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 I met up with Grandmother in Seattle, me with my flip phone and outdated papers--her with an iPad, a smartphone, tethered to outlets by charging cords.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 mile, 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.