The Mad Season

10:19 PM and sunlight is streaming through the windows, writing its name on the walls: the shadows of trees are pen and ink. I had to force myself to come inside tonight. It seems I can never rest enough these days, though I drench myself in sleep and rise to the surface and dive for more--when I come up for air the light teases me, sends my dreams on walkabout.

Rain: they say this is good fishing weather, but that depends what you are fishing for. Salmon are plentiful or not, regardless of weather; some days they leap one over another into the net and others they swim quietly around without a bump. Rain stirs up the lake fish; trout, pike, Arctic char, grayling. Deepwater fish don't care what happens to the air; storm, sun, rain--they'll eat whatever comes along, hooks and sinkers included. But salmon--it is something deeper than hunger that drives them. The end of the world wouldn't deter them from finding their way home to that one inscrutable place, coveted above all others, seven years' journey to find it again.

The end of the world. Some say it is here. Here, in this place: the edge of so-called civilization where people fall to the middle of the food chain despite the rifles they noisily tote around on backpacks the size of small houses. The edge of a mountain chain so vast and high small planes and airliners can disappear and never be found. Here, in this time: where civilization has run up against the edge of available resources and the planet's exhaustible ability to rebound from the abuse of its children. Science has become our religion, and its prophets tell us we are doomed. There will be no god thundering in on a white horse to avenge his own. No trumpets to announce our redemption.

2:29 PM and the wind has just flared up. Trees nine stories high bowing and swaying, their leaves silvering under a lead sky. But a flock of three-ounce birds flutters and dives through the branches, bustling about with seed-gathering and business as usual. The fishing boats are fighting hard against the wind today; unsecured items are falling over on people's decks and in their yards; bits of siding are preparing to flap loose; but the birds smooth their feathers and flit from branch to porch rail to rooftop, singing little songs to their babies who are just now learning to fly.

This is not a place for the civilized. It is a crazy-making place, a place for rituals and revolutions, but not for everyday life; not for homemaking and grocery shopping and daycare. Putting civilization on this place is like dressing a grizzly bear in a debutante gown. Sooner or later the thing is going to come apart, with results varying from carnage to comedy.

People go mad here. That is one way the gown comes apart. Their minds bulge and fray at the seams, they turn on one another, they turn on themselves. Some go quietly, slowly disappearing over the years via the neck of a bottle. Others flare out sideways and leave scars. Last week a neighbor man went into his shed, nailed the door shut, and set himself on fire. People "flip out" with guns, machetes, kitchen knives--every week, it seems, they murder each other in gruesome and public ways. A few years ago, a friend of mine stabbed herself through the heart. Life is hard here. It turns out, living is often harder than dying.

But madness comes in many forms. There is the madness of a summer night where the light stays and stays; the madness of rooting down in wet, sucking mud for a weekend of camping and music and mosquitoes; the madness of waking up to a foot of snow that wasn't there the night before, and whooping for joy. There is the madness of running up a mountain pass at night, in sleeting wind, breathing the freshest cleanest air left on earth. Have you ever brushed up against death and thanked it for sparing your life? Ever watched a mama grizzly move her cubs away from you instead of ripping your head from your neck? Been bluff-charged by a moose and felt your belly turn to water? This is life, mad and fierce and lovely. Every day of not-dying here is a gift, a rarity, a statistical improbability.

This should be a lighter post. If I were writing from anywhere else, it would be. But I could never speak lightly of this place; even most of the jokes we make about Alaska have punchlines that involve drinking, road accidents, brain damage, freezing to death, spousal abuse and small plane crashes. Gallows humor much?

6:30 PM and the wind has stopped. Rain falls steadily now, plinking on the barn roof, darkening the horses' coats. Their wet eyes gaze at me, large and soft in a bid for carrots or grain. The rain is good to them, comforting after the fierce sun, softer than the winter snows that freeze their thick coats. Tucker cocks a back hoof and lowers his head, settling down for a nap in the drizzle. I take his cue and prepare to do the same; the hay smells sweet and lulls me, a place I used to hide as a child. There is nothing to do today, and no one to do it with, and that is a good thing. Let the rain say what it may; later, I will make up an answer.


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