In Divine Denali
From Fairbanks, Alaska
The hush of silence was indeed mesmerizing. The swath of the 600-mile Alaska Range glistened in the landscape. Yellow specks mottled the trees in the boreal forests – Nature was readying herself in choicest finery for the approaching fall.
It was an early August morning and life in the tundra was nonchalantly uneventful. A safe 300 feet ahead of me atop a knoll, a pair of female grizzlies ravenously chomped away at a soapberry patch. They needed to get those 20,000 calories for the day – their young ones would soon arrive into the world. Within a couple of months the family would closet themselves in torpid slumber through the following April. Far below to my left across the gulch of a ravine stream surrounded by impassable walls of rock and shrubbery, a herd of caribou scoured in search of a grassy lea. An arctic squirrel ambled by around our bus, fearful of its nemesis – that brown bear or a prowling wolf.
The Denali National Park and Preserve held infinite secrets within its 6 million acres, preserved pristinely over the centuries. Far away from the plunder of marauding civilization, in here existed an entire ecosystem – from those lush forests and sullen tundra to those snow-laden mountains that smiled down from above. For a chunk of land larger than the state of Massachusetts, it was only a 91-mile ribbon of a gravel road that had penetrated into its womb. More interestingly, only the park-operated shuttle buses could penetrate past the first 15 miles from the Visitor Center all the way to the mining town of Kantishna that lay on the west end of the this road.
One of the main attractions within this park is majestic Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America towering at over 20,320 feet. Native Athabascan Indians call this mountain ‘Denali’ or “The Great One” – to them this was divinity in stone and snow. The park today shares the same name. Geologists claim that this mountain has a vertical rise 6000 feet more than Mount Everest. They argue that technically the Himalayan colossus sits atop the Tibetan plateau which itself is located at a height of 17,000 feet – unlike Denali’s lower 2000-foot table. The moody mountain seems to always be cloaked in clouds – paradoxically most visitors to the park return without ever sighting this peak!
Denali had truly been a humbling experience. Under those tall mountains or the endless yawn of the deep forests and the stretch of grassy meadows, one realizes that Man is but a helpless mammal in Nature’s eternal playground. Mountains are born and rivers die merely with the restless growls of the earth below and the howl of the elements above.
The Wise Athabascans understood all this only too well. Denali was truly divine…
– In my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, I invite readers to experience such adventure and imagery illustrating my travels.