Embracing the Day (Whitehorse – Skagway – Haines – Tok, Sept. 12-13)


To listen in the car is to be treated to a strange mélange of multi-lingual expostulations as the landscape stretches out before us and repeatedly treats us to vistas of enormous beauty. It’s not really something one can actually describe, or even photograph effectively. It’s much easier for us to just swear in amazement at ‘yet another’ valley view, cloudscape, mountainside, etc. in basically all of the snippets of languages that we have picked up over the years. English, Swedish and German are a given, but then add the Polish, Chinese, Italian and Spanish…albeit mostly with a somewhat musical Swedish accent. As it goes, we are roughly driving along an arc that hovers to the east of the endless mountain ranges that link Alaska together with Canada and the lower 48. There is much to see.

It’s difficult to know how to describe it – whether to lead with its vastness, with its epic expanse – or to single out the details, like the bright shocks of turning yellows in the stands of birches that litter the countryside like so many drops of spilled oils dealt at the hands of a careless painter. As we travel farther north, seemingly mile-wide rocky and arid basins of riverbeds wait patiently for snow and then the plume of meltwater that will doubtless transform the skyline over and again in the coming months. The barren rocks, the yellows, the intermittent blankets of cloud shyly concealing too many mountains from casual exposure – all are impossible to describe and even order in the mind, as the scenes repeat themselves over and over again, reminding you simultaneously of your smallness – even insignificance – in contrast to the land.

And we can’t seem to make sense of it with any of our various fluencies…even when mixing them together.

I feel like I could spend weeks here. In each spot, each stretch of road (which is surprising good, all things considered) boasts trails, campgrounds, wondrously long and winding lakes, and doubtless myriad fauna that we pass far too quickly to observe (but for glimpses…pretty sure we caught a lynx crossing the road and we spotted a bald eagle). I also feel pretty sure that I wouldn’t drive all the way here again, however, but I’d for sure come back in a heartbeat. Richard is convinced a few of his family would consider emigrating to stay here.

I’d also bring a lot of mosquito repellent. We haven’t actually had to break out the human scent camo (it really is a thing…), but it’s probably up fairly soon. It was warm today (mid-60’s) and, in particular for Richard (again, Swedish, not made of sugar) who has so far refused to wear other than flip-flops and jean shorts, the re-emergence of mosquitos was notable and they just get everywhere. The front of the car is covered with a film of massacred bugs…it literally might be more attractive and easier to clean if someone had instead wiped bear scat on the bumper.

As it turns out, there are also other things on my mind. While it is nice(?) to be off the grid for long stretches (okay, not really…that’s actually a serious pain in the butt), you do come back and see weird cycles of whatever your phone catches you up on, at random , when you pass an unseen tower. At a poignant moment, I was transported back to Juliet’s first day of school in Germany courtesy of a Facebook  memory. I never really know what to do with those ‘moments’ and reminders. In a way, it’s a bit like the landscape, something so big and vast – and empty – that it simply defies accurate description. Every effort of depiction, a folly, a literary dereliction. It stays with you – the image – even when you pass it, and even if you are favored with another resembling view. You can’t hold it down, and while stopping to stare and not look away might retain it, it must fade. I’ll always wish I had a strong enough lens, enough memory, the awareness of palette and detail to reconstruct the nuances of form. But it will always be empty. It cannot be touched, and like the landscape, no arms can embrace it.

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But we continue on…there is yet to Journey. Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, was friendly and actually charming (seeming to boast a nice music scene). We passed through Skagway (if we can ever get our dashcam uploaded, this will be a very cool bit to watch.) and then made our way onto a ferry to cross over to Haines. It’s our one major boat leg of the Journey and it was probably a fjord-like experience (but for the simple fact that I have to pretend that I am worldly enough to know what an actual fjord looks like). Recommend. The awaiting town of Haines on the side and down-aways was also pretty, boasting lots of frantic activity in the water than turns out to have been salmon spawning. We actually went looking for grizzly bears (…yes, stop and ponder for a second the meaning of when the hotel proprietor gives you a tip to visit a certain place on a lake to see grizzlies…does that mean he’s doing you a favor, or does it mean he really liked our luggage?) to no avail. It’s a bit of a strange feeling when you emerge from the car and walk towards a streambank with salmon just everywhere – the swimming, the churning, the dying, and the unsatisfying scent of the spent fish on the banks – and start to hear snaps in the bushes.

We’ve made it to Tok, and we are awash in hundreds of pictures, and need time to catch up on the details of the Journey. I personally also need to eat salad for about a week. We’ll be rejoined by a growing complement of the crew in the coming days. More to follow, more stories to tell.