Essays


 

Detour, Seward's Folly


 

 

"Anchoring at some distance from the steep and rocky cliffs before him, Tschirikow sent his mate with the long boat and ten of his best men, provided with small arms and a brass canon, to inquire into the nature of the country and to obtain fresh water. The long boat disappeared in a small wooded bay and was never seen again."

 

Charles Sumner

In his speech on the cession of Alaska to the United States

 

 

I pucker my lips and psssh psssssh psssh towards the trees surrounding my hostess’s gardens. There are spindly saplings of unknown heritage mixed with small fir trees and spruce. These trees look positively insect free. No grasshoppers bound from them. No moths flutter. Though I am told the Spruce Beetle was the demise of all the dead trunks and brownish spruce spires I see here and all over the Anchorage landscape. No insects are visible anyway. But down come the chickadees at my pishing, all chattering and dee-dee-deeing around me. I like to make the birder’s pishing noise in just about every place that I wander outside of Arkansas. To see what happens, to see what comes forth, by God. In the tropics it was useless. Motmots could give a damn what I did. Nothing paid any attention in the jungle except for a few Chestnut-sided Warblers. Here in the far north, the chickadees positively swarm. And they are not my chickadees. That is to say, not the same ones that I know from home. These are the Black-capped Chickadees. They descend south as far as the middle of Missouri but essentially never wander further south from there into Arkansas where we have only the smaller, cleancut Carolina Chickadee.

 

These birds are larger. The throat markings are fuller and somewhat more jagged, like the painter was sloppier at the throat. The white line on the secondaries is not subtle, it is harsh and prominent, a slash across the wing. The vocal chatter seems the same however. One tries to land on my hat and thinks better of it. They are incensed by my noise. Offended. Nine or ten chickadees appear, along with some bedraggled looking Kinglets. The Ruby-crowned Kinglets must molt up here in Alaska because at home they are always sleek and streamlined. These are backblown and patchy things. And very quiet. They give me the close beady eye beneath their bad, bad hair days.

 

 

Large baskets of Fuchsia hang around the eves of the bed and breakfast home where we are staying. Striking things, beyond my own gardening skills. The flowering plants here in the far north are often gargantuan. The place is known for its cabbages the size of small mobile homes. At one stop we find Begonias that are so large I gape. They are known as dinner plate Begonias I learn later. Even my hostess has failed to get them that large. Here at her place though there is a Dutchman’s Breeches that is seven feet across in the full diameter of its whole leafy mass. I stare at it. I watch for movement. Nothing, absolutely nothing is pollinating it. I want to do some pinky work. Some sexual transfer work in the Dutchman’s Breeches while no one is looking. Okay, that sounds a bit suspect. But I can be a pollinator. I know I can. I remember a friend who created floral varieties as a sideline. Had to cover the sexual parts and uncover them. He had a big glove shaped like a bee that he did his hand pollination with. I think he is rich now. The Dutchman’s Breeches plant just sits there regally at the base of some deck stairs. I hope they don’t try fertilizing any carnivorous plants up here. One of the Fuchsias nearby actually has a woody trunk. And so many purple-red flowers it is hard to believe. I touch at several of these luscious plants during the week of my stay to check for plastic fakery. I can’t be convinced. But I find no faux flowers all week. The Fuchsia blooms blow at my feet when I sit on the deck and have coffee (excellent black coffee) in the morning. They actually pile up. My daughter cocks one over her ear. The color reflecting on her cheek. It is a profligate flora on the deck, banking their dropped blood blooms on the bricks like so much trash. The breezes spin them in circles, cluttering the extraneous dazzle. It is dazzling pools of this intense color of, well, fuchsia, dammit. That IS where it gets its name.

 

The road south from Anchorage is winding and frankly breathtaking. A freshwater marsh stretches east in the first five miles. It appears to have been created by the roadway itself sometime in the past. The ducks gather there. Mallards mostly. And I forget that in Alaska the males have lost their green heads. They all look maternal, though the males are still darker. The youngsters are wary behind the adults. I find one male with the shadows of greenishnish coming back on. We walk the boardwalk from the marsh parking lot. In the brush are Redpolls, a northern finch and scores of Yellow-rumped Warblers. Yellowlegs wade the shallows and talk. And, over by the roadway, where the stream runs out of the trapped marsh under the road itself, salmon have gathered. Masses of Silver females and males and mixed with them are the great red Chinooks. Fantastic things, jockeying for position in the clear water. It is salmon running time in many places that we venture during the week.

 

From the hillside above the road where you can stop and PAN FOR GOLD (a large lettered banner) the bay and mountains stop all my thoughts. The water out there never seems to be at rest. Tidal motion seems continuous, though the arrangement of bays and waterways is confusing. The moon just pulls at everything and the water tries to get out or in or around whatever is out there. Get out of the way. Something is always in the way. Occasionally we pass great sudden wave washes from I don’t know where. It is not a swimmer’s landscape. The goldpanning tourist spot we stop at was raided early in the morning by Black Bear. Not clear whether this is singular or plural. We just missed him or her or them. The dog chased the bears off. Apparently many dogs up here are just for that: bear guards. The tenants remembered to bring in their garbage but forgot to take their popcorn machine in for the night. One is supposed to enjoy popcorn while panning I presume. But anyway, this is not something one should ever forget in Alaska, your popcorn machine or your garbage in the night. Down the slope from the gift shop and the panning area, an outhouse sits. I can’t imagine it stays out of the snow for long in the winter. I am not sure of the logistics of toiletry in the far north. I picture someone bolstering themselves in the 40 below night and shrieking wind to reach the outhouse in January. Perhaps one digs it out all winter, keeping the access open. I don’t know. Perhaps one abandons all urination in the deep cold. There is an old mine shaft just past the outhouse. And some semblance of an aging vegetable garden. Around the other outbuildings Fireweed grows in great stalks anywhere the sun shines. It is the roadside purple of southern Alaska.  

 

 

Glacial ice is blue blue blue. If you have forgotten that or not seen it yet. I remember it from childhood. Still it is a shocking color. Faded in my memories to just blue blue. Vaguely, I remember reading something about the pressure dynamics of ancient ice, the spectrum of colors narrowed by the intense densities involved. Physics can be distracting, half remembered or otherwise. Glacial shrapnel floats on the lake. Wind blowing. Ravens ripping towards green mountains. The sky cracks open now and then and stabs us all with light. The glacier is much more distant than it used to be. It once came right down to the Portage visitor center. Now it peeks from the mountain, bayed by all of our somewhere smoking necessities, our fuming exhaust pipes and billowing stacks, the beast CO2 invisibly trying to take something away from a simple moment in the mountains.

 

William Seward bought the place essentially. (Well, of course, not with his own money.) He inspired the purchase of the whole great banana of Alaska. And I don’t think he ever saw it. Maybe I am wrong. I don’t think so though. It was a monumental adventure to go see Alaska back then. The sea the only entrance. The sea dangerous even on its best behavior. The northern seas are just never on good behavior. William convinced the Russians to let the place go, the Russians who were desperate for cash, and who thought Great Britain was going to take the place by force eventually anyway. And he convinced our fine representatives in Congress to put out the money (though it took a year of legislative rangling). It cost seven point two million dollars (famously). Single houses in Hollywood sell for far more now. Nike pays Tiger this much in sixty days for wearing a check mark on his shirt. Two cents an acre. Good job William.

 

We wander the roads southward on our first full day in Alaska. We go farther south than the gold panning spot. It is hard to make good roadtime though when you can pull off the road anywhere and just gawk like a drugged man at mountains and more mountains and all of that sky. Bald Eagles sprinkle the landscape. Occasionally a Golden Eagle also stands around. “So much to eat, so little time.” Ravens and Magpies. Magpies looking for all the world like the small butlers of ravens. And up here also are my Hermit Thrushes. And a newly minted Swainson’s Thrush. They look out of place in spruce trees. But of course they are really out of place in the oaks near my home. This is the true thrush place: dense coniferous forest.

 

 

Without a definite agenda, we wind down valleys and over big clear rivers to a town called Hope. It is a town which is impressively nowhere. Across a valley of water and light that I can hardly believe, we had seen it from the other side of the long bay we skirted all morning but did not know its name. It was a white patch of spilled legos at the base of more mountains. Up close, it appears to be a place built solely on this river that salmon run up. A river that barrels out of low forest and splays itself in several dissemblances into wet rocks and then ocean. It is all humans and salmon and sea gulls. Children and women and dogs weave among men whipping long leashes of weighted hooks. One does not tempt spawning salmon to bite, remember, they do not eat during this time. One whips or snags across their silvered bodies and fights them out of the swift water. The clockwork lashings are spaced fifteen feet apart down all the sections of the falling water in Hope. I fear for eyes and skin, for protruding ears. This must be the land of emergency room visits for treble hook imbeddings. One man swings a fly rod. The gulls walk in between. Here and there the orange roe of salmon is spattered on the ground. Some of the large silver fish are released. Some are not. Some, I guess, are gutted right there where they are spilled from the cold water. It is mysterious. In detail it is madness, but in full appreciation it is unexplainably wondrous and sad.

 

 

Children are allowed to handle the fish, to release them. Children who are also walking among the whiplash metal skyhooks. Some of the children barely sized for such fish, for such a task. At any given moment one or two fish are being dragged into the light by the anglers within my sight. I have fished. I have even salmon fished. But I have no urge at all now to this kind of thing. I watch the birds instead. They know a good gathering of human madness and wastefulness when they see it. They snatch at roe and innards. The larger Glaucous-winged Gulls eye the smaller children when they stray too far. I have mixed feelings about the image in my head of a child being borne away by a gull from all this. Daily Globe: Child Raised by Gulls Found on Seashore. I step over the black stones out toward the sea, where the humans thin out and even more gulls amass. The water becomes the more dominant noise out there. And suddenly, from the sea, two Surf Scoters, those dark, deep water ducks come zipping up, weaving among zinging wires and weights and dogs and all else, miraculously unsnagged as they pass and land in the rough water above the last fisherman. I hold my breath until they fall unscathed into the rapids and vanish.

 

Inside the Seaview Café in Hope, Alaska, the décor is marine antique. Book shelves filled with mariner stories, fly tying instruction, whaling lore, field guides for salmon and, of course, Moby Dick. It appears to be a shack built a hundred years ago of painted pine plank, or fir or something indelibly woody. The menu is simple. The chowder is possibly the best I have ever tasted, with chunks of halibut in the white cream of corn and pepper. Alaskan beer allows me to think more clearly. And I think more clearly for awhile. The air has affected me as well. Everyone looks happier than we usually are allowed to be. For dessert, a salmonberry and rhubarb pie a la mode with homemade crust. Surely this is a rare pie anywhere. I could love a woman who can make this pie. Makes me forget the traffic jam of fishermen for the rest of the day. The mountains are hidden from me inside the café. We can see out on the decking where they are setting up for Hope nightlife: beer and dancing, I think it must be. It could be anywhere outside. The world is everything that is the case. Ah, Wittgenstein.

 

 

Stoeckl was the Russian who Seward bartered with for the big Alaskan territory. The deal was sealed at 9AM on March the 30th. This is now a state holiday in Alaska known as Seward’s Day. The price worked out to about 1.9 cents an acre, or a hundred acres for two dollars. That whole great bay view at Hope went for about 4 bucks. Damn. Alaska is twice the size of Texas. And if you have ever driven across Texas, this is saying something. The New York papers were generally irritated about the money spent for this faraway land apparently. We were already ‘burdened with territory.’ One paper said the Alaskan landscape was a ‘sucked orange’ already, all the furbearing animals hunted out and sold off. Most of the land ‘not worth taking as a gift.’ This from New Yorkers and Bostonians who had never ventured there. We are mostly a pile of fools when we gaze at our history. Lord.

 

I saved one day for the sea. Though my family was all very wary of possible seasickness. They had all been given the chance not to go. It was not conscription. So we came prepared with little patches for them that go behind the ear for motion sickness. Clear circlets that looked like shaving cut covers, they really don’t look like much, you know, against what the sea could do to you. My daughter did not seem confident in them. And to top it off, we had to leave very early for the coast. Not in darkness though. It is only dark in summertime Alaska for about three hours each night in July. It was a sustained morning light otherwise. And my copilot father and I were the only ones being tempted by the light. The rest were struck stone sleepy in the back. Beauty zipping by. We had to focus on the road ahead. Not stop. Don’t stop. The road to Seward is a stunner. Alluring. Deep mountain lakes next to the road. A river valley takes you to the sea and it is all terraced, expansive lakes dotted with small villages. We zipped by one lake that had shed its misty shell only about thirty yards into the air. A little ghostly cast of the whole lake hovered like a skin that was lit by morning light. Red-breasted Mergansers cut the mist with their wings, spiraling wingdraft behind them that caught more light. Somehow, we kept going.

 

The town of Seward is named, of course, for William. As I said, he did not see the place. Ever. Probably not even a photo. Not in the late 1800s. But Seward is a harbor surrounded by the support services for a harbor. About 3000 people live there through the whole year. (A single Alaskan cruise boat could double that.) Hardiness is required for six months of the year. In summer it is cool. In winter it is, well, let’s stick with ‘requires hardiness.’ Two restaurants stay open for the duration of the windy icy winter I was told. The bakery that was the meeting place on this day was bustling at 7 AM. Coffee and eggs and large sweet things were hurrying out and into people. The sea was just across the street. The sea is across the street everywhere in Seward. Mountains, as usual, were also everywhere. Mountains are across the street everywhere in Alaska. Gulls cried continuously. Masses of them fighting for the fish scraps that seemed to flow from the boats that were already way past our alertness level across the roadway. Laurel met us there. Our guide. She looked about twenty. One of the hardy ones. Trim and happy. Working this summer job which involved going out on the sea everyday and just looking at things. With stunned Americans and Japanese and Norwegians. (Why is Alaska a place to come for Norwegians? Kind of like me going to Georgia.) Anyway, where oh where were these jobs in my youth. Or these girls for that matter.

 

Down a ramp and up a ramp and the 40 foot boat awaited. Mist coated the waters which were mostly calm. Windless days are not that frequent here. The motion sickness patches went on behind the ears of my family members anyway. They looked prepared. I like to ride on the bow of the boat for my occasional oceanic excursions. So I quickly shimmied up front. But in Alaska, I can tell you, even at low speed in summer, you don’t ride on the bow. You will lose extremities. I retreated. My family looked out from the great windows in the cabin, sheltered. My family was a third of the boat load here. And, barely out of the harbor lanes, we encountered one of the world’s great animals. Instantly recognizable by even the least naturalistic human out there, the sea otter is like the Panda of the ocean. It floated in the classic pose on its back with its belly and its feet in the air. Alaska is one of the strongholds for this recovered animal. I have looked for them in Oregon to no avail. Its fur is the richest and densest in the world. Russians went mad for it back in the 1700s and 1800s. They killed all their own Russian otters. In the Aleutians, they made the locals hunt them down for them. Took hostages. Shot people. Prices in China were exorbitant. Small pieces of otter fur were like gold. After James Cook was slaughtered in Hawaii, his crew wandered up this way and discovered the market for otter. They nearly mutinied demanding to go back and just hunt otter pelts. Many believe that when the otters were nearly exterminated, the Russians considered this one of the reasons to sell the place off. “Give it to the Americanskis, we killed all the otter anyway” being the whispered secret I guess. We saw many otter for the day. We always stopped. Often they would let us float close and stare. They are doing well there. Fortunately for all. Though, they are not absolutely safe. It is estimated that the Exxon Valdez spill killed 5000 of them. Good God.

 

 

Outside the harbor it was all Fjords and inlets, walls of towering stone decorated with birds and bird droppings. You think interior Alaska is lovely and then you see this. It is a bird lover’s eye full. We would pull up to the walls of stone and there would be thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes and their chicks precipitously perched on the faces of stone. Common Murres, which look for all the world like miniature Penguins (there are no true penguins in the north seas), preferred the slightly sheltered caves and rock overhangs. They clustered together, bellies pressed against the rock looking barely balanced. They swam and dove everywhere. The swimming and diving things were absolutely everywhere. Puffins abounded. Both north Pacific species were here, looking dapper. Laurel remembered them with the sentence “tough guys wear black”, the Tufted Puffins having all black bellies. The more common Horned Puffins having white bellies which were very distinctive in flight. When the boat slowed the puffins became slightly more trusting. The Tufties with their swept back head decorations, the Horned with their white faces and comical eyes, engaging things, who wouldn’t want them in their waters?

 

In one of the many inlets, whales frolicked. Killer Whales that is. Orca, as the boat captains called them on their radios. The various boats chattering among themselves when one found something interesting or extraordinary. Orca were always a boat draw. Several groups of Orca surfaced and arced at high speeds around us for awhile. We maneuvered to get closer and they flashed nearer with those black and white markings and those towering fins. It takes no outdoor exposure at all to be impressed with hunting packs of toothy whales that look like polished sculpture when they erupt from water. No one is not transfixed. My sleepy family was all out on the deck pointing and shouting. Looking for a blast of spout air and the tall fins. The whales eat salmon if they are locals and seals and mammals if they are the roving rogue groups (according to a local). Someone studies them and supposedly knows many, many whales on sight by their facial patterns.

 

 

On the open expanses of water it seemed anything could turn up. And the blue blue sea was hypnotic as always. We stopped for beached clusters of Sea Lions and one great white rocky prominence with lions made me wonder about all the things that might be under the water on this underwater mountain whose top swirled with birds. Here and there on the open ocean were resting Leach’s Storm-Petrels which nest nearby. They look like dark sea pigeons on the water. Rhinoceros Auklets ran and skimmed. A lone Long-tailed Jaeger passed on its way to mischief somewhere. Now and then more otters. We still always slowed for them. Seriously, you can’t get tired of otters.

 

We came at last after some protracted motoring over open water to a bay of glaciers. Apparently in Alaska watching glaciers shed massive chunks of ice is a pastime for everyone. Certainly for the boat captains here it is. And the huge, shifting, blue ice flows are tremendous. The water around them was littered with icy flotsam. The various sizes of ice chunk named by the boat drivers for their levels of danger to the hulls of boats. The sea was very cold there with the temperature dropping into the forties in the water. Coats and hats appeared on board. The masses of ice cracked and roared occasionally just for good measure. And periodically these monsters would drop great showers of ice into the sea. It was hard not to think of them as ancient living things. Around me the Marbled Murrelets were my own personal attraction. Many pairs of birds were winging and diving. They are the lovely mini-penguinoid seabirds that nest in the old growth woods above the sea. Only ten inches long, famous for having an unknown nest until 1974 when a tree climber found a chick in a large spruce or fir tree along the Pacific coast. They are not colonial at all. The forest service apparently still pays a substantial bonus for anyone who locates an active nest. Laurel, our guide, said that she lives above town in the forests and she thinks she can hear the birds making night noises, coming and going at around 4:30 in the morning sometimes. If she found a nest it would be several hundred dollars for her. In the past, the very rare eggs were much more valuable than gold in the high echelons of illegal egg collectors. At one point only one egg was known in the world. We can only imagine at the scrabbling of the obsessed for that thing. The moneyed looking for delicate bird eggs laid one at a time in the tallest trees. We also saw a few of the Kittlitz’s Murrelets out on the water. These nest alone on the ground in the heights of the mountains above the treeline. Native Indians having known about these for many years before the scientists did. They are endangered despite this isolation. The sea is their foodstock, their vulnerable need. Again, the Exxon Valdez and its lone drunk driver is said to have killed 10 to 15% of the world population of this one bird species with its oil.

 

 

On the roll back towards the docks, several of my medicine-patched family members lean into each other in sleepy surrender inside the boat. My mother wears my wife’s Heidi hat, looking very peaceful with these floppy woven dog ears on her head. Laurel talks about how this job will end in the upcoming month as the cold approaches and the tourists trickle away. Seward will once again bunker down for the long wind and cold of the winter. She will have to find work again. Job to job, her family lives far away. I imagine my own daughter adventuring in Alaska, job to job. I would worry. But having Murrelets sheltering in your trees is something. Ravens on your rooftops, bears in your yard gardens. I don’t know. Long cold and isolation tests all souls. Is it all tempered by summer and the sea?

 

William Seward was Lincoln’s Secretary of State at the time he bargained for what became known as Seward’s folly. He was all for westward expansion. He was also a venomous foe of slavery and fought many court battles on the side of black men being crushed by the system. He served as lawyer for many escaped southern slaves. He said the words “the color of the prisoner’s skin, and the form of his features, are not impressed upon the spiritual immortal mind which works beneath. In spite of human pride, he is still your brother, and mine, in form and color accepted and approved by his Father, and yours, and mine, and bears equally with us the proudest inheritance of our race—the image of our Maker. Hold him then to be a Man.”

 

I save one of the last days to walk alone into the Chugach State Park. On many trips I spend most of the time alone but this one is with family and they allow me this one day to wander off. The city of Anchorage has pressed eastward until it now rides right up against the western boundary of the Chugach State Park. This is not your average State park. It is the size of several northeastern states. It is one half million acres. Has its own river system and full length mountain ranges. Its boundary is only a mile from our cozy bed and breakfast. And I have my father drop me off at the trailhead which is in sight of several of the last houses that come right up to the boundary.

 

At the time we bought Alaska it was estimated there were 2500 Russians, 8000 ‘aborigines’ and 50,000 Eskimos and Indians in 23 trading posts. One post was known as New Archangel, now Sitka, and was there just to handle the trade in otter skins. It was composed of 116 log cabins and 968 residents. Oh for a glass to look back and see that place as it was. I can look from the boundary of the park and see far far more houses than that within just a mile of where I stand. Charles Sumner, the great orator and slave rights politician gave the speech for convincing the bureaucracy to purchase Alaska. The text of the entire speech is (amazingly) on line in its entirety. It is 46 pages long. 570 thousand square miles. 4000 miles of coastline (this seems unbelievable)? The maritime advantages. 55 islands. History of the Czar and of Bering himself. I can’t tell if it was riveting or soporific at its delivery. 46 damn pages though. You’d think it could have been summarized by “it is a bargain and excessively beautiful, assholes, beyond your leaden-bottomed dreams, come on, put up the cash.” Ah, politics. 

 

Chugach State Park is very green. People from the south often have many misconceptions about Alaska. My family lived here once so we got over some of the bigger ones back then. 1) That it is eternally frozen. 2) Anything but green. 3) Still peopled by savages. The civilized world, I’ve found, is everywhere peopled with savages. I have seen none here. I find a sign warning that I am entering Bear Country (with capitals). It includes instructions. I never find these helpful park signs very reassuring. The important rules are “never run from a bear.” This one I think is much harder in actual practice than in the head. The one I take to heart is ‘to make some noise.’ Let the animals know you are a human and keep the sounds up so that you never surprise a bear. I whistled as I walked like a lip maestro, composing as I went. I met a woman with two huge dogs taking a walk down the trails. I whistled for her. I think the bear country may be a big part of the reason many Alaskans seem to have huge dogs. Safer on the walking trails. The owners of the bed and breakfast have two dogs of their own. One is a coffee-and-cream colored Pit Bull named Capone. He is a sweetheart, as are most pet Pits I have met. During our stay I find him pretty much up in my daughter’s lap several times, lounging like a poodle.

 

Over the first hill I could see a large valley and mountains ahead of me. I had a pocket trail map which was daunting but manageable. I carried some water, some peanuts. I knew kind of where I wanted to go within my time constraints. I was going to avoid the high barren trails. No flower life or insects there. I was going to watch for birds but I was hoping to see some far northern butterflies as well. From this first vantage point I could see about four or five moose in several places down the valley. Only one was a female and her youngster. These were to be avoided like bears. I saw no bears. On the high trails I could see a few other humans. Otherwise I had the full vista to myself. The tops of the mountains were in cloud but there was not a chance of rain. The valley was lush with wildflowers, many standing taller than me.

 

There are very few birds in the Alaskan summerscape that overlap with mine at home. Some of our winter birds are here and retreat to our area when the cold blasts arrive, as I mentioned around the feeders at the place where we were staying. But the things flitting in the brush are mostly not what flit in my home brush. There was a lovely Lincoln’s Sparrow which is also one of our winter visitors. Redpolls seemed to be fairly common. On a high perch an Alder Flycatcher called for me. And I heard the distinctive “whip three beers” call of the Olive-sided Flycatcher in several places. I kept flushing Varied Thrushes up into the dark underbrush where they disappeared. And they called occasionally that otherworldly whistle of theirs. Golden-crowned Sparrows perched up here and there, looking like better dressed versions of our White-throats at home. A Marsh Hawk or two sailed by. No other raptors in my valley.

 

 

Insects were just nonexistent except for several very dapper species of bumblebee. And an occasional parasitic fly that must have been having a time finding anything to parasitize. Despite the carpet of wildflowers going off in any direction that I looked, I never saw a single butterfly. Not even a sulphur species or a blue. Just bug emptiness. Now there were also no mosquitoes or biting flies in sight either. Perhaps a fair trade.

 

The first moose appeared abruptly very close to me, despite my virtuoso whistling. It was a young female and she just moved off into the deeper brush, ignoring me. Strange whistlings came from the grasses nearby which I never could explain. Definitely were not connected with the moose or my own whistling. A second moose was a young male and he gave me a good long stare while I whistled on by. He chewed whatever he was chewing and looked a bit bored with me frankly. At times I nervously walked through brush higher than I was and walked on top of fresh moose tracks. If we meet, I will be, well, in trouble I kept thinking. Easier than bears, is all I could tell myself.

 

Probably because of his slave views, Seward was stabbed by a man named Lewis Powell on the same night that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. They were accomplices. You get that guy, I will get this one. Seward didn’t die despite being stabbed multiple times in the face and neck. In a stroke of odd luck, he was wearing a neck support from a near fatal carriage accident that he had just been involved in. Very likely this saved him in the stabbing. If he had died that night they would almost certainly still be speaking heavily accented Russian on the coast of Alaska this day. And who knows how much differently the cold war would have gone later on with the Russians just on the topside of the Canadians. We would all need a passport to see Anchorage. Or whatever it would be called now.

 

 

It is one of those places that I need to know is out there now. Alaska, I mean. Like Australia. Like certain parts of Central America. Like the desert southwest. I need them to be there, even if I never get to see them again. Even if I never get to see some of them ever. It is now one of the places on the globe I can touch with a finger and get static images in my head. I can conjure up a sea otter. Picture small ocean birds skirmishing in a high mountain nest. It improves an already stellar image I have of the Hermit Thrush. And makes me look anew at my neatnik little Carolina Chickadees. They seem somehow refined and pampered now compared to those arctic ruffians the Black-caps. As a child, the long winter in Alaska was just a playground. As an adult, I can see how it might be daunting. So much solitude. Solitude is a skill that requires work, polish. And I did discover that Alaska is a place of happy dogs. That is for sure. Winter-be-damned dogs. Large, densely furred dogs. And this is a good thing. We did get to visit the dog sled team at Denali. They were clear-eyed, intelligent dogs. Working dogs. I can always recommend happy dog places. Go there. And I have also said it before. When in doubt, when personal questions arise, go to places with Ravens. When in doubt, seek out seagulls. Some go to church. I will take a place with both Ravens and gulls. Ravens and gulls and happy dogs. They are spirit zones, any of these places. Not made for everyone, I suppose. And I don’t need them all the time. They just need to be there. At all. Whatever the distance. On standby.

 

 

        HR

 

       

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