Words and Photos By Shanon Castle
An Adventure to Sturgill’s Landing
Near Skagway, Alaska
I’ve lost sight of the path. Laid out so clearly in front of me just moments ago now all I see is a jumble of rocks scattered beneath wind bent trees. For a moment I imagine myself wandering shale scattered cliffs for days, living off spruce tips, too weak to call out for help. The path would’ve led me straight down the rocky cliff to the waters’ edge. But by choosing to veer off of it, even slightly, I’ve found myself lost in a world of spindly trees, salty air and lichen covered rocks.
In the distance the delightful whistle of an arctic tern catches my attention. I glance him flitting overhead but he disappears almost immediately, diving below the trees toward the frigid water of the Lynn Canal where he’ll hopefully catch a fish. He’s flown up to Alaska from Antarctica – the arctic tern has the longest migratory pattern of any in the world. What a lovely day to be a bird, I think. It’s 60 degrees Fahrenheit, a surprisingly warm temperature for Southeast Alaska in early June. I shrug off my brown flannel, no need to wear it today. Maybe I’ll get tan. What a strange idea, to get a tan so far North.
At this moment, I’m somewhere near the path that leads from Skagway, Alaska to Sturgill’s Landing, a wild, windy place marked by cliff faces, white capped waters and far off glaciers. My stomach rumbles as a helicopter flies overhead. I wonder if the passengers can see me, down here meandering aimlessly amid rocks and shale. Perhaps I appear intrepid, wandering far from Skagway in a place where no one else wanders. Or maybe they can see the path, not far from where I stand, and are thinking to themselves how silly I am not to be on it.
“It’s this way” I jump. Just to my left I spot a family of four. Dad leads the way in a bright blue shirt. A boy and a girl, neither can be older than ten, run behind him as Mom takes up the rear. “You can do it” she encourages. Just past them I spot a bright green trail marker screwed delicately into a rock face. I’m very close to the trail. How funny. I really thought it was further away…the helicopter people probably knew how close I was.
Dad, Mom and kids disappear around a bend just as quickly as they appeared. I breathe in deeply. The smell of crisp water. Of trees. Perhaps the path is the best option for me today. Yes, I think it is. I nod definitively to myself and make my way back to it, my off-trail adventure totaling no more than ten minutes.
The path leads down through a shallow split in the rocky landscape. I take large, heavy steps – humming to myself. On a normal day the wind blows harshly off the water, composing songs with tree branches as only the wind can. But there’s no wind today. The world feels quiet.
I make my way around a brown outhouse and a picnic table nestled amid a cluster of coniferous trees. The ground levels out, rocks give way to dirt. In a moment I find a boulder, which I climb over, and laid out in front of me is a spectacular view of the Lynn Canal. Across the water are mountains so massive they must be fake. I’m sure I could pick them up and move them if I wanted to.
I drop my bag with a thud and sit down next to it. The town of Skagway is several miles behind me through a fairy tale forest. In front of me are waves, mountains and glaciers. I think I’ll stay here for a while. I eat some trail mix. Close my eyes.
I don’t know how much time has passed when an excited voice from nearby causes me to sit upright. “Is that an eagle?” the voice cries.
Was I asleep? I wonder.
I look up to see the solid form of an eagle gliding above. Strong. Powerful. Wide open wings loft him on air currents above the water. He sees everything. Giant glaciers, tiny fish. He sees a squirrel running through the woods, too small for human eyes to register. He sees my eyes, he knows what color they are. Brown, like the trees. He sees the way they shine with the sun.
“It is an eagle!” The voice cheers. I smile, then I cheer to.
The air currents lift the eagle further into the sky where he hangs suspended for one glorious moment. Time stands still. I realize I’m holding my breath. Then with a start he swoops downward and disappears from view.
The voice beside me continues to cheer in victory as I lay back on the rock. The sun seeps deeper into my skin. I close my eyes. Right now, everything in the world feels right. I’m content here, in this place. And today, this glorious day, my spirit soars with the eagle.