We leave Denali early in the morning and push further north to Fairbanks, our northernmost destination. In one big rush, we arrive by noon to speak to the rural native high school students here too. We eat lunch with them and learn their names and histories, growing up out here in the bush at the top of the world. Their past and present, and the here-now — seeing their bright minds and their glowing faces and imagining their shining futures is so invigorating. Soon, they go back to class; we say goodbye and wish them well on their journeys. And then finally, in the early afternoon, our messages delivered, we finally catch our breaths, our intentions fulfilled.
We check into our hotel, and at long last have a time to rest. Several of us drive up to Chena to warm and restore ourselves. At the hot springs there, we finally have a chance to soak our aching bodies in its smoky waters. Nearing the end of our long journey, it is so good to soothe our stretched-out souls in the healing pools, and as the steam washes over us, our troubles melt away into the heat, the long miles wash into the clear, cleansing water, and evaporate into the mountain air. I sit on a big rock under the northern Alaska sky, my feet and ankles soaking in the spring, and a misty breeze in my hair. I lie back, close my eyes, and become a whale for a while.
kissing the warm rocks:
Chena hot springs!
* * *
On the drive back to Fairbanks, two moose cross our path, appearing suddenly on the road in front of our car. One strolls casually across the road as we roll past and keeps going, back into the woods. The other glides around our SUV and waits, watching the driver’s side windows, peering at us, peering into us. Further along, a fox steals road kill and nibbles at it by the roadside as we watch. Other cars stop and stare with us. Despite the paved highway and the new flourishes of the twenty-first century, the street signs and the cement, this is still a wide, wild country, and nature is pushing back against the brunt of modernity. Truly, this is still their land.
a river in the path
of a traveling moose
Back at the hotel, we shut the blinds on the unsetting sun. How bright it stays this far in the deep north! But we sleep in darkness for what feels like the first time in a long while.