Tuesday, May 8, 2007

From Anchorage to King Salmon



I woke up on a bench in the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport at 5:30 AM Alaskan time, about 24 hours after I set out from Jacksonville. I had flown in the night before and could not see the landscape coming in due to the darkness. Even a day of airports and flights could not keep a huge grin off my face when I saw, in the sunlight, the massive snow-capped mountain range that surrounded me. It was my first view of Alaska this summer, and as I stood looking out the glass wall I contemplated what a stud I am for setting myself up with this opportunity. No doubt similar thoughts currently run through your own head.

I wish you could have seen the view from as I flew out of Anchorage towards King Salmon. The largest city in Alaska, Anchorage is a flat city on a grid as many towns are, but that is where the similarities end. It is on the coast of a beautiful deep blue bay that extends for miles in every direction until it is met by towering mountains on all sides. There is something intimidating about mountains that your airplane has to fly around and not over. As we climbed I could look out past the first ridge of mountains I saw to the peaks of another range of mountains directly behind it. And behind those collossal peaks, another range of mountaintops right behind them. And had the curvature of the earth's surface not prevented me from seeing further, I would have observed more mountains past those.

I chose to open this weblog by introducing you to Alaska from the air on purpose. You cannot truly understand Alaska until you look down on it from the sky. Only then does the scale of what you are dealing with become apparent. To say that it is pure wilderness does not do it justice. The cities in Alaska are tiny specks surrounded my thousands of miles of untouched wilderness. Even from an altitude the eye can see nothing, in any direction, but mountains, snow, the evergreen trees of the taiga, rivers, inlets, and bays. And then you keep going and still, after an hour of flight, there have been no sign of humans or anything other than unkept nature. The vastness of the landcape and its seeming neverendedness gives me the impression of seeing the earth as it truly is - a living thing that is beautiful, fragile, and terrifying all at once. That thought shifts to the idea that I am looking into the deep past, into ancient prehistory, and maybe mastodons or even dinosaurs could be walking the desolate land below. Though geology and plate tectonics have changed the exact positions of the mountains, forests, and rivers, the scene I witness could very well be a scene from millions and millions of years ago. The word "insignificant" has popped into my mind in various forms multiple times at this point.

As we continue flying the mountains get taller and eventually I look down and see one of the most awesome and formidable sights of nature, a glacier. Like a vast sea of ice that buries endless mountains so only their tops protrude, a glacier winds in and out of a mountain range to my left for miles, and I can see neither the beginning or end of it. Glaciers in Alaska literally run for hundreds of miles. All glaciers are moving, either expanding or receding, at a rate that in geological time is strikingly fast -- we measure it in feet per year. I speculate that if time could be sped up, the glacier would look just like the waves of an ocean spilling into and drawing out of giant mountains, and appear as fluid and swift as water, as stop-motion photography has shown clouds to move. I wonder if this is not how Nature and Earth perceive the glaciers anyway.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mason, this is so wonderfully descriptive I feel like I'm there with you. Thanks for the visual. Mom

Anonymous said...

great writing. "A newcomers view of Alaska" could be the article's title. Most people who write this well get payed for it. If you meet someone high up enough in the park service, show them your first weeks thoughts. I got ahold of Sam. keep writing, I look forward to more. dad

Rachel said...

You are a rockstar! Please keep the sauce coming!

Kevin said...

saucy was an understatement..hehe..that sounds amazing man..keep on writing ill keep on reading...holla, kevin

Allison said...

mase.. im right there with you! keep me abreast of all the goings-on in the alaskian wilderness :) your faithful reader (and admirer), allison

Mason said...

Thanks guys I appreciate it. Allison send me an email when you get a chance I don't have your address. I'm about to do a new entry so peace!

Anonymous said...

Mason,
sorry it took so long for me to get this to my fellow Stantonians. I'm enjoying reading about your exploits--please don't get eaten by a bear.
MacKay

Anonymous said...

Hey Mason. Your Uncle Steve just showed me how to get into your blog. Awesome trip, brings back memories of our trip 5 years ago. Just said to you Uncle Steve that your writing is so eloquant that you should consider a career in journalism. Can't wait to see more pictures. Keep up the good work and be sure to have fun. Sorry about yur Uncle's bellpepper spray joke, he's been telling that one to everyone. Waitng to hear more later. Aunt Peg

Drew said...

Mason.... wow. I'm so proud of you for doing this for yourself, at the end of it I know you are going to be a changed person.. I really enjoy seeing a deeper, more insightful side of you. Writing is an art form and what you are saying here about the earth and nature, well... that's pretty artistic of you. It's beautiful. I always knew there was more to you than straight sarcasm! :o) Way to go, you "stud". hahaha

Mason said...

Thanks Aunt Peg, I liked Uncle Steve's joke... I think I will use it up here tomorrow and see what kind of laughs I get...

Anonymous said...

Mason, WOW! I feel like I'm there with you also. I think I'll start reading your blogs after a 12 hour shift in the ER, I'll have better dreams. Keep'm coming.
Love, Chelle

Anonymous said...

Mason, sounds so cool, wish I were there.
Love Brittany

Sande of KBK said...

Mason,

Just found this blog off another site and its great. We are a group of wanna be Alaskan and Brooks bear fans. Your blog is great and I'm putting your link up for all to viist. Some of us have been to brooks River and some are dying yet to get there! Great Job !!!
Come visit our group-- Katmai BEAR Krazys on facebook. Hope to have our own website soon.

Sande for KBK