If Shangri-La, Valhalla, and the New Jerusalem are each analogous to the mathematical equivalent of infinity, then Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, is zero. It is the blank landscape upon which all telluric features are built, and the arctic tundra surrounding it carries a haunting, escapist beauty that can only be expressed with synonyms of void and absence. Dalí dreamed of this place when he rendered Saint Anthony, and it’s no coincidence that the Nitrian Desert of the 6th century—like modern-day Prudhoe Bay—was saturated with obscure pilgrims seeking elusive abstracts: release, redemption, and peace.
The monasteries of yesteryear were often built on a broad expanse, like a desert or a plateau. The monks who occupied them saw the dramatic, unobstructed meeting of earth and sky as spiritual and psychological symbols of their union with God: with no terrestrial variation or violence, the focus of their prayers would remain intact as they rocketed towards heaven.
During my time in Prudhoe Bay, I couldn’t help but resonate with this sentiment: familiar with mountains and coasts and fixed eyelines, I let my mind wander out towards the edges in all directions, stripped of the usual fuss and clamor of a life amidst noise. The unlimited and hurried plane before me turned my thoughts inward, towards the only anchor I knew in my soul.
There in the summer, the midnight sun kept everything under the same light: shadows only rotated, never lengthened. Morning matched midnight, and I could no longer measure time. But there was one constant: the earth was always there, opening up under me, unfolding towards the edges of the sky, unfolding towards heaven.