Landscapes We Never Forget

by Rockwell Kent

It’s no secret that Alaska is my greatest muse. Having visited in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014, and also having written nearly half of Flashes of War there during a three-week period, I will always carry a piece of The Last Frontier in my heart. For writers (and for many artists, I suspect), there are places we encounter that become elevated; they speak to our subconscious, they tug at our imagination, they leave us haunted in humbling and inspiring ways.

One way to sum up how I knew that Alaska was “my place,” is this quote from Rockwell Kent’s Wilderness:

“Always I have fought and worked and played with a fierce energy, and always as a man of flesh and blood and surging spirit. I have burned the candle at both ends and can only wonder that there has been left even a slender taper glow for art. And so this sojourn in the wilderness is in no sense an artist’s junket in search of picturesque material for brush or pencil, but the fight to freedom of a man who detests the petty quarrels and bitterness of the crowded world–the pilgrimage of a philosopher in quest of Happiness!…It is this that we are living for, and art is but the outward record of our progress…So here you have a sort of profession of faith. We are part and parcel the big plan of things. We are simply instruments recording in different measure our particular portion of the infinite. And what we absorb of it makes for character, and what we give forth, for expression.”

Like Kent, I too felt most wholly myself in Alaska. I felt so small and aware of my tiny place in the gigantic world, yet I also felt the work I did carried a sense of importance and worth. That paradox held my mind in a place of wonder and openness for days on end, inviting unparalleled mindful flow.
Where are these places in your writing life? They can exist only in your memory–a classroom, a family vacation place. They can exist in the mundane–a backyard, a city park, a cluttered desk. But most often, they contain something slightly larger–an ecosystem, a blending of cultures, a meeting of worlds and ideals. In these stomping grounds, our minds can open up, our eyes can widen, and our hearts can shed layers of uncertainty.
I can’t say that spending time in the Upper Peninsula and along Lake Superior did that for me on my first trip there this month (though part of me hoped it would), but the door isn’t completely closed. Despite 5 days straight of rain and not a single star visible in the night sky, There were indeed moments of great quiet, calm, and pause; moments that invited wonder.

I want to go back–that much is clear. Whether or not the U.P. or Lake Superior can become my “next Alaska” (and conveniently a few thousand miles closer to home), is still up for debate. Meantime, it’s back to the desk, back to Appalachia, and back to work. Here goes!

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