Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mosquitoes the size of mangos

So we left the fjords and Anchorage behind and headed to Denali National Park. Five hours by bus to meet their bus for the long drive through the park. But when you see moose and caribou around every corner, and golden eagles flying overhead, the ride feels pretty special! We stopped for a picnic, my first indication that staying at Camp Denali meant AMAZING food! There was cake and fruit waiting for us when we arrived, and then we were escorted to Little Maude, our cabin in the woods. Idyllic really, except for the hordes of mosquitoes. I could go on and on about these mosquitoes--how huge they were, how plentiful, how nasty--but I'll spare you the whining. They did put a real dent in our experience. I was up at night swatting and spraying and smudging the room, and still woke with welts on my arms and face. If I dared go outside without my net over my face, my DEET everywhere, and my body covered up, I got eaten alive. Ok. There's the whining.

The first day we opted to skip the hike (read aforementioned description of the mosquitoes) and took a private plane around Mt. Denali instead. That was pretty cool! The afternoon was spent watching Annabelle and her new buddy frolic in the little pond while we lounged, read, and eventually cracked open a bottle of chardonnay. That was the first day in a very long time that I did not work at all. I just relaxed. No internet, no phone, and I just loved every minute. At 6 there was a little reception with yummy cheeses and then a delicious dinner. We met such great people and just enjoyed talking to everyone.

The next morning we signed on for the foray (read: easiest hike). And it is a happy blur of wildflowers and ground squirrels, and Annabelle working on her Junior Ranger activity book in time to get sworn in before we returned to camp. That's when we found out that the group ten minutes behind us encountered a grizzly bear during lunch!!!!

I will long remember the kale salad from that night's dinner, and the ribs and rice that followed, and then the rhubarb crisp. Sigh. The food.

It was a long way out the next day, but we were rewarded with several grizzly bear sightings (nice when you're on a bus!) and then once on the train a moose with two calves! It doesn't get better than that. And here's a big shout out to the Alaska Railroad and their Gold Star Service. We drank Alaskan beer and ate yummy food and Annabelle played tag with all the staff. A real delight that ride was.

And as these things go, before I knew it I was on a plane home...

Happy to be back, to eat Gogo's spaghetti and meatballs last night and then flop into bed with Annabelle reading (her: Betsy Tacy; me: the new Curtis Sittenfeld)

Hit the ground running today and am already in NYC to be on a panel at the Center for Fiction tonight.

But home tomorrow, where we are waiting for my niece Melissa to have her baby! I want her to hold off until I get back from Ithaca on Sunday, but not sure she can.

So I will be watching Sam let the sun shine in during Hair. If you are in or near that part of NY, go see it. It's free!!!!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

There's no place like Homer

First, the Kachemak BayWriters Conference. Writers out there: GO! Next June.

The scenery: like a postcard. Mountains. Ocean.

The wildlife: bald eagles--babies and big guys with salmon in their talons. Puffins. Otters. One stunning sandpiper crane. More birds than I can name.

Flying in a Cessna over surreal blue glaciers and craggy mountains.

Eating: salmon. halibut. rockfish. oysters. repeat.

Local beer. Local wine. Local coffee.

My room with that view.

The writers I met! New friends!

Inspiration around every corner.

I hated to leave this place.

But I am now in Anchorage and loving a whole new kind of experience.

Today the zoo, full of rescued native animals, plus one tiger and the grave of an elephant won in a contest years ago.

Moose Tooth pizza and local beer.

Off to a salmon and steak barbecue now with new friends.

Ah! Alaska!

Friday, June 14, 2013

I wear my sunglasses at night

Happily in Homer at the Land's End Resort, which reminds me of every slightly ramshackled, totally fabulous beach hotel I've ever stayed in. Love it! I am reminded of a little place in Capitola, CA where I used to go with my old beau, and where I spent many happy days and nights. Even though I was exhausted when we landed here, that bright sunshine and my growling tummy kept me motivated to keep going. First stop Safeway (thank you, Nancy!) for supplies (read: half and half, water, and wine). Then on to dinner at the Sourdough Cafe. Grilled halibut sandwiches and local beer. Pretty heavenly. Sunglasses still on and now closing in at 10PM, we arrived on Homer spit at this perfect place. The rooms are small and designed to look lie they are on a boat, including a Murphy bed that I'll drop down when Annabelle arrives tomorrow. I begged for a small fridge (thank you person who found me one!) and chilled aforementioned supplies. Unpacked, sort of, then stood on my balcony--still with my sunglasses on at 11PM!--and stared out at the jaw dropping view: rocky beach complete with driftwood, salt water, snow capped mountains. Did someone from Hollywood set up a stage set here? It's that perfect! I fell asleep to my favorite sound of waves lapping up on shore, and woke to that and seabirds calling. I made a pot of coffee and drank it on the balcony as the fog began to dissipate. Free today until 5, so not sure what the day will hold. Near future: a walk on the beach. Breakfast. And working on a very special up close bear tour for later in the week. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Waiting in Anchorage

A long travel day but quite an enjoyable one! I was lucky enough to get upgraded to First Class and so the six hours to Seattle and then three more from there to Anchorage went by in a nice blur of dozing and knitting (that Mara shawl!) and reading the Fiction issue of The New Yorker. I was pretty wowed by the short story in it by Ed Parks called "Slide to Open" and the Personal History essay by Gary Sheyngart (totally misspelled that but hey! I've been awake since 3:30 this morning!)

I'm about to plug in my earphones and listen to the end of The Wasp Season by Denise Mina. The reader's Scottish accent has me so charmed, and Mina's writing is so good that this has become one of my great pleasures. I'm bummed that there's only one book left in the Alex Morrow series. But maybe she is working on another one (I hope!)

A cup of Pike's Place coffee and huge windows looking out on craggy snow capped mountains. Big happy sigh.

My flight to Homer leaves at 6:30. Everyone who hears that's where I'm heading gets all dreamy and gushes about how beautiful that little town is. Cannot wait to get there, though I admit my bed has the most appeal short term...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Westward, ho!

I am staring at a BIG empty suitcase that needs to be filled. With what Cousin Gina and I call our ugly clothes. Translation: hiking boots, those weird pants that are long but zip off and become (ugly) shorts, thick socks (not cute even in hot pink), floppy hat, rain gear, etc etc etc. Yes, folks, I'm going to Alaska. Which probably has most of you already laughing. I can walk a million miles on a beach or down city streets. But woods? Not so much. You will remember my (mis) adventures in Uganda. The gorilla punching me in the jungle. Me crying when I had to cross the rickety bridge across troubled waters (read: hippo infested). The hike into a crater to view chimps. Yes, yes, yes, all of it AMAZING. All of it worthwhile. But this girl is happier on a sailboat or a subway car.

Still. When you get invited to teach in GORGEOUS Homer, Alaska on Kechemak Bay, you say YES!  The town looks so beautiful. A spit of land sticking out into the ocean. Sea lions and otters. Very cool, and I am psyched. The question is why I decided to go deep into Danali National Park, stay in a cabin with an outhouse, and hike for three days? There are bears in those woods. And moose. And wolverines. I know it will be fun! I know it will be memorable! I know I will cry. Frequently. Still, Annabelle and Cousin Gina and I are heading west on Thursday. I will get my fill of salty air in Homer. Then I will don my ugly clothes and hike. No internet there, so if I come out alive I will post pictures on FB then. For now, I will pack up. And since Homer is first on the trip, many beautiful ocean-y type pictures to come. And as Cousin Gina reminded me, we slid down Incan ruins on our butts (fear of heights) in Peru. I was hidden in a tree in the Ugandan jungle to protect me from my hairy lover the gorilla. We are about to have another adventure! And despite my bellyaching, I am excited!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Let the Sun Shine In!

Seems every time I sit down to post here, it's raining! And readers of this blog know that's aok with me, but even more so because the rain will hopefully stop this heat wave. I mean, really? 95 degrees in May? I was lucky to escape the heat on Friday by going on a friend's boat. Cold wine. Cool breezes. Happy me!

But that happy jaunt made me miss our old boat and all the summers spent on it sailing around Newport Harbor, and off to Block Island, and floating to the sounds of the Newport Folk Festival. Big sigh. It's been eleven years since we sold it, and there are many times every summer when I miss those long ago days. Driving back from Ithaca last night with Gogo and she was commenting on the changes in our lives. Every Friday night for decades she and her friends met and played poker, staying up smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee until the wee hours of Saturday morning. (I wrote about "The Girls" for Parade Magazine in March: "Those days are gone," she said last night. She sounded bittersweet rather than sad. I guess at 81 you get used to these huge changes that make the landscape of your days so different. But still, we long for them, don't we? One more Friday night, one more sail around the harbor...

Of course my memories of those days sailing are populated with memories of Grace, a surefooted sailor by the time she could walk. We sold the boat the year she died, and even now when I set foot on a boat her smile floats across my mind, her intelligent blue eyes peer out at me from behind her wire rimmed glasses, and I can almost smell her full of salty air, heavy on my lap in her life jacket, almost hear her giggling as she follows Sam below deck to play.

A great weekend in Ithaca though. I got to see the cast of Hair sing at Stewart Park before heading home, and their voices were amazing! If you are anywhere near Ithaca the weekend of June 28, go see them. It's free!

On the way home we got caught in a downpour on Route 88. The sun peeked out to the west, and just as I said, "This is rainbow weather," we turned the corner and were met by the biggest brightest rainbow I've ever seen! So bright I had to pull over and take a picture of it. I pulled back into traffic and Annabelle shouted, "A double!" Sure enough, a second rainbow appeared right beside the first! More pictures. And then Gogo said, "Look at THAT!" The clouds had lifted and revealed Rainbow Number 1's full arc, stretching across us and the trees, every color visible. Wow! Let the sun shine in, indeed!