Saturday, August 22, 2009

"This is about cleavage, not about socks on my arms"

People keep asking me what I did in Alaska, and I don't know exactly what to tell them. "I, like, walked around and did stuff... I wrote. I ate a lot of berries." These answers do not always seem to suffice. I was in Alaska, for god's sake! I should have had giant, bear-sized adventures, at least carnage and stiff winds and maybe have come back with scars or something, apparently. At least that's how I sometimes feel when I try to describe the mostly quiet, mostly restful time I spent with Erica this year. Most of the drama that occurred was self-induced--my losing myself on the one road, Erica and the drama that comes of living in a small community with well-developed gossip channels--or quickly over, like the lead-up to the auction. So how to sum up my trip? "Well, first I helped make a giant sub sandwich out of scrap paper to paste onto an effigy of a local businessman, then I watched My So-Called Life in a loft while the other girls knitted, and I gained an appreciation for both eggs and IPA. Then we hiked up a mountain." There were also push-up bras, my very first quiche, and high-fives with other people's mothers in pizza places over the fact that, having been there a week, we already knew of people simply due to their gossip potential. I went to a two-year-old's birthday party and watched her learn how to blow bubbles (the moment of realization was amazing) and then dance around pantsless with cake on her face. I sang Fiona Apple and Cat Power to myself on trails. I cooked with propane and made myself a fire, something I'm historically bad at. I ate a lot of cheese.

All of these things are true. But it's also true that I spent a good bit of time just staring out the windows, thinking and writing pages in my journal. Erica's cabin is a cozy secluded place at the bottom of a very steep hill; you can walk to the Nenana River within minutes and pick blueberries to your heart's content. She pointed out to me that plenty of people would pay a lot of money to sit in a cabin in Alaska and write, and I tried to take advantage of that as much as possible. I tried to go slow, to let things happen without trying to push them into happening, and I ended up having a great time that way. I used to push my vacations to their limits and generally spent the whole time massively stressed out, and it feels so much better to just let it go. I needed some alone-in-the-cabin time and some drinking-wine-with-friends time and some mountaintop time, and I got all of those.

But I did manage to take some pictures in between. This is more wildlife and mountains and such, and maybe there will be a post later with some flower and plant pictures. (I didn't do as well with memorizing my plant names this year, so I have to do some spot-checking with Erica before I post things.) Anyway. We saw a lot more wildlife than I recorded, but I usually don't get pictures because they're far away and I'd rather watch and actually have the experience of seeing something than spend the encounter fumbling with my camera to end up with a picture of a spot of brown. But I saw a number of bears (all from the bus, mostly sow and cub pairs or trios), the occasional caribou and moose, and a juvenile golden eagle that landed in Erica's yard one night while C and I were making dinner.

A beaver! Make all the jokes you want. We certainly did. This was during an elderhostel hike and the hikers got a huge kick out of this beaver trying to drag an entire branch into an underwater entrance. Then I thought an old man was going to tell me a beaver joke. (He didn't.) Uncomfortable.

A wolf, my first sight of one. I was surprised at how long he looked, how pointed and lean. He walked along the road near our bus for a while.

The view up where we began our hike, just past Stony Dome near mile eighty-something on the park road. We hiked up Gravel Mountain.

I believe this is where we ended up, or one of the places we ended up. It was high and gravelly, big surprise.

Erica, partway up.

Erica in front of Denali (aka Mt. McKinley). The mountain is only seen by something like 25-30% of visitors, but I've seen it all three times I've been here, which is kind of ridiculous. It's a gorgeous accompaniment to a hike.

Denali again, from farther up. I wish I knew how to fix the contrast in such a way to make this come out more, but a picture can't really capture it anyway.

Clouds coming over during my second hike, a short trek up Mt. Healy.

Fireweed, mostly burned out, on Mt. Healy. Erica has a great metaphor about love and fireweed and ephemerality that I wish I could remember right now.

Near the top of where I hiked to on Healy before I got cold and impatient and turned around.
The trail down.


Lauren said...

haha! so did erica learn how to make cleavage happen?

erica said...

hell yeah she did.
i was hoping more people would, say, the entirety of the alaskan interior. but if they have, they've kept it to themselves. ammie, however, certainly noticed (though i forced her to), and i must say those bras were a well-spent $30...
oh, and ammie, it was absolutely completely wonderful having you here drinking coffee and writing and getting lost in my house. thank you!

ammie said...

I've never been such a close personal witness to cleavage before. Seriously. Awesome.
And Erica? Thank god for vacations and time spent in your cabin and general area! I'm so glad I got to spend that time with you before I returned to the craziness that appears to be my life.