20 February 2018

What is Hypersomnia? | Jam Everywhere Vlog, Episode 4

Trying my hand at this video blogging thing again.

[I will be adding real captions to the video (as opposed to the auto-generated ones) and putting a transcript here in a few days.]

Also, welcome to my written blog, if this is your first time here. Highlights of this blog before this point include:

21 January 2018

Alaska, Penultimate Day -- friendship and Flattop

25 August 2017

I spend most of the morning puttering around the house, performing small tasks to get ready to leave: packing my bags, drinking tea, finishing up some laundry, eating breakfast, putting things back to rights. In between each task I slip into the garage to spray layers of workable fixative onto my watercolor paintings: last year's Christmas present to Daddy and Margy, "Sourdough Mountain," "Backyard Birch." No matter how many layers I add, I cannot seem to make the postcard water resistant enough. Even though I've already put a stamp on it, I decide to make an envelope for it (using the cover of a magazine advertising the Alaska state fair) to better protect it for its trip to the lower 48. The envelope is in various states of assembly as I wander the house, periodically taking breaks to check for messages from my friend P. or faff about on the internet. I put two stamps on it, just in case--and extra tape. Happy Birthday, Jenn. I love you.

My painted postcard next to the hand-made envelope for it (with the addresses blurred out for people's privacy, though my sister has moved from there since then).

At some point I ask my Grandmother what she thinks about the current political climate, and thoughts spill out of her as if they'd been pent up for a while. I appreciate her honesty, her forthrightness. We do not argue. I try to find the common ground we stand on. Sometimes I wonder if we're talking about the same things. I'm not exactly sure how we can watch the same man speak and have such wildly different impressions of him. But I respect where she is coming from. The conversation peters naturally out.

At some point she humors me and allows me to read her some of my poetry. I read her Keepsake, and she says, "it's a message." She sees it as a story of healing. She seems to approve. I try another one--Celsius--but she is not sure about it, cannot seem to glean a meaning from it. Poetry isn't really her thing, after all. I try one more, this time a sonnet, composed more recently. She makes a noise halfway between curiosity and approval. I am pleased. There is more in that small noise than some express in paragraphs.

Early evening and P. arrives with his friend D., fresh from Oregon. It's been a year or two, but our last visit was so short it still feels like eight. It is good to see him. I don't feel estranged from him, despite the mostly-silent years stretching out between us. After all, I am back in town, and he is right there. Everything is different, yet nothing has changed. Friendship with P. is a fundamental physical constant; proximal distance changes only one's experience thereof.

We head off in his truck to Flattop for a hike. On the way, we pass a road that was named for P.'s family. I wonder what it's like to be so deeply rooted to a place. It it not something I've ever had a personal concept of.

It is a cloudy, humid Alaskan summer day, and we almost have the most popular hike in Alaska all to ourselves. I try to summarize eight years of my life while we meander up the mountain. Turns out that D. is a PhD-MD; he knows what I am talking about when I ramble on about medications and tests and diagnoses. So much of my story hinges on my August 2016 diagnosis of idiopathic hypersomnia. He is pleasant to talk to--but I am not surprised, because he is P.'s friend. I deduce that they met at science camp. I am halfway right: P. met D. through D.'s wife... whom P. met at science camp.

D. stops at the top of blueberry hill to sit and soak in the view as P. and I continue to the summit. P. and I talk about so many things--poetry and people and the strange and sad and wonderful pieces that make up our lives. He asks me about my faith, at some point, and I find myself telling him things that I don't know if I've ever told anybody else. Certainly not all at once, honest and lithic and raw. He apologizes to me for a decision somebody else made, years ago. The apology is so sweet and so pure that it dissolves what hurt remained of it. P. has a kindness rooted deeply in him, which better embodies the Love he worships than a dozen bishops with a dozen paterissas and a dozen golden hats.

If that one injury were the sole cause of my lapse in faith, P.'s apology would have brought me back into the fold in an instant. As it is, I remain an agnostic distance from the God I once believed I knew. I say, if God is merciful, and loving, and kind, then he will suffer me to try and find the truth as best I know how. Yeah, P. says. I think so too.

We make the summit. The boost in endurance gained from coming down to sea level from Denver makes me feel great. This hike was just what I needed.

P. and Jam taking a selfie with the Chugach range visible behind them.

A partial panorama view from the summit, including parts of the Chugach range.

Another partial panorama view from the summit, including more mountains and a sliver of sea.

Yet another partial panorama view from the summit, including a view of Anchorage and an oceanic horizon.

We head back to the house and P. and D. stay a while for dinner, socializing with Margy's friends, with whom they seem to have a lot in common. I am pleased that Margy's friends seem to approve of my friends. I hope they maintain a connection after I'm gone. They all seem like wonderful people. Before P. goes, I give him leftover food and ply him with promises. Next time I'll make it up to Eagle River. Next time I'll set aside more time to see old friends. I look forward to next time. I beg him to tell everyone that I missed--especially my godparents--that I'm sorry I missed them, that I'll make time to see them whenever I come back this way. I hope that there is a deep implication that I love and miss them wrapped up in these promises, as I lack a means to express this sentiment in the moment.

Everyone slows down as the evening progresses; my dad lingers in a strange sort of half-asleep state, unable to do much more than sit on the couch with half a grin and a handful of silly comments. Folk peel off one-by-one, heading home, heading to bed. I give my grandmother and Margy hugs and tell them goodbye as they head upstairs. I am the last to settle down, to attempt a nap before my early morning flight. I set the alarm on my phone for 02:00. Sleep does not come easily.

20 January 2018

Alaska, Day 8 -- museum visit and Backyard Birch

24 August 2017

I don't have a very long post for today, but I do have some pictures. Yesterday (the 23rd), I didn't do anything particularly interesting, so I'm skipping it.

Today starts with brunch at the Snow City Cafe with Grandmother and Margy. I get a chai. It's way too sweet for me, but at least it's pretty.

Snow city menu, the leather notebook I bought in England (Oxford, iirc) and carry around in case inspiration hits, and a tall glass of hot chai with a flower pattern on the top in cinnamon.

After this, Margy goes back to work and Grandmother and I head to the Anchorage Museum together. Grandmother is very sweet and buys my ticket. We spend a lot of time in the museum looking at a photo exhibit that depicts contemporary native Alaskan people in the context of their daily lives, next to a little quote from each person. It's fascinating. We spend the time we need to read every caption and study every photo.

In the children's section of the museum, there's an infrared camera setup. I think it's funny how my glasses make me look like a jawa in the resulting image, so I snap a pic.

My favorite might be the exhibits of native Alaskan artifacts. These masks really capture my imagination, so I can't help but take a photo (without flash, of course!). I can't remember what tribe made them anymore... I think these might be masks from a bunch of different tribes all put together in the same display.
I really enjoy the rainbow of flowers outside the museum, as we walk back toward where we parked.

After we return home from our museum excursion, I settle down to paint some more with my watercolors. My sister's birthday is coming up soon, so I decide to paint her a postcard as a present. I find inspiration in a trio of birch trees from Dad's backyard. Rather than painting truly en plein air, I sit inside at the kitchen table and look out the window.

I hold up the watercolor painting next to the trees that inspired me. I took several creative liberties, of course, in my version, such as removing houses and cars and fences and so forth.

A close-up of my watercolor painting, "Backyard Birch," depicting three birch trees, fall foliage in the back, and some raspberry bushes with sparkling berries.

Later that day, I go for a walk with Margy and Dad and the puppy, and we walk right past a huge moose just chillin' in the park. It wouldn't be an Alaska vacation without a close encounter with a moose, I suppose.

15 January 2018

Alaska, Day 6 -- jaunt into town

I originally was going to write a blog post for every day I spent in Alaska last August but... well, I mean, it's already January, and I've only got 4/10 days posted, so I really doubt that's going to happen. I do have a couple more written up that I never ended up posting, though, so I'm going to go ahead and post what I have. I'll just have to make another trip at some point for more material.

22 August 2017

Today I decide to take dad's mountain bike into town. My primary goal for this excursion is to make it to Blaire's Art Supply Store to get some fixative spray for the watercolor of Sourdough Mountain that I promised to Grandmother. Most of the dirt I rubbed into it while painting has come off by now, but I'm gonna try to save what's left of it with the spray. Grandmother slips me a little cash, as I head into the garage, to help me buy it. She didn't need to do that, but I accept it gratefully nonetheless.

I have to cobble together supplies from what I can find in the garage--I end up using bungee cords to strap a day-pack to the bike's rear rack, and filling an empty Dr. Pepper bottle with water for the trip. I spend a lot of the morning searching (in vain) for a tire pump. While gathering supplies, I keep going back into the house to look at the google maps directions again, in an attempt to memorize them before leaving the safety of GPS behind. Finally loaded up with raincoat, bike lock, notebook, pen, wallet, compass, a letter and a postcard I want to mail to friends back home, the aforementioned water bottle, printed google maps directions, two mandarin oranges, two boiled eggs, and two of those squeezy pouches of fruit and yogurt that I like to carry around when cycling, I head off.

First I try to patronize a bike shop google said was down the street--but though I find what I think is the shop, I can't find an entry door. I give up and head to a gas station instead to fill the tires there as best I can, lucky that the tubes happen to use schrader valves.

I know I'm supposed to turn onto Old Seward Highway, but I forget if it was a right or a left. Good thing I looked at the map a few times before I headed out, so I know that town is north of me. I use my compass to pick the correct direction. In Denver, the mountains on the horizon are always to the west--it is difficult to orient myself here, where going west takes one toward the sea.

I start out cycling in the road. I am used to Colorado, where riding on the sidewalk is not only dangerous, but illegal. People keep passing too close and honking at me here, even though I am as far right as possible. Eventually I give up and move onto the sidewalk. The sidewalks are paved with the same material as the roads; they seem to seamlessly transition from sidewalk to off-road multi-use path and back to sidewalk again. Riding on them is not so bad, even though crossing driveways and side-streets always makes me nervous. Anchorage is much more spread out than other places, though, so there is more distance between crossings, which makes it a little less obnoxious having to stop and yield at each one.

I blast past my first turn, of course. I've left my glasses at home, in favor of using sunglasses, so it takes me a little more effort to read street signs. I'm something like 40 blocks past the turn I needed when I realize the street numbers are decreasing and not increasing. I turn around and start to backtrack to correct the mistake, but decide that I don't really want to go that much farther out of my way if I can help it. Instead, I take an exploratory ramble through some side streets until I find a way to C street, then head north from there. After that it is a pleasant jaunt through lush, wet, forested parks and past quiet industrial areas and hotels until I reach my next turns, which I do not miss...!

The art store is cute, and has a cafe inside. I take a look around everything first, finding myself as tempted as usual when browsing this kind of place. I do pick up a field watercolor journal for future en plein air endeavors, but am able to talk myself out of buying a plethora of things I don't actually need. I find the fixatives and pick out a workable matte spray--partially because it specifically lists "watercolor" in its usage instructions, partially because it is small (I don't need a lot), but mostly because the brand name is my family's name, and I find this amusing. I then ask the barista for directions to a post office while she's ringing up my purchases. She gives me some convoluted directions to a place about 3 miles away that she'd looked up on google maps. I take the address she writes down for me, but when I head out I think I see a UPS store in the distance, so I wander on foot for a block or two, hoping to find some place that sells stamps and a blue post office box without having to go too much farther into town.

I try to reach the UPS store I saw, but after detouring around a construction site and a long gray building, I come across a Carr's, so I go in there to get a book of stamps and an additional snack. I ask them where the nearest post office is, and they point me to one right across the street--no more than two or three blocks from the art supply store. Not sure how google maps missed that one.

After mailing my cards, I drop into a bookstore called Title Wave, which I find on the other side of the long gray building. I wander the shelves, trying to find whatever I'm in the mood for today. Since I don't have my glasses on, I need to be a little more deliberate than usual--browsing for too long would give me a massive headache. I ultimately decide on poetry. When the poetry section yields nothing new or interesting, I wander over to the Alaska-specific section. One of the books I crack open here falls immediately open to a poem about Kennecott, and I think, well, this might be some kind of sign--but the poem itself turns out to be awful. The rhyme is forced and trite, the meter terrible--I can't stomach more than a few lines of it. The other poems in that book are equally horrid. I put it back and peruse a few trailside chapbooks before finally settling on an anthology called Alaskan Art & Writing, copyright August 1981, number 21/22 of the quarterly Northward Journal. It's a poem called "Splitting Wood" by Ann Chandonnet that sells it to me: page 55. I like most of what I read therein and pick it up for $4.95 (no sales tax?) and head back home.

The ride back home is much nicer--more off-road path, less curbside sidewalk. I don't miss my turn onto 104th this time. It is small--barely an alley over some train tracks--so I understand why I missed it the first time. After I pass the gas station where I fill my tires, though, I get lost... can't find the turn into the right neighborhood. I go back and forth over a decently steep hill before I finally have to call dad and get directions. Turns out I'd been second-guessing myself too much after my other mishaps of the day--I couldn't find the turn because I wasn't going far enough down the road. But wandering through neighborhood streets and climbing and re-climbing the hill is more exercise, which I really needed, and it feels good, though I'm getting hungry. When I finally make it home safe, there is spicy sausage and cabbage to eat, and all my errands have been done. All in all a successful day.

epilogue/bike review

Dad picked up the mountain bike for about $100, and it shows, though my complaints are not too bad: handlebars need adjustment, chain needs grease, gears need adjustment, too. Well, and the saddle is awfully uncomfortable, but that's more of a personal preference thing--I found the perfect saddle for me in Dublin years and years ago, and haven't found a better one since. I'm glad I only rode about 20 miles today; I'm too spoiled to the comfort of my Surly Long Haul Trucker, Bike Rothar. I'm not sure I would've enjoyed much more than that.

09 October 2017

Alaska, Day 4 -- ghosts of Kennicott

20 August 2017

A white 14-passenger van trundles along from McCarthy, navigating washed-out road with thankless aplomb. Grandmother sits up front; the puppy occupies the doorwell. I sit somewhere in the middle. Tall banks of dirt rise and fall alongside us, gnarled with ferns and evergreen roots. I eavesdrop on my fellow passengers, who talk about where they came from, where they're going, what their absent friends are up to, who's seen which episode of Game of Thrones last.

We are headed into Kennicott, a town abandoned when its mines became unprofitable in 1938. Named for the Kennecott glacier to the west--some accident of history to blame for the degenerate vowel--this town has spent more time abandoned than inhabited, it would seem. Though the Forest Service has been restoring some of its old buildings, and putting on tours for tourists (like us), the spirit of this place is still one of quiet and strangely dignified decay.

To the left, the debris fields of the Kennecott glacier. To the right, the ghost town of Kennicott. Grandmother, in her bright orange coat, looks out at the mountains.

We meander through the town, browsing local shops and scattered buildings, restored to miniature museums. Grandmother and I watch a video about the ore processing plant we are preparing to tour while Dad and Margy keep the puppy occupied outside. We wander through the general store, flipping through blown-up copies of vintage photographs and random surviving forms and manifests. I learn that when this town was first established, the Kennecott glacier loomed over it, squeezing its development into one claustrophobic corridor. Decades of ice melt is what opened up its west flank.

Margy explains something, via gesture, to Grandmother as we look out over the mountains from the balcony/deck behind a coffee shop.

Kennicott's west flank. In between us and a ridge of snow-capped mountains lies a vast gray expanse of dirt and stone, layered atop a hidden, surreal landscape of glacial ice.

Someday I hope to hike the glacier, but today we've come to tour the town. And the centerpiece of the tour is the ore processing plant. (The mines themselves are an arduous, full-day hike away, and long-since closed, besides.) Margy stays behind with the puppy while Dad and Grandmother and I join our scheduled tour. It is a bit of a hike to the start of the tour--not for me, necessarily, but certainly for Grandmother (working with half a lung less than the rest of us), and an elderly gentleman with a bad leg. Dad slows and unassumingly takes up the rear, ready to aid in case of a fall. I stay toward the back also, scanning the gravel for chaff left by the mines: scattered stones streaked with iridescent shades of green, and blue--colored thus by copper-rich minerals, malachite and azurite. I pocket one or two particularly pretty stones, each about the size of my thumbnail. I feel a strong, barely-conscious urge to wash my hands after considering what heavy metals and other elements comprise the dust that I've been sifting through.

The crumbling, red, 14-storey ore processing plant looms over Kennicott. Most Kennicott iconography depicts this building, from some angle or another.

View of the ore processing facility from the top, where the tour enters.
Slightly blurry selfie of me in one of the hard hats provided by the tour, layered over my Army surplus jeep cap. I am not sure how to categorize the expression on my face.

Our tour guide is younger than I am. Though he is engaging to listen to, I drift in and out of paying attention. I am more focused on snapping photos of everything I can, from every angle. I use up a whole battery and have to switch to my final spare. Most of the photos turn out to be terrible--dark, blurry, indistinct, whatever. But I enjoy taking them. I enjoy hanging back from the group; I enjoy the excuse to stand in certain places, walk off a ways, look under or go on the other side of things. One other person in the group seems equally preoccupied in taking photos... but awkwardly with an iPad, for some reason. The gentleman with a bad leg is also an armchair scholar, and the tour, more often than not, is less a lecture and more a conversation between the guide and him.

I hold two samples of copper ore--on the left, the colorful, shiny, 80% pure ore they found in the area mines; on the right, a dull, adulterated sample of what your typical copper mine produces.

A workbench area inside the processing plant. A row of empty window-frames lets in summer sunlight.

It seems like the type of place that ghosts hang around in. I can't decide if the ghosts would be angry or just... tired. Tired and homesick and cold.

We part ways with the tour after exiting the processing plant, 14-storeys down ad hoc ladders and stairs constructed by afterthought. The tour continues further into town, but Grandmother and Dad hurry back to catch the five o'clock van back into McCarthy, and I follow.

I think a meal commenced after this. A conversation long in coming. A series of small but significant revelations. Pregnant silences. A truce.

Some time later that evening, after the sun should have set (but didn't), I wander off to try my hand at painting en plein air. I sit on a large rock by McCarthy creek and look out toward a mountain and... come up with something.

I refill my water pen in the creek as needed, and try to get used to how watercolors behave in the saturated Alaskan air--as opposed to the thirsty air of Colorado. At some point I accidentally flip the painting into the dirt... but kind of like the texture that the accidental grit affords it. I paint until I lose my light, and I paint some more after that, until I realize that the light has faded to where continuing to paint will make it worse, not better.

Me, sitting on a rock in my purple gore-tex, reenacting my painting the next morning now that I have Dad handy to take photos for me.

My final watercolor piece, resting against the rock I was sitting on, along with my watercolor tray and the watercolor pen I was using.

Me holding up my watercolor piece the next day, lining it up with the landscape that I'd painted.

(Later I show my painting to N., and he identifies it as Sourdough peak. I'm proud of myself, that I was able to paint something he recognized just by looking. After all, when it comes to watercolors, I'm still pretty much making it up as I go along.)

The light is gone when I slip back into Ma Johnson's, and Grandmother is asleep. I move quietly to avoid disturbing her, resting my painting on the beside table, putting my stuff away, and gathering supplies for a shower without turning on the light. Only after I've thoroughly warmed my hands and feet and core with hot water am I able to slide into bed and drift to sleep.

26 September 2017

Alaska, Day 3 -- in media McCarthy

19 August 2017

Today, I decide not to take any medicine. This allows me to drink a little alcohol--at lunch, a very dry English cider with a skull on the bottle; at dinner, a hopped cider from the Square Mile Cider Company (my favorite cider of all time). I spend the day in languorous trance: limbs heavy, thoughts muddled, movement slow. It is not uncomfortable, but it is not exactly pleasant, either. It is how I used to move through the world... before I found a medication that worked. Strange how "normal" is not, in fact, a constant after all.

There is nothing in particular planned today. Margy and I start the morning with chai from the Potato. It is pleasant: complex, and not too sweet. We wander up and down the muddy roads. We breathe McCarthy in. I make sure not to go anywhere without my camera swinging from my shoulder.

Grandmother stands next to a gate wrought from artifacts and junk. It makes no architectural sense, and I enjoy it very much.

Close up of copper ore held in place by rusty screws. It is part of the gate. Something about it makes me feel as though magic might be real.

Close up of another part of the gate. It is the metal skeleton of an antique child's bike, suspended in decaying metal circle.

A red building. "McCarthy General Store" in spindly black font. A cow skull, for some reason. The store has a sign on the door that simply says, "shut." I don't think this place has been used in quite some time.

Rusted remains of a typewriter or cash register, slimy with moss and rain. Antique junk like this is everywhere you look in this little town, rotting away wherever it was left.

Red cabin behind some kind of... wall?... constructed from (what I think are) angular fuel cans.

Mountain looms over antique yellow building.

At some point we rendezvous with N., who takes us on a tour of the old hardware store building. Upstairs, the rooms-cum-offices are littered with reminders of school trips and internships and art projects that once took place there. I find a wall of haiku.  

Moisture-warped poster containing several ink sketches of flowers and a haphazard smattering of three-line poems--English haiku/senryuu.

I absorb all of them. I'm in a pensive sort of mood. They aren't the best poems I've ever read, nor are they particularly skillful examples of haiku/senryuu. Nevertheless, they make a connection. I pick my three favorite and snap closer pictures of them to remember them later. I don't know the authors' names, or I would attribute them correctly... but, nevertheless, here they are:

I see the fly land
And swat it with ease and grace
He did nothing wrong

The ice looked hollow
standing on infinity
the whole earth melting


melting ice
its own body


Later, we go on a walk. The puppy cannot do without one--and neither can I. We walk further down the creek we'd started exploring yesterday. We find moose tracks and bear tracks. I am looking closely at the multicolored stones that line the creekbed, and I lag behind Margy and Dog and Dad.

Bear tracks. Puppy paw for size reference. They are not particularly large, for bear tracks... which is probably for the best...

Stones of McCarthy creek.

I am carrying, in my pocket, a piece of volcanic rock. I took it from a parking lot on the Big Island of Hawai'i (a parking lot, mind you, and NOT from Volcano National Park, which would have been illegal--not to mention disrespectful). It burns in my pocket with the wrath and fire that wrought it, half an ocean away.

They say taking volcanic rock from the islands is bad luck. They say Pele will curse anyone who carries pieces of her away. Tourists mail thousands of pounds of rock and sand back to the islands every year to try and break the curses they didn't believe in until, well, they did. Some say a disgruntled park ranger started the rumor--others that it is considered disrespectful by the native culture. I find it hard to believe that no minerals would find their way off the islands in export, blessed in transit by the priests of capitalism... and can't see how my acquisition would differ in principle. But it doesn't matter. What matters is I carry the stone in my pocket, and it remembers nothing but fire.

My eye catches on a smooth gray stone, streaked white with quartz. I am compelled to pick it up. Basalt, I think: forged in fire, just like the chunk of scoria I am carrying. But this stone remembers more than that. It remembers glacial ice, and river-water, and rain, and snow. It is calm. It soothes.

An oval impression remains in the soil I plucked it from. I press the piece of Hawaiian scoria into it--a perfect fit. I invite Pele to make her acquaintance with whatever Athabaskan spirits might still dwell here, appealing to pantheons that do not exist to release myself from curses I don't believe in.

I pocket the new stone. A fair trade.

The day winds down slowly, twilight lingering long after night would have fallen, were we further south. I wind down slowly with it, and fade to sleep as darkness falls.

22 September 2017

Alaska, Day 2 -- onward to McCarthy

18 August 2017

I remember little of yesterday--Thursday--having taken no medicine, and spent the day in a somnolent haze, napping on planes and while idling at gates. I brought several weeks' of Sunday newspapers that I hadn't read yet, digesting them a section at a time, scattering them in recycling bins throughout DEN, SEA, ANC. I met up with Grandmother in Seattle, me with my flip phone and outdated papers--her with an iPad, a smartphone, tethered to outlets by charging cords. I met a darling puppy and toured my dad's new house.

Today, though, is Friday, and we are headed to McCarthy. We get going a little after noon, having had a leisurely breakfast (well, from my perspective; Dad would probably call it "time-wasting") and running several errands first. I snack on random things from Carr's as we quickly plunge into wet and isolated woods, leaving civilization behind, making our way east. Oh, there are scraps of it left here and there as we drive--we stop at these to potty, to stretch our legs, to buy snacks and drinks and slices of pie. I buy cards at a gas station of surprisingly high quality, filled with local art and gems and fancy foods mixed in with more typical sugar, grease, and chintzy tourist fare.

At another stop, I sip low-quality green tea and wander around a room filled with taxidermied creatures--some posed as if still breathing; some stretched out across the wall as rugs; most reduced to heads, staring at nothing with plastic eyes. There is a white wolf on the wall, larger than both bears that hang outstretched across from it. Its paws dwarf theirs; its face is frozen in forever-snarl. I imagine that this anger stems from disappointment in itself: for being caught and killed by hairless apes without the decency to challenge, first, with eye contact.

The white wolf's paw, next to mine, for reference.

The landscape fascinates for the entire ride. It takes over seven hours, but doesn't feel like that much at all. Blunt, oft anemic trees stud the landscape, black and thin and needling. Long, cold lakes fill holes that glaciers scraped into the earth twelve thousand years ago. Mountains stand sentry, swathed in mist and rain. At some point, we come across a crest of purple cliffs, and decide their color must be due to some sort of copper-containing minerals therein. Dad calls them "pome-granite" because of course he does.

Much of the conversation over the last few miles concerns how the road is not nearly as bad this time as it was the last time Dad and Margy went this way. Grandmother closes her eyes as we cross a railroad bridge over a deep canyon. At our next stop, I scurry back to take a selfie there, for some reason.

Me in my army surplus hat and red-wool poncho proving that I'm not afraid of heights.

(And here is a video version of the selfie, haha.)

At the end of the road to McCarthy, Dad pays for parking and we haul our things over the footbridge toward town: the only access allowed to those who are not local. A friend of Dad and Margy (let's call him N.) swings by with a jury-rigged truck to help carry our things--and Grandmother--into town. Dad, Margy, the puppy and I decide to walk the last few miles, trailing along behind them.

Dad, Margy, and the puppy walking across the footbridge into McCarthy.

We set up our stay in Ma Johnson's hotel, a charming little place with bathrooms down the hall, robes and slippers and tiny slips of lavender soap sitting on the beds in offering. Dad and Grandmother and Margy and N. go to eat at the Potato, and though I join them at first, I get antsy after a while and leave to wander around and snap photos and daydream and think.

At some point, I come across a drunk local trying to pick a fight with tourists, shouting obscenities and homophobic comments at strangers heretofore unknown to him. They speedwalk up and down the street, trying to avoid him. There are three of them, and one of him, but that doesn't seem to faze him at all. I wonder what his addled wits saw that made him hate these unassuming men so wholly and uncontrollably. They seem nice enough to me. His aggression escalates, disproportionate to his ability to follow through. He makes a sharp, wet sound when thrown to the ground, stymied before he can land a single blow.

Strangely, he seems to let go of his vendetta after this. You can't go in there, his friends tell him, standing between him and the bar the tourists ducked into. He apologizes, tries to explain himself. He is very drunk. It makes as much sense as one would expect. Go home, they tell him. Go home. He tucks in his tail and turns around, walking past me, muddy and muttering. It's times like these I'm glad I tend to be mostly invisible to passersby.

Later, Dad, Margy, the puppy, and I go for a walk. We try to take a bridge out of town and further into the woods, but we startle a black bear as soon as we step beyond the trees. I suppose it wouldn't be an Alaska trip without some sort of bear sighting. It is small and cagey and flees as soon as we start shouting at it, but we still turn around and head back over the bridge. We walk up and down the other side of the creek, instead.

The flush of water carries the cold down from the icy mountaintops and glacial fields to the north and pulls it quietly through the town. The mud here is a simple and unassuming fact, like the trees, or the sky.

It is cold and gray and brown and I am certainly enjoying myself.