VIVACIOUS AND INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: PART II

Annie and Jim — a playful moment

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 community potlucks, especially crab feeds.  Being a small community still in the early stages of growth, most everyone had an outhouse.  Few people had phones.  Annie always had to ride her bike to the post office, where there was a pay phone to make calls.  However, in 1982, Jim was able to use abandoned phone line to lay a line along Wilson Road and hook them up.

Even though homes were spread out, there was always a strong sense of community.  Gustavus had no formal government; only the Gustavus Community Association.  You became a member by writing your name in the GCA book.  Then, just as now, the community functioned on volunteers.  For example, the city had an Arts Council that arranged for artists to come to Gustavus for performances, and Larry Tong helped organize volunteer fire fighters.

Genet (on left) and Cohick

In the fall of 1979, Ray Genet, after exhausting his body by leading four expeditions on McKinley that summer, climbed as a member of an international expedition on Mount Everest led by Gerhard Schmatz, a German.  Genet and a New Zealand climber arrived late in Nepal and had to walk in to the 18,000-foot base camp on their own.  Moreover, Genet was ill from an unknown affliction when he arrived at the camp.  Seeking treatment, he walked slowly down 15 miles to the Khunde Hospital, near 14,000 feet.  (Sir Edmund Hillary built the hospital in 1966.)  One source said Genet was treated for an infection from a leech bite.  Genet was not one to quit:  he returned to camp and became the eighth American to reach the 29,029-foot summit.

Descending from the summit, he traveled on the last rope team.  It was getting late, and Genet and the expedition leader’s wife, Hannelore Schmatz, and Sherpa Sundare decided to stop for the night at 27,500 feet, where they dug in.  By morning, Genet was dead and Hannelore collapsed and died soon after.  Sundare had frozen feet and snow blindness, but after his rescue he eventually recovered.  Annie had received letters from Genet from base camp and the hospital and she was not prepared for the news of his death.  He had incredible strength and stamina and could outlast almost anyone.  It was hard to believe he had reached his limit.

Later that fall, the yellow VW again took to the road, heading down the West coast.  They drove to Texas and then took a bus to Mexico City.  One day in a taxi, Annie found herself part of a Mexican standoff.  About eight lanes of traffic went in multiple directions, with not a traffic light in sight.  When drivers decided that the two cross lanes had been going long enough, the other two lanes would start inching their way out and finally block off the traffic flow, allowing those two lanes to go until drivers in competing lanes repeated the strategy.  It looked like chaos, and the drivers who braved the flow of traffic and eventually cut it off seemed to take their life in their own hands.  But, somehow, it worked.

Annie atop Popocatepetl

Jim and Annie wanted to climb two Mexican volcanos.  Their first goal, Popocatépetl, a 17,800-foot active volcano, also happened to be the second-highest volcano in North America.  They decided to do the Ruta Ventorrillo and climbed the first day to a hut just before the snow and ice line.  The next morning, they headed for the summit.  En route, they had to traverse a 45-degree ice-covered slope, so they roped up.  Annie remembers being scared, as the trail followed along the edge of a cliff with a huge drop-off just below.  They had to firmly plant each crampon step.  Upon reaching the volcano’s rim, they became nauseated by the strong sulfur fumes emanating from below.  To descend, they chose the Ruta Normal, mostly a cinder-covered slope where you would take one step, but slide about two.

They stopped next at Orizaba to climb Pico de Orizaba, a dormant volcano and the third highest peak in North America.  In Pre-Columbian times it had a name meaning “the ground that reaches the clouds.”  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.  For the three days they waited to climb, Orizaba was enshrouded in fog.

Returning to Texas, they drove the bug  to the East Coast.  While in Boston, they visited the Museum of Science.  Annie had corresponded with Bradford Washburn several times when he had written Genet for information about McKinley.  Washburn had helped establish this museum and been its director in addition to being an avid mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer.  On a climb of McKinley in 1947, his wife Barbara accompanied him and became the first woman to climb to the summit.

When Annie asked at the museum’s front desk if she could see Mr. Washburn, they looked at her as if she had asked to see the Wizard of Oz.  Quickly, they told her “no.”  Being persistent, Annie kept pestering and finally they agreed they would call him.  He immediately said to send them up, and visited with them in his office on the museum’s top floor for almost an hour.

As they headed back to Seattle, Annie realized it was Super Bowl Sunday, and the best day to drive.  They met hardly another car on the road.  As they traveled on a very tight budget, most nights they slept in the car.  Annie wedged herself in a sleeping bag on top of all their gear in the back seat while Jim curled up on the front seats.  It helped to be very tired.

Annie near Anya’s due date

Annie and Jim spent all their summers in Gustavus and traveled in the winter, working in the spring and fall.  They often worked in Petersburg, as one could arrive in town on one day and usually have a job by the next.  Jim would often write reports for Petersburg Fisheries or do carpentry work, and Annie would work at the cannery or the daycare.  They spent the spring of 1981, however, at Fir Island on the Skagit River near LaConner, Washington, helping friends refurbish a small house.  To earn some extra money, Annie joined migrant workers to pick daffodils and tulips.

Annie’s daughter, Anya, was born in September of that year. Shortly before Anya’s birth, they journeyed to Petersburg.  Friends had a place for them to stay, and they liked the doctor there.  The hospital at that time was basically a long-term care facility.  Although they spent most of the day at the hospital when Annie went into labor, they were the only ones there other than long-term care patients.  On Sunday, the doctor checked in several times during the day and finally arrived for business about 5:00 p.m., after a day of chopping wood.  As they still had a couple of hours to wait, he settled down to read the newspaper.  The whole event seemed more like a home birth.

Annie and Bill Brown, enjoying the view

In the summer of 1984, the family made a five-week trip to the Gates of the Arctic National Park in the Brooks Range.  With them went Bob Howe, Bill Brown, Carolyn Elder, and Bill and Carolyn’s son, Danny.  They flew by float-plane from Bettles to the Kugrak River, near its confluence with the Noatak.  They established a routine of setting up camp and having one person stay in the camp with the two to three-year-olds, while the rest of the group hiked.  One day while Carolyn watched the kids, a strong gust of wind blew her tent over with the children napping in it, and sent it rolling along the tundra.  When she overtook it, Anya was crying, but Danny still slept.

The Runaway Tent

Tent Camp

Annie says they had one unnerving grizzly bear encounter.  She and Jim took the kids onto a sandbar of the Kugrak, where they did laundry and made lunch while the kids played in the water.  A relatively small grizzly — perhaps 250 pounds — came around the bend and began heading toward them.  Jim had a rifle with three bullets in the magazine.  He tried to chamber one, but it was gritty and wouldn’t chamber.  Yelling and throwing stones at the bear, Jim put bullets in his mouth to clean them.  It worked.  He shot in front of the bear, and it jumped back. It went into the brush, but came out again soon after at the west side of the sandbar where Annie had taken the kids.  It started slowly advancing.  Jim fired two more times, with the same results.  With only two bullets remaining, Jim decided his next shot would be in the middle of the bear’s chest.  The bear went behind a low rise and Jim expected it to come after him.  By this time, Annie and the kids had headed up the hillside.  Finally, the bear crossed the river, but paced on the other side.  Jim sat for several hours watching the bear, ready to shoot if it decided to come back.  Fortunately, the bear apparently figured making a meal of Jim wasn’t worth the trouble and ambled off.

When they flew out to Bettles at the end of the trip, a message waited for Annie — her mother had been killed in a car accident in Maine.  When they reached Fairbanks, Anya and Annie got on a plane for Maine in their camping clothes.

Pregnant Annie taking out stump

That fall, the couple started Pt. Adolphus Seafoods in Gustavus, which primarily sold live Dungeness crab and fresh halibut and salmon purchased from local fishermen for West Coast markets.  The business operated until 2002.

In 1986, Chris was born at home in Douglas, and the Mackovjaks decided they needed more room in their house.  They put on an addition, doubling its size.

Seth was born in 1990, and slept in a little trundle bed that his parents pulled out each night from under their bed.

Annie’s porter

In 1994, Annie went to Kathmandu, a trip celebrating the 50th birthday of Susan Clark, a Gustavus/Juneau resident.  In Kathmandu, Susan and her eight woman friends trekked with a Nepali woman guide, five Sherpas, five cook-staff members, and 21 porters.

From Gustavus, Annie’s flight led to Juneau, Los Angeles, Seoul, Bangkok, and at last, Kaathmandu.  The city is close to the same latitude as Miami, but at an elevation of 4,000 feet.  Annie describes this “Kaleidoscope City” well:

For me, the most impressive part of this city was its openness.  There were no closed doors, so to speak.  All of life was before your eyes.  You could watch 14 sacred cows eating garbage in the street, a mother nursing her child, a man bathing on his little balcony, a woman cooking, people spitting, worshipers performing religious rituals, the dead being cremated on the pyres in front of a Hindu temple, a yogi dressed mostly in his thick ground-length hair teaching those gathered about him, ragged street children or sightless beggars seeking rupees, young Buddhist monks in their maroon robes laughing together, tailors sewing, buffalo being slaughtered, monkeys swinging along the prayer wheels of a temple, women washing dishes or clothes in the brown waters of a river. No one could possibly be bored here–amazed, enthralled, grossed out, sickened, but never bored.

The group began their trek at Jiri, an eight-hour bus ride east of Kathmandu.  They then hiked to Phapu, a three to four-day trip east of Jiri by direct route, and 16 days by the groups’ circuitous wanderings.

Stupa (Meditation spot)

In the past, Annie’s hikes had concentrated on the natural beauty of an area and an avoidance of civilization.  Here, she found herself walking through the everyday lives of the Nepali people — past their homes of wood and stone, dark-eyed, black-haired children, goats and chickens, small terraced fields, prayer flags and mani stones (carved prayer stones). As the group wove through the countryside they realized these people’s lives were as open as in Kathmandu, and despite the poverty (by Western standards,) they were non-complaining, happy people, deeply religious, as their life and religion are one.  Annie observes that we could learn a great deal from them.

Dinner at camp

She says that the food was delicious, with lots of ginger, garlic, and chili peppers.  A common meal was daal bhat, which was white rice with a lentil sauce, usually served with a couple of vegetables, such as potatoes or cauliflower.  Momos — a favorite — were made with vegetables or meat and resembled a pot sticker.

The group visited several Buddhist monasteries.  At Thubten Chholing Gomba, an active monastery with 150 monks and nuns, they were privileged to have an audience with the head Lama, Tulshig Rimpoche.  His monastery had been on the northern slopes of Mt. Everest in Tibet.  He took refuge in Nepal after the Chinese takeover in 1959.

Head Lama, Tulshig Rimpoche

Annie says, I loved watching the monks and nuns during their day-long pujar — they would sit cross-legged on mats and chant their prayers.  If a couple of monks were talking and laughing, or another falling asleep, it didn’t disturb the concentration of the others nor was anything said to them.  It seemed a peaceful, respectful, accepting atmosphere — our only stress came from trying to down the yak butter tea they kept giving us.

In Phaplu the group met Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealander who, along with Sherpa Tenzig Norgay, was the first to climb Everest in 1953.  Hillary’s Himalayan Trust has helped to build and support schools, health clinics and two hospitals in Nepal, one here at Phaplu and one by Everest.  The trekking group was allowed to attend a dinner hosted by the hospital in which the Sherpa people honored Hillary for his generosity.

The Hillary group

Many of the Sherpas placed a khata, a ceremonial white scarf, around Hillary’s neck as a symbol of their respect and regard.  It is said that the scarves are white to symbolize the pure heart of the giver.  Hillary must have been wearing about 30 scarves by the end of the evening.  Dancing and singing by the Sherpa people lasted until late that night.

At a shop in Phaplu Annie bought material for a skirt which a tailor made up for her in one hour, for the charge of 80 cents.  She also bought material for a sari and, when she wore it, the Nepali women smiled and called out didi, meaning sister, to her.

Annie says Nepal lived up to all her expectations.  She remarked that

Farmer and his Yak

everything looked like a National Geographic photograph, and she wishes she could say the same for her photos.

In 1997, Jim and Annie began building their new house about 150 feet away from the one they were living in.  They designed the house, and Jim hired Gary Martell to help build it.  Actually, Gary really knew what he was doing, and Jim mostly assisted him.  According to Jim, they hung 300 sheets of sheet rock, and made only one bad cut in the process.  Guess how many pieces Jim cut?  One.  And the bad cut?  We won’t go there…The house is 2,600 square feet and heavily insulated.  (The walls are ten inches thick.)  Almost all the wood used in the house’s construction was Tongass wood.  It is framed with Sitka spruce, sided with beveled red cedar, and has floors of western hemlock.  The kitchen table and cabinets are also of western hemlock.  The Mackovjak family moved into the house in 1999 but, like most Gustavus houses, there are a few details that remain unfinished.

In March, 2001, Annie took a trip with four women friends to White Sulphur Hot Springs, on the outer coast of Chichagof Island.  Accessible mainly by boat, the Forest Service cabin is nestled among spruce and hemlock trees.  The nearby bathhouse has a huge tub with the hot springs water continuously pouring in.  You can open the full-length sliding doors on the front to view the open Pacific, waves often crashing on the rocks below.  Although a 50th birthday gift, things didn’t come together until Annie turned 52.  The women read, hiked, soaked, and explored, naming many spots that they thought were unique, such as Five Fairy Pond, Whittle Trap

Hot tub at White Sulfur Hot Springs

Beach, and Otter Outlook.  One day they experienced almost every weather system imaginable — hail, sleet, rain, sun, snow, lightning, and thunder.  Heading home on Doug Ogilvy’s boat, weather was pretty good and they stopped at the Hobbit Hole for a visit.  While they visited, it began to snow and the wind came up, but Doug said they’d give it a go.  Though it was rough, they rode out the waves by laughing and singing oldies all the way to Gustavus.

For Gustavus friend Mossy Mead’s 50th birthday, Annie, along with six other women, rafted the Tatshenshini/Alsek Rivers.  Flying to Whitehorse, they signed on to a twelve-day expedition with Nahinni River Adventures.  The three rafts put in at Dalton Post on the Haines Highway in the Yukon Territory and began their 140-mile journey through the Coastal Range to Dry Bay and the Gulf of Alaska.  They donned their helmets for the Class III whitewater encountered early on while passing through a lengthy sheer-walled canyon, though most of the float was Class II.  At one point on the trip, over 20 glaciers were visible from one spot.  Day hikes took them high in the hills to overlook the river, as well as onto Walker Glacier.

Annie shared a tent with her friend, Susan Clark.  Every morning Susan would rise at 5:00 a.m. and take her bucket down to the cold glacier-fed river to get water to take a cold shower.  Annie shivered in her sleeping bag just thinking about it.

One of the women was Teri Rofkar, Tlingit weaver and basket maker.  She

Teri and singing bowl

taught the group how to gather spruce roots and prepare them to weave a tiny thimble-sized basket.  Everyone helped make it; then it was tucked into a dwarf fireweed by the river before they pushed off in their rafts.

Seventy-seven miles into the trip, the Tat joins the mighty Alsek, forming an even more powerful waterway.  Near the end, many icebergs from Alsek and Grand Plateau Glaciers filled Alsek Lake, and the rafters floated in a cold mist, finally camping on an island. Taking out at Dry Bay, they were met by Chuck Schroth, who

Thimble basket

flew them back to Gustavus as they gazed at the incredible wild scenery of the outer coast.

Teaching became a big part of Annie’s life when long-time Gustavus teacher George Jensen retired, and Annie received a contract as head teacher at Gustavus School for the 2002-2003 school year.  The following fall, however, the family moved to Eugene, Oregon, so all the kids could be together.  While Anya finished school at the University of Oregon, Chris lived in Ashland, Oregon, with Bill and Carolyn so he could play high school basketball.  Seth  was the only child at home.  Jim wanted to write a book on the Tongass, and there were rich resources at the University of Oregon’s library. The Mackovjak family spent five school years in Eugene, returning to Gustavus each summer.  Annie subbed, volunteered for Hospice, the Red Cross, and at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.  She hiked a lot and attended many basketball games, cheering Chris on. He played first on the varsity team at Churchill High School and then on the Southern Oregon University team.

While Annie taught students, Jim lived his own interesting story. Now one of Gustavus’ well-known authors, he began his writing career with a local history, Hope & Hard Work:  The Early Settlers at Gustavus, Alaska, which was published in 1988.  Always interested in forestry, Jim became involved in Tongass National Forest issues starting in the early 1980s.  In 1997, Alaska Governor Tony Knowles appointed him to the Southeast Alaska Timber Task Force, and in 2003, Jim began researching the history of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska.  Tongass Timber: A History of Logging and Timber Utilization in Southeast Alaska was published in 2010, followed that same year by Navigating Troubled Waters: A History of Commercial Fishing in Glacier Bay, Alaska, which was written for the National Park Service.  Aleutian Freighter:  A History of Shipping in the Aleutian Islands, for which he won an Independent Book Publisher’s Award, was published in 2012.  Alaska Salmon Traps, a book designed and published by Gustavus resident Bill Eichenlaub, came out in 2013.  That same year, Jim received the Alaska Historical Society’s Pathfinder Award “for important reference works on timber, freighting, and salmon traps.”  An administrative history of Lake Clark National Park & Preserve that Jim wrote several years ago for the National Park Service should be published in the not-too-distant future.  His current project is a history of Alaska’ Pacific cod fishery, which is the state’s oldest commercial fishery and presently its second-largest.

Annie and Jim returned to Gustavus in 2008, as Annie had a contract to teach 6th through 12th English and history, plus electives.  She will be forever remembered by her students for her favorite sayings: Yippee Skippee and Sugarbeets.

The Retirement Party Photo by Sean Neilson

In May, 2015, Annie’s students, their parents, and community members gave her a retirement party.  Two flowing chocolate fountains dominated the food table.  Ellie Sharman emceed an evening of reminiscing, poems read by students and  singing by Kate Boesser, Ellie Sharman, and Artemis BonaDea of “You Are My Sunshine,” rewritten for Annie.  The students presented her with a Lego trophy they had made and filled with chocolate.  They also gave her a memory book filled with cards,  student art and writing.  The finale was the gift of a duffle bag, organized by Deb Woodruff, and filled with all manner of treasures which Annie took out and enjoyed, including her new attire — sunglasses, hats, scarf, leis, and a Chinese robe.

As Annie’s son, Chris, was in Gustavus at the time, he attended the Wednesday evening party.  Anya and Seth had not known about the event in advance.  On the following evening Annie was in her classroom, grading and preparing for the end-of-the-year program the following day.  At about 5:00 p.m., Chris stopped by to visit.  Though surprised to see him at that time of day,  Annie was happy he’d come in.  About 5 minutes later, in through the classroom door walked Anya.  Annie had no idea she was coming to surprise her for her retirement.  As Annie recovered from the shock, in the door walked Seth!  All her kids had shown up to wish her well.  They had even bribed the airlines not to breathe a word about their incoming flight.  Then, on Friday evening, having completed her last day of school, Annie went home about 4:00 p.m. and fell asleep on the couch for about an hour.  When she awoke, there sitting in front of her she found a gold retirement bike.  Life doesn’t get much sweeter!

Annie states that retirement has been wonderful.  She’s traveled back east to visit family, done road trips in Washington with Carolyn Elder, had a wonderful trip through the Salish Sea on Kimber Owens’ Sea Wolfrode on the Katy bike trail in Missouri with JoAnn Lesh, had a family reunion in Las Vegas, and visited her children in Oregon.  She might be retired, but she is still going strong.

Annie believes in taking risks and getting outside one’s comfort zone.  She also loves quotes.  One of her favorites is by Eleanor Roosevelt:  “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  Annie claims she would not have had the grand life she’s had without just jumping in and doing things.  That’s our Annie, and we are so glad she is doing things here in Gustavus.

The family

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “VIVACIOUS AND INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: PART II

  1. What a wonderful story of a remarkable family. I’m so happy that through Aunt Sally Lesh, I had the chance to get to know you a little.

  2. Wonderful writing! Wonderful life!
    Thanks so much, Annie and thanks to you, Fran!

  3. I’m blown away by these adventures! I can’t imagine one woman having so much adventure in her life. I’m at a loss for word.
    Thank you for sharing these incredible stories.
    I look forward to meeting you one day.
    Sending my love, Helen Mackovjak Williams.

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