Tuesday, July 17, 2007

my favorite hike

i'm taking my life's perogative to tell a story out of order. i have many things to report, but none seem as compelling to me this afternoon as this one does. Last Sunday, Cob and i hiked the Granite Tors trail, a 15 mile loop that climbs 2500' up to a set of tors before descending again. on our drive out, Cob happily chirped that we were going on "brownie's favorite hike!" i looked at him sideways and exclaimed that this was not my favorite hike - Pinnell was my favorite hike (a 27 mile point to point over alpine tundra - are you getting the idea that i might like the long haul?). i mean, i really like Granite Tors, but my favorite hike? i don't think so.

firmly chided, Cob didn't mention it again.

we got to the trail head, checked our day packs: 2 litres of water each, lunch, extra warm clothes, rain gear (you know, as insurance for no rain - if you don't bring it, it will for sure rain), bug dope (you know, 'cause it won't rain since we brought our rain gear), sunscreen, matches, etc., and set out.

a hiker can travel in either direction up to the tors as the trail is a loop, but i like the left side, so up we went. we moved through the spruce near the river, climbing up into the birch forest that burned a few years back. this is a picture of it from the other side - all those downed trees never actually burned, they just fell over after their root systems burned out from a hot ground fire that swept through the area. fire is a strange thing and it does strange things. you can see where it swooshed up the hillside in great waves.

the burned out forest (full of fireweed, that beautiful pink-purple flower that colonizes burn areas and so gets its name) is stark and simultaneously monochromatic in its charred face that also makes the color - blue sky, purple flowers, green leaves - seem all the more brilliant. i remember this forest before it burned. the canopy sun-dappled the trail and complicated little eco-systems supported a variety of fauna that will have to wait on the flora to catch up. i've done this hike 6 or 7 times since i've lived here in AK; this is my second hike through the burn. my memory of green is still pretty strong.

we finally make it to the Tors and stop for lunch and a little medical attention for my rapidly developing blisters. Nuch takes up residence on one of the Tors and contemplates the universe - he's a deep guy. Cob checks out some kind of lichen or mineral staining on one of the Tors. Cob tells me that the Tors are granite outcroppings formed when magma formed into a large mass called a pluton under the earth's crust which heaved up during a process called ice wedging (i'm working on memory here, folks, and this physical science stuff is a stretch for me). as the earth's crust eroded away, water seeped into the pluton, froze, and expanded, calving off these great slabs of granite that pierced the ground. or something like that.

the way down was a little tricky - we lost the trail for about a mile, but found it again no thanks to the superior smelling skills of the pup. as we picked our way through fallen trees and over granite rock beds back to the real trail, a thousand memories of previous hikes along this trail seemed as real as the trail itself (and my blister).
it's interesting how a place, even one that has changed as much as this place has, can still populate one's brain with a collection of memories drawn from different experiences, different people, different things that happened in this place. like when i hiked it with Jim and we were totally dehydrated, or when Phyllis, Cob, and I gathered burnt out pieces of birch for Jesse's carvings and it now sits in their foyer, or when i lay in a field of fireweed in front of one of the tors, or when we fished out every ziploc bag and empty container from our eaten lunch 'cause we found an amazing blueberry spot. all of these things happened at particular moments in my life, which had changed a little over the years. i remember when i hiked it with a friend whom i rarely see anymore. and when i hiked it with Jim before he left us. and when Nuch and i made a solo summit just to watch the sky by ourselves. when i first hiked it with Cob. when it burned.

the Granite Tors trail has become a space in which my life has unfolded - and been marked by the passage of time. for the first time, i actually wondered where and who i would be when i passed by this way again. how it would look to me then, who i would hike it with, what we would talk about, what memory i would take away from it to remember later. and then i remembered what Cob said...he was right, Granite Tors was my favorite hike. it was like an old friend who always wants a visit from me and likes to catch up on what's happened since he last saw me. and always, always has a few surprises himself.

the only thing that stays the same is the blisters.

Monday, July 9, 2007

catching up...

ok, so i'm way behind, which is apparently what happens when you travel too much.

after St. Mary's, i had a day and a half in Fairbanks before heading back out to the Yukon - to the village of Grayling this time. Grayling is an interesting little village in that it was moved to its current location on the Yukon from the Innoko, a tributary of the Yukon directly to the east. On the Innoko, the village was called Holikachuk. the village was experiencing significant flooding, and so folks picked up and moved due west in the 1950s. This move made sense since many of the summer fishcamps used by Holikachuk residents were on the Yukon and they traveled there every summer. however, many Grayling residents continue to use the Innoko country for many of their other subsistence uses, inlcuding mosse hunting and harvesting whitefish and migratory birds.

Grayling is up river from St. Mary's and our visit continued to track with the upriver progress of the salmon. this was cool since it afforded me my very first opportunity to driftnet. drifting is a style of fishing when you set a net from a moving boat - basically one that is drifting downriver and the net drifts with you, snagging fish along the way. each drift takes about a half-hour to an hour, depending on the strength of the run. drifting is hard work - our first attempt yielded us this HUGE lochness monster-like tree root wad, which was a lot heavier than a salmon, or even several. not so much fun to catch wood.

that's Chase, my drifting teacher. He's 11 and has been working with his uncle since he was 5. Chase was a good teacher - look at our fish!

our catch was brought back to Chase's aunties, who then enlisted our help in making salmon strips. strips are hung to air dry for a day or two before being moved into a smokehouse where they will be smoked for a few weeks and then frozen for winter use.

this is a another family's smokehouse. those are backbones hanging on the outside which will be dried slightly and either used for dog food or boiled to remove the meat for jarring.

we were doing the same work in Grayling that we were doing in St. Mary's - documenting local knowledge of the salmon runs. believe or not, that's NOT me mapping historic fish camps with Henry Deacon, the traditional chief of the village. that's Catherine - we've worked together for the last several years and are regularly mistaken for each other - even when she was pregnant!!