Lately, I’ve realized that my writing landscape is littered with pieces of essays and poems—relics cast aside and yet that I’m unwilling to totally abandon to the trash. Instead I think of these fragments as potentially useful, like the contents of a junk drawer—the screws and picture hooks, batteries, rubber bands, string and tape that might come in handy someday for connections or repairs, or to start a whole new project.
If I were writing a story about this landscape, the water would be the character. Perhaps I'd give the people bit parts, but it would be the water that you'd have to get to know. Big and slippery. Belligerent. Liking opera. Yeah. I think opera would appeal to the Matanuska River with its sinuous curves that can't stay put for long in any one part of the channel, its unpredictability, its ability to get people on the run. I like walking across the dry part of the channel in the same way you might walk around a volcano or along a fault line. Who, me? Worry? What are the chances that catastrophe will strike during the hour or two when I'm in such a vulnerable location?
. . .
In the wide channel downstream from the Old Glenn Highway bridge, the river sliced a new course to the east. In 1991, every night on the news we watched the Matanuska’s progress undercutting the bank. Closest to the river was Myrtle Moline's greenhouse. As sideline observers, we hoped the river would change course back toward the center of the channel—but, one day, the greenhouse collapsed into the Matanuska, and later the river also took her house.
In these tiny narratives, I’m searching for moments of passage across the landscape, moments beyond the content of newspaper articles or engineering reports. I’m looking for overarching themes to feed into an essay (or perhaps a long interconnected book-length poem) and draw sense from the many ways we wander our neighborhoods, region, and the planet. Hunting for linkages between ideas is akin to building a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle when the box-cover with the picture is missing.
Walking along the base of the bluff west of the Matanuska River we saw old cars, like post-modern constructs by a manic sculptor, steel carcasses overrun by forest and sinking into the ground—or being buried by the slow accumulation of silt and humus. In fall these ex-auto interiors fill with drifts of yellow leaves, in winter a snowy camouflage or thick hoar frost smudges the metal edges. On a windless winter day, reflections of ghostly cars tilt into the inky spring-fed channel.
How did these auto-relics end up at the edge of the Matanuska? Was someone trying to clean up their yard? Was it (we would now think, an ill-conceived) bluff stabilization? Was each car dragged with a truck or bulldozer to its final resting place? Or were the unwanted automobiles shoved over the edge? Was there fanfare and ceremony? In which case surely it was summer solstice and there were speeches, poems, and a bonfire. Trees and brush grow between and through the auto-relics so a wide-open landscape is hard to imagine.
Within the broad Matanuska channel south of Palmer, the river is always switching course, splitting into two (or more) threads or merging together, sometimes overflowing everything. Study the Matanuska River and you’ll find many aspects of our relationship with nature, from the arrogant to the whimsical, casual, undiscerning, and strange.
Once we hiked south on a trail across a dry brushy part of the Matanuska River channel. It was late winter and the ice on the tributaries was already thin and rotting so we followed each small watercourse until we found a crossing where we thought the ice would hold our weight. Our destination was the mini-butte, and when we finally climbed the muddy path to the top of this small hill we found a card table and four chairs—as if we had been expected.
Katie Eberhart is the 49 Writers featured author for April. Her chapbook 'Unbound: Alaska Poems' was published in 2013 by Uttered Chaos Press. Her poems have appeared in Cirque Journal, Sand - Berlin’s English Literary Journal, Elohi Gadugi Journal, Crab Creek Review, and other places. Katie has an MFA in Creative Writing and degrees in geography and economics. She currently lives in Central Oregon where she blogs about nature and literature at http://solsticelight.wordpress.com/