The Native Road to the Deep North III

July 19

The night raven
eclipsing the twilight sun
steals our food

NativeRoad-III-1We sleep and wake to the cry of ravens and magpies in the twilight. When the sun climbs again over the mountains, it glitters radiant on the water. Blue waves scatter into daylight. So we fill our bodies with coffee and good spirits. We stretch our legs and prepare them for the sea.


*   *   *

At Seward, we take a boat through Kenai fjords. We stand on the bow and face the sea spray as our captain drives us through the chop up to Northwestern fjord, where
NativeRoad-III-2the tidewater turns to ice. He navigates us through the frozen waters toward the glacial wall that extends before us. Even this has receded against the relentless onslaught of the world changing. It no longer stretches so far into the fjord as it did only a few years ago, Ken tells us. This is a member of an endangered species. Perhaps Edward Curtis was photographing the wrong vanishing race.

The captain shuts off our engine and we are adrift in the ice water. The passengers hush, and the glacier comes to life. The only sound is the creek of ice. It splinters, cracks, shakes, and shudders in the deep rumbling voice of a timeless giant. Now a thick sheet breaks off and crumbles and tumbles into the sea with a great crash of water smashing against itself in different forms. The wave spreads out. This is the sleep talk of a frozen titan raging against the dying of the light.


Icy war cry:
“No, I will not go extinct”—
the ancient glacier

No, no, Alaska will not go gentle into that good night. The captain restarts the engine.

*   *   *

And on the way back, as if to cheer our hearts, a humpback whale finds us and plays with us. It lies on its thick back in the ocean, waving its pectoral fins, and slapping them against the water, making a ruckus. I’m smiling. Twice, it breaches, emerging spectacularly from the water, before diving back down again. We have entered upon its road, and the unspoken question is “How do you pass your days, humpback whale, our daughter, our mother?” “Happily, my parents, my children,” the whale answers. It slaps the water again, and waves goodbye.


A humpback whale
playing hide and seek:
the world rebalanced

So today is a happy day. These whales, too, once slaughtered to near extinction, shall continue. Their children, too, will learn to sing the old songs. And as we return to shore, porpoises join our boat, and dart along the bow. A family of orcas swim in the distance. Their dorsal fins stand tall. The sunlight stays strong, and the rain passes swiftly. We sleep well in our tents tonight.

Kyle Bemis
Ph.D. Student, Statistics


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