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Saturday, August 25, 2018

EXCERPT # FROM THE ALASKA CHAPTER OF SCREEN MEMORIES

EXCERPT # II    Once we had floated down the Little Tok we entered the “Delta” and what a Delta it is at Delta Tok Junction! We spotted    our Personnel Carrier parked on the bridge across the Tok at the end of the delta where all the Toks had become one sizable stream and we started to hoot it up and cheer and let the stream flush us towards our destination and into a big curve at a goodly speed and Lady Luck nearly drowned or froze in the glacial water thirty second and hypothermia sets in and dragged down by silt filling every pocket as the front of the raft got stuck, lodged under a not that thick sapling that had decided to grow horizontally across the river and sink its crown into a sandbank.                 If the sapling had broken in the hands of either of the seven of us, with me last, scrambling hand over hand to get ashore… we would have lost a lot more than gear. I lost a camera, but the Little Brown Books were safe. Roadrunner, who had allowed us to break out in happy cheers and let our guard down at the sight of two weeks of work well done, had packed them in plastic in his backpack. Fortunately it was a sunny day, and like very wet dogs we shook the freezing 32 % water off. This was the third and closest of the three close calls, although there is another verge of a close call ahead during which I might have frozen to death and/ or become a Wolf’s meal. We found a roadhouse to dry up and eat at Delta Junction.    About Delta Junction    Today a community of 1,058 residents, Delta Junction began as a telegraph station in 1904 and came into its own during the Chisana Gold Strike of 1913 and when it was chosen in the 1920s for the government’s buffalo importation program. Delta Junction is home to the 90,000-acre Delta Bison Sanctuary, which was created to contain a free-roaming herd of more than 500 animals. The area features spectacular views of the Alaska Range and the Delta River. On clear days the panoramas of Mount Hayes, Mount Moffit and other peaks are stunning.    After what probably was no more than a day or so of rest in Fairbanks we were off on the longest slog through the below kind of territory.      The below map shows the course of the Alaska Pipeline, and subsequently, many years after our long slog when I looked where the pipeline was laid, I felt sure that someone used our Little Brown Books, and I want some royalties too, for though we were told we were surveying a potential Fairbanks Nome road, we were heading straight north towards Point Barrow and got about midway to the Yukon I think, close to Ramparts, before we turned back. There was no road to the Yukon or what is called Ramparts on the map then.       The distance to the Yukon is about 125 miles by air and the route we explored once out of the old gold mining area now has the pipeline and the Dalton Highway, a gravel road that runs all the way to Prudhoe Bay. 125 miles, a bicyclist does in one morning if there is a flat road. You can walk it in five easy days. However, we were on a slog that stopped every quarter mile or more frequently and spent at least fifteen minutes doing our sketch, and probing the soil. If we did five miles a day we were doing well. Moreover, we were carrying about 50 pounds of stuff, and the ground was moss, the now ever so familiar resilient one or two feet “moss” cover, this Geflecht, thickly interlaced organic fabric, lichen cum what not, might indeed be regarded as being easy on your feet – our’s was not Bill Styron’s Marine’s painful “The Long March” – but that you sunk into the moss meant that you also had to extract, which is an effort, and is why the so much lighter Roadrunner had an advantage over us also in that respect, and why I call our progression a slog. Did I have all my guns along? I don’t think so. I think we apportioned the guns, there was one rifle, one shotgun and one side arm 22. Since I kept going for Grouse I seem to have brought the shotgun. We had heard, and it made a certain sense, that you could kill a Moose by shooting it in the neck with a well-placed 22 long bullet – you needed to hit a prominent vein so the animal would bleed to death. However, however many Meese we saw, and tempted, we were not near villagers to whom we could have share left-over meat.    There are no major rivers between Fairbanks directly north to the Yukon, you leave the confluence of the Chena and Tanana at Fairbanks, but there are small streams, fordable in September unless there has been heavy rain, and there had been no rain for months, and then we did some fishing before we moved on. When there were hills or we approached the “White Mountains” – yet another White Mountain range – near the Yukon the diggings became more interesting and the Professor could profess on the unusual mineral deposits or rock formation, but he never mentioned or puzzled over the question whether the landscape, its form, or frequent lack of form, its flat formlessness, promised ontologically anchored peacefulness. (see “Afterbirth/ Tremors”) I myself came upon some unusual mineral concentrations, of the kind that would become valuable to the makers of computer chips I realized years later, and some goodies valuable to miners but found no gold, and mentioned them to some prospectors I then encountered back in Fairbanks. Mica and other silicates in particular in high concentration, sheets of the material. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mica    I don’t recall where we stopped ploughing North, but it was at the verge of the “White Mountains,” the weather turns cold by Mid-October in those latitudes, it has started to rain. What bothers me most about my memory, though, is that I don’t recall how we got back home to the road to Fairbanks. We had had a few helicopter drops of essentials, but no helicopter ferried us back home. Were we near some kind of something road-like that a vehicle could attain? Did we then do a forced march of a few days back without stopping to do our customary investigating? I literally have no idea and have not been able to locate my Roadrunner Professor no doubt very emeritus at the University of Washington if not in the grave if he died in bed. I suspect the Alaska Department of Roads has a record somewhere, if only of the last Brown Books turned in during the slog. A forced march would have been exhausting and I would surely recall, as I would some special vehicle that could navigate that terrain. My guess is that the driver who would bring us our personnel carrier when we were ready for it found a way of taking it north on some path – goat path I would say for Baja California, but that was then very far in an entirely unanticipated future. Moose run? Caribou defile?    At any event, after a few days back in Fairbanks we relocated about fifteen miles north in the old goldfields. There were a few codgers left who made a  living, sort of, sorting the dregs.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairbanks_mining_district  We put up a ten man dark olive U.S. Army tent not too far from the main gravel road leading through the district, by a small road alongside a stream, there were only four of us now, and then there were only two of us and the Roadrunner stayed in Fairbanks, and the wolf who followed me each morning as I did fewer and fewer hours of actual surveying, and then it not only froze at night but the frozen stream near which we had erected our big tent was covered with more and more snow and the rabbits started to gnaw frantically at the bark of the saplings and willows growing out of the frozen stream which eventually froze solid and I started to shoot rabbits with my 30/30 Mustang rifle, decapitating them with one shot – not the best way to kill rabbits, since stepping on their heads once you have made a few incision at their legs is the most efficient rabbit skinning method. But that is what I did, because I didn’t want led pellets in my meat and using the 22 long hand gun, for that it was too damned cold. At any event, I shot a lot of rabbit and shared, even with the Iowa kid. However, you cannot really live just on rabbit since rabbits have no fat. Yet when I think on that period I see dozens of rabbit running and sitting in the snow on the frozen stream, very white horizontal with grey vertical strokes indicating the saplings growing in the banks of the stream. Why do they congregate there? I had never seen them until the stream froze over and it started to snow!   The saplings I suppose. Ice by itself is too slippery. Rabbits are not good ice skaters but have good snow shoes.                   #  Now comes the day that comprises the entirety of the experience at our last surveying post, the one time we were not on the move. And this is how it begins. I have had a good nite’s sleep as has my enemy; that is, we have slept 14 hours, as though we are bears starting to hibernate – actually the bears have beaten us to it - I haven’t seen a bear of any kind for weeks. If we have not got the proper amount of sleep for this time of year the Iowa boy with his scraggly beard and I would most likely bite each other’s heads off, angry as bears. As it is, after thawing water I make some instant coffee and oatmeal. Well, yes I climb out of the tent and take a pee in the snow at a spot where the snow is yellow. In addition to the thermal Army underwear and clothes I don a heavy duty parka and insulated pants, I pack a roasted rabbit, take my spade and rifle, and don my snow shoes! A good day to penetrate the permafrost after you hack your way through the frozen layer of moss! A good day for banana fish! And head out into the snow, carrying the spade and the rifle, on snow shoes. After about a hundred yards I turn around to check whether my companion has joined me. Yes, he/ she has. My friend, the neighborhood wolf, who started shadowing me within about a week of my solitary, brief and utterly useless expeditions.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yukon_wolf    I am not sure what to make of this wolf, it is most unusual for him not to be with his pack. Is he a miner’s pet who is looking for a new hook-up? I start leaving rabbit carcasses, and he disposes of them. I try talking to him, but he never comes closer than 50 yards.    I find the general area I am supposed to survey. I take off my gloves, take out a pencil, and make the roughest of preliminary sketches, and put my hands back into my gloves, Then I do something very stupid. I try to dig through the snow with one of my boots inside a snow shoe because I don’t want to sink up to my knee into the snow! It is that deep!  I am bent over forward…. and something freezes in my back, it is a shooting pain, and I am unable to move, I can’t even lift one leg, and my upper body is parallel to the snow. Well, maybe I will freeze to death and the wolf will have a really good meal off this big rabbit are the thoughts that go through my head as I allow myself to fall to the side, hoping that my back, that has locked up, that is frozen with pain, will thaw, loosen up in a more comfortable position – as it obviously did, and I forgot how long it took, and I did not acquire frost bite and my friend the wolf did not approach any closer. And the experience of letting myself fall becomes the metaphor for “fear of falling” in my analysis with Dr. R.!        On the 4th of November 1960 I voted half a dozen times for John F. Kennedy in Fairbanks and the bum still loses Alaska to Richard Nixon because you can register and vote at six different polling stations at one and the same time. I expect that if someone bothered to check someone might have come by to arrest me. However, since Nixon was the clear winner no one seems to have noticed. My address is on Airport Road, it’s just a number, it doesn’t say “Mom and Pops from Montana’s Firefighters Camp”. I make love to Alma but Alma continues to have a main squeeze who is out of town, a lumber jack working in South East Alaska. If I had been her main squeeze and she had asked me to move into her teeny cabin I would have given the matter serious consideration, no matter that the wages of cabin fever -  jealousy induced shootings - had been on display at the Fairbanks Court all summer. I kept saying “I think I am going to stop seeing you,” but then seeing Alma again anyway, and she kept pointing out the contradiction to me. Alma knew how to get the best from Connie Lingers, and she was not te first hussy who knew how pleasure is to be obtained. Cabin fever shootings were regarded as an extenuating circumstance, the way the Mistral, the Föhn is in the Alps and in the Pyrenees. The standard punishment was two years. These trials were what folks in Fairbanks watched for amusement in the summer. I would have found out what living with a woman was like, after all I hadn’t done since my days as a kid, for seven years, with my governess, and that had ended in what felt like murder! But this was not the time that I would find out the devastation that the early imprisonment had wrought; after all, I was living out the reaction to it, in the wilds, but now snowbound, and without a job. Alma didn’t live in Fairbanks but in the adjacent College, where she had a job as some kind of assistant. I tried to keep up a tenuous link to the rest of the world which is so easy to lose if you are out in the field, tht kind of field, for such long stretches of time by reading the N.Y Times at the Fairbanks and the College libraries. One item that caught my attention then is worth noting. It was an account of the U.S. Army training Cuban soldiers in Guatemala. Castro and Che and their overthrow of Battista were a big deal to me. Hm, wonder what Uncle Sam is up to now!? Occurred to me. What Uncle Sam had been up to became devastatingly clear the next summer as I happened to be on the balcony of Frank and Patti’s apartment around 110th / 96th street and Amsterdam Avenue, about the 20thfloor. The final nail in whatever delusions I had retained. Thus, shocking as it was, the assassination – I was with Frank and Wilfred Sheed at Frank’s place in Brooklyn Heights – was not that surprising, no end of folks had reason to eliminate the charismatic president. And I always referenced the fact that all this was freely advertised as about to happen in the New York Times and that I had read about it in Alaska.             Alma mentioned one matter that has always stuck with me as a possible alternate life. The University of Fairbanks was host to an émigré Austrian biologist who ventured out each summer looking for a possible surviving band of UR-beavers, the kind that were 12 feet long as compared to the present-day six feet critters. His theory went that with all the thermal springs in Alaska – Fairbanks had the nearby Chena Hot Springs – it took just one band near a hot spring. I felt maybe he ought to get together with my professor of Geology. Perhaps there was also something wrong with his timelines, did they mesh? At any event, I regret never meeting the man.                                    I never took Alma to the Timberline – and am trying to think why I didn’t, probably because we were both so eager to fuck once I was briefly back in town. I had planned to take Kim Novak there, just to see what my friends would make of a lively girl like that. What if she had talents as a vocalist? Roadrunner pulled me and the Iowa kid back into town about the time that I injured my back, the finishing touches on the evaluation of an alternate route through the wrecked landscape of the gold fields would wait until Alaska’s late Spring set in. It appeared my tile and marble man’s apprentice papers might get me a job laying ceiling soundproofing tile in a supermarket under construction. But construction was halted for the winter. I went by the offices of the Daily News Miner, the Fairbanks paper, and talked to their editor in chief about a job they had advertised, reporting on Indian Villages. He misheard Harvard for Haverford and I had the job… it entailed spending one week each at one Indian village after the other and filing reports on everything that had transpired since the last time a reporter had shown up, births, marriages, deaths, dog fights, fish catches and then the bush plane took you to the next village. All winter long, all long winter long, and if I hadn’t spent that unfortunate 4th of July in Koyuk with my friend Dominik I would certainly have said yes. It could have got me a job as an anthropologist subsequently I suppose. The good editor was so so eager to find a body for that job. More bush planes crashed in Alaska than anywhere else and they still do. What to do certainly pre-occupied my thoughts. Making money while adventuring in strange parts was an attractive proposition – for example, driving trucks delivering nitro glycerin in the Venezuelan oil fields was extremely well paid but also extremely lethal even after seeing the Wages of Fear just once. There was the rumor of deep sea diving for conches in the south sea islands… that combined fantasies of Gauguin’s women with wealth, the only, and what an only, was that I hated to get my head under water – it reminded me of governess-like confinement! If I had known that the negative role model of my childhood had his own Safarilanda in Mozambique, and not be a ships chandler in Lorenzo Marques any more, I would have gone there, I cannot imagine why not I was in great shape after these nine months, I felt secure as a hunter – not that I would have stayed forever. A cousin photographer went later and was appalled by the racism. Who knows, I might also have joined Freelimo, my political persuasion, and my revolutionary fervor certainly went in that direction. In the future I would get along better with Africans of all kinds than with any other group of people. It was a matter much on my mind, even during the partying nights on Chena Ridge and during one of those nights with my mind drifting off it hit me, and when it hit me it was like a jolt went through me, and my friend Carlson, sitting next to me, said “You have just reached a big decision.” And what a decision it was, it was a seizure – I was seized by Pound’s ABC of Reading! And the kinds of madnesse that a life along those lines affords exceeds the wilds of Venezuela and the South Seas and Mozambique (see Postscriptum).    I had started to go to Chena Ridge, where the drop-outs from down-under, the lower 48 who had not gone to Ibizza or Majorca were wintering by leading very much a McCabe and Mrs. Miller life, Darmouth outdoor fellows. These were all big tough big-boned – big-boned is what comes to mind first - fellows and they loved to drink and brawl and I quickly concluded that I was merely semi-tough if that, 150 pounds and small-boned. And the equivalent women, several from Texas. I had recollections of what the comparatively gentle Munich Fasching had been like that had left me exhausted four years prior. There were orgies and then there were orgies. I had a crazy wild utterly obscene fuck in my Nash with a blonde who and I picked each other up on Chena Ridge. I woke up the next morning with a serious case of the willies, I was spooked. I had had this idea of driving back south on a now, snow-packed Alcan highway. The idea disappeared as I sold the car, asked Mom and Pop to take care of my guns and grabbed the next plane, it happened to Seattle.

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