Arrival

Clouds. From Seattle to Anchorage, clouds reign.

Above, where we sit happily encased within the walls of a 737, all is bright and clear. The sun gleams off the blanket of vapor that covers all below, a white shroud beneath the eternal blue expanse. I can see for miles and miles to where the planet curves away, but the planet itself is entirely hidden from view.

Occasionally, though, the lithosphere penetrates the atmosphere. We're flying over British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, after all. There are mountains here. From time to time, high peaks reach into the sunlight, islands in the Cloudy Ocean. Eventually, a set of peaks drifts into view that I know must be Alaska. Based on clues from the flightpath and topography, I determine that I'm looking at Mt. Fairweather, a summit of 15,300 feet (or 15,325, depending on which source you consult) that sits on the border of Alaska and British Columbia. The Alaskan slopes of Fairweather sit within the bounds of Glacier Bay National Park. While no substitute for a true visit, seeing a national park from the air always lifts my spirit, just to know it's there.

More clouds, then another collection of rock and ice rises. I can't pin this one, but I don't need to. We are much closer to these mountains than we were to Fairweather. These alpine features are far clearer, sharply defined. Rugged exposures of rock on the ridges and south faces are tempered by the (seemingly) smooth expanses of glaciers and ice fields that inhabit the intervening valleys. They are a vision of wilderness that lie somewhere within my field of view, and that is enough. They are a suggestion of what's to come, a symbol of Alaskan grandeur, the perfect aerial welcoming party.

We begin to descend. The clouds that blocked views of the Malaspina Glacier and Prince William Sound do not block our passage, and we emerge in the overcast world below. Land fades into view, hemmed by mudflats and water. Fire Island? Yes, and now the plane wheels around for the final approach. There's the airport, there's Anchorage and the Chugach Mountains. The spruce trees grow ever larger in the window and the land below pans through my little window with increasing rapidity. Now nature is replaced by industry, spruce by concrete. I prefer the spruce for viewing, but the pavement is surely better for landing. We touch down, deplane, and arrive at last.

Chaney

Naturalist, Photographer, Cartographer