Saturday, July 26, 2008

Walking In Two Wolrds

I’ve discovered a new season in my life, a yearly or bi-yearly occurrence that’s full of excitement and stress, it happens as I transition to Northern Alaska from California and when I transition to California from Northern Alaska. I liken it to riding out the rapids at Whiskey Rock while rafting from my cabin back to Bettles, AK. The river might be calm and steady but you always know, to get to Bettles, you have to go through those rapids that bubble up at Whiskey Rock. Those rapids are always so intense and surprising simply because they are like nothing else on the river. They are their own experience all together.

My life is like that now, I know that there is an intermedial between these two worlds I live. I can’t shift from cement and the loud fast paced world of Oakland, to the silent, slow and meditative world of Northern Alaska without there being a bit of an upheaval both physically and emotionally inside me.

My life moves now in the spaces between two worlds. This is the season that I speak of. It is neither transition nor settled. It is it’s own spatial reality.

I speed along highways at 70 miles an hour - all to comfortable swerving between other metal boxes also catapulting themselves along at 70 miles an hour. But my mind is elsewhere it‘s creating lists in my head: gear to buy, questions to ask, subjects to research... I say them out loud like a mantra trying to not forget items on the list before I can get to a place to pull off and jot them down on a piece of paper I’m bound to lose in the cracks between the seat. Someday, some city person will find them inside my sister’s car and wonder why she has a partial recipe for fried porcupine.

N. Alaska calls me; I pick up the phone and stumble across their pauses and slow speech like hitting yield and stop signs I had forgotten existed on a well traveled road. I talk over people and assume too much, I’m too loud and ask too many questions, I yap on about the newest gadgets and forget that the old ones have been working for centuries - it seems I have forgotten to ask ‘why’ before assuming I needed such a new fangled thing…I want to wash myself of the cities influences, it will do me no good when I go North. I want to hit the off switch - I’m embarrassed. But I do not even know that these influences are there until I stumble upon them through the eyes of others.

There is no off switch there is only remembering and absorbing how to adjust to a vastly different world, and I’m ashamed to be learning this again.

Their words, far away and in another cultural language, start to rein me in, bring me home:
I try to slow down as we speak of things that make no sense in my reality here in my city life: radio freq.‘s., scopes, bullet weights, ice, water levels, hunting regulations and controversial park service funding. We speak of moose and wolf populations, caribou routes…we speak of salmon runs and whose flying what planes now. We speak of bear sightings and whether or not they’ve gotten into the cabin. I fidget with pencils - tapping them on my knee’s between scribbles, feeling more important with every tap. As if every tap emphasizes and legitimates my stress, which then emphasizes and legitimates my reality and the importance of me going home. This is truly a ‘society‘ thing. I don‘t feel this need when I am up North. And than I remember how after being at the lake for a year I noted how fidgety everyone was when they first arrived. Tapping, messing with their hands, jerky movements, swiveling heads, loud footsteps and tripping over everything. I stair at the pencil and wonder if I’ll be that noticeable and how long it will take to calm this personally un noticed agitation.

It’s 4am and I can’t sleep - I’ve been drifting in and out - snoozing maybe. Disconnected thoughts wash over me. I’m remembering having lunch in Berkeley with my brother Jay a few months ago, I’m at the diner, and I’m trying to eat all my French Fries. I ask him if he knows any secret blue berry patches as I mop up the ketchup with one of the last French Fries. We start talking about berries and flowers and he’s talking about the sun on the mountains and which area is more green and lush because of it. Back in bed, that thought leads me to remembering my mom’s ‘directions’ to my brother Dion’s cabin. A cabin he built the year he died, at age 17. Directions that take you over the mountains to the other valley. A trip Ryan and I tried, and 3 miserable days later, failed. We failed because of a storm but we also failed because of exhaustion, exhaustion because we had chosen a route that led us into the battle grounds of willow thickets and ice cold creek water. It was obviously not the right route. My mom’s ‘directions’ were too simple - they were splinters of memories that we all tried to piece together: she had told me she remembered wild flowers, she remembered going up the creek behind the rock where the eagle’s nest, she remembered waking up with the creek on the left - but she didn’t remember climbing any mountains. At the time, I questioned her memory - non of that made sense. The right side was too steep, she couldn’t have been there and I saw no wildflowers on either side. I’m dreaming about the wildflowers, wondering about the blueberries, thinking about the flowers and berries we didn’t see on that trek except right in the beginning before we had descended into that awful creek bed, before turning towards the mountains. “Descended” is the word that jolts me out of snooze land. I perform some kind of acrobatic flip out of my loft, boot up Google Earth on my computer with one hand and grab a pencil and the Topo maps with the other.

It’s 4am and I’m back in that cold wet mountain creek bed fighting willows and trying to get a perspective. I zoom out to a raven’s height, no, higher even to a planes height - and I look down. I’m flying through a valley with the aid of a digital topo map taking shape and changing as I move around the computer screen. I think about the height of the mountains, I look at the topos on my lap, I think about the angle of the sun in June, I think about mountain passes and peaks, of wildflowers and my families reality that was based in a mountainous world that is never flat. And then I remember there is a difference between physical mountains and topo mountains. As Sam Wright would say: “The map is not the territory.” and for a moment I’m right there, gliding through the valley and over the pass in a reality created by the combined factors of my memory, my mom’s words, Google Earth and the crumpled and warn topo maps.

And then there it is blazed across my mind, that route we missed. It all suddenly makes sense, the angle of the sun, the flowers, the creek on the left, yep - right past the steepest part they must have headed up, around the peak to the saddle. In a world that is not flat - it would never be considered much of an incline. Just life. To me, it was a mountain. To them, they hadn’t taken the vertical cliff route - so it wasn’t THE mountain - it was just the route.

I’m lost somewhere between kicking myself for my arrogance and stupidity and jumping for joy and egotistically wanting to brag to a cement world that would stair back at me with empty eyes. And that’s when the truck came. It was 5 am by now or maybe 6am, the early shift of rush hour traffic had moved into the nearby freeway. I was in that cold wet valley tho - trying to find a route up to the saddle that would help me get back to my brothers cabin. When the truck went blaring past I lost all sense of my self - for several long seconds I experienced the split between two worlds as exactly that - a sharp split. My mind registered the sound with physical adrenalin - lost in that valley in N. Alaska that kind of noise would only mean that something dangerous was occurring. A bear roaring at my back? A rock slide? Landslide? A moose charging? A plane crash? Sitting in my apartment one hand frozen on a computer keyboard another on a topo map, a pencil clutched in my teeth - my senses were torn from the far north at warp speed to my little apartment in Oakland.

Just like the occasional icy white water drenches at Whiskey Rock, I’ve come to understand that this is my new life. I am unlike my parents in not wanting to leave ‘civilization’ behind and just as their dedication to isolation brought them challenges, my dedication to not turning my back on ‘civilization’ brings and will bring it’s own challenges.

And so it is that I am trying to walk in two worlds and sometimes, it is clear, that these worlds will walk over me instead.


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