Sixty miles an hour. That's about how fast the wind was howling around the top of Skilak Lookout Trail on Sunday morning.
Dogged with a barking cough, post-nasal drip and an anxious urge to commune one final time with Alaska's wilderness before winter overtook the land, I set out with friends on a short excursion to see one of the high points (literally) of the Skilak Lake area.
At the trail head, one could only faintly feel the wind tickling the senses, grazing tree branches and leaves and setting them in motion, shushing creaking dead spruce limbs, wafting the hint of far-off smoke under the nostrils and sliding with icy tendrils up sleeves and along the tips of exposed fingers.
And as the breeze whispered alongside the hills and past the colors of autumn's last stand, it foretold the coming of winter and death, and of the exodus of the vibrant yellows, auburns and browns Nature had on display.
Of course, I missed much of the surrounding environment on the ascent up the 2-mile trail to the top of the 700-foot climb, as well some of the conversation between my two companions exchanged about the fates of family members dear and coming job-related activities.
Still recovering from an ailment and having absentmindedly neglected breakfast, I felt somewhat sick from the combined circumstances as the traverse proceeded. My mind was as clouded as the burgundy and blue patchwork sky overhead as I fell behind to rummage desperately through my rucksack in search of a sustaining bagel.
Not only did I miss out on some of the pertinent details to the discussion ahead of me, but I wasn't attuned to what the wind was trying to say.
So as we cleared a ridge and crossed an unsheltered saddle near the top, the wind gathered my attention and focused my nerves.
A frosty blast splashed against my face and form, shedding my blinders and bringing me back from the walking undead state I had been trapped in. My heart rate doubled as wind rose, and almost instinctively, the pace of our climb picked up.
The same scene that had been a dull gray roar of sight, sound and smell was all at once a kaleidoscope of vibrant earth tones swaying from among the greens and browns; a symphony of whistling and whirring as fire-hollowed tree trunks tuned up with each passing gust; a smorgasbord of aromas both pungent and pleasant as hours-old bear skat mingled with the lingering scent of aging currants and a distant hint of charred wood.
Upon summiting the trail, we were met with the full force of the North Wind, nearly tossing my from my unprepared feet like an oscillating fan's first wave to a stubborn dust bunny.
In spite of the frigid power of the rushing air atop the trail's peak, two of us dared to brave the tumult unafraid.
One compatriot sat defiantly upon the rock face at the summit, staring directly into the fury of the gail, and I suspect, looking into an unwelcome, yet certain future parting he would soon face. I can't begin to speculate his thoughts, but I imagined his determined gaze to be a show of mastery over his fate.
Another in our party retreated inside an aclove of trees which protected her vision from debris while allowing her full view of the surrounding lake scene. In no way an act of cowardice, she was preserving her sight and taking advantage of a panorama which afforded her 360-degrees access to every angle of the incline.
With minimal effort, she could see all there was to see.
I exorcised the last traces of recently departed ghosts as I stood against the wind, hearkening to a dove released to represent a spirit gone home.
I let my eyes follow a trio of what we later guessed were ravens. They were prancing in the blustery sky, playfully positioning and repositioning themselves against the orange and azure backdrop, possibly trading fun in the face of certain death.
It occurred then to me that maybe Bob Dylan got it wrong when he described to his friend the answer blowing in the wind. The equal potential to fly a kite or gnarl up a trailer park presents more questions than answers.
Wind can equally blow out candles in celebration of life extended anew, or fan the flames that destroy forest life; deliver messages on the winds of pigeons or stymie communication by tearing down phone lines.
It has the power to lift us into the clouds on the wings of silvery eagles, or to send us crashing to earth. To power ships at sea, or to dash them against the rocks on shore. To plant trees by blowing spores to just the right place for harvest, or to uproot them in a swirl of fury and confusion. To resurrect mountains over eons of sedimentary deposition, or to level castles.
Wind is where life meets land, because it is at once the breath that sustains the connection between human dependency on plants, and visa versa. Yet, it is capable of spreading ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
The wind is enigmatic, bringing equally on its wings conflicting concepts of life and death. And just maybe on Sunday at the top of Skilak Lookout trail, the savage gail was able to equally sooth individual spirits by offering courage, beauty and release.
Marcus K. Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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