When it’s been three full weeks off the grid, out-of-touch, beyond the reach of daily electronics, what words do you use to tell your story? What you’ve been doing? Where you’ve been? How do you actually pull it off, this recap of 21 days in a paragraph or two, and do it with accuracy and emotion both? What words are there that can handle this kind of story?
Whatever words I use, they will be inadequate. Inadequate to describe the Alaskan sky, the majesty of the country, the sticky-cool mist and the power of the wind and the heat of the sun coming through the trees on the Landing trail, the ozone-funk of the sea and the constant worrying of the waves on the stoic shoreline. I wouldn’t know where to begin when it comes to relating the intense green of a place so beautiful, it’s come to be known as the “Pastures of Heaven.” Or how to say anything about the sound that a humpback’s tail makes as it slaps the morning water or taste of just-caught rockfish or the wizardly gaze of a baby otter on a sun-splashed morning.
I heard wolves! I didn’t see them but I heard them.Actual, honest-to-god wolves. I thought it was a dog at first, until the unlikely nature of that being the case became clear, which is right about the time that the barking turned to howling. A primal, ancient sound that has been replaced almost everywhere with the scream of sirens or the burping symphony of cell phones. It’s still happening here. The short hairs on the back of my neck really did stand up… how do I talk about something like that?
And what of the things that aren’t so beautiful? How can I explain how intensely out-of-place a massive cruise ship looks sailing through the darkening waters of Decision Passage, its giant movie screen glowing topside while thousands are below at the dinner revue or mechanically feeding the slots? Like some kind of different world (which it is), gliding almost silently past the wonder of the world I am living in. I don’t have words for this juxtaposition of realities and if the rounded, green Spanish Islands just across the strait and the brooding fortress of Coronation Island in the near distance have an opinion, I can’t make that out either.
And while a floating city may seem out of place here, there is something far worse. And how do I even start to talk about that? The fact that every single beach is choked with plastic, how to begin that conversation? That there are some places where the plastic comes in layers, bottles and fishing gear, ropes and buckets and assorted chunks of foam? How can I convince anyone who has not seen it that this is not hyperbole, that what I am seeing and saying is actually the case, and not the fatalistic prattle of some environmentalist Chicken-Little? Still working on it. Still looking for the right words.
But as hard as those scenes are to relate, there are other things that need to be said as well, better things, and I can feel those words inside me as I reflect on these 21 days, even if they are not as easy to put on paper. Gratitude, for example, for the people I was able to spend my time with, to work with, to paddle with and to laugh with. Purpose, acceptance, united, happy, together, muddy, scraped and sore. I would use words like those to tell the part of the story that means the most to me, about the progress that we made together, about what I see as the place where hope comes from.
This is just the beginning of the tale. As I find the words, I will write them here.