Thursday, February 26, 2009
Well, now. I got run over by a truck load of serendipity the other day. I had the momentous epiphany. I answered the big question. I wrote a mantra to carry me through the rest of my life. Yes, sir, and serendipity brought all that to me when I was wishing my hour on the treadmill would miraculously travel at the speed of light rather than at the two-ticks-forward, one-tick-backwards pace the clock seemed to be moving. In fact, I am now so bewitched by Serendipity that I shall hereinafter capitalize the word.
In her short essay on Serendipity, the Patty says the word was inspired by a Persian fairy tale and was coined in 1794 by Horace Walpole. Its meaning, she continues, is “the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially when one is looking for something else entirely.” So, let’s start at the beginning. I wasn’t aware of leaving any windows open, because the temperature outside is barely above zero, so I figure she means windows of the heart and mind. Second, I certainly felt graced when Serendipity fell on me.
A couple nights ago I began reading a book called “If Life is a Game, These are the Rules.” It contains ten rules for being human. Now, normally this isn’t the kind of book I’d choose for reading just before turning off the bedside lamp. No, I’d keep my bleary eyes stuck on something by Michael Connolly or Patricia Cornwell or John Grisham. Maybe some Sue Grafton or Sue Henry or Dana Stabenow.
This time, in deference to my physical location at the moment, as well as curiosity about the title, I decided I would read one rule each night, and that way I could get though a whole book of inspirational reading without having to choke it down in one sitting. I should tell you that I am at Stillpoint in Halibut Cove. It’s a place created by artistic hearts and minds for “creative renewal.” I’m not staying at the lodge itself, but in the owners’ home, house-sitting and keeping Geri the cat company. But this whole place recharges one’s internal batteries like crazy. Maybe this is where Serendipity lives when she’s not slipping through open windows and gracing folks around world.
Anyway, Rule One in this little book is “You will receive a body.” Yep, I did. I haven’t exactly been friends with that short, wide thing that carries me around and makes me wear clothes that have obscenely large numbers on the little label that rubs the back of my neck, so I read further. “You may love it or hate it, but it will be yours for the duration of your life on Earth.” Great, just great. I almost put the book back on the shelf, but I thought that maybe I’d find some stellar advice along the lines of “broken cookies have no calories” or “anything you eat standing up at the kitchen sink doesn’t count.” No such luck.
Instead, there were words about acceptance, self-esteem and respect. Oh, yeah, and pleasure. Your body needs pleasure, it says. That piqued my curiosity. Eating milk chocolate pleasures my body immensely, but works at counter-purposes to the acceptance and self-esteem. The book went into some other ideas of pleasures, but I’m sticking to the subject at hand here. I’m still thinking about Rule One, and I suppose that’s one of the windows I left open for Serendipity.
Rule Two is “You will be presented with Lessons.” Oh, my word. My whole life has been a pop quiz, and I didn’t study for it. The reading for this rule was full of words like “openness” and “choice” and “fairness” and “grace.” The “openness” and “fairness” I think I passed. I’m sure I flunked “choice” (poor ones) and “grace.” I can’t really claim to have lived my life with grace, considering how many headaches and concussions I’ve had from falling on my head, both literally and metaphorically.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten in the book so far. The next rule, number Three, is “There are no mistakes. Only lessons.” I’ll read that one later.
So, anyway, there I was on the treadmill, listening to the television announcers, and I was walking, walking, walking, when Serendipity found an open window, despite the temperature. You see, it was Mardi Gras, the day of feasting before the fasting of Lent begins.
Another name for today is Fat Tuesday, said the lady on TV. And suddenly Serendipity placed before me and my muse a banquet, an epiphany, a mantra of acceptance and self-esteem: I’m not overweight; I’m in costume for Fat Tuesday.
Gotta love that Serendipity.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Anyway, the photo below is one about fifteen miles from where I live, in the small town of Cooper Landing, which boasts one of the most phenomenal roadside fisheries in the world. It's a tributary of the world-famous Kenai River (home of king salmon approaching a hundred lbs.), and is called the Russian River. Two runs of sockeye salmon every summer bring hoardes of fish hungry people and bears to thrash the clear waters for the elusive orange-fleshed fish. It is, I think, the ideal icon for the term "combat fishing."
This lodge/restaurant/bar below, Gwin's Roadhouse, is a primary beneficiary of the salmon runs, and has served many a hungry fisherman and highway traveler.
The McCarthy roadhouse, pictured below, is at the end of a long gravel road that starts in Chitina and ends at the river that separates McCarthy from the rest of the world, which is exactly the way most of the small town's inhabitants want it. To get across the river with your groceries, you load everything in a small tram, including the dog, and pull yourself across. The locals have been fighting the pro-bridge forces for eternity. (Feb. 24: Alas, I am sorry to report my McCarthy knowledge is obsolete. There is now a fancy walking bridge across the river....been there at least since 1991. Well, the anti-bridge forces did manage to keep out the vehicle traffic.)
Five miles up another gravel road is Kennicott, location of what was once one of the richest copper mines in the world, known as Kennecott. No typo there. The two are spelled differently, the result of poor proof-reading many years ago. The National Park Service is now the steward of the Kennecott mine ruins and is trying to prevent further deterioration. They are a spectacular place to visit, close to the confluence of the Kennicott, Gates and Root glaciers. In fact, you can stand in a window of one of the old mine buildings and hit the glacier with a rock. You probably won't realize it, of course, because this far down the glacier is covered with the crushed rock the ice pushes up in front of it.
That sixty-three mile gravel road I mentioned--the one that connects Chitina to the river bank across from McCarthy--that's actually the railbed of the long-defunct Copper River and Northwestern Railway (CR&NW). A more affectionate term for the railroad that was built to haul copper from the mine down the Copper River to Cordova is Can't Run and Never Will. The story of how the mine and railroad were built in the early nineteen hundreds is among the great stories of accomplishment against almost insurmountable obstacles. So, it's nice to sit in the McCarthy lodge and savor a cool one, along with the history.
At the end of another sixty-some mile road is the town of Manley Hot Springs, named--you guessed it--because there is hot water bubbling outta the ground. The photo below is the Manley Roadhouse. The town of Manley is at the end of the Elliott highway, and is built within the floodplain of the Tanana River. A ways downstream, the Tanana flows into the mighty Yukon River.
This country is called Interior Alaska, because it's in the central area of the state. Compared to the southcentral coast of Alaska, with the Chugach and Kenai mountains and the Alaska Range, this is flat land country with its rolling hills covered in spruce, birch, aspen and cottonwood. Mind you, the locals don't consider it flat. It's all in your own personal perspective, I guess. On the other hand, to get to Manley, you go to Fairbanks and turn north onto the road that parallels the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline. If you look south before you turn north, you can see Mt. McKinley.
Of course, you can also stop your car on the O'Malley Road overpass of the Seward highway in Anchorage and see McKinley, too, so take your pick. Plus in Anchorage you have Cook Inlet, Mt. Susitna, and volcanoes Mt. Sprurr and Mt. Redoubt, etc. So there, Fairbanks. It's also dog-gone cold in the Interior, and temperatures above and below minus fifty degrees are not uncommon. In Anchorage, thirty to forty below is uncommon. Not unheard of--just uncommon. That's during the winter, you understand, which is the time between mid-October and mid-April. I'm exaggerating only a wee bit.
This little beauty, which unfortunately isn't open anymore, is located in the ghost town of Chitina, which isn't a ghost town at all, but what does one call an old, old town that has ghosts painted on the walls of buildings. Chitina is the point of access to the Copper River, and the river is the spawning grounds of the famed Copper River red and king salmon. Every spring restaurants across America compete to have the first Copper River salmon on their menu--and the price is dear.
For Alaskans, it's the place to load up on the fish by dip-netting. That's exactly what its name says--you stand in that freaking dangerous river and dip the salmon out with a long-poled net. Or, if you're smart, you take one of the river boats downstream. The operator knows the best spots to drop you off, and you stand on the rocks and pull the fish out. Much safer that way, but then, hanging onto a long thin aluminum pole with a sixty-some pound king salmon going berserk in the net isn't exactly OSHA approved.
Okay, I've forgotten the name of this one. It's located on another gravel road called the Denali highway, which used to be the only entrance into Denali Park, where you can get up close and personal with Denali (known to everyone outside of Alaska as Mt. McKinley), tallest mountain in North America. I've sent an emergency e-mail to friends who have a ranch a few miles from this place, asking them its name.
If I were at home, I could just look it up in The Milepost, a book that contains almost everything you want to know about Alaska. But, I'm not at home. I'm in Halibut Cove and there are no Mileposts here that I can find. The cove, by the way, is across Kachemak Bay from the end of the Homer spit, where sits the legendary Salty Dawg.
Through the miracle of wireless DSL and e-mail comes the name from Bob: Gracious House.
This one isn't a roadhouse, but it's one cool watering hole anyway. Also at the end of a road, only one that is paved, this is the afore-mentioned Salty Dawg in Homer. There are a number of end-of-road communities in Alaska. Homer is one of them, and proud of it. Homer has the additional bragging rights to the Homer Spit, which is a five mile long bar of gravel that sticks out into Kachemak Bay and essentially marks the division between the clear waters of the bay and the silty waters of Cook Inlet, and you'll find the Dawg out near the end of the spit. It's one of the great old-time saloons, complete with sawdust on the floor. At least, it was the last time I was in it, which I'll have to admit was a few years ago. Like, maybe, twenty.
The Sterling highway ends here in Homer. Oddly, it starts a mile from where I live, or at Mile 37 of the Seward highway. So what is the beginning milepost of the Sterling? Mile 37, of course. I could tell you a few other mind-numbing facts about the junction of those two highways, but they make absolutely no logical sense to me, and I've lived here for sixty-one years, so I'll just skip over that for now.
Incidentally, notice the bald eagle on the top of the Salty Dawg? It's one of hundreds that have congregated in Homer every winter for the free fish guts handed out by a local character named Jean Keene. Because it's against the law to feed wild animals and birds, by the time the law got around to noticing that Jean was feeding the birds, she'd been doing it for so long that she and her eagles were a world-famous institution, so Homer gave her a special dispensation to continue feeding the eagles until she dies. (Be pretty hard for her to do that afterwards, wouldn't it?)
Well, Jean died a couple months ago and there was much concern about what the eagles would do for the rest of the winter, not to mention the local business people who reply on the hoards of amateur and professional photographers who come to Homer to focus their lenses on the magnificent welfare-dependent eagles. Anyway, Jean's assistant is now allowed to continue feeding the eagles until the end of March, and then the eagles have to go back to being wild eagles.
Below is a view of Sheep Mountain Lodge, one of the old highway lodges that's been updated to cater to tourists. It's in the mountains north of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway, and is surrounded by some of the most jaw-dropping scenery along that highway. Below it is a photo of some of the cabins there, and I posted the photo just to show more of those mountains behind the lodge.
And my last photo is of another Alaskan institution--the Bird House. Somewhere on the hard drive of my computer there lurks a photo of the original Bird House, which was in an OLD cabin about twenty-five miles south of Anchorage near the settlement of Bird Creek. Unfortunately my computer is in one of its moods, and is refusing to divulge the location of said photo. The original burned down a number of years ago. No surprise there--it had been a fire waiting to happen for forty years. There was much mourning and grieving at the loss of this fine establishment.
Ah, but an enterprising high school classmate of mine, I am proud to brag, built an exact replica at his establishment in Anchorage. He tacked it onto the back of Chilkoot Charlie's, and now we old-time Birders can relive our youths at this wonderful bar. Gives new meaning to the description of being "a birder," doesn't it?
I've a story buried in a Word.doc about the Bird House. I'll see if I can find it, along with some photos of the interior, and post it here soon.
These photos, by far, are not all the old roadhouses and quaint bars located on the few highways of Alaska. Many have burned to the ground, some in the great earthquake of 1964. Many are wonderful creations of log and whatever materials were available at the time. Some have gotten a bitty uppity and don't want to be called roadhouses anymore, which I consider a shame, because the roadhouses of yore were fine and necessary places for the weary sourdoughs and cheechakos that built this country.
Long live the roadhouses!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
So first they pass a trillion dollar spending bill of which only six per cent is supposed to go to infrastructure projects that will create jobs in construction. And, apparently not one congressman has read the entire bill. Plus, it was all rush, rush, rush. The Dems even flew a man back to D.C. from his mother's funeral, for Pete's sakes, because they had to get it passed so quickly and they needed his Democrat vote.
After all the arm-twisting and dire warnings of catastrophe, the President decides to delay the signing of this bill until four days later, so he can make a big deal out of it in Denver.
Why the rush???? Could it be a scheduled trip that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and seven of her cohorts in Congress had planned for this week? A trip that takes them to Italy for a week?
The country gives the Wall Street fat cats heck for their company shindigs, the Big Three auto execs a public dressing down for each flying in their own corporate jet to D.C. to beg for handouts, and now the President and some Dems in the Congress are jet-setting around the country. True, Speaker Pelosi and all are flying in military planes, but there's something mighty wrong with picture. Does anyone back there live in the same world as the rest of us, those who are cutting back, doing without, and trying to make ends meet in an economy gone berserk?
Oh, by the way, I hear that while Lehman Bros was allowed to go belly up, the gov stepped right in and rescued AIG, apparently because it was simply too big to be allowed to fail. Could it be that AIG insures the retirement accounts of the Congress?
Please, will someone tell me how NOT to become cynical?
And I apologize for the political post. I promise not to do it again..........until the next time.
PS: I'd like to go to Italy. Why didn't they invite me along? As far as I'm concerned, the only government official who should be traveling right now is Sec. of State Hillary Clinton. Okay, and Ambassador Holbrook.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Outside of the card: "Thank goodness it's Valentine's Day so I can tell you how much I secretly love you from afar and how desperately I lust after you and how obsessively I fantasise about us being together forever..."
Inside: "Every other day of the year my parole officer calls it stalking."
But for something more appropriate to this day, check this site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rooyt3ptNco&feature=email
Love you all,
Friday, February 13, 2009
Sunday, February 8, 2009
This one is still inhabited in Hope.
This is the floating post office in Halibut Cove.
These are located in Chitna.
I've saved my favorites for last. I lived in this old cabin in Girdwood from 1966 through 1973. At the time it was the oldest inhabited cabin in that historic gold mining town. I had running water, and how fast it ran depended on how fast I ran and fetched it. There was an outhouse, too, and a couple other old cabins there.
This is where I live now. It isn't old--in fact it's quite new. Maybe if I live long enough, it'll be old. I love it anyway.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
It's winter in Alaska
And the gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour
At twenty-five below!
Oh, how I love Alaska
When the snow's up to your butt
You take a breath of winter
And your nose gets frozen shut.
Yes, the weather here is wonderful
So I guess I'll hang around
I could never leave Alaska
'Cause I'm frozen to the ground!
(Thanks, Lisa, for my first laugh out loud of the day!)
I did however, have a little poem published in today's Anchorage Daily News, in the letters to the editor section:
blow or get off the news.
your fifteen minutes of fame.
That volcano seems to be settling down, so maybe it won't stick its ash in everyone's face.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
"I’m lonely,” says a small voice from the corner of the bookshelf closest to the stairs. The accent is redolent of the Appalachian mountains, coal mines, and hardworking people who do without what many consider the necessities of life. I pause to listen.
“You never play me anymore,” says Dulcimer. It leans against the belly of Folk Guitar, the one that gave up speaking a long time ago, and now stands in its corner, mute under a fine film of dust.
Dulcimer, chosen for its elegant, elongated teardrop shape, is a beauty. Its golden amber sound board is polished to a high brilliance. Dulcimer should be on display in a place of favor, instead of in the loft where few visit. Its four steel strings are out of tune, and the sound that emanates from them is not musical or melodic, but discordant and irritating.
“But I cut my finger,” I reply, extending the index finger on my right hand to show the triangular scar that once held five black stitches. “I have no feeling in the end of that finger. I can’t play music like that.”
“That’s the excuse you gave Guitar, and that was fourteen years ago. You remember Guitar, don’t you? Remember driving two hundred miles round trip once a week to study folk guitar and chord theory at the university? Even blizzards didn’t stop you.”
“You don’t need to feel my strings to make music. The music comes from inside you, not your fingertip. That’s only an excuse.”
“Well, I guess you’re right.”
“You’re fickle also. You brought Didgeridoo back with you from Australia, and you haven’t tried to play it for months.”
“But all I can do is make rude noises with it. I can’t get the haunting drone sound.”
“That’s another excuse. Didg knows why you bought it. It’s because it’s made of woolybutt eucalyptus,” accuses Dulcimer.
“Well, who COULD pass up anything made of woolybutt eucalyptus? And besides, maybe I like the Aboriginal kangaroo painting on it. Maybe I have good intentions of returning to it. How about that?”
”And,” continues out-spoken Dulcimer, “Didg is downstairs in the living room. Why does it get to be downstairs and we’re up here in the loft? Not fair, if you ask me.”
“All right, let’s not get childish about this,” I say. “You and Guitar are here for safekeeping. I put you in this corner so Sterling wouldn’t knock you over.”
“The dog died four years ago.”
“Yes, well. I just got used to the two of you being here where I could see you first thing as I climb the stairs to the loft. And another thing. You know the loft is my favorite room in the house, and where I spend the most time. That’s why I put a stand up here for Pablo the parrot, so he can sit with me while I work.”
“Work? Is that what you call it? You spend all day and half the night on Computer, playing Spider Solitaire. You could use that time to play with us.”
“Now wait a minute. You know I don’t spend all that time playing Spider Solitaire. I write most of the time. I only play Spider Solitaire when the muse and I are communing, before she has dictation for me.”
“Yeah, we know. That’s your new love—the writing. We’ve seen how you are when the muse is AWOL. You slump around here, all out of sorts. Did it even occur to you that maybe we could help lure the muse back?”
“No, I never thought of that. Do you think it could work?”
“Just think about it. When you played me, you never used any traditional forms of playing. You devised your own method from the finger-picking folk guitar style. Remember? We did pretty well when we played that song about Bonny Prince Charlie, didn’t we? And that Roamin’ in the Glomin’ was a kick in the frets.”
“Yeah, I remember now. But, boy, I’d have to learn all over again how to get you in tune. That isn’t easy, you know. And what about the arthritis in my fingers? And that one finger that locks up? That might cause problems.”
“You’ll never know until you try,” says Dulcimer. “And, we promise to help, too. Your fingers will remember. You know about muscle memory, right?”
“Yes, I know about it. You really think you could help me locate my muse if I play you guys?”
Dulcimer is silent for so long I think the conversation is over. Then, with a pout in its voice, it says, “If that’s all you’re interested in, fuhgedaboudit!”
“Okay, okay. Let’s not get snippy. You’ve made a good point.”
“Look at it this way. If you’re homing into that creative part of you, well, who’s to say the muse isn’t lurking there? Maybe taking a breather?”
“Yes, I see what you mean. But, really, I have no natural musical talent. That’s the real reason you guys have been…uh…set aside. No other, I swear. I reached the point where I could go no further, then I stopped.”
“We know. Remember that time you played Guitar in front of a room full of people? That time you experimented with weed?”
“HEY! No fair. That that forty years ago. Back in the Sixties.”
“Nevertheless, Guitar remembers you all sittin’ around smoking’ weed and singing. Far out, man!”
“Guitar’s memory is playing tricks on him. We didn’t smoke it. None of us smoked. The weed was in the brownies.”
“Oh. Well, why do you suppose Guitar’s memory is faulty? Guitar’s a senior citizen now. Use it or lose it, you know. Just like your playing abilities.”
“Okay, look. I know I’m to blame for your unhappiness. Would it surprise you to know that I bought a guitar course on CD at Costco?”
“We know. It’s been on the shelf for four months.”
“Yeah, well, I have other things to do, you know.”
“Would it hurt you to spend a few minutes with us now and then? I promise, it’ll open doors you never knew existed. We don’t care how well or how badly you play. We won’t laugh, or even titter. The whole point is that you’ll be tapping into your creative side, and that makes my fingerboard warm all over. I’ll bet the beeswax on Didg’s mouthpiece gets all soft and mushy, too. And Guitar? Maybe you can help Guitar get his memory back. At the same time, you’ll be expressing yourself in another medium, one you’ve always loved. C’mon, give us a try. I promise to be on my best behavior. Pick me up, set me across your knees, and let’s visit your soul together.”
Well, now, how can I refuse an offer like that?
Monday, February 2, 2009
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outraged editors,
And by writing, dismay them? To write: to sleep
No more, and by writing to say we end
The pressure words can bring to an over-filled mind
That we are prone to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To write, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that dream of sleep, what words may come
When we had thought us rid of them?
Off to work, lunch in hand,
gray panels a daily prison.
Work a drag, boredom reigns,
look to lunch for diversion.
Peanut butter on some bread,
lettuce added for the crunch.
Is there jelly or banana,
or maybe mayonnaise?
Never mind the warnings strong,
to return the products now,
peanut butter’s not your friend,
peanut butter’s toxic waste.
Is it bad or is it good?
Talking heads will let you know,
click on their link and they will tell
all the peanut no-nos.
the talking heads,
listening and waiting,
waiting and listening,
any minute now…
On and on
any minute now…
what a deal,
how to deal,
any minute now…
Any minute now…
Any minute now…
Any minute now…
But, any minute now…
shaking the earth,
any minute now…
Will she not?
Any minute now…
Wear a mask,
Such a fuss,
Any minute now…
or you might
fall from the sky.
Any minute now…
make up your magma.
It’s time to blow
or get off the news.
your fifteen minutes of fame.
wrote Christie Brown
as he doggedly typed
with his left toe,
the only part of his body
he could control.
Down all the days,
Down all the days,
rock and a hard place?
yet so far to go.
and try again.
Down all the days,
in a strange place
Down all the days,
covered in armor
Listen to them jeer,
listen to them cheer.
Down all the days,
from humble beginnings,
do your best,
Almost, almost, almost.
Down all the days,
or, should it be
downs all day?
Makes no difference now.
(Only the first verse is about Christie Brown. The rest refer to yesterday's Super Bowl, yet the struggles of football players in a small way reflects those of Mr. Brown. I strongly recommend "Down All the Days" by Mr. Brown. It is an inspirational tale of determination and perseverance. Forget the movie--go to the original source.)