I’ve been so glued to my computer in recent weeks but on Friday the 3rd, I decided to go on a lengthy day jaunt to Denali National Park. I mean, how much longer will we live 2 hours (117 miles) away from one of the prettiest parks in the country? I’d scoped out some hiking trails during a previous visit, so informed Ollie/Veeka that we were going to do a “strenuous” walk up the Savage (River) Alpine Trail. Although forest fire smoke made Fairbanks hazy, it was better going south of us, so by 2:30 pm we were poised at the trailhead. Up 1,250 feet we climbed and at one point, Ollie wanted to quit. So of course we had an argument and she huffed her way ahead of me only to see lovely vista after vista unfold. Although the skies alternated between gloomy and sunny, eventually the clouds cleared and we were dancing through high meadows full of arctic ground squirrels that had burrows just like prairie dogs. They
were quite tame. A lot of folks were hiking along with us and near the end, we were climbing through Dall sheep country but sadly none of them were lounging about. The trail is only 2 years old and a National Park crew built the thing with steps and a boardwalk over 4 miles. The panoramas were spectacular with one thing missing: Denali itself was fogged in. But hey, I was glad to see much of the Alaska Range out for our enjoyment. I’ve seen Denali twice, so don’t feel all that deprived. Once we got to a decent height, Ollie clambered about and stopped complaining; a good thing. Near the end there were some really steep drops and terrifying pinnacles, but she hopped about like a goat while I was nearly down on all fours, praying I’d not fall. Then she zoomed down the final slope, which was almost straight down. Just in time we caught a bus that took has back to our car. We were only gone 3 hours. Dinner was at Black Bear Coffeehouse, a vegan place that was very yummy. Sometimes the scenery feels like we’re living in a fairytale land here.
The next day we were in the tiny town of Ester, 7 miles from Fairbanks; a village known for being kind of counter cultural. There was a Fourth of July parade, then a lovely picnic for basically anyone who cared to show up and pay a fee. I took Veeka and one of her friends and it was so pleasant to be there. And yes, I hadn’t seen hippies like that in years!
Then we went swimming in one of the local swimming holes, as it was quite hot here. The Tenana River makes its way through braided terrain south of us which makes for lots of little beaches. The city has set up a stand at one that offers free life jackets for people to use. Can you imagine that in the lower 48? They’d be stolen in a minute. That’s one thing I like about being here; sometimes I feel we’ve gone back 40 years to a far simpler lifestyle where you could leave things out or doors unlocked and nothing would ever get stolen. Will so miss that.
The real high light of this week has been the publication of an article on Alice Rogoff, the new publisher of the Alaska Dispatch that I slaved over from February-May for the Washington Post Sunday magazine. Her husband David Rubenstein is a billionaire and co-founder of the Carlyle Group. I had heard her speak last November and was impressed enough to pitch an idea for a profile to the Post. But I had no idea how difficult writing this piece would be. Alice changed her mind three times as to whether she’d work with me. Fortunately she was in a “yes” mode during the 2 months I did much of the prep for the piece and followed her to Nome for the Iditarod. Then I innocently called her husband just to get a sentence or two – and whoa, did that cause fireworks! When I was told he hit the ceiling, I kept on asking the PR guy at Carlyle: Why? To this day I’m not sure what the problem was. As for her, she was just about to pose for the cover shoot for the article when she heard I’d called him. She cancelled the photo at the last minute and whenever I’d try to interview her friends, she’d ask them not to talk.
I reminded Alice this was a profile and that, as a newspaper publisher, she’s a public figure. If she asks her reporters to investigate people all over Alaska, shouldn’t she get some scrutiny? She didn’t respond to me, but I heard she contacted the Post to complain. All this made the piece quite a challenge to do but I’ve not spent 30+ years in journalism for nothing. You learn to never give up. Fortunately I got through to some helpful people – including Alice’s 92-year-old mother – who filled me in on important details. And my immediate editor at WaPo was incredibly supportive as one challenge after another came up. Nearly every journalist in the state I contacted refused to talk about her on the record. They all claimed that their careers would be finished if she blackballed them. When there’s one major newspaper in Anchorage and she owns it, they have a point. But some of the people I chatted up weren’t in any danger and still they chickened out. Thus, I am grateful to the folks who did allow themselves to be quoted. Then, I was told Alice wasn’t allowing the Dispatch to release photos for my piece and they were the only folks with any pictures of her. Fortunately I got through to one of the editors there who went to bat for me and I’m very pleased with the photos we got. So far, the reaction has been good and the folks at UAF were glad to see it.
Lastly, on Monday there was the coolest ceremony on campus to mark the 100th anniversary of UAF’s founding and the 100th anniversary of the meeting of the Tanana (Native) chiefs with government officials (specifically Judge James Wickersham) on July 5, 1915. It was the beginning of a formal relationship with the Athabascan tribes and the U.S. government. That is, instead of making – then breaking – treaties as had been done throughout the 19th century, the U.S. government actually tried working with the Natives. There is a cool stained-glass window about that meeting in St. Matthew Episcopal Church that I’ll try to post here. The gathering was on a hillside where a Native studies center will be built. Anyway, at one point, Trimble Gilbert, one of the present-day chiefs, was giving an invocation. He mentioned that he is an Episcopal priest and made the sign of the cross and recited the Lord’s Prayer in Gwich’in. Most folks probably think the Natives here are smoking peyote but
those Anglican missionaries more than a century ago did their jobs and the tribes are quite Christianized. After the prayer, a bunch of people got up with their birch wood and moose skin drums and had the coolest hoedown for about five minutes. It was lovely to watch and then we all processed across campus for lunch.
And so these recent weeks have been a long good-bye for us as we slowly tear ourselves from this city and state. There’s so many things I didn’t get to do, ie going anywhere near Valdez or Cordova or hiking in the hills over Anchorage. I have no contacts in Anchorage whom I know well enough to stay with and hotel rooms in the area are very expensive in the summer. And we lack camping equipment, so I guess the mountains around Anchorage will have to wait. After we leave Wednesday afternoon, we’re heading south for a few days on the Kenai Peninsula so we can at least glimpse that pretty part of the state. And yes, hotel rooms are more than $200/night. Until then, I’m giving away stuff to neighbors, sending out copies of my Post piece and becoming immersed in packing boxes and bubble wrap scattered around the apartment.