Just back from two days kayaking at Humpy Cove, Resurrection Bay, near Seward. For the first time since setting off I felt I was travelling in the right kit at the right speed for this place.
Quarter inch (if that) of plastic skin under me, then there's the cold dark pacific fingertips that reach in to grip the mountains. Sometimes these fjords are over 2000' deep. At last I wasn't going past, I was properly in the landscape. But mostly it's the COLDNESS of the water that got my attention. I felt afraid of falling in without a wetsuit, calculating just how far away from the shore I would be when my higher brain functions started to shut down. Then I recalled that the tiny part of this place that has ever been discovered was first reached by people who walked or paddled in boats made of skin and laths. I dearly wished I had their knowledge of weather signs. I know what an incoming front looks like on the other side of the Atlantic, but here : no idea. Apparently south winds are the biters, and on the last day we got a near gale from the NW which trebled our return time through a head sea in a small boat. All of that out of a clear sky. I just found out a kayaker was drowned near us over the weekend. There is nothing picturesque about this place, and nothing quaint or simple about the native people who got here first.
This place has such a thin covering of human occupation, most of it remains untouched. It has an even thinner weaving of names, descriptions, pictures and history. Such a contrast from the place where I come from where every place is named and recorded many times. Every place name carries the DNA of the invaders, traders and farmers who have worked and reworked the place and left intelligible marks for us to see.
The people who got here first had no recourse to printed records or other monuments so you can feel their presence but rarely see it. The cultural threads in this landscape are thin and vibrate on the edge of hearing. In England however, history is woven into a heavy blanket that lays over the rock, a rich topsoil of culture that obscures the landscape. We don't stand on the bridge at Dedham, we see John Constables painting. I lived in London for fifty five years before I realised the River Fleet wasn't just a line in Shakespeare but also a real river that still flows under the streets, around the last college I taught at in Clerkenwell and on past Fleet Street to Blackfriars Bridge and the Thames.
I've set up a drawing position on the deck of my friends house and have actually started work, which makes me feel a lot better. I'm also meeting a really interesting Alaskan artist called Bill Brody tomorrow in Anchorage. He knows this landscape and goes to great lengths to be in it when he works. What an amazing journey this is.