Thursday, June 06, 2002

Ring of Fire

Every evening when I crest the ridge going home, I see the conical shape of Mt. Redoubt. From this angle it reminds me of Mt. Rainier, which loomed over the topography of my childhood in Puget Sound. I've spent my life on the Ring of Fire. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are a fact of life.

Shortly before we moved to Homer, the area was dusted with volcanic ash during an eruption of Mt. Augustine. Several years later, we awoke one morning to find a quarter-inch of gray ash covering the February snow, courtesy of Mt. Redoubt. The folks who lived on Diamond Ridge got a spectacular show.

Another couple of years passed, and in the mid-1990s I stepped outside one evening to listen to the sound of distant thunder. I scanned the horizon but the sky was clear of dark cumulus. I listened more closely to the muted roar, then went inside and called Kat and Larry.

“Hey, is Anchor Point under attack? I keep hearing these booming noises.”

“They said something on the radio about Mt. Spurr erupting....”

“Oh, wow...”

I drove over to their place, noticing along the way a long streamer cloud extending off to the northwest. Some type of particles were falling from it, back-lit by the sun. From Kat & Lar's roof, we watched the volcanic cloud move down the Inlet.

These eruptions impress the residents of our area, but I'm sure the folks out on the Aleutians would be nonplussed. They live in one of the most active volcanic zones in the world and we get frequent flight advisories for volcanic ash out that way.

The graceful conical shapes that dominate our landscape remind us that we live along the Ring of Fire. The earth is in motion and the tranquility of those snow-capped peaks is an illusion.

Monday, June 03, 2002


"When we come to the place where the road and the sky collide
Throw me over the edge and let my spirit glide…"

--The Road and the Sky
Jackson Browne

Living in Homer, we are fortunate by Alaskan standards. We have a road.

I can actually get in my little truck and go some place else.

Well, we could do that in Nome, too. Nome was a unique Bush community in that roads of substantial length trickled out from town in three different directions. But going on a road trip in Nome would leave you cast up in such exotic locales as Teller or Kougarok or Council. Those roads existed primarily so people in those settlements could get to Nome, not so the folks of Nome could get to out. We used to laugh about a road that looped across the north end of town, from west to east—the Nome By Pass. As if someone would drive the rough, difficult fifty miles of road from Teller to Nome and decide that they needed to go around Nome and continue on to, say, Safety or Council.

A major facet of Homer’s existence is due to the fact that the road ends here. I owe my job to that fact.

We are a minor transportation hub. Mail, groceries and people come to Homer from the world at large. Here they are put into airplanes or on boats and taken to their destinations. All day long, I sit at the airport and talk to the air taxi planes as they taxi out and depart for Seldovia, Port Graham, or English Bay in an unending cycle. The narrow gravel airstrips that serve those communities are their link to the outside world and all that keeps them in the 21st Century.

At Homer--we have a road.

The fancy struck me after I got off work this afternoon to drive to Soldotna--seventy miles up the highway toward Anchorage. I stopped by the house to check on the cats and picked up some tapes to listen to and a notebook to jot ideas down. Then I pulled out onto the two-lane Sterling Highway and headed north.

Some wag said we have two seasons in Alaska: Winter and Construction. Gravel trucks and logging trucks and recreational vehicles trickled past me heading south. The northbound traffic seemed to be mostly pick-up trucks. The road is in good condition after major resurfacing in the past decade. I made good time.

The route follows the coastline of the Kenai Peninsula past old homesteads and cabins sinking into the moist earth. The route was chosen by the pioneers for utility, not beauty, but there are occasional views out across the width of Cook Inlet to the west side, where the Alaska Range turns south and becomes the Aleutian Range.

These mountains are the northernmost extension of the coastal mountain ranges that run north and south up the west coast of North America--rugged mountains pushed upward by plate techtonics and dotted with active volcanoes. Looking west toward the Alaska Peninsula, I could see four volcanic peaks, deceptively serene under their snowcaps: Mt. Spurr, Mt. Redoubt, Mt. Iliamna, and far to the south, the volcanic island of Augustine.

Where the view to the west was obscured, the natural world shimmered with the energy of our condensed spring. Birch and aspen just putting out their first leaves, the wild rye along the road sending shoots skyward, and even the occasional early-blooming lupine. The energy of the emerging lifeforce was palpable, almost intoxicating.

Two hours after leaving work, I was standing in the Fred Meyer store in Soldotna, surrounded by an embarrassing abundance of American material wealth. Even in what most Americans would doubtless consider “the sticks”, I can buy the latest computer games or a DVD player, get produce from around the world or even pick up some fast food.

All because of that two-lane strip of pavement that snakes along the edge of Cook Inlet and connects my little town to the world.

Sunday, June 02, 2002


God, I love this cat.

I suppose, like any love, it is hard to justify rationally. Most people see a fat orange cat of moderate feline beauty. But she is inhabited by such an active intelligence and out-going personality, she lights up my life.

There was a time, after Kisa died, that I thought no other cat could be such a close companion as she was. It is still hard for me to write about Kisa, even fourteen years after her death, because it reminds me of how much I miss her and how special our love was.

In the years following Kisa's death--beginning a scant week later--other cats trickled into my life as I sought solace from missing her. No living thing can take the place of another. All it can do is provide a distraction while it finds its own place in your heart. So Johnny and Newt and Toby and the others found their way to us. I loved them and cared for them but none shared the special closeness of spirit that I had with Kisa. Until that day in October 1994 when a orange scrap of a kitten ended up at the Animal Shelter.

Punkin could not be more different from Kisa. Where Kisa was shy and inobtrusive, Punkin craves to be the center of attention. She has never met a stranger. Kisa was quiet and subtle. Punkin is not. Yet she touches the part of me that had been barren and still after Kisa died. She has become another darling companion.

As I write this, she is in the cat tree a foot-and-a-half from my shoulder, watching me with her bright, leaf-green eyes. When I turn my head to look at her, she searches my face and then meows softly. Her face literally lights up when I call her name.

Consider this: humans consider themselves the pinnacle of evolution, forgetful that we share the earth with a startling variety of organisms who have been evolving every bit as long as we have. We spend billions searching the universe for life on other planets, yet often treat the life right here on earth with callous disregard. Scientists are quick to discount any claim for higher intelligence among our cousin-species, as if to acknowledge that we share this planet with other intelligences threatens us in some way.

I think all it threatens are our paradigms.

I suppose if we grant them intelligence, we must also acknowledge their emotions. Perhaps go so far as to invest them with souls. *That* would certain raise serious moral quandaries. Shit, we can't even *prove* that human beings have souls--it seems the most crass arrogance that we are so quick to deny them to other beings.

Seems to me anything capable of love must have a soul.

I know Punkin has a soul--we touch, soul-to-soul, across the gulf of language and intention, every time we make eye contact.

Saturday, June 01, 2002


sunrise: 5:01 am
sunset: 11:04 pm

As I crested the top of the bluff driving home from work last night, the view across the Inlet and to the north was veiled by a faint haze of smoke. The sun, still an hour or two from sunset, had dropped behind a band of stratus clouds, lending the land and sky subtle hues. The normally sharp contours of Mt. Redoubt, always spectacular when I turn the final bend on the highway, were softened and indistinct. The mountain cast an azure silhouette against the pale peach sky sixty miles away.

In more civilized areas, unrestricted visibility is considered, for aviation purposes, ten miles. That figure is meaningless in the clear air of the north. My daily commute to work (all ten-to-fifteen minutes of it) takes me along the bluff that defines the southwestern edge of the Kenai Peninsula. I can look out across lower Cook Inlet to the perfect snow-capped cindercone of Augustine Volcano, sixty miles to the southwest, with the jagged peaks of Cape Douglas rising up eighty miles to the south.

Years ago, when I worked in Fairbanks, we got a telephone call one clear autumn day from a Flight Service Station in Virginia. The specialist on the other end of the line thought there had been a typo in the last weather report we had transmitted. "In the Fairbanks sequence--your visibility is twelve miles, right?"

"Uh--no, actually, it's one hundred-twenty miles."

"A hundred and twenty miles?"


"What can you see that's a hundred and twenty miles away?"

"Well, there's this great big mountain to the southwest of us--twenty-thousand feet tall. We call it Denali but you probably know it as Mt. McKinley..."


"It takes 43 muscles to frown and 17 to smile, but it doesn't take any to just sit there with a dumb look on your face." --June motto on Demotivators 2002 calendar by