Alaska is huge. At 656,000 square miles it is not only more than twice the size of Texas (268,000 square miles), but it is nearly twice the size of France and Germany together (210,000 and 138,000 respectively). Alaska is even larger than Mongolia which extends for 604,000 square miles. But the Great Land, as it is known to many Alaskans, is dwarfed by such giants as Argentina which is half again as large, or Brazil which is five times as large.
Alaska is huge for an entirely different reason. It has a population density of scarcely more than 1 person per square mile. In comparison, Mongolia has 4 per square mile, Argentina 31, Brazil 48, Texas 67, France 275, and Germany 588. In Alaska one can very quickly be alone in the wilderness. Sometimes too quickly. One may suddenly meet his mirror self, a real but largely unknown person... and confront a Nature which will challenge his further days.
A few years ago one summer we combed the wilderness to the east of Kasilof on the Kenai Peninsula for a lost homesteader. He had set out with two horses and a friend from the 'Lower 48' to fetch some empty propane cylinders from a cabin only four miles away. The route was well known. However, the horses spooked and the two men split up to find them. The novice was lucky enough to stumble out of the woods later that same day, but the Alaskan, confused by featureless terrain and overcast weather, wandered for three days before finally getting his bearings and retracing his way back to his home. At 2 AM he tried to get into bed without awakening his anguished wife ...but without success. He had lost nearly 30 lbs and readily admitted to having had, during the second and third days, the most awfully real hallucinations of tractors and tigers. He is known to his neighbors as a well-balanced man.
Alaska makes us both proud and humble. Humble because our own mortality aches when we hear the grim tally of daring beyond reason, a turbulent river in summer, thin ice in winter, gravity versus granite, pilot error, hypothermia... Sans prudence we, ourselves, may find surcease the next wilderness trip. Yet, we accept this as fair... and good. In return, we are enthralled and beatified by vast scenes of incredible natural beauty of the utterly wild and the totally untamable... beauty that allures, seduces, and finally welcomes. We are transfixed by the innocence of small flowers on a mountain ledge, and by the purity of the glistening snow. Ultimately we hear the whispered voices of the Spirits of the Land and we learn to respond. Then, we are forever and ever bound as soul mates to the timeless, seamless, endless expanses of the living Northland and to the sighing sounds of the wind in the spruce. We are home.