The Lodge at Black Rapids is in an unlikely spot, 40 miles from the nearest town, Delta Junction, on the Richardson Highway. Built next to a crumbling 1902 roadhouse that once supplied whiskey and beds to gold rushers, the 10-room timber-frame lodge caters to locals in winter and tourists in summer. But when I arrived, there was no one around. I opened the ponderous wooden door and stepped into the bracing silence.
“Shhhhh,” I heard from behind the giant stone chimney in the center of the room. Behind it, the proprietor, Annie Hopper, sat cradling a 1-day-old infant. She smiled and spoke in whispers. The baby girl was the child of employees who live on the premises. Hopper’s serenity seemed to suffuse the room, and I felt my shoulders loosen.
Running the lodge is a labor of love for Hopper, a gregarious social worker from Fairbanks, and her husband, Michael, a quiet, bearded psychologist with an intense gaze. They built it with the help of friends, adding such creative touches as a belvedere for watching the northern lights. Both are in love with the landscape and the quiet life. They spend a few days a week here, but hope to live here for good one day.
Every day, Annie takes an outdoor excursion, and she later rented me a pair of the lodge’s snowshoes to climb the mountain out back. As I tromped up the slope beneath mottled clouds, the 10-degree air felt like a tonic in my lungs. Everywhere, the tracks of small mammals, stirring with the suggestion of spring, perforated the snow beneath the wind-stunted black spruce trees. Annie stopped to turn around and look at the valley below.
“This is our television show,” she said. “I could sit here all day watching the weather move through the valley.” We gazed over the wide glacial valley, the braided Delta River and the rows of peaks, some of which haven’t yet been named. The clouds lifted and descended in a mysterious choreography, revealing the landscape in alluring pieces. I marveled at the simplicity of sound: only the shearing of the breeze over the surface of the snow.
That evening, the other guests — a local couple and a local family — and I gathered for a dinner of buffalo roast and drinks by the fire. The atmosphere was so warm and drowsy that I retired early, craving sleep.
The power of quiet
There is a type of rest that happens, for me, only in the absence of electronics and sound. I rose the next morning as if I had awakened in a new century. I opened the shades to the silver light of an overcast day. Snowflakes drifted in the air, aimless. The outlines of the trees against the snow looked crisper than usual, as if I were looking through a sharper lens — or perhaps just a more spacious mind.
In my normal life, I try to do as much as I possibly can, cramming each day with a numbing litany of tasks. It’s only natural that when I travel, I do the same thing. I do and see as much as possible — museums, city streets, restaurants, monuments, people.