For me, the journey really begins now, as I head north up the Lynn Canal and prepare to set wheel and foot on foreign land, each mile taking me farther from familiar leaf and stone and closer to the unknown. I will travel through wilderness, on gravel and pavement, all of which will be revealed as a film through the glass. I may find names for mountains or lakes on a map, but I will have little connection to them. I will never know the inhabitants of this land, and I pass by as a shadow of a whisper in my tiny silver Toyota.
Even with the knowledge of all that will be missed at a cruising speed, I am elated at the thought of driving versus flying, of experiencing every geographic mile that lies between my Gustavus home and my destination. Driving somehow feels like a truer reality than flying, with the seemingly simple lifting off from one point and landing in another a mere number of hours later. With driving, I will feel the length of the journey. My body will ache from sitting, I will howl with Kota, I will travel into the wilderness of my own spirit, a place with many dark corners yet to be explored.
What drives the shorebirds north and then south once more?
What is driving me south? Is it the promise of sun, birds, familiar faces, and a safe space to dig deeply in and draw out my creative self?
By car, even with the many miles to cover and unavoidable fatigue, I have it easy compared to most species on this planet. There are snacks at my disposal, fuel and rest stops, and a bed and hot shower along the way. This is a far cry from the thousands of birds tempting their fate as they travel through a wilderness of air currents familiar to few. Refueling for shorebirds requires a feeding frenzy for the hope of surviving another leg of a treacherous journey. Birds’ refuel by digesting decomposing organisms within their tiny bodies. With each passage northbound or south, more habitat that provides precious resting and refueling areas has disappeared, leaving weary birds to journey ever on.
My ability to slip south with such ease on the remnants of decomposing dinosaurs for fuel is fleeting. Some day, the cars will stop, and we will be forced to step outside and truly feel each mile.