Ah, to see again that far horizon!

Illustration from Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska, by Rockwell Kent

In August of 1918, American artist Rockwell Kent escaped the bustle of New York City and headed for Alaska with his eldest son, nine-year-old Rockwell. For the next seven months they lived in a remote cabin on Fox Island in Resurrection Bay, venturing out each day to explore their surroundings and to draw and write about the wilderness in which they found themselves, often joined by Lars Matt Olson, a friendly 71-year-old Swede who had lived on the island for many years and ran a fox farm and goat ranch. All the while, Kent kept a journal; this entry came weeks before the end of their odyssey, with so much still to explore.

The Diary Entry

Friday, March seventh.

That to-day began in snow and cloud matters not,—it ended in a glory. Olson, Rockwell, and I sat that late afternoon far out on the bay basking in the warmth of a summer sun, rocked gently on a blue summer sea. For hours we had explored the island’s western shore, skirting its tumbled reefs, riding through perilous straits right up to where the eddying water seethed at some jagged chasm’s mouth. That’s fine adventuring! flirting with danger, safe enough but close—so close to death. We landed on the beach of Sunny Cove, found in the dark thicket the moldering ruins of an old feed house of the foxes, gruesome with the staring bones of devoured carcasses. And then we younger ones dashed up the sheer, snow-covered eastward ridge—dashed on all fours digging our feet into the snow, clinging with hands as to a ladder. There at the top two or three hundred feet above the bay we overlooked the farthest seaward mountains of Cape Resurrection, then Barwell Island and the open sea.

Ah, to see again that far horizon! Wander where you will over all the world, from every valley seeing forever new hills calling you to climb them, from every mountain top farther peaks enticing you. Always the distant land looks fairest, till you are made at last a restless wanderer never reaching home—never—until you stand one day on the last peak on the border of the interminable sea, stopped by the finality of that.

From our feet the cliff dropped in a V-shaped divide straight down to the green ocean; and at its base the ground swell curled, broke white and eddied. The jagged mountains across shone white against black clouds,—what peaks! huge and sharp like the teeth of the Fenris-Wolf.

We hurried back to Olson who waited in the boat. That side—the cove and the more familiar mountains to the westward—lay half shrouded in fast dissolving mist. The descent was real sport. We just sat down and slid clear to the bottom, going at toboggan pace. Poor Olson, who watched us from below, was aghast. On the shore I found a long, thick bamboo pole, doubtless carried directly here from the orient by the Japanese current. We longed to go across to Bear Glacier that we could now see, a broad, inclined plane, spotless white, with the tallest mountains rising steeply from its borders. But it was too late and we returned home. The wonders of this country, of this one bay in fact, it would take years to know!

Further Reading

The journal kept by Rockwell Kent during his trip to Alaska was published the year after he returned, in 1920, and it is a beautiful book in every sense: his writing, his illustrations, his enthusiasm. All of it. It’s now out of copyright and a few different editions exist—if you can, find an old hardcover. And if you can’t do that, take a look at this one at the Internet Archive. Even online, it looks stunning.

2 responses to “Ah, to see again that far horizon!”

  1. Nguyen Cong Kien Avatar
    Nguyen Cong Kien

    The view they had must be amazing!
    I am very tempted to add this into my tbr pile.

  2. “These are the times in life—when nothing happens—but in quietness the soul expands.”

    If you are going to purchase a “special” copy of Wilderness, I would recommend the 1970 limited edition (1500 signed copies) published one year before Rockwell Kent’s death.

    I recently completed a 29 min narrative short film titled “A Dreamer’s Search” which is based on Kent’s 1918 Alaskan Adventure. We hope to share this inspirational story and remind people that the quietest places speak the loudest.

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