Nov 28 2016

Returning to the Desert

The plan was to fly into Salt Lake City, rent a car and then drive down to Moab, Utah for a few days to take in the sites while running the Dead Horse Ultra 50k.  I was going to car camp while there, cooking camp food and living as sparsely as possible since I was truly broke and the only saving grace for me was a couple of credit cards that still had a bit left on them. I was meeting a friend there that had years more experience running ultras, huge 100 mile ultras and I was looking forward to the shared experience we would have.

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Upon arriving in Moab my plan quickly began to fade, it’s cold in the desert! The steady wind made it feel even more cold and the idea of sleeping in the rental while trying to keep warm and actually enjoy the experience while it’s in the 20’s overnight really started to look like a terrible idea. Over a couple of beers we ended up agreeing to share a hotel room and I was so happy to have a warm room and comfy bed to crawl into after spending the last twenty hours travelling to this desert oasis.

The next day was warmer and sunny as we headed off to Arches National Park to take in some light trail running as a warm up for the trail race the next day. The day ended up being a tour de force of running to as many arches  without exceeding the planned mileage of the day. We cruised in to Delicate Arch and enjoyed the views with about 30 of our closest friends that we have never met, friendly strangers. The sun was warm, the air was still and the views were breath taking. Running out I was bouncing around like a person without a care in the world forgetting the 50k trail race I had bright and early the next morning.20161118_110158

 

Having returned to the parking lot we were jazzed to hit the next place, the Devils Garden and its multitude of arches. We planned on running in to the Double O Arch but the mileage would be too much considering the race in the morning and the need for fresh legs to get us through our respective races, so we settled on hitting a trio of arches, Landscape Arch, Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. Running through this amazing  environment was mind bending in its amazing beauty, even the incredible cold wind couldn’t take the smiles from our faces.

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Driving through the park we kept stopping to check out every little place including Sand Dune Arch, Salt Valley Overlook and The Windows Section with Turret Arch and the North and South Windows. It was early evening by the time we left the park, hungry and thirsty we needed to hit town and call it an early day as we needed to be up at 4:30 in the morning to get to our races on time. Eating dinner at what was becoming our favorite spot to eat, the Moab Brewery we decided to grab another hotel room so we could get a good nights sleep before our races and as it went I then concluded that there was no way I wanted  to sleep in the back of an SUV, trying to recover from a 50k trail race, logic overcame budget and that was that.20161118_123819

The morning came way to quickly and 4:00am was very unwelcome but we had races to run and fun to have! Running through the desert is mind bending and surreal, it felt as if I was becoming a part of the landscape around me. The race was almost secondary to my need to just exist in this moment and savor the incredible world around me. I won’t go into detail about the race, that’s another story all together but it was an incredible life changing experience for me and as I sit here writing this I can think of only getting back out to the desert and wind my way through the desert, just myself and a pair of shoes.20161119_082206

After our races we returned to the hotel, took showers and collected ourselves both chatting about our individual experiences and the way we felt about our performances before heading back in to town for dinner and relaxation. Tomorrow was our last day in Moab, she was heading back to Montana and I would begin the arduous journey back to Alaska so we wanted to make the best of the first half of the day. We decided the best way to end the trip was the way it began and when we first met up here three days ago, we decided to hit the two big parks, Arches and Canyonlands during the visit. With Arches done Canyonlands was next on the list so in the morning we ate breakfast at the EKsentric Café, comedy of its own as we waddled around on stiff legs that haven’t recovered quite yet from racing and running into other runners who were suffering from the same fate. 20161118_124533

The drive south took only about 45 minutes and even in the subdued, overcast skies Canyonlands was spectacular, the vast openness, amazing cliffs and rock formations  were incredible and getting in the scenery around us was nearly impossible without pulling over and staring at the world rather than driving through snapping pictures on the go. We hiked very little, giving our fatigued legs a break and honestly I don’t think I was capable of any extended hiking at all giving the exhausted conditions of my legs anyway. Stopping at the Needles Visitor Center we picked up a map and headed out for the remainder of the road to see what we could see in the limited time we had.

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Stopping at the Pothole Overlook we got a short half mile walk in and were treated to incredible views of the canyon around us, it was a perfect way to spend the day. After visiting the turnout at the end of the road which also included some light walking around it was time to get back in the car and head back to Moab. Driving out of the park was just as surreal as it was driving in and I thought it was funny that I believed that after seeing everything I could see on the drive in that during the drive out everything might lose its unique quality but it didn’t, everything was just as magical the second time around.20161120_111857

Back in Moab we packed up all of our gear, threw everything in our cars, hugged each other goodbye and wished each other the best , getting in our cars we drove down the highway, each in a different direction.  Later in the evening as I was sitting in my hotel room in downtown Salt Lake City I was able to take a breath and reflect on what I have experienced over the last four days, nothing was lost on me as the whole visit and everything that took place really left a mark on me emotionally as well as mentally. There was a time I thought that Alaska was my home for the rest of my life, now I’m not to sure about that but I am sure of one thing and that is that ultramarathons are not just something I am doing now and then, they are becoming more of who I am than anything else and the need to continue it is completely overwhelming.

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I’m learning as I grow, yes I am pretty old to think like that but no matter what age we are at in life, the opportunity to grow and excel continues to drive us and this was a new drive I have been longing for. A new devotion has set in for me and the love for this new world has absorbed every ounce of my being, What this revelation will mean for me is difficult to say, could I be moving in the near future? Possibly, but for right now as I sit here at my table staring out the window and watching it snow, I know that this place, like myself is temporary and there comes a time when you know that you’ve worn out your welcome, for me that time is coming very soon.

 

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Nov 15 2014

Last Chances Never Come to Late

20140903_114231NC!AMoments come to a person while traipsing through a world of boundless possibilities, mostly where that fine line actually lies and where we are limited by what nature has decided we are allowed to be a part. I am not a fan of restriction, of being told no, of being forced to turn away. I can’t accept the power of something else controlling my will and yet this was the outcome just a day ago. Parking the car under ever darkening skies, I put the pack on Equinox and then hefted my own pack. Crossing Nome creek was more of a challenge than it has ever been, swollen and angry it attempted to take out its vengeance on my dog and me but we pulled through. I should have known……….

On the Prindle Mtn trail

The trail began dry and pleasant, but soon after it turned wet and defiant. The land is in flux, some plant life accepting the inevitable have softly turned to a pleasant shade of brown gold. There were light drips on me as I hiked into the increasingly muddy and water logged trail, as each step fell away the water flowed more, the bushes and the stunted trees shed their water on me. I was soaked from head to toe before the rains came so it wasn’t a big change for me. I kept on and then it rained, it down poured, it hailed and the wind made sure I knew whom the boss was. I stood there for quite some time waiting out the driving rain and hail, turned away from the punishing sting of hail.

Once it faded, I moved on the trail now gone and the land begins to revolt against my will to proceed. I crossed a stream that I have known many times but today I didn’t recognize it was so angry, climbing above it I watched it over my shoulder as the next wave of rain enveloped me, and again I stopped, turned away and waited for it to let up. As the rain let up to a light spray a rainbow formed down and away from me up the valley and fell over the Nome Creek, it was beautiful. I went to pull my cell phone out to take a picture but when I went into my sealed gortex shell pocket I found that it was lying in a puddle of rainwater that had forced its way through the watertight zipper.

I continued, I knew that my pack held dry and warm clothes so I ferried on. With each step I moved through the mire of mud and water. However, looking around at the world outside of the hood of my shell it was so very beautiful and the smells were amazing! There then was the half way stream, a stream generally easy to bound across was a stranger, defiant and way over loaded from the recent rains. The couple of braids that made up the stream had been completely overwhelmed and the gentle rest stop stream I knew so well was a hungry thing that did nothing to soften the realization that this was where my will to finish what I started would end and nature had had enough of my intrusion. Sometimes we have to swallow the ego, the will to go through so many barriers and realize that you can only do so much before it is just stupid to continue on, but then there was that moment just before the first drop of rain hit my head…………….

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As the seasons pass from one to another, summer to fall, fall to winter the land itself slowly melts from one form to another and here I find myself again at the trailhead, preparing to cross a much more subdued Nome Creek and taking advantage of a last chance to travel back to the world I love the most. This late in the year it’s early October and I’m treading through the landscape and feeling the soil harden, the streams freeze up and the wildlife going silent I have become numb by the beauty, the temporary transition that I am allowed to wander.

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A land in flux, a life transitioning from one form to a larger understanding and continuing to grow and become more of itself than could ever be understood, has in fact become a stranger to those who thought they knew what it was all about. This is a season that hasn’t quite been normal, a season that has decided that the things of the past aren’t truly what are meant for today or tomorrow.

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Transitioning from one point to the next, following a trail through the hills, across the mountains, fording streams and finding yourself in a land rarely witnessed and most dreamed of, watching it change from what I have always been most comfortable with to a land of unidentifiability is the land that I have lovingly wandered into. The newness of change is always exciting, new and the results are never what we thought they would be, the challenge the evolution of our minds follows the season and with the season we grow and change, growing leaving behind the ashes of yesterday.

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Sep 24 2012

An Afternoon In The Rain

The day began as a drive in the soft fall rain, cruising to the Eagle Summit trailhead was the goal for the day. We weren’t really expecting much with the light wind and drizzly rain that seemingly followed our every move, but to make something out of a day off from work was all that mattered. Windshield wipers set the tone of the drive with their constant back and forth, even the music was subdued by the less than pleasurable mood of the weather today.

We shared a light-hearted banter, laughing about the silly realization that every time we’ve travelled together down this road the weather has been less than ideal. The river flows by seamlessly moving along its own timeline, as does the rest of the world passing by in a blur. The idea was to drive up the Eagle Summit trailhead and hike the Mastodon Dome route if the weather permitted. Well we could tell rather quickly that the weather was going to be less than cooperative.

As we approached the mile 57 marker I realized that  right at that point there is a turn off for the Nome Creek camp ground at the border of the White Mountains State Recreation area, and  I thought that this would definitely be a great replacement to hitting the Mastodon Trail. After a fine outhouse break and short a conversation we headed up the dirt road and over the pass to Nome Creek. It, the short seven mile drive to Nome Creek is always wonderful and spectacular. There was fresh snow on the nearby mountains, reminding me that winter wasn’t too far off and it made my blood boil. I couldn’t wait to set my ski’s down and glide off on the trails.

At the Nome Creek camp ground we wandered about looking at the creeks water level and viewing the incredible hillsides. Turning back to the road we headed out towards Beaver Creek and thought to enjoy the scenery. After passing a point where I last visited and turned around, I had passed into a world where every turn introduced me to something new, fresh. There was a scenic sign just after a corner and I decided to stop to see what it what about. Turned out it was the trailhead for the Table Top Mountain trail, a trail I had read about but really paid no mind to due to its short three mile distance, but considering the weather and the hour of the day being nearly 3:30 in the afternoon I thought it might make for a fun hike.

While we headed out the rain was gentle, with its soft taps on our shells. The trail was a gradual climb that led up the hillside through a burnt out forest of black spruce trees. Tall grass seemed to overgrow the trail during the first mile, there are areas where the fire didn’t touch, islands of beauty and subtlety. A slight stream saturates a well vegetated strip of land that evaporates down below the fields of grasses. Walking around the water I could see the sensitive nature of the world I was invading so I walked softly and left the area as well as I could. The trail meandered up along the hillside, never difficult but a little slippery at times as the rain continued to soak into our shells. Coming over a ridgeline we came out above the protection of the hillside and we were introduced to a driving wind, so it was to be our day.

Stepping on to the saddle of Table Top Mountain the wind sent the light rain directly into our right sides. The trail faded quickly, and we picked our way to the base of the short scree covered slope of the summit, if that’s what it could be called. Table Top Mountain seems less a mountain than a great hill but the views tell me different, rain subsided we look into the distance and the snow capped peaks of the White Mountains knowing that this is a special place and a place to be appreciated.

Retracing our steps down the summit we travelled back across the saddle and descended the slope back down the trail to access the intersection where the trail loops around and returns to the trailhead. Funny as it is for me, that hiking and running have any things that are so similar. Time to think is something both activities allow for you, time to reflect on life and consider the world you exist in. The rain had let up and being below the ridge line the wind was all but gone. We descended the grassy slopes and meandered the burnt out trunks of decaying black spruce trees, but the new growth of life made everything seem reborn.

A mile or so had passed, light humor and conversation has been endless and the rain begins its light serenade on the landscape. The trail is more manicured with rock walls at little turns and miniature streams running down the side of the trail. With the car looming in the distance and the last half mile to go I dreaded returning to the car, this is the world I love and stepping out of this world and into the car will return me to responsibility and the day-to-day grind. With a mind full of thought, I pointed the car towards home and reflected on the trail and the afternoon’s experiences, remembering that returning to home is a merely a moments pause before I head back out to fulfill the next journey.

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Jan 29 2012

Finding Myself

As time has gone by and I through time, I’ve looked inward to myself and the person I have transitioned into. Having spent these last few years engrossed in the advancement of my experiences on the trail, I have learned a great deal about the land about me, and even more about myself. More people think I’m crazy than those that understand my devotion to the world I live in. For those that can’t comprehend why I love the trails and allow myself to “suffer” as it were on those freezing winter trails, I try to show them in the pictures or videos I take.

Certain forms of contemplation confront me during the mid-winter; trails I am travelling on aren’t just winter trails to me as they have been in the past. I know what these trails look like in the summer; I know what is living beneath the snow. Now and not as before I think about the floral and fungal life still living beneath the snow that I am enjoying, the plants are hibernating and are completely healthy but I can’t help wonder what will come of this six-month sleep the life below the snow is in.

I have only been skiing half as much as I usually do this winter; the responsibilities of life have been pushed to the front of my time against my will. I am spending more time just walking the trails, mostly at night with Equinox bounding away out of the view of my headlamp. However, not being able to ski every day as I love to do hasn’t really hurt me as I thought it might. In previous winters I have ski’d every day humanly possible and even some days that most humans would shut their door to and cuddle up to a warm fire.

Only one thing bothers me when I go out to ski when it reached temperatures below -20 degrees, the snow is unbearably slow. I can handle the cold air with clothing, with gear that covers my face and anything that is exposed to the severe cold, but the colder it gets the dryer the snow becomes. When the temperature drops below -20 degrees the snow becomes very course and ski’s lose their glide and a ski trip out on the trail essentially becomes a walk on ski’s.

Now when the temperature drops to cooler temperatures I just go for a walk, skiing would be slower anyway. I feel impatient at times with this slow mode of movement through a world that I usually kick and glide. The wilderness along the trails don’t care how I travel and neither does my spirit, I am a part of the world there knowing that I have that connection changes my entire outlook on the world around me.

I was skiing the other day, videotaping a moment on the trail to share with people who want to see the world as I do, well I was standing in the middle of a lengthy bit of overflow ice, walking along talking about the area and the ice conditions when my ski boots finally slipped on the ice and I fell to the ice. There I was laying on the ice in the middle of the trail a mile and a half from anywhere with my gear flung about with reckless abandon, me laughing my butt off at myself for looking like such a fool. A thought came to mind, what a moose hiding in the bushes might think of humans as that moose watched me flounder about the ice just to roll around creating that irritating noise.

We judge quality of life, success in life by material gain in a human society. The wilderness see’s success as surviving to see tomorrow, taking advantage of every moment that presents itself and appreciating the world around me knowing that this is a special place. Successful living for me is finding a place I love and living in that place, experiencing the world in a natural way, not controlled by social pressure. However, that is something that anybody that has a bad job doesn’t need to be preached to.

It, the whole of every aspect of the wilderness experience is everything that creates a specific quality in my life. The quality of appreciation is about understanding how life works, how we no longer are allowed to exist in nature because of what we have done to it. Being allowed to appreciate the natural world to feel it in your heart and breathing it in with every beat is a gift very few are allowed. Wandering the trails unhindered is a level of acceptance that even less understands, those that do aren’t sitting here typing on a laptop.

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Dec 18 2011

White Mountains

Frustration has been clouding my mind these past few weeks with a total inability to conceive a single abstract thought to put down on paper. I have had wonderful days exploring my world on my ski’s with Equinox beside me to share the experience, adventures everyday but not even the smallest word refused to erupt from my mind to help me explain the world around me, the experience I envelope myself with, what it does and means to me. These past few weeks, almost a month now have been a nightmare of infertility.

I venture out daily in pursuit of inspiration to put pen to paper, after hours of skiing on the trail, exhausted and stunned I couldn’t bring to words the images and environment I’ve just been witness. Today on this winters Solstice I travelled to the White Mountains to ski in to a place known as “Lee’s Cabin”. It is a mild seven mile ski in, but the views and the world around you are stunning, this being only the second time I will have ski’d in to the cabin the experience is fresh and new like the ski above that had been hidden from me for the last couple weeks.

The wonderfully soft glow of the afternoon sun sits low on the horizon its light filtering through the twisted, and warped snow-covered black spruce trees. The snow glowed from the low angle of the sun’s light and it seemed even the shadows refuse to be left out from the gentle and warm gift, myself absorbing every ray of light into my heart and mind. The world around me is two worlds living in tandem, the land around is silent and still, as lifeless as any world could possibly be in the dead of winter yet this place lives.

Animals tracks are everywhere, squirrels, shrews, snowshoe hare, red fox, moose, tracks ramble and flit from one way to the next always it seemed a hurry but the moose and fox tend to step with purpose, relevance, thought. The trees watch me, study me, wondering, considering me, coming to mind of whether I am a friend or foe, a lover of this world treating it with respect, or am I a user of the world inconsiderate of the this magical place.

The snow crunches and gives beneath my ski’s as I glide within and through the wilderness about me. The first couple of miles has a grueling climb followed by a wonderful decent that is followed by a fabulous casual ski up to the first knob just four miles or so in to the trail. The view from that sheepish knob provides a wonderful view of the trail ahead and the land that has enveloped me. Soft descending through a dazzling forest of spruce lead to a very stressful climb to the high point of the day, almost five miles in. The climb isn’t so brutal in its sheer steepness as such, but the length tends to weigh heavy on the shoulders after a spell.

The wilderness falls away in only the way a romantic could perceive it, mountains hug the horizon to the north, the Wickersham Dome looms in the distance behind me, and the White Mountains Recreation area falls away before me. We lead off and glide down the wonderful heart lifting decent down the backside of the hill and before I knew it I had arrived at the junction the forks off to the Wickersham Creek Trail to the left and Lee’s Cabin to the right. We had been following two other skiers’ tracks for the whole day, and now those tracks turned and angle to the cabin as well. For not being one to intrude on some bodies privacy and wilderness experience, we called it a day at the sign that directs you one hundred yards up to the cabin itself.

Light has receded as an afterthought, and my headlamp has found its use to my need. The light was just enough to guide the way but the detail of the trail is lost in the increasing darkness that closes in on my shoulders. My dog and I laugh and play on the long and fast descent, trees flashing past; the snow beneath me has become more of a blur of white than a plain of substance. With each enlightening descent brought with it an ever-increasing onset of fatigue as the next climb would wear me down and the miles bore into more and more.

Equinox was on-line pulling and we skijored our way up the last few miles to return to the trailhead when at last we finally ran into people heading in on their snow machines. They moved off to the side yielding to the dog and I and we swiftly glided past with a hardy wave of hands and smiles gleaming in the darkness. Friends of the trail without ever having truly spoken, but with the like understanding of how special the world is we live in and the need to be there drives us.

 

 

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Nov 8 2011

Questions

I want to know why winter affects me the way it does, how it has such a controlling grasp on every sense of my being. The first dusting
of snow is an alarm clock waking me up from a summer’s sleep, no matter where I am, I can’t stop staring out the window. Just as autumn has dazzled me with its brilliance fall came along and depressed my thoughts, my imagination, my internal eye, everything. The snow falls and finally sticks to the earth, the sun is rising less and less each day and the color palate is becoming more refined, pure and distinct.

During the summer, I can’t stop staring down to the ground, all consumed by the wonderful life successfully growing and living on the forest floor. The fungi, lichen, mosses, tiny little freaky flowers that litter the tundra on the barren hills of my world fascinate me, and identifying each and every one of them is intoxicating. As winter dawns, the snow falls, all the land and plants I treasure have been locked up for the unforeseeable future and all I can think about is when the next snow fall will occur and how long it will take for the snow to accumulate and fill in the trails making them accessible for me to ski and explore.

For reasons unknown to me, I always feel a sense of urgency when I travel on the trails during winter. Not in such a way that I need to
hurry because the day is short, or I’m getting tired, maybe low on water, or I’m soaked through from sweat and it’s getting cold out. No, it’s something outside of the typical and ordinary sense, in fact something non-physical all together. Out on the trail that sense of urgency is more of a drive that burrows into the inner self of my being. Here is a drive with a voice that speaks to me quite often, and most times is but a whisper, a whisper in my ear: “pick up the pace, you need to see what just past these trees and around that corner”.

Every time I get through those trees, every time I get around that corner I see the trail meander off into the distance and through more trees or climbing up the hillside and around the next corner. Every time I reach that place that only I can hear, that voice of urgency calls on me to continue on before it’s all gone. Dreams constantly interrupt my daily goings, fantasies of deep snow packs, trees heavily laden with snow, the frigid air still and creating a canvas of colors and imagery with every turn of the trail. Every place that the woods would relent and the valley view is exposed allowing me a picture of the wide spaces that I crave for.

The season between seasons offers none of the romance that I can find during the winters season. This place between fall and winter,
a place with no name is cruel, and un-imaginative. From summer to fall there is autumn with its amazing colors, temperate weather and reflective air of transformation. What grasp has winter woven into my being? What is it that makes winter such a core of my inner self that I can’t comprehend a life without it?

I have the questions, the understanding to consider my reality, the intelligence to know that though this season can be ugly, cold, cruel, and that I will experience weeks of uninterrupted darkness and a cold that will keep me locked up in my cabin. Winter can and will beat itself upon my bones and will, but I still drive to be out there, less people walk outsides and fewer will wander past their car doors from the house door.

I’ll be left in the kitchen with the rug rolled up in the corner, my ski’s laying over a couple of shop horses. I’m pacing back and forth from the ski’s to the ski supply box attempting to determine with wax combination will create the best glide and survive the longest in the -20 air and snow with the consistency of sand. Choosing the right kick wax will be the difference between secure forward propulsion and flailing mercilessly out in the middle of nowhere.

Winter grips my heart, tearing away the fabric of everything that I think I am. Just when I think I understand how I am adapting to the why’s and how’s of what winter does to me, everything bites me in the butt. The winters are beginning later and later every year, the snowfall is less and less every year, and winter is warmer and warmer every year. I live in the moment of the season and love what I have, having less of the year makes it more special to me than not having it at all, I am what is around me and what is around me is all that I can be.

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Oct 23 2011

A Sense Of Winter

I went for a short hike across the valley today, sunny but cool it seemed like a fine day to for me to wander out on the trails.
Trails that wander across the valley are very a way of wet bog like conditions, something not less than testing during the summer have become quite solid and freezing with the coming season encroaching from the distance. Across the valley, the air is becoming much more silent, and thickening with the retreat of living things. With winter yet more than a month away the stillness and peace that winter brings is becoming more noticeable these last few days.

As the land begins to prepare to hibernate for the coming months ahead, everything around me is going to sleep, pulling the covers over
their heads for a six month nap. I feel a stirring inside myself that is quickly awakening, like a slumbering grizzly shaking off the uneasy tiredness of a long sleep. I recognize a new energy growing within myself, a sense of oneness of my-self and the land about me. Jumping around the black spruce trees and foraging about the lichens and mosses that have become frozen monuments to a late season bloom I sense the change that is looming on the horizon.

All of the sloughs and ponds have a thin shell of ice forming on the surface; it is funny that it wasn’t there yesterday. The land during the summer is bloated and lazy without care of need; everything necessary to live has overgrown the very land it feeds. The shrinking land has atrophied and degenerated to the meekest of nature’s true character, I have to travel into special places to feel as if the world around me is still alive and well. The trails most near to me offer very little for living things, the views are less than tedious.

Snow teases the land, casually covering the soil with a sheet of white that quickly melts off by mid-day. A taste and smell of snow energizes me in ways that don’t seem familiar to me, every winter I am becoming more and more hungry for the cold, the shorter days and the incredible trails. I run on the trails every chance I get especially with the little bit of temporary snow that has settled on the ground. Being active on the trails, running as it is this time of year connects me to the land in such a way that the activity is merely an excuse to head out on the trails in the first place. Even as the light short-lived snow survives, the character of the dormant world around me stands up seemingly welcoming the inevitable season soon to come. The season is always in transition, blink and the world around me has transformed completely.

All the signs of what awaits for tomorrow is evolving quickly and I can’t keep up. A splattering of snow covers the ground for a small time before melting away into the soil, and yet days later and just as I had begun the give up hope, in the middle of October the snow arrives furious and vengeful taking over the landscape. The snow smothers the soil with only a couple of inches of cover but suffocates the world with its weight, the land suddenly collapsed upon itself instinctually realizing who the new master is.

The air cools rapidly, the grasses collapse and the trees sleep, all attempting to catch up with the late arrival of winter. Times are changing, the world is evolving and the seasons can’t be trusted to act as predictably as they have in the past. Winter is beginning later every year, the temperature has warmed significantly over the last seven years that I’ve lived here. In years past, we would regularly see the temperature drop to -50 degrees Fahrenheit and occasionally down to -60 here and there, but recently in the last couple of years we haven’t seen temperatures below -48 degrees.

Snowfall has decreased significantly and if we see a couple of feet of snow all year, we will be lucky. As climate change continues on the
land attempts to evolve and adapt to the nature of the seasons baring witness to this amazing world is my goal, living in it is my dream, and being a part of the season is what I am.

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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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Sep 1 2011

Poop On A Log

I love the feeling of good soil beneath my feet, the soles of my shoes can transmit every nuance of the ground upon which I step.
Firm but at the same time there is give, subtle and gentle I can feel each step and it’s warming to me like walking through the front door of home after being away for a long while. Walking along one of my favorite trails, favorite not for the run, favorite not for the challenge, and favorite not for the distance, not indeed anything that you might think but favorite for the quality of experience. This trail is magical in its short-lived beauty, it‘s subtle nature and how it shows that it knows that you aren’t really out in the depths of the
wilderness but if you were, if you were this is sort of how it would be.

This soft and well-travelled trail isn’t special or unique, but it is enjoyable all in one, for this place enliven the senses with wonderful woods and musty soil odors. A wonderful abundance of nature shrouds the trail for its singular short length, walking along this trail causes a pause in the mind-set, every turn of the head produces a new image in the mind. I think these feelings brings back memories for me in a place I once knew and once loved, shared with the one person I loved most, both are gone now.

There is a place along the trail that is quite ordinary, a dried up creek with several different channels. This creek is a temporary
waterway, buried beneath the watchful eyes of the birch and black spruce trees. Rose Hips vines, horsetail grass and all other manner of green things living carpet the constricted area. Created by seasonal snowmelt, when the water has no place else to go it follows this temporary stream provided by the forest. There’s energy in there that I can feel, every time I pass be it running, walking or skiing I always come to a moment of pause and glance into that little pocket of awareness. For some unusual reason, when I continue on I always feel refreshed and renewed, ready to see everything in a new light.

Tree roots crisscross the trail and a multitude of different species of mushrooms litter the trails length. I always consider all views and perspective of things I witness in my world, the mushroom has become an odd partner in my experiences, their view(if they had the conception and ability for vision and the intelligence to understand the world around them)interests me. Maybe the view that they have might, in turn help me understand my world and how I view it. Size after all is relative and how I see my world is only a few feet higher
than how my fine little fungi friends perceive their world, again if they could in fact do such a thing.

The micro-world of the vegetative life is amazing in its complexity and diversity, the human race could stand to learn from such an amazing organism. We all live to see our lives progress as successful as possible and regardless of what that progression is surviving to see things through is something all species on this planet share. Life on the trail is no different, for humans, animals or for plant life.

All things positive occur on the trail, nothing negative happens here and as long as I have been travelling this way I have always been greeted by smiling faces and tongue drooping dogs. This trail is like many of other trails in the interior but for me having a trail like this right outside my door changes my perspective of  a certain quality.

Regardless of the season, I find myself returning to this little trail and exploring the birch tree forest that the trail penetrates. Sunlight always finds a way to filter through the branches and leaves of the birch trees, striking the trail at one angle or another leaving a wonderful soft glow on the ground that I now travel. The trail gently guides you to an abrupt pause as you come out of the trees and on to an Alaska Railroad access road (dirt road) and if you run across this barrier, the trail continues for and additional half mile before splintering off in several directions. One of those directions being the winter trail that casually directs you back on to the Dunbar Trail. If you decide to stop at the railroad “road” a fun little trail leads to a wonderful pond always filled with a collection of ducks and a pair of very moody swans.

During the fall, the brilliant yellow leaves of birch trees carpet the trail in an insane version of the yellow brick road. The reds and yellows of fall create an “Alice in Wonderland” type of feel. The amazing feeling I get from travelling on this trail can only be described as if I am crawling from bed on a winters morning and going down to the living room just to be warmed by a wood stove and a hot cup of coffee. The comforts of a warm and comfortable place, the familiarity of home is a sensation felt anywhere that we choose if we spend enough time there.

So here I am entering into the trail that most satisfies my immediate needs and there is a fallen birch tree log, out of this log is growing a mushroom a genus of which I’ve yet to identify, but that isn’t the point of which piqued my curiosity. What most caught my attention on this log, which encompassed a protruding mushroom, was in fact topped with poop and something I would like to have understood. Some creature, quite possibly a fox felt it necessary to leave his “matter” on this lowly log, that just happens to have a lovely mushroom attached to the end of it, hmmmm.

A trail is always nothing more than a trail, a feeling is nothing more than a feeling, and a unique place that can alter our perception
about the reality we live in is a special thing. A special thing is just what I have outside my window, a window that opens up for a view inside of me just as I look out that window to find myself.

 

 

 

 

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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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