The Assignment

Ranging nearly seven million south central Alaskan acres—of which 30 percent is ice-locked--the Chugach National Forest is a raw, sprawling, gulf-shored wildlands. Its mountainous ramparts span an area 250 miles long by 60 miles wide, rocketing from sea level to Mount Marcus Baker’s 13,000ft in a mere 10 miles while bristling fourteen additional peaks surpassing 8,000ft along the ascent.

Wild-hearted wanderers endearingly refer to its expanse as “Alaska’s backyard” while powder hounds, specifically, plan by the wintery knowledge that the vast Chugach receives greater than 600 inches of snow annually, more than anywhere else in the world.

This brief rehearsal done, I sit back. I exhale.

The facts, I know, and the training, I have but more, I’m attentive to this: no forecaster or guide, nor the several million dollars worth of 20,000 moving parts which carries me, can offer absolute assurance of what actually happens next…

Enter the Gringo...

Dawn. Day 3 of snow-induced isolation.

A ventisca of monsterous proportion has ravaged the surrounding Chilean Andes. Its demon winds have yowled. Its snows have driven, and, in their wake, more than a meter of puff has been piled high outside the refugio's flimsy door.

A juice-less wood-slat addition upon Cafeteria La Fransica served as shelter from that storm.  The stubborn canteen clings to the ski field’s leeward face like a fungul growth. And in that wind-riddled shack I wait, minus electricity or running water, for the big blow to pass.

Cut-off, alone, I measure the 3000 meters that segregate aid's arrival. That sharp descent threatens plummeting panic, a sensation only diverted by the solace of what awaits once the weather breaks.


Dust, and an ever-expanding urban sprawl.

Unexpected; a lush, green blosom in its midst.

Tall, leafy walls,

The garden, pool, and towering Oak as old as la familia itself.

A sanctuary, a tearoom; a feeling of finding home.

Oh my, Ohau

 “It’s a valley,” the grandfather whispers, “a bending cut between bone-like mountains that diverge as ribs do from the spine.”

He holds forth his wizened forearm as he speaks, placing a single blunted finger to the elbow of the outstretched limb.

“A tan floor like threadbare carpet rolls away from a glacier-gouged lake as deep as it is clear.”

The knot knuckled digit traces a slithering course from elbow to palm.

“Massive rock blades stab towards the blue glass of that water and five narrow gullies snake in-between their ocher tips.”

His time weathered skin pulls thin as the old man forces the open palm flat. “Each gully hides its own special fun,” he continues.

“One for the jet boats,” the gnarled thumb twitches. “One for the trekking, and one for the four wheelers,” the index and middle fingers curl. “One for the fishing,” the ring finger shivers like a taunt line in water. “And one valley to house 30,000 sheep.” He punctuates the intended joke with a quick wink of his long, bushy eyebrow.

“So how do you find it?” His rich, time-worn voice pre-empts the impending query.

“Easy.” The grandfather’s thick lips jerk upwards at their corners. “It’s found the minute you stop looking.”     

"Good Time City"

     To the starry eyed wanderer, Bangkok presents a gateway leading into unknown. Its neon spires under cloud-banked skies embody the infinite possibility of Shangri-La overlaid atop the gravitating abyss of a black hole. The mental imagery evoked by the capital both sizzles and thrills as an unabashed vision. The moniker; Good Time City, is an irresistible tease at what—for a price--might be found along the many winding streets or dimly lit alleyways.

     The airplane banked upon its final approach and I glimpsed through the nearest porthole window, the glimmering constellation which was my destination. The strewn, twinkling evidence of that vast city came to me as a beckoning light promising to conclude a long, dark tunnel. Even the lofty vantage of the still landing plane somehow inexplicably offered intimate views of back-alley smoke dens, velvet lounges, and closely meshed streets that glistened under perpetual dew.

     My heart began to flutter at the bone bars that enclosed it. The pumping became a demand for its immediate release upon the awaiting city. Lost among the capital’s dark and ever winding streets the heart might soar at innumerable new sights, blush before strange perfumes, or race from alien perils. Because in Bangkok, a heart could also wind up broken.

excerpt from P.M. Fadden's Life of Lewis