Essay: Flying to Glacier Bay

First posted in November, 2006

Today I flew from Skagway to Gustavus with Wilson Air.

I neglected to bring my camera. It's a business trip, and I'll be indoors for most of the daylight hours, so it never even occurred to me - until the plane took off and I saw the world slip away.

Not having a camera is both a blessing and a curse... I tend to observe things more meditatively with my naked eye than I do through the lens, but it's a mixed blessing - catching with your eye that single moment when the setting sun ignites the waters of Glacier Bay, transforming them from deep blue to fierey gold, seeing that magic framed in slowly darkening sky, jagged white peaks slightly blurred by windswept snow, and a foreground of glaciers sliding from cirques to sea. You can hold the scene in your heart for that instant, in your memory for a longer while, but if I leave this heaven behind, will I be able to recall the surreal beauty of this place?

I hope so.

Living in the valleys of Dyea and Skagway, I know the same few mountains well, and see their moods from day to day in every sort of weather, but when you leave the Earth and see beyond those familiar peaks and suddenly remember that they are but a handfull out of thousands that extend toward the horizon as far as the eye can see... suddenly familiarity falls away and you see your world and your place in it in an entirely different way.