Scarlett’s Letter September 2, 2013

After a leisurely morning at the cabin on the Salcha River, we headed downstream in the airboat. Me with my idiotic UrbanOG bag full of fussy clothes, again, shoved under the bow with all the stuff that lurks in those dark spaces men keep vital things in; fuel syphoning hoses, tools, lubricants, fishing lures, various dirty rags and empty beer bottles. I also have my brand new, far more practical, and somehow stylish “Realtree” camo daypack. I felt appropriately accessorized until the UrbanOG tote didn’t make it back to the truck. It ruined the whole image I was striving for for this adventure. I’ll live.

In my super cool, totally appropriate and yet stylish camo daypack, I have my point and shoot camera, my iPhone in a waterproof, shockproof and even snow proof “Lifeproof” case. In red. I also have my helmet cam. I don’t have a helmet on which to mount it and the double sided sticky things they sent with the camera are no longer sticky from having been stuck to snow machines and canoes on previous adventures. So, I guess my helmet cam is a handheld, for the time being. My point and shoot camera batteries are dead, and somehow, though I have everything necessary to survive almost anything stuffed into my daypack, I neglected to insert the brand new package of double A batteries I bought specifically for this trip. They’re still in my purse. I think. I seem to be cursed with cameras when I’m here. Too many cameras, not enough power. On our fantastic canoe trip in July, with the helmet camera mounted to the canoe, I’d hoped to have some amazing footage. I would have, except the damn camera wasn’t charged. I had the point and shoot with me, but the batteries died after about three pictures, and after one canoe capsized, I didn’t dare take my iPhone out, I hadn’t thought to part with a hundred bucks for the Lifeproof case yet. That trip may have been the impetus to do so.

So, I sat in my assigned seat in the airboat, in front of the “pilot’s chair”, always cognizant of not allowing my chair or my arm or any other appendage shift too far to the right and impede the pilot’s foot on the throttle. This usually results in a tap on the shoulder and frantic pointing. Actually, almost everything that needs to be communicated between pilot and passenger is a tap on the shoulder and frantic pointing. It is up to me to decipher what the tapping and pointing means in each circumstance; moose over there, move your chair, put this empty bottle under the bow, grab the bow line, leap to shore and figure out what knot will secure the boat to a permanent or quasi permanent object (pick out permanent or quasi permanent object for extra credit), get motor oil, duck (as in, get down, not as in waterfowl). I’m becoming fairly adept. I think.

For some reason, I decided it would be a great idea to keep my helmet cam in hand, lens cover off. Too many times now, something amazing has occurred and the stupid helmet cam has been stuffed in the deepest, darkest recesses of my pack and I have only a story to tell and no picture to prove. On one trip, I saw five bald eagles. Do you believe me? That’s what I mean! I need photographic evidence! Today, redemption. As we soared downstream my eye was caught by some motion to the left. An eagle. And he flew alongside the boat for the longest time. I clicked my camera on, and aimed it in the general direction of the great bird. With a helmet cam, or at least my helmet cam, there is no viewfinder, you have to guess at what you’re filming. It has a very wide angle, so I was pretty sure I was filming eagle and not the wake in the water. At last, the bird lit in a tree and we continued our trajectory downstream. Satisfaction. Triumph.

We reached the crowded boat ramp and I deftly leapt to shore, bowline in hand, and, well, just held it, while the truck was retrieved. There were several vehicles waiting to load boats, and several more boats waiting for their vehicles. Surprisingly, it didn’t take all that long for our turn and in very short order, the boat was trailered and we pulled away from the ramp. A couple of different passersby commented on the airboat with the Lycoming engine. Most of the airboats on the water these days have large car motors powering the propeller. This one, an aircraft engine and an aircraft propeller. Seems right.

We headed back towards Fairbanks, stopping at Los Amigos for lunch; tacos and an Alaskan Amber. Wherever the airboat goes, there will be folks to talk about airboats. Airboats have been gaining popularity in Alaska over the past few years and now are numerous. People spend big dollars on big airboats. Many we saw on the Salcha River this weekend were large and had an enclosure to keep the passengers (multiple passengers) and pilot alike, warm and dry.  Big, extravagant, and yet, ordinary. There is nothing quite like an airboat, built from the ground up, with a Lycoming aircraft engine in it, to spark conversation. And so, more conversation ensued at the bar at Los Amigos.

Lunch down, we continued our trek towards home. We stopped at the gas station in Fox for more wine, believe it or not, and, somehow ended up next door at the Howling Dog for another beer with an old friend, my Sweetie’s old friend, a new acquaintance for me. The Howling Dog is another well-known institution in Fox, Alaska, immediately across the street from our usual Silver Gulch. I am glad to have finally had the opportunity for a visit with a limited season and shorter hours than Silver Gulch, it was nice to be nearby at the right time of day during the right time of the year. I am always happy to see scarlet begonias in planters and pots nearly everywhere I go. The Howling Dog being no exception.

But the biggest, brightest and prettiest scarlet begonias of all time are the ones on the porch of my man’s house. The growing season nears a close and I simply cannot take enough pictures of these amazing flowers, knowing that their days are numbered. When the cold comes in another couple of weeks, the pots will be upended, the tubers collected and put in the cellar for planting, again, next spring.

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