Yearly Archives: 2017


YOU CAN VOTE FOR ME AGAIN!

As if it wasn’t hard enough the first time, I am asking you to VOTE FOR ME AGAIN.

Remember the poll that I told you about last week? Your response was terrific—all I could ask for. Except then the poll people decided to lift the one-vote restriction after seven days so that everyone who voted for me in the Just the Right Book poll last week can now VOTE FOR ME AGAIN. (Well, I guess everyone who voted for anyone can vote again, not just those who voted for me. But I’m not interested in them.)

So, if you voted for me anytime between December 1 and December 7, YOU CAN VOTE FOR ME AGAIN, on all of your devices, on Thursday, December 14. From what I can tell by the clock on the tally page of the contest, voting ends on December 14, around 7 pm.

So, if you have a minute and you’re not put off by my groveling,  please click the link below on Thursday and VOTE FOR ME AGAIN.

Thanks. You’re awesome. I promise I won’t ask again.

www.bookpodcast.com/poll

 

 

 

 


Vote For Me!!! 5

You know how much I hate blowing my own horn. My lips get all tingly and my cheeks turn red and my teeth jangle and my head aches like hell. But sometimes I simply have to step up to the bandstand, take a deep breath, pucker up and make some noise. And since ‘tis the season, here goes.

I have an opportunity for my first book, Saving Our Lives: Volume One—Essays to Inspire the Writer in YOU, to be featured on a podcast by Roxanne Coady, the founder and owner of the famous R. J. Julia Bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. Roxanne is a big deal in independent book circles. Her opinions are influential and her reach is long. Her “Just the Right Book” podcast is gaining steam and I want very much to be a part of it.

But there’s a catch.

People have to vote for me.

Aaarrggh. You know what that means. I have to screw my courage to the sticking place, pretend I am confident and get out there and ask for your vote. Now I know why I will never run for office—not that this book poll requires me to canvas neighborhoods, make speeches or work the phones, but standing up and saying, “My book is worth your vote,” even though I believe it, is really hard for me to do. I’ve always felt, even in my teaching life, that the work should speak for itself and that if my work is good enough it will find its way into the world with no help from me.

But that would be the easy way out and we all know that life is not like that.

So, here it comes. If you like what I write, please consider going to the “Just the Right Book” website, clicking Vote Now, scrolling down to Saving Our Lives and voting for me. Then, share the link with your family and friends and recommend that they, too, vote for me. You may vote until Friday, December 15.

Here’s the link:

JTRB’s Independent Author Poll

And, while you’re at it, please consider the Saving Our Lives books when you are doing your holiday shopping. They might be just the thing.

Thanks.

D.


The Week Past Thanksgiving: A Lament 4

‘Tis a week past Thanksgiving and inside my fridge                                                                                  

Is the sadness that happens when we cross that bridge

From feast into famine that invariably follows

A week made for gluttons and too many swallows.

 

Desserts were stupendous, the big bird a prize

And I thought that my stomach would outsize my eyes.

And so with abandon I ate all I saw—

The turkey, the carrots, the rolls and the slaw,

The cranberry jelly that mixed well with stuffing,

Potatoes so light there was no need for fluffing,

The cheeses and olives, mimosas and wine,

And “More, please” and “Yes, please” and “That wing is fine,”

All smothered in gravy and chased with a pie—

‘Til I was so full I was sure I would die.

But then came the leftovers—pick, pick, pick, pick—

And I’m thankful today that I didn’t get sick.

But, though my insides stayed hearty and healthy and hale,

My outside was stunned by the mean, spiteful scale.

And now here I sit, feeling puffy and round

As the scale laughs maniacally, pound after pound.

 

So today in my fridge there is nothing to crow for,

Nothing my sweet tooth or bread butt could go for.

Instead there’s arugula, yogurt, a pear,

Some cherry tomatoes that squirt in my hair

When I stick a fork in them picturing candy

And wishing they came with a snifter of brandy—

Just a small one will do or a thimble of sherry

Or a jug of cheap wine, maybe Pop’s elderberry—

To ward off the sadness that follows the glut

When fridges are empty and zippers won’t shut.

 

 

 


A Thanksgiving To-Do (Or Don’t) List: Ten Things To Do To Insure a Happy Thanksgiving 2

  1. Eat Pie. This comes first on the list for a reason. Pie doesn’t come along every day. If we leave it until the end, we could miss it or fail to appreciate its life-affirming qualities. Pie is life. Live it.
  2. Show up. Your family likes to see your face every once in a while. If you are a student, an athlete, a writer, a teacher, an up-and-comer, a commuter, a musician, a health-care person, a working parent or a chronic worrier, your tendency might be to use Thanksgiving Day as a “day off,” or, worse, a day to catch up on things that have spiraled out of control—like laundry or homework or grading or general sanity. But don’t do it. Not today. Treat Thanksgiving as a “day on.” Get up. Get dressed. Bring your game face and come ready to play. Eat pie. It’s therapeutic.
  3. Watch the Macy’s Parade. Snoopy is not flying over Manhattan for his health.
  4. Boycott Football. It’s dumb and it’s dangerous and it makes grown men cry. Where’s the fun in that?
  5. Nap. There’s nothing like a family snooze after a big meal. It’s what the people on the couch who say they’re watching football really plan to do anyway.
  6. Stay Out of the Stores. The Christmas Shopping Crazy Time will come soon enough. There will be plenty of time and plenty of stuff left to buy after Thanksgiving   If you want to get up at 4 AM on Friday morning, have fun with that. But shopping on Thanksgiving Day only rips families apart and insures that there’ll be an extra private jet under Sam Walton’s Christmas tree. Staying home means that  someday he’ll get the message and let all of his employees have the whole day off to be with their families and to get first dibs on the pie.
  7. Walk. How about a family stroll to clear the head, aid in digestion, fight the urge to shop and make room for more pie?
  8. Eat Real Whipped Cream. Better yet, whip it yourself. Sprinkle it with lemon zest or cinnamon or chocolate shots. What the hell. It’s just once a year. If it’s possible to improve upon the magnificence of pie, this is the way.
  9. Drink Wine. This should be self-explanatory.
  10. Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Utter the Name of Any Politician, Elected Official, Past-Elected Official, Wanna-Be Elected Official, Failed Candidate, Alt-Right Crusader, Cabinet Member, Former Cabinet Member, White House Advisor, Former White House Advisor, Press Secretary, News Network, TV Talking Head or Alleged High Profile Sex Offender At Any Time, In Any Context or In Any Corner of Any Room. You will not win the argument that will ensue, no matter what side you’re on. (And, let’s face it, we’re all on a side these days.) You will only risk getting one of those beautiful pies in your face–and that would be a terrible thing to do to pie.

In summary, be nice. Be thankful. Enjoy your family. Appreciate the bounty. Eat. Exercise. Socialize. Have a little wine. Keep your wallet in your pocket and your big mouth shut. Oh, and don’t forget to save yourself a piece of pie for Friday. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

 

 

 


Maybe If We All Just Sing 2

Times are weird. We are on edge. It’s hard to know what the future holds for things that we have long taken for granted. War hangs over us like a sword. Guns kill babies. Cars crash into crowds. Churches consider the employment of armed guards on Sunday mornings. We are as politically divided as ever. Families argue. Fists flail. Facts fail us. Little pink hats represent not innocence but resistance. Everyone is angry. What can we do?

Well, for one thing, we can sing.

Sure. Whatever.

No. Really. I mean it. We could find a local choir and we could show up and sing in it. Or we could go to a choral concert and sing along—or just sit quietly, listen deeply and let the music massage the tension from our souls.

Late fall is choral concert season around here. Community choirs that reconvened from summer breaks in September have been rehearsing their programs for the last two months and are getting ready to perform. I sang in a concert this past weekend and I know of at least three more choirs readying performances in the next couple of weeks that I hope to attend. I can tell you that both singing and listening focus my energy, calm my fears and rekindle my faith in the goodness of people, their willingness to cooperate with one another and their ability to join together to create something beautiful.

If everyone did it, we’d all be a lot happier.

I sing in a chorale of about sixty members. It is my second year which makes me a newbie compared to a lot of them, some of whom have been devoted singers in this group for decades. Yet, instead of becoming cloistered as long-existing groups can get sometimes, their doors are wide opened to anyone who wants to work toward the common goal—making beautiful music accessible to everyone. And so we do.

In my books, I have written essays about my singing experiences. If you have read them, you know that, even though I have been singing since I was a kid, I am, even still, a complete and total amateur. There are some professionals who sing with us and our director is, of course, a maestro of the highest calling. All of them, incidentally, are much younger than I am. But instead of feeling intimidated by their youth and talent, I find that I am invigorated by it. Every week in rehearsal, I get to listen to them and learn from them and then add my voice, stumbling sometimes, to the magnificence of it all. And I am needed because in choral singing every voice matters. None of us can do it alone. There is no such thing as a choir of one. It is a cooperative effort of composer, conductor, instrumentalists, vocalists and audience and there’s power in the collaboration. Take any part away and the experience is diminished.

It is a timely and much-needed reminder of the good things we can put out into the world when we work together.

Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  In a time in our society where both truth and beauty are at a premium, we need to find them and elevate them wherever we can. Choral music is a fine and accessible place to start. You don’t have to be a virtuoso to sing along. You just have to be willing to find your place in the song.  Attending or participating in live, local performances make us part of an incoming tide that will raise all of our boats—working together to make sure that humanity never forgets the beauty of which it is capable.

So sing. Or support a local choir. Or both.  Instead of adding to the cacophony that frightens and divides us, let’s make beautiful music—together.

*****

If you are a New Englander, here’s a directory of choirs throughout the region that will help you to get started. I hope you take a look and find a group near you to join or support.

http://www.choralarts-newengland.org/Directory

 

*****

 


WHAT HAVE I DONE?? 1

WHAT HAVE I DONE??

See what I did there?

This is a novice attempt at a clickbait title—one with a connotative, emotional punch that may not necessarily reflect its denotative, literal, dictionary-definition self. I hope that when you read this you think, “Oooh! Confession time! Juicy tidbits! Must click!”

Bold faced, upper case and in your face—with some italics thrown in for good measure.

Did it work?

Because, you know what?  I’m just trying to figure out how to get your attention. It’s called marketing. And you know what else? I suck at it.

It’s as if I were held back for the third time in Remedial Marketing 101, cowering in the back of the room where, with any luck, the teacher can’t see me. If only I could figure out a way to let her know that I’m really good at other stuff—just not this.

In my time as an essayist and an independent publisher, I have learned many things about the art and craft and business of it all. Now, I can write a book (as in creating, editing, revising, finalizing text) and I can produce a book (as in formatting, cover production, arrangement of text and creating a final product both in paper and digital formats) and I can win awards for said written and produced books (as in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award for Volume One from the Independent Book Publishers Association), validating the effort.

But that’s not enough. Now I have to sell the damned things, too!

I can only wear so many hats.

There are lots (and lots and lots) of ways to market books when you are an indy. There are organizations and publications and websites and social media posts and webinars and workshops and consultants and conferences and magicians and guardian angels and fairy godmothers galore to help you succeed or, if you’re not careful, to take your money and run.  In fact, the market is swamped with them. It’s a full-time job to sort through rabble and to separate the legitimates from the cheats. Some of them are very good at what they do and are quite reputable. Others are very good at, well, marketing—if you catch my drift. 

You can also tackle it yourself. I’ve done some reading and some conference attending and some networking. I’ve set up a booth at craft shows and farmers markets. I’ve given talks and workshops and I’ve participated in author panels and readings in schools and libraries. I have a media presence through my website, this blog, an author Facebook page and an existing Twitter account. (I must admit that I really don’t get Twitter. Do you?) All of these activities (and more) are recommended by those in-the-know, and some of them have actually been fun. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement, positive feedback and fresh air.

And every time I sell a book, I get that Sally Field “You like me! You really like me!” moment that makes it all worthwhile.

But there are other paths that I need to take if I want my book sales to actually pay the bills—or maybe even just pay for themselves. I need to be more ambitious, more confident, more aggressive. A good product, I’ve learned, isn’t enough unless it’s paired with a good Marketing Plan. In fact, the MP is almost more important than the product. We all know of bad products that make good money when the MP is strong enough. As Mark Twain (the crowned prince of self-promotion) said in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”

So buyer beware, right?

But you don’t need to beware of me because of all this self-promotion stuff runs counter to my nature. More than that, pursuing these paths takes me away from the reason I started all this in the first place—the writing.

It’s a quandary, all right.

We write to be read, and we strive to be the best writers we can be. But the pursuit of readers, who complete the circle and make the writing meaningful, requires a whole other set of skills. I’m working on them, but they don’t come naturally to me.

I’m reading a book about Ernest Hemingway and it has interested me to learn about what a relentless self-promoter he was right from the beginning. If humility was in his genes, it was recessive for sure. This didn’t make him the most appealing guy to be around and lots of people didn’t like him. But it got him noticed and, eventually, published. Is this what I have to do to launch a writing career? Run with bulls? Be flat broke? Move to Paris to rub elbows with all of the “right” people?  Marry four of them? Throw tantrums in the street when people piss me off?  Risk everything? Seems like a lot to ask.

I’d rather just write.

So, for now, that’s what I intend to do. It’s not a great career move, but I’d rather spend my time getting the words on the page while the getting is good. I’m working on the third and final volume of Saving Our Lives and I have a fourth project floating in my head that will take my work in an entirely new direction. Maybe after these projects are put to bed, I’ll improve my marketing skills beyond what they are now.

But I won’t like it.

So WHAT HAVE I DONE??  Nothing terrible, you’ll be relieved (or disappointed) to know. I have written and produced two books that are out there on Amazon and Barnes and Noble waiting for buyers—but mostly for readers. I think they’re really good, even though I feel weird saying it. The holidays are coming. My books would look great poking out of the top of a stocking. Or artfully displayed around your menorah. Or stuffed in your turkey. Or tucked into the bottom of your birdcage. And, while you’re busy reading them, I’m going to see if I can pound out a couple more while the juices are still flowing. I’ll let you know when they’re ready so that you can make some room for them on your bookshelf.

See what I did there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Goatboy Girl 4

Autumn in New England is fair season. There are wonderful country fairs, harvest festivals, apple galas, agricultural celebrations and expositions all over the region full of rides and food and prizes and shows and vendors and fun. They make autumn special and people turn out in droves to walk around, meet their neighbors, vie for blue ribbons, cheat on their diets, check up on their kids and check out what’s for sale.

I live within driving distance of a zillion fairs. I could go to a different fair every weekend from Labor Day until Halloween, if I wanted to. I don’t, but I do have two or three fairs that I never miss. There’s the one with the great church food and another one with wine tasting and the big regional one with more farm animals than anyone could possibly need to see in one place. I like pig races and bunnies and arts and crafts and goats. And, I’ve discovered, soap.

Goats and soap, I’ve also discovered, are a thing.

*****

Vendors are a big attraction at all New England country fairs. There are some who have been in the same spot on the same fairgrounds for years and years and there are others who come and go. The most ambitious of them ride the circuit and cart their “stores” from fair to fair every weekend of the season. As a fair-weather vendor who took my book booth to the summer markets for the first (and possibly the last) time this year, I know how much work it is to schlep tables, tents, decorations and products from patch of grass to patch of grass (or patch of mud), hoping to break through the indifference to make a sale—only to pack it all up and start again, from scratch, at the next place. It isn’t as easy as it looks—or as much fun.

So, when I find fair vendors I like, I try to support them in any way I can. Buying their products is one way. Telling others about them is another.

This is where the goats and the soap come in. Finally, right?

*****

I am in love with Goatboy Soap.

I once received a bar of Goatboy Soap as a gift. I used it and liked it and started buying it from their website. When I use commercial hand soaps or, worse, hand sanitizers of any kind, the skin on my hands rebels in evil and painful ways, a problem which was eased considerably when I started using Goatboy goat milk soap regularly. In fact, I keep a bar in a soap dish next to every sink in my house and, when I travel, I cut a bar into small pieces and carry some with me so that I never have to worry about an epidermal mutiny when I am on the road.

Now, the Goat Boy enterprise has taken to the road and is riding the fair circuit—no small feat because not only to they bring their booth and their soaps, but they also bring their goats! I was thrilled to see the critters in person (in goat?) that have done so much for my hands. They are cuties with the most beautiful coats, washed with—well, what do you think?

But I was also thrilled to meet Lisa, the Goatboy Lady herself, a mom whose goat journey started because her son has severe allergies. It was fun smelling the soaps and picking them out by hand instead of on the website. As I filled my bag with deliciously scented five-ounce bars, I chatted with Lisa about how much her soaps have helped me and how I can’t leave home without them. That’s when she reached beneath her table and pulled out a bag full of what she calls “Scrapples,” an assortment of thin end cuts that she bags up and sells as they are. It’s all the same soap, just not as pretty.

“Here,” she said. “I want you to have these. Then you won’t have to cut up your good bars when you travel.”

Her gift came from the heart. She appreciated my story—and my business. And I appreciate her product—and her kindness.

So, while I rarely use my blog to advertise, I will do it this one time. Go to the Goatboy website at www.Goatboy.us . Buy some fabulous soap from some very nice people.

And, should our paths cross at a market or fair, I’ll be be one with the scent of Goatboy soap wafting out from inside my purse!


What Season Is It, Anyway? 1

I am not a fan of Halloween. It’s a good thing, too, because it doesn’t feel much like Halloween around here this year. Usually by the end of October, I’ve at least reacquainted myself with my woolies, my sweaters, my outerwear. Usually by now I’ve at least packed away the lightest of the summer things—the sleeveless tops, the shorts and capris, the strappy sandals. Usually by a solid month past the equinox, I’ve said goodbye to the annuals in my flower boxes and have almost seen the end of chrysanthemum season.

Not this year. We’ve had a couple of chilly nights, but there hasn’t been a good, season-defining frost yet. The days have been sunny and warm. It should be time for a jacket but that is an unnecessary accessory most days, unless you like to get your arm all sweaty carrying it. I’ve noticed that walkers in my neighborhood seem to put more stock in the calendar than in their own eyes and are loath to leave home without their sweatshirts. Most of them don’t get too far before they either tie them around their waists like kilts or stash them in someone’s bushes to be retrieved on the way back.

I dug up the impatiens in my window box the other day because I finally just got sick of watering them. I still have cherry tomatoes on the vine in the little garden out back. Ridiculous. I’ve gone years without a good tomato crop and now, when I should be out harvesting pumpkins, I’ve still got herbs and veggies in the garden. My friend’s clueless rhododendron has started to bloom. The big trees should be at their peak color, but they are barely getting started and though we have turned off the air conditioner, we have slept more than once this month with the windows opened and the fan going. And I spent last weekend reading on my porch swing, wearing t-shirts, capris and flip-flops, sipping on icy-cold lemonade.

This is New England, people! It’s time for cocoa and turtlenecks and reading by the fire! Maybe this is how you do things in the South Carolina low country this time of year, but this is NOT how it’s supposed to be when it’s Halloween in New England.

To be honest, I might be a little sensitive to seasonal anomalies this year. We were lucky enough to be able to travel more than usual over the past few months and our adventures took us to places that turned our environmental expectations inside out and upside down. We were in Roatán, Honduras, in January, soaking up the tropical sun, and in Alaska in August, freezing our butts off.  Add in a spring jaunt to summery Charleston and you might imagine that I have lost all sense of what is when where. I never put the off-season clothes away this year because I always seemed to need them. As a result, it was never completely clear to me what the off-season was and whether or not I was in it.

Bathing suits in winter and parkas in the summer were fun for a while, don’t get me wrong. I’m not for a minute complaining. But now that we are home and settled and ready to hunker down in the autumn chill, I really need to have things feel more like home—where I have lived for a million years and thought I knew what to expect.

So, Happy Halloween, even though it feels more like Labor Day without the extra daylight. And my neighbors have been shooting off fireworks as if it were the 4th of July, so it seems that I am not the only one who is confused here.

One thing that is clear to me is this—the times, they are a changing. Regardless of what you believe to be the cause of it, the evidence is unmistakable. Maybe the environmental ghosts and goblins are trying to get our attention.

Boo!

 


Item Number One 6

I’m having one of those days.

There are a zillion writing ideas bouncing around in my head and at least ten other things that I should be doing. Even as I type these words, all I can think about are all of those other ideas, all of those other activities, all of those other errands that have found their way onto my plate. They are all things that I like, things that I have promised that I’ll do, things that are good for my health, things that I’m good at. But I can’t seem to get down to any of them today, because the one thing that I am not good at is managing my own time.

I have the house to myself and a car in the driveway. I can do anything or go anywhere I want. It’s a warm, clear autumn day. The only thing standing in my way of accomplishing anything is—well, me.

The Fitbit on my wrist just buzzed telling me that I owe it forty-eight steps to make the quota for this hour. So close. Be right back.

Done. One accomplishment anyway, though not much of one. The three-mile walk that I try to fit in most days is nagging at me, but if I give it the hour that it requires, plus the half-hour to shower and change afterwards, then I won’t get to the reading that I want to do for next week’s book club. But if I do the reading, then I’ll feel bad that I spent the afternoon sitting on my ass instead of getting some much-needed exercise. I have some errands to run, but in the time it would take me to dress appropriately, go out and get back, I could have studied my choir music, practiced my ukulele and started dinner. I have lots of writing to do but if I start a new essay on one topic, that means that I’d have to ignore the twenty other topics fighting for my attention. And, even if I settle on a topic and start that new essay, that means that I’m not writing for my blog, writing for my Facebook page, writing a grant application, working on a marketing strategy or getting started on my Christmas cards.

You see? Doing any one of these things precludes doing all the other things which, on days like today, drives me into a state of inertia where NOTHING gets done. Frittering happens. Facebook, email and online shopping happen. Fitbit spurts happen. Non-consequential housework happens. Aimlessness happens. Wine happens. And then it’s time for bed.

On days like this, focusing on any one thing is the same to me as neglecting all other things—which makes it impossible to concentrate on the thing that I am doing. So, like a mother who has more children than she could possibly take care of, I wind up abandoning everything. I waste time even though I am of an age where there is no such thing as time to waste.

Then I feel terrible—harebrained, distracted, inadequate, incapable of getting the job done.

And then I make a list. I force myself to do the first thing on the list regardless of what it is or whatever else follows it. And when it is done, I cross it off with a flourish and go on to the next thing.

And I feel a little better.

I may have to feel rock-bottom useless before I resort to this. But it is my big gun and it almost always works—like today.

Now, on to item Number Two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Off the Grid

We have been away. Now that we are retired and school is out in the summer and the winter, we like to go south during the cooler months in search of warmth. But this year we decided to take a different tack. It seemed only logical that if our winter travels took us south, then our summer travels should take us north. So, north we went. Way north. Farther north than I have ever been.

North, as the song says, to Alaska!

And while I have lots of stories to tell about trains and ships and buses and bears and mountains and totems, I have to say that the sum total of our experiences gave me a lot of things to think about. Serious things. Life-altering things. As a way of processing these experiences and deciding how to write about them, I made a list of some of the overarching concepts, the surface of which our trip merely scratched, that have stayed with me and demand, even now, that I explore them in a more thoughtful and earnest way.

Here, then, are some of the big, albeit still jumbly, ideas with which Alaska sent me home.

  • Indigenous people–What remains of the Tligits, the Haida, the Kwakiutl and the many other tribes of the Pacific Northwest? We met some of them, but they no longer live in traditional ways. Instead they attempt to preserve their traditions and their language as history rather than as a lifestyle. We visited their clan houses and their totems. In museums we saw their ceremonial masks and robes and their intricate beadwork. These things are beautiful and meaningful. But what has become of their way of life? How do they live when tourist season ends? What has become of the the culture of people who were once so in-tune with the land on which they live? What do they have to teach us about living with instead of just on this planet that we seem to be destroying? Are their lives as respected by the dominant culture in real life as their traditions and artifacts are in museums? How goes it for them these days?
  • Global warming—Evidence abounds. We cannot control the intrigues of nature. But we can sure muck up the works. We saw glaciers that are receding and heard stories of herds of caribou that keep moving north in search of temperatures that are cold enough for them. Scientists tell of an 8° rise in average temperature in just the last several years. It’s hard to tell a lot about environmental changes from a city street. But the wilderness doesn’t lie. Do we know where to look? Should we believe what we hear or should we trust our own eyes?
  • History—The development of Alaska is one story after another of get-rich-quick schemes and people who underestimate the harshness of the environment. It is a demonstration of human nature, Darwinism, perseverance, egotism, greed, grit and stubbornness. Nowhere is this more apparent than in gold-rush country. Skagway’s White Pass Railroad and Chilkoot Pass to the Klondike are teeming with stories of prospectors, most of whom did not get rich. And giant swaths of undeveloped land, a lot of it preserved as national parks, say everything about how Alaska fends for itself. History is the study of humans in place and time. Alaska’s human history is sparse but revealing. I would love to know more.
  • The Call of the Wilderness—Why do people live here? It’s forty degrees in August and forty below in February. The twenty daily hours of delicious summer daylight give way to a bleak twenty-two hours of daily winter darkness. How can human bodies adjust to such enormous seasonal changes? One transplant we talked to said that it’s a test to see how long you can survive here before Alaska gets in your head and does you in. The tourist season, which attracts lots of workers from the lower forty-eight who want to try Alaska on for size, is short. Many of the “summer people” head home for the winter, unwilling to face the relentless dark and cold of the off-season. The Princess Lodges operate from mid-May to mid-September. The cruise season ends then, too. The Denali National Park rangers told us that they expect their first snowfall before the end of September. So most of us who visit Alaska will never see her at her harshest. It takes a certain kind of person to make life in Alaska work. Not to mention the many people who choose to live off the grid—no electricity, no running water, forty below on a good day in January. Why do they do it? What’s the attraction? How do they know they have what it takes? How do they make the seasonal adjustments necessary? Could I do it? Even for one winter? Even in a house with 3-zone heating and indoor plumbing?
  • The Princess Operation—Princess, known predominantly as a cruise line company, has made its mark in Alaska. The operation is extensive—both on sea and on land. It is a major employer and has done a lot to give the non-adventurous a glimpse of the wilderness. How much has Alaska gained by the tourist industry and companies like Princess? How much has it lost?
  • The Beauty of Inaccessibility—Do we have to go everywhere and see everything? Can we just leave places to the animals and the plants to live as they do? Most of Alaska in inaccessible in traditional ways. The state has twelve highways, only six of them paved. One in every 63 Alaskans has a pilot’s license, which doesn’t account for all the pilots who are too far off the beaten path to bother with a license. Even Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, is inaccessible by car. You can only get there from here by boat or by plane. There is but one road in Denali Park—a place larger than the state of Massachusetts. It is ninety-one miles long, but you can only drive to mile twelve on your own. We traveled in a park vehicle (i.e. a green school bus), with a guide, to mile sixty-three and back. The road is windy and steep and the trip took eight hours. We encountered only other park vehicles on our trek and saw only a fraction of the park. What we saw was extraordinary—and enough. Leave the rest to the indigenous flora and fauna—and a seasoned hiker or two.  Adventurers are attracted to remote places. But forging paths to them make them less remote which spoils what attracted us to them in the first place. There are not that many wild places left. Alaska is a treasure trove of wilderness and we should let it be. Ironically, we need to see it for ourselves to know this.

Well, that’s enough deep thinking for one blog post. I’m pretty good at generating questions. That’s the teacher in me. But it’s not so easy finding the answers. That’s up to the learner that still burns in me and I hope in all of us throughout our lives.

As I see them in writing, I realize that the questions that Alaska poses to me are not just Alaska questions. They are life questions dressed up to look like Alaska. And they still need a lot of whittling down to be manageable for thinking and writing. That’s all part of the discovery process. We can only answer life’s big questions if we work to find the small ones.

So, this is what happens when I go away.

It’s nice to be back.