Pretty quickly we're approaching the glacier, snaking down from the pass, silty and blue and frozen rock-hard under the weight and pressure of the ancient ice. Once in a while we fly up (when Dave is on floats) and land on the lake to collect ice for cocktails. Because the ice is so dense, it lasts a long time. The texture of it is somehow different on your tongue in a way that is hard to describe, glassy and heavy and somehow laden. With what I don't actually know.... History? Time? I can't say.
The air up here is calm, the wind tamed by the arms of the mountains. Lake George - which sits at the foot of the Knik glacier - is smooth and glassy. The water is the color of flint, grey with glacial silt so fine that it hangs in the water, giving the lake water the same slightly translucent and grainlessly smooth texture. Small blocks of ice, calved off the glacier, float on the surface, which otherwise is smooth and mirrored.
The pilot of the other 180 is on the horn as we circle around, asking our intentions and describing his own. For a while we spiral the bowl at different altitudes, keeping each other in sight, Dave and the other pilot on the radio, making sure we're not on collision course. The other 180 does a touch-and-go, and after they depart we take their vacated grass strip, landing and getting out to walk around. Pepper has her ubiquitous frisbee, and brings it to me with her patented blend of hopefulness, charm and insistence, dropping it thoughtfully on my feet and then crouching to stare at me, every muscle at the ready, employing her BC "Eye" to will me to throw it for her.
We spend a while at the Far North Frisbee Dog Competition (which Pepper, naturally, wins, since the other competitors evidently knew that they were out-classed and didn't even show up). It's warm here, almost hot in fact, and there are (most amazingly) bugs. Lots of small fat flies, not much nuisance, but in surprising numbers for this late in the year. We pace the strip, Dave inspecting it for take-off hazards, me just enjoying the gorgeous day. After a while we walk back to the plane, nestled in the dying horsetail ferns, the weight of the mountains resting on her wings.Dave lifts us off and points us back down the tongue of the glacier. There's not much snow yet and the sky is an amazing color of blue, but there's a broodiness to the scant clouds; it's almost as if you can feel the land dreaming of winter, of dark, of blanketing snow.
Dave takes us on what he refers to as "The Star Wars tour", hugging the south wall of the bowl, dropping us low over the canyon between the rock and the glacier's edge. Sometimes here you can see mountain goats or Dall sheep, leaping casually down the cliff faces or staring at us from some outcrop.
There are no animals out today, just the blue of ice and sky, the grey of the silt, the dusky purple-green flanks of the mountains. The brilliant red of the Cessna as she carves her way through the air.
We land below the glacier on the gravel flats. Dave skips rocks off the silty braids of the glacier-fed river. Here the wind is strong and constant, shaving the rocks into flat discs, some no thicker than a quarter. Dave bounces them off the water, some of them making it across the water and onto the other shore. The Cessna shines in the sun, beckoning.
We gather up Pepper and load up. Under Dave's hand his bird hops into the air, climbing sweetly on the edge of the wind. The valley is spread out below us, broad and golden, spangled with lakes. As we edge past the bolster to the Talkeetnas, I can see the massif of the Alaska Range. The Mountain is there, skirted in clouds, looking almost like a cloud bank herself, dwarfed by distance and altitude. We fly face-on toward her as we approach Willow. There are planes on the runway, planes in the pattern, stacked three deep as two pilots do touch-and-go's, with us slipping into the pattern between them for a full stop.
Dave sets us down lightly and we roll off the runway. I take pictures of the planes on the rise as they exit the touch-and-go while Dave ties down his bird. It's still a gorgeous afternoon, sunny and bright, though the breeze has picked up a bit. I'm hungry now; in the peculiar timeless way of flying the glacier, it seems like no time has passed, but it's been almost five hours since Dave picked me up. I am completely contented with my day, sated by flight, intoxicated with sun and color and heat. Just another Alaskan weekend.
I could do worse.