Travels with Annie and Elmo

Travel should be a journey where the destination is just another part of the Journey.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Anchorage, on the edge

My new job
The Chugach Mountains from downtown Anchorage
Annie's new job

June 15, 2006

A few mornings ago I was sitting in the car with Elmo in front of the little post office located between the Carr’s gas station and my bike repair shop (that is another story). Carr’s has the cheapest gas in town, $2.75 per gallon if you buy $50.00 or more of groceries (or wine) before each fill up. We only have to make sure that we eat or drink as much as we drive. No problem. We were waiting on Annie to mail a package back to the lower 48. That is one of the things they call ya’ll up here in the far north.

I was gazing to the east at the Chugach Mountains which were still draped with snowy shawls and sashes. What I was looking at is part of the 500,000 acre Chugach State Park, which hooks around the east and south sides of Anchorage and is a little like discovering Yosemite fifteen minutes from down town Los Angeles.

A guy in a rusted black van with an aluminum skiff tied to top rails with faded orange ski rope pulled into the parking space next to me. Elmo growled. “Susssh,” I said. The guy got out and slowly walked into the field in front of his van. He looked to the east, at the Chugach, raised his arms to the place where the sun probably was and dropped his head back onto the rolls of flesh squeezing out the top of his t-shirt which was decorated with a picture of what may have been a dead movie star that had been copied from one originally painted on the nose of a B-29.



In the lower 48, Chugach State Park would be Chugach National Park and people would come from everywhere to climb its peaks, watch its rushing waters, and hike through its lush rain forests. Tourists here, while waiting for the train to Denali or for their zip-off leg hiking pants to come back from the cleaners, look out the window of their room in the Captain Cook Hotel and say, “Oh Alice isn’t that pretty.” That sometimes creates a problem when the guy’s wife is named Jane.

The young and sometimes not so young who live in Anchorage walk out their back doors and ski, hike or ride their bikes into the Chugach, into the wilderness.

I didn’t have to look at the guy’s license plate to know he was from Alaska. In addition to the t-shirt, the guy wore yurt size nylon swim trunks that, in some previous life, may have been blue. It was 56 degrees and clouds hung like feathered boas across the sashes and shawls running around and down the mountains in front of me; and I was wearing a lot of clothes and a fleece vest. I am becoming accustomed to Alaskans’ sense of summer. It is almost like being in Canada and having to convert kilometers and liters and Canadian dollars. Except that in Alaska one must convert the skin’s reaction to air temperature. I have decided that if you add twenty or twenty-five degrees to the current Alaskan temperature, a Texan will know approximately what the temperature feels like to an Alaskan.

Behind me and behind the Post Office and several blocks of stores and houses was Turnagain Arm, a wedge of ocean coming off Cook Inlet at Anchorage and squeezed between The Chugach and the top of the Kenai Peninsula and ending about 90 miles to the south just before it would have bumped into Portage Glacier. In fact, I would guess that Portage Glacier in a previous ice age (that would be pre-W) had something to do with the origin of Turnagain Arm.

The Alaskan in the cute shorts still had his hands raised to the heavens. I thought that he was probably Buddhist or an evangelical, or that he had forgotten to put on deodorant and was airing his pits; or possibly some combination of the foregoing. Isn’t that nice, I thought. What a wonderful view for a spiritual experience.

Behind Turnagain Arm and the top end of the Kenai is Cook Inlet, and on the far side of Cook Inlet are snow covered volcanoes. At David’s (my son’s) house located high up a hillside overlooking Turnagain arm, I get up every morning and look for the volcanoes; Spur, Redoubt, Iliamna, Augustine, Kukak and several others. Spur, closest to us, is 11,100 feet tall, and that is straight up from sea level. Most of the others are almost as tall as Spur. I look from the same spot at the same spot, but the view is new each day. The volcanoes change colors, blue like the Artic night, yellow like molten metal, white like the feathers of the tundra swan. They float in and out of clouds, disappear, move close to the deck where I watch, and drift away toward Russia.

The Alaskan closed his hands into fists, raised his face to the gray swirling clouds and then beat on his chest right on top of the dead movie star. He then screamed some words that I have elected not to print. I might just mention that it was not particularly spiritual. Elmo barked and I slumped down in the seat.

About that time a lady parked her Honda Pilot on the other side of me. She got out and went into the post office. Two little girls in soccer uniforms got out went into the field to kick their ball. The man looked at them, went back to his van, and drove off.

To my left, north of Anchorage; beyond the Army base and the Air Force base; beyond Kinik Arm; beyond 200 miles of mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests is Denali, the mountain and the park. On a clear day, I can see Denali from David’s house.


At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I lived in Anchorage I think I would like to do either of those jobs! But watering the baskets looks really cool. Those baskets were one of our favorite things when we visited. peace


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