Friday, July 26, 2002

Last day in Alaska

Leaving Alaska, Josh had a heavy foot on the pedal but I wanted to stay. As I thought about leaving, the name Alaska wound mythic spells around my mind and made me want to plunge back into the place. Driving east on the Denali Highway from Denali National Park, I watched the streams go by as the sun sunk on a bruised horizon. The snow on the Alaskan Range glittered above glowing green grass.
I asked for half an hour to fish at one of the stream crossings and everyone waited in the car. Chest high swamps all around the stream, called Crooked Creek, prevented me from getting to the water’s edge. The only good access to the stream was back the way we had come and I didn’t want to ask everyone to drive back. Instead, pushing my luck, I asked if I could get out again at Rock Creek, further down the road.
Half an hour later we were at the creek, a well contained run-off that rustles under a bridge on mile 110 of the Denali Highway. As they had done at Crooked Creek, Josh, Jen, and Nell hung out in the van and I headed for the water. The sunsets are beautifully long in Alaska. The sky was a deep red but I figured I still had 45 minutes before dark. Following an overgrown trail up the left bank of the stream, I fished for several hundred yards, then hacked my way to a perch on two slippery rocks at the edge of the stream. Near the end of the retrieve on my first good cast, an arctic grayling sailed up to the lure and grabbed it with a graceful twist of its body and a tuck of it huge dorsal fin.
I caught one fish after another and almost forgot where I was. Usually time flies when the fish start biting but on the last day of an Alaskan vacation, with the sun almost gone and a smooth, rippling stream at my feet, it went slow. It went so slow I watched my own arm bend out in a long, arching cast, the lure take flight, and the water open up to take it in. It went so slow and then it stopped. I stood motionless until dark.

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