This is the Chandalar Shelf, birth place of the North fork of the Chandalar, formerly known as the Chandalar River. Early traders had named the river after a native tribe that hunted in the area: “Gens de Large” which, when written in English mutated into Chandalar. “Gens de Large” referred to “people of the open country”, “people who dwell far from the water” or simply “strong people” in reference to their strenuous life on the barren land. They were distinguished by their trade with the Kangmaligmut and by the manufacture of strong babiche, a type of cord or lacing of rawhide or sinew.
Chandalar Shelf is also a place where thousands of caribou spent the winter. Wind blown, the valley allows caribou to find food below the thin layer of snow. Apparently they can handle the cold alright, as long as there is a sufficient food supply.
While looking for a quote to go with today’s image I came across the word “apricity”, which I had never heard before. The other day I mentioned to a colleague that it feels so much warmer today compared to yesterday. The day before it was overcast and -20 F. Today was sunny, clear skies. Same temperature. I guess our minds played a trick on us. It felt warmer, just because we could see the sun. Now I am wondering where apricity fits in… The warmth of the sun in winter. Real or simply imagined?
I am amazed how folks have found ways during this pandemic to further their passions. I have enjoyed remote music sessions shared through the internet. In that spirit I reworked some earlier images, which I am sharing in the coming days.
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
Snowden Creek was named by Bob Marshall after Harry Snowden, the English name given to his Inupiat companion while visiting Wiseman, Alaska. Accordingly, the mountain towering above the creek is Snowden Mountain, a complex agglomerate of sharp ridges and menacing towers.
We decided to explore this pristine area attracted by the easy to reach dry creek bed left behind by the annual powerful spring snow melt. Several small streams fed into the narrowing canyon, supporting a layer of lush moss in the otherwise dry autumn landscape.
A noisy waterfall announces the end of our excursion. The water shoots down into a turquoise pool. A symmetrical sharp crack at the base of the waterfall draws my attention. Expanding thawing ice must have created this amazing display.
I see a curious similarity to our current state of affairs: a deeply divided nation with opposing views that prevent us from coming together.
So many places, so little time. That was the mantra before Covid. Now we are cooped up in our little countries. Before Old Man Winter arrives I decided to go on a road trip to see more of the land where we live.
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
What I came away with is this humble feeling that Earth is a beautiful place, mostly in areas where we leave her alone. And those places become fewer and fewer. Some of us need space, not crowds…
Here is half a dozen images shot in the Brooks Range in the Summer of 2020. The number of out of state visitors was way down due to the pandemic. A mountain range that offers true wilderness, if you manage to get away from the one and only road through the range.
“To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.”
Somebody said if you shoot portraits in black & white then you photograph the people’s soul. I believe that applies to landscapes as well.
Wherever you chance to be always seems at the moment of all places the best; and you feel that there can be no happiness in this world or in any other for those who may not be happy here.
It is an existential question these days deciding where to be. I have never felt so restricted in my life before as right now. There are many places on Earth that I would like to visit, but it is either impossible or not advisable.
So I think there is no choice than going with John Muir’s advice to be happy where you are.
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
A.A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh
A Gates of the Arctic Float Trip #2
According to Alan Alexander Milne we should get there, right?
Our first day of the 2019 Kobuk River patrol was not going as planned. Due to poor visibility our pilot turned back five minutes before our destination. Safety first. We lived for another day.
Next day, another attempt. Same procedure, waiting for morning fog to lift, then waiting for the low hanging clouds to burn off. Off to the floating pond, loading all our gear, bear spray and fuel into the floats, donning life jackets and headsets, off we go.
The landscape already looks somewhat familiar, although today the colors are even more intense. The sun pokes through the clouds. The fall tundra puts on a splendid display.
The John River and the Alatna River below us almost look as if they did not want to leave the Brooks Range. Constantly twisting and turning they are drawn towards their destiny: the Koyukuk. Is that what is expecting us at the Kobuk as well? We see horseshoe turns, where the main channels come within a few feet, only to separate for a much longer detour. Amazing to see this from the air, probably hard to appreciate when you are on the river.
We make it to yesterday’s turn around point from yesterday. There are still clouds lingering, but nothing compared to yesterday. We climb through a shallow pass and there it is, Walker Lake, the starting point of our float trip.
The surface of the lake is glassy, no wind, the mountains and clouds reflecting in it like in a mirror. Hard to believe after yesterdays conditions. We spot a log cabin at the SE corner of the lake. That’s where 2 colleagues will stay for a week, while we attempt to float down the Kobuk. The cabin is located inside the Gates of Arctic National Park and Preserve. It was donated to the park and is used occasionally by back country rangers. The cabin is in decent shape, although it’s destiny is uncertain. No fixed structures are supposed to be inside the park and one of these days it may get removed. That would be a pity.
We unload the plane, have a quick bite. It’s 1 PM. The weather is perfect for crossing the open water. We are already one day behind schedule so there is no time to loose. It takes us quite a while to put together our folding canoe. A single PVC skin is stretched over an aluminum frame that needs to be assembled from a bunch of poles and joints. It takes some head scratching, a couple of zip ties and the ever present duct tape to setup the canoe, load our gear and say good bye to our friends. We are scheduled to call every morning and evening and transmit our location and status with dispatch.
The pilot is supposed to pick us up in a week, about 60 miles from here near the Pah River confluence.