He Wasn’t Drunk

life in a village

1503-tracks- 1

1503-tracks-

This is Birch Creek. I’ve long wanted to get some good pictures of it, and I’m happy with these. Birch Creek is home to about 30 people, or maybe 20. Nobody moves here looking for work. In fact, nobody really moves here at all.

Well, that isn’t totally accurate – living in the interior of Alaska has a semi-nomadic quality to it and people, usually family relatives, do come and go.

Gwich’in Athabascans have long dwelt in Birch Creek, fishing and hunting the abundant wildlife. Lawrence does, and one cold, February day earlier this year he was having a drink or two, which may or may not have had something to do with the sudden urge that overcame him to go for a walk. Hum, Fort Yukon’s not too far away.

It’s worth noting that a February stroll across the Yukon Flats probably isn’t anything like a stroll down your neighborhood street. If you are a crow, then Fort Yukon is about 30 miles from Birch Creek, but if you are bipedal like Lawrence and me, then you are looking at a 50 mile hike.

It also bears mentioning to those who may not have followed this blog for long that there are no roads across the Yukon Flats; it is true wilderness. There are no mile markers, no signs that you would recognize. There may be snow-go tracks, if they haven’t been obscured by fresh snow. Sometimes there are stars visible. That’s about it. Except for wolves and the like.

Fortunately for Lawrence, he had plenty of time on his hands. He walked for 15 hours and almost made it. A search team found him 4 miles outside the Fort and brought him in. He felt great, except his legs were a little sore.

Lawrence, by the way, is 52 years old. It was -35˚F when he strolled out the door, and there were less than 6 hours of winter light per day.

His family said he wasn’t really drunk, but they also conceded that he may not have been completely sober. Either way, my hat’s off to Lawrence for accomplishing something I would never try.

inspired by Dorothy Chomicz’s story on Newsminer.com

Advertisements

The Wright Choice

northern exposures

aerial-7751

We departed Fort Yukon on Saturday at 3:30 pm on Wright Air, headed for Fairbanks. There are 3 carriers out of the Fort and Wright’s is the only one we will fly. Their Grand Caravans are reliable even in extreme cold and so are their pilots.

Saturday’s pilot warned us that by the time we passed Birch Creek, about 30 miles south, we wouldn’t be seeing much. That was an understatement! Thirty seconds beyond the Yukon it was a white out, so I leaned against the window and fell asleep. At some point I awoke and saw this unknown creek cutting across the landscape below me, so I snapped a quick picture of it just as the snow clouds closed in again.

That was the last thing we saw until the runway lights guided us onto the East Ramp in Fairbanks. The flight normally takes 55 minutes; strong headwinds and zero visibility added another 25 to ours and you should have heard the moaning about that!

Our flight may have been slow, but one of the other planes carrying teachers to Fairbanks lost engine power briefly and began descending over the mountains. I heard there were some screams on that one! The problem apparently had to do with a vapor lock or something as the pilot switched fuel tanks. They landed okay. By the way, that wasn’t one of Wright Air’s planes.

And now you know which airline is the Wright Choice!

Birch Creek

travels

flats-1

Birch Creek meanders across the Flats between Fort Yukon and the White Mountains. It has wiggled itself a new course many times over the years, leaving behind oxbow lakes dotting the landscape. I’ve been told the creek holds fish but most of the lakes do not. It doesn’t look like there is much snow down there in the wooded areas but it is knee deep under those trees.

Snaking Across the Flats

northern exposures

flats-0049

I’ve seen the Flats from above in fog and rain, snow and sun, but on this trip the light came and went as the clouds skimmed overhead. I haven’t seen that before. It was as though light and shadow were playing and as they chased one another below us, they teased details out of the earth that we don’t usually notice. The greens were greener; the blues shifted from cobalt to slate in a breath. It’s just a nameless stream crossing the endless tracks of the Flats, but to me there is beauty in every bend.