Saturday, July 16, 2011

AK Bush Trip--part 1

A couple of days after the 4th, we headed out of town, driving south and east approximately 360 miles, to our lot in the Park. It's a full day of driving, and the goal on this route is to leave Fairbanks by 10 AM, with the hope of pulling into the subdivision by 7pm.

However, we usually don't make it out of Dodge by 10 AM. Always that last minute glitch. (And that's how it was this time too.) My travel companions were my niece Jennifer Brenner and my friend Drake Boswell. Our ride was DB's commodious classic Alaska Pipeline truck, an 1987 GMC 3500 Sierra 3+3.

Jenn's from Portland, Oregon, where she works as an accountant and specializes in non-profits and small businesses. This was her first trip to Alaska. She shot the three photos below (on her Android MyTouch 4G). Double click the photos for a larger size.

This is a view of the Copper River looking northwest toward its headwaters. We are on the Edgerton Hwy, still a few miles outside the Park.

It shouldn't have surprised me that other authors have already set fictional stories in the Park. I'll bet there are more than the two I've found. As I said in an earlier post, Dana Stabenow has set her wildly popular Kate Shugak detective series in the Park. Kate is an Alaskan Native, and her fictional town of Niniltna seems to be a Native village with a population of several thousand, including members of diverse peoples: Ahtna, Upper Tanana, Eyak, Tlingit (and Yupik??). Niniltna seems to be located where McCarthy should be, near a historical copper mine. But it's obviously not McCarthy, which was a white town that served as "Sin City" to the company town of Kennecott. Stabenow has renamed other landmarks. The Copper River is the Kanuyaq (if this is a real word I haven't been able to find its definition) and Glennallen is Ahtna. The river has been moved east 100 miles to cut the park in two rather than serve as its western boundary. The Wrangell Mountains are the Quilak. Most tellingly, Stabenow doesn't even name this park where she has set 18 books but refers to it simply as "the Park."

The other author I have found is Kris Farmen, whose worthy first novel, The Devil's Share, is set there. He uses actual Park names and only invents a few of his own. All of the action takes place on the northeastern border of the park where it butts up against the Canadian Kluane game sactuary in the Yukon. I've never seen this part of the park, which is understandable since the park covers over 20,500 square miles. I haven't seen the coastal portion either (the park elevation goes from sea level to 18,000 feet and includes 160 miles of coastline and nine of the sixteen highest peaks in North America).

BTW, The Devil's Share is a great read. It follows the misadventures of a young man born in a remote cabin that was later confiscated by the Park Service, launching him on a lifelong quest to right that wrong. The author calls his character a "wild animal." I would call him a sociopathic serial killer. I still have a few pages to read, but I'm liking this book for its fearlessness and ferocity.

Click for an interactive map.

Authors probably change place names in their fiction for a varitey of reasons. For me at least, the biggest benefit is freeing up my imagination. I know a lot about McCarthy and environs that I hope to integrate into my story, but I don't want to be pinned down by disgruntled readers for (purposefully) mixing up dates and places. So I am following Farmen's lead and using actual place names, with a few exceptions. I am reinventing McCarthy as McHardy (big change, I know) and I am planting a whole new mountain, Solitude Mountain, south of it, rearranging several rivers to do so.

By setting a novel within a national park, the author must come to grips with how to portray the National Park Service. While most Americans might view the NPS as a mostly benign governmental agency that fosters and manages our treasured national wild places, Alaskans tend to hold a more jaundiced view. Consider these numbers; the state of Alaska covers an area equal to one-sixth of the area of the contiguous United States. That's huge. But only about 1 percent of Alaskan land is in private hands. The bulk of Alaska's land is owned by the Federal government, Native corporations, and the state. These giant landlords have strict policies that often conflict with residents' use of the land for subsistence, recreation, and development, not to mention commercial resource development. Tension between the feds and the state is a given.

Nationally, the Park Service itself has long operated under a mandate, official or not, of squeezing out any private inholders within park boundaries. Their methods, whether legal or extralegal, have enraged private property owners and their advocates throughout the country for decades. (I've just googled "national park service malfeasance" and gotten 266 million hits.) In Alaska, the relationship between individuals and the NPS was supposed to change in 1980 with ANILCA, the second large land claims act, and the establishment of the park. After all, contained within the park's 20,500 square miles are over a million acres of private land, a history of mining, and traditional land use going back generations. ANILCA mandated that the NPS respect the rights of these inholders and activities. Consequently, in the 1990s the NPS developed a new model for the land under its stewardship, the so-called "partnership parks" that views humans and traditional human activity as part of the landscape, to be celebrated, not expunged. Wrangell-St. Elias, by virtue of its size and history, is the ideal test case for this new philosophy. And for the most part the park service seems to be a benign neighbor, IMO. But over the years there have been a number of cases in which its older, more logical attitude, has resurfaced in attempts to harrass inholders. This is not limited to W-St. E. There's a trial awaiting a verdict in Fairbanks today about an incident last summer in another park, the Yukon-Charley. Two park rangers behaved like dicks there while performing boating safety inspections. They were newly assigned to Alaska and perhaps hadn't heard about their agency's kinder/gentler policy because they tried to board an elderly man's boat in a tricky part of the river, forcing him to make a landing at gunpoint, and tackled and arrested him when he did. Pretty much the whole state is up in arms about this and watching closely how the judge rules in the case.

Stabenow seems to take a benign view of the NPS and has a sympathetic reoccuring character who is the park superintendant. Farmen takes the opposite view, painting the service as tyrannical and its rangers as hired thugs. In my own novel-in-progress I have two ranger characters, one of whom embodies the new partnership park philosophy and the other, his supervisor, who espouses the old jerk-around-the-inholders policy.

Here's a view of my back while standing out in the subdivision. Jenn seemed impressed by the number of mosquitoes I attracted moments after taking off my rain jacket. This was a particularly buggy trip. The head nets provide relief even if you use deet repellent (which I don't).

I suspect that the word "subdivision" carries a lot of connotative baggage for most people. It evokes the suburbs, architectural conformity, urban sprawl, and the like. Out here subdivision is still a bunch of lines on paper. Here's a view from one of the subdivision's main streets.

I'll be putting up more pix soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Try putting "national park service malfeasance" in quotes when Googling it. You will get a more reasonable number. Without the quotes, you get hits where the words are simply on the same page, like this one: