Daydreaming about land and water
By Miranda Weiss
June 23, 2016
This is how I like to daydream: I slide out the Alaska Gazetteer, a 156-page book of maps the size of a small coffee table, from where I keep it wedged between my bookshelf and the wall. Its binding is shot, so I open it carefully in my lap, ensuring no pages fall out.
Sometimes I’ll open to a random place in the book, like to pages 100-101, which turn out to be a swath of the Interior about 6,000 miles square, in the vast land vaguely northwest of Anchorage and nowhere near the coast, where I live.
A pale green expanse opens before me, laced with brown contour lines. Those lines extend in a northwest-southeast direction, like how the stars thicken in a band to make the Milky Way. Those are the Kuskokwim Mountains. Skinny blue lines representing creeks and rivers fan away from them. Below these contour lines, on the lower right side of this spread of pages, a somewhat haphazard collection of blue, U-shaped bodies of water roughly organize themselves in a similar diagonal direction. These are old river oxbows cast off by the North Fork of the Kuskokwim, in its headwaters here on these pages. It has more than 300 miles to go to the sea.
There are only three small, bold words on these pages, naming villages. Each has an airplane symbol next to it marking an airstrip, and a few skinny, red dashes radiate from the villages, denoting snowmachine trails. There is not a single road marked on this stretch of land about the size of Connecticut.
I like to daydream about the land and water on these pages. What it would be like to clamber up the Sunshine Mountains? To paddle across the Bellen Lakes? The blue dots on these pages look like puddles, but one of the Bellens is nearly a mile across. What does it smell like? Which creeks run clear? Which muddy or talc? What wildflowers grow along the gravel bars of the Tonzona River, represented by minute brown dots beneath a braid of blue lines in the lower right part of page 101? What would I see if I walked along those river bars?
The Gazetteer is the keeper of so many of my aspirations … to one day float an Arctic river, to paddle the numerous chained lake systems across the state, to explore the lacy coastline of Southeast Alaska, and simply to spend more time out and away. These maps remind me that there is so much country here.
Miranda Weiss is the author of Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska. She is a science and nature writer in Homer, Alaska.