By: Raymond Greiner
The year was 2020; Phil Gordon was 24, with a remarkable body of achievements for such an early time of his life. He excelled academically embarking on a career in technology working for a prominent consulting firm solving technological problems for a variety of companies becoming completely immersed in his work. Phil was raised in an urban environment. His father was a successful land developer; and the family was cosmopolitan upper middle class.
The firm’s director was Jim Anderson, he admired Phil, and they worked well together. Jim was the coordinator, responsible for communicating with customers, outlining their problems and needs. Phil was the go to guy, traveling to designated sites and solving problems with hands on applications. One morning between jobs Jim called Phil into his office.
“Phil, I received a call from the National Weather Service, they have a remote station in interior Alaska and are experiencing software technical complications with their satellite tracking systems, they want us to take a look and make recommendations. Are you up for that? ”
“ Sure, it sounds adventurous, I have never been to Alaska.”
“It’s October and winter has set in, I will have Cindy order you the proper clothing and footwear so you won’t freeze to death. Arctic Air, a bush plane service out of Fairbanks will fly you in.”
Within a week Phil entered Arctic Air’s office. He met the owner Horace Green who introduced him to Willie Johansson who pilots flights in and out of interior Alaska, including the National Weather Stations. Willie is a bush pilot with 30 years experience, knew the wilderness routes well; he was also a native Alaskan. The plan was to leave in the AM; the weather station is located 150 miles North East of Fairbanks in a very remote area, no towns or villages within 100 miles. The station is adjacent to a small lake, which is well marked for bush plane landings.
It was dark at 9 AM, but the terminal runway was lighted for easy takeoff.
Willie set the course North East and they were on their way. The plane was a single engine Otter, an aircraft commonly used in the Alaskan bush. About an hour into the flight Willie began fiddling with the carburetor heat lever, and the engine was not running smoothly. Willie said it was probably ice in the fuel line, and if they need to make an emergency landing on a lake, down sleeping bags and a tent are in the cargo area, plus emergency rations, water and assorted survival necessities. The engine began to sound worse, missing and sputtering. Willie radioed Fairbanks giving his estimated position, describing the problem. Then suddenly the engine quit running and Willie started looking for a place to land the plane. Phil sensed this was a bad situation, he could see panic in Willie’s eyes. There was no lake in sight for landing, but Willie spotted an open area, decided to make an attempt to land on it. The plane came down fairly well, in what seemed like a controlled pattern, but then hit the ground and both skis snapped tossing the plane into the trees. Willie hit his head very hard on the windshield, and Phil’s seat ripped off its mounts tossing him back into the fuselage. Phil’s leg was broken, and he was in intense pain, he looked forward and Willie was not moving. He checked Willie’s pulse. He had no pulse. The plane was deeply imbedded in a heavily wooded area, making it very difficult for a rescue plane to see, the radio was inoperable and the plane was not equipped with an emergency radio locator beacon. Phil was in great pain, but felt a sense of relief realizing he was fortunate to be alive. Fear and apprehension began to set in. Phil had no skills regarding survival or knowledge of wilderness areas and the extreme difficulty of surviving in such a harsh environment. The temperature was below 0, and can drop much lower at night. The Alaskan bush is a foreboding place, surrounded by harsh, unforgiving elements. The situation could not have been worse, as Phil tried to gather his thoughts and formulate some kind of plan. His mind was spinning, and feeling disoriented. He had his parka on, insulated boots and mittens, he was safe from freezing too quickly, but his ability to move was very restrictive, and the plane was a total mess. He knew he must locate the sleeping bags, and try to make a place inside the plane to sleep calculating his only hope for survival was to remain alive and wait for rescue. He located the sleeping bags, bottled water and food rations, which were minimal. The down sleeping bag was warm but he struggled to get in the bag because of his leg pain, but managed, and it felt good to sleep. The plane was very cold, Phil put the water bottles in his sleeping bag so they would not freeze.
Several days passed, Phil could hear a plane each day, thought of a signal fire, but his immobility forbid him from this effort, things seemed hopeless, thinking the location of the plane would not be easily visible from the air. He was very low on food, and the water bottles were empty. He managed to crawl to the snow putting it in his mouth to melt; he accomplished this with great difficulty. As he lay in his sleeping bag one morning, feeling very weak and mentally distraught, thinking he surely will die, he heard dogs barking in the distance, and the sound was getting stronger, indicating they are moving in his direction. Phil crawled out of the plane and shouted in the direction of the barking, and appearing in the distance was a dog sled and a man moving toward him, the emotion was indescribable, feeling he had been saved from certain death. As the dog team approached the plane the barking intensified, as the dogs displayed their excitement. The man was bearded and elderly, dressed in a fur skin parka, mittens, pants and mukluks. As he approached the plane, a huge smile appeared on his face, and said:
“Looks like you have some trouble here, I can help you out.”
Phil simply had never felt so good in his entire life. The man said his name was Eric Brewster, and he had a cabin about 10 miles East. Eric loaded Phil on the sled and headed East from the plane. They arrived at a small cabin, Eric unloaded Phil and carried him inside, Phil was astonished at the strength of this old man, but was so overwhelmed at being rescued he was speechless. Eric put Phil on a chair, and then re-kindled the wood stove and soon the cabin warmed. Eric looked at Phil’s leg and said he felt it was more of a cracked bone than a total break, he then made a splint from straight tree branches and lashed it on the leg for support, told Phil he would sleep on the floor near the stove so Phil could use the cot. After a great hot meal of dried salmon, brown rice and beans, with coffee Phil was feeling immensely grateful to Eric.
“The nearest village is 60 miles away, they have a radio and a landing strip, when you heal a bit more my huskies and I will take you there so you can be picked up, we can make it in a long day if the weather is good.”
Phil could not stop telling Eric how appreciative he was that he rescued him. Phil asked:
“Why do you live so remote?”
“It’s a complex story, but while you are healing I will fill you in, the best I can.”
“How could you know where I was?”
Eric was silent for a few minutes then said:
“Do you believe in God?”
“No, never have, I think religions are myths, created to control people and responsible for much of the world’s problems and unrest.”
“God lead me to you, it was in a dream, giving me the direction to find you. It is my belief that we all have spirit guides watching over us, protect us, it was likely your spirit guide that entered my dream.”
Phil thought this old guy is whacked out from too much isolation, but it did haunt him wondering how he could ever know to go 10 miles in the direction where the plane had crashed.
“What do you do here all alone, are you a fur trapper?”
“Oh no, I came to the wilderness many years ago, I only kill minimally for survival needs, salmon that I dry for myself and my huskies, and a few snowshoe hares, my diet mostly is rice, beans and oatmeal. I re-stock twice a year with basic needs that I get from the village.”
“What is your purpose, do you write?”
“Yes, I write a journal, enter something each day; my purpose is to connect with the Earth in a benevolent manner with all life that resides in this magnificent place. Humankind has moved away from its connection with the Earth. Modern humans have become immersed in goals that continue to drive them further away from nature and God. I live and feel the spiritual presence of the life in this wilderness, a silent, introspective communion. I know the beaver, mink and deer, and I know their thoughts and feel their spirit, a kinship. This will be difficult for you to understand, you are accustomed to urban life, where noise and congestion are a hindrance blocking natural consciousness.”
Phil had no response but thought this was an odd philosophy; maybe something Eric conjured up allowing him to function in such extreme isolation. Phil then gave a long explanation to Eric about his schooling, work and attachment to technology and its many functions, and his belief that a continuing advance of technology represents the future of humankind. Eric listened intently, agreeing that human advancements are important and advancements have been connected to human history from the beginning. Then he said:
“It is my belief that natural Earth functions, and our ability to understand and blend with these functions is of much greater importance to humankind’s future than the onslaught of technological devices, because in order for our species to live in harmony with the Earth, we must respect and understand it, not disregard it. The proper application of human created devices can serve to intensify this harmony and preserve it; however, to exclude nature, to ignore its preservation, will ultimately prove harmful and destructive. You are most likely impressed and drawn to the intricacies’ and challenges associated with technology, it is quite fascinating, but natural functions of our planet are much more intricate and equally fascinating. Take the common caterpillar, it has over 200 distinct muscles surrounding its head, allowing the radical turning required to dissect a leaf, these fascinations are endless, as one studies nature.”
Phil was astounded at Eric’s articulate manner of expression. Eric continued:
“ You see Phil, nature by its very structure is a spiritual place, there is a rhythm present, displaying ubiquitous life forms, thriving, adjusting and embracing the elaborate designs brought forth by Earth’s creation and presence. Nothing humans can create comes close to the total magnificence of nature. So many examples; for instance, the Golden Plover nests in Alaska and winters in Hawaii migrating 3000 miles across open ocean, the parent birds leave first, followed later by the fledglings, and although the fledglings have never made the trip, they arrive at the same location as the parents, quite a feat of navigation, I would say.”
Phil was stunned:
“Why do you live as you do, alone is such isolation, you have no clock, no calendar or radio?”
“ I have no need for a calendar, clock or radio, I gauge my activities with the sun and the seasons, allowing me to deepen my connection with the wilderness. I have transcended to this place, my purpose is to study nature, continue to learn how and why it functions as it does, my soul lives here, it’s a joyful and enlightening experience. My life moves in metaphysical patterns.”
The two men planned to depart for the village when Phil felt he had the energy to make the trip, he would ride on the sled. In a week it was decided that Phil had healed enough. He felt an odd sense about this cabin, a sadness to leave. Eric made wonderful food from basic ingredients, rabbit stew, bread and biscuits that were superb, sharing deep conversations about the world, its history and future. These were pleasant conversations, and Eric’s mind was filled with knowledge gained from a lifetime of studying Earth’s beings, rhythms and cycles.
After a long day on the trail they arrived at the village, Eric pointed to a building where Phil could radio a message to the air service that owned the downed Otter. The village had a good airstrip on the frozen lake nearby. Eric helped Phil inside the building to make the call, waiting near the woodstove until he finished:
“The Arctic Air owner was shocked to hear from me, he had assumed the worst, thinking I had died in the crash, and was saddened to hear of Willie’s death, and he would arrange to pick me up tomorrow. He said he was sending the helicopter with two men, and with my help they would try to locate the downed plane, extract Willies body and then return to Fairbanks.”
Eric then gave Phil a roughly drawn map of the Otter’s crash site so the helicopter pilot would have an easier time locating the plane.
The radio was located in the small store, the store owner’s name was Bill Jackson, he lived in a room built on the rear of the store, he told Phil and Eric they could sleep on the floor next to the wood stove, a very kind and pleasant man, had been raised in the village, was the fourth generation store keeper, sort of the town leader and responsible for communication for the town’s needs and functions.
In the morning, Bill made a wonderful breakfast with eggs, bacon and hot sourdough biscuits and the three men enjoyed each other’s company. Phil explained how he felt certain he would die in the downed Otter and it seemed like a miracle that Eric showed up with his huskies, and how eternally grateful he was to Eric. Bill told them how his great grandfather founded this little store, many years ago, and its founding is responsible for the establishment of the village. Bill had lived his entire life in the village, spending his youth in Fairbanks during school months, lived with his aunt while attending school.
Eric said he felt the need to hit the trail, and excused himself to attend his dogs and prepare to return to his cabin. He came back into the store, to say goodbye, thanked Bill for such grand hospitality, told Phil how much he enjoyed their conversations and handed him a package, tied with a string in brown paper, told him to open it on his way back to Fairbanks. As Eric departed the sound of the dogs caused a stir inside Phil’s heart, he discovered he was tearing up, quickly arresting his emotions. After Eric was gone, while he was waiting for the helicopter, he asked Bill if he knew Eric. Bill replied, no, I have never seen him before in my life. Phil was startled at Bill’s response; he told Bill that Eric said he restocks here twice a year, and that he lives in small cabin about 60 miles West of the village. Bill said he knew all of the cabins and their occupants within 100 miles of the village and he knew of no such cabin located 60 miles west. Phil was dumbfounded, told Bill that he stayed at Eric’s cabin for over a week while he healed enough to travel. Bill asked:
“Did Eric tell you his last name?”
“Yes, it is Brewster.”
Bill was silent for a moment, then said:
“I remember my grandfather talking about a Brewster that lived in that vicinity, years ago.”
Both men were speechless, and without comment. Soon the helicopter arrived, Phil thanked Bill and then boarded the helicopter, greeting the pilot and two men to assist in Willie’s body recovery. He showed the pilot the rough map that Eric had given him, and asked the pilot if he could try to fly in a direction that would allow him to view Eric’s cabin, the pilot said he thought he could do it. Soon Eric’s cabin came into view, the pilot hovered for a minute, and Phil’s face went white, the cabin was a ruin, the roof had fallen in, and trees were growing out of the cabin, it was apparent that this cabin had not been occupied for many years. Phil thought of the package Eric had given him, he reached in his parka pocket and took it out, untied the string and opened the wrapping, it was a book, on the cover was neatly printed:
“The Journal of Eric Brewster 1950-1990.”
Phil sat in silence until they arrived at the crash site, the two men assigned to remove Willie’s body went to work quickly, fortunately the fuselage had protected Willie’s body from predators, and was not decomposed because of the cold temperatures, and poor Willie could now have a proper burial.
Phil had his leg x-rayed in Fairbanks, and Eric was correct, it was only a cracked bone, and the hospital put on a cast and gave Phil crutches to use until his leg healed. Phil arrived at his office in a few days; greeted by an enthusiastic office staff. Jim was so happy that he survived the ordeal. They were certain that Phil had perished in the crash. Phil said he wanted to return to Alaska for another attempt at the weather station. After his leg healed he returned to Alaska, solved their problems in a few days, and then returned to the office. Phil then asked to take his two weeks vacation, said he wanted to travel to a few of the National Parks, bought backpacking and camping equipment, and drove west, with the intension of camping in a few of the prominent National Parks. It was a good feeling, he had read Eric’s entire journal inspiring him to learn and connect more with the presence of nature.
As he drove into Yellowstone Park, he experienced an emotional lift. The scenery was breathtaking. He camped in one of the campgrounds, trying to get a feel for the use of his new equipment, then ventured into the nature exhibit near the campground. He approached the desk where a lovely young woman sat in front of her computer. As she greeted him, he could see she was struggling with a computer glitch.
“Having computer troubles?”
“Oh yes, some kind of malfunction that keeps blocking data I need to access.”
“I may be able to help.”
Quickly Phil diagnosed the problem and showed her how to re-establish her data. She was very grateful. There was instant chemistry between these two, her name was Dorothy, and she was a field biologist for the park service, told Phil that she spent quantities of time in the backcountry making animal and plant studies, then reports on her findings, she also gives nature lectures for visitors to the park. Phil was smitten. He then said:
“I want to ask you a question?”
“Sure, how can I help?”………. “Do you believe in God?”