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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May 18 2011

A Reflective Homecoming

I’ve become very complacent as of late since my return from my experience outside. I’ve had
time to consider what being there may have meant to me, and how it may or may
not have changed me. I thought of how returning to Alaska would be this
enormous homecoming, the vast region of hills that I live in just north-west of
Fairbanks envelope me, the woods of the birch trees blanket me with welcome,
and a rejoiced feeling would warm my heart.

What in fact I did experience upon my return was more of a feeling of reunion with an old
friend. It felt like it did a long time ago when I returned to my old high
school after having been gone for about ten years. The memories of moments I
experienced become fresh and new, as if they occurred just recently.

Driving down the road from the airport, I had a friend drive for me as I expected that I
would rubberneck every twist and turn of the road. It was a homecoming, it was
a reflection of things that I witnessed or something that I was a part of like
the trails that no longer have snow on them and are no longer passable yet I
was just skiing on them a couple  of months ago before I got on the plane to Texas.

It is so odd that even though I was gone for only six weeks, it seemed as if I was gone for
a year. Having been home now for ten days it still seems surreal to be home
again, I stare at the still bare branches of the birch trees with the tips of
the branches just beginning to show the buds that will soon become leaves that
will be a vibrant lime green. I think it is very flattering that spring decided
to wait until I returned home and settled in before exploding on to the scene.

Spring is swiftly gobbling up winter’s leftovers, the pathetic patches of snow that cower
in the shadows of trees and ditches on the roadside are disappearing as I watch
them. The ground is still matted, brown and dead, waiting for the moment when
new life will erupt from the withered refuse of last year’s growth. I spent the
day wandering down a trail I ski on in the winter and run on later in the
summer, it was so drab and unassuming I was wondering if I would be able to
forget this place whenever I chose to move on. Today answered that question for
me as I was running down the road from my home. It was an education for me
because as I was running down the road under an amazing spring sun and clear
skies, the world around me whistled and sang with the life of the birds. The
trees just beginning to expose the buds of new leaves sit idle in preparation
of the great show that is soon to come.

Seven miles down the road at the ponds, Equinox and I traipse about the shore of the ponds
swimming in the warm sunlight absorbing the energy and loving the life that is
flourishing around us. I walked about the shore while Equinox went for a dip
all the while an angry seagull lay strafe to the dog’s head, trying to protect
his or hers nearby nest. Silly as it is, it was just a training run that would
take a couple of hours to complete but the time I spent on the road really opened
my eyes again just as this land tends to do when you stray a bit from the trail
or path you’re following. This place calms the soul, sharpens the mind and
rejuvenate the self within you.

After the training run, I found my way into town to visit the weekend farmers market, and
upon running into friends within the little stands that held knickknacks,
homegrown produce and other foods. People wandered about happily in the sun
with the annoying first generation of mosquitos buzzing around drunkenly
bumping into whatever is in the way.

The market was closing but I found the person I was looking for in a nick of time. We
talked for a while and laughed at things that truly are wonderful, these people
and this place is something I could duplicate anywhere. This homecoming was
somewhat awkward and complex just as my departure had been, the difference
being that I am a child to this place and this place is my mother. Good mothers
always take care of their children………..

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Apr 22 2011

This Place In Time

Out of the most irritating of inconveniences, I have been thrust into an alien world. I had managed to substitute the well-travelled trails of the valleys and hills of home for concrete walking paths, well placed trees, the manicured lawns of cookie cut houses and endless strip malls filled with retail businesses that I will surely never have any interest in. Each day that I expose myself to the harsh heat of the sun and the unrelenting wind that seems to have no end in sight I become more alien to this place, this place that has no identity. The multitude of people who choose to exist in this place baffle me, there’s nothing here, nothing outdoors, nothing indoors, nothing in the way of excitement of any conceivable means of any kind. Yet here are these people who live day in and day out with apparently no change in sight.

As each day gets hotter than the last, I find myself cowering in my hotel room more and more. I’ve closed the curtains in an attempt to block the slightest beam of light from piercing my dark crypt and hide in the cool air of the air conditioning patiently waiting for night to come and lift me from the life sucking heat of mid-day. I have no care for what is taking place out there in the heat, on the roads and in the stores. It seems there isn’t much more to it than that as I can see the fools that tread out into the high sun and how miserable they all look. If I must I will travel out into that insanely bright sun to get in a run and in the way feel better for all the squatting I have been involved with in my room.

I thought about attempting to blend in with the people who live here but after much consideration, deliberation, contemplation the idea was simply self-defeating.   Nobody here really is interested in who you are only why you’re here. They seem to dismiss me as soon as they meet me, maybe in a way of not getting to know me because they know I’ll be gone soon. I’ve got plenty of time to come to some sense of an idea about what this place is about, as it is though I haven’t got a clue.

Another storm front is headed this way, on top of the hot weather, unstoppable wind and complete flatness of the region another extreme wall of thunderstorms are headed this way. I didn’t sleep through the last storm that wrecked this place. God I miss the snow and the still cold of the Alaskan interior.

Each day is never-ending, slowly melding one day into the next. It doesn’t matter if I get in a great run, or discover a new street to drive down with new stores to see. It’s all the same for me and it kind of depresses me because the people here really are wonderful and they love where they live, and that’s where the confusion begins for me.

As the days stretch out and pass, the weeks seem to be getting shorter maybe out of some idiosyncratic method that is just beginning to make itself known to me. Things are becoming clearer and other things are causing problems for me. For the last few weeks I have been living with the thought that every second that I am away from home in this place is time wasting away for me. I sit in my hotel room and do nothing, I get up the next day and go to work and do my time training and learning, as is expected of me. After work, and some days before work I go for a run, not just any run but training runs to get ready for races back in Alaska.

Somewhere along the way I have gotten comfortable here, developed a daily routine and even go out for a drive here and there. How is it that my mind has adapted to these foreign experiences to make living here easier on me emotionally?

With less than two weeks to go until I head home it dawns on me that if I was staying in a house and had my dog here I could become comfortable here, so strange that seems to me. This plain an ordinary place same as everywhere else tornado warnings and messy thunderstorms aside has become rather acceptable to me and I don’t understand why. I think if I had long enough to explore the region more and get more involved in the activities that are available here, the golf or races to be ran I could find my place here.

All this sounds well and good but facts are facts, my home is in the true north and my living and breathing is the air of Alaska. The weeks are now getting shorter and the days longer as the anticipation builds up until the day I drive to the airport and fly back to my home and all that matters to me. All that matters to me is the life I already have, there really is no need to change now but then I’m always up for adding a bit here and there now and then.

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Apr 4 2011

Wandering Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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