Thursday, October 30, 2008
I shouldn’t have been eating them anyway, because I’d just finished a bowl of Chicken Tortilla soup that I’d made from one of those big ol’ plump rotisserie chickens from Costco, and my tummy was quite full. Not to mention the fact that I have to hide the taffy from Pablo the Parrot, because he would want some, and a parrot with its beak stuck together with taffy is not a pretty sight. First I make a stock with the chicken and then add corn and black beans and onions and rice. After I ladle out an individual serving, I sprinkle tortilla chips and shredded cheese on top.
Anyway, the story I watched had to do with seniors and memory. Did you ever notice how cute that Brian Williams is? I mean, he’s ever so much cuter than Tom… what was his name? The guy who moderated the ultra-boring second McCain-Obama debate?
It wasn’t Brian who reported the story about seniors and their memory problems. It was some reporter named Robert something-or-other. I don’t know if Robert something-or-other is as cute as Brian, because I never saw his face. Instead, they kept showing this gal dressed up in a pink swim cap with a gazillion wires attached to it that made me think of the old days and ancient hair-dressing techniques that resembled nutty experiments a la Dr. Frankenstein.
These scientists are doing this brain-related research at the University of California in San Francisco, which is where I spent an eternity one October in a sunny hospital room on the umpteenth floor during a 90 plus degree heat wave. My husband was there for some testing, and I had to stay there too. Buildings in San Francisco don’t have air conditioning because they don’t need it. Add to that the fact that we couldn’t turn off the heat in the room. When the hot water heat pipes started flooding the room, they finally moved us to a room on the shady side of the building.
All those wires on the pink swim cap apparently were connected to a machine that did EEGs on volunteers who were told to remember some pictures but not others. The phone rang and a young man named Henry—whom I’ve never met but I should have because he lives in my small community—asked me if I would bake a cake for the Moose Pass school’s Halloween party this Friday. I said of course I would, and began to wonder what flavor cake mixes I had in my pantry. Oh, I forgot to mention that I also add cumin and coriander to the chicken stock. When did they stop putting an apostrophe between the two ees in Halloween?
When I got back to Brian—no, it was still the other guy—the lady in the pink swim cap was on. Have you ever noticed that Brian’s nose is crooked? The next time you see him, take notice that he’s always shown from the camera angle that diminishes the crookedness. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way because I think it adds to his appeal. Just the same as when he showed a picture of his dog Lucy and said that now “they” think dogs can read expressions on the faces of humans.
But, before that, this guy from UCSF was saying that the ability to ignore irrelevant distractions and to stay focused is one of the first things we lose as we age. Therefore, if I use the yellow cake mix, should I frost it with the milk chocolate or coconut-pecan icing? Ewwww, what a color combination that would be—coconut-pecan and yellow cake. I think I just answered my own question.
And here I always thought my dogs could read my mind, not my facial expressions.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Today I was making the mail run through Cooper Landing, heading to my last stop, which was Betty's house. Betty is in her eighties now, a fixture and a favorite in this settlement along the shores of Kenai Lake and Kenai River. Turns out she and my late husband were distantly related, but I keep forgetting exactly how. See, my husband didn't have a family tree so much as he had a family forest.
Every once in a while I would think I had it all straight--all the various cousins, aunts, etc.--and then it would all come crashing down around me in a geneological avalanche of halves, and steps, and seconds, and in-laws. It took Betty a while to figure it out, too, and she decided it must be through her late husband. Therefore it only makes sense to us that we are outlaws lately related through in laws.
After I dropped off Betty's mail--I take it right into her house, picking up the puppy poodle that comes out to greet me--I didn't stay long to visit today. The masseuse was arriving to give Betty a massage, and I was anxious to get back out on the highway. I had spotted something that looked like it would make a good photo, so off I went.
Across the highway from Betty's I saw this:
There's no snow on the ground yet, and the sky is clear, which means it's cold. It was five above when I started the mail this morning at 8:30, and now, at one o'clock, it was probably in the twenties. I couldn't get quite the shot I wanted at that spot across from Betty's, so I drove a couple hundred yards up the highway.
The sun had just peeked around the side of the mountain and set the hoar frost on the trees a-glistening. A breath of air so light it couldn't be felt lifted the frost into the air, casting sparkles across the river and a galaxy of miniaturized stars all around me. Vapor from the aqua river billowed up to meet them.
Then, in a few minutes, the magic was gone, and it was just another beautiful day along the river.
But, for an enchanted few minutes, I was in the right place at the right time...
Friday, October 24, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Let me make this clear: I have not sworn allegiance to any political party. Okay, maybe once I did sign up for the Young Democrats, but that had nothing to do with political beliefs and everything to do with Ronnie. Come on, I was eighteen. What did I know? Other than that Ronnie was cute, I mean. And I only went to one meeting. These were the days of John Kennedy, and I was thoroughly inspired by JFK. Not enough to take politics all that seriously, but enough to think that I probably was a Democrat. Whatever that meant.
At the time, I was working as a newspaper reporter, and eventually the political reporter, Ginnie, asked me if I’d like to attend the monthly luncheon meetings of the Democrats and Republicans. No, they didn’t have lunch together—they each had separate luncheons on opposite sides of town. By this time I’d met Mr. Democrat, who was a lot of fun to talk with, and since I was pretty sure he’d be at those luncheons, why, of course, Ginnie, I’d love to go with you…. And, yes, Mr. Democrat would usually come and sit with me, unless he was the main speaker. Sigh…
The Republicans? Well, that was another matter. Their luncheons were, ummm, stodgy. Nobody joked. Nobody had any fun. Everyone was way too serious. One Republican got so mad, he quit and joined the Democrats. All in all, the Democrats’s lunches were ever so much more fun than the Republicans’s. And the food was better, but that might have had something to do with Mr. Democrat.
Even their choice of venues differed. The GOP held their lunches in the fanciest, stuffiest hotel in town. The Democrats held theirs at the Penguin Club. Now, I was not yet twenty-one when all this was going on, so I can’t tell you for sure, but I heard the Penguin Club was a whole lot of fun, too. After the luncheon, of course.
As the years passed, I crossed party lines like they were a hopscotch grid, voting for the candidate rather than the party. Then, I quite often found myself voting for the lesser of two evils. My political persuasions continued to evolve, but could never be pinned to one party. When my husband and I owned and operated a small business (less than thirty employees), and I got a good look at the various taxes employers had to pay, I soon found myself with a definite starboard list.
Not too long ago, I was discussing the two presidential candidates with a friend from the old days, who used to work with Mr. Democrat. I think he was a bit surprised to discover I wasn’t a rabid Democrat. “I find that the older I get,” I told him, “the more conservative I get.”
He said something along the lines of people become conservative when they have something to conserve. He asked me to keep an open mind. I have. In fact, my mind has been so open I’m getting a headache from the political winds whistling through. When it all becomes too much, I fall back on my usual therapy—picking up highway litter.
When I heard that Colin Powell jumped party lines and endorsed Barack Obama, I was in mucho need for mucho therapy. I went out and picked up eight bags of litter yesterday. I skipped all the football games for this, even the Seaturkeys’ game against the Buccaneers. Today I went out for more of the same, and loaded up another nine bags. This is the perfect segue into what the muse wanted to say, because picking up garbage was what I was doing when she began making her demands and insisting on asking a very important question.
Here’s the situation on the economic crisis from our—I mean HER—point of view.
First, this is what I know of economics:
1. There’s black ink and there’s red ink. Black ink is good; red ink is bad.
2. If you spend more black ink than you have, you are awash in red ink.
3. I am jinxed in the stock market.
Now, here’s HER take on the national scene:
The Democrat Obama proposes to alleviate the current economic crisis by spending. He wants to dump buckets of cash into roads and bridges to put people to work. He wants to extend unemployment benefits. He wants to tax relatively high earners and businesses and “spread the wealth around.” (He did too say that—I heard him say it.) He wants to make everybody more equal. (Isn’t that a prelude to destroying personal initiative?)
The Republican McCain want to freeze spending until things are under control. He wants to reduce taxes on small businesses, so those businesses will be able to create more jobs. He wants those that earn the big bucks to keep the big bucks. (We aren’t even gonna discuss the partiers at AIG!!! Or Wall Street. That’s another story.)
Spend. Freeze. Spend. Freeze. SPREAD THE WEALTH AROUND?????
Which leads me to the question the muse wants me to ask:
Of the two Emperor Wannabees, which one has no clothes?
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Man: Those bears been to your place?
Woman: No, not for a couple days. Had three black bears a few days ago. Been to yours?
Man: Yeah, had three of them around all morning.
Man: No, brownies.
The fact that I was in the post office in the little settlement of Hope, Alaska, is a big hint why this blog site has been so quiet lately. My neighbor who has the contract to deliver the mail to Hope and Cooper Landing is on vacation, and I'm doing the daily route for her.
Snow, freezing temps in the 20s and a screaming Chinook windstorm pretty well took care of the autumn colors, so I haven't been taking many pictures lately. Instead, I decided to post some I took in the last couple months, and tell you about going postal.
I start off driving six miles to the post office in Moose Pass, and picking up the mail to be delivered to Hope, and also some to folks along the way.
These are my favorite mailboxes along the route to Hope.
Some scenery along the route.
Moose Pass to Hope is about forty-five miles, through the mountains and over a pass. Once at the post office in the village of Hope, I unload all the mail and then have an hour to wait while the Postmaster sorts the mail, boxes up the outgoing mail, and hands me a box of mail to be delivered on the way out of town.
Sometimes I kill that hour by parking right there and reading. Other times, I wander around the old gold mining settlement.
Hope post office.
Then, I pick up the outgoing mail and start my deliveries, to mailboxes such as these:
Jerome Lake, one of my favorite places to kayak:
I turn south on the Sterling Highway, and pass through the small town of Cooper Landing. Mostly it caters to the fishing crowd.
Small cabins for rent in Cooper Landing.
I pick up the Cooper Landing mail at the post office there, and deliver to folks along a stretch of the Sterling Highway.
The famous Kenai river, known for vast runs of red and silver salmon, trophy rainbow trout, and king salmon close to 100 pounds. It's also a favorite of rafters who like to stay in their rafts, as opposed to Sixmile Creek near Hope, and its Class V rapids.
A trail riding business in Cooper Landing.
In the trail ride store. Those shed moose racks are good for all kinds of things.
Then, it's back to Moose Pass where I unload all the out-going mail. After completing the 130 mile round trip, I'm done for the day. And, that's how Gullible goes postal....
Moose Pass post office.
When I get home, it might be time for a little shut-eye.....
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Something there is that doesn't like ......chapter one.
Yes, I'm back at the book, the one about my journey with Alzheimer's. After weeks of delay... No, make that a couple years of delays, what turned me back in that direction were two things.
The first involved several e-mails from friends urging me to compile some of my stuff and publish. One of the e-mails, from my step-daughter D., included a link to the web site of the company that publishes the "Chicken Soup " books. I don't mean Campbell's. I mean "Chicken Soup for the Soul." I took a look, read their writer's guidelines, etc., and thought, why not?
At first I was going to query them, to see if they were interested in a manuscript written by a former caregiver that was aimed at current and future caregivers. Howver, the company has very strict guidelines for submitting and querying, and I thought it best to follow them exactly.
That means writing and finishing the entire thing, along with an introduction, complete outline, and table of contents. My idea for this book fits quite nicely with their explanation of the genre and focus they prefer--that of healing--so I decided to toe the line and hold off on my query until I had something more to show them.
The second reason is that when I don't have anything to write, I am at loose ends. I mean that. It used to be that if I weren't reading a good book (by "good" I mean one that held my interest, not necessarily one that was worth reading), I would feel lost. Only settling into another good book would alleviate those feelings. These days, it's writing, which is why I have deluged the inboxes of my friends in the past. That's why I started this blog, so I would have a place for all those words to go and not bother anyone.
So, a publisher in my genre, a writer at loose ends, a head full of words, and the moon and stars in the optimal positions, and voila! I'm back at it.
Another serendipitous factor has weighed in. I recently finished two online classes through http://www.ed2go/, which were Introduction to- and Intermediate Word 2003. Currently I am involved in Introduction to Word 2007 so I can use my laptop with much less stress. Plastered all around the perimeter of my PC monitor are little yellow Post Its with things like "ctrl + A = select all" and "ctrl + X = cut" and "ctrl + V = paste." These are ever so helpful, and NO, I didn't know what the control and alt keys were for. Or the F keys, either. It once occurred to me that perhaps the F keys were for various cuss words arranged by strength, but I find that all too fortuitous to believe.
Anyway, Sunday I started assembling chapters from previously written data, and putting some cohesiveness to them. By yesterday, I was on my third formatting style. I think this is the one I'll stick with, as it smoothly blends the various things I want to include in the text.
I also began formatting the pages with a header. Of course, the first page header on a manuscript has to be formatted in a certain way, and the subsequent pages formatted differently. I played with that for a few hours yesterday, and with some advice from my online instructor, found the method I like best.
By late afternoon I had eight chapters completed, proofed, edited, revised, and printed. Then I went to save them to a new flash drive, and couldn't find chapter one. The first page of chapter one, the page with the different header info, was there, but not the subsequent pages. I'll keep this short: I lost the subsequent pages of chapter one at least four times. I have no idea where they are. They aren't on my hard drive, in my Recent Documents, in My Documents, in Backup documents, or in the Recycle Bin. They aren't on the data flash drive that I'd used earlier, either.
Fortunately I had several hard copies, because after each proofing and revision, I print one for further editing. So, I recreated that wretched chapter four or five times. After the last re-creation, I quit for the night when it too disappeared.
Something there is that doesn't like chapter one. Something besides me, that is.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The Ancient Curmudgeon
Darkness was welling up from the stands of spruce trees and creeping up the snow-covered flanks of the Chugach Mountains as I listened to the oh-so-familiar voice on my cell phone. “The Voice” was guiding me through the maze of subdivision streets and intersections and cul de sacs of his neighborhood, guiding me towards his home late in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve.
I was on my way to visit with this old friend. I mean really old. Neither of us can believe how old he is. I first met him in 1963 when I was 21, and I thought he was pathetically old then. Now he’s abysmally old.
His wife answered the door in response to my knock. I had one foot over the threshold when “The Voice” began hurling compliments at me. At least, I think they were compliments. My doubt comes from the fact that he used words like “appallingly” and “you haven’t done anything to deserve…” I burst out laughing. I had not expected the compliments. Instead, I had expected him to sneak in the back door of friendship, careful not to let me know that he was anything but Alaska’s favorite curmudgeon. It is an image he polishes regularly, though his public appearances have dwindled in his days of retirement.
“I am astonished,” Herb said as I stepped into his living room, “at how appallingly good you write!” There were more words along those lines, but I was laughing too hard to hear them. At the same time, my heart and brain were telling me what an excruciatingly significant compliment I was hearing. Having never been a master of anything, I have no idea if the true masters find it agonizingly difficult to praise another’s work, or if the words slide off forked tongues like cheese off a pizza. I’ve never known Herb to have a forked tongue. Instead he has a brain and mouth and voice that have accomplished some of the most memorable radio work I’ve been privileged to hear.
“Just push those magazines aside and sit down,” he said. Two couches faced each other in the living room. Herb occupied the end of one. The rest of it was covered with books, magazines, and newspapers, as was the one next to me. I found a place to sit on a hassock at its end, and gave my friend an appraising look. Beneath his light blue terry cloth robe, his legs were bare. Above the robe was a face that could be mistaken for Mephistopheles. A gray goatee jutted from his chin. Bushy eyebrows rose to a point at their middle over sharp brown eyes that missed nothing. All he needed was a trident and a forked tail, and the image would be complete. And a microphone. This devil needed a microphone to be complete.
Our friendship dates from 1963 when I went to work at KFQD radio station. Herb was news chief for the station. He was very, very good. Forty-five years later I still remember the piece Herb wrote and recorded after the USS Thresher submarine sank in deep waters, with the loss of all hands. I don’t recall his words or the background music, but even today I vividly remember the emotions evoked by his writing and presentation. After the emotions subsided, the respect for his craftsmanship welled, and that has never subsided.
When doing news, Herb played it straight. During his days of being a talk show host, though, is when he gleefully created his image as Alaska’s premier curmudgeon. I would laugh when people talked about how mean, how disrespectful, how brilliantly sarcastic he was when he sparred with his guests. I say only one thing in response: If you took a stand on something, you’d better have both feet planted on solid ground, and have your wits about you, or an avalanche named Herb would bury you in intelligence, witticisms, and profoundly eloquent challenges.
Late in our visit Herb again began speaking of my attempts at writing. “You’ve done nothing to deserve it!” he accused. “You’re a natural.” He said it as if he didn’t think it was at all fair.
Herb made the mistake of giving me his e-mail address, and I regularly deluge his inbox with my stuff. Only once, last March, did he answer. I spoke of that message during our visit. My husband had just died after many years of a cruel illness, and Herb had written, “…remember there are more people than you might know about, who care about you. Some of them have trouble saying so.”
“That was very kind,” I said.
“Don’t tell anyone,” he ordered.
I love you, Herb. Don’t let that go to your head. Can’t have you thinking that someone actually likes you, you know.
In the meantime, know that I hold you in appallingly high esteem, though I’m not at all sure anyone as stupefyingly old as you deserves that.
Jan. 2, 2008 Gullible
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
This was far beyond the common occurrence of running into or receiving a call from someone I’d just thought of, though that happened also, and frequently. These things were more along the lines of ESP, an extra-sensory perception that gave me pause. I didn’t hear voices, didn’t see spectral images floating before my eyes, or find that little triangle thingy moving with force across an Ouija board. I couldn’t read anyone’s mind exactly, predict futures, or even win door prizes.
And, it wasn’t like this stuff happened all the time, either. Now and then, here and there, sometimes innocuous, sometimes apparent. But, to balance it all out, quite often I was totally oblivious and clueless, and living in a fool’s paradise.
My fun with the occult was more like walking into a courtroom when I was a news reporter and “sensing” everything that had occurred and been spoken before I’d arrived. There was a physical sensation of great heat, of slamming into a scorching concrete wall, that went along with that perception of knowing. As this was the strongest instance of the inexplicable that I had thus far encountered, I began to pay more attention, and not without a bit of trepidation.
Two of the stronger events came in the next year. The first was thinking, “We haven’t had a murder in a while.” Within a couple days, I responded to the scene of a murder-suicide. While driving along Spenard road one afternoon, a thought popped unbidden into my mind, “We haven’t had a big fire in a while.” The next day, a major fire burned several businesses on the main street of downtown Anchorage.
I reacted the way any sane person with a modicum of common sense, reason and logic would: I freaked out. I didn’t know if I was foretelling these things or not, but a suspicion that I might be causing them inveigled its way into my head. With that fear inextricably entrenched, I refused to entertain any more mysterious omens. That doesn’t mean they stopped. It simply means I ignored them.
Years passed, years in which employees wondered how I knew things, or a neighbor was startled that I knew she was pregnant when she and her husband had revealed it to no one. In the days of the Trivial Pursuit fad, answers would pop out of my mouth before I even thought about the question, which to me was just evidence of a mind overflowing with trivia, rather than actual knowledge. Often I had no idea how I knew that answer. On and on it went, and I learned to live with the curiosities by not giving them much credence. Just my bizarre mind, I would tell myself, and laugh.
Today I discovered my cell phone was in on the gig. It’s a relatively new cell phone, as I’ve only had it for two months, and have yet to sit down with the manual and probe its extensive capabilities.
Try as I might, I could not figure out how to add contact information in its address book. In fact, I couldn’t even find the address book, which says much about how my “special gift” doesn’t extend to technology. As the saying goes, when all else fails, read the directions. So, I managed to get the manual and the phone and some time all together at once, and read the directions. I entered five contacts before I decided that was going to take a lifetime.
The next time I went to Anchorage, I handed the cute little red Motorola Krzr to a young man at my service provider’s store, and asked him to transfer the data from my old phone to the new one. Fifteen minutes later, he handed it back to me, mission accomplished.
Something, however, had happened to my new phone. For two days last week, whenever I pressed the “clear” key or the “end” key, the screen would read “calling Herb Shaindlin” or “connected, Herb Shaindlin.” This did not happen once, or even twice, but several times. I considered several possibilities. Perhaps during the data transfer some kind of speed dialing had been activated, though I had never used that feature on any cell phone.
I told myself I must have pushed the wrong button, but “end” and “clear” are set apart on the right side of the keypad. Usually, I’m embarrassed to admit, I was driving when these things happened, and I immediately ended the call. I should call him, I thought. I knew Herb was ill, and I hadn’t checked in with him for a couple months. I really should call, but not while I’m driving.
Then suddenly, the anomalies stopped. “Clear” and “end” began to behave themselves and carry out their proper duties.
Today I opened my newspaper and learned that Herb died the day after my phone last insisted on calling him.
Oct. 7, 2008
Even the welcome bear, protected by the covered entrance, got a dusting.
The mountain ash, still bright green, had its limbs bent to the ground from the weight of its red berries and heavy new snow.
"I'm not through showing off my autumn finery....."
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Oh, my, oh, me, this cannot be,
it’s way too soon to snow on me.
I have to say this does displease,
it’s only just begun to freeze.
This isn’t fair, I rant and rage,
send scornful looks at weather-gauge
that defied the calendar
and denied us summer’s fare.
I suppose I should be glad
for the week of sun we had,
even if it brought the cold
And turned the aspen leaves to gold.
Hawaii calls, or someplace warm,
a place to go and miss the storm
of early snow that’s so unfair,
get out of here, go anywhere,
Alas, my PFD* is gone,
my bank account direct siphon
to pay for fuel, ‘lectricity,
and other forms of energy.
Deep inside I feel the need
for mega-dose of vita-D,
which I shall have to buy in bulk,
when all I want to do is sulk.
(*In Alaska, a portion of monies received in oil royalties is placed in an earnings fund. A portion of the earnings is paid annually to every qualified Alaskan. This payment is called a Permanent Fund Dividend, or PFD. It is a method of sharing Alaska's oil wealth with its citizens.)
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Smoke Gets in Your……
The acrid smell of wood smoke startled me awake at four a.m. Groggy, confused, I sat up and wondered why the smoke alarms weren’t squalling in frenzied warning. The carbon monoxide detector was equally as silent, its little red LED “0” fuzzy to my un-spectacled eyes, but visible across the bedroom.
Bedroom? Oh. Bed and blankets. Not tent and sleeping bag. Now I knew the source of the smoke smell, so I rolled over and went back to sleep.
At a far more civilized hour of the morning I got up and took another long shower, shampooing my hair twice, just as I had done the evening before. Standing on the bath mat drying off with a light green towel over my hair and face, once again I could detect the comforting smell of smoke.
I had arrived home late last evening after spending eight days at Boulder Creek in my husband’s former hunting camp. I’d unloaded the contents of the truck into the garage, spent some time trying to soothe the ruffled feathers and temper of Pablo the Parrot, and headed for the first shower in a week. Nothing I wore or took with me on the trip was allowed into the house without first spending quality time with the washer and dryer in the garage.
That left only one source for the smoke smell: me. Two showers, four shampoos,
completely clean clothing and I still smelled of the campfire.
Me at Boulder Creek, photo by Suzanne
I didn’t like Tom when I first met him. Now, after 30 years, I wonder why I had ever done him such a disservice. After all, he was directly responsible for freeing Ken from a bad marriage, making him eligible to court and eventually marry me. The break-up occurred during a two week camping trip, all arranged by Tom, that we came to call “The Great Divorce Fishing Trip.”
Tom was funny, friendly, good-hearted, and Ken liked him a lot.
They shared a mutual love of fishing and hunting—and having a good time, which usually involved a lot of liquid refreshments.
Perhaps that was it. I didn’t drink much. But I think the most important reason was that Ken and I had been a couple only a few months when I met Tom, and those few months were in the artificial environment of a construction camp during the building of the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline. In May of 1977, back in civilization for the first time as a couple, Ken and I were watching to see if our relationship would stand the test of real life.
Tom, on the other hand, had been working in Fairbanks rather than in one of the remote camps, a result of one of his many colorful adventures. This one had something to do with a borrowed truck running out of gas on a remote stretch of the haul road between construction camps, while the temperature plummeted to so many degrees below zero the mercury was AWOL. The ever resourceful Tom burned a can of motor oil in the truck cab, trying to keep from freezing.
The trip was unauthorized and the inclusion of a female construction worker in the journey was a strategic no-no. When the rescue party found them, they were lethargic from cold and coated with soot from the burning motor oil. In Tom’s defense, he claims he was only giving the woman a ride to see her boyfriend in another camp.
That didn’t sit well with Tom’s wife back in Fairbanks, who was—as Tom’s luck usually had it—in charge of dispatching rescue parties. Tom was yanked from the camps and worked in town after that.
Years later Tom would tell this story and many, many more with unbridled glee, reveling in every mistake he made. It was this ability to tell stories on himself and to laugh at himself that endeared him to me. But back then, in 1977, I didn’t appreciate this man who was trying to talk my new significant other into participating in a gold-mining venture of questionable worth.
With us that night in the cocktail lounge, was a man whose name I’ve forgotten. Dressed to the nines, far too slick for my taste, he may well have been another con man like Soapy Smith. He had access to the gold claim and some ancient heavy equipment, but no money. That’s where Ken came in, that and his ability to repair and run any machinery.
Ken bowed out; Tom and another man went gold mining with “Slickster Soapy.” Three months later they were back in town, broke.
Tom and his wife made fishing trips to the Kenai Peninsula every summer, and would visit us in Moose Pass. Eventually divorced, Tom moved closer to Anchorage and began to play a larger role in our lives. Part Assiniboine Indian, he was born in 1940 and raised on a reservation in Montana, where hunting and fishing became a lifelong passion.
In 1988, Ken and I were employed on a large construction job on Amchitka Island in the far Aleutian Islands chain. Ken was Master Mechanic and Tom worked for him as his Parts Foreman. We were joined by Suzanne, Tom’s significant other. Tom began to get antsy as August arrived and told Ken he was going to quit. Ken figured hunting season was calling and refused to allow Tom to quit.
By this time, Tom had found Boulder Creek and established the hunting camp that came to be known as “Tent City.” Every year, from before sheep season opened in early August, until after moose, caribou and bear season closed in late September, Tom would be there with as many of his family and friends as he could talk into making the journey. He would invite his bosses to go hunting with him as a way to get the time off. If that didn’t work, he’d quit his job to go hunting.
Along the trail to camp.
He spent his last hunting season in the Boulder Creek camp so weakened by cancer that nothing but sheer grit and the care of his friends got him through that season. Then he was hospitalized.
Lying in his hospital bed, Tom looked at me as I held his hand. “It’s kind of nice to know when,” he said. I chose not to understand what I had heard, not to believe what I knew was true.
Ken and I were to leave for California in two days and I wasn’t sure if we would see Tom again before we left. “Don’t go anywhere without telling us,” I said, thinking that perhaps we could stop by the hospital when we came back to Anchorage for our flight. “And, I mean anywhere,” I added, my words admitting the possibility that my heart refused to accept.
Tom was released from the hospital that afternoon after he told his doctor that he wanted to go home to Wasilla. A day later, with G.B. at his side, Tom died in Suzanne’s arms.
Some things have changed at Boulder Creek camp since Tom left. Matt has taken over its stewardship and, like Tom, is encouraging the younger generation to join the older group that has been going there for years. His son Adam brought Sergio, Chad and Will.
Howard, with his wife Chris, brought Joey and Travis. Don, at 74, has now taken over the title as the oldest man in camp, an honor that used to be held by my husband. Mel and “Crazy” Larry, two of the men who helped Tom establish this annual hunting camp, were there, as well as G.B., Suzanne, and me.
Matt cooking in the Boulder Creek kitchen
The kitchen has been upgraded with the addition of a propane range, replacing the Coleman stove on which Tom cook ed. Once the domain of my husband, Will and Chad split and stacked firewood faster than Matt and G.B. could fall the beetle-killed spruce and haul them into camp.
An aluminum framed cabaña has replaced the blue tarp wrapped around four trees that formed the shower stall.
The fire pit has been improved with the addition of a slice of 48-inch culvert set a foot into the ground and ringed with rocks. Around its circumference, folding chairs have replaced the log stumps, which now are used as side tables.
Where there are cows, there must be bulls, but none appeared.
Yet, some things remain the same. The whistle that Tom used to signal the end of hunting for the day and the beginning of Happy Hour hangs from a hook in the kitchen, a bottle of Bailey’s is next to the coffee decanters, and drinking water is still boiled for ten minutes, cooled, and poured into a clean jug. Tender backstrap steaks from fresh moose are served in camp. Years ago Ken and I had introduced the group to the liverwurst made by a game processor at Indian Valley Meats, and today the liver is taken to the same processor.
And, the outhouse still has a million dollar view.
Going into camp or coming out, it is mandatory and traditional to stop at Blackberry Knob for a sip of that sweet brandy liqueur and to remember those who are gone.
Tom was cremated and his ashes were spread by family and friends at all the well-
known hunting spots in Boulder Creek valley and at Blackberry Knob.. He has now been joined by Ken, and others have expressed their wishes to be placed in those happy hunting grounds also when their time comes.
The view from Blackberry Knob.
In the meantime, dry spruce snaps and pops in the fire pit, the orange flames reaching for the blue tarp overhead that protects us from rain and snow. Crazy Larry sits for hours, patiently sharpening all the hunting and whittling and kitchen knives in camp. Matt plans the next day’s menu and G.B. casts a spell over us reciting Robert Service’s poems about the north country. Soft-spoken Mel, who’d faced down a young bull of illegal size earlier in the day, sits beside me, clinks his cup of wine to mine, and says, “To good friends.” Around the fire.
Stories about Tom, and now Ken, are told and retold, and despite what Howard says about big fires being smokeless, we must be getting smoke in our eyes because they glisten and ripple with tears.
I wish that somehow I could grasp a handful of that smoke and bottle it so that I could keep it forever. But then, perhaps its comforting aroma has permeated my soul, where it will always remind me of friends, a shared campfire, and the man who brought us all together in its warmth.
© Sept 2007, Gullible
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
I was home after eight days in Tent City at Boulder Creek moose camp. I missed it, wanted to return. I might do that later this week. First, though, I needed a long, hot shower with plenty of soap and shampoo.
After undressing, I approached the bathroom scale with trepidation. At camp I ate everything in sight and went looking for more. I carbo-loaded. I browsed all day. I say “browsed” because this was moose camp and that’s what moose do. They don’t graze. I was anticipating an awful surge in weight that would negate much of my recent 30 lb. loss.
Making sure I placed my feet in the exact spot I always do, I began to move the weight on the balance beam. Then more. And even some more. When it balanced, I stepped off the scale and tipped my head down to read the dreaded result through the top part of my eyes, which, when I don’t have my glasses on, seem to be able to focus better.
I didn’t believe what it said. I stepped back on the scale and rechecked. I got the glasses and looked again. I had gained only one-quarter of a pound after lying around camp eating everything and anything, and pretty much not doing anything at all
in the way of calorie burning activities. Incredible. The many-layered Gullible
I thought about that for a while and reached two conclusions: 1) The rough ride into camp on my four-wheeler had beaten the crap out of me, and 2) I froze my butt off that first night.
I never was very good at math so I don’t know how to figure how much the stuffing or
the missing body part weighed, but it must have been substantial to account for the puny weight gain of only a quarter pound.
One night around the campfire the discussion turned
to how cold the nights and mornings were, and how
to stay warm in a sleeping bag.
“Do you know how to stay warm?” one of the guys asked Suzanne.
“Menopause,” I blurted.
Call them what you want—hot flashes, power surges or your inner child playing with matches—they are guaranteed to open the floodgates of your perspiration pores. Twenty below zero and I’ve been on my back deck in shorts and a tee shirt, trying to cool off. Unpredictable and irksome, in the 16 years they have been pestering me I have detected only one constant: I will have a hot flash every night after I turn out the light and settle down to go to sleep.
It makes no difference if I turn off the light immediately after getting into bed, or if I read for hours. Time has nothing to do with it, as my erratic bedtimes prove. Every night for 16 years. Every night but two, and those two nights, when I needed them the most, my failing hormones failed me.
The first time was several years ago when I had paced a cold hallway outside the surgical suite where my husband was having an emergency appendectomy at two in the morning. When I finally got into bed at 6 a.m., I anxiously awaited the flood of heat that would warm me and make the three blankets unnecessary. I waited in vain—shivering.
The second time was my first night in Boulder Creek camp. I set up my Jan Sport backpacking dome tent in a clearing between the cottonwoods, inserted the “D” cell batteries into the air mattress pump and let it inflate the mattress to its proper size. I laid out my Kelty sleeping bag, a rectangular one as I can’t sleep in those straight jacket mummy bags. I stuck an “ess” hook in a loop at the top of the tent and hung the red Coleman fluorescent lantern, arranged my gear, and then went out to enjoy the campfire.
Later, I was comfortably warm after spending several hours around the campfire and even for a few minutes after I crawled into my tent. I say “crawled” because that’s what I had to do to get into my little tent. The other tents in camp were multi-room palatial lodgings, big enough to host the Eukanuba Dog Show (One of them had a zippered doggie door and I’d love to meet the dog that can unzip it.), or even all the Alaskan legislators now under investigation or indictment, as well as the witnesses against them and all the attorneys involved. Maybe even enough room for the press corps.
First the outer fleece jacket came off, then the turquoise down vest, thermal knit long-sleeved shirt, the tee shirt and the “binder” under that. Quickly I donned a long-sleeved fleece top with a high-necked collar.
I had to lie down to take off the jeans and undies, back-packing tents being heighth-challenged even for someone only five feet two inches. Fleece pants quickly got pulled on,
and I left the new wool socks from Costco on my feet.
Part of Tent City Row. Mine's the itty bitty one just to the left og the shower cabaña on the right.
By now things (feet, hands, etc.) were getting a bit chilly. I unzipped the sleeping bag, and carefully inserted the Kelty fleece liner. Then I tried getting into the whole thing. After much struggling, twisting, kicking and cursing, I was fully inserted into the bag and liner and trying to zip up both. The liner zipped okay; the bag refused to zip the last thirty inches.
I tried the inner zipper pull. I tried the outer zipper pull. I tried both zipper pulls at once. I unzipped the liner and tried again. I sat up and yanked on both zipper pulls. Eventually I stumbled across the correct words and something worked, and I fought with bag and liner to reinsert myself into the now-zipped enclosure.
All was well, except my feet and butt were cold.
Then I had to roll over. I won’t go into the horrific details. Suffice it to say that the microfiber liner of the sleeping bag, the extra fleece liner of the insert, and the fleece I was wearing all combined to make movement impossible. I may as well have been in a mummy bag coated with Gorilla Glue on the inside. It got worse as time went on. My worn-out, arthritic shoulders require frequent changes of position. Throw into the equation that now all of me was cold, and I was not having fun.
Plus, my failing hormones failed me. No hot flash to warm me. After an hour or so of this impossible situation, I decided to get out of the fleece I was wearing and into the over-sized tee shirt in which I normally sleep. I managed to get an arm up to the zipper pull on the bag. It wouldn’t unzip, nor would it unzip when I wrenched my arm out of the bag into the freezing night air and tried the external zipper pull. I had never experienced claustrophobia before, but now I can cross that experience off my list.
Eventually, through the use of colorful and inventive language and much exertion, I got the bag unzipped. Off came the navy blue fleece top and pants, out came the fleece liner. I donned the big red tee shirt and slipped easily back into the sleeping bag. I unzipped the fleece liner and spread it like a blanket over the sleeping bag, then settled down to sleep. The lack of clothing other than the tee shirt made rolling over easier and the absence of the liner gave me more room. Finally I fell asleep, cold and tired. I never asked about the morning temperatures until the last day, when we were sure it had frozen during the night. The temperature that morning was 32 degrees. I’d be willing to bet the other mornings weren’t too much warmer.
My first task the next day was to set up the propane catalytic tent warmer that I’d hauled all the way in there. A five or ten minute burn at night, with window flaps open, of course, and a few minutes in the morning, and I was down-right comfortable for the next week.
Except when the sleeping bag coiled itself around me like a boa constrictor, that is.
© Sept 2007, Gullible
Snuggled deep into my sleeping bag, I could tell it was daylight only by the faint yellow hue that insinuated itself through the breathing hole at the top of my fleecy cocoon. Warm and far too cozy, I removed the orange foam ear plugs that vouchsafed a good night’s sleep, despite the snores of my various neighbors in the tents on either side of me. I heard voices that told me some of the men were back in camp after the early morning hunt.
I lingered in the warmth, thinking of the previous evening around the campfire when friendship and the words of Robert Service’s poems about the north country had woven a spell that kept us up until after midnight. I already knew that last night had gained a spot on my roster of all-time special occasions to remember, a list that has grown to several dozen files of memory and may soon require the assistance of an external memory bank.
It had joined the wildflowers of last June in Turnagain Pass, the trail out of McCarthy when my dog team had exceeded all my wildest dreams, last summer’s reunion on my back deck with my Girdwood “family,” and the time in September I had walked at nightfall, as if invisible, through the midst of two dozen ethereal moose gathered in a small copse of dark spruce and golden quaking aspen not too far from where I now lay.
My arms surfaced from the depths of fleece and microfiber to ignite the catalytic heater in my tent. I allowed it a few minutes to work its thermodynamic magic before I once again fought with the zipper on the sleeping bag, and exposed myself to the warming air. Pulling moistened baby wipes from their packaging, I used the cold cloths to do what I could insofar as personal hygiene was concerned, smeared a chunk of ice in a blue bottle labeled “Ban” under my arms, then quickly donned the layers of cotton and fleece meant to keep me warm.
I turned off the propane heater, unzipped the access flap of the tent, and crawled out onto
the “porch” created by a blue tarp under the tent and another blue tarp stretched over the tent to keep off the rain. My glasses were tucked deep within a jacket pocket, slowly warming so they wouldn’t fog when I donned them.
Still captivated by the spell of last night, I thought of another Service poem as I walked towards the camp kitchen to get a cup of water so I could brush my teeth:
It’s fine to have a blow-out in a fancy restaurant,
With terrapin and canvas-back and all the wine you want…
Well, I thought, we don’t have turtle and duck, but we have almost everything else here. It sure could be called a fancy restaurant. I amused myself while brushing my teeth:
Pork chops and canned Spam, and crisp heads of lettuce,
Coffee and sodas and large jugs of Bailey’s,
Pastries and onions and bright yellow mustard,
These are a few of the camp foods I see.
Burger and hot dogs, rib steaks and bacon,
Brought by four-wheelers and kept in coolers,
Sliced jalapenos to liven things up,
Even my favorite black coffee cup….
This was Tom’s kitchen, now under the stewardship of Matt, because the big “C” took Tom from us several years ago. There have been some changes, new equipment such as the compact four burner propane stove with oven, but all in all, it’s pretty much the way Tom had set things up every year for close to 20 years. The extravagance of the kitchen stove became a necessity after Tom left and didn’t pass on his skill at baking birthday cakes in a Dutch Oven. Matt has perfected meatloaf in the heavy iron cooker, but the biscuits and cakes go into the propane oven.
Every item, all the foodstuffs, paper plates and paper towels, TP and bottles of propane, huge coolers full of ice, everything had been brought by four-wheelers towing trailers in countless trips over a boulder strewn, deeply rutted trail that could disappear into a bottomless bog around the next turn, or present a hill that required each and every horsepower the ATV engines had. This was no roughin’-it camp, no MREs, no diet of peanut butter sandwiches for the duration. This was Tom’s legacy, and the fine dining continued.
Corn on the cob, charcoal grilled rib eye steaks, green salads full of fresh veggies, roast pork tenderloin, sautéed zucchini, biscuits and gravy, pancakes with fresh-picked blueberries, and grilled fresh moose tenderloin were on the menu.
The kitchen area was covered temporarily with a blue tarp when I got to camp. As soon
as the younger men arrived, it was replaced with clear plastic and the nearby cottonwood trees began to decorate the transparant ceiling with falling leaves of gold.
The Boulder Creek "fancy restaurant” kitchen.
In addition to the propane range and a charcoal barbecue, we also had a flat grill, the only surviving piece of equipment from the l964 fire that destroyed Lower Tonsina Lake Lodge that Howard’s parents had owned. Each year he brings the old restaurant grill to camp. Over in a corner by the snack table waits the burner and pot and five gallon jug of peanut oil for deep-frying turkeys.
A stout expanded metal grate extends over the campfire and holds a restaurant quality cooking pot for heating water. Another propane burner and heavy duty pot are set aside for boiling drinking water.
A tall spruce tree stump stands in a front corner of the kitchen and nestled in a “vee” between two exposed roots is a bronze plaque embedded in concrete, inscribed with these words:
Thomas Rush Smith
Faithful Indian Guide
Near the top of the stump, fastened to its sturdy trunk, are some of the cross pieces that form a grid to hold the rainproof plastic ceiling that protects us—and the kitchen—from rain or snow. I wondered if it was serendipity or by design that Tom’s memorial plaque just happened to fit in that hollow between the roots of this tree, this tree that now holds protective arms above to shield his friends?
This was Tom’s domain. No one was allowed in his kitchen—ever—until the last when, weakened by disease, he allowed “guest cooks” into his territory.
I thought about him as I stirred the meatballs and gravy and kept an eye on the wide egg noodles simmering in the steaming pot. The Happy Hour whistle was hanging from its hook, and Tom’s spirit was alive and well in our midst. Was he watching from his place at the fire? Maybe leaning against the tree that rises above his memorial plaque?
When dinner was ready, I considered Tom’s traditional call to man your plates and forks: “Come and get it or I’ll throw it out!” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. That’s Tom’s job. I was just a guest cook for a blow-out in a fancy restaurant.
© Sept. 2007, Gullible