Thursday, September 6, 2012

Taking Nature On: "I imagine my day is coming."

Alaska wilderness, NASA photo. Frigid. Eerie. 
I was channel surfing one night and alighted upon a TV show about mountain men and surviving desolate winters in northern Alaska.  A genuine Alaskan mountain man, a police officer in search of a murderer, is flying a small plane over a sea of snow and ice-covered forests that go on for miles on end, visibility near zero, temperature -40, the whiteness and the stillness incredibly breathtaking but eerie.  It captured me.  The officer-adventurer has to stop now and then to unfreeze the blades of the plane, itself a daunting task in the bitter cold and utter isolation.  

He’s doing the impossible, it seems, in a hostile environment, alone, relying on his wits. “This may be the last remote place of wild America,” he says.  “This land is untouched, just the way I love it.” 

But how do you find a criminal in these rugged mountains, in this ice, in this weather?  “You take chances, every day.  I imagine my day is coming,” says the mountain ranger matter-of-factly.

He takes off again into a frozen world of stealth and silence, sheltering evil, beckoning the brave who are unafraid of death.    

This Alaskan mountain man will find the murderer and live to tell the story, this time. The search is the most fascinating part of the mystery.  Like life itself.    

Another show in this series features a mountain man in Montana looking for a lost dog.  “Low on the chain of being” he says knowingly.   “We got the wolves, and lions and bears.”   But a lost dog?  Still, the mountain man flings himself into the jaws of the beast, as it were, the mystic mountains of Montana, tramps into the emptiness, the unknown.  The dog comes back, responding at last to the cry of a human voice, and the mountain man goes on to another adventure in the dangerous  wilderness.   

Why do I like these shows?   I think for the same reason I love the poet Mary Oliver.

The shows and the poet demonstrate different ways of taking nature in.  Of taking it on, really.  They help us understand the natural world, embrace it, accommodate it, challenge it, and learn from it.

In the end, we return to it, we become a part of nature.  And we are alone.  “I imagine my day is coming.”

I looked Up  by Mary Oliver (White Pine, 1994)
I looked up and there it was
Among the green branches of the pitchpines—

Thick bird,
A ruffle of fire trailing over the shoulders and down the back—

Color of copper, iron, bronze—
Lighting up the dark branches of the pine.

What misery to be afraid of death,
What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.

When I made a little sound
it looked at me, then it looked past me.  

Then it rose, the wings enormous and opulent,
And, as I said, wreathed in fire.   
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