Finding peace in Alaska wilderness

A Memorable Place

August 13, 2006|By BOB LIDSTON

The morning sky was gray with thin clouds partially obscuring the not-so-distant peaks, but that didn't matter. My wife and I were excited about our first trip to Alaska and were soon to take off from Ketchikan in a floatplane to explore the Misty Fjords National Monument, a wilderness the size of Connecticut with no roads or buildings and only a few trails.

Counting the pilot and co-pilot, the 50-year-old single propeller DeHavilland Beaver accommodated six and was controlled from an instrument panel about as complex as that of a '55 Plymouth sedan. Our pilot, Rich, was 10 years older than his plane. He sported a gray mustache and the pleasant self-assurance of a man who had flown for 40 years and, as a Navy commander, had landed jet fighters on aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea.

Our watery takeoff was smoother than we had expected and soon we were flying over fir-covered islands, past distant thunderclouds and into a world of forested mountains extending to the horizon. We then banked along a nearly full circle of massive natural spires, startling Dall sheep breakfasting on yellow lichen. Finally, we descended into "the Punchbowl" to alight so gently on the surface of the Rudyard Fjord threading its way from the open sea that we were not aware when the floats touched the water's surface.

My wife and I climbed out of the plane and onto a small floating dock, which was the only other manmade object for miles. As we stood under the plane's wing in a very fine drizzle, the silence of the place induced an immediate feeling of reverence. From the water, we were welcomed by the humble curates of this place, two sea otters floating peacefully in the cove. On a nearby rock, a bald eagle stretched his wings and then rose gracefully into the air, drawing our eyes upward to meditate upon the 3,000-foot granite walls embracing us. Long ribbons of white snow melt dropped much of that distance past occasional evergreens clinging to the stone surfaces like candleholders attached to a church wall.

My only spoken words were: "Oh my God!" Our pilot responded: "Didn't I tell you?" Only then did I remember it was Sunday.

A half-hour later we were flying back to Ketchikan to resume our travels through the vast and breathtaking land that is Alaska. Our journey into the mists, however, was to shape our view of all that we were later to see and make most of the works of humankind seem meager by comparison.

Bob Lidston lives in Cockeysville.

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