POTD: Then Again

My Cabin
circa 1980
Anchorage, Alaska

While looking for the “then” part of yesterday’s Now and Then” post I came across a couple of even older photos from my days in Alaska, so perhaps you will again indulge me in a little bit of reminiscing. I was in Alaska from 1978-1982, living in this cabin most of that time. I was working in Alaska for the U.S. Indian Health Service and my cabin was up in the woods just south out of town a ways. The above photo shows my almost complete addition of roof cover and railing for the porch (and a screen door). Here’s a rather poor quality “before” shot with me standing on the porch in winter:

I was living in my cabin when I met the Fashion Queen. She insisted I put a door on the bathroom before she’d stay out there with me. (She had a nice apartment in town overlooking Cook Inlet, indicating her standards were more upscale than mine.) So I did that as well as some other renovation of the inside but we eventually bought a house together in town and lived there for a year before moving to Montana where we’ve been, more or less, ever since.

Sometime after moving out of my cabin I sat down and wrote a description of what it was like there. I didn’t even remember doing that until I came across it while looking for the haiku I included in yesterday’s post. Below is what I wrote.

Cabin Windows

The cabin had three windows. A small window in the bedroom faced the hillside, affording a short distance view of the local brush and trees. A window in the door looked out onto the two track road and across to my neighbor’s driveway and from which I could often view the northern lights on cold winter nights. The third and largest of the windows was a picture window facing west. From this westward view, the hillside stepped down towards Cook Inlet and the mountains on its far side. The trees, in spite of their typical Alaska scrawniness, were tall enough and thick enough to block a good deal of the long distance view across the inlet from the cabin. However, just a few steps up the hillside behind the cabin, a much clearer view was to be had. The picture window served as a sunset warning device. If I happened to be inside the cabin on a good sunset day, the changing colors of the sky and the clouds filtered through the trees to the window, alerting me to climb the hill for a better view.  

Across the inlet, part of the Alaska Range and Mt. Susitna lay low along the horizon. Much of the time the haze and distance made the mountains as well as the water of the inlet difficult to discern, the collection of features easily mistaken for a low cloud bank. But on clear days, the setting sun would often distinctly silhouette a peak, and reflect off the waters and mudflats of Cook Inlet. The particular peak highlighted depended on the time of year. In the summer, it was likely to be Mt. Susitna, (aka the Sleeping Lady). The low angle at which the setting sun approached the horizon would make it appear to roll along the flat top of the mountain, before finally dropping behind its flank. In the winter months, if the air were clear enough, the sharply peaked form of Mt. Redoubt, one of the Alaska Range’s still active volcanoes, would appear. I typically would only be able to see the outline of Redoubt on weekend evenings, as the days were so short that it was dark before I left work during the week.

 At high tides, the sunsets would catch and reflect off of the broad waters of the inlet, the glacial waters imparting a milky glow to the mirrored sky. In winter, the mass of floating ice chucks imparted a mottled look to the surface. At low tide, the water appeared more like a slow moving river than an expanse of ocean. The mudflat’s slick, wet surface would still reflect the sun’s rays, but in darker tones of color than the adjacent water and sky. In summer, a green glow from the uncovered algae growth could sometimes be seen in the mudflats. 

Watching a sunset in the north can be a time-consuming pastime. In Arizona where I frequently went out from home to watch the desert sunsets, I could watch the complete change from daylight to darkness and still be back home for dinner at a reasonable hour. In Alaska, in the depth of summer, the same task of monitoring a sunset from beginning to end could take all “night” long, with the distinction between the end of sunset and the beginning of sunrise a somewhat arbitrary decision. Even staying up long enough to catch the peak of a summer sunset made for a sleepy morning at work the next day.

10 thoughts on “POTD: Then Again”

  1. I love this. I want to know more now. What happened when it snowed? Do you have pictures of that? What made you move? Did you come across big bears? (or did they come across you?)

    1. Thanks Molly. When it snowed, a neighbor down the hill a ways plowed the road, which worked well except when the snow turned to freezing rain. I slid down the road on the ice more than once, but was lucky to only go off the road in places where it was relatively easy to extract myself. I never saw any bears up there, largely I imagine because I had two dogs who spent the days loose outside while I was in town at work. As I intimated in the post, it was meeting the Fashion Queen that lead eventually to the move into town. Even if her housing needs weren’t more “complex” than mine, a 384 square foot cabin was kind of a tight squeeze even for just me and the dogs before she came along. I didn’t even have a closet and even back then the Fashion Queen had a pretty extensive collection of work clothes. You can see a photo of the cabin in a bit more snow than in the original post here, and one here of the only piece of furniture in the living area of the cabin showing why it got a bit crowded even before the Fashion Queen’s time.

  2. Love these stories and pictures. I’m sure so many great memories for you. Was one of those dogs Pilgrim? I don’t think I would do well in such a climate although the snow is beautiful.

    1. Thanks Judy. Yes, Pilgrim is on the right in that photo. Cody is on the left. I’m coming around to your viewpoint on climate–hence our two-month trips south in the winter these last three years.

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