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We Alaskans

Slow down and take in Denali

  • Author: Kim Heacox
  • Updated: May 28, 2017
  • Published May 28, 2017

Denali is seen from the Trapper Creek area on Oct. 23, 2016. Panoramic photo stitched together from multiple images. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Excerpted from the prologue of the book "Rhythm of the Wild" by Kim Heacox of Gustavus; 2015; Lyons Press

I know a painter from Fairbanks, a gracious man named Kes Woodward, who says this of the mountain, "It took me 15 years of visiting the park to work up the courage to take on the image of Denali itself, as it is the most daunting icon in Alaska art." Another artist, Steve Gordon, describes it as the Mona Lisa. "Unless you can approach it in a fresh way, it's been done." And another artist, Diane Canfield Bywaters, admits, "The landscape continues to delight, challenge, and amaze me. It could be a lifetime goal to paint this successfully."

When Garrison Keillor, host of the popular radio program "A Prairie Home Companion," visited Anchorage and accepted a Bush pilot's offer to fly him into the heart of the Alaska Range, Keillor said he "ran out of adjectives in the foothills."

Many generous people have given their lives to this place; they've settled here, and reset their clocks, reset their conscience. They stand for what they stand upon. In so doing, they make their lives extraordinary. They get visitors to slow down and shake the city tinsel from their eyes.

"The train's late by an hour."

Relax. The river has been here for ten thousand years.

"The bus is full; the dust is bad."

It's OK. The river has been here for ten thousand years.

"I've come all the way from Mexico. Where's the sun?"

Tranquilo. The American golden plover flies here from Argentina, the Wilson's warbler from Costa Rica, the wandering tattler from Hawaii, or as far away as Australia, the wheatear from sub-Sahara Africa. This is the place to be. You're fine.

"It's cold."

Imagine January at 50 below, and dark. The Dall sheep do not complain. The ptarmigan do not complain. The ravens do not complain; they somersault as they fly.

"When will the mountain come out?"

Any day now. Any week. Next month maybe, or the month after that. Breathe deep the northern air. The river has been here for ten thousand years.

A former park ranger in Denali National Park, Kim Heacox has written a dozen books, most of them on history, biography and conservation. "Rhythm of the Wild" is his second memoir, something of a sister book to "The Only Kayak," a 2006 book now in its 10th printing. He and wife Melanie live in Gustavus.

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