Saturday, March 23, 2013

Due Up

Down here in the Lower 48, it's easy to forget that people die. Death is an abstract, a mention in the news, a statistic of car crashes and hysterical-sounding news articles trying to score cheap political points.

In Alaska, death is like the bad weather - always potent, always possible, leaving traces all around you. Death is the remains of an airplane you fly over in a marsh, the warnings of bear activity, the history of a used car you're looking to buy. ("It was his car, when he went up the mountain and didn't come back." The woman said, facing north toward a spot unseen but known by heart. Her arms, folded across her chest, tightening for a moment until her knuckles stood taut against the skin. "I haven't started it... it hasn't been run in three years.") It's in the smoke you breath from the forest fires in July, in the hair-raising powdery dry and sulfurous scent of volcanic ash pelting on your windscreen as you coast the last hundred feet toward the shelter of home, too late to outrun the blast wave by two blocks. It's in the friends who were there, and are no longer, the stories that try so hard to fill in the holes left by the people now gone. The flat tone a man uses when he says "That pass is aluminum coated."

But the distance is an illusion, and no amount of distance can protect from the way you hear the wobble in a tightly-controlled voice when they say "I don't know if you heard..." And then reality, no longer protected by your ignorance, cuts all the cross-connections, the complex web of community and friendship, the possibilities and the we'll-talk-later, the email not yet answered, the might have been, should have done, and the sheer brutal finality that steals your breath away and leaves you falling, stunned, sitting down like a dropped marionette.

Damn, I miss Ted. I miss them all, gone before me now. Too many friends lost, too many wakes held and ashes spread, too many searches ending in an accident report, and worse the ones where it was a sudden illness, a driver who didn't look before turning. (Damnit Ook, who's going to make the waitresses at Sushi Sushi laugh until they're leaking tears at your wasabi face now?)

Worse, still, with the way that death seems to be ignored right out of the culture here, is the lack of a that time and space to grieve, and to be able to share the person, to make them come alive in memories. It's like we should never mention them, for fear that death could come alive. Let me share with you some of the amazing beauty, the wildness, the breath-stealing beauty of a land that will kill you, taken by a man who I barely got to know before he, too, was gone.

Due Up, the website of Shaun Lunt

Because you should know such men lived, that they may live on after their death.


  1. That says it better than anything else I've seen, and now I've got dust in my eyes.

  2. Death truly comes like a theif in the night. No one is ever prepared for the bad news that we have lost someone we knew. We can however, keep them alive in our memory.

  3. Alaska IS still the frontier, drawing those who are willing to challenge themselves and the environment for the sheer hell of it. Sadly, not all of them win. And the small community feels each and every loss. Thoughts and prayers lady!

  4. You're right - death is different up there. More... immediate? Closer?

    It's so easy to forget down here that it lurks just over our shoulder.... and frankly, once you have enough loved ones on the other side, death doesn't seem so scary.

    Thank you for the reminder Miss D. Ain't in a hurry for the reunion, but it'll be good to see him again one day.

    Vaya con Dios.

  5. hard. Our modern society has become antiseptic, distanced from death in all but the most stylized ways.

    We have lost our death rituals. And lost a bit of ourselves in the process.

  6. So beautifully said Miss. D. - I too have seen that woman in her grief, more times than I wish to recall, the chill in the air as it passed through worn thin clothing, too light for the elements, simply donned without thought to cover the fragile nakedness which will be life left alone. The words halt, stop, start not yet comprehending, but speaking with only the volitional will to enure.

    But with words some remembrance, of lives gained and sometimes lost when nature, fate or simply the vagrancies of the wilderness can not be repudiated.

  7. Hi,

    Having lived in Alaska for 28 years I can say you captured the 'Adventure' very well. Alaska is different.

    I sent a few readers your way. Hope you don't mind. Please let me know if I invaded your revery.

  8. We lost our helicopter pilot at work last summer. As we come up on exploration season and the helicopter being back onsite I find myself thinking about him. He was a great pilot, and LOVED to fly. Several times I flew with him, and he always took the long route, and removed my door so I could get better photographs.