woods seem to huddle around the plain but don’t intrude on the blank land around them. Off to the north in the direction of the route snow still lays in small fields and hide in great masse in the woods that cover the shallow valley between the plain and the ridgeline that eventually leads down to the valley floor far below.

It was just a short time ago that I was carelessly jumping through boulder fields while traversing a large dome that stands in the way of the top of the climb. As we turned the shoulder a hair-splitting shrill pierces the air around me, Equinox bolts off the trail in attack mode for a creature that he could neither see nor find. The noise created by these creatures is a sound that I can’t describe as a squeak since the sound the marmots produce carry for a very long distance, and up close the sound becomes ear-splitting. Just as we would finally get out of earshot, the next sentry would begin its evil shrill. As annoying as they are these creatures and their alarms breed an air of familiarity with me, this place would feel empty without them.

Resting at the severe weather cabin on the shoulder of the great plain I looked out on the mushy, water-saturated tundra and breathed in the air. Equinox bounds around excited to dive into each small pond of water or puddle of mud, relieved to be up and above the dry land and heat of the lower trail. Of course his version of reality differs from my own. Instead of a sun soaked trail that meanders up a six mile hill line of birch trees, black spruce and dry fallen trees(from a fire that burned through here seven years ago)as witnessed by Equinox, I experienced an incredible trail that winds its way through a forest of large birch trees down low. The trail leads up out of the trees to a barren ridgeline, the trail is soggy with mud and small streams of water in all the steepest of slopes.

In the sun it was fresh and warm, a slight breeze washed through the landscape from over the plains above, cooling me just enough so that I wouldn’t overheat. I couldn’t get a break on the trail when I would head up steep slopes, the mud and water would be waiting for me and so would the slipping, jumping and dodging of the deeper mud and water. I stopped here and there to let Equinox get some water and cool down.

It felt like an eternity had passed since I left the valley floor as I finally arrived out of breath in the woods just on the edge of the plains. The view puts me into a trance as I squint through the bright sun, attempting to get a better view of the granite tors in the distance, reflecting on the past times that I have come through here and succumbing to the same emotions that strike me now.

Beginning to cross the soft tundra it was apparent to me immediately that the next mile or so was going to be difficult at best. The trail through the plains are saturated to a level I’ve rarely experienced. Standing water and a mixture of grassy mush and mud cradled within the folds of the mounds of tundra had the consistency of soggy, rolling sponges that swallowed my shoes whole and fought to keep them every time I attempted to lift a leg. Somewhere along the way I became exhausted with this game, setting feet into rolling angles of squishy mush and then having to yank hard to remove a foot with my shoe still intact. I began walking and jumping through small shallow ponds, diverting here and there to avoid the more dirty little obstacles. On the northern end of the plains there are small fields of snow, islands of winter clinging to a fading memory.

The problem that confronted me with these seasonal throwbacks was that the trail went through them. I had to find my way through these snow fields, usually wading in over the knee to cross the snow. In the pits of the shallow, small valleys that are between the hills the snow is still quite prevalent in the shadows of the woods that inhabit the land. Traipsing from one small bush to the next, only stepping on the shallowest of snow until I am able to find my way back on to the trail, I work through choked hillsides of bush and dwarfed spruce. The trail though here is more  snow mush and running water over mud than an  actual trail for me to run on.

Thunder booms behind me startling me from my focus of the slipping and tripping I experience as I attempt to avoid falling on my back in the quagmire confronting me. As quickly and abruptly as I fell upon the plain, I now exit the land, the previous valley seemingly thrusts me out of a land that within, I was lost. A final marmot sentry cries out its haunting alarm as I pass its lonely outcrop of granite and disappear into the stunted trees and small fields of snow.

The descent from the plains was wet and angry, my shoes were full of water and mud, the distance in front of me is now the only obstacle. Running down and away from the plain I escape into the valley I know very well, the hills pushing me down knowing me it would seem. Just as I would feel my legs run out of energy not wanting to climb a single hill more, the trail would curve its way around this or that, falling down away through the thick air of the lower valley. Elevated wood plank trails and a soft running creek welcomed us with a gentle four miles to go.

The tour through the valley for the last bit seemed more of a victory lap amongst ones cheering fans on the field of battle than me just trying to make my way through the last few miles of trail, hoping my knees hold out long enough to get me back to the car. This trail is not the longest trail to run or experience but it was and adventure for the day, a test of strength and endurance, a tour through a land that can define ones own personality.

This place as it is, so close to our world remains set back in the distance away from our eyes and lives, invisible like the marmot until we witness it firsthand. The cries of the marmot can evoke many things inside us but a fond memory of the land above the road, and the trail that rambles past the lives of these oversized rodents is an experience that can change a person’s own path.

 

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Feb 25 2011

Falling

Trudging out into the black and white sheath of winters night, stepping, slipping, squinting through the fresh shower of snow, so cold and determined.

Futile acts of cleaning and clearing before pulling out and on to the road, a road vaguely familiar and most lost beneath the shrouded dim ghosts that haunt the measured road.

The way of it seems less clear as lights lose their luster upon reflections of deviant impermanence, this place and the trail ahead is no more a path home in as much as it is a battle of will to stay on a chosen aim.

Resistance persists against the tires, dragging the front end down for what seems like forever just to be released and floating aloft above the innocent snow, innocent snow, drifting this way and that until the tires find their purchase.

Innocent snow, such innocent snow how it slowly instills its dominance on the season, retribution for days of dry bone chilling madness. Resistance, a false sense of security, relying on the tires to push through the encroaching blankets of winters motivated arms.

Soft and tranquil, deceptive in its way, floating through the snow until the direction is altered and reality is turned on edge, pushing and shoving, the vehicle is guided by tracks beneath the snow, touches of previous white knuckled fools.

Each turn opens up to a road most foreign but one that has been traveled on for years, nothing is the same any longer, winter has seen to that. One must be conscious of what we dream of, love of a woman and the soft embrace of her full heart, snow lost early in season replaced suddenly and violently on the landscape of my world. A woman’s devotion, winters cold love all intertwined into one sense and one emotion of appreciation, devotion, affection for understanding and expectation and the unexpected.

A new turn and confusion swirls about the head while stealing a view through the veil of snow proliferating the way ahead. So lovely and gentle the snow falls and cascades in a timely fashion on the hills, fields and roads of my wondering mind. Each flake lands in a thud on my mind, on the place I thought deserved such treatment but non the less never committed any act that warranted so much intrusion by mother natures hand.

So gentle the snow falls, so gentle dreams cloud my mind and wistfully go the thoughts and wants of my desires, never saying they were mearly fanciful wants of a romantic lest these wants become the road ahead and snowfall so blinding that each flake becomes a reminder of a fools loss in love and life, so foolish to reflect on those things I wish I could change but will never alter my path. The snow will continue to fall, simple snow and a simpler understanding.

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Feb 24 2011

Upon More Thought

I’ve recently began to reflect on my experiences this winter, this past winter as it comes to a close for me. Yet there is still a couple of months left before anybody would begin to discuss break-up yet my winter will come to an abrupt end in just a few weeks. The why’s and how’s are not a point to be mentioned, what is of importance is the fact that I am going to be temporarily taken away from a land I love and a season that makes up a large portion of who I am.
I was breaking trail today on the Dunbar trail, in the trees there was a foot or more of fresh snow and in the exposed area’s the snow and trails were windswept and cleaned by wind with gusts of up to 40 mph. The trail itself was uneven and in a constant state of change, in the tree’s it was deep and flat so I spent my time powering through the powder at a slow melodic pace, but in the open the trail was windswept and bare accept wherever there was an obstruction and then the drifts would fill in the trail, it was beautiful.

Looking back at winter as if it was already in passing while it is still in full swing mixes my heart with a wide range of emotion. I’m not crazy, insane or losing it, but maybe a bit skeptical of the future yet I know my winter is ending at a very precise moment. I will be on the trail gliding along enjoying the smell and sound, the images that I pass by and the adventure of the day when, after a night’s rest and an evenings packing I will drive to a plane and be subsequently flown away from the land, world, and environment that has shaped me for nearly seven years without so much as a flinch. I’ve spent every waking moment either being in or thinking of Alaska’s wilderness since the fall of 2004 and for the next month to two months it is all coming to a rude end.
I’m on the verge of an anxiety attack with the thought of leaving this world and land that I love as much as I could love life. I leave with winter in full swing, heavy snow fall, brutal winds and bone numbing temperatures only to return to the precursor of spring. The shock of suddenly being thrust from a place I am so familiar and comfortable with seems a mirror image to birth only with myself possessing self-awareness and an infant possessing nothing.
Yet I exist in both worlds of an infant and an aware and experienced human being, that and in that I experience this existence for the first time and breathe the air of the knowledge of knowing. I witness so much around me and melt into the fabric of non acceptance, I pay bills and work in such a dry and unrewarding existence, but the other level is of nothing other than experiencing the land through awareness and first hand perception.
Now each day and moment is radically changing, even as I am experiencing a moment on the trail, at that precise moment of awareness I already look back on what is around me as a dream or as a fond memory, warm and close.
I’m not a true fatalist but I live very much by the moment, this can be seen in the way I write about the seasons and my life within them, no not a fatalist though I do see finality in many things and my leaving out of state for a month or two ends winter and begins spring the minute I step on the plane. With this thought I glide down on the trail with much more awareness and purpose.
As I think about what it will be like to spend so much time in Dallas I am conflicted. Why couldn’t this trip take place in September when there is really nothing going on for two months as the land carefully prepares and waits for the first snow and winters encroaching domination. I’ve never thought much about Dallas, or Texas for that matter, it was just a place with a diverse cultural population and an awesome town for music that being Austin.
I think the most terrifying feeling I’m experiencing is the separation I will have with my dog, he and I have never been apart for more than thirteen hours in the last six years. I’ll miss him as a father will miss his son, but how will he be affected by my absence and what will he go through waiting for my return.
I leave him in good hands with my friend who’ll be house sitting for me but all that time that will pass has got to have some sort of effect on him and that is what scares me. Aside for these little things such as the traumatic affect my dog will experience in my absence and the loss of the most cherished part of my year I think I’ll be all right as long as everything goes well and I get home safe and sound.
I know I might sound pathetic and whiny but I am connected to the land around me emotionally and spiritually, this is my place where I exist at my purest form and leaving it even for but a short time sucks life from my soul, air from my lungs, and strength from my limbs. Alaska will grow and step past me during my absence not waiting on me to return and continue my relationship with this land, like a jilted lover trying to forget the last relationship and move on away from the pain.
What I think most about is what it will be like to return, what differences have taken place and what I have missed. The trails are becoming empty for me, the animals stare at me now no longer accepting me as part of the natural terrain but as an anomaly and foreign. I will have a lot of making up to do to get back to the land I love and be accepted again,
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Feb 17 2011

Along The Trail

An obvious stillness encompasses my being as I stand in the middle of the trail staring down at the distinct tracks left behind by ski’s, dog sleds, and snow machines. Each track tells a story, some funny, others dry and expected such as the direct and predictable movement of snow machines. A skiers tracks seem casual, controlled, and practiced when a distinct disruption in the snow tells a humorous story of a skier falling and then tumbling to the snow, but a closer look tells a different story. The skier was on skate ski’s and was skijoring with an unknown count of pulling dogs, skiing along casually in the skate ski pattern when the skier caught an edge on something invisible and was flung to the snow on the side of the trail and then dragged along by the skiers dog’s for about thirty feet.

  

The silence around me is unnerving and I find myself stepping side to side to create some type of movement, nothing was moving and it was freaking me out even Equinox seemed transfixed in a statuesque pose, the pose labs make when they know a camera is pointed at them, legs are straight and staggered, tail hangs purposefully and he seems to stare off in the distance at an odd angle. He always makes this pose when I try to take a spontaneous picture of him, silly smart dog. 

 

So I stand there in the -26 degree air and waited silently until Equinox attention span would cause him to turn, move, shuffle, cough, something! Then he moved turning to a sound or smell that he could only hear or sense and then my picture was complete, but he would still win because there was some sort of frozen moisture on the lens of my trusty camera phone that I use when I ski and it ruined the moment for me a couple of hours later. 

As I turn in to the sun and begin skiing Equinox bolts down the trail happy that I finally began moving again so he could generate some body heat and thus sprint down the trail. Tracks abound on this trail, moose and what look like caribou or deer tracks or some other hoofed creature that I never see but they always leave these wonderful prints fresh and new every time I turn around. Arctic fox tracks are wonderful and more like dog tracks than fox so they track erratically down the trail stopping here and there to smell the scent left behind from the previous wanderers along this trail.

Crap! No really, crap is smeared all along the trail, sled dogs relieve themselves on the fly, no time to slow until the rest stop but here they were flying and the poop never lies. One dog has the runs, poor guy, another is apprehensive and his trail is a pattern of start and stop and start, they go when they go at the last possible moment and their mood can be seen in their “on the fly” release. 

 

Dodging the frozen refuse is a dance I’ve grown accustomed to it is a part of the personality of the trail I am endeared to. Rhythm falls upon me as I speed past the evidence of humans passing, then the trees take their place again. The trees always force their authority upon me blending and melting, they become one great thing, until the sun breaks through and settles matters. Some trees filter the light differently than other trees, the scene begins to change and the personality of the woods shines through again. Flattened, torn up snow greet me, evenly spaced hallows of snow line the sides of the trail, a multitude of piss holes and stains and up turned snow and reeds are all signs of a dog sled teams rest spot. 

 

Like a thing alive the personality of the trail changes, no more snow machines, no more ski tracks, no more animal tracks, just dog sled tracks work the trail, the trees seem foreign, the woods seem victimized and I feel all at once like an intruder. The gliding is good and the snow is warm so I continue on, and on with the tracks of the sled before me trusting that whoever the driver was knew where they were headed and that they also knew this trail. The trail changes with the ground beneath it, adjusting and moving above the frozen soil, the give and go is a change I don’t really enjoy since I’m not allowed to get a rhythm started and any speed created. Slipping to the left, to the right just to be pushed to and fro by the whims of the trails altering wants.

Each moment that I am allowed to witness on the snow, blanketed by the trees creates moments that I reflect on for years after having experienced the event. Something special has occurred during that time on the trail, why else spend so much time contemplating the experience? Each moment that the trail allows me to witness is an experience to treasure and revel in, and the dog that travels with me in all his knowing knows more than I with knowing everything and yet knowing nothing he doesn’t think about the snow, the trees, the cold. He only enjoys the present, the experience in front of him. He takes nothing of the moment for granted, stopping to taste, smell, pee on, poop on, and burrow into in a glee that I feel rarely and treasure even more. 

  

  

 

 

 

 

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Dec 22 2010

Skiing Into Winters Solstice

It finally arrived my favorite day winter and it did not disappoint me one bit. The winter solstice has always been a special moment for me, a day that is full of magic and positive energy. The winter solstice has always gave me the give of renewal, of regeneration and a fresh look at tomorrow.I planned on writing a story about a fabulous day of skiing on the shortest day of the year and typically this day is very cold and dark, forcing me out with great determination to feel the day grow out on the trail. Instead before I even got out on the trail I was treated to a day bathed in salmon tinted light that glowed throughout the air. There was a thin layer of clouds low on the horizon that defused the sunlight as the sun drifted just above the horizon, the light glowed and permeated every fabric of my reality.

 

I had to get out there, I didn’t need to I had to because it was drawing me out like a moth to a flame.

I chose to ski the Parks Ridge Run in Ester Alaska, due to its higher altitude the trail was above the heat inversion layer and while it was a cool -24 degrees at my cabin and a touch cooler on the trails on the valley floor, the Parks Ridge Run was around -10 degrees and after arriving at the trailhead I was shedding my shells to prevent myself from over heating.

Last year I ski’d the Willow Run on the Balaine dog mushing trails at the bottom of the Goldstream Valley and the temperature was well below -25 degrees and I had to wait for the sun to come over the hills to enjoy the light. That day was spent in the shade for most of the day and only about an hour of light because of my choice of locations to ski.

There were two dog teams running the ridge, one right behind the other. All the dogs, and mushers are from the same kennel and getting all their training in one shot. The handler was in radio contact with the lead team and let me know they were ten minutes out, at that distance I would catch them on the widest and safest portion of the trail so we headed out and figured we could duck off the trail to yield to the teams as they came.

 

The first team came exactly where I expected them and was ready for their passing and I inquired as to the location of the second team, they were three minutes behind. I knew that meant that I was going to catch them at the bottom of the last descent coming back and the first climb heading out.

The bottom of this descent has a wicked blind turn and if you’re not paying attention you can end up in the trees very easily. At the bottom of the climb before the turn I reeled Equinox in and prepared to make room off the trail so when the team went by they would have a good gap between them and my dog, you only need one team of ten dogs come too close to your dog and turn on him to learn how to keep your distance.

 

I had just started stepping off trail when they hit the turn flying, I barely got Equinox out of the way as the lead dog flew past, tongue flapping in the air and a bunch of other dogs eyeing Equinox carefully as they ripped past, pulling the sled through the turn, the musher was definitely having a blast.

After the commotion passed we slipped off on our slow journey into the short day. The trail was fast and fun with no ruts or grooves to throw me off balance and each kick and glide was wonderful to feel as I eyed the last of the salmon tinted air filtering through the tops of the trees.

 

The day was so pleasant and I couldn’t help but continue to stop to take in this view or that. I meant to ski out the power lines 4 miles out, which is the place where I would normally turn around at but I forgot to bring extra kick wax to put on my ski’s at the turn around, so I knew I would only be going to the quarry at mile 2.5.

What I witnessed at the quarry was nothing less than the most amazing image I could ever imagine. I stood there for five minutes staring at the skyline. I pulled out my cell phone and took some pictures as I had been the whole day. The image doesn’t compare to the grandeur before me. Denali a hundred and twenty miles away is unmistakable with its broad massif dominating the horizon and the rest of the Alaskan Mountain Range stretched out to the east. The sun gently caresses the horizon just slightly floating above the great land before me. The sun won’t rise much more than about ten percent above the horizon for the day and will vanish entirely before 4:00pm.

 

I stood there above the quarry for another ten minutes taking in all the light I could get as well as burning into my mind so that I would never forget it, that was until I saw a very impatient black lab sitting in the snow some hundred feet away very much ready to be off.

As the light began to fade I turned my back to the sun and returned to the trail and began the ski back to the car, the shade deeper between the trees and the cold nipping more on my bare skin. With the coming darkness and as the colder air seeped into four layers of active wear clothing I sensed the world around me, the land that encompasses my life, and I felt electric with every face numbing descent. Back at the car I met a rare friend that I met a few years back and share his love for this place and the unique moment we are experiencing. I’m already looking forward to the next winters solstice, maybe there will be fireworks, otherwise nothing will trump this day.

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