I walk, my feet smashing colors, while Richard stays near the truck, and Stinger runs between us, knowing exactly where we are, even though we can't see each other at all.
I walk to try and understand what walking through this landscape would have been when it wasn't this. I try not to think about what it's going to be the next time I come here.
I walk, trying to make this beauty, this moment, last.
I walk far enough to start seriously worrying about bears, and then I sit on a rock and look around me, wondering if I can catch the landscape breathing.
We drive slowly into Teller, a village that sits on a fishhook moraine, which itself lies behind an even bigger fishhook moraine, forming Port Clarence, a corner of the Bering Sea, where any shelter is as welcome as a lover's hand. In Teller, about 270 people dry salmon on the armature of satellite dishes, pay nine dollars a gallon for gas, and recognize that when winter comes, the sea will freeze and the sun will stop in its tracks very far from here. But they're okay with that. They have chosen to live in this place, and that alone separates them from most of the people living anywhere in that vast strip-malled territory Alaskans call "Down South."
Teller has made the news exactly once in the ten thousand years since the first people came this way, following mammoth tracks, following birds, chasing the year's first sunrise across a sea that wasn't there, like a funhouse mirror of the winter I will never see here: On May 11, 1926, Roald Amundsen, the first man to the South Pole and the first man through the Northwest Passage, climbed into a zeppelin to fly over the arctic. He and his crew landed in Teller two days later—thus probably becoming the first people to the North Pole.
But I can find no record that might show whether or not they realized they had just landed in a place superimposed upon itself with a shadow waiting for the sun to change again.
The sea here is the color of faded nail polish.
Amundsen didn't write that down, either. Nor have I have never found any historic record of exactly what this bunch of Inupiaqs thought when a giant balloon landed in the middle of their whale hunt.
We stop at the edge of the continent, the Bering Sea misting the windshield. Stinger the dog, realizing I'm not going to get the blueberry stained tennis ball out of the glove compartment and throw it down the streets of Teller—either one of them—hops out and wanders along the shoreline, looking for something dead to roll in.
He has a lot of choices. Dogs love fishing villages. My firm belief has always been that if you're really good in this life, you come back as a dog in Alaska the next time around. And if you're Dalai Lama level good, you come back as a dog in Nome, perhaps not with your very own reindeer to guard, but surely with a person who regularly takes your truck out to Teller, so you can chase a tennis ball across carpets of blueberries, so you can run through salmon streams, dig into old pit houses whose rounded shapes show that the original inhabitants of this area, dust of what they had no idea was Asia in their clothes, did not like corners at all, but reveled in the flow of the land around them.
I put my feet at the very edge of the water, then turn around to face the land. Back when the sea wasn't here, if I had come here from the west, crossing the bridge that wasn't a bridge, I still would have seen these distant mountains, just rolling enough not to be forbidding, grass covered, the potential of plenty of game and an entire world to explore, an entire life to live. When the sea wasn't there, I'd have had no idea I'd just left one world and entered another.
A world entire.
Stinger wags his tail, because that's what dogs in Alaska do.
Edward Readicker-Henderson has been writing about Alaska for 30 years.
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Other United States and Canada travel stories from the archives
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