I am back from the wilds of Alaska. Well, maybe not the wildest part of Alaska, but, yes, the part with no Internet, no cellular service, and, at times, no electricity. Right, I didn’t make it to Barnes & Noble. So I have much to say, a week in Alaska, who wouldn’t have a lot to say?
It is no surprise that I love Alaska. I mean, I love California, all of the Californias; the endless coastline, some sandy, some too rugged to traverse, the big cities, the small, historic towns, the big trees, the agriculture, the history and the heritage, the big mountains, the rolling foothills, the winding rivers. Mostly, I love the Sierras. But I love Alaska, what I’ve seen of it, thus far, a great deal, and, yes, in some ways, more than Cali. And, yes, in some ways, I love Cali a bit more, but, increasingly, that tends to be related only to quality shopping venues and wine.
They call Alaska “the last frontier”, and while it is certainly my latest frontier, I don’t intend for it to be my last. It will be a lasting frontier, for me, though. I really can’t see, at this point in time, no matter what happens in my life, on any level, not having Alaska in my life on a regular, if not quasi-permanent basis. I am in awe.
But, it is no surprise that I love Alaska. I’m sure you must have some memory from childhood, some very formative memory, that, though random and seemingly insignificant, has, in some way influenced your life and even, maybe, directed the course of it. Certainly you must have. We all must have. For me? It was a Hamm’s beer sign. Circa late 1960’s or early 1970’s, I don’t know for certain, that’s when I saw the sign, it could’ve been an “old” sign at that point in time. But, it was a sign, a sign that guided me into certain pathways and journeys, not directly, but through the subtle and lasting impression, and the sheer, somewhat cheesy, backlit beauty of the scrolling river scene, depicting waterfalls, a serene river, wildlife, a campsite. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want to go to there.”
There was an old school scrolling Hamm’s Beer sign in “Food City” in Napa, at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road, for any old time “Napkins” out there. My mom would push the clackity-wheeled grocery cart through the store, filling it with boxes, packaged cake mixes and Jell-O, and cans upon cans of faded, waxy vegetables and condensed soup, I was a particular fan of “Campbell’s Manhandler’s Beef and Barley”. I was pretty sure that’s what was in the kettle, over the fire in the campsite in the Hamm’s Beer sign. Mom would pick up a couple of items from the produce and meat aisles, iceberg lettuce and ground beef, most likely. While she shopped for the week’s “loss leaders”, I stood at the front of the store, mesmerized by the sign. I am one hundred percent certain that is where my love of the outdoors, of the wilderness, camping, rivers and adventures was first ignited. I know, Hamm’s Beer wasn’t from Alaska, but the scene in that sign could’ve been Wisconsin, or California, New York, or Alaska. It didn’t matter, I wanted to go to there.
My parents certainly were not “outdoorsy”. Until I was four years old, we lived in Oakland and I only remember gray fog, gray streets, gray highways, gray factories and the gray water of the San Francisco Bay circa mid-1960’s. They never camped in tents or hiked, canoed or skied. Seeing nature was done from the comfort of a large sedan on a Sunday afternoon, with, maybe, a picnic, if the weather permitted. A trip to “the wilderness” was staying at a friends’ cabin in Tahoe. The adults sat around inside the dark cabin, day and night, having cocktails, smoking and playing cards. The kids took to the woods, followed a stream, out to the lake. Fish were caught by the boys, and some fish never made it back to the cabin, on a dare, they were eaten raw and whole, by the boys, before we even knew what sushi was. The fish that did make it back to the cabin were never seen again. I’m really not sure what ever happened to those beautiful rainbow trout, we certainly never ate them, cooked, or raw. We had the contents of boxes, packages, and cans, accompanied by Jell-O molds, on a bed of iceberg lettuce, as a garnish. I’m sure there was ground beef in the meal, somewhere, too, but certainly no freshly caught rainbow trout out of the pristine, blue waters of Lake Tahoe.
I’m certain it was because of the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa that I begged my mom to let me join Girl Scouts. I wanted to camp and fish and live in a tent by that river, maybe see that bear. Beer really wasn’t on my mind, yet, I was a few years too young. And, ironically, my first beer was with those very girls, from Girl Scouts, sleeping outside, in sleeping bags, under the stars. On my parents’ deck. Sssshhh. But, perhaps that sign has had another influence in my life; my love for beer, especially if it were to be enjoyed alongside a woodland river. Not Hamm’s, of course, for like my love of the outdoors, my taste for beer has developed into a lust for more.
I had the best Girl Scout leaders in the world, and, again, I’m sure that is another formative turn in my life; that I had Girl Scout leaders that hiked and camped, in addition to all the crafty stuff. By the time I was big enough and old enough to be a Girl Scout leader, myself, most of the other Girl Scout leaders wouldn’t fathom setting foot outdoors for an activity. My troop did. Because of the influence of my adventurous Girl Scout leaders as a girl, and, because of the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa, I became the Girl Scout leader that took the troop hiking, backpacking, snow boarding, rock climbing and rappelling.
So off to Alaska I’ve been. Again. And there will be another again. And another. There is much to see, there is much to do, there is much to experience. And though I still have many corners of California I intend to explore, I want to see all of Alaska. Too. And other frontiers, as well.
This trip started with the idea of a couple of new adventures.
Our plans for a July trip to “fish camp” on the Yukon River to fish for “silvers” were dashed due to the fact that there weren’t enough salmon in the river. So, in July, instead of gill netting for silvers on the Yukon River, we dip netted for reds on the Copper. I didn’t mind the change in plans! I was thrilled! The annual fall run of “chum” salmon on the Yukon gave us another opportunity for “fish camp” and more salmon. Like the Hamm’s bear, I could eat salmon pretty much every day, maybe not every meal, but I have been known to. No easy task keeping this girl supplied with salmon, and, I will resort to, dare I say, frozen fish from Whole Foods and maybe even, shudder, Target, if I must. Desperate times, desperate times.
I’ve seen a few parts of Alaska in our travels; Anchorage, Fairbanks and surrounds, certainly, Coldfoot, Prudhoe Bay, Denali, a little bit, and Chitinia. We were hoping for a “pilot car” trip from Valdez to Fairbanks, taking an extra day to see the town of Valdez before reporting for duty. With only a week of vacation left for the year, this was it, and a trip to the Yukon for a couple of days and another to Valdez for a couple of days, would pretty much round out the plans for the week.
There were also hopeful plans for a wine-tasting party, which is a more “winter-time” tradition in the “neighborhood”, when it’s too dark to do much else. But, no one would object to a wine-tasting party earlier in the year, certainly. I, as you know, have been buying up wine, week in and week out, winery after winery, tasting room after tasting room, and then, I very carefully selected the six (of twenty seven) bottles I’d take, to share with friends and neighbors. It is, I assure you, no easy task to lug two suitcases and a half a case of wine, single handedly, from the trunk of my car in the economy parking lot to the bus, from the bus to the terminal, and finally, to the agent to be checked, at whatever unholy hour of the morning it was. Feeling like a mother parting with her infant at day care, that first day back to work, I handed over the specialty box I bought to cradle my wine from Cali to AK, even in the hands of the Samsonite gorillas.
But, as with life, even a week in a life, plans change. And, as with life, when plans change, there should never be sorrow or anger, disappointment or despair. Plans change. That’s life. Plans change. That’s vacation. Plans change. Though we never made it to “fish camp”, or to Valdez, and, well, we drank all the wine ourselves, it was a splendid, fabulous, wonderful and never to be forgotten week. Not because of the wine, and, yes, even with the all that wine, nothing will ever be forgotten. Being able to adapt the plan and still enjoy every single moment is what vacation needs to be. Being able to adapt the plan and still enjoy time together is what a relationship needs to be. Being able to adapt the plan and still evolve in life is what success in life is all about. Practice, every day, adapting for alterations to your plan, because, being a master at that is what will carry you through life, much like the canoe, on the cheesy, backlit scrolling river on the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa.