Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sweet Heart of Summer

If its never too late to start early and time is relative then I'm right in the groove.

These months have been nothing short of large, filled with a thousand-thousand fits and starts. A late spring in May and the gang-buster heat of June brings out the flying creatures, the buzzing and biting hordes, great billowing drifts of fluff and green, green, green in every direction. Its the bio-storm of Alaska in summer, (a perfect term, attributed to J.B.)  I've just got to be out in it. Can't not.

After decades of practical-use experiments 'in the field', my drug of choice to remain calm amidst the hordes is a light lacquer of deet selectively applied to the wee remaining exposed surfaces, wrists and backs of hands, (if its too blooming hot to wear wooly cuffs and gloves beneath two Ivy League button downs), and gingerly wiped onto temples and forehead, (I may never attain wisdom, damn!) Its nasty but it works.

I'm now prepared to travel twice daily with the 39 mile crew. We lop, gather and munch our way through the celtic knot of wild, across the high benched eskers  down into nettle covered kames left behind long ago when the glaciers receded.

Red-capped chickadees fledged this week challenging the collected knowledge of the white and orange Richard brothers. Rick and Dick are the boys from Dezadeash. As yearling kitty's they would very much like to expand their hunting skills beyond the small rodent population who abandoned the little house. I like to think the short fuzzy folk moved in with the squirrel. The one who bored his way down through the upstairs wall before R&D arrived. Don't see much of either rodent family these bright days of summer, though we regularly cross paths in the forest.

Those able baby birds noisily follow our procession. They use the dense forest canopy of alder, osier, elderberry and Devil's Club to their advantage, pee-upping along our winding route above the Klehini. We feel like a mini northern jungle populated by a precarious ratio of well fed predators to hungry prey. The river flats and forest supply all the animals of the wilderness the goats and sheep and I feed the dogs and cats.  Its the Ho Chi Minh trail of the Tongass, tended twice daily, complete with the sounds of a helicopter hovering above the mountain just a heartbeat away, though gratefully free from the war torn terror of that architectural marvel .

This summer its twelve hour shift changes up there on the peak. The exploration crew is working hard and furious. At night, as mosquitoes cling from the window screen, I can watch from my bed the glimmering tower as it drills, probing, exploring the mysteries deep within Mother mountain.

Its then I think of the story re-told in Klukwan two springs ago by elder Sally Burattin.

Its the Tlingit legend of the cannibal who chased the people, the cannibal who turns out was human greed pushing the people to consume all, in all directions, taking more than needed forcing them to be wasteful.

The force kept driving them on. Across an arid landscape of grass turning to steppe then tundra. Across rocky peaks that slashed up from vast ice fields. The people fled, chased down into the mountain's crevasses, down into darkness, a giant glacial tube, a cobalt corridor of rushing water, boulders and silt.

They followed the water, often on their bellies crawling, to eventually emerge from an ice cave into a lush river valley. The group, finally able to stop, found the cannibal was no longer among them. One of the young women needed rest and nourishment and the time to deliver a newborn, the first born. To honor the opportunity to begin again and to remember the difficult passage the people called the river the Klehini,  'Mother waters'.

The waters originate high in the Chilkat Pass and are a main tributary of the Chilkat River, home to all five species of Pacific salmon and the largest annual congregation of American Bald Eagles in the world. The Tlingit village of Klukwan, or 'the storage container for salmon', continues to thrive in the heart of the Chilkat.

I'm the watcher on the trail above the Klehini, the crazy granny goat herd beneath Mother Mt. I'm always hoping our human capacity for greed doesn't out distance the heart of this amazing valley. It's never too late to remember and, well, its all relative.