I had figured that by Caribou Back from Kotzebue a journey of some 14 days would get me close to me destination, when I doubted finding the correct path to Kobuk. My first port of call was the settlement of Kiana situated along the Kobuk River. It was one of peaceful contemplation, but I feared the solitude was about to be shattered, and the next events showed my fears to be true.
The winter frost had finally given way in the Far North. The frozen dam couldn’t take the strain anymore of millions of tons of water, surging around the ice-blockage, finally having been stopped by the sheer cliffs on either side of the narrow canyon, when the cracking and shattering sounds gave way to one tremendous….
The natives there, suggested finding an old Trapper, who had not been in the company of other White Men for as long as he could remember. He just rambled on about some Gal he once knew, or was it the last woman he laid back in Kotzebue at that little brothel, right next to the bakery at the edge of town? His comical speech, “Lola this, and Lola that” made me wonder what kind of woman she had really been, all those years ago, when his mind was just a bit clearer than the skies over the De Long Mountains, guarding the Northern Arctic from those who only wanted to take, but not give back to the Spirit of the North. The Great Spirit of the Arctic.
This woman, this sky spirit that men called Lola Selawik was no stranger to these wild and untamed parts in this corner of Alaska. She had traveled the length of the many rivers and climbed the highest points of the sky mountains, seeking inspiration and solitude, while the rivers surged and the sky boiled with upcoming storms.
I had read about someone like her, inhabiting the Far North, giving life and nourishment to her surroundings. The Caribou, the Moose, being her children all, when the night stars took, and the winds played a melody, not heard in the cities and the towns, restricted to the open spaces, the steeper sides of mountains unattainable, the lower canyons, where the trees almost couldn’t profess to belong, clinging as it were to the sides, the sheerness of another way of thinking. Of someone else’s thoughts.
It wasn’t that easy for me to find Bunkworthy Jones, better to say that he found me, what with him falling out of a nearby Sitka Spruce, spread-eagle upon me, as if I were a small white rabbit falling prey to a Cougar, a hunter of the wild! He finally accepted me enough to talk to me, with him being amazed to hear about the comings and goings outside his river home, what the world had come to, and where it was on the way towards. “Leave me to myself” he told me at last. “Me and my Lola are just fine here!”
There was, however, just him. No one called Lola, or indications of there ever being someone like that living in his ramshackle cottage of sorts with a granite slab providing the most stability, his world would ever come to know.
We just sat there, at his campfire shooting the breeze, when he stood up suddenly and pointed to the northeast:”Up there in the Desert. Kobuk Valley they call it. There is where you’ll find what you are looking for!” Then he just sat down again, and stirred up the coals as if nothing he just had said, ever existed.
That night and the ones that followed, a series of vivid dreams entered my consciousness, not unlike a wind that carried the sounds and scents of another place with it, changing my present landscape into something else, daring me to cross dry rivers and not fear drowning, while someone beckoned to me from the other side. Standing on a dune of sorts. Towering dunes that surrounded my memories, locking them, sealing them into their own realities, while my own was altered, changed into something new, something old.
The next morning I found myself lying there next to the cold ashes, while the wind started blowing, telling me to follow it. Bunkworthy Jones just shook his head when asked if he would accompany me on my quest, with him giving way to his mutterings about rock demons and river spirits that would take and drown us sure as shooting! I finally convinced him to take me as far as his sanity would allow, and with that said and done, we broke camp and started out way up the Kobuk River Canyon.
What happened next would I be wary to relate to others, but I chose to do so all the same, in Chapter 3 – The parting of ways…