The Last Frontier

 

So on Monday afternoon, I got on a plane to Anchorage, Alaska because I was blessed with means and opportunity. I’ll be here until Saturday evening, just seeing some things worth seeing and trying out the whole Alaska thing. I’ll give you a quick rundown on what I’ve done so far and then leave you with a few thoughts.

Before we get to the Alaska stuff, though, the plane ride itself. Because I’d never had occasion to fly over the Olympic Mountains before and they were positively breathtaking. Turn, coming down over Alaska, more breath was taken as we descended over glaciers and water and sub-arctic forests.

On Tuesday morning, my friend (we planned this to together not quite spontaneously but still only a but ago) and I got caught in the rain walking to breakfast. We knew rain was in the forecast but were inexplicably confident it wouldn’t start until after we returned. Alas. Breakfast was wet. Then we rented a car and set out.

Driving along the Seward Highway, the rain continued pretty heavily and most of the landscape was fairly deeply obscured. Our first destination was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and as we approached, the weather started to clear up a bit.

The Center itself involved walking a little long among the various enclosures. Unlike a zoo, which is totally uncomfortable, the animals mostly are there for two reasons: they were wounded and unable to survive in the wild (like the bald eagle who had one entire wing amputated when they found him) or they are part of a conservation/reintroduction program. The major highlight was, of course, seeing my beloved mush oxen which remain and forever will remain my favorite animal.

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After stopping for lunch and a bit of shopping, we decided to continue on to Whittier. I really want to tell you the whole story of Whittier, Alaska, but I don’t think I’d be able to do it justice in this space. Suffice to say that the majority of the population of about 200 lives in a single building built for the army during the Cold War. The other building from that era is in ruins and is very creepy. Also, to get to Whittier, you must pass through a very long, one-lane tunnel which changes directions every half hour. It is quite an interesting place. That is all I can say about it.

Yesterday, we spent the morning exploring Anchorage a bit, the downtown if I may call it that. Some nice little shops, tasty food, lovely views. Then we headed up into the mountains (still within the city limits) for a hike that turned out to be much more of a hike than we anticipated. Tabletop Mountain starts fairly steeply but reasonably, but the last portion of the trail is truly just rock climbing and we weren’t about that life. The best part of the trail was that there was never not an excellent view.

 

Overlooking the city, the expanse of tidal flats, snowy mountains in the distance. No picture does it justice, alas.

Today holds a trip to Denali, the highest peak on the continent.

I’m not sure how I feel about Alaska, the so-called last frontier (we all know space is the final frontier so…). Obviously, it’s incredibly beautiful, beyond description or photography. But it’s also in perpetual danger because humans are trash, even when they live in such a place. In some ways, the state is politically progressive and in others very regressive. It’s plagued by social ills to a degree beyond most other states but it also fosters its people in unique ways. I honestly don’t know that much about it but it’s a weird place.

As always, I’ve contemplated if I would live here and it’s hard to say. For one thing, snow. For another, it’s been sixty and rainy pretty much this whole week, which doesn’t bode well for summers generally. And the politics. All that balanced with the Beauty of Nature and a kind of isolation, even in Anchorage, that I find appealing.

 

Either way, it calls for further study and I would very much like to come back and explore more. I require more data points. Come to Alaska (just don’t be trash about it).

Coast; Thoughts

I thought about making this post a Jeff Bezos rant, and just rich people in general (wealth is immoral, ask me about how I feel and I’ll tell you) but I couldn’t quite manage it. I have lots of rants stored up, and some of them aren’t even that bad, but I just wasn’t feeling it for this week, I guess.

On Monday, I did go on a bit of an adventure to fulfill some Washington things that I’d been meaning to do for ages. We drove out to La Push and Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most point in the state (and the contiguous US). The weather here had been surpassing hot and I just had to get out.

First, La Push. It’s in this strange, stringy little arm of Olympic National Park out on the coast-coast. We went partially to escape the heat and indeed, instead of 93°F, the temperature fell as we approached the water, some places more along the way to the tune of 60°F though the beach itself was more like 70°F, very pleasant.

The other weather thing, though, we discovered on the short 20-minute trail from where we parked down to the beach. The last five minutes or so were blanketed in a sudden and dense fog bank. So thick, in fact, that is almost seemed like it was raining as the moisture condensed on needles and leaves and fell on us. Very spooky. The beach was no different, a mysterious and arcane view greeted us when we finally came out of the trees. Sandy beach, lots of driftwood, seaward boulders, all opaque and obscured and opalescent.

 

We walked along the beach some way, then returned before the rising tide stranded us on some rocks in the middle of nowhere. After a bit of lunch, we drove up the coast toward the Cape.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with sunny weather, no mysterious fog banks, and a gorgeous sight. The view on offer included a number of rocky islets, formed by the slow (or maybe not so slow, actually) erosion of the underlying bedrock. We stood, in fact, on top of a number of sea caves and that land would soon collapse and form more rocky promontories. We also could see a good chunk of Vancouver Island which seemed not at all distant and very beautiful.

 

All in all, 10/10 would recommend both destinations if you’re in the area. We were very blessed by great weather, the Washington coast spends most of its time gloomy, chilly, and just very, very rainy.

I didn’t want to do a ranty post this week, as I’ve said, but I do want to include a little something here at the end. I’ve continued to call this blog Journeyman because, MPhil or not, I’m still not a master at life but I continue to work on myself. In humility, I submit to you this: let us question our lives deeply, examine ourselves honestly, and put in the work, be it ever so laborious, to make ourselves–and the world–a better place. We may never do enough, but are we even doing at all?

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, so I’d like to conclude with a few of his words. About apartheid and about how we live our lives.

The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

My New Friend, Pádraig

A quick note on last week’s post to get started. A friend of mine brought to my attention the motto of North Carolina, a quote from Cicero (among others): esse quam videri or to be, rather than to seem. It just made me feel validated to share the same sentiments as a poet and old Latin guys (and an old Greek guy said something along the same lines). It’s a fun group to be a part of, apparently along with the State of North Carolina.

In other news. Last Saturday, I drove down to the outskirts of Portland and purchased a car for my very own. My initial ambition was to never own a car, then it was to have the first car I buy be electric. It is, alas, a hybrid but something is better than nothing. Also, after considering a variety of names, I have settled on Pádraig. I’ve just learned that the name shares its etymology with patrician which is fun. Also, for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s PAW-drig. The other contenders were Paolo and Peter so participation trophies for them.

Perhaps you’ll meet Pádraig someday, he’s a pretty cool guy.

On Monday morning, I was up early and off to Issaquah, which I don’t think I’ve ever visited before. I was meeting a friend of mine to hike Poo Poo Point because why not. My erstwhile hiking partner has recently relocated and I haven’t been out much since, so that was nice. It was also lovely to catch up with my friend and his brother, who I met for the first time. The views were beautiful, draped with plenty of mystical clouds.

Not much has been going on here otherwise. Slowly acquiring a few more household accouterments necessary for the move and furnishing my place. More reading in the sun. Snuggling with cats.

Yesterday, I did go to a friend’s house to celebrate the most American holiday. He lives on a lake but there wasn’t much swimming because, though it was warm, it wasn’t sunny one minute and did in fact rain a little. Even so, it was a lovely time just hanging out, having nice food, watching pretty fireworks.

I recognize that I am very blessed by being an American alive at this time. But I also did not feel quite up to celebrating America. There is so much work yet to be done and so much of ‘America’ is only America to some. It’s a bit of a balancing act, recognizing the incredible gifts that we are given and also being convicted of the need for radical change.

I’m not really sure what else I want to say about it and I don’t really have other news to report. So there you go. Until next week.

Breathe the Free Air

Introductory thoughts for the week:

I was reading a little article about the recent ‘velvet’ revolution in Armenia whereby the premier was removed from power and the whole political system upset by popular demonstrations ect. They reference the actions of youth, commonly known there as the ‘independence generation’.

I’m real into generation things, I think it’s an interesting way to think about history and contemporary life. I like being a millennial, generally. But think about this: in lots and lots of places, I would be in a different generation–the first generation born and raised in a new country.

The early nineties were a crazy time in much of the world. And the resulting waves of independence meant that there’s a whole slew of young people around the world who are literally building their countries. They are deciding what they want their countries to look like. Not just by voting or consuming culture or whatever options are available to people just generally. But by actually being the first people born ever in, for example, the Republic of Armenia.

It’s something that I really can’t imagine, being very far removed from US independence. Certainly, there are traditions to build on, history and precedent. But think about Kyrgyzstan, for example, which went from progressive invasions across the steppes to the Russian Empire then the Soviet Union. Before independence in 1991, there had never been any kind of Kyrgyz state in history, the people of that area traditionally having been loosely organized nomads (historians please feel free to instruct me if I’m mistaken, I like learning).

In other news, I climbed a mountain with my friend on Tuesday. We debated both ‘climb’ and ‘mountain’ but in the final estimation, decided both were appropriate. We went to Mount Townsend, right at the northeast corner of the Olympics. It was eight-ish miles round trip, increasing about 3,000′ in elevation. Having reached the top, we definitely determined that it was a climb not a hike, and definitively a mountain mountain. The views were spectacular.

 

We had some lovely conversation, some lovely chicken salad sandwiches, and some companionable silence (huffing of breath excluded, of course). One of my favorite parts of the whole experience was the air.

It was fragrant almost beyond belief with pine and alpine freshness. It’s a smell I’m familiar with but can never have enough. Something about being up a mountain, seeing verdant green and bright snow and elegant peaks… it’s beyond special.

In places like that, I often try to envision the first people to come to those places. The first human eyes to see those mountains, those valleys, those rivers. To have all your senses alive with a totally new experience–scenting the pine, hearing the birds, warmed by the sun, seeing the peaks, tasting your chicken salad sandwiches.

What an incredible gift it is. I was trying to think of a way to connect my initial musings with the hike and I stuck upon that moment from Lord of the Rings when Théoden is freed from Saruman’s enchantment and Gandalf says, “Breathe the free air again, my friend.” (As an aside, yes pretty much everything can be connected to a Lord of the Rings quotation).

Sometimes, a protest and political revolution is required to breathe free. Sometimes, all that is required is a lungful of pine and a vast, open sky. In the words of E.E. Cummings, “i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky…”

I awkwardly forgot about my music list so I’m adding it now. Too late for some of you, alas.

  1. Praying – Kesha
  2. Pray – Sam Smith
  3. In the Name of Love – Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha
  4. Say You Love Me – Steve Grand
  5. Issues – Julia Michaels
  6. Cameo – Sam Tsui
  7. Silence – Marshmello ft. Khalid
  8. All Our Love – Gentlemen Hall
  9. Paris in the Rain – Lauv
  10. Settin’ the Woods on Fire – Hank Williams

Washington, My Home

Oddly, states have their own state song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Washington, My Home and I don’t think I’d really like to. But one way or another, Washington is my home. I’m trying to do some more exploring while I’m here in anticipation of leaving again (as vain as that hope may be). So yesterday I went on a lovely hike with a friend and it was very Washington, much home.

We decided on Lena Lake in the eastern Olympics, a relatively short drive and a relatively easy hike. It was the first forecast rainy day in a while, but the drive over was dry, as was the start of the hike. Cloudy, of course, but dry. As we continued, the rain picked up but it remained a tolerable rain not an absolute downpour. We had coats. We lived.

And my goodness was it gorgeous. Similar to New Zealand, actually, with ferns and moss and water and mist. Also fjords and rainforests. But in a distinctly different way. Sword ferns, for one, and cedars and pines for another. And it just felt good to wander through a solid Washington forest and marvel.

Lena Lake Trail

As always, pictures hardly to it justice, but suffice to say it was definitely a worthwhile trip. There was still some snow on the ground, too, which was a little surprising and fun. It was all-around an enjoyable experience for the company and the scenery.

Other than that, my week has been pretty low-key. I’ve had a couple good catch-ups with people and those have been really nice. My list of friends still around the Harbor has grown shorter in the past few years, but it’s always good to see them.

My days consist of a great deal of nothing. Reading, playing Civilization, doing Duolingo. I did plant a couple plants, rosemary and lemon balm (or BAHM if you can’t read the letter l) and that’ll be nice. I’m continuing to apply to places, mostly in the US so far, but nothing has come of it yet. Who knows. It would be much easier to enjoy doing nothing if I had something to look forward to, but once again I’m confronted with an apparently endless abyss of nothingness so that’s not super fun. I’ll live.

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Also, here’s an update on the yin-yang kitties

So that’s my week. Mostly boring but an acceptable level of activity. Some good catching up and some intense Washington ambiance. See you next week.

Go to Sleep and Dream of Snow

This past Saturday, I went with some friends back to Bukhansan National Park. This time, we went around the back way to climb up one of the lesser peaks. The weather was surprisingly mild, though in this case that meant it was around 5 C/40 F. There was plenty of snow, but only in the shade. All in all, it was a lovely hike.

It started out relatively calm but, as per usual with Korean mountains, it quickly became quite steep. The last slog up icy rock faces with only a rickety railing was less than ideal, not least because I am just not athletic to begin with. But we got to the top and, though it was a hazy day, the views were still gorgeous. We hiked up Jaunbong Peak (740m) and had a wonderful, if strenuous, time doing so.

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Baegundae Peak, my last trip to the park, in the distance

On Sunday morning, I awoke to a lovely blanket of snow. It was cold enough to stick even to the roads, for once, and I relished the chance to walk to church through snow. Of course, it was also raining and so I took the bus, but the walk to the bus stop was positively delightful. After church the rain had stopped and all but a scattered remnant of packed snow had gone the way of glaciers in the time of global warming. Nevertheless, I was well pleased with the weather all around.

After everything was sufficiently melted, the temperature, naturally, dropped significantly. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday had highs around -6 C and lows of -12 C (that’s ~24-10 F). Which is very cold. Much bundling was necessary even though I only live about an eight minute walk from work. The skies have been crystal clear and the wind has been pretty biting. I definitely complain about the cold but I would like to state once more, for the record, that I will ten times out of ten take too cold over too hot. You can always put on more clothes but there’s only so much you can take off.

There’s really not much else to report this week. I can say that I’m very excited to be nearing the end of my contract. I’m very excited about my upcoming trip upon the expiration of said contract. I’m very excited for Christmas. I’m very excited to finish the series I’ve been reading for the past while, though it will, of course, be sad when I actually do finish.

Feel free to send me details and/or pictures of your Christmas preparations because. Bonus points will be awarded for Christmas trees and baked goods, but all submissions will be thoroughly appreciated.

북한산

Bukhansan is the highest mountain in Seoul at 836 meters, or a little over 2,700 feet. Not monstrous but respectable, especially because it’s the heart of a national park on the fringes of one of the largest cities in the world. If you give it a second, you could probably divine what shapes make the ‘a’ and ‘n’ sounds–and therefore the others too. Maybe.

Anyway, on Saturday I was invited along with a couple friends to hike up the highest peak of Bukansan, Baegundae. The trail started out ‘moderate’ for about an hour, then was ‘advanced’ for about the same, and the final twenty minutes or so were ‘expert’. In this case, moderate referred to a pretty normal trail on a mountain. Advanced meant rough piles of rocks tumbled together in a steep, vaguely stair-like fashion. Expert, which certainly no one there was, consisted primarily of large bare rock faces at extraordinary angles with a rope handrail along one side. I’m probably exaggerating a little because of my relative inexperience, but it was quite a slog.

My goodness, though, the view. I may have mentioned this before, but Seoul is a ginormous city and standing on the summit (a tiny rock surface crowded by a memorial, flagpole, and selfie-takers) was an experience. It was a remarkably clear day and we could see well past the river, something the haze normally bars even from much closer vantage points. That meant the whole park lay like a rumpled green gown beneath us and the city itself showed its off-white endlessness as its claws dug into the small islands of treed hills scattered across the horizon.

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It was a beautiful view, and the mountain was absolutely gorgeous. But it was also kind of hideous to see this human behemoth blanketing what once was certainly an incredible and natural vista. Even the summit itself sported signs of humanity, from the fortress (which seemed silly, no army was going to climb directly over the top of the tallest mountain in the area) to the radio antenna to the power lines that followed much of the trail up. Even the noise–we ate lunch just under the peak facing into the park and when we went back up to go down we suddenly realized the dull roar we had hitherto been tuning out.

But I digress. Yes, it was beautiful. I would recommend it and I would return. There was an amazingly clear stream that followed our rocky trail. We even encountered a pair of mountain kittens on our way back down–we happened to be carrying some tuna leftover from lunch so we watched delightedly as they deigned to come a few steps closer to devour it.

IMG_20170902_132453849 Like I said, it was wonderful. The mountain kittens might be one of my favorite experiences in Korea. But it also just made me sad. You couldn’t escape the city in any direction, on any peak, in any park. Obviously there is plenty of land in Korea outside of cities–it’s maybe even better than in the US since more Koreans live in cities and they generally lack the urban/suburban sprawl that so afflicts North America.

I don’t know, I think I have some oddly complicated feelings about nature. I don’t need to go into them here, it’s whatever.

Anyway, the rest of the week held very little for me. Some more reading, dipping a couple toes back into Netflix but at a more reasonable rate, and not much else. Last week we had Wednesday off, the first in ages, and this week I had phone classes. This time, though, it was the early class and we only had a half day so we finished as seven. And I would ten times out of ten choose phone classes over a one-on-one. But this term is different insofar as I don’t know that Wednesdays will be regular like they were first term. So who knows what I’ll do next week. But they have been promised to be half days except for make-up tests.

Other than that, just settling nicely into the term. Here’s hoping it stays nice.