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Support "The Writing Life" on the Road [Aug. 24th, 2011|02:04 pm]
This blog has been permanently moved to www.kateyschultz.com as I travel the country for 3 years in my Volvo station wagon, affectionately known as THE CLAW.


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Please continue to support my work. Visit www.kateyschultz.com.

Sincerely,

Katey Schultz
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NEW LINK [Sep. 20th, 2010|08:24 pm]
This blog has been permanently moved to www.kateyschultz.com


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Please continue to support my work. Visit www.kateyschultz.com.

Sincerely,

Katey Schultz
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AK 2010, Day 37: Recap [Sep. 17th, 2010|10:33 pm]
[I don’t know what this fungus is called but I love it. Note the aspen leaves littered all around it. Two weeks ago the leaves were still on the trees. Now, the bluff trail is barely visible through all the fallen leaves.]

I’ve had a week solo at Milepost 22x and it feels about time to look back and see what I’ve done:

AT THE DESK
--revised a dozen war short-shorts
--completed 3 war short-shorts that were in-progress
--started and completed 3 new war short-shorts
--submitted fiction to 6 different publications
--applied for a residency (2011) at The Millay Colony
--queried 2 publishers about fiction manuscript submissions

AWAY FROM THE DESK
--biked 12 miles one-way both directions down the Parks Highway
--walked the bluff trail (3 miles) every single day
--yoga on the porch, in the sun
--wine on the porch, in the dark

IN MY MIND
--backpacked all over Denali
--fallen in love
--won the Pulizter

[Today’s visitor: A snowshoe hare, not a rabbit. This one’s already changing white for the coming winter. The brown beam he is standing in front of is 4” wide, so that gives you some perspective. These guys are hefty! PS—If you want to endear yourself to Alaskans, don’t use the “r” word. Ever.]

Tomorrow I pack up and bike down the road to Milepost 22w for 5 days with DM the dog musher. Quite the opposite of the silence I’ve found here, this time my neighbors will be 37 sled dogs visible just outside the loft apartment windows. Their owner is gone for a few days, but when she returns she promises to take me with her when she “runs the dogs.” I don’t know what this means except that it involves harnesses and a four-wheeler. Expect dog photos and mushing updates soon. Mush on!
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AK 2010, Day 35: My New Favorite Color [Sep. 15th, 2010|10:59 pm]
[ALL PICS AT www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com]

Does anyone read this on LJ anymore? Maybe I should shut this down and only use Blogger. If you're reading, please leave a comment so I can tell.


My new favorite color is Alaskan Twilight. Dusk lasts for hours here. Just as the “noonday sun” is not directly overhead, sunset this time of year is not your typical ball of orange dropping straight below the horizon. It’s more like a long, lovely courting as the sun slinks slyly along the ridge tops until finally, sliver by sideways sliver, it disappears. At this juncture, the real show begins, with at least two hours of azure highlighted by an array of other colors. Purples and slate grays make up part of the mix and yellow is in constant flux. But by and large, this Alaskan Twilight is the stuff of earthly blues and sun-kissed orange.


[View from Tuesday night, Savage Loop Trail, Denali National Park & Preserve]

[View from Wednesday night, Milepost 22x Parks Highway, Nenana River flowing below]

Of course, all of this starts with a simple rose-blossom light that lifts from the valleys and traces a fine-tipped line to the tops of each peak. I hiked at dust beyond the Savage Loop Trail on Tuesday and told myself I’d hike to the place where the sun receded from the ridges. Of course, I couldn’t outrun the sun. My ambition would have kept me there for hours into the night, but reason won the argument fair and square (Alone? Off trail at dusk? Not smart.) and so I turned back. But not before snapping this photo of a peak at the start of the sun’s receding:

[Note the darkness just a few hundred feet below the peak that’s still adorned with light.]

And of course before the rose-blossom light is the gentle hazing that begins slowly but surely as an ocean tide. It tends to blur the distance between one place and another, as evidenced in this photo I took of Mt. McKinley around 7:30 at night:

Yup, still pretty light out for that time of the evening but we’re losing more than 6 minutes of sunlight per day at this point…That means the sun is setting around 8:45pm or 3 hours earlier than when I arrived in Alaska over a month ago (and closer to 4 hours earlier if you consider I was much farther north during my initial stay).

Still, of all the stages of sunset, it’s Alaskan Twilight I prefer the most. I’ve taken to sitting on the porch each night, a mug of wine in my hand. I like watching the nighttime stake her claim and the stars pinprick their way into the sky. Someday, I hope I find somebody I can share this kind of thing with. Most nights, it feels like too much beauty to try and hold all by myself.
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AK 2010, Day 34: An Alaskan Hazing [Sep. 14th, 2010|08:41 am]
I’m the only person here and when I’m sitting at the desk, I don’t make a whole lot of noise. Last night, the thudding and thumping outside the west wall of the cabin was unmistakably not my own. It was after 10pm—dark enough that I couldn’t decipher much through the windows.

Then the noise again: a clear, distinct, clomping alongside the house. I stopped typing, bowed my head, and covered my ears with my hands. I was not about to psyche myself out. Bear or moose or whatever, I didn’t want to know. If it sounded like it was getting into something, then I’d investigate for the sake of the cabin. But for the simple sake of curiosity, forget it. I’ve lived alone in cabins before. There are just some things not worth knowing, at least not at night. Alone. Without a car. Without health insurance. Without, really, much of anything other than some badass karate moves.

[Thank you, Mr. Miagi]

And yet there it was, so undeniably nosing around the perimeter of the house. Past the west wall and now what sounded like eight feet from the front door. There are some old cabinets along the edge of the front porch that are going to be hauled off soon. Whatever animal was out there had discovered them, probably curious about the nesting material and mudden the red squirrels have been busy with.

I stayed with my writing and eventually the animal tromped off and I continued my work, completely forgetting about the entire incident.

Half an hour later, DM (which we’ll say stands for Dog Musher, because she is one) called from Milepost 22w. “Katey! The northern lights are out! They’re incredible!” she exclaimed.

“Awesome,” I said. “I’m putting my hat on now. I’m going out to the road so I can get away from the trees.”

“Ok,” said DM. “They’re more to the east this time, but it’s across the whole sky. You’ve got to check I out.”

We hung up and with my headlamp on high, I leapt out the front door and started jogging down the driveway.

I didn’t get far before the beam of my headlamp caught four gigantic legs, then two fantastic, reflecting eyes. A moose. Bigger than a car, smaller than a garage. Taller than a horse, wider than a cow. The “most dangerous animal in Denali” if you ask any ranger, and it’s true. They’re huge and unpredictable and they like to stop and charge and hurl. This photo from Google Images demonstrates quite nicely just how much space a moose can take up in a narrow gravel driveway such as the one I was walking on:

[Google Images, 8-foot tall moose]

I clicked off my headlamp and froze. For a moment, the image was perfect: A fantastic, black silhouette of a cow moose and spruce tress backlit by a pulsing green band of the northern lights. Does it get any more post card perfect than that? Well, yes, it does. It’s more post card perfect when you’re not standing thirty-five feet from a moose you’ve just started and instead you’re holding the lovely photo in your hands. But still, the image emblazoned on my mind and then I started singing.

That’s right. I clicked my headlamp back on and sang “Ship Out on the Sea” by The Be Good Tanyas. It’s the first thing that came into my mind. More specifically, the following refrain: Love is a feeling like a warm, dark stone. Love is a feeling like a warm, dark stone.

The moose walked a few paces toward the edge of the driveway and started munching on the vegetation, it’s wide eyes still reflective in the beam of my headlamp. I backed away and kept singing, then finally turned off my light and sat down on the porch. I could still see the northern lights from there, but it wasn’t as spectacular.

Twenty minutes later, I tried again, singing loudly and tossing rocks as I walked down the driveway. It was the moose or the northern lights. What can I say? When you’re not used to seeing the northern lights, it’s easy to think that it’s there just for you. It’s impossible not to be lured in by their spreading, colorful, lighted magic. I walked eastward until I heard the moose again, then clicked on my light and repeated my retreat.

An adventurous night indeed!
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AK 2010, Day 33: Lists [Sep. 13th, 2010|10:42 pm]
Activities
I have gone jogging and stumbled upon an airstrip. I have met strangers in the forest, heard bumps in the night, and dreamed of moose and bears. I have taken sauna showers and bucket showers, rainwater showers, and no-shower showers Next week I will take the first running-hot-water-from-a-steady-water-source-shower since August 14th. I’ve eaten cranberries, crowberries, rose hips, and blueberries. I have biked to the place where Carlo Creek flows into the Nenana just to watch the water move.

There is a clearing of land just over the bluff to the north of the cabin. I check it every time I walk along the porch to the outhouse. It is the place, I have decided, where I will get to see a grizzly or a bull moose. I gaze at least a dozen times per day. White patches of aspen bark wink through the sunlight, chuckling at my foolishness.

I have sat and sat and written and sat and made myself so hip-sore that the task of writing is now accompanied by the pre-requisite of stretching. All of this for 10 stories tidied, one story completely rewritten, and another utterly thrashed.

Sights
I have seen a man riding his bicycle, pulled by a sled dog. I have watched red squirrels nest in old kitchen cabinets. I have seen Mt. McKinley on three different occasions—all of them luckier than winning a poker game. More times, I have seen the place where Mt. McKinley should be and I have stared and stared, trying to will the clouds to part. I’ve seen the sunset at midnight (Fairbanks) and I’ve seen the sunset at 9pm (Denali). I’ve seen apartments with black plastic over the windows, Alaskans with travel cases for eye masks, and Natives who call the light a blessing and the rain a blessing and the ravens a blessing and even their own six-cylinder, dinged-up minivans a blessing. I’ve seen someone I thought I’d never see again and now I don’t care to think about it. I’ve seen moose racks larger than a first grader, kale the size of toddlers, and carrots longer than an infant.

Most abundantly: stars, stars, and more stars.

Sounds
Calls from a great horned owl, black-billed magpie, boreal chickadee, common raven, and many more. Chatter and banter from obsessive red squirrels. The sound of a moose sloshing through a pond. The sound of a moose chewing grasses. The sound of sled dogs yowling at mealtime. The sound of—bless it for its simplicity—the Monitor heater kicking on in the morning (it was 18 degrees in the outhouse this morning). It keeps the cabin at 60, luxuriously warm according to this wood-splitter.
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AK 2010, Day 32: Walking the Bluff [Sep. 12th, 2010|11:04 pm]
I’ve been walking the bluff trail for 3 miles every day, getting acquainted with the views, charting the Nenana River, and scanning for wildlife. There aren’t any other cabins for a mile-and-a-half along the west side of the highway, and those folks aren’t home anyway. So I walk alone, in silence, quiet with my thoughts.

But yesterday afternoon, as the sunlight poured through the aspens and the reindeer moss cushioned my steps, I heard a stick snap. And then another. Big sticks, breaking as though crushed by a heavy weight. I stopped in my tracks, not quite afraid but definitely on full alert. The branches shuddered about twenty feet ahead of me and a creature leapt forth, shaking the rocky boreal soil with a penetrable thud.

Just as I was thinking grizzly (which have been spotted on this trail), a boxy black dog wriggled and pranced in front of me, triumphant and drooling. Not far beyond him I saw his owner, a blonde-haired blue-eyed late-twenties male crouched on a knoll of cranberries, picking to his heart’s content. He called to his dog, then looked at me. We both stood speechless, equally startled by each other’s presence in the forest.

From this moment, a single simile sprang forth into my mind: Alaska grows Carhartt-wearing, handsome mountain men and as readily as cranberries. The key to survival is remembering that both are tempting for much longer than they are ripe.

We talked berries and bears, then apologized for spooking each other. The berry-picker mentioned a stand of blueberries up on the ridge near Milepost 22u, just down the road. “The frost holds in the valleys first,” he told me. “But if you climb a little higher, you can still get a few pints before they’re all done for the season.” I didn’t tell him where I was from or where I was going, and he kept his destination equally private. Just two people, sharing the same patch of land for a short moment. It seems a simple way of relating in Alaska, since if you get to talking, it’s likely to take a few hours of explaining how and why you got where you are.

Neither one of us mentioned the fact that we were trespassing on Ahtna lands. Walking is permitted on this bluff, but visitors are supposed to buy an obscure $50 permit to do so. I support that fully—but I don’t have a car to drive the myriad miles to the permit office and I’m not here for very long as it is. That said, it’s still a Class B Misdemeanor requiring 90 days in jail and/or $1000 fine.

Half an hour later, I returned to the cabin at Milepost 22x and set out with two buckets to collect rainwater for dishwashing. I found the water that I needed from the barrel beneath the gutter, but I also found a drowned red squirrel floating on top. The entire bucket of water—my dishwater and shower water for the next week—was contaminated, not to mention the barrel itself. I hauled it off into the woods and dumped it. In the morning, I’d call my other writing friend—conveniently one mile away at Milepost 22y—and get some advice.
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AK 2010, Days 29-31: Living Three Lives [Finally Catching Up] [Sep. 11th, 2010|09:38 pm]
ALL PICS AT www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com


I intend for this post to be enjoyed as a long essay draft or to be read in fits and starts (hence the convenient sections). My first five days in Denali felt like living three lives at once: the tourist, the observer, and the writer. In order to capture my experiences, this is an extraordinarily long blog post in the name of reflection and catching up. It’s been cathartic, so here goes…

THE TOURIST
In this life, I roamed amongst the tourists (mostly retirees or Europeans) in Denali National Park & Preserve. I went on Ranger-led hikes. I read trail displays and Park publications. I took pictures, asked questions. I sat on the porch across from the Princess Lodge and oohed-and-ahhed at the fall colors. I did, as they say, “the point and shoot.”

But even on the most quintessential Denali experience—the Shuttle Bus—I still felt a bit like an imposter. I knew I’d rather be out hiking those mountains than eyeing them from a heated bus. At the same time, there’s only one way into the park if you’re not backpacking and I wasn’t about to miss out. I arrived before 7am one windy, wet morning and caught the $40 ride to Eilson and back. The Park Road is something like 89 miles and this would cover 66 of it. On a clear day, tourists like to keep going all the way to the end in order to see the famed Wonder Lake and Mt. McKinley view. On a rainy day, with a calculated 29% chance of seeing the mountain in the month of September as it is (one of the higher odds, believe it or not), there’s just no need to keep riding.

[Shuttle Bus in Denali]

The general modus operandi of these bus rides is that we’re all in it together. Everyone is supposed to “scan, shout, then point” when they see wildlife. Packed somewhere between a large Russian family and a Japanese tour group, I took my seat and diligently scanned the tundra for 8 continuous hours. Others did the same (discounting the seniors, who by the return trip were lulled into a symphony of soft snores from the hum and heat of the bus). We saw 2 moose—not such a big deal to me anymore—and the bus stopped, tourists slamming toward the moose-side of the bus with a series of flashes and camera noises erupting from the windows.

If you’re Alaskan, seeing a moose might best be compared to being from the lower-48 and seeing a robin. In other words: no biggie. It’s somewhat of an odd experience to watch everyone go ga-ga over them, though I still think they’re fantastically large and curious creatures (and if we’re talking bull moose, well then, I’d stop and take a look for sure). After getting acquainted with the moose at our Fairbanks pond every single day, I just didn’t have it in me to elbow my way through the tour bus crowd in Denali and stick my camera out the window for the photo opp. (I once had a 45-minute stand-off with a moose on my solo-backpacking trip. I was 17. I had flown from Oregon to New Hampshire and was determined to go alone. I saw not a single sign of wildlife the entire week of my solo, until, on the last day, I met my first moose just ½ mile from the road. Unforgettable.)

[Braided river at Teklanika along the Parks Road. Note the fresh “termination dust” that had fallen overnight and continued throughout the bus ride. “Termination dust” is the Alaskan phrase for the first snow signifying the end of fall, which lasts about 3 weeks here, and the beginning of winter, which lasts about 5 months.]

But my Shuttle Bus moment to “scan, shout, then point” did happen around Divide Mountain. I know because I was following along with my topo map, scouting for potential ridgelines and valleys I’d like to backpack. We had just come down Polychrome Pass (never mind that you couldn’t see the glacier or the top of the peak because of horrible weather conditions). We were rounding the bend into the Toklat River Valley and, by my estimate, were probably somewhere around 3,000 feet elevation. That’s when I saw a silver-blue flash leaping across the orange tundra. I knew instantly.

[The zoom lens on my camera is broken. If I zoom past 3x, the camera automatically shuts off. I’m lucky to be getting the photos that I’ve posted on the blog so far, let alone this one. Still…I wish it had turned out better.]

A wolf. Six million acres of National Park & Preserve and only 60 wolves in the entire thing. I know one Denali resident who went 15 years without seeing a wolf. But there it was, darting with ease through the dwarf birch and willow plants. I’d done my scanning. Now I was supposed to shout and then point. Already, I resented the influx and scurry that would come once I announced the sighting. But still, we were in it together. I pressed my nose to the glass and watched the wolf in silence for a few more seconds, then I heard myself saying softly: “Stop. Stop. Wolf. There’s a wolf at 7 ‘0 clock.”

“VOLF! VOLF!” Bless the burly Russian man for standing and shouting for me. My shout had barely come out as a whisper.

“TIGER!” This came from the back of the bus—a teenager from Japan who had been sleeping, then woken suddenly when the Russian shouted. “TIGER!” he said again. Bless him for recalling the wrong vocabulary word, really, but I felt compelled to correct him.

“WOLF!” I shouted for real this time. Then, “There’s another one.” The bus screeched to a halt then tilted under the weight of everyone cramming into the seats on the wolf-side. I sat back down while people poured above and to the side of me. I peered out the lower portion of the bus window and watched as a total of four wolves came from the same direction, then followed the alpha over a knoll and out of sight.

[Dirty bus windows don’t help the views.]

The rest of the ride was fairly abysmal. The windows fogged and mud/snow splashed so much that our views were obscured. We stopped every 90 minutes to squeegie them clean but within ten minutes they’d be covered again. By the time we reached our destination at Eislon where I had hoped to do another Ranger-led hike, the snow was blowing sideways. McKinley was in the clouds, and I could just barely make out the moraine of the Muldrow Glacier. For the final two hours of the ride, there wasn’t much more than 100-feet of visibility.

But still: FOUR WOLVES in the wild! A true sight to behold, no matter the weather or the circumstance.

[Fall colors and termination dust at Highway Pass, Parks Road, Denali]

THE OBSERVER
Because of the amazing powers of Google search engines and because this is a small community, I will continue to call this the cabin at Milepost 22x and I will call my friends that own it R & O. Suffice it to say they are part-time Denali residents who live most of the year in [PacNW City]. They are gracious, loving, intelligent, patient, and insanely talented. That’s the short version. The slightly longer version is that R, my writing friend, was the 1st woman in the history of the 82nd Airborne to fly apache attack helicopters and the 9th woman in the history of the US Military to do so. She’s run marathons. She’s climbed Mt. McKinley. She’s written a memoir that I’m certain will be published and now she’s raising and family and getting her MFA in writing. R & O are well known and liked in the Denali community, and during the 5 full days that they shared their vacation with me, not a single evening went by where company didn’t call and good stories weren’t shared.

I’ve lived continuously in small communities since I graduated from college—all of them rural, all of them art or land focused, and most of them involving some form of rugged, primitive, or simple living ethic. Those common factors yield similarities, no matter how many thousands of miles apart from each other these communities have been. It has been exciting to find some of those common threads present in life here in Denali—where Denali means the community, not just the Park & Preserve. (To demonstrate, I’ve culled Google Images for the following photos…)

Whereas last year’s trip afforded an education about glaciers, moraines, tarns, salmon, permafrost, endless daylight, tracking grizzlies in the backcountry, the McCarthy Road, and the Alaska Railroad, this year’s has been more of an immersion into “the interior” (Fairbanks area), the boreal forest (approximately 25% of the world’s canopy), and the people who choose to live in both. There are stories about squatting and squatters. Stories about kids in Alaskan public schools studying frostbite and hypothermia in all-school assemblies (as compared to lock down or tornado drills in the lower-48). Stories about what poop does in an outhouse at fifty below zero.

There are stories about summiting (or not summiting) Mt. McKinley. Stories about Foraker Peak. Stories about Mount Deborah. Stories about the different versions of the stories. Stories about three guys on a secured line just a few hundred feet from the top, slipping and tangling themselves at 20,000 feet, belly up on the spine of the mountain.

There are stories about dog mushing—the new handler who needs to be trained, the 5o pounds of food consumed every 3 days by 16 sled dogs (in the off season), or the clientele who can pay $800 per day for guided winter sled-dog trips and the humble thirty-year-old residents who lead said trips. Those guides do everything from serve coffee to digging latrines through the snow to saving lives if somebody screws up. They’re patient and tough and skilled and they are often contracted for the work they do so they don’t earn as much as it sounds.

There’s the infamous “Glitter Gultch”—a one-mile stretch of highway that’s just alongside the Park & Preserve boundary where all tourists, myself included, are bound to find themselves at some point. The fleeces are always “ON SALE NOW” and the magnets are always “BUY 1 GET 1” and the salmon/preserves/sourdough/antlers are always “AUTHENTIC.”

There are stories about McMurdow research station in Antarctica (temporary in-flux population: 1200 people). There seems to be a constant flow of traffic amongst seasonal workers between Alaska and Antarctica. There’s the Alaskan who got to McMurdow and was so fed up that when the cargo plane finally arrived to take her back, she didn’t pack—she just walked out of the compound with the clothes on her back and refused to ever talk about her Antarctica experience again.

There’s the folks who plough your driveway when they know you’re coming back for a visit. The folks who babysit for free just because life gets lonely up here. The folks who no doubt walked/paddled/hitch-hiked/drug-tripped/backpacked here from someplace far away and arrived…all of them, on their own, at various times…stark naked and nearly nutso. Alaska made them sane, if you can believe that. There’s the folks who think Chris McCandless’ “Into the Wild” was more like “Into the Woods” and say that the bus was so close to “civilization” they could spit on it from a table they play poker at.

Stories about the Northern Lights. Stories about no light at all. Stories about falling through the ice, walking on thin ice, making your own ice, the year everyone got iced in, the year the ice melted early. Stories, my friends, that will crack your heart right open.

THE WRITER
I am a sponge. The perpetual fly on the wall. The one with the never-ending internal narration—not monologue, mind you, but narration. How can I say it any other way? The world comes to me in sentences and images; little itches of the fantastic. If I could live on words alone, I would do it.

I am here to let the ridgelines blaze trails across my retinas. I am here to soak up the smells, the tastes, the culture, the colors. Like a slowly churning compost, what’s tasted and then quickly left behind will start to heat and decompose in the typewriter-gut-of-my-heart. When the next growing season of new stories comes, I can only hope that each bite they take is fresh yet reminiscent of something deeply, undeniably familiar.

Once again, Rockwell Kent puts it into words with more precision than I could ever hope for. I love knowing that I am not alone in my obsession with the state as a muse, and also that that obsession has both everything and nothing to do with the state itself. The closing quote for this epic post, at the close of this day where I being 2 weeks effectively on my own in various cabins around Denali:

These days are wonderful but they are terrible. It is thrilling now…to reflect that we are absolutely cut off from all mankind, that we cannot, in this raging sea, return to the world nor the world come to us. Barriers must secure your isolation in order that you may experience the full significance of it. The romance of an adventure hangs upon slender threads…Much of the glory of this Alaska is in the knowledge I have that the next bay—which I may never choose to enter—is uninhabited, that beyond these mountains across the water is a vast region that no man has ever trodden, a terrible ice-bound wilderness.
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AK 2010, Day 28: Settling in at Denali [Catching Up] [Sep. 10th, 2010|09:58 am]
[ALL PICS AT www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com]


[Cabin at Milepost 22x]

The set up is one only a writer could dream up: Friends have a cabin just outside the Park boundaries, perched high up on a bluff above the meandering Nenana River. They’ve offered to share their space for the remainder of their vacation, plus another week during which I will stay here on my own. The view from their porch looks down to the river and out across into the Park. Row after row and 5,000-6,000 foot ridgelines jut upwards from the river, eventually leading to the sky-high Alaska Range.

[Porch view]

I’m at Milepost 22x, as I’ll call it, because even though the address sounds obscure it’s actually quite an easy place to find if you know the Denali area and community at all. Suffice it to say it’s gorgeous, fall is peaking in flurry of golden aspen trees, and all the while the low bush cranberries are so abundant and succulent that most of my outdoor clothes are stained with specks of pleasant magenta simply from walking around.

[Low-bush cranberry taste best after the first frost.]

Just off the back deck, a narrow footpath extends through Ahtna (Alaska Natives) land along a bluff trail with extended views of the Nenana and surrounding hills. Bear scat, red squirrel mudden (food caches), and all the plant life of the boreal forest abound. I can walk three miles round trip with views all along the way—a perfect evening stroll and, hopefully in a few days (one my heels heal), a lovely jogging trail.

[Views from bluff trail.]

I’ve been thinking a lot about my war stories collection and the short time I have left to get the work in order. I’ll start in on it again full-time beginning Saturday (tomorrow) and, while it’s been hard to break the rhythm that I worked so hard to maintain in Fairbanks, I also wholly believe in the power of letting things build up with the express purpose of making damn burst. I researched all summer, then got to Fairbanks and wrote more war stories than I ever thought I could. Now I’ve taken a week to backpack and another week to explore and socialize, and I’m eager to return to the collection with “fresh eyes.”

Doubts about the collection and my abilities to see (or not see, more accurately) my own weak spots as a fiction writer, have intruded into my thought process off and on during these two weeks, though: What kind of impression will this collection leave? If it is accepted for publication, will it pigeon hole me as an author? How much of this subject matter will the average reader be able to take? Is the collection too short? Too graphic? Are my military facts right? Are my emotional truths fair and believable?

For support, I’ve been cherishing two pieces of advice. The first is from my esteemed grad school professor, Interlochen snowshoeing buddy, and author of 10+ books mentor “Leon Hammerhead,” who says that we must make our characters suffer, we must love them, and we must empathize with them in order to make them real. Most days, I feel pretty confident that I have been able to do that with my war story characters, despite how thoroughly far from my own personal experience their fictional perspectives are. The second is this quote from Rockwell Kent:

After all, the qualities by which all of us become known are those of which we are ourselves least conscious. The best of me is what is quite impulsive; and, looking at myself for a moment with a critic’s eye, the forms that occur in my art, the gestures, the spirit of the whole of it is in fact nothing but an exact pictorial record of my unconscious living idealism.
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AK 2010, Day 25-27: Clear Skies in Denali [Catching Up] [Sep. 8th, 2010|09:48 pm]
[ALL PICS AT www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com]

First, there is a quickening of the heart like one thousand hooves charging up a mountainous, scree slope. Then, there is the electricity of neurons firing to all four limbs—that same magnetic pull that lured me 8 miles out of Anchorage the day I got off the plane and just kept walking. The only thing that stops the magnetic force of Denali National Park & Preserve from overtaking my entire rational and physical self is the sheer, untouchable magnitude of the Alaska Range.

[Fall colors, Alaska Range]

The peaks rise impossibly from the horizon, their carved white slopes like a mirage highlighted by the ever-arching Alaskan sun. Surrounded by 5,000 and 6,000-foot “foothills,” the range beyond boasts Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. When I look at these peaks, everything in the periphery bleeds out of focus, leaving what feels like a firm, unbendable line between myself and the tops of those mountains. I have never desired to become a high alpine climber, but I like to think that the treacherousness and exertion of such climbs entails the kind of endurance that I strive for in life. Perhaps, after all is said and done, it’s the “staying power” of mountain living and hiking that lures me the most—the notion that nothing comes easy unless you’re in it for the long haul, in which case the hard work is always hard, but likewise always tangible and relevant.

A Ranger-guided walk (perfect for blistered heels) helps me identify the tundra plant life: bearberry, soapberry, lupine, fireweed, willow, alder, dwarf birch, timbre berry, dogwood. Tree names seem easy enough: black spruce, white spruce, aspen, paper birch, and balsam poplar.

[Bark “scars” on aspens are typically a result of moose nibbling on the trees.]

With the exception of one paved road, the vast majority of the park has no trails, no buildings, no roads, and very little human intrusion. Unlike Yellowstone and Yosemite, where cars can line the highways for miles and miles, only park-sanctioned buses are permitted beyond the first few miles of the park. What few groomed trails there are, exist almost entirely within these first few miles. In just two, short visits, we walk the Savage River, Taiga, Horseshoe Lake, McKinley Station, and Riley Creek Trails—all tame compared to almost everything I’ve ever done, but I’m not above guided hikes and I’m certainly grateful for the easy walking and helpful ranger resources.

In addition to plant life, I’m reminded of wildlife within the park: wolves, black and grizzly bear, moose, caribou, lynx, red squirrel, and snowshoe hare to name a few. My first day in the park, we stood about 15 feet away from two hard-muscled rams feeding along Savage Creek.

Later, when I was the only person who showed up for an afternoon hike, a young Ranger (and year-round Denali resident) took me out of the way to a new suspension bridge as seen below. My nonfiction chapbook, Lost Crossings, is a 60-page ode to such bridges, so finding a treasure like this 5,000 miles away from the ones I explored was a real treat. It’s worth noting, too, that those gigantic timbers were hauled by sled dogs over the frozen Riley Creek last winter, then erected this spring by an NPS trail crew.
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AK 2010, Day 24: Backpacking in the White Mountains [Catching Up] [Sep. 8th, 2010|09:00 am]
[ALL PICS AT www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com]


AK 2010, Day 24: White Mountains Backpacking Trip [Catching Up]

[Farewell view of American Creek Valley]

We woke to frost each morning, especially thick on Day 4, and cooked our favorite meal of tundra-picked low-bush cranberry, crowberries, and blueberries with hot barley cereal, stewed walnuts, and dried cherries. The fruits were so abundant you could hardly sit without squashing them. We had two sweet days of hiking ahead of us through the Nome Creek Valley—all rolling just slightly downhill—before getting to the truck.

[Purple harebell flower overlooking Nome Creek Valley]

To our great surprise, we summited the pass exiting American Creek Valley and within a few miles into the Nome, picked up a heavily used trail. This was more than a patchy, three-inch wide sheep trail. It looked almost like a human trail. It wasn’t long until we spotted two backpackers who told us they had started out from the Mount Prindle Campground that morning. A few miles later, we saw day hikers, and at that point KB and I dropped our packs and eyed the topo maps.

We had 8 miles to go in order to out of the valley from our base camp—we knew that much—but we had given ourselves two days do it because the Ranger at BLM told us it would be dense bushwhacking with no visible trails. Eight miles of that kind of terrain can easily turn into 12 miles of meandering, and a lot of mental focus on the tussocks through shoulder-high willow thickets. Yet there we were, on what felt like a superhighway, cruising through Nome Creek Valley along a mucky but functional trail, moving much faster than we anticipated. By lunchtime we were less then 2 miles from the truck.

[Tundra colors along the “superhighway” surprise trail.]

That sweetness of being “unplugged” and “out of range” that backpacking allows is so slowly and laboriously gained…yet always so suddenly lost upon re-entering “the real world.” If the skies had been clear and the wind only a soft breeze that afternoon, we would have stayed in the valley ad lounged on the tundra, reading and relaxing and wandering along the nearby hills just to savor that sweetness one day longer. But the wind was relentless and the clouds gathering for rain. We ate a leisurely lunch, marveled again at how swiftly the miles had gone that morning, then put our packs on for the final few miles out.

I hated leaving. But staying would have been pretty chilly and damp, not to mention the other hikers we would likely continue to see due to the start of the three-day weekend. The moment we closed the truck doors and put the keys in the ignition, the skies opened up and rain started to fall. We said goodbye to the tundra, popped in a Be Good Tanyas album, and headed south for Fairbanks.

What would have been 10 days in the Brooks Range (if Alaska hadn’t had such a cold summer and early fall) was amended to 10 days just south of the Arctic Circle in the White Mountains, which was then further amended to 5 days in the Whites (due to KB’s family needs in Anchorage), which ultimately turned out to be 4 fantastic days, 3 valleys, 4 passes, 1 high peak, and a head full of fall-colored tundra plant life that was all wholly blessed by the weather gods. I left happy and heel-blistered but hungry for more…Denali, here I come!
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AK 2010, Day 23: Backpacking in the White Mountains [Catching Up] [Sep. 7th, 2010|06:10 pm]
[ALL PICS ARE AT www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com]


AK 2010, Day 23: White Mountains Backpacking Trip [Catching Up]

[Base camp for 2 nights at the headwaters of American Creek.]

We woke to sunlight and took notice of the Dall sheep, which had dropped boldly down into the valley from their steep, rocky overnight perches up high. I saw and heard some kind of hawk multiple times and wished again for my bird book. But most spectacular of all was setting out with light daypacks on Day 3 and ascending immediately to the granite tors lining the high ridge walls of American Creek Valley. KB and I weren’t decided on where we’d go or even how long we’d hike, and we even brought sunglasses and reading material in our packs in case we decided to laze around on the tors and soak up the view.

[Part of the rim we walked is behind me, with more miles ahead of me to go.]

Instead, luck and ambition were with us as we quickly picked up an old goat or sheep trail (narrow but helpful) and walked the rim for a few miles, sometimes climbing hands and feet and other times walking easily along a thin strip of mountain ridgetop made of lichen-covered granite. On a rainy day, that kind of exposure would have been torture but that day even the wind laid low and every direction we looked we had endless views. KB took most of the photos (and even a video that day), but we couldn’t find her camera data card at the trip’s end, so I have yet to get copies of those images. A few of mine will suffice for now, though.

[Partial view of ridgeline from a granite tor.]

To our great surprise, when we got to the end of the ridgetop row of tors, we realized that all the while we had also been doing most of the climbing necessary to summit Mount Prindle—one of the highest peaks in this area of north country alpine tundra (5,286 feet). We loaded up on some gorp, dropped down a few hundred feet, and then climbed another mile to the top. It felt like walking on top of the spiny ridge of a gigantic animal, one with skin made of granite boulders and occasional hairy patches of alpine grass. We saw an owl pellet. Investigation proved that the own had eaten a ptarmigan. We also saw lots of goat and sheet scat on the way to the summit. Poignantly, at the top we saw a bald eagle soaring overhead.

[Small sheep trail is visible along the spine of Mount Prindle, which we summated at 5,286 feet.]

Coming down, as always, went quickly, and by late afternoon (Time? Who knew by that point?) we were back at our base camp with 5 miles and countless high peak views under our belts.
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AK 2010, Day 22: Backpacking in the White Mountains [Catching Up] [Sep. 6th, 2010|01:31 pm]
[ALL PHOTOS AT www.thewritinglife2.blosgpot.com]


The valleys seemed devoid of moose, caribou, and bear, but we trekked above treeline and near headwaters and great mountain cirques most of the day. That meant very little coverage for large ungulets and no fish activity for bears at the height of their preparations for winter. We did see and hear small birds, a marmot skeleton, and nearly 30 Dall sheep in 2 separate herds. From afar, they traversed the loose, rocky mountain slopes as swiftly and effortlessly as a flock of birds through air. Up close, they looked as awkward and typical as ever—bxy white rectangles set stop four fantastic, agile legs.

[It’s a little difficult to see, but follow the distant ridgeline starting at the left side of this photo, then stop where the sunlight shines through the clouds, just before 2 darkened, smooth-looking peaks. That’s the pass we came up and over, then hiked several miles uphill toward another pass, from which this photo was taken.]

In all, we only travelled about 4 miles on Day 2 of the hiking trip, though with all the back and forth that bushwhacking requires, it was more like 6 miles total. We began at 3300 feet and summited 2 passes, the highest around 4600 feet according to the map. We stayed high as much as possible, though had to drop almost 800 feet between the two passes because the terrain along the contours was impossibly steep. By mid-afternoon, we set up camp at the headwaters of American Creek, around 3800 feet, with steep slopes and rolling red tundra all around.

The White Mountains are known for “granite tors” or high prominences of exposed granite that would be the delight to many-a-rock climber if they weren’t so far into the backcountry and completely devoid of trails. As it is, only a few seem to make the trek each year. The second pass we summated brought us up close and personal with the unique formations. KB and I dropped our packs and played around in them for at least an hour, hiking on old goat or sheep trails to the outermost ledges. Later, we dozed in the sun on the tundra mosses at the top of the pass, orienting the map and marveling at the great weather. Wool hats, gloves, and down vests aside, it was gloriously comfortable and even occasionally “warm.”

[Views of some of the famed granite tors.]

In the short days that we had for our trip, the arrangement of the ranges in this particular area allowed us to explore 3 valleys from cirque and headwaters to treeline and rushing, wide creeks. Those 3 valleys were: Little Champion Creek, American Creek, and Nome Creek Valleys with views of Champion Creek and Convert Creek Valleys as well.
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AK 2010, Day 21: Backpacking in the White Mountains [Catching Up] [Sep. 5th, 2010|10:56 pm]
[ALL PHOTOS AT www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com]


[View heading toward Moose Creek, looking across to the Nome Creek Valley]

The tundra was an array of rusted burgundy, golden yellow, crimson glow, lime lichens, and deep green spruce with blackened bark. As we ascended, the trees dropped away and the plant life quickly shrunk to alpine sizes. This far north, “alpine” doesn’t always mean “high” in elevation, it more accurately refers to climate. Reds turned to purples and gold plants were swapped for a mélange of orange-tinged miniature plant life. I only wish I owned an Alaskan field guide and had the extra room in my pack to carry it.

[We were blessed with an entire trip of weather like this, though the temperature dropped to freezing each night.]

I enjoy starting out on the ATV road, though I’m not sure KB prefers it. For my part, when I’m still warming up and my pack’s heavy, I don’t mind a little ease and clarity from a road, albeit a rough and steep one. We moved along at a good clip, crossing Moose Creek and contouring along the Little Champion Creek Valley. There, we left the road and would not be on any human formed trails or roads until we were at the truck five days later.

Going “off trail” or “bushwhacking” or going “into the bush” is a great feeling. In Alaska, it’s pretty much the only way to go, since 99% of the places people hike don’t have maintained trails in the fist place. Study your maps, know your directions, and be smart about every move that you make. Bushwhacking up to our first pass, we ascended a naturally stepped tundra with swaths of moraine (lichen-covered rough boulders, in this case). Rather than dropdown the other side, we camped in the sunlight at about 3300 feet.

[The juncture at which we left the ATV road and started bushwhacking uphill across the tundra, toward our first pass.]

[Views from the top of that pass.]

It stayed light out until about 11pm, though who knows what time it really was, since neither one of us hikes with a watch. We’ve been losing about 5 minutes of daylight since I got here, which translated into roughly 105 minutes less light per day than when I landed in Alaska on August 12th. By the time I leave, it will be almost “normal” and not too many weeks after that, much of the state will enter the dark zone.

All in all, it was a fantastic first day once we got saddled up and moving. We hiked about 8 miles total, thanks to the ATV trail. All else ahead of us would be 1/3 the speed and 5-10times the effort until the trip’s end, according to the topo maps and the BLM Ranger.
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AK 2010, Days 19 & 20: Into the Wild [Aug. 31st, 2010|11:12 am]
Good news, folks: One of my short stories was accepted by CALYX literary journal yesterday. A great publication and one I’m honored to be included in. They’ve been on my list for years! Also, the reading last night went well. We had about 25 people in the audience, all very interested and engrossed. I sold 9 chapbooks and there were lots of questions and statements of praise at the end. Felt great!

And now, we’re heading into the wild…

Backpacking for 6 days in the White Mountains, north of Fairbanks and south of the Arctic Circle. KB had a family issue come up and so we had to cut our backpacking trip IN HALF (Ack! Double ack!). But I’ll be posting again with back-dated entries that log the trip once I come off the trail and hustle a few hundred miles south to Denali for destination numero dos.

See you next week!
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AK 2010, Day 18: The Northern Lights! [Aug. 30th, 2010|11:24 am]
I’m in some sort of half-sleep-dream-state around 12:30am, just when the sun has finally “set” and the nearly full moon taken over. “The light, the light,” someone keeps saying. I think maybe it’s KB, telling me I’ve forgotten to turn off the light. We are, after all, running on solar power. We have what we need, but there’s no sense in wasting it either. “The lights, the lights!” the voice calls again.

I roll over in bed, open my eyes. Then it registers that the voice is actually coming from outside. “The northern lights!” a woman says. “I know you’re asleep but you’ve got to come see the northern lights!” I sit up in bed and see Amrit, our neighbor from down the path. She’s got her part-wolf dog Towklat with her and together they look like a late-night circus of prancing feet and faces. “If you come out by the train tracks you can see them!” Amrit calls. “It’s the northern lights!”

“Thanks!” I holler, then go wake up KB. (She can’t hear a thing through her supersonic earplugs. Alaskans know about sleep and many, like KB, travel with an eye mask for the sunlight and earplugs for the ever-present hum of planes and trains.)

It’s 38 degrees and likely to frost by morning, but we bundle in down vests and wool hats and dart out the cabin door, heading for the tracks. I’ve never seen the northern lights before but KB promises we’ll get more than one chance during our stay this far north.

A few minutes later, our breath hovers in soft puffs around our faces as we huddle and gaze northward, standing in the middle of the train tracks.

“Oh,” says KB. She’s unimpressed.

“Wow!” I say, marveling at the swelling band of light just over the tree line. “Is that it? That sort of puffy, swelling thing that’s greenish-yellow-kinda-brown?”

“Yeah,” she says. Then she whispers so Amrit can’t here, “but we’ll see the real deal when we go backpacking.”

Still, the night air is sweet and smells of Labrador tea and low bush cranberry—two distinct smells of fall in Alaska. I might be writing the whole day long in Alaska, but it’s moments like this that make the trek all the more worthwhile. We lie down on the tracks, a favorite pastime of mine, and gaze at the stars until it gets too cold to stay any longer.

Back at the cabin, I close my eyes for a second attempt at rest. Behind my eyelids, a pulsing band of light guides me into sleep; this sweet northern initiation I’ve sought for years finally come to fruition.
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AK 2010, Days 16 & 17: Processing Process [Aug. 29th, 2010|10:05 am]
It’s been two weeks at the cabin and it’s finally starting to feel like community. The neighbor Amrit’s dog comes to play regularly. The lady moose comes to sip and slosh in our pond nightly. The male has yet to show himself again. Up the path, across the tracks, across the road, over the bike path, and up the driveway are Adam and Cameron. They’re the ones who let us park in their driveway, plug in our laptops, and use free wi-fi. Today, Adam gave me a Moulin rouge sunflower, hand-clipped from the experimental gardens at University of Alaska Fairbanks. I got to tell him about personification, and how sunflowers have been muses for many-a-writer because of their human-like heads that turn toward the light.

Out on a run the other day, I ran into the carpenter who most recently did work on this cabin. The next day I ran into Sue along the bike path. She’s the woman who loaned us the extra mattress so that KB could have the sleeping loft and I could have the downstairs futon. These folks all know about our project and have asked about our work, offered copious veggies from their gardens, and done their best to help us with resources since the very moment we arrived.

With any luck, they’ll also come to our public reading sponsored by the literacy council this Monday night.

But I set out to write about process and here I have written about nesting. As it turns out, the two are quite related. It’s important for me to create a space in which to carry out the disciplined habits of a professional writer. I’m on the road for two years. The only thing that’s steady is what fits in my car and in my head, then what I make of those two resources. Settling in with the small items of home and the small routines of writing are what enable me to access my best creative writing process most swiftly.

I’ve already talked about how the “steeping” quality of my process really came together for me here—I immersed in informal but steady war research for about four months. I didn’t write very much about war at that time, but I took copious notes and decorated my walls with posters for my thoughts on the subject. Having the time to let that research steep in my psyche before trying to immediately produce fiction from it allowed the facts to settle and the mysteries—the things I still wondered about—to emerge. In the end, I felt I had enough facts to write realistic fiction and enough questions to evoke a sense of wonder. And it’s wonder, of course, that leads to discovery. One path between wonder and discovery is story, and that’s the muscle I’ve been exercising continuously for two weeks.

But another insight has emerged from this time as well, and that has to do with generating new work. I finally felt grounded enough in my process to push myself a little further and see where I got. Rather than complete one piece at a time (as I’ve always done), I forced myself to write as many new short-shorts as I could. That worked out to be 15 new war short shorts plus the completion of an already-started full-length war story, for a total of 5o new pages of fiction in 14 days. And these are keep-able pages. Strong pages. Pages I feel inspired to revise and that I feel confident will fit into the collection.

The greatest challenges during this generative time had to do with not going back and obsessing over drafts I had just finished. Also, I had to fend off imagined arguments in my mind every single day about the validity of the project. Not to mention the other pestering editor voices in my mind that constantly ask me where I can submit my work, who will publish it, and what am I going to do with it now that it’s on the page. All of these thoughts in my mind fought for my attention, and daily I was able to fend them off. When I’m at my desk and those questions pop up, I mentally move them from my brain and mouth (where they “feel” like they originate) and place them behind me—out of sight, just over the back of my shoulders. I tell them they can wait for later. I tell them it’s not their turn right now. I tell them that I’m busy writing a story and they’ll just have to wait until another time.

So far, that works.

The other thing that works is being in a shared space with another writer. It has its challenges, for sure, and KB and I don’t even know each other that well. (We met last year in McCarthy, AK at a writing residency. We hung out for one week. Now we’re engaged in this great adventure…it’s a lot!) From the very first day here, KB and I established some cooking and dishes routines that worked well, along with a pretty much functional silence throughout the daytime to allow each other uninterrupted work time. Most meaningful, we shared new writing with each other every single night and gave each other immediate feedback and critique. KB is a former journalist making her first attempts at creative nonfiction and I was able to give her lots of guidance with regard to craft. I’ve never been to the Middle East or even spoken to Iraqis or Afghanis, but KB has spent extended amounts of time in every single country bordering Iraq and interviewed hundreds of refugees. She’s been an incredible resource. Through our daily discpline, even in silence, we held each other accountable to make the most of our time. We’re both proud of how much we accomplished.

I meet with a publisher in mid-October. He wants me to bring what I have of this collection. I’m thrilled and I’m scared. I don’t consider these stories to be political, despite their subject matter. But I’m nervous about being pigeonholed. That’s the big monster clawing over my shoulders right now. I’m also nervous about putting this in someone else’s hands—I’ve been in such another world these past few weeks…what will these stories look like in the light of day? What will they feel like in someone else’s hands, on someone else’s lips? Will I still feel as proud of the work then as I do now? Will I worry later that I’ve handed off the work too soon?

I have one more month in Alaska and as each day passes, I feel these questions growing. How to live with those questions (or better yet, ignore them) will probably be the next learning phase in my process.
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AK 2010, Days 14 & 15: Appalachian & Alaskan Cabins [Aug. 26th, 2010|12:39 pm]
It’s been fascinating to explore the nuances of this little cabin as each day here in Fairbanks unfolds. Last week, we found a pie pan and made wild raspberry cobbler. We also discovered a stack of roofing and flooring ends, perfect scraps for splitting kindling needed for our early morning fires. Yesterday, I found lemon juice left by a previous resident and, after inspecting the label, used it for a special ginger sauce I like to mix with quinoa.

Much of this rustic cabin lifestyle feels like home. It’s how I lived for quite a long time. But the nuances of an Appalachian shelter-converted-to-cabin and an Alaskan variety of the same, are quite distinct. In the cabins I spent time at in Western North Carolina, door handles might have been sliced from thick branches of rhododendron. Hand-forged wrought iron handles made by a friend were quite common as well. Here, a more logical handle might look something like this:

[Caribou antler]

Likewise, relics, handmade objects, or magical offerings from any number of Native tribes might adorn the space:

[Front door adornment]

I’m not sure what that is, but things like it seem to be tucked into every nook and cranny of the cabin. An Alaskan Native or resident could say a lot more than I can. For my part, I enjoy imagining what each offering might mean and letting that mix a little with the mystery.

Ultimately, it’s the little things taken from or inspired by the land that lend a personalized, localized quality to a rustic cabin. In WNC, everyone I knew had piles of stones and hunks of mica sitting in windowsills or lining a favorite ceramic bowls. Hemlock pine cones, too, made for a common relic, as any WNC resident knows the species is dying out due to the deadly invasive beetle. And while Mason jars don’t mean much more than food storage, Mason jars in Appalachian cabins mean moonshine.

Here are some additional decorations around the cabin that seemed particularly “Alaskan” to my eye:

[Eagle feathers…Now, if I could just find a feather from that Great Horned Owl we heard and saw two nights ago!]

[Whale vertebra bone used as a stool. It’s massive…and that’s only one of them!]

[Ancient seal-oil lamp]

[On the other side of the glass, a round of paper birch bark is being fitted over a glass jar. Later, it will be made into an all-bark container for pens or utensils or other odds & ends.]

[Old skis as yard-art]
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AK 2010, Days 12 & 13: News News & Craft Thoughts [Aug. 25th, 2010|10:47 am]
[Note to self: Chance encounters with the elusive Alaskan male species are not unlike chance encounters with Alaskan moose—both are equally enchanting and unpredictable.]

Newsy-news:
My 23-minute interview with Aaron Stander for the Michigan Writers radio show aired today on Interlochen Public Radio. It’s an hour-long show that interviews 3 different writers. Mine is the second interview and the host started with a great intro, solving the mystery of the vintage Volvo station wagon with a giant lobster claw. The show airs again on 8/29 at 1pm EST and you can stream it over the web at that time (adjusting for your time zone) by going here. By the end of August, it will be archived permanently here.

In other news, the Literacy Council of Alaska has agreed to sponsor a reading by author Karen Button and myself, this coming Monday, August 30th at 7pm in downtown Fairbanks at Forget-Me-Not Books. Audience members can anticipate vivid, informed, crafted storytelling in nonfiction and fiction from various perspectives involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The title of the evening reading is “Personae of War.”

Craft Thoughts:
Two weeks into my trip to Alaska, and this has been the single most productive fiction writing time in my life. Since August 12th, I have written 37 new pages of fiction, including 12 new short-shorts, all in the personae of war. I never new that I could write one or two new pieces each day, let alone maintain that for this many days in a row. Generally, I write pretty slowly, and while short-shorts are quick, they also deal with beginnings and endings in rapid succession, which is one of the more challenging tasks on the page. It’s an affirming experience for me, as I put so many hours into the war research this summer. Likewise, it makes me really feel that there is moment and power in this collection, and I’m highly motivated to share it and get it out there in the world.
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AK 2010, Day 11: Think Like a Moose [Aug. 23rd, 2010|09:01 am]
[pics at www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com]


Uh. Okay. So, she just kind of showed up.

I was drinking water at the pond, you know, a late-evening kind of thing.

[pic]

And then I saw her.

[pic]

And she saw me.

[pic]

She was cute and all, if you could overlook her embarrassingly tiny mouth. But then she pointed this thing at me and I’m thinking, Wait a second, isn’t that one of those loud things you see right before all the lights go out?

I wasn’t interested in any of that, so I gave her my best concerned male moose look. You know, like I was channeling all of my power through one, tennis-ball sized eyeball. You should try it sometime; it’s pretty effective.

[pic]

I’m standing there giving it my all, angled so my head looks like the size of a house and my general appearance about as friendly as a full-speed train with no brakes. And what does she do? She gets all excited like, doing this awkward dance and pointing and wowing and stuff.

Some people, I tell you.
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