Sunday, October 14, 2007

oh my god! was it a month ago already? crikey!

last week, it snowed here. yep, snow. termination dust, as they call it here in Alaska. (refers to the end of the seasonal work schedule when the first snows signal the end of seasonal field or construction work) this means we're hurtling into winter and there's no lookin' back. i love the first snows, mind you, but i always feel slightly ambivalent about the change of season. i love the newness, but i'm also wistful for what we're leaving behind. unless it sucked - then it can go and i hope nature's door hits it on the arse on the way out. but last fall hardly sucked. in fact, we had a beautiful fall, full of crisp, clear days, good times, and beautiful berries.

early September was case in point. Labor week-end found me, Cob and Nuch, and three of our friends (cara, steve, and Mia) at Tangle Lakes canoeing out of reach of society and in search of cranberries. there's a reason for this quest, but i'm not allowed to talk about just yet. all will become clear later. but for now, let me just tell you about this trip.

though it rained a bit as we set off, we really can't complain about the weather given that it was Tangle Lakes country (remember that bike trip from hell on the Denali Hwy? same Tangle Lakes Country). we raced across the first two lakes, survived a short portage into the 3rd lake, and then struggled through a second longer portage (up a hill, across a caribou trail, through tundra, and down a hil through thick blueberry bushes) to the 4th lake, where we eventually camped.

this was a beautiful spot and one where Cob and i have stayed before. it's a crooked little finger of land that hooks out into the lake nicely cleared by decades and probably centuries of caribou traveling its length to reach the water. with plenty of space for multiple campsites and a kitchen site, it also has enough wood around that a dedicated soul might be able to have a campfire every night.

what i love about this area, though, is that is is ripe with cranberries. so we set out to this little corner of the world, with canoes full of food, gear, berry buckets, and laughter, to collect our stash.

one of the best features of our campsite was the trail leading up the hill behind our tents. the trail led up over the hill to higher ground, where one could survey this big sky country in all its glory - oh, and also find more berries. last year, Cob, Nuch, and i trekked up the hill to discover another lake behind us FULL of swans. they must have been gathering there before heading south. there are moments when you just need to sit down and watch the world for a moment as it unfolds one of its mysteries before you. we sat on our little hill, watching what must have been 100 swans swimming around in pairs, honking, and talking over the long journey ahead of them. this year, our 'swan lake' was empty save a few pairs (we were earlier this year), but a few more did gather in the lake we camped on and buzzed our campsite every now and again.

while we were there to pick cranberries, Cara and Steve took some time to fish, Maria napped, i knit, and Cob read us stories. Nuchie squeezed as much love out of each of us that he could.

finally it was time to leave. we had our berries, packed up our canoes and headed out.
i have a rule of thumb about marriage. two people should not be allowed to marry until they can negotiate at least a Class I if not Class II river together in the same canoe. canoeing a river takes communication - there's no way around it. marriage takes communication - there's no way around it. it's a good rule, i think. while we lake paddled and portaged our way to our campsite, we decided to loop around and float down the Tangle River back to our starting point. this meant negotiating the treacherous Class 1/2 of the Tangle River - rife with ankle deep water, scary fist size boulders scattered throughout the river's path, and a current that one could pretty easily out run. ok, so this wasn't the river to test a relationship, but Maria and Steve are about to get married and this is the river we had. plus, though they are both accomplished kayakers, this was their first time ever in a canoe together, so we were working with what we had! they stayed behind us at first as we expertly showed them how to negotiate the river's tricky parts (usually Cob getting out and dragging us over this sand bar or that), until we took a break for lunch.

during lunch, Cara showed me how to fly-fish (i sucked, though she was gracious enough to tell me i did a good job) and had to remind me to keep paying attention after i started hooting and pumping my arm in the air when i hooked my first fish. Steve found two caribou horns in the brushes that he salvaged for cabin door handles and such. we though that looked good on our very own Cara-bou!

after lunch, we jumped back in our canoe to finish making this river our own, and Steve and Maria took off first, bravely facing down the treacherous path ahead. in canoe #2, we all raised
our eyebrows at each other, but we set off behind them. we soon lost sight of them until the river dumped us out into a lake where Maria and Steve were happily chatting waiting for us. ok, so it wasn't a Class II river, and there weren't too many scary sweepers, but i think they passed. and i'll remember this adventure on Nov. 10, as i watch them exchange vows, that they KNOW what they're talking about.