National Geographic : 1993 Apr
Christened for the river that carried us, the S.S. Chandalar floated me and my p y m. wolf dog Smoke in ii. rough-cutstyle to Arctic Village, where I resupplied and mended a sprained ankle. More than a decade ofAlaska out door experience had , toughened me for the rigors of the Brooks o Range. Even Smoke h.. . pitched in on the trip-hauling40 / pounds of dog food in a special pack. of dawn I could see that holes had opened up in the ice and overflow cov ered its surface: a liquid river running atop the frozen one. In many places large fountains of water were spouting through the cracks- an ominous sign that the volume of water running beneath the ice was increasing rap idly. Breakup was imminent. "Inits-u!-Mygoodness! I was praying you'd come back." Ken had been worried that I might not make it in time. A few hours later we stood atop the bank of the river and watched as the ice gave a loud groan, lifted, and broke apart into a tumbling mass of bergs. "Inits-u!" he laughed. "Now you're stuck." For the next month, I lived with Ken in his sod-roofed log cabin. At any homestead a spare pair of hands is always welcome, and when one lives isolated from people, loneliness, as it's been said, becomes the fountainhead of hospitality. Together we hunted caribou, cut and hauled wood, and worked around the camp. In exchange for my labor, Ken shared his knowledge. His life was shaped by the seasons and forces of nature, and I could see that he belonged to the land, not the land to him. Laughter came easily to him, and despite having lost the use of his left arm to polio as a child, he was always thankful for all that he had. The Creator, he said, gave him what he needed when he needed it; it was his task to recognize and appreciate those gifts. Throughout the day, as he went about his chores, I'd often hear him whisper: "Mahsi-choo-Thank you greatly." As the days lengthened into summer, the time came for me to be on my I - -.