Microcosm

The previous year, the seas were too rough to land on the volcano. We explored other islands: Little Tanaga, Atka, and Adak, of course. We went to places overflowing with life when our plan had been to search carefully for the even the smallest signs on the near barren slopes of the active mountain.

The following year the seas were impossibly calm, and at night we watched a blue bioluminescence trail in the prop-wash and wake of the Fish and Wildlife boat. We landed at both Kanuji and Kasatochi, the old and the new. Kanuji has been worn to a cinder held together by grass and guano. We don’t know how old she is. Records in the soil are confused; there is always an island, somewhere, remaking itself against the more casual zeitgeist of the planet.

Kasatochi, heavily weathered since the 2008 eruption, still maintains its skirts, a broad pancake of clastics and ash cut by gullies and beaten by the surf. A forest here is lupines and dew. An animal, any animal, an insect flying by the nose, is something to be captured and cataloged. The microcosm does not survive. The sky and the sea flush across its edges, carrying migrants: driftwood, plastics, a skiff with an outboard ferrying the curious, auklets who don’t care what the island looks like now. They know which flank is home.

—Thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service; UA Museum of the North Entomology Collection (Kasatochi, 2016)

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