"Remember, I don't have life insurance!" Chris shouts as I pull away, stranding him out in the wilderness in the moonless night without a car. The cold here renders standard camera batteries useless. We needed the deep-cycle marine battery to power the cameras through the night. It's a heavy sucker, and being the assistant who hauls it out into the woods every night, I admit I was happy to see we'd forgotten the damn thing. But the cameras were useless without it, so Chris stayed behind to set up his shots while I doubled back to the hotel to get it.
Alaska demands self-reliance. Those that rely on others to keep themselves even keel don't make it here. If you're going to make it up here, you not only have to depend on yourself, you have to be able to deal with yourself. Chris's cousin Sam, for instance, lives about 150 miles west of Fairbanks in a cabin that's over 100 miles by snowmobile from the nearest village. With the harsh winter weather out there, and the constant break-up of the ice pack on the rivers that surround the cabin, three months out of every year it's impossible to travel by any means. Sam is literally cabin-bound. In that situation you've got nothing but time and yourself. There's no one to blame, no one to complain about, no one to complain to. It's the rare breed of person who can handle seeing themselves as raw as that, when all the veils drop, all the distractions are gone, and every wart and defect shows in its full glory.
Faced with the raw reality of each other, Chris and I have battled to remain even keel.
The night before had been overcast, so we were able to finally get some sleep. With the early start the next day Chris was pushing to try to get as much material as he could before the sun set. We'd shot two locations since noon. We were on our way to find the third shot when Chris and I started to argue over where. His attention turned to me instead of the snow-covered road we were driving, he veered the truck slightly off the road and the the tires slid, dropping us down toward the pond. He spun the wheels, she slid further off the road and closer to the water. We were stuck.
I appreciate crisis situations for their uncanny ability to stop time. No one remembers what the argument was over when the house is on fire or the truck is headed into the water. Crisis stops time and calls for action. What we needed was a shovel, what we had were gloves. I kicked at the snow around each wheel, I punched at the snow, I threw it out behind me between my legs like a dog until we were down to the dirt. (Chris has asked that I mention here that he helped. Chris helped). In 30 minutes or so, I had the truck righted on the road. I didn't ask for thanks but it might've been nice. Chris said: "Good." And we were off to the next shot. So leaving him alone in the dark in the woods while I retrieved the battery felt kind of good. I kept the truck at an easy pace and considered stopping somewhere for food. I was undecided if he'd get any. I might even take in a movie. Some sweet, sweet Imax.
Then my mind started rolling over the many possibilities of being left alone in the Alaskan woods. Should a wolf find Chris desirable or a moose think him undesirable I could return to a helluva mess. I pictured making funeral arrangements and all the tears, having to watch the slide show of his smiling face and the miserable scenes consoling his wife and kids. These thoughts led me naturally back across the laughs, and late-nights looking at clips of video edits and spitting philosophies that expanded each of our worlds. How we rev each other up and prop each other up and when it's good each moment has the promise of a better tomorrow with the two of us making it possible. The late-nights and bright moments that have made family out of friendship and the hard times easier to bear.
And you find, across your mind's ramblings, the care and respect you have for your friend. Your hope that they'll recognize the potential in themself that you do. The chasm they would leave in your world if they were ever to leave it.
And you hold them in front of you in the light of the headlights in the open road, and in the deep of their eye you see them how they want to be seen, how they'll never know you see them, and you put your foot down on the gas. And you take the speed up to 60 despite the ice. And you don't doddle at the hotel in getting the battery. And in the time you made up you stop quickly at the gas station to grab some water and a Reeses because you know he digs peanut butter. And you hustle back. And you carry the battery the 300 yards or so over uneven slosh to the insane place he's decided is the only place possible for his shot. And you drop the goddamn thing down with your breath chunking up in your beard. And he says, "you made good time."
And later, with nothing but time and the windshield in front of you, you hash out what's working and what isn't. You peel back the layers, slow the roll, get back to good. And somewhere in it, at no specific point, the air in the car begins to feel warm. And the spring of the mind lets loose and doesn't fret if it misses count of a second or two. And then you're just out with your boy again on another crazy-ass adventure that no one but the two of you will ever understand. And when you notice the aurora go from mist to cloud to ribbon and pop, dancing out there beyond the windshield in abstract curls and improbable swirls, you think of the others you hold dear, and the rare gift of now, and everything else be damned you're just happy to be there.
Cuz that's all there is.