and when you turn off the paved road

I once received directions to a school in southern Ohio that read: Take the interstate to the state route, turn onto the county road, when you get into town turn right at the stop sign. No matter what the street name, there’s only one stop sign. The last sentence began, and when you turn off the paved road . . . I actually thought myself rather adventurous taking off for that school years ago.

Today we followed similar directions to Lisa and Rick Sinnott’s cabin above Ekluka Lake, northeast of Anchorage. Rick and Lisa are friends from a previous visit – Lisa is a librarian at Wendell Middle School and Rick is the moose man of Anchorage, a biologist and wildlife specialist. They have a regular house in Anchorage with running water and a necessary room – not so in their cabin in the woods where the necessary room is 30 paces from the cabin.

After 5 straight days of rain, the sun has reintroduced itself to the sky. When we arrive at Ekluka Lake, steam is rising off of the glacier lake into the cool morning. Just as the phrase “lone wolf” is a misnomer since they actually are pack animals, the term “clear glacier lake” is also untrue. A glacier lake is in fact cloudy with silt and not full of fish like the soft drink commercials would have you believe, the water is too dark for them. So there. A quick look and then on to the cabin.

We drive part way up to the Sinnott’s cabin (way off the paved road) to where Lisa has placed a wagon across the road warning us of an impassable trail, so we park the rental car (Avis would be so happy) and trek the rest of the way around and through deep mud ruts. EVERYTHING in Alaska is vast, even its road ruts which could easily swallow feet, shoes, tires and probably small children under the age of 12. Rick is off hunting wild sheep and Lisa and Megan are at the cabin to greet us. We have some lunch, tour the one room cabin and the site of their home to be. The cabin itself is modeled after a potting shed, very Thoreauvian, all built as Lisa says, “the hard way,” by hand, even the beds and cabinets. The closet is railroad ties pounded into the wall and in the corner a small cookstove. An ideal retreat complete with stacked wood and bear stories.

Meg, Michael, Lisa and I proceed to the lake with two kayaks. Michael and Lisa hike three miles to meet Megan and I who kayaking across the lake with the wind to our backs. Then we switch with Megan and I hiking back and M and L paddling against the current of the lake. Peeking between the saddle of two mountains is a glacier in retreat. Brilliant green trees meet luminous blue water. It is a stunning hike.

After 3 hours on the lake we go back to the cabin where Rick has returned. On the other side of the mountain the hunters have harvested one female sheep. Licenses for sheep hunting are done by lottery up here. After felling the sheep, Rick and his friend Steve had to cut it in half and carry it back down the mountain on their backs. This gives new definition to the phrase “hand to mouth,” seeing the thing in pieces in a box.

As the light begins to dwindle in the cabin, we share stories beside a cast iron stove. I’m thinking in the “writer’s” section at Borders they should sell these stoves. What book on writing prompts can be half as effective as a little quiet time, no television and a crackling stove for drawing stories out of folks?

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