Dec 17, 2011

Into the Wild

Readers of the “Into the Wild” everywhere …

This hydrograph is for you.

I wonder if Jon Krakauer would considering
using this hydrograph in future editions
of his book?

It shows the fateful "fall and rise" of the Talkeenta River in Alaska where Chris McCandless – also known as Alex Supertramp and eulogized with great poignancy by Jon Krakauer – crossed the river but couldn’t cross back.

The reason?


For one, the protagonist was a Continentaller. He probably assumed that the river peaked in spring and slowly ebbed through the summer, only to bottom out in fall. But Alaskan streams are snow-melt fed. That gives them a trademark summer peak of roaring and frigid water (as the author points out and that the protagonist was astonished to see) which pumps up the flow volume “nine or ten times” above the baseflow recession of the still frozen spring he crossed.

What shocks me about the hydrograph is its tightness: Unlike precipitation fed rivers whose hydrographs are “spiked” with rain storms and variable depending on seasonal and annual rain patterns, snow melt is a steady and very predictable producer. As August progressed, Alex noticed a chill in the air and rapidly declining daylight hours, or in other words – an end of Alaskan summer, and so with it, a rapid recession of the ephemeral raging river back down to its creek-like winter state.

Continental streams typically recede through the summer
This book haunts at many levels:

Who in their youth was not a bit rebellious and equally touched by a Utopian disgust of a world gone wrong which, with vision and conviction, we set ourselves out towards restoring, if not in whole then only (and ultimately) as some small but significant vindication of who we ourselves aim to be? I too am on a search of sorts for a perfect hydrologic world – of which I attempt to plot with scientific rigor and aesthetic flair – and which in great fervor, with said hydrograph in hand, I set out in mind and body to those distant shores to touch whatever of its silky waters I may find and to splash its wetness on my face (or alternatively just take a few photographs instead).

Usually I’m not too far from a U.S. Geological gauging station when I do (which is where I got the data to plot the hydrograph up top). Had only Alex Supertramp known the same (that’s a hint to read the book – I don’t want to give it away), he would be alive and well, although quixotically with the result that his story, as retold by Jon Krakauer, may have never been born.

As a reader, “Into the Wild” leaves me with so many questions, among the top is which one he would have preferred.

2 comments:

Janie said...

Krakauer should definitely use your graph!
I've read several of Krakauer's books, but not this one. Your reflections on it have convinced me to put it on my list.

Robert Sobczak said...

It's a good book ... frustrating to read (and understand), but definitely thought provoking.