Too much of the world fenced in or roped off these days. Almost all the open country dwindled down to nothing and it’s harder and harder to find a place where you can still feel free. Advances in technology, communication, and information are shrinking the planet and it’s suffocating for an anachronism like me. Where do you dig your heels in and make a final stand?
Any paradise can become a prison.
Some Alaskans feel imprisoned this time of year as darkness creeps in around the edges and the colder, dimmer days constrict more and more. Middle of October now. The first heavy snows have fallen and we might not see the ground again till May. But my cabin’s almost ready. Got the sod dug up for the roof just days before the ground froze. Yesterday I finished notching the tops of the walls together. All I need now is a wood burning stove and to build myself a door.
If I’d started in June or July this would’ve been a much nicer cabin. But I didn’t even buy the land till August. If I’d had time I would’ve peeled the spruce and made some modifications. Aluminum or tar paper between the ground and the bottom logs, for one thing. Maybe even roofing between the sod and spruce saplings I used for ceiling joists.
The logs I had to cut from living trees are all green. They’ll shrink and twist as moisture and sap run out of them next spring. After the snow melts in six or seven months they’ll decay much faster than normal logs. But I need shelter for this first winter more than I need a cabin that’ll last fifty years. We’re all in a constant state of decay anyway, I tell myself (though it’s not reassuring), from the day we stop growing until the day we die. Because we’re all prisoners of our own mortality. The inevitable march of time. Of aging. And within that prison, any given life may contain smaller prisons. There are prisoners of marriage. Prisoners of war. People imprisoned by their own addictions. Prisoners of despair and depression. Forget brick and mortar, most prisons are mental. Psychological. Emotional. They exist inside us and we usually build them ourselves.
Some people are prisoners of their own patterns. Like me. I’ve always been attracted to wildness. Wild places. Wild landscapes. And wild women. It’s the wild ones who held my attention. And the safe ones—the loyal partners who I could trust with my life—were the ones I eventually lost interest in. But those wild ones. Most of them only caused me pain in the end. Or we caused each other pain. Like a house on fire. Like trains wrecking at full speed.
There must be a balance somewhere. Or is life really just a choice between boredom and suffering? Can we somehow know safety and stimulation? Stability and excitement? Passion without jealousy? A deep connection but also chemistry? How much are we just prisoners of our own primal instincts? To compete for mates. To fight. These are natural urges. Reinforced by eons of evolution. Survival of the fittest. Shouldn’t these instincts be embraced?
Primal instincts and needs. Some are healthier than others. A need to be close to the land, for one thing. To live off of it if we can. To catch, kill, grow, hunt, or gather our own food. To build our own homes from natural materials.
Then there are other instincts. The ugly ones. Possessiveness. Jealousy. The feelings and fears that can take over. Cloud our judgment. Grow inside us like weeds.
There are prisoners of debt. Prisoners of relationships. Some of us our slaves to our personal demons. Prisoners of our pasts. Prisoners of regret. There are also prisoners of fear. Most of my life I’ve been afraid to show weakness or vulnerability. In relationships this causes major breakdowns. Because without communication you’re screwed. I was always afraid to open up. A prisoner of my own ego. And if I’m not careful I’ll be prisoner to these patterns till the day I die. So it’s time to be fearless. I’ve been reckless in all aspects of my life except the one that matters most. Love.
The thing to do now is to love recklessly. Openly. Wildly.
And to embrace the positive side of Primal while sluffing off the negative. A balancing act, really. Because these days I don’t feel like a prisoner at all. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I came back. Alaska has always been where I feel most alive. Most free. There are all kinds of prisons, but this untamed landscape is not one of them for me. Especially off the road system. Out in the wilderness. The Bush.
Up the tracks.
Because when I leave town and head across the Talkeetna River Bridge—the one too narrow for cars or trucks—I gain access to a secret world. One without fences. Without laws. An ancient landscape of old growth forests and grizzlies and moose where I am no longer top of the food chain.
Every year cell phones work in more and more parts of the state. Modern snowmachines travel way farther and longer than before and don’t require trails. The dogsled barely more than a novelty now. And the new ATV’s? Some with six or more tires are relentless. Unstoppable. Amphibious. Is wilderness still wilderness if we can penetrate it so easily? And bring all our comforts and conveniences along for the ride?
The land north of town is one of the last free places in America. Distant satellites spin overhead, sure. And drones are on their way. But they’re not here yet. I know that the over-technologized part of our planet cannot be outrun for long. The Earth will keep shrinking. Like the Autumn days up here. Like the hours of sunlight. The 21st century will eventually reach holdouts as remote as Chase.
But I won’t dwell on it. Not now. Time, instead, to enjoy this freedom while it lasts. Time to dig my heels in. Time for one final stand.
In open country.