Author: Thomas Desrochers

It is one of the great mysteries of the late 21st century that the land of Alaska remains as nearly untrammeled as it was a hundred years before. Though its harsh climate was well-preserved by the collapse of the Atlantic Gyre, the exodus from Europe caused by that same calamity created a great many refugees who ought to have seen it as a much less crowded version of the lands they fled. Despite this it remains home to hardly more than a million individuals, its grand vistas largely untouched, the aforementioned preferring off-world vistas.

I came to Alaska in 2087 fresh from the Geological Institute of Colorado on orders from AmMex International, my job to monitor the 40 autonomous nuclear boring probes that restlessly hunted the crust for pockets of mineral wealth. The system was automated and I was a glorified wrench-monkey, a wrench being the best tool to beat the data relays with when they iced up.

To anyone who has lived in this land it should come as no surprise that my romantic visions of life in the far North were quickly replaced by the reality: A body in confusion from nights that swung from perpetual to fleeting, a mind numbed by the seclusion and boredom of life on a lode of quartz ideally located to receive rock-relayed data streams, 47 kilometers from the nearest road. It was no wonder none of my predecessors had lasted more than a year!

The crisis came in the spring of 2088, physical health following my mental health into the depths plumbed by the very probes I monitored. I struck out to my nearest neighbor, a man I had been briefed on but never met who lived a mere 3 kilometers away. Joe was a holdover from a life two centuries past, living in a spruce-log cabin he had built himself and earning his keep trapping the native fur-bearers.

He did not seem much surprised to see me that spring afternoon, perhaps only that I had not come to call sooner. He was an amiable man for one who chooses such seclusion, and for a while we simply traded banalities and drank the tea he had made us from the dried fruit of the local roses. The conversation lapsed to silence, and then my rumination simply spilled out. “Joe,” I asked, “How can a man stand to live in a place like this? It feels as if the land itself is draining the life from me, and I fear that if I stay here much longer I will meet my end.”

Joe smiled at me, thought for a moment, and then said, “In all my years here I haven’t met a foreigner who didn’t feel that way. A man comes up and, sure enough, he’ll meet a crisis of health, of faith, of spirit, within the year. Makes no difference if he’s in the sticks or the city. I did too, some forty years ago.”

For a moment I was shocked from my own misery, the statistical improbability glaring out at me. It was then that Joe told me something I could never forget: “Might be there’s an astronomical explanation, weak magnetic fields or circadian disruption. I don’t think so. Near as I can figure the land itself wants them gone, won’t accept its own taming. A man learns to play by its rules and he’s usually fine.”

This seemingly prosaic wisdom burrowed into my psyche and bore fruit not long after, showing its truth and altering the course of my life. For that I will always be grateful.

-Samuel Goode