Life

About nothing

“I’d like to have enough time and quiet
To think about absolutely nothing.”

Alberto Caeiro


My excursion into the strange, weird world of Skagway comes to an end. It was an interesting experience, as expected the scenery was spectacular, the weather anything that Alaska could throw at you, and I made some great connections with visitors on my photography tours. Occasionally it felt like work, sometimes I had the urge for some really fresh, reasonably prized, delicious food, then I had salmon roe, blueberries, and home made bread. It was great.

Now is the time to look ahead for new adventures. I also learned from Oliver Sachs, that there is no time to waste. First, I will read no more news that have the word Kardashian or Trump in it. I have no say in this election. I will live my life, not theirs. I will also take some time off from writing this blog. For a while, I want to think about absolutely nothing. Then, I may return. Until then, thank you for reading and commenting. I have very much appreciated everybody’s comments and contributions. Thank you.

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Early Weed Bench, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, UT
Inside Out

A letter to Everett Ruess

Dear Everett,

we have never met, but I have read a lot about you.

I have spent the last few days in the Escalante area, a place that you have like so much. Now I can understand why. Most of the area is now protected as part of a national park, the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, can you imagine?

There are some things that have changed since you traveled this amazing landscape 80 years with your mules. For one, they built a large dam near Page and flooded Glen Canyon and a lot of the tributary canyons to create the second largest man-made lake on earth. Some of your camp sites are under water, as many other historic and natural sites. Besides generating energy and distributing the water they also let visitors race power boats and jet skis on the lake and call it a Recreational area. It is a weird sight to see that much water in the middle of the desert.

Kanab, Escalante, and Boulder are now little towns catering to tourism. I assume most visitors are happy to explore the desert from the safety of their cars, although a few desert rats seem to venture into the canyons, carving a few days out of an otherwise busy schedule. Nobody travels the desert like you did, for months on end, just with two mules and limited resources. I have seen some packers using horses going into Silver Falls. The horses are hauled into the desert on big enclosed trailers, pulled by a strong 4-wheel drive. After the trip of a few days, usually a weekend, they go back on greener pastures. For hikers on foot, we have now detailed maps, trip reports, weather forecasts, GPS devices, satellite phones and emergency beacons to make traveling predictable and safe. It is a different world.

Some people writing about you have said that we in reality do not understand your exuberance and enthusiasm for traveling alone in the desert. I think we would need to travel on your terms to have a similar experience as you had, to become a part of this ruggedly beautiful landscape. You went on an open-ended journey not knowing what tomorrow and the day after will bring.

I am sure it was extremely unusual in your days to travel alone the way you did, although you were not the only one. Traveling alone is not new to me. Spending a few nights out in the canyons and hills near the Escalante river made me feel small and vulnerable at first. I also thought this is the perfect place to get lost. Then, after a few days I discovered it is also a great place to find yourself.

Sincerely yours.

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solitary spruce
Inside Out

Solitude

Coming to Alaska to spend a winter is not everyone’s cup of tea. A big part of my fascination with this idea was the opportunity to see Nature and Wilderness with little human interference. This experience is certainly a privilege. My admiration for the animals and plants surviving this rough climate grows every day. Without our protective shelter, fire wood, warm clothes, and fresh and canned food we are supplied with it would not be possible to exist here for humans. Walking in the deep snow to forage for food, as moose, caribou and other mammalians do is just admirable. Then there are the bears and marmots spending the winter in a state of hibernation with little activity and a severely reduced metabolism. Others, foxes, wolverines, picas, and mice stay active and keep feeding. And finally, the extreme: the frozen wood frog. Not to forget the small and big birds that have not traveled South, sitting puffed up in the trees, searching for seeds from last year, or a mouse that is brave enough to leave the nest.

I “knew” most of this before coming here, but being in the midst of it and experiencing the cold, the remoteness, day after day is much more intense. It is nice to sit next to the fire place, reading about explorers scouting the poles, discovering the unknown, scaling mountains and crossing waste lands. Looking through a double pane window and enjoying the pristine slopes surrounding our lodge with no human traces.

There are days when I realize how far away we are from our next neighbor. To far to walk, to far to ski. We could make it in a snow mobile, if we can find the trail. Otherwise, we are completely dependent on our bush pilots to be able to come out here and bring supplies.

This isolation and remoteness adds another dimension to the human experience: Solitude. The state or quality to be isolated or secluded have been studied by scholars. It probably makes a big difference when this state is experienced voluntarily or under forced conditions, such as imprisonment or being marooned. The extreme form of seclusion, being alone, with no contact to to other humans is certainly the most intense form of self-experience.

We are far from that. Still, the absence of other humans has an impact. On the positive side is the lack of distractions. There is ample time to focus on the essential, to notice details, to enjoy the small things in life that easily go unnoticed in the noise of a busy life.

Googling “Solitude” provides a number of interesting experiments: From silly to stunning. I found Robert Kull’s year in Chile interesting: “Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes: A Year Alone in the Patagonia Wilderness“. Then there are the 2000 contestants, who want to go Mars… Obviously, the reasons to seek solitude are plentiful and diverse.

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