IN THE SHADOW OF DENALI

written in 2012.

Life 30 miles from the nearest road teaches you to focus on what's really important.

My wife and I moved to Alaska 20 years ago. We were looking for a change, and we found this land to be a breath of fresh air.
Moving from Montana into the Alaskan bush has been hard, but it's taught us a lot. There are no roads to our place. We usually fly in and out of the small town of Talkeetna, 15 air miles away, but we've traveled the 30 miles overland by snowmobile many times and even walked it more than once.
Pam and I lived a pretty lean life for the first few years here, until we started a small tourist operation, Caribou Lodge Alaska, to support ourselves. (I wrote a bit about it in the December/January 2003 issue of Country magazine.)
To me, everything in our part of Alaska is uniquely beautiful. But the biggest thing, without doubt, is mount McKinley, or Denali as Alaskans know it.

 

On clear days the mountain dominates the landscape. On a hike to Bear Point, around the lake, or just up on Blueberry Hill, your eyes always stop at Denali. It demands another look, always beautiful, sometimes breathtaking.

One early Winter morning, for example, Pam and I woke up to find fresh grizzly tracks right beside the house. We followed them up Blueberry Hill under a very dark, laden sky as we crested the hill, a strip of blue opened on the western horizon and the rising sun illuminated Denali in a bright, golden glow.  We stood there speechless, and even to this day I can't find the words to describe how I felt at that moment.

 

Alaska is many different things to us. First it means wild country. We never know when we'll have moose, caribou, wolves or bears in our yard or wandering by the place. Alaska also means peace and solitude. We can go weeks and sometimes months without seeing anyone. Our closest neighbor, Ed, is about 20 air miles to our northeast. And as we know from experience, Alaska means challenges. You can't live here unless you know how to be self-reliant. 

And it can be a land of feast and famine. Summers are short, filled with berries to pick and fish to catch. Warm weather means having a good spring to fill your water pipeline. Fall is the time to gather enough meat to last the next 8 months. There were years when we really depended on this stockpile. And then there is winter. There's a lot of it, and sometimes the conditions are tough. High winds, heavy snows and weeks of subzero temperatures are not unusual. Although we often lived very lean, especially in our early years here, we have always had enough wood for heat, food to eat, and water to fill our needs and sit out the storms. We've learned that if you're prepared for blizzards they can even be a bit of an adventure. Ours is a still a simple life in many ways.

Days revolve around what nature gives us, and it doesn't take long out here to learn the difference between needs and desires. Needs are very few: water, food and shelter from the storms. Desires are very different. Living here has given us a great appreciation for the very basic aspects of life and an equally great one for the little things that make life easier and more pleasurable I suspect the world would be a better place if we could all develop that kind of appreciation.

 

 

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