Monday, February 03, 2014

House of Alaska V

Dwelling in the proximity of great mountains could be likened to living near a grand, transparent theater. On those days when the cloud-curtains lift, an ever-changing spectacle of ice-clad towers greets the eye. Throughout the day, they reflect and refract light into tableaux of patterns and colors. One learns to lean on these vistas during the short winter days and endless summer nights. No matter how far the distance from them is later measured in miles, a part of one's soul will always cling in remembrance to the shadows of such peaks.

The door of our newly-constructed cabin, with its scrap-glass patchwork of windows acting as eyes, opened onto a panoramic perspective of some of the highest snow-clad volcanoes in North America.

Drum, Sanford, Wrangell, Blackburn. These are the names of mammoth dragons, lords of the clouds, dreaming with their heads wreathed in mists. Wrangell lets out puffs of steam now and then, a reminder of vitality. Sanford's vertical andesite walls defy gravity and cast spite at one's gaze.

A murky salmon factory, the Copper River winds its way 300 miles from a wound in Wrangell's ribs down to an enormous silty delta on the Gulf of Alaska. Follow the Edgerton far enough, there are the bright seafoam-green boulders washed by Liberty Falls, announcing the presence of rich mineral ores. Further on, the tiny semi-ghost-town of Chitina is dwarfed by the presence of the river.

An inviting path behind the cabin led through the aspens and dark spruce to the House of Alaska--just long enough to bring one's self up to speed while running, but not so long as to lose one's breath.

Summer-time meant a frenzy of activity, of new arrivals, and the building of an octagonal sauna and a shed. Daily activities included hauling water from the fire station down the road, or dropping in for gossip at the Mercantile, the only local store, where the prices hurt so much, one hesitated before buying a packet of salt.

One of our lucky drifters nabbed a job with the Pipeline. Evenings, he'd throw open the door and topple into a worn leather chair, tossing a black garbage bag on the floor. The ladies would rummage inside for treasures discarded from the line tables: sandwiches in fancy baggies, iceberg lettuce, cold cuts, and kipper snacks. From our loft at night, we small folk peered down at at the commotion, and whispered back and forth in our own dialect until we drifted off.




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