Mountain Goat's Land

01-22-2019

By Bobby DeMarinis, Expedition Guide

The Legacy sails south through Glacier Bay, gliding through calm, polished water and cutting through the reflection of the brush stroked clouds. A pair of wading Murrelets flick a wary glance our way, scuffling in the opposite direction and dipping under the water as if diving under the covers of a blanket. The bow of the ship is buzzing with hushed anticipation as we carefully scan the land with our binoculars. Our eyes track ancient trails, trenched by bears and wolves that wend through hillsides, fork across tundra, and meander up the mountains, arteries pumping through the endless expanse of wilderness.

We slow our speed and approach the haunting metamorphosed cathedral of Gloomy Knob, known to the Tlingit people as Janwu Aani, “mountain goat’s land.” Less than one hundred and fifty years ago, a mere blip in the unfolding geological tale of Glacier Bay, this land was engulfed in the outstretched arm of a boundless prairie of ice. An ice field clasping a thousand peaks in its wide embrace, dancing down mountains, spilling into rivers and canyons, and dipping its feet in the sea. The jagged mountain ridges serrating the sky behind us, once tucked to their noses in ice, still remember and whisper tales of the pasts crashing symphony of ice.

On a tall rounded outcropping a thousand feet above us stands a gallant mountain goat, stoically looking down upon treacherous cliffs painted emerald with mosses, grasses, and lichens. It patiently studies the terrain and saunters down a slope of scree with an innate and unbridled grace. We spot two more, a nanny and her kid, hovering just a few hundred feet above the sea on a small grassy bench, an island amongst a sea of stone. The young goat gallops a few paces in front of its mother, drops its head and bucks its hind legs in a fit of ecstasy. It takes off and dances over the precarious rock with a confident and childlike fervor. Our gazes are drawn higher to another, perched on a dark ledge like a gothic gargoyle keeping a careful watch on the passing world below. It patrols the gravel porches and swallows up pale green grasses carpeting the terrain.

These creatures are living at the edge of the world, surviving and thriving on this unforgiving rock. A part of the first chapter of succession, an unfolding story of life and land on the fringe of creation. The air is cool and still as we watch the mountain goats wander and retreat into the land.

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