The Native Road to the Deep North IX

June 25

In the morning, we’re loading the SUVs for our long journey back to Anchorage. It’s raining like it will never stop. We’re leaving one of our companions, Wai, here in Fairbanks. She will continue on a journey of her own, catch a ride back into the wilderness, and make camp in the mountains beyond this town. She will do geology field work in a part of the world so beautiful that I envy her new office at the top of the world from the top of my heart. I hope she finds good rocks. And so we smile, say our goodbyes, send up wishes that the rain will stop before she has to set up her tent, and then we are off.

Mourning skies
collecting cumulonimbus—
and holding back

Hours later, we are back in Anchorage, back at the beginning of the road we started down when we were born with this blood and first heard this song, as if awaking from a dream. We’re saying more goodbyes, as our party disperses back to homes hundreds of thousands of miles away.

Midnight children
in the sun-stained sky—
Alaska’s stars

*      *      *

They say home is where the heart is. And my heart, too, lies back there. It is beating
under the red soil in the American southwest, where the first mountains rise that begin the march of the Rocky Mountain range across this continent, finally ending here on the other end of the world, where I watch them sink back into the earth as the Brooks Range in the distant north, only to be erased by Alaska Range closer on the horizon. But I feel I am leaving a part of myself behind here: a shard of my heart that will keep dreaming of Alaska long after I have departed.

NativeRoad-IX-1I fall asleep in the dark, late night of an Anchorage hotel. I know in the morning, when I wake, I will board a plane, and the geology of south-central Alaska — the Chugach Mountains, Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, and the Kenai Peninsula — will fall away under the clouds, and I will be gone. But the rhythm of the dream will remain.

Hello, goodbye,
yonder clouds and snow. . .
the vanishing mountains

 

Kyle Bemis
Ph.D. Student, Statistics

The Native Road to the Deep North VIII

June 24

We leave Denali early in the morning and push further north to Fairbanks, our northernmost destination. In one big rush, we arrive by noon to speak to NativeRoad-VIII-1the rural native high school students here too. We eat lunch with them and learn their names and histories, growing up out here in the bush at the top of the world. Their past and present, and the here-now — seeing their bright minds and their glowing faces and imagining their shining futures is so invigorating. Soon, they go back to class; we say goodbye and wish them well on their journeys. And then finally, in the early afternoon, our messages delivered, we finally catch our breaths, our intentions fulfilled.

We check into our hotel, and at long last have a time to rest. Several of us drive up to Chena to warm and restore ourselves. At the hot springs there, we finally have a chanceNativeRoad-VIII-2
to soak our aching bodies in its smoky waters. Nearing the end of our long journey, it is so good to soothe our stretched-out souls in the healing pools, and as the steam washes over us, NativeRoad-VIII-3our troubles melt away into the heat, the long miles wash into the clear, cleansing water, and evaporate into the mountain air. I sit on a big rock under the northern Alaska sky, my feet and ankles soaking in the spring, and a misty breeze in my hair. I lie back, close my eyes, and become a whale for a while.

Cold air
kissing the warm rocks:
Chena hot springs!

*      *      *

On the drive back to Fairbanks, two moose cross our path, appearing suddenly on the road in front of our car. One strolls casually across the road as we roll past and keeps going, back into the woods. The other glides NativeRoad-VIII-4around our SUV and waits, watching the driver’s side windows, peering at us, peering into us. Further along, a fox steals road kill and nibbles at it by the roadside as we watch. Other cars stop and stare with us. Despite the paved highway and the new flourishes of the twenty-first century, the street signs and the cement, this is still a wide, wild country, and nature is pushing back against the brunt of modernity. Truly, this is still their land.

This highway:
a river in the path
of a traveling moose

Back at the hotel, we shut the blinds on the unsetting sun. How bright it stays this far in the deep north! But we sleep in darkness for what feels like the first time in a long while.

Kyle Bemis
Ph.D. Student, Statistics