Last week I returned to Wiseman for the first time in three years, only the second time since I left indefinitely when I moved south to Fairbanks. I was driven out primarily by loneliness, a lacking sense of community and a lacking of meaning in my day to day life. The experience started out with me chasing a dream. Moving closer to pursuing the vision that brought me to Alaska for the first time in 2013. The vision to live like Dick Proenneke, alone, simply and amongst wild lands. Everything started out ok when I first moved there, with me doing very basic cabin repair and clean up both inside and out. I was able to spend some time hiking around and even got some meat to hang from my meat pole. Yet, each week my time with people (in person or not) was averaging less than roughly 5 hours. Without phone or internet, my mind was free to roam and that it did. That period brought me some of the clearest thinking I’ve ever experienced. However, as time went on and I craved more human connection, it also brought some of the darkest. Eventually driving me mad enough that I had to leave and escape to the more populated urban confines of Fairbanks to the south.
So it was with trepidation that I had returned. The cabin and area had plenty of skeletons for me that I had not been willing to disturb, especially not alone. This time I was accompanied by Alana and my sister Maddie, who was up visiting. I found myself more nervous about the state of the cabin upon arrival then about previous feelings resurfacing. As we stayed and walked around, memories flooded back. The 10 days that the cabin was a construction zone as I put in a water well. The weeks of cleaning up and burning trash in the yard from a previous resident. The times I spent out back on the gravel bar, curled up in the sand reading a book and napping under the summer sun. The darker times lingered and came back too. Like the times I’d be sitting inside in the darkness of winter, day after day, wishing for more company. I’d go out skiing, biking or walking trying to escape the thoughts but found they were my only companions.
Time had rounded out some of the hardness to those memories and experiences though and I enjoyed myself with the new company. The community had changed somewhat as well, growing in size since I had visited. There are now more young people, a trend that had started to grow towards the end of my time in Wiseman. My friends Steve and Jimena are still there, running their dog kennel and enjoying the country. Jordan and Ashley too, along with their two kids. Along with a newer addition, Sean and Molly, who operate a yoga retreat on the outskirts of town. By my count, the population had jumped to a whopping 18 individuals. While still quiet, there did seem to be more semblance of activity and community. Contrary to some of the curmudgeonly takes, one can hope that this trend will only continue to grow.
We didn’t stay long this time, only spending a few days before heading south. A bulk of the time was spent catching up with friends and neighbors. We made a trip north, hoping to catch a glimpse of fall colors on Chandalar Shelf. The tundra was still more or less green, but we enjoyed ourselves hiking around the country, visiting an abandoned cabin and gorging ourselves with the plethora of blueberries that carpeted the forest floor.
I left the first time for lack of company and things to fill my time with. Having now found both, a return is tempting. Alana enjoyed the area and expressed a desire to live there herself. The lifestyle is one in which I still romanticize and think is superior in many ways. The Brooks Range is the real Alaska. The Alaska that many envision of when they think of this state and those who live in it. Resilient, ingenious, rugged and a life centered around the land. For the moment, a lack of land and even mediocre internet are the limiting factors. Perhaps that will change in the months or years to come. Time will tell.