Old Men Grow into Their Landscapes
By: Brad Cole

The low hanging afternoon sun had the warmth and charm of autumn leaves; there was an edge to the crisp air and I saw small pools of ice scattered across the tundra landscape. The dog musher's trail I was walking on threaded its way through the paper birch and spruce forest just north of Fairbanks. Careening over the dry treetops came the sound of evening traffic on Farmer's Loop Road.

I stopped to look around when the trail intersected another smaller one with taller grass. That's when memories of my foggy ferryboat voyage north through the Inside Passage came to me. I was sleeping in a small tent on a wet and windy deck and then drove over the mountains of the Yukon into Fairbanks on a bumpy, heaving highway. It had the sweeping feel of a long journey - one that people do not experience much now with quick and easy air travel. Journeys contain discoveries of many kinds and our ancestors seemed to understand them well.

Having never lived this far north, the forest around Fairbanks looks different from what I've seen before. People get tired of moving, changing jobs, homes and communities, I thought pensively while continuing to hike farther down the wooded pathway. Without community support we become so dependent on employers. Communities should have the right to govern themselves, protect and feed their own people; our Elders should be leaders. We need to learn how to manage ourselves from within, by listening well with our hearts, even while passing through difficult times. The wisdom of our forefathers should be a guiding force like Polaris, the North Star, traveling across the sky just above the Big Dipper.

The white paper thin bark is curling off the birch trees that were once golden with fall leaves. Moose tracks can be seen on the trail while streams of sunlight shine through the thick branches transforming the dull dry grass into a golden color. The house high taiga, a dwarf forest, encircles the earth, I thought, like a nation onto itself.

After about an hour of walking, I turned on the grassy dogsled trail to returned home, to a well insulated but dry (no plumbing) cabin facing the southern sky. At night I walk outside with my large binoculars to look at the three or four visible moons circling Jupiter and Andromeda, a distant galaxy. I dream about them. I believe in the celestial realm, in Heaven, and it's guidance. Like all things, we are given a pathway to follow.

Stepping on dry leaves covering much of the frosty ground, I made a twilight return to my cabin. On the way back inside I envisioned my 15 X 20 foot building being a caribou tent in an owl-haunted forest; I dream of camping while traveling with pack animals on a long cross-country trail. Stepping inside and closing the door a feeling of a lost wind that has grown tired of wandering the woods filled me with barrenness. In solitude I sat next an oil heater and a vision crept up inside me - old men grow into their landscapes.