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McCarthy - Birds and Bush planes

  • Author: Jeremy Pataky
  • Updated: January 25, 2017
  • Published January 25, 2017

Sunset over Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark, located near McCarthy in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve on May 15, 2011. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Editors' note: We asked 14 of Alaska's best writers spread across the state — from Tenakee Springs to Dutch Harbor to Utqiagvik — to grapple with a question we all face in our lives: Why do I live where I live? This piece is part of that collection.

McCARTHY — This town has changed considerably in the 13 years since I first came here. We've had five Wrangell-St. Elias National Park superintendents. Cellphones work on the road now, out on the glacier and up on nearby ridgelines. We can buy "Pilgrim's Wilderness," the saga of Papa Pilgrim in the McCarthy area, at Costco in Anchorage. We can stream Netflix in dry cabins or watch drone-eye views of neighbors caricaturing themselves on "reality" TV.

Jim Edwards — the tinkerer-engineer extraordinaire who was a local fixture for more than six decades — even passed away last year, ending an era. Others have also passed. New faces show up; some stick around.

The people of McCarthy are compelling, but it's the people and landscape combined that captivates. Kids grow up here learning their berries, birds and Bush planes.

The land itself changes constantly, and we pay close attention. Glaciers melt, morphing into lakes and rivers. Cabins crop up like mushrooms. Landslides, blowdowns, wildfire, beetles, avalanches and erosive floods (from rain or jökulhlaups) all remind us that our world of ice, rock, rivers and boreal forest is constantly changing.

Out here, the sound of hard rain on a tin roof rhymes with the throat-singing moulin song of an unnamed backcountry glacier. The place makes us more alive, more attentive. After all, we inhabit one of Earth's wildest reaches, a peopled place, eyeing a landscape that changes us more than we change it, glad to gather up and say "home" together.

Jeremy Pataky, author of "Overwinter," migrates between McCarthy and Anchorage.

We asked 14 of Alaska's best writers spread across the state — from Tenakee Springs to Dutch Harbor to Utqiagvik — grappling with the question we all face in our lives: Why do I live where I live?

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