In September, In Alaska

In September, in Alaska, the sun is already quickly falling south, and it’s light is soft and rich. The drive north on Elliot Highway from Joy to Livensgood is enchantingly nostalgic, as Autumn has repute. The Elliot Highway flows over soft hills through a dense white thicket of aspen, alder, and paper birch trees. But there aren’t any crisp dead leaves under the tires of the car, and there is barely a chill in the air; just very faintly the cool dampness that travels with early fall. Summer is gone.  And yet, the canopy is a fresh citrus yellow, uniformly so, and the thin translucent leaves pass the light of the sun onto each other; the forest is radiant.

In these hills, in the early morning, clouds form in the valleys, and when they’re lifted by the sun, they crowd the sky and travel as a single species, like a flock or a herd or a pride. Springs and heavy moss keep the forest swampy and damp even months after the snow has run off, and the clouds they yield are richly pregnant. The sun, up stage but hidden, ignites their regal profiles in dazzling rays of white-gold and honey; their bodies, dark and deep like steel vaults of fresh water. They lumber south from the yellow hills through the sky blue sky across the red fireweed tundra. Brimming, now and then they spill the water they carry back down to the wet earth.

Tong and I left Anchorage yesterday morning at 9:30am and arrived in Fairbanks around 6pm. We stopped a lot along the way to photograph the mountains, glaciers, and tundra. Tong, a student from Shanghai temporarily studying in Wisconsin, was headed to Fairbanks to photograph the Aurora, and I was keen to test out my new tent by camping at some boulders just north of Fairbanks. Last night we glimpsed some Aurora activity in a cloudy sky; some ‘whoah…’ moments but nothing ‘Wow!’. Now, we’re taking a breif excursion to visit the start of the Dalton Highway, the famous unpaved road that crosses the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle and goes all the way to Prudoe Bay on the shores of the Arctic Sea.

In the car, in F Minor, Stefanie Sun Yan Zi sings a soft Mandarin pop hit, Tien Hei Hei, a tribute to a Hokkien children’s song. Instead of a guzheng or a dizi, a classical piano begins slowly, rhythmically, softly bouncing between the third and fifth octaves on the keys. Sun’s voice is full of longing and love. The road is smooth and the car travels in graceful union with Elliot Highway. This is not a wilderness; this is an estate; this is a Secret Garden kept for a lordly mankind who is pleased with creation and has a proclivity for deep serenity; the rich intimacy of seamless impersonal nature.

In my self, in my mind, I am aware my awe is a sympathy, that this is not my dream, that when I dream fantastically of what would be lovely and beautiful my path would never find this idea. Its as if Summer, in it’s sleep, has become lucid, and has drawn close to Autumn, obliviously, and Autumn is enraptured. Summer, sleepwalking, is saturating the lemon yellow leaves. Summer, by mindless habit, strengthens the sun and keeps the chill out of the wind. And Autumn, pleased, yields to her crush, and enjoys the warmth of his dream.

metadata: Stefanie Yan Zi Sun: Tien Hei HeiGrapefruit Rocks