Friday, December 14, 2012

Kenai Peninsula: Surreal Sketchbook & Sortie

     Here's a customized example of the previously posted homework assignment in the Iconography series, remixing the classic 1931 Surrealist painting "The Persistence of Memory" by Salvador DalĂ­.

     I had the good fortune to hang out for an extended weekend in Soldotna as a finalist for an art professor position at Kenai Peninsula College, part of the University of Alaska system. Not having ever made a road trip past Whittier, it was an exciting opportunity to sample a new community and make some new creative connections. Despite leaving behind some nose-prints on the airplanes windows en route I unfortunately didn't get to actually see all that much, but as usual, it was inspirational and informative.
     One shortcut into sensing what's-what is to chew the fat blubber with taxi drivers, as they quite often have a unique - interesting to say the least - perspective on things. Random strangers at hotels along with the staffers who bear witness to an endless stream of occupants, plus baristas and bartenders are other rich sources of information. Though I must confess here to feeling sorry for the cleaning crew at the Aspen for having to host big, hairy visitors from dry cabins who just can't seem to get enough of the running water...

     Soldotna is home to several great breweries (and Bill Howell, Alaska's master beer-blogger at "Drinking on the Last Frontier"): Kenai River Brewing, Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, and the St. Elias Brewing Company. I enjoyed a tasty stone-fired pizza at St. Elias along with some friendly conversation and a most excellent sampler of everything they had on tap. Personal favorites was the Even Keel Kolsh, Williwaw Pale and the Moosejuice Barleywine for dessert.
     There were several other fortuitous path-crossings, one of which was cartoonist John Bergstrom (Attack Cartoons: "Insensitive Comics and Dead-On-Target Humor"), who just happened to be one of three people in a Kaladi Brothers cafe working in their sketchbooks. After an intrusive introduction (occupational hazard when you draw in public) I got to peek at his Moleskin, and saw some really amazing sketches and drawings. Just like in the Interior, the woods seem to be crawling with talent, including friend, incredible artist & former teacher in UAF's art department, Laura Hewitt, who has relocated to the general vicinity.

     The community also has a killer bakery (The Moose Is Loose), a couple independent booksellers and some decent local eateries, one of which combined both of the latter: River City Books + the Fine Thyme Cafe (two thumbs up on their homemade soup). Note to self: no matter how hungry you are or how tasty they look, in the future avoid eating Reubens loaded with sauerkraut before taking a flight on a small airplane. Although I must admit the TSA seemed suddenly very accommodating in getting me quickly through screening.

     Speaking of, the doodle posted (another Sign that You're Not From Around Here) above was based on a particularly amusing and ignorant statement made at the counter while checking in. This after asking which gate the flight will be departing from (one big hint that it's designated a municipal airport... "Uh, well sir, there's only one").
     Puddlejumping from the Anchorage International Airport on an Era Aviation Beechcraft, there was the first ever woman pilot I'd ever seen in all my years in Alaska. This gave me some measured degree of confidence upon hitting turbulence that caused the nose of the plane to shimmy on approach to the runway, accompanied by the alarming sound of the engine rising in both pitch and volume while also increasing speed on its descent. This after watching way too many Road Runner cartoons all my life.

     Upon landing I discovered that Kenai has a curious restriction on bears using trash receptacles. Later I was corrected and learned that in fact there is a problem with local grizzlies making off with the shiny, chrome radiator grills from unattended pickups. Also of slight concern and equal potential temperment is the peripheral presence of four active volcanoes (Mt. Spurr, Mt. Redoubt, Mt. Illiamna and St. Augustine) in the neighborhood. No worries, as I was informed that Soldotna's proximity is actually paradoxically advantageous since the plume from any eruption would simply overshoot anyone in it's immediate shadow and dump elsewhere, like Los Anchorage. One supposes it isn't all that different from many a tempestuous relationship, or living with cat.

     The Kenai Peninsula is largely comprised of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which butts up against Kenai Fjords National Park on the western side of the Peninsula, both of which dovetail with the massive expanse of the Chugach National Forest. To the west, directly across the Cook Inlet (which leads up past Anchorage to our old neck of the woods), lies both Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks. Etc. etc. and so on... it being Alaska it just never ends.

     An awesome local resource to check out is the visitor center for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge: exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable staff helped to put things into "big picture" perspective for me, as the maze of designations for public lands is a bewildering network of different state and federal agencies. I scored some spiffy eco-porn in the form of new maps and guides to squirrel away back to the hotel room. But over the duration of just a few hours, what started out as benign, fluffy flakes became a straight-up snowstorm that began to add inches to the ground cover. As opposed to being locked up in a subarctic deep-freeze of subzero sterility, down in this neck of the woods just a mile in any direction can greatly affect the impact of coastal fronts moving in from the Gulf of Alaska. In other words, it piles up pretty damn quick.

     All in all a great side-venture that served to whet my appetite for returning, hopefully sooner than later. I was grateful for the brief introduction to another beautiful and welcoming place that further expanded the definition of what a place like home could be, and reaffirmed the decision to head back North after the Great Alaska Bungee-Cord Outside.
     Nice to be back and exploring again...

Hubie & Bertie

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