An Introduction


Starting in May of 1986, I took a year off from my regular position as Artist-in-Residence for the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto, California. Having hired and trained an assistant to run my framing business, I intended to take a sabbatical and see some of the United States. Two fine books, Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck and Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, helped inspire my decision to make such a trip. In addition, I wanted to sort out some philosophical thoughts I had been mulling over in my mind for a number of years. Such a trip would provide the opportunity. To begin my wanderings, I decided the first leg should go as far north as possible and that led me to Alaska. This book chronicles that journey.

Denali at Talkeetna by R L Mason

Denali at Talkeetna by R L Mason

Somewhere I had heard of the Japanese custom of keeping a “legacy,” a large book in which the head of a family wrote down his thoughts on life and other matters. The book was passed down through the generations with each successor adding his own thoughts. This practice appealed to me since I was curious about my ancestors and yet knew so little about them. Also, I was fascinated with the enduring nature of books. I had read the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and the Travels of Marco Polo. I marveled at how a book could provide a direct communications link between people of different times. Both authors were able to speak directly to my mind from their minds over periods of five and seven hundred years. It amused me to envision my descendants smiling at my quaint expressions five hundred years from now.

Age fifty (almost) seemed like an appropriate time of life to start such a project. At that age you are still young enough to have all your wits about you, yet old enough to have had a fair amount of experience with the world. You should have lost a good deal of naiveté and gained objectivity. You should have a pretty good handle on which of those “lessons” you were taught as a youth were sound and which didn’t hold water. You may even have a fresh insight, or rarer still, an original thought.

You have to have something of an ego, of course, to even attempt such a project, but low self-esteem has never been a problem of mine. On the other hand, I have no illusions about changing the course of history with this book. If it is never
read by anyone other than my daughter and granddaughter, that will be enough. I did feel a nagging sense of obligation and I think this springs from a vague notion that a life should somehow “bear fruit;” that something in addition to progeny should be left behind at the end. Being an artist has helped fulfill this need, but a work of art lacks the specificity of the written word, and I wanted to be more specific.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of the subjects and disciplines that are touched on in this book. The only subject I claim expertise for is my own opinion, and the reader will soon discover that I have opinions. Prefacing every personal conclusion with “it seems to me” or “as I understand it” does get rather tiresome, so I ask that the reader plug these words in mentally whenever I begin to sound instructive. They are, after all, only opinions. Finally, I have decided even though this book is a personal project, I might as well do it in a finished manner. At least I should try for broad appeal, although I would consider broad readership a bonus. An account of my trip provides the structure for introducing a number of diverse thoughts and is also a story in its own right. Much of this book was drafted at that time. Upon returning, however, and reengaging in the process of making a living, the project languished. I was determined to complete the project upon retirement, and did so with the help of a daily log which I kept on the trip, as well as photographs, tape recordings, and sketches done on location.

The essays that originally constituted Part II of the book may be found here.


Monday, September 29th, 2008 An Introduction No Comments