Good day from the Hoarfrost at a solid 40 below. Sun streaming in — each day a little higher and stronger.
A few days ago I received an e-mail from Gary Youngblood, whom I met in Fairbanks in 2004. That day — our only meeting — he flew down from his new post at Bettles Alaska and became the new owner / pilot of our first Aviat Husky, C-FMCN. Those who know me from back then will remember MCN as an Air Tindi workhorse during the halcyon years 1994-2004, when it flew far and wide around the high north, even making junkets on float-flying contracts up to Gjoa Haven, Igloolik, and Bellot Strait at the north tip of the Boothia Peninsula — the farthest north mainland point in North America (please correct me if I am wrong.) MCN was in fact named for dear old McDougal, my Iditarod leader those years and in 1993 a nominee for the Golden Harness Award. McNoodle was his nickname, thus MCN.
I do not know Gary well but I gather that he has had a wide-ranging and influential career with the U.S. National Park Service. Thus he has lived out one of my Illinois boyhood dreams as to “what I am going to be when I grow up.” (The others included FBI agent and astronaut… wow, how did I wind up shoveling dogshit at the Hoarfrost River?)
Gary’s roots are in Georgia, so please read his words slowly, with a soothing drawl. Like my other friends from the Deep South, he strikes me as a true gentleman in the finest sense of the word.
Here below is a part of his note. I emphasize the phrase that struck a deep chord for me as I read it. It is that sense of not being singled out that I think is most important as we roam the burnt landscape that surrounds us here now. Sadly, for Kristen and I, Gary’s phrase “it was just the system operating as it always had” takes on a sad double meaning vis a vis our ongoing discussions with the territorial wildfire suppression people. After all is said and done, the fact remains that there was a well-equipped fire crew camped just a few miles away, for two solid weeks before the fire took out our house and guest cabin and the rest. Complacency carried the day — both their complacency and our own.
Well, read on — that aside of mine is not the topic here.
…Your last blog struck a cord and I feel I may have something to share. In 1988 the fires of Yellowstone National Park changed the place I loved for the rest of my lifetime. I had lived and worked there since 1978. I had some of the exact feelings expressed in almost the same words you have used.
There were many small changes noticed in the ecosystem over the next 25 years. Burned areas that never before had been drifted were noted for the wind rows of snow. It was apparent that temperatures were colder in places where the trees had provided cover in the past. New species of raptors and greater numbers were observed due to the rodent population explosion after the fires. As you would imagine, some species suffered and some prospered. It was amazing to watch the ecosystem heal. Many more surprises were noticed, as you mentioned you expected.
My job assignments took me away from Yellowstone in 1990 and I returned in 1994. The healing that had continued in that time amazed me. There was joy over the following 10 years in watching a system heal itself. It was not the same as before the fires, neither was I, but it was beautiful in a different way. It came back gangbusters!
Those who were there in 1988 still talk about the fires and what we lost but also about the process of an ecosystem coming back that we were privileged to watch. I suspect the wildfires will be a touchstone for the rest of your life, as the Yellowstone fires of 1988 have been for me. I can now look back and appreciate that it was not done to me, it was just the system operating as it always had. [emphasis mine — D.O.]
Finally, I hope you and your family find happiness and peace in whatever path you decide to take.
Chief Ranger (retired) — Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve; Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve