Saturday, July 07, 2007

Return to cripple valley

I did a great hike today with friends on the Dan Moller trail. As we ambled up the long and narrow strip of wooden planks, the seasons changed with each mile. The full bloom of summer faded into the stunted grass of late spring, which regressed into the skunk cabbage and mud of early spring. By the time we reached the cabin, we were clawing through petrified snow drifts. Somewhere beyond there, winter still lingers. But no matter where I am on the Dan Moller trail, winter is all I see.

The Dan Moller trail is one of those places that represents an abrupt hiccup in my life. For some reason, the remnants of emotions and memories from most of my personal upheavals come to rest on very specific places. There's a park in Salt Lake City that I couldn't bear to walk through for years after one of my first boyfriends broke up with me. My early frustrations with Juneau always come flooding back when I pass Mendenhall Lake campsite No. 5. And now, I can't walk up the Dan Moller trail without thinking about all the painful steps I took through the packed snow earlier this year.

It feels strange, because I didn't think this trail ... this experience ... would haunt me. It probably shouldn't. But it does. There was a time in March and April when I hobbled up the Dan Moller trail two or three days a week, just to get out, because I went so stir crazy sitting inside. Now, I look over my shoulder to a faintly familiar valley shrouded in heavy clouds, and I think about how far I've come. I think about how far I have left to go. I think about how everything's changed. I think about how the landscape looks the same. I think about never having to go back to last winter. I think about the ways it still blocks my path. I tromp through yet another snowfield, and I think about never completely escaping.

As I was leaving work this evening, I caught a rare glimpse of the sunset. People were stopped on the bridge, just standing there, watching it. What makes sunset so stunning some evenings, so mundane others? Maybe it's because an experience can never be defined by its place in time and space. Experience doesn't have to be attached to anything. Experience just ... is.


  1. Beautiful post.

    Thanks -


  2. That picture of the sunset is absolutely gorgeous.

  3. my brother is a guide and loves it there, glad i stopped by

  4. "What makes sunset so stunning some evenings, so mundane others?"

    I've often thought about this myself. I mean, really, there's no such thing as a "bad" sunset, but sometimes you see one that just seems to burn on your brain for days afterwards; sunsets that everyone is talking about around the water cooler at the office the next day - "Did you see that sunset over Pikes Peak last night?" I don't know what it is about those particular evenings, but it's pretty cool how sometimes that seemingly innocuous natural occurence can bind us together in a way that nothing else ever could.


  5. I also associate places with pain and triumph. I now go running on a paved path in the desert that a year ago I rolled on in a wheelchair during my knee recovery and it makes me appreciate how strong our bodies are in their capacity to come back.

  6. Your pictures are beautiful.

    Up in Anchorage, we are already starting to see the first vestiges of fireweed. Sniff. I always hate to see summer go by so fast.

  7. Our fluid memories seep into places, or they seep into our memories. We are the spider on our own world's memory map... Place memories can be rewritten, though, if you really want them to be. Cheers, Jill!

  8. Truly beautiful sunset photo, I was disappointed there is no larger version.

    Sunrises ain't to bad either!

  9. Experience is, memories are.
    They become part of you and get triggered by the weirdest things.
    I call them "flash-backs". I can be riding, walking, driving somewhere and all of a sudden, I get this "flash-back", where I am back in Germany, riding a certain trail, walking my dog,...
    Other people bring memories back as well. Good ones, bad ones, sad ones. Because memories are also shared with people and so are experiences...

  10. To Gary:

    The larger version is there; it just appears that blogger screwed up the linking. Paste this into your browser address bar and you'll get it:

    It definitely looks good full size.


  11. Jill,

    Thanks again for your great posts. I didn't mention this before, but I'm from Utah too. Skyline High is my alma mater. My grandmother called Toole "Too-Lee" till the day she died. I loved growing up there, but always felt like I just belonged somewhere else, like I was being pulled by some invisible force to find my destiny elsewhere. Alaska is the only place I've found that just feels like "home" to me, and I can't imagine leaving. I've been a lot of places too, like you. I moved to Montana when I was 16, joined the military at 18, and didn't move to Alaska till last year. My favorite season here (although I don't bike) is definitely winter. Your posts are not only interesting, but full of passion for the state I love so much. It's what makes you such a great read, even to a non-biker like myself. Oh, and the fact that you're a Utah gal like myself. Maybe I'll even give biking more of a try... probably not, but I'll definitely keep reading!


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