"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Serendipity and Closing Doors

On a bright, sunny, and very cold day, Serendipity opened a door on silken hinges and invited me in.  Then, she held me in her embrace by summoning the easterly winds, bringing their 40 mph gusts and rollicking the seas, making my exit through that same door impossible for another day.   I could not have chosen a better place to be stranded by weather.

Serendipity arranged for me to be in the company of friends in Halibut Cove, a small, picturesque, and somewhat remote hamlet across Kachemak Bay from the town of Homer, which is itself located at the southern end of the road system on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Homer Spit, a long gravel bar projecting into Kachemak Bay.   My journey took me to the far side of the bay and to the left.

I had no plans to go to the cove when I began the 130-mile drive to Homer earlier in the day.  Instead, I was driving to visit a friend who was hospitalized.   I planned to return home directly after that visit.

Hoar frost covers trees along the Kenai RIver in Cooper Landing.

During the drive, I made a couple calls to wish others a happy Thanksgiving Day, and one of those calls went straight through Serendipity, who routed it to the friend I had dialed, who immediately invited me to her home.

The RUssian Orthodox Church at Ninilchik.

I hesitated.   It’s not an easy thing to get to the cove.   Instead, on this day our nation set aside to share with others and give thanks, the husband of the house warmed the cabin and engines of his catamaran-hulled boat and plowed his way to the small boat harbor where I waited.

I do not use the word “plowed” lightly, because that is exactly what we did on the return trip to the cove.   I swear the waves and swells were deep enough to make the boat seem to scrape bottom at times.   I almost fell out of my seat several times and had to brace one foot against the interior bulkhead and wrap an arm around the back of the chair I tried to occupy.

The cabin of my friend's boat, the Far Side.

The Far Side in Halibut Cove.

Sunrise color across the bay.

It’s funny how things happen.  Just a few days before I thought how much I missed them and Halibut Cove and opening the door for Geri the cat.   And here I was, joining them for Thanksgiving dinner and turning 76 years of age shortly after 6 o'clock.

The winds ruled on Friday and I smiled about being trapped in a slice of paradise.

A sea otter hauls out in Halibut Cove.

My private quarters at Halibut Cove.

Geri, ruler of the house.

The view from the front deck.

Saturday morning, my passage back across Kachemak Bay would not be on my friend’s boat, but on the venerable Storm Bird,* a 65-foot former Army T boat with a 17.7-foot beam, licensed to carry 49 passengers and freight.   This steel-hulled boat, often called “the boat that built Halibut Cove,” ignored the waves in the bay, and, in less than an hour, I was in my pickup and pointed north towards home.

Jay maneuvers the Storm Bird into the small boat harbor.

The Storm Bird tied up in the Homer Small Boat Harbor.

I stopped by the hospital again before I left town, knowing full well that there would be no conversation.    The meds have taken that from her.   Instead, I held her unresponsive hand, said my silent goodbyes and thanks for her friendship, and left before tears kept me from finding my way out.

As I drove home, I realized that Serendipity had stopped a door from closing forever, so that I might slip through for a moment of grace.

Many sea otters, like this one and her pup,  have taken refuge from the high seas and are feeding in the protected waters of Halibut Cove.

A Steller's jay waits for breakfast in Halibut Cove.

*    For information on the remarkable Storm Bird:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Wyoming Journals, Ch: 7: When You Call Me That, Smile!

Ch.  7:    When You Call Me That, Smile!

“We figured he was a rich guy from out of state, come to find himself.   We get those, from time to time.  Maybe they’re writing a novel.”—fictional character living in fictional Mule Crossing, Wyoming, in Lee Child’s novel  The Midnight Line: a Jack Reacher story.

(Note:  This post is illustrated with photos of the hotel rooms in The Virginian hotel, Medicine Bow, Wyoming.)

Could be, you know.  Wouldn’t be the first time some rich guy ditched his law practice back East, went to a dusty wide spot on a dusty road in Wyoming, and wrote a novel.  Owen Wister did, after all.

Got all educated up in New England boarding schools and Switzerland and then graduated summa cum laude from Harvard law.   In between, he spent some summers in Wyoming and his experiences there left indelible memories that he later penned in a novel called The Virginian.

There’s no arguing the fact that Wister’s book launched a new genre in American literature, i.e., the western.   There’s no doubt that the book was an immediate best seller.   And, it is  certainly fact that the novel established the romanticized view of the West.

From Encyclopaedia Britannica:

The Virginian is the story of an unnamed cowboy who, despite his hardened exterior, displays the “civilized” values of chivalry and honor in the “uncivilized”environment   of the West. The book was an immediate best seller  and made Wister a wealthy man. It solidified the cowboy as a stock fictional character and introduced story lines now considered standard in westerns, such as the virginal heroine, a schoolteacher from the East, and her rough cowboy lover, who depends for his life on a harsh code of ethics. The book also reflects the theme of sectional reconciliation—the cowboy is a Southerner-turned-Westerner who courts the Easterner—so common in post-Civil War American fiction.

The book’s climactic gun duel is considered the first such “showdown” in fiction, and the book is the source of one of the most famous tough-guy admonitions in American popular culture: “When you call me that, smile!” Although 21st-century critics often criticize the book’s romanticism, sentimentality, and myth-making about the West, few deny its extraordinary influence: it was one of the first mass-market best sellers in the United States; it was the first western to receive critical acclaim; and it was later the basis of a play, several films, and television series.

Yep, that’s certainly genuine.

What is in doubt is exactly where Wister wrote his famous story.   It seems to be accepted local lore that Wister’s novel used Medicine Bow, Wyoming, as its setting.   Some even claim he wrote the book while holed up in the last room on the second floor.

The odd angle of this photo is because I was jammed up against the wall trying to eliminate glare on the door.

Except.   The book was published in 1902 and the hotel didn’t have its grand opening until 1911.   So, apparentlty Medicine Bow’s first mayor August Grimm and his partner built the hotel to capitalize on the book’s fame.

Siting room and bedroom in the Owen Wister Suite

Upstate in Buffalo, another hotel called The Occidental takes a bite out of the Wister legend, and claims that Wister spent a fair amount of time scoping out the cowhands in the saloon for some local color.  Shoot, the hotel even names its dining room for Wister, the whole dining room, not the little semi-private dining room in Medicine Bow.


Some even claim parts of the book were written there, and that the final shoot out happened right in front of The Occidental.   But then, so does The Virginian in Medicine Bow.


Official Journal of the Wyoming State Historical Society:
From the lobby of the Old Occidental, along about the 1890's, many of Owen Wister's characters found their way into the pages of his 'Virginian.' It was here that many of the manners, customs, and expressions of the genuine cowboy were impressed upon the mind of the author of this widely known book, one of the few books upon the West that portrays the life of the cowpuncher as he really lived it.

So, Buffalo, with a population of around 4500 at an elevation of 4600 feet, appears to counter the claims of Mediciine Bow, population 270 at an elevation of  6565 feet, has an unfair advantage.   Maybe it's the thin air at Medicine Bow.   Whatever, the burgers were good, and as I'm partial to small towns, I tend to go with Medicine Bow's claims.


I reckon only Wister knows fer sure, and he ain’t tellin’.   Not at this late date, anyway.   He kicked the bucket in 1938.

This sign was at the end of the hotel hallway on a window that opens onto the fire escape.