THE PEDDLER’S PITCH: CLIMBING QUESTIONS FOR ANNIE MACKOVJAK

After I finished the article on Annie, I realized I had more questions about the climbs she made.  Perhaps some of you do, too.  So, for this column, I will do something a bit different.  I’ve asked Annie four  questions about the climb.  Read on to learn her answers.  After you have read them, if you have further questions, please send them in the comments section at the end of this column, and I will get answers from Annie and print them here, as well.

Here’s what I asked her:

  1.  Were you ever scared during your climbs?  “There were times I got worried, but very rarely scared.  I was scared when I was awakened and thought a crevasse was going to open and swallow me when the ice groaned and cracked deep below my tent on Denali.  Also, fear gripped me when the first climber on my rope team fell into a crevasse and I hoped we’d be able to hold him from not going too far.  Luckily, we did, though we had to do a real crevasse rescue to get him out.  Otherwise, I was most scared rock climbing.  I never did it very much but it was always free climbing, and I was always afraid I was going to fall and break bones, whether I was 10 feet up or 25 inches.  I always thought of a friend who was a Swiss mountain guide.  He fell in the Alps and broke 15 bones in his feet.  He had to walk 5 miles out after that happened.  I don’t know how he did it
  2. Was it hard to learn how to walk in snowshoes?  I don’t remember anyone having any trouble using snowshoes.  Although some of the people could ski well, we used the snowshoes to have a level playing field with all the expedition members.  Snowshoes were also a help for crevasses as, at that time, the snowshoes were longer and would more easily help wedge a climber into the sides of the crevasse, preventing a deep fall.  I remember reading about a McKinley climb in the early 80s with Jim Wickwire.  His climbing partner fell into a crevasse.  The fellow was lodged head down and Jim could not get him out.
  3. Did you use ropes, pitons, or other climbing gear at all while climbing the mountain?  We were always roped up on the mountain — lower down for the possibility of crevasses and higher up, where it was steeper, for falls.  There was a fixed line on Denali’s Headwall from about 15,500 feet to the ridge at 16,200 feet.  We would use our jumars (mechanical ascenders attaching us to the fixed line) to go up that one 45 to 50 degree section, the steepest part of the climb.  Then, hiking from 16,200 feet to the bowl at 17,200 feet was the most dramatic part of the climb because the ridge occasionally narrows to perhaps 2 to 3 feet across, and drops off dramatically on both sides.  You are totally exposed and many climbers have lost gear here, which has tumbled down to the Peters Glacier far below.  I’ve read that there are now fixed lines around Washburn’s Thumb on the ridge.  We always had our ice axe, as well.  We practiced doing belays, self-arrests, and crevasse rescues before every climb.

Did you have to rappel from anything during the climb?  No, we didn’t do any rappels on Denali or Aconcagua.  The only rappels I’ve done have been totally for fun and practice, both off cliffs and into crevasses.

Okay, readers, now it’s your turn.  If you have further climbing questions for Annie, please post them at the bottom of this article.  Hoping to hear from some of you.

VIVACIOUS AND INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: PART II

After Annie and Jim got married in Maine, they returned to Talkeetna to run dogs.  Later in January they drove the 800 miles from Talkeetna to Haines to catch the ferry to Juneau.  They had a little yellow VW bug which Annie had bought brand new in Anchorage in 1972.  Annie had driven about every road possible in the area at that time.  Jim had hit a moose with it near Talkeetna so he had to put in a Plexiglas windshield with a plywood frame.

They drove toward Tok during a big snowstorm.  Jim was wearing his Arctic parka and Annie was wrapped in a down sleeping bag to stay warm.  On their feet they wore “Bunny” boots (vapor barrier boots made for the military to stay warm in extreme cold) so their feet were toasty.  The snow blew and drifted.  They would have to gain speed on the bare stretches of road in order to bust through the drifts.  On one straight stretch where it was hard to tell where the road ran, they actually went off the road, throwing up snow all around them so they couldn’t see anything.  Amazingly, there were no trees; only a few low bushes, so they ended up almost back on the road.  Luckily, another car came along within an hour and helped push them back on the highway.

In Canada, several miles beyond Dezadeash, they traveled in a line of three cars following the plow truck.  As they gained elevation, the visibility became almost zero and the snow got so deep that the plow had to turn around.  Fortunately, they had enough money to get a room at the Dezadeash Lodge for the night.

The original cabin

Finally they arrived in Gustavus.  They left their little bug in Juneau and flew home.  Fred Rose picked them up at the airport and gave them a ride to Four Corners.  No one lived on Wilson Road or at Rink Creek in the winter then, so they had not plowed the road.  Annie and Jim had to walk carrying packs all the way home through the snow.  Leaving Four Corners at 4:00 p.m., they finally made it to their cabin at 7:00 p.m.  It was a clear moonlit night, so they were able to navigate easily, though slowly,  through the 16 inches of snow.  Jim had to do a return trip that night to get more of their gear and food supplies.

Gustavus had less than 100 residents during the winter then, and the mail plane only came twice a week, making for a big social gathering at the post office while awaiting the mail.  They started clearing more land and building a big shop.  Annie spent a lot of time taking out stumps with shovel, axe, and mattock.  The wood for the building came from DeRosier’s sawmill at Excursion Inlet.  Sometimes he brought the wood over on a barge, and Jim and Annie walked the planks out to the barge to unload it at the boat harbor.  Once Jim went to Excursion Inlet in his skiff and pulled a raft of lumber home, going about 3 knots..

Annie and Jim interrupted their building with trips into Glacier Bay, hikes around the Point and up Excursion Ridge, visits from Maine friends, and Continue reading

WELCOME LOU CACIOPPO: ARTIST, CARPENTER, ATHLETE, SONGWRITER

I received an introduction to Lou Cacioppo’s art before I ever met the artist.  I first saw one of his masks, and as the saying goes, I was “blown away.”  Delighted that he lived in Gustavus, I looked forward to seeing more of his work.  Then I met Lou, and, once he opened the Outpost, enjoyed several music nights in his place, surrounded by his marvelous inspirations.  Now I have the pleasure of telling a little of his story and showing you a bit of his art.  I’m sure you will agree that he has a great deal of talent. As his story shows, he has worked at perfecting his skills his entire life, and the results are reflected in all he has created.

Lou Cacioppo was born on November 28, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York.  Both his mother and father were Sicilians.  Lou reassures us there were no mafia connections. Lou’s mother came from this country, while his dad was born in Palermo, Italy.  Lou’s grandparents on both sides immigrated from Italy.  They spoke Italian and English.  The family lived in Brooklyn  in a section of town called “little Italy.”

After Lou’s kindergarten in a parochial school, the family moved from Brooklyn.  They first moved to Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, where 50 to 60% of the people were Italian or Jewish.  His parents enrolled him in a Catholic school.

Lou was the “wise guy” in class, so he got in trouble with the teachers a lot.  When he was a 4th grader, he became involved in a fight with a 6th grader, and ended up in Mother Superior’s office.  She smacked him with a large paddle with holes in it.  Lou swears she hit him so hard that her feet came off the ground.  After the incident, at Lou’s insistence, his parents took him out of Catholic school and enrolled him in the regular school.

Lou’s parents had totally different views on his fighting.  Lou’s mother would smack him for losing a fight.  Lou’s father would hit him for fighting.  Lou decided winning a fight was better — he didn’t have to suffer so many smacks from the other guy, or from his mother.

Around 1954, the family moved from Valley Stream to South Farmingdale, a suburban area with ranch houses and a nearby creek.  The area still had trees.  Lou played in the woods, either Tarzan or army, with sticks and fingers, nothing that looked real.

Lou drew constantly.  He had paper bags filled with sketches.  Comic books were his first texts for art.  Teachers always volunteered Lou for school art projects, such as murals.  Lou loved doing these projects.

South Farmingdale had a junior high — seventh and eighth grades — in a separate school.  His years there were uneventful.  Though not in sports, he was an avid weight lifter.  Of course, he always did a lot of art.  He says that he had art teachers all through junior high and high school.  Lou says the art teachers were fantastic.  His three greatest teachers were Mr. Denali, who was a big influence and took Lou under his wing; Mr. Cole, a great watercolor artist; and Mr. Schaffer.  Lou made his first sale of a piece of his artwork to Mr. Schaffer.  It was a wood sculpture, and he sold it for $15.00.  He bought a pair of pants with that $15.00 — his first purchase of his own clothes.

Lou went to high school in South Farmingdale.  He says it was a great school.  From junior high through high school, his favorite academic subjects were biology and geology.  In biological science lab, dissecting mice and frogs sparked a never-ending quest of how things are put together.  He liked geology for the same reason:  He liked  Continue reading

THE PEDDLER’S PITCH: Family is where you find them

peddlerSeveral people have asked me why I haven’t written much about myself in this blog.  It’s hard to change directions when I’ve established an operating mode of observing/reporting for my blog content.  However, I’ve decided that perhaps I should branch out and share a few of my own opinions.

It is interesting, though I started this site with one idea in mind, the blog gods have taken over and sent it in another direction entirely.  Originally I intended it to be a collection of Alaskan stories and descriptions of jewelry and gift items that I sell.  Then the blog tweaked at my head and said, “Interview some of the amazing folks in Gustavus and put their stories in here.”  So I began doing just that, and am thankful that I did so.  Gustavus is such a remarkable place, partly because of its location, but more because of the unique collection of souls who have gathered here.

Writing these articles has brought me to an important realization about this place.  First of all, I love small towns.  Big cities might offer a much wider range of available activities and facilities, but there is more of everything else in the city as well — more people, more traffic, more stress and confusion, more chances for accidents or sickness.  In comparison, I might sum up the differences in the Gustavus lifestyle in three words:  More personal freedom. Continue reading

ELLIE SHARMAN: Musician, Educator, Adventurer, Quilter Extraordinaire

ellie-fiddleWhen Ellie Sharman looked at the list of descriptors included in the title to her story — Musician, educator, quilter extraordinaire — she said, “Add adventurer!  I’m an adventurer!  I thought to myself, “that is the perfect descriptive word for this woman.”  Now you can read the article yourself and discover why Ellie defines herself in such a way.  She is a woman who has followed dreams.

Ellie was born in 1960 in Pasadena, CA.  In 1972, the family moved to Palo Alto, CA.  Ellie graduated from high school in 1978, then went to college at the University of California in Davis.

The roots of Ellie’s life passions and her adventurous spirit began with her childhood experiences.  She started playing violin in 1967 at age seven.  She learned using the Suzuki Violin Method, a teaching method developed by Dr. Suzuki in Japan.  This teaching method was new in the United States at the time.  The first-violinstudents learned totokyo-concert play by  ear.  They listened, then played what they heard.

When she was 11 years old, Ellie went to Japan and took a lesson from Dr. Suzuki.  She toured Japan with other American students playing violin.  They all participated in a big concert in Tokyo.  As Dr. Suzuki’s students all learned from the same books, they knew the same songs and could play together.

Ellie’s love of travel also got a start in her youth.  Before and after the trip to Japan, she went to Mexico as an exchange student.  One trip was for a couple of weeks, and when she returned from Japan, her second trip to Mexico was for a month.  After her return, a Mexican student would arrive to stay with her family in California.

Ellie’s parents met through folk dancing, so Ellie and her brother and sister went to all the dances while growing up.  When she was older, she discovered contra dancing.  Nowadays, if Ellie is at a contra dance, when she is not playing in the band she is dancing.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Ellie has been quilting for about 20 years.  She has made bed quilts, but prefers small art quilts.  These can be colorful and creative representations of the artist’s talent.  The charming art quilt pictured here was inspired by a photo of big-leaf maples that Ellie took when hiking in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

At the University of California, Davis, Ellie earned a degree in design.  It was a broad major, covering interior design, fabric design, ethnic clothing and furniture design.  Students made furniture and wearable art items.  In fabric design they learned about the qualities of fabric, why a particular fabric could be used for the job, and world clothing design.  Ellie wove these strands into her own designs.  (An example:  including swatches of Guatemalan fabric in contemporary fashions.)  Students designed solar houses.  A large community of solar houses in Davis gave them design ideas and inspiration.  They made chairs, beds, and interior designs for houses.  (Much later, after her son, Rowan, was born, Ellie drew house plans for their own home while staying home to care for the baby.)  As Ellie had been sewing since she was quite young, she already had valuable sewing skills that were helpful in her chosen major.

While attending U of CA, Davis, Ellie took three winters off and went to school in the summer.  During the winter, she worked at a ski area in Tahoe. Continue reading

MEET VAN BAKER, CAREER FISHERMAN

Van Baker was born in Gig Harbor, WA, on March 7, 1938.  He and his family lived eight miles away in Olalla.  The town had become mostly residential, as most of it was burned during the depression in the 20s.  If a man needed to get out of a failing business, he set a fire to destroy the buildings.  Van lived in Olalla through high school, then went into the Coast Guard.  He went to boot camp in California and then back to Groton, CT, for diesel engine school.

The diesel engine training supplied the reason to join the Coast Guard.  Everyone on Van’s mother’s side of the family was a fisherman, and the occupation interested him from his youth.  He fished with his uncle in 1954 for the first time, purse seining in Alaska, right here in Icy Strait, between Gustavus and Ketchikan.  He fished here with his uncle each summer until he got out of high school.

When Van first started fishing with his uncle in 1954, there were huge icebergs in Icy Strait, hence the name.  By the time Van started fishing on his own boat, in ’64 and ’65, there was still ice but not a large amount, and not as huge in size.  You could pull up to a small berg (about the size of a 16-foot skiff) and knock off chunks to put in the cooler.  Once he got his own boat, Van found an old refrigerator and laid it on its side to be used for a cooler.  A few chunks of iceberg in there kept things cold.

Van went into the Coast Guard in January, 1957.  After 3 months of boot camp, he completed the diesel engine course in another 4 months.  Then he was sent to Grand Isle, Louisiana, at that time the only place in Louisiana where the road went to the beach. There was no other town or habitation close by.  The shore line was all marshy, with no beach access.   Grand Isle had been a main port for the oil industry, but this function was over by the time he arrived.  At that time, the island was the site of a Coast Guard lifeboat station.

In 1959, Van left Grand Isle and went to Kodiak on the vessel Storis.  This  duty occurred before the Kodiak tidal wave.  From Kodiak he was sent to Seattle for a year, where he served on the Seattle buoy tender, the Fir.  When he got out of the service in 1961, he went back to fishing with his uncle.

Two years later, he bought his first fishing boat from a cannery.  He had married Karla Keene in 1 963 and got the boat in Ketchikan right after the earthquake.  At the time he was still purse seining.  He brought the boat to Blaine, fixed it up, got his own crew and fished the boat until 1966, when he Continue reading

PART II: JACK LESH, A GUSTAVUS PATRIARCH

When Jack Lesh and his family moved to Gustavus in 1965, it was quite a different place from today’s community.  Though we are still a small town, the modern world has made its way here, and changed this little place a great deal.

The family got to Juneau in 1960.  In 1961, Jack and Sally came to Gustavus for the first time, and spent a night at the Gustavus Inn.  Later that same year, they came back with the whole family and camped near the river.  They came back every summer after that, until their move.  They wanted to move here, but at that time didn’t know how they would make a living.  Then, in 1965 the owners of the Gustavus Inn decided they wanted to leave, so the Leshes bought the property.

Before they purchased the inn, the family spent four summers visiting Gustavus, and they needed a place to stay while they were here.  In Juneau,they bought a wannigan that sat on a log float on a beach there.  They brought it to Gustavus and got permission from a resident to put it next to the river.  Thus, when they came over in summer after that first year, they had a place to live.  Later they acquired the land where Jack’s present house stands, and moved the wannigan to higher ground.  When they bought the inn, they moved there, to an upstairs apartment with three bedrooms and a bath.  However, the wannigan, fixed as living quarters, furnished a temporary home to a number of people over the years.  The wannigan did not have running water or a bath.  There was an outhouse close by.  They had to haul all their water, but a sink inside allowed them to dump grey water, which ran outside through a pipe.

wanigan(Note:  Out of curiosity, I looked up “wannigan.”  Outside of Alaska, it refers to a wooden box for carrying supplies, such as that carried on a canoeing trip.  In Alaska, it means a small house or bunkhouse mounted on skids, and then towed to where it was needed.)

The Gustavus Inn started because it became a solution to a problem.  After World War  II,  commercial airlines flew between Juneau and Seattle.  At times the weather would be bad, and incoming flights would divert to Continue reading

PRESENTING JACK LESH, A GUSTAVUS PATRIARCH

This story is the first of two about Jack Lesh, one of our oldest Gustavus residents.  This first part covers his life up to 1965, when he and his family moved to Gustavus. The second part will be about Gustavus, and Jack’s life here.  Read on and enjoy!

Jack Lesh was born in Chicago in 1922, the first-born in his family.  At age two, he moved with his family to Berwyn, IL, a suburb west of Chicago.  He lived there until he graduated from 8th grade.  Then they all moved to Oak Park, IL, because the town had a much better high school.  When it came time for college, his folks didn’t have much money.  Jack enrolled in Antioch College in Ohio for 6 months until he ran out of funds.  He then worked for 6 months and earned enough to go back to college for a year.

Antioch held their school year all year, in 10-week divisions.  The students would go to school for 10 weeks; then to a job for 10 weeks, giving students experience in doing a job in an unfamiliar place.  Personnel would find the jobs for all the students in the program, with the purpose of teaching them to be on their own.  Jack liked having the work experience part of the curriculum.  It gave him a chance, however small, to earn some money while in school.

Jack’s going to Antioch turned out to be a pivotal point in his life.  Of course, one reason was because he met Sally Townsend, who Continue reading

HERE’S TO KATHY HOCKER: SCIENTIST, ARTIST, WRITER, TEACHER, MUSICIAN

After asking Kathy Hocker if I could interview her for this blog, I realized that writing about her would be a challenge.  She has so many talents!  How could I do justice to all of them?

Then we did the interview, and I discovered that it would be easy to cover all her talents because she uses them to create the whole of who she is and what she does.

Kathy’s field is science; her college major was forest ecology.  During the interview it became clear that she has her feet firmly planted in the natural world.  Every one of her varied talents — art, writing, editing, teaching — become tools she uses to enhance her commitment to the observation, study, and understanding of the world we live in.  Her singing weaves it all together.

Kathy Hocker was born in Las Cruces, NM in 1968.  After three years the family moved to Edinburgh, Texas, at the very southern tip.  When Kathy was six, they all moved to Juneau.  Kathy has been in Alaska ever since, except for college and a brief time in California.

She went to Harvard, where she majored in forest ecology.  She was interested in biology, and hoped to find her niche there.  She got a bachelor’s from Harvard (they call it an AB.)  She really wasn’t excited about a master’s in science, but she realized that the path that made her happiest was the one that allowed her to share the beauty and poetry of science.  She explains as follows:

1.  She sees science as a way to understand the world, calling it a natural and elegant function of our psyches.  She says that the  fundamentals of science flow in our consciousness.

2.  It is her belief that science reveals beauty.  She says, “Even during field work, you are in the middle of a wonderful opportunity to notice things of beauty.  Being in a very careful state of observing leaves you open to seeing, hearing, and experiencing the beauty around us.  There is beauty in the fundamental nature of the universe.  You can see lovely symmetry, balance, and interconnections between all things.”

In 1992, Kathy went to California, where she taught at an environmental school.  Several counties in the state have outdoor facilities with cabins.  She worked with students who were all from schools in Shasta County.  The program was based in Whiskeytown, California, near Mt. Shasta.  Kathy took these fifth and sixth graders on hikes where she would teach them about natural history.  She worked with each group of students for one week.  There were enough schools in the county to allow her to teach classes for the entire school year.

In the natural history classes, Kathy taught concepts, but, more important, she taught students how to be, out in the natural world:  to look and to listen.  They did hands-on activities.  For example, they would be blindfolded and Continue reading

PRESENTING JUDY COOPER, DOG MUSHER AND ARTIST

A woman of many skills, Judy Cooper has lead an interesting and active life.  She was born in 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.  When 18 she entered Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and received a B.A. from there, with a major in biology and a minor in art.  The summer she graduated she went to the Michigan State University Biology Station at Gull Lake, where she took biology courses.  She attended the University of Colorado in Boulder for 2 years, where she studied botany, zoology, chemistry, and geology.

In January, 1964, she took Peace Corps training and went to Bolivia for 2 years, where she worked with the Aymara Indians at 12,000 feet above sea level on the Altiplano.  Most of the indigenous people of the Andes were conquered by the Incas.  The Aymaras, however, joined the Incas, thereby retaining their own language and culture.  Judy was involved with a community development and preventative public health program, dealing with such diseases as tuberculosis.

After her return from Bolivia, she took a job for 2 years in North Carolina with a War on Poverty Community Action program.  While she lived there she had a brain hemorrhage and was taken by ambulance to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  She was fortunate to have one of the best neurosurgeons in the country as her doctor.  When she recovered, she returned to her job and stayed until funding was cut.  Then she returned to Wisconsin and worked in a store until she had enough money to go to Alaska.

In 1968, Judy got her first Alaskan job in Hoonah, where she directed the Continue reading