At the base of the bluff, where the willows get thicker as you near the river, there’s an aging collection of vehicles and heavy equipment. Covered in snow, it looks like it was just left behind, parked all higgledy piggledy, after some whopping demolition derby. How did it even get here to begin with? Was it shipped in pieces in small planes, then assembled, used for its intended purpose, and abandoned with unlocked doors? I have a long list of questions (lots about services like water, waste, power, phone, internet, television – things that people access here but in mysterious ways) that gets, somehow, a little longer with every answer I get.
I went walking in the elephant graveyard today, and explored a little on a snowmobile trail near the old airstrip and along the river. I’m pushing my comfort zone more with each walk, growing comfortable with my surroundings and making little dents in the vastness outside the village. I’m always surprised when I round a bend in the trail and find another log house, chimney puffing cozily. I haven’t grown accustomed to the idea that one can live without a driveway.
The sun hit the roof of the school full force today. The brightness of the colors took me aback. I’ve grown accustomed to the softness of the light, which hasn’t touched the ground with full strength in months. The angled light makes the world sparkle, and I think I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to the short days of winter. I like the dim-lit silence of the spruce trees and the deep, muffled silence of the snow. Sometimes, if I’m walking and I stop to look around at just the right moment, I can hear nothing at all. Usually there’s a chainsaw or a snow-go tearing into the quiet, but sometimes there’s an instant of absolute stillness. I think the light will whip the cover off the birdcage.
When I’m out hiking, I still haven’t figured out where to draw the line between too-safe and unsafe. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat when I’m walking on my own, and I don’t think that’s totally insane. I am in wolf and bear country here (yes the bears are hibernating, but I’ve heard that they sometimes aren’t, so there’s that), and I’m a small person, usually walking alone. A few years ago, a young teacher who went running in her village in southern Alaska was killed by wolves. Scientists ruled it predation, as the wolves involved were not starving, sick, defending a kill, rabid, or habituated to people. It was the first and only such predatory attack documented in Alaska, which is comforting, but only to a point. Large predators almost never attack people, and I know that, but most people aren’t hiking alone in winter in the wilderness. I don’t want to be kept close to the village by fear and miss out on everything (I’m dying to go further, but I haven’t found a walking buddy yet), but I don’t want to be foolish. The scary stuff is out there, but so is all the amazing stuff. Close to the village, you hardly see tracks in the snow – so far, I’ve only seen rabbit tracks once, and, on another occasion, marks from where a raven touched down, each feather leaving a perfect imprint. It’s no fun to be stuck between fearful and foolish with so much out there to explore. I need to find the trail between and zip through it into the open country.
We’re gaining daylight in heaping tablespoons now. I don’t have windows in my classroom, and I think it’s for the best. I don’t get to see daylight much, but I will soon. In the meantime, I’m opening the door a few times a day to suck in the sweetness of the buttery, luminous snow and to stare at the mountain, agog. I grin when the cold washes through the open firedoor and the students look up. I still get a rush when I place myself on the map, a vanishing spark of a needle in a haystack of dark wilderness.