“It is not the end of the world but you can see it from here” goes a saying in McCarthy and after a bumpy eight hour ride from Anchorage I start to believe it. The last sixty miles follow an unpaved gravel road that winds its way through the mountains, across a narrow bridge high above the Kuskulana river and pass signs that warn drivers to “proceed at their own risk.” The road ends with a foot bridge that non-residents cross on feet to reach the town. Welcome to the wild.
McCarthy is nestled among the mountains of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park; a small town with rich history at the feet of the largest National Park whose peaks touch the clouds.
At the beginning of May, the valley is still waking up from its winter rest. The snow has left and rain has not come, the land is crinkly and dry with dust. I walk the nearby trails every day and wonder how I am going to approach this reserved Alaskan land.
Change comes quickly and the season progresses fast. Soon the water starts running faster in the rivers and creeks and more leaves open on the branches of the trees and shrubs. Now the aspens shimmer along the trails and glow against their darker spruce friends. And only a week later wild flowers begin to bloom; the most common ones, dandelions, bluebells and lupines and yet they fill the whole valley with light. I fly over the area and from the small airplane window watch the immensity of the mountains that stretch wide and far. Several ranges come together in the Park, their origins revealed by their rocks’ different colors and shapes. They resemble a convention of giants under the sky, wise titans coming from far far. It is a peaceful assembly; their tribes are divided only by narrow paths.
Perhaps it’s the proximity of the mountains that protect the valley from the outside world. Perhaps the stable quality of light but I sense new calm in this landscape that is different form the world I left behind, the moody coast with its shifts and tides and changeable light. Perhaps this land I will get along fine.