Places in Retro, Part 4: Alaska

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Our first camping trip in our Alaskan adventure. September, 1992.

When the Fall season approaches, where ever I am, I always think of Alaska, at least for a while.  It could be that I was at my most impressionable at that moment, in the autumn of 1992, when I wanted to be immersed in the extremes of nature at the ends of the earth.  And there are few places in the world where nature is more extreme than in Alaska.

I had left New Mexico at the age of 18 to throw myself to the adventure and unknown of what to me was one of the last frontiers worth exploring. 1927653_42004232885_6309_n

As it gets colder, I think of the stubby Black Spruce trees, sparse in the valleys between the white peaks – my fist impression of the tundra as my plane flew into Fairbanks – and the berry plants and the smell of decomposing leaves on our university campus.  I also think of cinnamon tea and my excitement about buying the right pair of snow boots that could handle the extremes of an arctic winter. I remember lying on the deep snow to watch the Aurora Borealis, a natural phenomena that I always miss.  And there was the supreme satisfaction of packing a car for the long drive across the Alaska Highway, through the west coast of the US and western Canada, some of which was still dirt road at that time.  And that was also a time when it seemed completely rational to sleep with a gun at my side in our tent – I wasn´t the only one – because of my fear of bears.

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The mouth of the Kenai river, during a summer working at a fish processing plant.

And there was my peculiar love of cold weather and fascination with polar exploration (I idolized Roald Amundsen, for example). And the mosquitos that were so thick in the air that we had to cover our mouths to keep from breathing them in (a mosquito bite on the inside of your throat is an exquisite and terrible feeling).  And learning that there is a difference in how the air feels between 10 below zero and 20 below, and between 40 below and 59 below (do I really remember my exhaled breath making a crackling sound like crushed corn flakes that day?).

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Road camping somewhere along an Alaska road, with an old college buddy and my trusty Volkswagen Bug.

It is, of course, a useless thing to steep oneself in sentimentality and melancholy. Memory is, at best, a suspicious faculty of the mind.  We are, after all, different people – literally different, down to our quickly shedding skin and to our slowly regenerating bone cells – from even a few years ago.  Nostalgia has little use if any, as it always seems to work as a parasite on the mind, working on our innate propensity to obfuscate memory in an overly positive way. Even the most disinterested person must have noticed that the same experience can be recalled differently depending on who is telling the story, and/or how long ago it took place; the memory is deeply personalized, even when shared with other people.

B1927653_42004247885_7239_nut (there should always be a ¨but¨) I have lived enough experiences that I have another fear that they will be forgotten completely, and writing them down may help me to understand how those experiences, even if remembered incorrectly, have shaped the person that I am today.  Maybe someday I´ll get around to doing that.

I am confident, though, that I do not want to experience cold weather like that again.

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Mt. McKinley (Denali) on a rare sunny day.

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One thought on “Places in Retro, Part 4: Alaska

  1. These memories sound accurate as I recall your telling them to me all those years ago. I enjoyed reading this.

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