Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Possible World

So the road into Denali does not climb Denali, or protrude into Denali, or scatter humans all over Denali. It's a 92-mile narrow dusty ribbon that does its best to not ruin the place. We're the intruders here, but the road instructs us well back, peasants attending royalty.

Dawn is sly on the shoulders of the mountains and then spills color into the valleys. Not just color: all the colors. Every color you ever needed. The whole box.

The big mountain itself is the tallest, from base to summit, in the world. Alaska is relatively new, as land masses go. Most of it is formed from whatever gets scraped off the Pacific plate as it dives under North America. Bits of this and that are jammed together and crumple up along their edges, nowhere more enthusiastically than in the Alaska Range. And that's still rising.

Wildlife? Sure. The Dall sheep showed up clearly, but far away, against a dun mountainside. Grizzly bears revealed themselves to good binoculars and loped effortlessly over enough acreage to make it clear that binocular distance is best. Moose tramped by, observed by a grizzly. Wolves eluded us, but wolf territory sprawled for miles in the braided-river valleys, and the possibility of wolf turns out to be so nearly the same thing as the reality of wolf that I was hardly bereft.

And then, there, unmistakable, was my caribou, way off in the distance. Not the caribou I had anticipated; I've seen the pictures, and so I know caribou are supposed to arrange themselves in long picturesque strings on the tundra against a snowy backdrop. The one in front is supposed to fling his antlers back in a splendid yet saucy posture, with the rest trailing behind in admiration.

This was just the one guy, but he was the one in front. I've seen ungulates before. Lots. Deers and elks and mooses and goats and antelopes and sheeps and what have you. But this one took the ungulation cake. If you can maintain that much majesty on nothing but lichens and tundra scuzz, you've got nothing left to prove. If I'd seen a whole string of them I might never have come to, and that's a fact.

Toward dusk we and several dozen of our closest relatives happened on a much more intimate scene, when a moose grunted irritably across the road, with two admirers in tentative pursuit. Adolescents they were, their antlers the moose equivalent of a boy's first mustache, and now and then they scraped their heads at each other half-heartedly, wondering if they were doing it right. A chesty man nearby boomed out that he'd seen a massive bull moose hanging out in the woods and that he'd probably come out soon, because--cue the nasty, knowing chuckle--"he isn't about to let her get away." Suddenly I longed for a more distant sighting, with no narration, and maybe--what the hell--one bull moose partisan choking on his Budweiser.

Sightings are nice. But it's the realm of possibility that floats the heart: wolf and caribou and bear and moose and marmot and pika possibility. It's the gratitude and humility that comes with a glimpse of how the world was and how it should be, a world in which we are clever, vulnerable, insignificant creatures of the margins. And beyond any individual miracle of an animal that might cross our path, it is the vastness and the perfection and the beauty of their rightful home that I want to gather with my eyes and decant into my soul, to sip from for the rest of my life.

47 comments:

  1. I so agree that there is nothing like it nor anything that provokes that primal feeling like Denali.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Loved my trip to Alaska. We saw lots of animals on that long dusty road, all from a bus!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A bus would be fine. I guess it's the weather you have to cross your fingers over.

      Delete
  3. I think you have nailed the primary problem with the world; we have gone from being in our proper place as insignificant in the whole of the planet to being too many of us in too many places. Human over-population is at the core of so many of the threats to our planet's survival.

    Those are beautiful photos. Will we get to see more?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do have one more Alaska post coming up, but first I think I need to get a political piece in...just sayin'.

      Delete
    2. PS you did see some more on the previous post--right?

      Delete
    3. I did, but the brain didn't take them in fully - I didn't even notice the mammal in the first shot!

      This must have been amazing in person when the photos are so strong.

      Delete
  4. An emphatic YES to your final paragraph.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That last paragraph grabs my heart. I keep re-reading.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES! "...it is the vastness and the perfection and the beauty of their rightful home that I want to gather with my eyes and decant into my soul, to sip from for the rest of my life."

      Delete
    2. I'm not much on holiness, but it fits.

      Delete
  6. Your last paragraph was pure magic. Lady, you sure do know how to put a thought together!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I felt the awe and poetry, the spirit of wildness, and the contentment in knowing it is still there even if we never see a wolf or herd of caribou with our own eyes. Right up there with Terry Tempest Williams and Barbara Kingsolver, girl.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I want there to be more and more wilderness and not only do I not care if I see it personally, I'd almost prefer it.

      Delete
  8. A comment that has been peripheral, has been about the weather, all over Alaska from the inland waterway to Denali...it's unpredictable. I've know people who've gone up the ferry from Seattle to Ketchican without seeing the shore. Same with Denali, I've know lots of tourist who never saw 'the mountain', it was shrouded with clouds. You've made me think about my time up there, watching the 'termination dust' come down the Chugach Mt's in late Aug, the idea that it was law, in the books, that in winter you had to stop for a car on the side of the road. Fact. My time there shaped a lot of my life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Law! Wow. Interesting. I'm assuming "termination dust" has to do with the toes of a glacier? Or the feets, or the ears, or whatever they're called?

      Delete
    2. Termination dust is the first time you see the peaks of the Chugach sprinkled with snow, like confectioners sugar. I lived 3 summers there, and really feel that if you spend any time there you leave a piece of your heart there when you leave.

      Delete
    3. Ah. I just looked it up. So it's the termination of summer. We should use that here too.

      Delete
  9. Oh, Murr. Wow. Thank you. Alaska was on my bucket list for a long time, back when I still had the ability to fulfill a bucket list, and I was feeling pretty bad about that, but damn, you've made me feel better now. Maybe just knowing that it's there is enough. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just knowing it's there IS enough. Not that I'm not plumb tickled to have seen it.

      Delete
  10. I kept thinking about the fortunes of weather in some places and I found myself ridiculously pleased that you were luck.I daresay you could have written about Denali if you'd been soaked to the skin, but I feel your privilege from afar. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We got lucky. Meanwhile, Portland was finally getting rain when we were gone. Today too! All is not lost.

      Delete
  11. Murr, your blog is a delight. And Your posts on Denali are especially fun to read. My wife and I write books about the North Country and I would love to have you check out my blog at https://www.chrisdennis111.com. I feel as though I'm laying my efforts at the feat of the master (mistress?). Please be gentle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "...the feat of the master." Now there's a clever phrase describing Murr Brewster's nature writing. I love it. True, dat.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Dennis! Your blog is fascinating, so I'm going to light it up for people so they can find it more easily.

      Delete
  12. "...it's the realm of possibility that floats the heart..." -- What a lovely phrase, Murr. One of your very best. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  13. The Alaska Range is still rising? I had no idea. I thought it was all done and dusted by now. The Denali area is so very pretty with all its colours backed by snow capped mountains.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gee, I hope it is. I'm only a few hours removed from the rest of y'all when it comes to knowledge. I read up, and then I regurgitate after my own fashion, but sometimes I get forgetty in the interim.

      Delete
  14. Denali is the tallest mountain in the world measured from its base on land. Mauna Kea is the tallest above its own base, with roughly 19,000 feet below sea level. Measured from the center of the Earth, it's Chimborazo - a stratovolcano in Ecuador, due to the equatorial bulge.

    Poor Chomolungma (Everest).

    ReplyDelete
  15. That’s one very wonderful blog Mary, Don’t comment much but this one moved me!
    Love you & Dave!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Some of the best Murr writing I've read. To distill that heady mead into one decanter is a feat remarkable. xoxox jz

    ReplyDelete
  17. Enviable paragraph of descriptive writing. Congratulations and thank you!

    ReplyDelete