The Alaskan Honeymoon: Part Two (The Kenai Peninsula)

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It’s a shame it’s taken so long to return to blogging about our honeymoon back in September 2013 but the installments seemed daunting. Alaska is a big place and is best experienced. I just didn’t know what to say and I still cannot find the words. 
 
So, instead, I’m pressing forward. 
 
When I look at these images now I feel a lot and it’s mostly silence, calm, and solitude. I’m not known to be silent, but I know what it is and what it means. In Alaska I felt it and I felt a deep calm I haven’t felt in a long time. The solitude was much needed and I had a lot of time to reflect. It felt better than any spa treatment. 
 
There was space to breathe. 
 
Even though I’m now looking forward to traveling to Italy in a few months, there will always be room in my heart for Alaska. We will return. 
 
These posts find me pining away for it a bit too…

After hibernating for a day in Anchorage we drove south on Highway 1 to the Kenai Peninsula. I’d chosen it because of the Kenai River and because a garden client of mine is from Homer. I met her just after meeting my husband and when I told her we were discussing Alaska as a potential honeymoon destination she became very supportive of the idea.

(I’m so glad she did because she was a great help in our planning. I only wish we could have stayed in Homer longer but more on that next time…)

There were some goats up on the rocks somewhere not far from where we snapped this photo—wild mountain goats!

This photo says a lot about the first day out on the road. The bride was still very tired and the groom was ready for an adventure.

Wild rose hips.

Sadly, we rushed a bit on our way to the town of Soldotna. I regret not having stopped to take more photos but I was too tired and we both had no idea what the day would be like at all. The drive south was beautiful though and the landscape was unlike anything I’d seen before and as we drove we talked a lot about what it reminded us of so I’m left with a memory of that free-association game.

How do we become acquainted with new landscapes? We often familiarize ourselves to new environments by associating them with other places we’ve been to before and that’s half the fun—at least for me. While John saw the Alps, I saw the Tetons.

After a week it became Alaska to us, but at first, we had to get settled.

(I suspect in the future we will be in Scandinavia talking about how it looks like Alaska to us, but I hope we’ll see more of Alaska again before that trip takes place.)

Along the way we passed Kenai Lake and we were driving along the Kenai River off and on too.
Considering I’d spent many years editing fishing books for my father’s company, I expected to see something familiar. My eyes scanned the landscape and it looked like any other fishing hamlet. Later Dad told me on the phone about the trout fishing on the upper Kenai and I’m kind of fascinated by it now. I guess it’s some world-class fishing I’d never heard about, but it’s probably why it looked so familiar to me. There was a lot of fly fishing and it seemed a lot like home.
My father’s love of Alaska was a big reason for my having wanted to go there in the first place. Each year during my birthday in September he’d always be off fishing for salmon. He’d return with tons of fish, great stories, and usually a stuffed animal or piece of jewelry for me. I hated Alaska for many years. I was jealous of her.
I’m the last of the Amato children to visit Alaska, but my purpose was as a naturalist more than anything else. It’s what my father and I share. During the trip he called me more than he’s ever called me in my entire life. Every other day he’d check in and he’d have me describe the weather conditions, the light, the surroundings, and I’d tell him about what we’d seen and done.
In my usual way, our tour was unlike any of the trips my father had ever taken. He’d always been treated like a king. He’d been flown into fancy lodges. He’d land in Anchorage and then immediately fly out to a remote location on a float plane. We hit the ground, rented a car, and toured. It’s the trip—I later found out—that my dad would love to take now that he’s older and I hope he gets to do so.
What interested him most was our access to good food, museums, and wildlife. He already knows about the fishing, but he hasn’t seen the culture other than remote Native Alaskan villages. Traveling cheaply, eating well, and making the most of what we spent really sounded like a fun adventure to him.
When we arrived at our hotel/motel in Soldotna, I had another moment of giggling. I loved this news advertisement.
Alaskans have a sense of humor and we saw it all over the place. They are matter-of-fact too. (Just wait until the next post when I show you what makes news here.) Coming from Portland, this was such a relief. Nowadays Portland residents take everything far too seriously and they are so sensitive so it was fun just to live simply without any “major issues” being shoved in our faces.
Not hearing about sustainability, livability, or seeing a hipster on a fixed gear bike for one whole week was another big part of the vacation for us. I don’t think we heard the words “California” or “Bay Area” once. We didn’t see women in yoga pants or a single Prius car. I’m not saying that it was Montana or Wyoming or even Idaho. It was just Alaska.
Again, let me remind you of the silence we felt there. There was no hype. What you saw was what you got. We just were. The other people just went about their business. People were polite and friendly but there were no cultural agendas or lifestyles. I haven’t felt that free in a very long time.

Once at the hotel, John rested while I walked down to the river. It is a well-known fishing river and there was an elevated walkway with multiple fishing platforms for town residents and visitors. I’ve never seen a river so prepared and well-planned for salmon fishing. Since the season had ended, I had the walkway to myself. I walked along and watched spawned out fish corpses float by me.

The river was alive.

To my left was the riverbank. It was grassy and wild. There was also a small park with access leading down to the river. Looking up at the park bench it felt more like spring than late-summer.

As I walked along the river I could hear the ever-buzzing sound of small planes in the sky. It’s another strange thing about certain areas in Alaska. You get used to the sound. So much so that when you return home you think that every car or truck you hear in the city is a little bush plane. You begin to miss the little tin mosquitos in the sky.

You also realize why it’s the first thing you see hanging up high in the Anchorage airport—loud and proud. Those little planes are so important in this state.

The river was to my right. That day, it was a silent river that had overfilled its banks due to the heavy rainfall before our arrival. While I was there I was texting with a friend from high school who lives outside of Anchorage and she felt so badly that we’d arrived to Oregon-style weather. I told her we didn’t mind, after all, it was our honeymoon.
Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church in Kenai. Founded in 1840.
After we grabbed a quick bite we went for a drive to the town of Kenai to see this old historic site. The daylight hours were longer then and that day we experienced our first day of what I can only call prolonged nightfall.
In the plane—as we’d flown north—I’d noticed how the light had changed. I hadn’t really thought about prolonged daybreak and prolonged nightfall but they are wonderfully slow things that again need to be experienced to be understood.
The world feels as if it’s slowing down. In the morning, you don’t feel like rushing. The one morning I watched the sunrise, it took what felt like hours to be fully light outside. It felt decadent. I felt powerless to the powers that be. I felt small in the grand scheme of the universe. That felt good and I was ok with it.
Witnessing the light was something quite incredible. It was a light show. I’ve seen color bursts in the sky plenty of times here at home, but not light shows with colors fading in and out, blending with one another, shifting and then fading into another shade. This process simply goes on and on for several hours. Then when you think it’s dark, it’s not. There are still slivers of light in the sky. They fade out slowly like embers in a fire. Before you know it, you’ve lost track of them, and fallen asleep beside them.
When you awake, the slivers of light are in the sky again. The embers brighten and heat up the sky, you feel warmth from the darkness, and then it is morning. This whole process takes a few more hours. It is happening all around you as you go about your travels. It becomes a big part of how you experience the place.

On our way back we passed a nursery. Even though it was closed, I had to stop and look. By this point I was fascinated by the climate, the light, and I wanted to find a gardener and ask them all about it. I didn’t get that opportunity, but I’d like to explore gardening in Alaska more in the future.

Their display garden was really pretty. I didn’t poke around though because we had to get back. I was fading. The gardens I saw during our brief visit were utilitarian, but not Spartan. I only saw things from the car though, but again, it’s something I’d like to read more about in the future. As always, I have a lot to learn.

In the parking lot, we saw many more of the poppies that grow so well in Alaska. Papaver nudicaule is meant for this place as are many other poppies.

After another long day of adventure, it was becoming clearer to us that Alaska is a really big state. As we drove and talked about this, we realized just how much we wanted to see more of its beauty in the future. One long week in Alaska is nothing. We estimate that it will take at least 5 more trips to see every climate Alaska has to offer. Sure, this is true of virtually anywhere, but most places aren’t surrounded by that much wilderness, with such extreme climates.

To be continued…
(Next stop, Homer, AK.)

The Alaskan Honeymoon: Part One (Anchorage, AK)

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We knew we’d landed in Anchorage when we saw this at the airport.

Yes, it was thrilling, but it was sad at the same time.

Rhodochiton vine in a planter outside of a hotel in Anchorage.

We landed late on Friday night and stayed in Anchorage for two nights.

Most people wouldn’t recommend this, but we were exhausted! We stayed downtown at the Hilton and had a great time.

A closeup of the vine.

We had an open air market across the street to walk to and we ate breakfast at the Snow City Cafe.

Then we visited the Anchorage Visitor Information Center.

I can’t say enough about its original “green roof”.

It very much fueled and gave fire to the pioneer blood in my veins.

The Fuchsia baskets are obviously overwintered. Look at those woody stems!

This was the beginning of the floriferousness too.

With all those extra daylight hours, the blooms are a bit different up North. I don’t know how this happens exactly, but I saw it on several occasions and I’ll continue to show you images of these amazing plants.

(Yes, I’m sure that these are well fed too.)

Some Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium).

The native plants were plentiful.

Fireweed is by far the most spectacular of all during September and you’ll be seeing a lot of it as these posts progress.

This amazing shrub was really enchanting. It is native to colder northern regions but I cannot recall what it is right now. Any thoughts? I picked seeds and I know it’s in the pea family.

The Sorbus were plentiful but I’m not completely certain which ones I was seeing.

This was my honeymoon after all so I tried not to go too crazy with the plant ID.

We saw a lot of lilacs but only a few with blooms.

This one is a smaller bush variety.

I’m ashamed that my evergreen tree ID is so shabby. I’ve chosen to show you this amazing tree even though I’m not certain what it is.

Please forgive me. I promise to study.

On the way back from one of the best Japanese dinners I’ve ever had, we found these rhubarb plants being grown in the lawn of a Catholic church. (They are the plants up near the fence. Others were planted in spots on the other side of the sign too—right in the middle of the lawn.)

Makes me happy that they’re thinking about the food or lawn question too.

There was more floriferousness nearby as we walked past the mall on our way back to the hotel.

When I saw the Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) I had to smile. It’s not at all a plant I think of when I think of Alaska but I was so happy to see such a fine specimen.

Then there were the rose hips on the Rugosa roses. I just couldn’t get enough of these plants. They are all over the place and they grow so much better up North than they do down here in Oregon.

It became so clear to me right away that Alaska is not the northernmost edge of our climate, but that we are the southernmost extreme of its climate. I felt a strong kinship with the region right out of the gate.

That last night I tried on my kind of bear fur hat in the hotel gift shop—the totally silly fake kind. I thought a bit about Ms. Palin and wondered what kind of mama bear I could be if I tried. Luckily I lost my taste for politics years ago, but I remain interested at least in what politicians are doing—or NOT doing.

A very large part of me felt at home in Alaska. It reminded me of the Oregon I grew up in and the people I knew as a girl.

This was just the beginning though and so rarely am I so comfortable right away in a new place.

More to come…