On the flight from Seattle to Anchorage I'm so eager to arrive in Alaska I actually entertain the idea that this - sitting on the plane on the way to Anchorage - could be as good as it gets. Anticipation at the beginning is the best part of any journey; the thing or place itself can rarely match the mind's ability to wonder at it. It reminded me of that part at the very end of "The Great Gatsby" where Carraway talks about the first discoverers of the New World:
"...for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate with his capacity for wonder."
We are voyagers on a great and once-in-a-lifetime journey into the last frontier to track and record a rare and wonderful natural phenomenon, the likes of which (if the forecasters can be trusted) will not be seen again by the human eye for the next 50 years. Lifting off northward out of Seattle, watching the coast of British Columbia break up into islands that appear less and less inhabited, I'm so acutely aware of how limited is the time we have for this experience (if we have it at all - there is, after all, no guarantees the aurora will appear during the brief couple weeks we'll be stationed to capture them). Regardless of whether we get them or not, it is inevitable that in a matter of only days our greetings and anticipation will be replaced by a sense of accomplishment (or regret) and fare-thee-wells. On the flip-side, I wonder if it's possible to be so inundated with aurora action that it could be possible to be bored by them. To spend 10 or more days witnessing them that they become mundane, something overlooked, like the mountains do to those that live in eye-line of the Rockies or the Himalayas.
I am acutely aware of time and the tricks it plays on the mind. How, when abroad for example, in the face of unspeakable beauty, one can long for home. How in 20 years, maybe only 10, no matter what we see or how committed to the idea of holding the memory, it may be difficult to call up any specific moment of this journey. Like all memories, this one will inevitably fade at the corners, little by little, until eventually and ultimately the mental picture will be blurred beyond recognition. I wonder if I'll experience something so spectacular - a sound, or smell, something visceral and deeper than that which the eyes can store in the mind - that will provide me a solitary memory unique enough that years down the line the memory will still be wholly mine and not informed - as my memories of the Grand Canyon are for example - by the postcards I see of it now. Of course the main reason we're undertaking this project is to film the phenomenon, to relieve the brain a bit of its burden to remember by shifting the weight of memory to film. Yet I wonder if it's enough to rely on digital media to inform me of what I've seen. Hence the eternal struggle of travel and new experience: to sacrifice some of the present experience in the name of recording it for posterity; or rather to know, whether a picture ever exists of it or not, that you were there, and no matter what tale a photograph tries to tell it cannot touch the thing itself as it was lived.
It is of the utmost importance to keep it all in front of us. To try, as much as possible (as a crew whose top priority it is to record) to abide entirely in the present moment. To firmly plant ourselves in one place for even the briefest of moments, in the desperate hope we might remember on our own we were there. So it was that this morning, upon waking in the old cabin of an old friend on an island off of West Seattle that I took a walk familiar to my memory, familiar even to my feet from walking it so many times before, down the hill to the shoreline where the wrecked remains of ancient giant Fir trees lay in permanent repose in the waterside sand, abiding the constant gentle lapping of the Puget Sound waters, where beyond the water and beyond Tacoma and the land to the southeast sits the hulking mass of majestic Mt. Ranier rising up from the snow-covered foothills and thrusting itself into the solid cloud-cover above. And I sat on the worn down, tumble-smoothed trunk of an accommodating Fir, over the lapping waters and rolling sea glass and shifting sand dollars, beneath the eagles soaring on outstretched wings above, and sought for a few moments only to breathe. And the salt-tinged air that tickled the hairs inside my nose as it entered was clear and clean and free.