Ancient, elegant and innocently gullible, the little fish with the big dorsal fins promise admission to a world of clean, wild waters and unspoiled vistas.
By Ken Marsh
I’d uttered my good-byes earlier that evening, not aloud, but inwardly, and without sadness. Of course, the grayling wouldn’t have heard me anyway, nor would they have cared. Hardly a fly rod’s length from the lakeshore, the little fish with the sail-like dorsal fins busied themselves sipping black flies and mosquitoes off the surface. They fed even as reflections of pink tundra hills faded into darkness and the water rings they left behind sparkled with starlight.
Now an astonishing galaxy of faraway planets and suns whirls overhead, and my campsite overlooking the lake glows by the light of my fire. I’m little more than a speck in the wilderness northeast of Paxson, a mostly deserted community at the junction of the Richardson and Denali highways, and the early-September night wields a hard, cold edge. Concealed by darkness, ptarmigan cackle around me like comedic villains (and judging by the varying placements of their calls, the tundra chickens have me surrounded). The birds are settling into their willow roosts and will soon hush for the night, leaving me alone to stir the campfire coals and savor some solitude and untainted air.
This is the universe as I’ve known it for much of my life. Certainly, the moment represents life as I prefer it, the venue far-flung and sparsely peopled, fresh, wild, pure. When we envision Alaska, we gather images of mountain ranges, glaciers, aurora borealis, caribou, grizzlies and wide-open tundras. These icons and perhaps a thousand others set this place apart.
For an angler, though, nothing defines Alaska more distinctly than grayling. I found them here 50 years ago, when time for me began, in little mountain creeks, roadside lakes, and large glacial rivers. And although I’ve said farewell to them this evening, it is only for the season. I will find them again when the ice, now forming on the pond nearby, trickles away next May.
(To be continued.)