Homer Spit

Trip Start Jul 02, 2007
Trip End Sep 04, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

We drove from Tok to Anchorage skimming beneath the clouds blanketing the glaciers and the mountain peaks.
Alaska felt lush and downright overpopulated and Anchorage was complete over-stimulation after the sparse, wild and vast Yukon.

The Barnes and Noble store on the corner beckoned me in and I felt as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. I managed to get out of there buying only two books, got back in the Subaru and drove along Turnagain Arm, headed towards Homer.

Homer sits on the end of the Kenai Peninsula. Keesha and I camped on a long, skinny strip of sand left by a long-gone glacier that juts out into the Katchemak Bay. They call this the Homer Spit.

It was mid-day when we arrive; the clouds had dispersed but the wind was strong enough to whip the sea into high, rough waves. Bad enough seas that the harbor was full-no one was taking tourists fishing for Halibut in those waters. I found a spot on the sand and pulled out the tent.

Have you ever tried to erect a tent in the wind? It's an interested dance of will, perseverance, ingenuity and language I'd rather not mention. I got the ground cloth down, stood on it, and wrestled the main part of the tent on top of it. One corner flapped up while I stood on another. Eventually I got the poles attached and up, and tossed the heavier stuff like the dog bed inside to hold it down. Keesha barked the bark she sounds when she's stuck, her tie out wrapped around something. I jogged over and untangled her. When I turned around, my tent was on its end, many feet from the place I had left it. Eek!

Imagine a sail boat with the wind taking her full sail across a lake. Now imagine trying to pull the sail down so it's horizontal over the water-by yourself. That's what getting the tent down and back to the flat spot felt like. I did it though and looked around. Thank goodness the beach had rocks strewn everywhere. I grabbed the closest large rocks and tossed them in the corners of the tent. Success!

I crawled inside the tent to get out of the cold winds and sat with my back leaning against my small camp backrest. Warming up, I took a deep breath and watched waves crash in the beach in the advancing tide.

There's something incredibly soothing about the ocean. Maybe because I grew up going to southern Florida almost every year I developed an affinity for the sea. I feel her immensity, her power, her ties to the rhythms of the moon. So many times I have stood on her shores with my heart open, grateful. On the Homer Spit, as the seas calmed, so did I, relaxing into the embrace of the sea.

Across the waters surrounding the Kenai Peninsula are mountains and volcanoes that are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. One erupted a few years ago coating Kodiak Island and Anchorage in fine ash. Homer was lucky that time. But Homer was not always lucky. In 1964, a 9.2 Earthquake rocked the area, dropping the Spit into the ocean and reconstructing the landscape. The city recovered and rebuilt the Spit. Danger still remains though, not just from volcanoes and earthquakes but from the tsunami possibilities should a large enough chunk of glacial ice or part of a mountain drop in the water. There are tsunami evacuation signs on the road. But there's only one road out.

I didn't think too much of all this as I gazed at the beauty from the shelter of my tent. A few clouds floated lazily in the sky and on the horizon, a cloud wrapped around the tip of a mountain far away. "Wait a minute," I said to myself, "That doesn't look like a cloud, it looks like smoke." And it was. Mount Augustine, one of the active volcanoes was smoking from her cone. Hmmm. This could be a more adventurous trip than I planned! She smoked for two days and then calmed down.

When we think about Alaska, we don't think about volcanoes and tsunamis and earthquakes but this land sits on top of two moving tectonic plates that are still creating mountains. Many that's part of the power of the landscape. You feel the earth creating herself beneath your feet. You feel the excitement of the newly born mountains. You feel incredibly alive because somehow you intuitively know that you living on the edge of this global danger, and are mortal.

I drove the farthest west you can drive not just for the beauty but to meet a woman who has a sled dog kennel called Howling Husky and thank her in person.

Linda Chamberlin is part of the reason I got in my car and drove northwest. Last winter I read a small notice in an online publication called The Caretaker Gazette that a small sled dog kennel in Homer, Alaska was looking for a summer dog handler. The idea of spending my summer in Alaska with dogs tugged at me. Acting purely on impulse, I emailed her, said I was interested and waited.

My mind kicked in as I waited. "What if she says yes? Will I move or just put stuff in storage? Do I have enough money? This is crazy." The mind loves to ruminate and provide all sorts of reasons why not to do something. Regardless, by the time Linda emailed back that she already had a handler for the summer I had played out possible scenarios in my mind and tried out the feeling of being in Alaska and leaving Minneapolis.

Linda is also an epidemiologist, an author and a speaker. She is an expert on the epidemic of domestic violence especially in rural areas and a supporter of women becoming self sufficient with their own businesses. We exchanged emails about her speaking and writing and my desire to do the same. She was open and warmly invited me to stop by for tea when I got to Homer.

I don't think Linda knew what an impact our small exchange had on me. So I drove out East End Road to tell her and to thank her. She was surprised and humble when I told her my story and graciously offered me tea and a tour of her kennel. I asked, "What are most tourists surprised by when they tour Howling Husky?" "That the dogs are mixed breeds," she answered, "People expect to see Siberian Huskies but most of the racing dogs are mixes of husky and greyhound or pointer or other breeds."

"Do people think that having dogs on chains is cruel?" I asked Linda as we walked through the kennel yard being jumped on by happy dogs. "Some do," she replied. "But putting huskies in a cage is cruel. In these houses they interact with each other, some will sleep curled next to one another. They learn to jump the chain which is something they have to know how to do when racing on line behind a sled. And I touch them, play with them and bond with them every time I am in the yard. They get more attention."

I loved the kennel and the dogs and my conversation with Linda. I wonder about the impact we have on others, especially in ways we don't even realize. A small kindness, a short interaction, listening to a person's story, responding to a simple email request all could be just a simple moment or could be loaded with meaning and significance. We may never know when the things we do or say have profound meaning to someone else. As I move on from this place and this moment, I carry with me a deeper awareness of how connected we all are and how much we can matter to another.

The night before I left Homer, I walked over to spot on the spit that people fish. Homer is the Halibut capitol of the world and I did enjoy a Halibut dinner one evening but I don't really like to witness the bloody, smelly fish cleaning that goes on at the docks. I kinda feel sorry for the fish even though I eat them. This evening as the sun set slowly over the mountains, the people fished

and no one was catching anything. I heard people complaining, muttering under their breath or talking loudly with buddies as they walked away empty handed.

I walked closer and burst out laughing. Fish were leaping out of the water far away from the hooks and fishing poles. Fish were leaping out of the water near the shore.

Fish were leaping out of the water near the hooks and poles. "Go fish!" I cheered softly rooting them on, "Show those folks who's the boss of the sea." I left and the fish kept defying the fisher men and women, leaping for what ever reason they do. I like to think they leap for the sheer joy of leaping and in gratitude for being a fish in the sea on this day on earth.

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