“My gratitude for them is greater than it ever could have been without the trip. There were times when it was incredibly lonely and they were such emotional support, so beautifully present and attentive.” Knowing that dogs have an ability to key in on illness in people, Griffith observed how they reacted to her from day to day. Their responses became an important part of what she called their “feedback circle,” sometimes on a barely conscious level.
“We’re not always aware of it, but our dogs are constantly checking on us, watching and being mindful of us. In the bus, that was so obvious,” said Griffith. There was another animal Griffith appreciated having along for most of the trip. “I swear the only reason I got there and back alive was because of the crows.
They would cue me when to stop and where to park for the night. I would just pay attention and hear in the way you hear when you have a dialogue with a dog. As a result, every time we broke down, it was near was somebody who could fix [the problem]. Every single time.”
After much anticipation and five days on the tundra, Lucille delivered the trio to Deadhorse. To Griffith’s intense disappointment, that was as far as the dogs (and Lucille) were allowed to go. A bus owned by the oil company took her to the beach at Prudhoe Bay, where she was permitted to spend only 10 minutes.
“I was pretty surprised to discover that the only way I was going to be able to actually see and touch my destination was by the grace of the oil company. Of course, they limit what you see for a very good reason: what they’re doing there. The amount of destruction of the environment is significant. And there’s nothing worse than a woman with a camera, you know,” said Griffith.
Despite her restricted access, Griffith rejoined Hugger and Comfort feeling electrified by the ocean. She was also honest enough to recognize the part she had played in the incongruity of that day.
“There was an irony in having to confront my own contribution to irresponsible living,” she reflected. After all, she’d driven there in a diesel-fueled bus that got roughly nine miles per gallon, and the final stretch of highway only existed to support the Trans- Alaska Pipeline, which was built to carry oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
“What was I doing to help the environment?” she asked rhetorically. “I was in this place that’s so important to preserve, and yet I was a contributor to its demise. I had to face that truth. It was very troubling.”
It was another nine months before Lucille delivered the pack of three safely back to Maine by way of Tucson, Arizona. They arrived on June 6, 2009, exactly one year after they’d set out. By the time Griffith finalized The Secret Life of Light project in 2014, she realized that the sense of serenity she’d felt above the 66th parallel had stayed with her.
“The opportunity to experience that place was a gift. It came at a time in my life when the questions of death and dying were so primary. I feel as if that experience has paved the way for me to go into the last stage of my life. I’m ready to go, whenever,” Griffith said easily.
“There was a moment when we were very far back,” she remembered. “We were about 150 miles from anybody. It was, you know, If this bus doesn’t start tomorrow morning and if the dish doesn’t work, we could just die here. I did go through the process of okay, what would I do? Night came down as I thought that through, but then the sun came up, the bus started and we went on.”
For more examples of Griffith’s work, go to fineartphotographyoflindagriffith.com.