Monday, July 31, 2023

Never too Old to be Stupid

 It’s been a crazy summer in many ways, but Madelyn and I finally made it out camping. I can’t believe it took until the middle of July for us to get away for some nights on the road in our little camper. While I was getting everything ready I thought how lucky I am that I have time now to get ready properly for a getaway. Back in the days of my youth, I was always throwing things together at the last minute because that was the only time I had. When I pack in a rush at the end of a long work day or early in the morning because I was too tired to do it the night before, something invariably gets left behind, something gets lost, or something nasty happens like poorly lashed boats coming off the top of the car, life jackets flying out the back of the pickup, or we get pulled over because the trailer lights aren’t working. But now I’m retired, and I can spend a whole day getting ready to go on a trip and that’s what I did. 

I changed the oil in the car, checked the tire pressure on the car and trailer tires, and charged the auxiliary battery on the trailer. I rinsed and filled the water tank in the teardrop and made sure that the cook kit was complete, both camp stoves were clean and supplied with fuel. Madelyn cleaned the trailer and inventoried the first aid kit, pillows, blankets, and spare clothes. We were ready. We had a cooler full of food, a tank of gas, and decent weather for driving. By Monday noon we were on the road. 

The first night we found King Mountain State Park with plenty of campsites and enough wind to keep the bugs down. The dogs got a walk and settled into camp mode, which for them involves lying under a tree waiting for a treat. The next day we were cruising in warm sunny weather in light traffic and glad to be away from the hectic traffic of the Kenai Peninsula. We scouted the campground at Paxson Lake —what a lovely spot that is, also very quiet. We were tempted to stay but elected to press on another hour to Tangle Lakes. We were eleven miles down the Denali Highway when I looked in the side rearview mirror and saw the right tire on the teardrop trailer leave us, roll down the hill we were climbing, and disappear into the brush along the roadside. Almost immediately the bare axle end hit the pavement and I hit the brakes. 

I didn’t even have to get out of the car to know what had happened, and worse than that I knew whose fault it was.  

We were only a hundred feet from a scenic pullout with a paved shoulder, so I moved the car and crippled trailer off the road and spent ten minutes looking for my tire in the waist-high willows and dwarf birch. After a brief board meeting which included my mea culpa and hugs all around, a couple in a Ford Pickup stopped to check on us and told us that one of the lodges at Tangle Lakes was open and had a phone. 

It was an interesting challenge to pack everything we needed from the trailer into the car already loaded with two kayaks, two adults, two dogs, and too much gear. We managed. And yes it was a glorious clear hit day. Within an hour we were checked into a tidy cabin at the Tangle Lakes Lodge, had scheduled a tow truck from Glennallen ($$$$$$) to fetch the trailer, and had borrowed a cooler to store our food in since the trailer has a built-in cooler and we never thought we’d need more. 

Dave, Trek, and Tawnie at the Tangle Lake Lodge were great hosts, and we salvaged our trip by staying there for three days hiking, kayaking, and relaxing. Of course, we were hopeful that the stars would align and we’d be able to pick up the trailer on our way home on Friday. No such luck. We were not the only people having trouble on the highway, and the mechanics in Glennallen were backed up for several days on ‘emergency’ repairs. 

It was highly likely that when the bearings went out on the trailer the axle was damaged enough that it has to be replaced which means ordering a part from Anchorage and then the mechanic having time to install it. We left the trailer in Glennallen and drove home trying to remind ourselves that we actually had some fun during our little getaway. And now, we wait for the call telling us it’s time to drive to Glennallen and bring the trailer home. 

You might be asking, How does this happen? and how was it my fault? Well, that’s where stupid comes in. Back at the beginning of the story, I bragged about how thoroughly I was prepping my vehicles for the trip. Well, I was thorough but stupid. I didn’t grease the bearings on the trailer. Heck, I didn’t even inspect them. I’ve had the trailer for three years and it’s over ten years old. How stupid can you be to never in that time to inspect or repack the bearings? At seventy years old I should know better. So, yeah, I guess you're never too old to be stupid. 

Friday, July 21, 2023

Value of Worthless Things

 We went to the Antiques Roadshow the other day when it was being filmed in Anchorage. I told my wife it was the old fart’s version of a Taylor Swift concert. We have watched the show for years, and always are amazed at the cool stuff that has little or no value and bemused by the ugly stuff that is worth a fortune. For those of you who haven’t watched Roadshow people bring their antiques and collectibles and expert appraisers tell them the value and usually some interesting background about the object. Based on my experience, I left all my cool stuff at home and took the ugly porcelain bowl that I’d saved for over fifteen years, waiting for this opportunity. 
Yup, I left home the cool antique chairs and pictures of my ancestors, I didn’t take the handwritten Alaska Gold Rush journal or my first edition books. We toted only things we were curious about including the ugly porcelain bowl. In fact, the only reason I still had the bowl was that I was convinced that somehow this could be the ONE. Why else keep something so odd? It had three stubby legs, a curled and lumpy rim that made it look like a bad Dutch baby pancake, and a brown background with grey flowers. The only way to make it look good would be to fill it with peanut M&Ms or Cracker Jacks. Ever since I found the piece in a box I bought at a storage auction for five bucks I have said, “If I ever go to the Antiques Roadshow, this is what I’m taking. So off we went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center with our carefully packed. . . and repacked, and repacked again treasures: some kachina dolls, two obscure Winslow Homer (maybe) engravings, a set of mixed media southwest art, and the ugly.
As expected, the show involved a series of checkpoints with long lines at each, but people were cheerful and relaxed, and the weather was kind as well. The triage table screened our treasures and told us where to go to get each piece appraised. The Kachinas and Southwest pieces would be appraised at Tribal Arts, and engravings at Paintings, and the bowl was assigned to Porcelain and Pottery. I was eager to find out just how big a check my bowl was going to bring, but we were being systematic and the Paintings tent was first on our route. These Winslow Homer (maybe) pieces turned out to be late 19th-century museum gift shop pieces, not worth much and only one of the reproductions was a Winslow Homer. We learned something about our art and how to learn more then headed off eagerly to the Porcelain tent where I was sure good news awaited. 
    After a short wait, we were ushered to the table where Antiques Roadshow celeb, Nick Dawes, met us with a smile and a greeting in his disarming English accent. He took the ugly bowl eagerly in hand turned it and said, “Well, Inez Wilder — see the name right here— painted this lovely piece of porcelain in 1910. My heart raced! He recognized the artist! I could hear the dollar signs ringing in my ears like a slot machine paying off a jackpot. Nick continued, “This is called painted china, and during this period around 1910 it was a popular pastime for women to get together and paint purchased porcelain bowls like this. What you have is a nice piece of amateur-painted porcelain worth about $25-30 dollars.” 
    Nick Davies grinned and shook our hand with a charming grace that showed no hint that he had just burst my bubble. If one hadn’t listened closely, it could easily appear that he was giving us the best news in the world, “Well aren’t you pleased that you have a rare piece of Inez Wilder ceramic worth $5000.” But it was not to be. Disappointed, but still having a good time, we moved on with the slot machine silenced and took our place in line to have a Kachinas and the mixed media piece given the once over. 
We were about to be ushered to the appraiser’s table when Madelyn realized that she didn’t have the largest Kachina in her bag. I didn’t have it in my bag. It was gone. Suddenly, all the happy, good-time vibes were pushed aside. Where was it? This Kachina was not easy to miss. It was about eighteen inches tall and thick as your wrist. It wasn’t something that could be floating around in a pocket undetected. 
    Then it hit me, the Triage table! where we first checked in. I rushed back across the facility, past the lines of people at the Feedback Booth and the Free Photo Booth, and against the traffic flow back into the building where we started. There was the big Kachina sitting on a table between two people working so hard they hadn’t even noticed it was there. Well, I was glad she turned up because this was our prize of the show, worth several hundred dollars. Not bad for a yard sale find. 
    As we headed home with our valuables and not-so-valuables, I kept thinking about two lessons from this day. 1) We tend to overvalue some things and undervalue others, often for foolish reasons. In reality, the blue batter bowl that I use to mix my sourdough pancake batter was more valuable to me than some odd-shaped painted candy dish even before I knew it was worthless. And 2) We really benefit more from the experiences of life —like going to the Antiques Roadshow— than we do from all the stuff we collect along the way.  With that in mind, if you’re in the hunt for an early twentieth-century hand-painted bowl look me up.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Our Small Boat Summer

 We sold our cabin cruiser this spring after ten years of adventures along the Southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula. It wasn't an easy choice, selling the boat and leaving ourselves stranded on the beach, but it felt right when we put it up for sale last summer and it didn't feel bad --well, maybe a little-- when I watched it leave on
a trailer heading up the Seward Highway destined for Valdez. They say the happiest two days are the day you buy a boat and the day you sell it. This was definitely not true for Madelyn and I. I was anxious and Madelyn unsure when bought the boat from a fellow in Juneau and had it barged to Seward. Funny-not-funny story: When we bought the boat the deal was would go on a barge to Seward, but the seller dilly-dallied and miss the barge departure day. The boat had to go on the next barge, which as luck would have it, was bound for Anchorage, not Seward which meant I had to trailer the boat 125 miles from Anchorage to Seward instead one mile from the freight dock to the boat harbor. Oh well. 

For ten years we had several trips each summer that took us to the Chiswell Islands and Aialik Bay, Day Harbor and Rugged Island, Driftwood Bay, and Holgate Glacier. The Willet was a twenty-seven-foot Albin Famy Cruiser built in 1984. It was a slow comfortable boat and great for overnighting in coves of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula. As time and circumstances changed we had to say goodbye to the Albin and now we're having a summer without moorage fees, insurance payments, or maintenance chores. That's not all bad. And one benefit of the nasty weather we've had so far this summer is that there are few days we miss being out on the water. Out on the cold windy ocean anyway. 

For Madelyn and I, there is a rhythm to life that changes over periods of years, and we immersed ourselves in different experiences and challenges. There were summers when we energetically hiked the trails of the Eastern Peninsula. Once the B&B chores were done we grabbed our knapsacks and headed off into the woods. We had our horse years (well maybe decades), and house-building years all of which consumed us and made us richer in so many ways. 

During the Willet years, we were intently focused on boat care, trip planning, and finding new places to explore. We were rewarded with experiences as diverse as catching a fifty-pound halibut in fifteen feet of water while anchored in a cove and the next day having to go overboard to unwind a tow line from around the propeller shaft. We got to watch bubble-feeding humpbacks with our grandkids and help them catch salmon, lingcod, and their favorite, rockfish. 

But now that focus is lost, perhaps ripped from us with by the storms of life, but regardless of the cause we have moved on to smaller boats. I'm kayaking and canoeing more and sharing those joys with my family. Our teardrop camper is our new yacht and with what's left of summer you will find us paddling some Alaska lake rather than bouncing over the afternoon chop on Resurrection Bay. Yes, the reach of a big boat takes one out to the big water where the whales and big fish wander, but the stealth of the small boat takes one close to a month-old loon chick or across a lake to a new trail over the next mountain. 

The simplicity of a small boat gives rest to the mind and makes room for clever stories and fond memories that rise when all there is on the checklist is lunch, raingear, and bug dope. Sometimes I'm rowing the nibble wherry that Pop Yerden built others I drop into a kayak. There is no lack of choices at hand. Pausing now, I look at the flat water of Bear Lake with the morning sun silhouetting the mew gulls on its sheet metal surface, and I'm drawn to paddle out in my old kayak to scratch lines on its surface, lines that never last. I imagine entering the kayak with that clumsy caution of donning a pair of pants by dancing on one leg at a time. Once in the cockpit, I am paired with the boat, wearing it in fact, so we are a unit of one, crossing flat water to silence nagging demons with the whisper of paddles and the rhythm of muscles. 

In this, our cold and wet small boat summer we'll make ourselves anew one more time for the world is full of charming coves, scenic trails, and picturesque campsites waiting around the next cape or over the next hill. Life is about finding some of those places and being in them for a time.
I'm going there now. The lake is waiting. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Summer landing on the Weekend

"When I looked out at the soggy remnants of yesterday's snowstorm. This first week of May is definitely looking like a "tired winter". No real commitment to snow and cold, temperatures holding in the thirties so wool still feels good against the skin."

This is something I wrote the first week of May and things didn't get any better. May is usually a bright month full of light, advancing greenery, and often sunny warm days, but not this year.  The green buds of the willows were hesitant to open and the snow berms seemed permanent as we tumbled into June still wearing wool sweaters warm pants, and boots.  Anyone with a weather app on their phone kept refreshing it thinking they were looking at last week's forecast. Cloudy with a chance of rain before noon then rain. . . It was like NOAA got one ten-day outlook and never looked up. But June is gone now. Passed into the history books probably with an asterisk for the number of cloudy, wet, windy days. 

First day of July: Sunshine and flat water as I paddle my canoe toward the four swans floating like luxury yachts on the stainless steel surface of Bear Lake.  Except for the swans, gulls, and leaping sockeyes I was alone on the still lake, but that won't last this Saturday before the Fourth, yes Fourth with a capital F. By noon the crowd will be here to play at the lake and give me and critters all the company we can stand because this year it looks like summer did fall on a weekend.  

Get out and enjoy it, whether that means doing work you love, or playing like a kid. Don't waste this summer it may only last until noon.