Friday, September 18, 2015

Alaska, the 2nd half

Alaska was: gentle, kind, rugged, wet, foreign and yet familiar. The smell of pines took hold of my nose the moment we stepped through the airport doors. Mountains ringed us wherever we went. The drive from Anchorage to Soaring Eagle Lodge was stupendous; we snaked between mountain ranges and along rivers the color of turquoise. Cotton clouds clung to distant volcanoes. I could hardly remain calm as I looked at all the unique beauty, waiting to be painted.

The second half of our week mirrored the first in its adventure content. Traveling with Allen is not like traveling alone. I feel safe, for one thing. And I do stuff I might not otherwise. Like ocean fishing. We boarded a 30' aluminum boat as the sun rose. It held 6 of us comfortably, that is - until we slammed through the waves to get out into open waters. Captain Mike was a grouch! It didn't help that I had never fished in my life, much less for halibut. He swore under his breath when I asked for a lifejacket demonstration. (Well, they could have been different than those we use on Lake Michigan!)

Actually fishing, however, was exhilarating. We put 3 pound weights on the line to hold it near the bottom and drifted. The captain twisted octopus around the fish bait in order to keep it on. Reeling one up - holding the pole in one hand and turning the crank with the other - was difficult, to say the least. My noodle-strength arms really let me down. Eventually, Mike showed me how to put the pole in the rod-holder on the side of the boat. Maybe he was not such a bad guy after all. Once  the fish flopped on the deck - so odd looking, like a Picasso painting, with its side also its top, two eyes in asymmetrical balance - I closed mine rather than watch the captain club it. In the end, we all caught our limit. Allen and I flew home with almost 70 lbs of fish! Entertaining is definately in our future.

On our last full day there, we took a National Parks Fjords Cruise out of Seward. I was positive that it would be cancelled because the seas had been too high to go the day before. My heart soared as we boarded. I wanted to see glaciers up close and personal. We claimed half of a table on the port side, top deck, and I immediately set up watercolors. The captain stopped and circled areas where there were whales in a cove and then sea lions lazing in the sun, an eagle perched high atop a grassy rock, otters twirling in the water. Her slowed pace allowed me time to do simple pencil sketches and then watercolor them. I was in heaven.

That evening we returned to the cabin for the last time. We ate and drank well, preparing for a good night's sleep prior to a red-eye. The next morning when I opened the curtains, I could hardly believe what I saw. Mount Iliamna was out in all her glory - one giant white shape against a clear morning sky. Wow! Up until then, the volcano had been mostly hidden in clouds and hardly available to paint. But here she was - real and magnificent! I glanced at the time, looked over my shoulder at Allen, then whipped out my watercolors. I was takin her down! woo hoo! In less than 10 minutes I recorded the basic essence, a powerful presence, revealing herself at last. Ah!

Now I am home and Alaska feels like a long time ago (though less than a week). This trip was unlike any other; it was a true luxury to spend time getting to know the "last frontier" (even just a teeny bit)! And now, I have only two states left to paint. Part of me is thrilled to be almost done. The rest of me will be sorry when "Easel on Down the Road" is over.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Alaska - Part I

I am sitting in a little cottage between Allen, who is reading on the couch, and a roaring fire. We look out upon a green lawn that ends abruptly at a bluff overlooking Cook Inlet, which - at this moment - is a wall of white-grey mist. Yes, September is the rainy season in this part of Alaska! Who knew. If we could see through the fog, the Chigmit Mountains, part of the Aleution Range, would be rising on the distant shore. But, never fear, every night since our arrival, the mountains have materialized right around sunset. Last night they appeared long enough for me to do a small watercolor of them.

For this "Easel on Down the Road" trip, I did not pack my oil painting supplies. I brought many sizes of high quality watercolor paper instead, and spent some real money on a sable brush. Yesterday Allen fished for halibut while I roamed the area, looking for good sites to paint.  The clouds hung low and thick as I left him at the Fishing Charter office at 7 am. But, just north of Homer, the road rises and a pull-over provided a magnificent view of the glacier-covered Kenai Mountains poking through.

On our first full day here, we kayaked around Yukon Island, part of the Alaskan Wildlife Preserve. The harbor in Homer is full with heavily-rigged fishing boats. We cut through Kachemak Bay on a small water taxi with 10 other hopefuls. Once there, Allen folded into the rear of a two-person kayak, I plopped in the bow and we were off! Our guide was a 30-something, soft-spoken man with deep brown eyes, an auburn pony tail and a big hipster beard. He provided a wealth of information, detailing the history and geology of the area and directing our attention to the amazing wildlife: otters, seals, waterfowl, jellyfish, whales spouting in the distance. The rock formations were breathtakingly unique. Our silent slice through time was exhilerating. We hardly noticed the rain!

On this, our 4th day in the state, we are taking it easy, having walked off a big breakfast (this place came stocked with lots of good food) on the beach that is well below us. We embarked halfway between low and high tides, scrambling over wet rocks and dark "sand". Much of the Kenai Peninsula is comprised of coal. (Our kayak guide told us they were lucky it was not a high quality coal, or this place would be ribbons of ruins by now.) The first bald eagle we saw sat high above us on a dead tree. Our presence seemed to make little difference to him. The next, who was just down the shore, changed perches as we passed below him. We saw more as we continued, most of whom were large, immature eagles, fishing in a stream that runs into Cook Inlet.

During the rest of this week I plan to continue finding vistas to watercolor. Upon return I will decide which piece will be the basis for the oil painting of Alaska. Yet to come: my first attempt at ocean fishing and then a day excursion to see the Kenai Fjords and ocean wildlife on the other side of the peninsula. Stay tuned...