The Little Voices

November 15th, 2015 by

Robert Service’s poem,“The Lure of the Little Voices,” poignantly describes the attraction of early gold prospectors to the wilds of the Yukon and Alaska.  Over a span of some four decades Barbara, and I shared that addiction. We explored vast stretches of Alaska’s wilderness where evidence of human presence was rare. Where such sign existed it was usually ancient consisting of time softened earthen mounds once sod covered igloos and rings of heavy moss coated stones that served to anchor the sides of skin covered conical tents. These mute remains were unobtrusive, often indistinguishable to the untrained eye from the vast untamed setting in which they were found.

We first heard the faint siren whispers of the wilds in southeastern Alaska finding them irresistible. Over the years they lured us deeper and deeper into small, intimate settings where Nature becomes intensely personal. We came to realize that vast wilderness was the hiding place of small natural treasures, often obscured by larger, more imposing features. These include enchanting waterfalls tucked away in deep, narrow canyons, jagged mountain ridges populated by rock fairyland creatures, tiny islands afloat on small, rarely visited lakes, clusters of artesian springs with dancing spouts springing from rock fissures, natural rock bridges and standing pinnacles reminiscent of the hoodoos of Utah’s red rock country, high narrow passes between massive peaks and delicate alpine ice fields the struggling survivors of a long passed ice age. We found the birthing grounds of snowy white mountain sheep and the summer dens where wolves reared new generations for their packs. Colonies of ground squirrels and marmots entertained us with their perky scurrying between tunnel entrances hidden among rocks and low willow thickets. All of these spoke to us and captured our imaginations.

In 1967, Barbara and I moved to the village of Huslia on the Koyukuk River in the north central Interior of Alaska. We had a small airplane that carried us into the Brooks Range, Alaska’s most northerly and least human impacted mountains. We were captivated by the complex maize of narrow valleys and sheer-walled canyons, soaring needle sharp peaks, hidden cirques and dozens of other alpine features. We eagerly sought out and ascended small streams that, over hundreds of thousands of years, conquered solid rock patiently molding it into natural works of art.

I still hear the little voices.  They speak to me on quiet evenings when my mind wanders revisiting the hidden places we discovered over the years in the wilds. The voices exist in the ethereal twilight boundary between sleeping and waking when human nature briefly reverts to being natural.