Seward Alaska

17. Anchorage and Beyond

I camped for the night at Talkeetna Park. There I met David Cornberg who was at the campsite next to mine. Other than myself, he was the only person I met on the whole trip who was camping alone. He turned out to be quite an interesting fellow. He was a Stanford graduate and had majored in philosophy. A little younger than I, he was an artist and poet who made his living as a resource person for schools in Anchorage. Primarily, he taught poetry to children. During our conversation, I mentioned that I just finished reading John McPhee’s book, and David told me that he was the last individual that McPhee mentioned in the book. He was using the name River Wind at the time. I remembered he made a strong impression on McPhee and it was easy to see why. He had many positive aspects  and they were all part of a friendly, outgoing personality.

Out the Pop-Top Window

Out the Pop-Top Window

(click on image for larger view)

We had an extended rap session and I showed some of my work and read him some of what I had been writing. He offered some excellent advice, and read me some of his poetry. He was quite good! As we parted he gave me two salmon steaks from a fish he had just caught. I fixed them that evening with some rice. They were quite good too!

The next evening, while camped just outside of Anchorage, I made preparations for selling art work to the local galleries. I opened the phone book to the yellow pages and made a list of sixteen galleries that looked promising. I eliminated those that professed to handle mainly native art. Half the population of Alaska lives in Anchorage so I had high hopes.

One by one, the following day, I started checking them out. REPRODUCTIONS! Nothing but reproductions; I couldn’t believe it, even the “high class” galleries right downtown! A lot of the smaller towns had galleries that carried mainly reproductions, but I figured the “big city” would have more sophisticated tastes, more cosmopolitan subject matter. I called on fourteen of the galleries that were on my list. Many times I found myself having to explain to the gallery manager the difference between an original print* and a reproduction**. All I would get is a blank stare of incomprehension.

There were two exceptions, the Museum and Stonington’s Gallery, and the latter only took things on consignment. It was a total washout for art sales. What a contrast to Fairbanks! Maybe it’s the presence of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks that makes the difference. It certainly is a much more knowledgeable city where art is concerned. The Anchorage Museum was a definite bright spot in my experience of that city. There I saw an exhibit of John Sloan’s etchings and lithographs which I enjoyed very much. It was inspiring.

I settled for the night of July 2nd at Portage Glacier, Black Bear Campground. Georgia would have liked this site. I wondered how she was doing. I had to admit it was easier and freer traveling without her . . . also lonelier. Just before she left though she was becoming so wild and independent that she wasn’t even good company. I think she made a conscious decision to go wild, but she probably didn’t realize that it would be irrevocable, and I’m sure she didn’t have any idea about the long term consequences.

The next day I arrived at Seward and was favorably impressed. It sits at the head of a deep bay and is surrounded by majestic mountains. It has a port, and a small boat harbor, you can camp right along the waterfront, and NO MOSQUITOES! The town is small but not too small, and there’s a nice little gallery with original art. They bought some of mine.

The Governor had designated Seward as Alaska’s 4th of July city for 1986, and I decided to stay for the festivities. I was told there would be a lot of visitors in town and a parade.

On the morning of the 4th I decided to treat myself to a nice breakfast at a local restaurant. After I finished eating, I was sipping coffee and reading the local newspaper when I happened to look up and my eyes met those of an attractive blond seated at a nearby table. She was wearing a bright red sweater that fit rather nicely. She smiled and I smiled in return then went back to reading the newspaper without thinking much about it. Later, while I was waiting for the parade to start, I walked around town and looked in the various shops. During my wanderings there were a couple of “chance” encounters with “Red Sweater,” and on each occasion I got that same smile. At about noon I found a spot along the parade route and was watching the passing scene when I noticed Red Sweater was standing directly to my right. There was a man standing on her right and I assumed they were together.

Since Georgia left, I had thrown myself into writing in order to take my mind off losing her. I had been working on a piece in the back of my mind that morning, and, even as I watched the parade, I was still turning things over upstairs. Red Sweater and I spoke several times during the parade, commenting on this and that. Toward the end of the parade I made up my mind that I would go get my portfolio afterwards and approach another gallery that I had noticed. When the parade ended, Red Sweater turned to me and smiling said “Well, I think I’ll go in there and get a drink.” I looked where she had indicated and saw we had been standing directly in front of one of the local watering holes. I said something  innocuous like “have a nice day,” and started off down the street. As I left I noticed the other guy was nowhere around.

I had gone about half a block when suddenly all the dots connected and I stopped dead in my tracks. This attractive woman had been making a rather transparent effort to get my attention, and I had been totally oblivious. I considered going back to the bar, but now I was so embarrassed that I didn’t want to show my face. I kicked myself mentally for several days after that because I would have enjoyed some female company at that point in my trip.

There is a saying I have heard from women who have spent time in Alaska looking for romance. It goes:

“The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

I’m sure that my behavior that day did little to counter this conclusion.

Dot Bardarson who ran the gallery that bought my prints, and who is an excellent  watercolorist and printmaker herself, invited me to a 4th of July picnic at their place “down by the river.” It was a small group of very pleasant and interesting people. I got to see Dot’s studio which is something I always enjoy. Dot introduced me as one of her artists. Then she laughed apologetically and said “Listen to me talking about myartists.” Frankly, I felt honored.

* Original prints, etchings, engravings, lithographs, woodcuts, etc. are presented in the same medium             in which they are accomplished.

** Reproductions are accomplished in a medium  such as watercolor or oil and presented in print  medium       such as off-set lithograph and a camera is involved in the conversion.

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Monday, September 7th, 2009 Chapters 11 — 20 No Comments

18. The Kenai Pennisula

The Kenai Peninsula is quite extensive, and located to the south of Anchorage. Following my adventures in Seward, I set out to explore the balance of the Peninsula which includes the towns of Kenai, Whittier, Soldotna, and Homer. I was particularly anxious to get to Homer as that was my next mail pick up.

On July 5th I camped for the night at a spot off Cohoe Loop Road. It was only a gravel pit but it had a view that was tailor made to impress you with the size of Alaska. It must have been 150 feet up on top of a sheer cliff that overlooked the Cook Inlet. When I woke the next morning the sky was leaden and it was pouring rain so I decided to stay put, do some reading, writing, and general maintenance.

Have you ever tried to take a bath in a plastic basin measuring twelve inches wide, fourteen inches long and six inches deep? I guarantee it can be done. It requires careful planning, forethought and a good measure of patience. This is especially true when it is all to be done in a relatively tight little space with water heated on a stove. But it is possible to do a good job. I eventually got it down pat and now feel qualified to give lessons.

As the above paragraph illustrates, there was a certain amount of adaptation necessary while learning to live in the van. But after a week or two I started to feel quite comfortable in its tight, but efficient, little space. Some things were easier such as cleaning the space, there just wasn’t much of it, and being neat and tidy definitely helped. Although I never did come up with a name to call it other than van, I did develop a considerable personal affection for this traveling companion.

Later, as I was writing in my journal, I happened to look up just as a tall tree (a spruce I think) tumbled off the cliff and all the way to the beach 150 feet below. There were a lot of trees growing right at the edge of the cliff and some of them leaned out at crazy angles. I was so impressed by this event that I did a sketch to commemorate it.

Overlooking Cook Inlet

Overlooking Cook Inlet

It finally stopped raining so I got underway and tried my hand at selling prints in Soldotna, Kenai, and Homer . . . with no luck. I was getting tired of looking at wildlife reproductions, and felt it would be so nice to, at least occasionally, see a figure, an abstract, or an original of any kind.

Homer is a nice town and has a breathtaking setting of mountains and water, a real panorama. However, Seward was still my favorite, and the first place I’d seen on the whole trip where I could imagine settling down for a while.

I camped  at Kelly Lake east of Soldotna. During the night the loons were calling to each other on the lake. I realize when Jack London titled his book The Call of the Wild he had in mind the howl of the wolf as the physical embodiment of the “call.” And there is no doubt the wolf’s call is a very wild sound indeed. But, for me, the loon’s call is the one that sends a tingle up my spine and into my scalp. It is more musical and hauntingly beautiful. It’s a sound I have only heard a few times in my life. I got out of my sleeping bag to see if I could record it on tape. Naturally, just about the time I got set up, they quit.

The next evening found me at Whittier. I took the short train ride (eleven miles) from Portage. They put my van right on board. It’s the only way to get to Whittier by land. I had hoped to catch the ferry to Valdez, but I didn’t have a reservation so I had to get in the standby line. Unfortunately, I didn’t get on and was forced to wait two days for the next ferry. As a result I had a lot of time to explore the town and its surroundings.

Whittier is a strange little burg. There are no houses! Everybody lives in huge barracks buildings left over from WWII. One resident went as far as to say that Whittier is the only Army surplus city in existence. Almost every building in town was originally built by the Army. The reason that Whittier still exists is its function as a rail/marine connection. There is also a small boat harbor, but not much else.

I decided to go for a long hike in the mountains behind Whittier. I felt I could use some exercise, and up till then my hiking had been limited by the necessity of keeping an eye on Georgia. I made it to the top and hiked around on a glacier that resides there permanently. What a view! On the way down I slipped on a wet stone in a melt stream and twisted my knee rather severely. I limped down the rest of the way but the next morning my knee was swollen and so painful that I could barely walk.

Because I had to camp in the standby line for two days I got to know the couple who were in line behind me. They were semi-retired farmers from Nebraska and had a medium sized camper. They took pity on me after seeing me limp around and invited me over for dinner. He did most of the talking while she fixed the meal. When the table was set and we were seated, he said a grace. It was well done and entirely sincere. We had an extended conversation over dinner. He spoke of their need to get home by fall in order to extirpate a kind of weed which, if not done, would soon render their land useless. He also spoke at length about various preachers and ministers whose sermons he greatly admired. To his credit, he did not quiz me about my beliefs, and made no attempt at proselytizing. They were pleasant people, salt-of-the-earth types from the heartland, old fashioned and insular. I was reminded somewhat of Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic except that they were outgoing and friendly and not at all dour. I was familiar with their belief system because it was simply a much more mature version of what I had been taught as a child, but which I felt I had  . . . well . . . left behind.

Back in my van afterwards, I reflected on the evening which I had quite enjoyed. One could not help but be impressed with the strength of their heartfelt faith. Why hadn’t I matured in the same way they had? I tried to remember the various philosophical steps I had taken along my own personal path. Then I got out a pencil and paper and wrote them down. The result is autobiographical and is, to the best of my recollection, what happened to me. Click here to read it.

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Monday, September 7th, 2009 Chapters 11 — 20 1 Comment