Kim Heacox: Almost There

Clouds, rain, wind.
Time to
go. I hoist my pack. It must weight fifty pounds. Too much stuff. I hike north
along the spine of Divide Mountain, in Denali (formerly Mount McKinley)
National Park, and begin a steep descent. Ahead and directly below, veiled in
wisps of cloud, is Melanie, my wife. A bandana swings off her waist belt as she
picks her route, measuring each step, careful not to turn an ankle and take a
fall. There are no emergency rooms out here. No designated trails. No warning
signs. You find a route and go.
doin’, Sweetie?” I yell down.
humming, making her own music, like the river. I can’t make it out… a John
Denver song maybe, or Peter, Paul and Mary. Melanie’s more of a folk gal while
I’m a rock ‘n’ roll guy. Friends tease me that I can’t go a day without talking
about or singing the Beatles. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I tell them. Nothing’s gonna’
change my world.
My pack
digs into my back. I sit for a spell and watch Melanie descend, getting smaller
in the immensity. At one point she stops and looks back, raises her arm and
waves, then makes a sign with her fingers: You okay? She’s fluent in American
Sign Language. I signal back: I’m okay. She smiles, turns and continues down,
arms swinging, legs pumping.
Mather was right. The first director of the National Park Service, he said this
is one good way – not the only way, certainly – but one good way to make better
citizens. Cool their fevered minds. Get them outdoors. Set them free in their
national parks.
around me is a harmony of motion and sound, the land and sky, river and clouds,
songbirds and deep silence. I’m thrilled by what’s here and what’s not, the
presence of absence: no phones or malls, no ten-minute parking or thirty-year
mortgages, no ninety-nine cent bargains or sixty-four thousand dollar
questions. Nothing I see is for sale, yet it’s all mine. All I have to do is
leave it as I found it.
ironic. We spend thousands of hours tidying our houses and tending our lawns
while in the wilderness everything is right where it belongs: no raptor is too
high or flower too low, no river is out of place or mountain ill-designed, no
stone is too angular or round. Nobody complains of leaves unraked, trees
unpruned, grasses uncut. Everything is in order, and not always convenient. I
like that. Convenience is for shoppers, not hikers. Nobody ever discovered
himself conveniently.
years earlier I walked across Abbey Road looking for the Beatles. I loved their
free spirits and catchy melodies and clever, sometimes nonsensical lyrics,
their foreignness and wild creativity, how John Lennon and Paul McCartney competed
with each other and complemented each other. Song after ingenious song born from
bold experimentation. When John sang the opening line of “Girl” on Rubber Soul and asked if anybody out
there would listen to his story, his pain was my pain; it was everybody’s pain.
In high
school senior English we wrote essays on the Beatles, what they said and how
they said it, the power of paradox, innuendo and love, always love. The
importance of critical thinking and reflective self-expression. Near the end of
spring semester, with graduation nearly upon us, Mrs. Jovanovich, said, “If
only our political leaders were as open-minded and creative in solving world
problems as these four young men are in making music, we’d save ourselves a lot
of trouble.”
young men. Open-mindedness.
I would
never forget that.
creativity and open-mindedness save the world? Not a world left in tatters and
table scraps after a careless, oily, money-fevered feast, but a world rich in
beauty, bounty and diversity, where we learned to live more simply so others
might simply live; where we found a deep connection to nature, and sang
together as if it were a moral and ethical action, no longer beguiled by
illusions of dominion? Was this achievable? Imagine.
And the
writer’s role in all this? Not the writer as corporate hack or cautious
journalist, but the independent writer, the so-called freelancer. What to do?
“It is not the writer’s task to answer questions,” said my exemplar Edward
Abbey (a troublemaker akin to John Lennon), “but to question answers. To be
impertinent, insolent, and if necessary, subversive.”
recedes into the distance. She’s almost to the river, where she’ll wait for me
so we can cross together, our arms interlocked and pants rolled to our thighs,
our boots tied around our pack frames as we brace against the strong current,
the cold, silt-laden water roiling up to our knees, pounding us as we work our
way across, one step at a time, one channel at a time, grimacing, laughing.
“Are we
almost there?” she’ll ask, her teeth clenched against the cold.
Yes, in
so many ways we’re almost there, and in so many others we’ve already arrived,
knee deep in the glacial rivers of Alaska.

This posting – a continuation of
previous posts on May 7, 14 & 21, concludes Kim’s guest appearance on 49
Writers. His most recent book, “John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire,”
received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and is
currently a bestseller in Elfin Cove and Excursion Inlet. Kim will be at the
Denali National Park Visitor Center on June 3 and at Fireside Books in Palmer
on June 6 to speak about John Muir and the ongoing campaign to defend
wilderness in Alaska. Kim’s next book, “Denali Heart,” part memoir and part
conservation polemic, will be published in February 2015. You can follow him on
Facebook or at

1 thought on “Kim Heacox: Almost There”

  1. Lynn Lovegreen

    Thank you, Kim. I enjoyed your posts. And maybe writers will help us get closer to John Lennon's imagined world.

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