Paint and Pen the Kenai

Congratulations to the selected Paint and Pen the Kenai entries. The selected mural design and essay will be reproduced at the Kenai Municipal Airport in 2014. Thanks and congratulations to all the participants.

Paint the Kenai entry: “Kenai La Belle,” by Fanny Ryland

Paint the Kenai entry: “Kenai La Belle,” by Fanny Ryland

Pen the Kenai selection:

“Forged in the fires” by Clark Fair

I was forged in the fires of the Kenai Peninsula. My thoughts rise and fall with its topography. My movements are informed by its changing seasons.

My entire life has been here, from my infancy in Whittier, the neck of the peninsula, to my childhood in Soldotna, its crossroads; from high school and my first real job in Kenai to my hiking, biking, running, boating, and exploring from Kachemak Bay to the Kenai Mountains.

Without the Kenai Peninsula, I am a different man.

I dress for the roiling rhythms of its annual weather — winter, thaw, breakup, return of sun and salmon, autumn yellow, autumn brown, more winter. My footwear alone tells the tale — spiked running shoes for winter, cleated trail shoes for summer, Xtra-Tufs for anything wet below the knees. I have Sorels, Tevas, bunny boots, rock-worn hiking boots, sneakers, dress shoes, hip boots, chest waders.

I plan around the light that the peninsula provides — from the almost limitless sun of summertime to sometimes oppressive darkness of winter, from sunglasses during the explosion of growth and green, to the careful packing of headlamps and matches and extra layers in waning light and intensifying cold.

Being a part of the peninsula, however, is more than simple reactions and planning. I am shaped in my thoughts by my home.

I compare new places to this place. When I started college Outside, I scoffed at the hills they called mountains, wondered why they had so few small planes motoring through the skies, fretted at the absence of saltwater and sockeyes.

Too much flat land makes me nervous.

Too few rivers and beaches leave me parched.

A dearth of moose cannot be compensated for by a fenced-in field of dairy cattle.

I want to fish through the ice of the lakes down Swanson River Road, climb to the saddle on the Skyline Trail, watch from my dining room window as the sun rises over the Harding Ice Field. I want to taste what has been harvested from this place — highbush cranberry jelly and liqueur, canned red salmon, a sheep roast, a fireweed salad, razor clam chowder, steamed blue mussels. I was raised on fresh Dolly Varden, rainbow trout and silver salmon from the Kenai River; king crab, shrimp and halibut from Kachemak Bay; bull moose from the Kenai lowlands and Dall sheep from the Kenai Mountains. My mother served up moose steaks for dinner, then chopped up the leftovers to stir in with our scrambled eggs for breakfast. She ground moose meat into burgers, dumped it into chili and onto homemade pizza, stirred it into casseroles.

We lived on the land and took what the land provided. And, as much as possible, we tried to nurture the land, careful not to soil our own nest. And even today, 55 years after I was born in Alaska, I am dancing to the beat of the Kenai Peninsula — always my home, no matter where life takes me.

Clark Fair was born in the Territory of Alaska in 1958, schooled on the Kenai Peninsula, graduated from Kenai Central High School, returned to Alaska after college to write for the Peninsula Clarion, left the newspaper business to become a teacher, taught at Soldotna and Skyview high schools for a total of 20 years, raised two children here, and still lives on a piece of my parents’ original homestead.

All the  entries:

“Living on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska” by David Hartman

“Living on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska” by
David Hartman

“Harvest at the bottom of the hill”

They start down the hill, chilly and bleary-eyed — those people who gather like songbirds in June to lift their voices in July. That hill takes them away from everything else, down to precious hours of wet, silvery harvest. The air wraps their heads in salty moist and penetrates sweatshirts reserved for these days. Sand pulls at their beat-up boots and hangs on to their footprints, asking them to wait, to neglect the coming clock strike and just admire mountains and waves — the same mountains and waves that watched these fishermen’s fathers and mothers since this whole thing started.

Tractors start like steeds and voices rise above their rumbling. The diesel pounds drums with the waves, and everyone’s excited now. Nets are stacked on tarps for moving like so many yards of silk — knots are tied and untied and everyone knows their task, their niche, and they all move together like the fish moving ever closer.

Those fish! The gold that swims toward you when the sun doesn’t set, the oil that doesn’t have to be sought year after year. Those slippery, messy treasures paid for in laughter and heartache, sandy laundry and sunny afternoons. Those seven — or 70-pounded swimmers that bind families and fracture towns. Those rough diamonds in the water that keep us healthy and we keep healthy. Those floppy, gasping meals that feed smiling people all over and right here.

The smiling people wait, watching waves and counting down. The final knots are tied, and fishermen for 80 miles stand in their dirty waders, their eyes filled with a pristine landscape so often taken for granted. Then seven comes.

Tractors roar. Nets hit the water and the corks advance like the widening smiles on the fishermen’s faces. They’re set in a flash, and the harvest begins — that harvest that comes back like the fishermen do, year after year. That harvest that’s watered in October and weeded in March, that’s governed by tides and coveted by neighbors even when there’s enough. That harvest so treasured, so defining, so precious, so divisive, so hidden, so exposed. That harvest that comes back and that we come back to, no matter where the winds have blown us. That harvest we come to gather just to find that it gathers us up, for better or worse, again and again, like the waves at the bottom of the hill.

Selia Butler has lived in Kenai all her 19 years. She graduated from the Connections home school program in 2012 and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in history and English. All things vintage, especially fashion, capture her attention, and she can’t be kept from singing. The joy of her winter is the theatre, and the treasure of summer is the beach.

“It’s All Good on the Kenai” by David Hartman & Lee Salisbury

“It’s All Good on the Kenai” by David Hartman & Lee Salisbury

“Guided to the Kenai”

Seventy-five years ago, I grew up in a small Erie Canal town in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The Erie Canal and railroad town immediate area produced excellent fishing and hunting. It was all in my backyard and equal to anything in the country. There were dairy farms and fruit farms, and jobs were plentiful. Schools were excellent. City folk visited the area’s several beautiful lakes on weekends. There life at that time was much like life on the Kenai in 1968 when I first saw the Kenai River.

Eventually I graduated from college, taught school and opened a sporting goods store. Life seemed to be changing for me in Upstate New York, and that Shangri-La was rapidly disappearing. Concerned about my young family’s future, I traveled and searched every state in the union and every Canadian province to include Newfoundland and Labrador. Then I discovered the Kenai.

I wanted my young family of four to grow up where there was very little city influence, where there was lots of room to roam — to hunt, fish, hike and ski. Where schools were superior. A place where the threat of violence seemed only to be present when facing a grizzly. I wanted everyone in town to know my kids and to watch over them and their friends. I wanted our young kids to breathe invigorating air coming from hundreds of miles across the sea. There was then, and still is something about life on the Kenai that cannot be found anywhere else in this USA.

The impetus for me to love the Kenai wasn’t just the lure of the tremendous salmon and halibut fishery. It wasn’t the easy shot at a moose. It wasn’t the picturesque scenery as two magnificent mountains clearly came into focus as one drove through the city. And it wasn’t just the ease of living, friendliness, wild game, lack of congestion and easy-to-fin isolation. It was the hope for a more wonderful and more secure aspect of life.

As the recipient of a Chamber of Commerce Alaska Kenai River Pioneer Award, I am often reminded of the tremendous impact I had on the development of tourism on the Kenai. As the first licensed professional fishing guide on the Kenai, who would have ever imagined decades later the tremendous impact the introduction of the largest king salmon sport fishery in North America would have on the citizens of Alaska? Commercial and sport fishermen, sporting good stores, shopping malls, grocery stores, restaurants, real estate and hotels have all been effected in some way or another.

I am fortunate to have traveled to so many distant parts of the world. This is HOME! Nowhere in my travels can living anywhere else compare or mean as much to me as life on the Kenai.

 Spencer DeVito was the original professional Kenai River sportfishing guide, a retired commercial fisherman and a Homer charter captain who retired from the fishing business over 30 years ago. As an Alaska resident since 1968, he also retired as a Kenai Peninsula teacher and public school administrator in 1986.

 

“Peaceful Town” by Sarah Baktuit.

“Peaceful Town” by Sarah Baktuit.

“Summer’s end”

A haze of moisture catches in layers,

becomes smoke where there is no fire.

Veiled gauze drapes the mountain range,

the back country of the Wosnesenski River,

a scrim of shadow over treed slopes.

Inked indigo opens on bright scrub,

berried heath, slanting streams of light.

Traces chiseled in Japanese prints,

threaded rain of Chinese tapestries.

Hong Kong’s mountain peak, Tai Lo Tin,

floats misty across Kachemak Bay.

The sky slips low on hillside, slides

down runnels of snow melt, down

rills from blued glaciers, along ridges,

the pass, valley, cove, fiord, through

outwash plain heavy with cottonwood gold,

to rock-strewn forelands of beach, fold on

fold, to the sea. Fades, into leaves of cloud.

Deborah Poore, 59, was born in Alaska before statehood and grew up on her family’s homestead beside the Kenai River at Eagle Rock. She comes from a long line of teachers, farmers and carpenters. Schooled as a teacher in Fairbanks and Amherst, Mass., she is retired from the classroom. She lives with her husband and two sons along Kachemak Bay in Homer, where they occasionally entertain world travelers.

“Mother Kenai” by Amy Kruse.

“Mother Kenai” by Amy Kruse.

“The gallows wind”

A brisk wind blows in Kenai every March. It’s the kind of wind that drives perfectly sane men to acts of madness, and madmen to insanity, a gallows wind. It comes out of the Northeast when the world wants the warmth and promise of spring, bringing instead a bleak, frozen reminder of winter. For three days and three nights unabated it howls. Humans retreat, hurrying, head down, muffled, coated, gloved. In this wind, fingers freeze before you get the key in the lock. Animals who can, follow their owners in haste. Animals who can’t, turn hindquarters to the worst of it. Streets are scoured clean, and blowing dust — particles of silica, sand and winter salt — rise in billowy clouds to pelt unwary eyes and exposed skin while choking any living, breathing thing.

In such a wind it is said that a man standing in the gallows with the noose around his neck would beg the hangman to kick the stool, rather than live through one more minute of exposure. Children are difficult, cranky. Men and women squabble. Annoyance grows with the incessant howling at doorways and screaming around windows, the rumbling through porches and the wild clanging of wind chimes which lose their soothing appeal in a cacophony of clamorous sound.

Sleep does not allay the power of this wind, and morning’s awareness finds the jaw clenched and spine stiff with resistance. Neither the strong nor the weak survive unscathed but are reduced to an amalgam of equality where sex or age or social status matter not. The wind is in control, an equalizer. The wind scours away the veneer of respectable civility in the same manner it scours the streets of winter sand and salt.

The wind sometimes brings bright golden days and clear starlit nights, which none enjoy because it will not abate and make peace until it is ready. It can also bring more snow to add to the dirty piles everywhere on top of the grass we haven’t seen since October. For humankind, the fortunate fact is that such a wind comes only with this intensity once a year. In between we forget, and are hopeful every day is the last it will blow. At some primordial level, however, we recognize its strength and are subdued. Our frailty unquestionably revealed, we can only wait for the wind to stop.

Marilyn E. Wheeless is a lifetime Alaska resident, with 30 of those years in Kenai. She has been writing most of that life, and recently published several volumes of her fiction. She works for a local attorney, and three dogs and a very lucky black cat allow her to share their home as long as she brings home the “bacon” — but they won’t clean house, shovel snow or help in the greenhouse.

“All in a Great Weekend” by John Winters

“All in a Great Weekend” by John Winters

“Recipe for respect, health, happiness”

My name is Daiva, I am originally from Lithuania, a small country in the northern forests of Europe. Last year I walked the beach at the mouth of the Kenai River while dipnetting was going on, and the waste I observed horrified me. In Lithuania, a person who harvests an animal is expected to utilize every beneficial portion of it. This is cultural not only because Lithuania has known hunger, but it is respect to nature and thankfulness to God.

On the banks of the Kenai River, I saw fillets taken recovering only half the meat, and I saw the fish’s head and spine tossed aside. Even the caviar was wasted! It was a circus of disrespect to nature’s abundance; it was a display of cultural poverty. I cried, the scene was so unbelievable to me, but I also resolved to try to educate people. It motivated me to study following the Weston A. Price Foundation’s principles for a nutritionist’s license.

Nutritionally, fish broth from the head and spine of a salmon is the most important part; it is the best source on Earth of high-quality Omega-3. I mean no disrespect, but too many Alaskans are double plus-sized and unhealthy. Of course, being fat is a result of overeating. Overeating is caused by a lack of nutrients. Only natural, nutrient rich, dietary fats subdue the hunger craving. A modern diet low in natural fats, contaminated by damaging unnatural synthetic fats, and high in over-processed carbohydrates is responsible for today’s epidemic of obesity, diabetes and digestive disorders. On a modern diet, lacking sufficient natural dietary fats, the hunger craving is not satisfied, so overeating results. A small cup of salmon broth taken before a meal would regulate the urge to overeat. Watching some really fat Alaskans waddle up the beach to their coolers with a freshly caught salmon, I thought, “The solution is in your hands,” but they tossed away the part of the salmon that they needed.

Utilizing the whole salmon is not only a question of nutrition, salmon broth is really delicious; it is far more delicious than chicken broth. I like to drink salmon broth with a sprinkle of kelp powder that I make myself. There are also natural teas that I collect from the forest and preserve for winter. I love making caviar and salmon liver pate. There is so much cultural richness available to Alaskans from the unique food resources that Alaskans have.

Happiness and health have something to do with a spiritual connection to the Earth. I enjoy collecting natural foods, preparing them and sharing them. I am proud that I do not waste, and I have already converted a few Alaskans to some of my practices. Now, I’m after you to habituate health and happiness!

Daiva Gaulyte is originally from Lithuania and has lived in America for 18 years. Five years ago she met an Alaskan man and moved here. They live on Kalgin Island, 25 miles southwest from Kenai.

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“Kenai’s Identity” by Paul Tornow

Every day is unique and full of wonder on the Kenai Peninsula. The Kenai is like living in a national park. There are great views everywhere. The communities are small with lots of smiles and care from its residents. Here on the Kenai the land, the animals, the people — all are special.

As you drive north and south and east and west, the landscape changes with views of mountains, trees, lakes and rivers, snow in the winter, bursts of orange and yellow in autumn, and multiple colors of green in the summer. It’s fun to watch the plants come alive in the spring. Along the Seward Highway you can see a garden of wildflowers appear all spring and summer. There’s fireweed, Indian paintbrush, columbine, prickly rose, forgetme- not and lupine, just to name a few, and there are so much more. The plant growth on the Kenai is like the growth in tropical areas — different plants but just as abundant.

On almost every drive through the peninsula animals abound. It’s easy to see either a moose, bear, eagle, Dall sheep, ermine, birds, wolf, beaver, fox, owl, coyote, lynx, snowshoe hare and caribou. Some animals you may have to go to them to see, but they come close to us, as well. Watching the birds is enjoyable. On a rare winter day when they are in a playful mood, a flock of them chase each other in the sun. How fun it is to see animals having fun, too. This is God’s country, a paradise in the north.

There are several small communities on the Kenai. The people in each are caring and giving. Life here is about helping our neighbors. Most everyone knows about what’s going on with their neighbors. It’s a comfort to be assured that help is always closeby. Each individual has talents and we offer our talents and skills among ourselves. It makes our communities closeknit, just like a family.

The Kenai Peninsula is a unique place to live. The tranquility here makes it the best place to live. The quiet brings one closer to nature. There’s not a dull moment when you have scenic views, animals and caring people to live among. There’s something to do year-round, such as camping, fishing, hiking, sailing, skiing, snowboarding and snowmachining. This is the place to live; why go anywhere else for a vacation when it is all right here on the Kenai Peninsula?

Lorri Genne, 64, was born and raised in Denver, came to Alaska in 1976 but returned to Colorado the same year. Renne has traveled three times to Europe, one time to Israel and Jordan, lived in Mexico for four months and now lives in Hope.

“Community of Nikiski Northstars” by Monica Heath’s second- and third-grade class at Nikiski North Star Elementary School

“Community of Nikiski Northstars” by Monica Heath’s second- and third-grade class at Nikiski North Star Elementary School

“Spring, day by day”

Spring along the Kenai is the day of the vernal equinox.

The day the first sandpiper arrives in town. The day your favorite restaurant opens for the season. The day when you can see grass in your yard. The day that the grass actually looks green. The day you drain the antifreeze out of the water system on your boat. The day the humpback whales return from Hawaii. The day your neighbor returns from Hawaii.

The day you can smell the dog poop melting out of snow on the waterfront. The day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, instead of whatever weird alternate schedule it’s been following since November.

The day you take the studded tires off of your car. The day when ice is no longer filling in all the potholes on the road to the dump. The day you can see the yellow parking lines in the grocery store parking lot. The day a motor home camps at the campground. The day a tent camper camps at the campground. The first day that the bears raid trash cans on Dora Way.

The day the first cruise ship arrives in port. The first day of salmon-fishing season. The day you realize it’s been a week since you had to scrape ice off of your car. The day you walk outside without a coat and don’t regret the decision. The day a moose gives birth behind the hardware store. The day you want to eat ice cream.

The day you run into a seasonal worker who’s gotten back into town. The day you see tourists. The day you see a leaf sprouting on a cottonwood tree. The day you grill outside. The day you decide that the skis should probably go back in the garage.

Mareth Griffith is a Seward resident and has lived in Alaska off and on since 2007. A long-term seasonal worker, Griffith has variously worked as a nanny, wine salesperson, deckhand, receptionist, auctioneer’s assistant, theater technician and kayak guide. During the summer, Mareth can be found paddling her kayak through Kenai Fjords National Park, where she works as a program manager for a remote wilderness lodge.

Untitled by Anna Widman

Untitled by Anna Widman

“Skyline”

The height in foot is really great,

Three thousand, two hundred ninety-eight.

Carrying fun isn’t even featherweight,

No avalanches, nor slippery slate!

There is an orange box to write in your name,

You can fish and hunt for game!

There is a spot to camp at night,

The place is creepy: What a fright!

The climb is super duper rough,

If you complete it,

You’re remarkably tough!

The snow in spring is about four feet deep,

Chickadees are all around (Peep! Peep! Peep!)

Tucker Mueller, 11, of Kenai, is in the fifth grade at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science. He likes Skyline for his adventures, and for how challenging it can be.

“This Grand Life” by Sandra Sterling

“This Grand Life” by Sandra Sterling

 “A place apart”

Ten p.m. Time to take the dog out for her numbers. Sadie is small — an easy snack for the predators in our woods, so I am watchdog. For a dog. I try not to think about it.

The evening air, barely freezing, hints at the turn of the season. Certainly, we all look forward to warmer temperatures; cold came early and hard last fall. But winter has been white and soft, and I will miss its beauty.

Sadie heads to her king mattress — she lets us use it, as well — and I to the hot tub. This night calls for a tub!

Low clouds hold down the day’s warmth and hide the night sky, but halogen lamps over the deck and frozen river channel define the scene. Here, an island narrows the river. Summer waters run deep and fast, and heavy with fish, but as the current slackens and freezes each fall, our channel becomes a roadway for four-legged locals.

From the tub, I admire the olive spires of spruce and fractal branches of birch. Rising vapors dance over me in the light like broken holograms, while speakers under the eaves lend rhythm to my mood. Tonight it is blues.

I smile at happy contradictions. Certainly, at the decadence of a hot tub on the edge of wilderness, but more than that at this Place Apart, this place of abundance, with river and forest and tundra and sea, where my neighbors’ footprints show pads and claws and hooves, where flight paths are traced by raptors and waterfowl more than aircraft — but where we enjoy comforts and connections once found only in distant, forgettable places with curbs and lawns.

A young moose, droopy, clearly not well, appears on the lighted bank of the island. He is the same adolescent I have watched over many weeks. Despite his obvious need for food, he seems always in a nervous near-trot. It is strange and life-sapping behavior. Remnants of summer are available under the trees, but I never see him browse. He has gone from skinny to gaunt.

He moves to cross the channel but stops, ears alerted, then retreats into darkness. He is not a fan of the blues. I am left alone, to reflect on places, and seasons, and beauty, and death.

The next morning Sadie and I walk the lane. As always, I study the night’s snow for tales and mysteries. There: moose tracks.

After 30 years in Alaska, I am pretty familiar with moose tracks. These tell a tale of exhaustion. Of plodding, final effort. The new snow is scarcely three inches deep, but the yearling has left wide grooves from footfall to footfall as his feet dragged across the ice. It is early March. Two months before green emerges. We have shared a long winter in our Place Apart, my young neighbor and I, and I feel a kinship. I hope he survives.

But I look up, into the forest, and know.

Christopher L. Robinson, 71, retired to his “place apart” — five miles upstream from the end of Funny River Road — after more than 40 years providing and directing local and statewide special education services in Oregon, Wyoming and Alaska, and after a shorter tenure as director of a peninsula health agency. His wife, Linda, still works in Anchorage. She tells friends her secret to a happy retirement: Buy your husband his own house! Still, Robinson looks forward to her retirement, as well. Their daughter and son live in Kenai and Soldotna.

By Cam Choy

“River to the Sea… Kenai to the World” by Cam Choy

“Exploration leads home”

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot

Born and raised on the Kenai Peninsula, I missed something. It took decades to even realize I had missed anything. Growing up, there was a palpable stigma about people who didn’t leave the peninsula after high school. The theory was that if someone failed to leave, they weren’t capable of ever realizing their potential. After all, what options could such a small community provide considering the world at large?

Upon graduation, I was adamant to flee, go as far away as possible. I didn’t make it far, spending two years attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Significantly larger than Kenai, Fairbanks allowed me to grow away from home, and learn valuable lessons, like the exact temperature necessary to freeze one’s eyelashes together.

After Fairbanks, I looked to places South to finish my education. “South of Fairbanks” is conveniently called “Planet Earth.” Enchanted with locations containing “Mexico” in the title, I set phasers to Geek and graduated with degrees in mathematics and astrophysics from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

Tiring of academics, I couldn’t shake a feeling that I was missing something. School was great, and though challenging, it was safe, predictable. I wanted more, unpredictable challenges. So I retired. I enrolled in a sailing course and instantly found myself with direction. I wanted to sail. Armed with four whole days of sailing experience, a one-way ticket to California and zero discernable plan, unpredictable challenges came in abundance. You might think that having a degree in mathematics might lend itself to social poise. You’d be wrong. Alone in a huge city, I had to go completely outside of myself, make connections, and persist like never before.

After crewing on various sailboats up and down the Mexican Coast, a friend and I bought a small sailboat and pointed the bow south. I visited and lived in wonderful, exotic places — French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Australia. After years at sea, I came back to California and started a business.

Despite living and experiencing other communities and cultures, again something was missing. Always the visitor, always in transit, the air of impermanence lingered. I reexamined my life, my erstwhile home, and instigated my eventual return to the peninsula.

Unsure of what to expect, I couldn’t have been more surprised to find a genuine, thriving community. Instead of not realizing my potential here, I found hiking, biking, world-class ski trails, music, and wonderful, involved people giving back to this incredible community. Everything fell right into place.

There are opportunities everywhere. I merely had to open my eyes to them. Never have I felt such pride to be part of this vibrant, cultured, and beautiful peninsula that I call home. I’m thankful to be back here where I started, to know this place for the first time.

Mike Crawford, of Kenai, spent many years traveling and experiencing the world before returning to the Kenai Peninsula. He is equally comfortable in sunscreen or skis.

 

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“Kings of the Kenai River” by Sue Biggs and Music Class

My name is Amelia Mueller. I was born at the Soldotna hospital and raised in Kenai, Alaska. Life on the Kenai Peninsula can be tough, interesting, adventurous and exciting all at the very same time.

Being raised on the Kenai Peninsula has taught me so, so, so much about the world around me. Sometimes, when my family and I are driving home from Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church, we go over to the viewing area on Bridge Access Road over on the way to Kalifornsky Beach Road and stop to notice the geese, hares and sometimes, if we take out our binoculars, we scout for coyotes. I like to notice how he or she prances across the estuary.

When my dad and I take walks down to the Kenai River (because we live right next to the Kenai River Boat Launch) we listen for birds, smell the lupine, columbine, pink roses and eat raspberries. But our favorite thing to do is just have our eyes glued to the gorgeous sight of the Kenai River. When we walk back up to the hill to our house, we talk about how fun it was that we took this walk and ate the raspberries along the way.

Amelia Mueller, 9, is in third grade at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science. She loves to draw, read, hike, camp, garden, collect Pokemon cards, Skylanders, office supplies and drawings, and do arts and crafts, karate and cross-country skiing.

 

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“Tern Lake- Crossroads of the Kenai” by Scott Sheritt

Mountain in the sky

clouds softly sailing by

pointing straight and true

nothing taller than you

Northern lights

dancing in the dark,

eagle flies by

When day comes,

lights are gone

eagle flown far

You, mountain, stay

never moving

mountain in the sky

Colton Rankin, 11, is a lifelong Alaskan who lives in Nikiski. He loves to fish, hunt and raise small animals for 4-H.

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“Our Backyard” by Andrea Krol

We rolled in

and it was home.

At last.

God’s brushstrokes,

mountains everywhere.

Home.

Don’t even get me started on the people.

Instant friends,

fellow wanderers in this new home.

Sojourners stuck

happy in this place.

Family.

Married years, but

this place makes things new.

Honeymoon in this home.

And it’s clean.

And it’s big.

And people love it or hate it but how could

you ever hate this place?

Seventeen summers still feel new,

just like rolling in,

brand new in this grandeur.

Redoubt, that triangle

glowing right there

outlined in front of the sun

And white,

getting whiter

when the poplars yellow and shed.

Beauty, patience

wherever the eye falls.

Big in the windshield, small in the rearview,

quiet from the shore.

This place is love.

This place is life and majesty

and fits like your favorite clothes.

Unless you get restless and jumpy,

like the Coho bending the pole and you

swim, swim

then rest strong because there really is

no other place, no other land, no other

dirt to be on.

When we rolled in

it was home.

Home at last.

Cassandra Rankin lives in Nikiski with her husband, their four children and a menagerie of animals. She and her husband moved to the Great Land in 1997 to fulfill a dream he’d held since his teens, and with each passing year they grow deeper into the rich ground that is Alaska.

"Mighty Hands" by the Rankin crew

“Mighty Hands” by the Rankin crew

“Kenai is life”

When asked what life on the Kenai means to me, my response is, “Life.” Because that’s what it is. It is Life. I could write page after page after page about all the wonderful activities and opportunities that are found on the Kenai Peninsula. Each area offers something different, something unique, and yet as a whole, they together offer life to us all. But this isn’t about everyone, it’s about what it means to me to live here.

It means everything to me that the Kenai Peninsula is my home. I have freedom to walk on various beaches for as long as I want, or can. And what beaches we have! The mountains across Cook Inlet, the glaciers on the other side of Kachemak Bay, and the sights and sounds of Resurrection Bay all bring me to a point of breathlessness, of peace, of stirrings in my soul when the surf is rough. On these Kenai beaches I find myself, I slow down my thoughts, and I walk. I walk and walk and walk. I have a feeling of freedom and exhilaration I have nowhere else.

I could write about all the exciting and mundane things about the seasons, how spring is messy but desired, that summer is crazy-busy and too short, fall is when everything comes together again, and winter is lovely and quiet and for some, much too long. I want to write about all those things, but I would have a hard time knowing where to stop.

The Kenai Peninsula has everything I want. It’s not the stuff or the things. It’s not even the views and the activities. It’s the people. It’s the people that make all the difference. I moved here not knowing anyone, coming from a city that always seems to me more unfriendly than not. On the Kenai Peninsula, I found my life through the people I’ve met.

Whether meeting someone on the beach and becoming friends or attending classes where relationships are formed, to taking part in volunteer organizations that make a difference in the community, this is what I have found matters most. I have learned so much and grown and changed, opening my heart in ways I didn’t know I could, because of the people who live here.

Life is different here. It’s the same as anywhere with work, play, problems, shopping, summer traffic and so on, but it’s different. The people of the Kenai Peninsula care about one another, about our community, our area, our resources and our world. I have found open arms and open hearts and people willing to make time for newcomers, to help when help is needed, and to do the hard things when necessary. They mourn when there is loss, and rejoice with good news shared, all over this peninsula.

The Kenai Peninsula is community. It is life. It is my life, and I wouldn’t want to live any other place.

Nancy Whiting, a 55-year old resident of Nikiski, is living her dream of living in Alaska. She is a volunteer with Community Emergency Response Team and the Central Peninsula Hospital Volunteer Auxiliary, and enjoys a great number of opportunities found on the peninsula. She enjoys Strong Bodies for Women through the Healthy Lifestyles program at CPH, cross-stitch, writing poetry, snowshoeing, rock collecting and reading. She also is a member of the newly formed North Road Writer’s Group.

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“It Brought You Here – Nurture It” by Heather Floyd

Newlyweds Jim and Ruth Lawler left the family ranch in Meeteetse, Wyo., on the wing, a Cessna 182. On May 30, 1969, we arrived at Merrill field in Anchorage and loved it from the start. Walking the nearly empty streets of the big city we marveled at the complete absence of traffic congestion, reminiscent of the small town we’d left behind. The emptiness, we later learned, was due to the fact that thousands of Anchorage residents had left to spend the holiday playing on the Kenai Peninsula.

Our three children were born in the old Anchorage Community Hospital, and Jim secured a good job with Atlantic Richfield on the North Slope. For several years he was little more than a caretaker at Prudhoe Bay, but Congress finally authorized the start of the

Trans-Alaska Pipeline and his job turned to production supervisor. Anchorage boomed.

Traffic congestion? Everywhere. Parking? It cost us nearly $500 a month just to park two airplanes and one trailer house. Our boys, their baby sister and Mom needed more space to play in. So in July of 1977 we hauled our house and family to 40 acres in Kasilof, 12 miles south of Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula.

Now we have free parking, a runway with access to Johnson Lake, and a large hangar with a modular home on top. In the 1970s we had amphibious floats on a Cessna 180. We could land in the lake, raise the wheels and taxi home, or vice versa. There are no restrictions on what we can do on our own property in unincorporated Kasilof. Our picturesque peninsula offers great fishing, hunting and plenty of room to roam. We have good neighbors out of sight, a caring community with two active churches, restaurant, gas station, post office and Mercantile.

Jim has flown hundreds of people, neighbors, friends and visitors to dig clams in the middle of Cook Inlet, view the bears, fish for salmon with no crowds, visit Lake Clark National Park, Prince William Sound, Kachemak Bay, Bush Alaska and wherever. We had to get a bigger plane, a Piper Cherokee 6, which can carry seven. Our lifelong friends here come from diverse backgrounds and have many skills they are willing to share. Crime rates are low and hospitality high. A feeling of security runs deep, if disaster should strike our community has the resources and the heart to help one another. We can’t imagine a better place to settle and raise a family than the Kenai.

Ruth and Jim Lawler still live in Kasilof, and their two children, Monty and Christy, work in the oil industry but have relocated back to Anchorage. Their second son, Toby, lives in California, a nice place to visit in winter. Lawler enjoys all the above activities, as well as reading, writing and meeting with the Kenai Writer’s Group.

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“Coastal Community: Life-Giving Waters” by Erica Miller

Empty swings sway

under the weight of cracking ice,

shaded in the

engrossing darkness.

A woman dodges

mountains of snow and puddles of water

for fear of drowning

in its depths.

Seizing her coat,

she reaches into the fire and is burned.

There is no scream,

because the stinging warms.

Through the window

a moose lies in the snow.

Its shoulders are heavy, and the wind

licks its back whispering

“It will soon end.”

But the birds begin to soar and cry

“Spring is coming!”

And the grass claws at the ice.

The river beats at its cold, hard shell

and breaks through with vigor.

The fish with their silver backs

flash in the sunlight.

The air smells of life.

And out of the entangled trees

wobbles a calf, new to the world.

Mandarin Wilcox, 15, is a sophomore at Soldotna High School. New to Alaska from Seoul, South Korea, she enjoys experiencing the small-town life. She appreciates the simple things in life but searches for the hidden details. She aspires to become a writer, and a wife and mother someday.

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“Inlet Beauty” by Andrea Moulton

I’m not ashamed to say I’ve had numerous love affairs, and each one has been spiritually enlightening and fulfilled a deep need within me. I can’t accurately describe the emotions within my soul that are my loves and how each served a purpose in my journey, but I will try to impart the blessings of each.

Remembering back, the first one was the aqua blue waters of the Kenai River as I crossed it and felt the reflection of my eyes looking back at me, connecting me to the endless flow of life. Then clever Raven came along and called words of wisdom, heralding the seasons while flying in circles in the powder-blue sky that conveyed the circle of life.

Not to be outdone, Eagle appeared to me at the peaceful beach as I walked in silence, searching for those sacred rocks and shiny agate treasures. He cried loudly of freedom as he stood majestic in all his proud heritage and reminded me of mine. Before I knew it, the mountains echoed my name and Mount Redoubt stood out in white grandeur, puffing clouds of mist that haloed its tip, reaching upward and leading my eyes and heart to heaven.

When I was in need of answers, Nature found me and taught me balance and that everything has a time and a purpose. The vibrant fireweed, velvet meadows, lush emerald valleys, stately spruce, whispering aspen and the sapphire waters will sleep and the awaken to renewal with the precision of surety. And then there was dear, straggly, willow-munching Moose, who seemed so lost and forlorn but, as I came to understand, was strong, enduring and willing to live with stamina in the harshest of circumstances. He is a warrior after all and mirrored that to me.

One of my most difficult loves was Winter. I had met Winter before but felt it more relentless, severe and disagreeable here. What I came to learn were the gifts of softness, hush, purity and the simple purpose of repair it offered while glistening in the Northern Lights.

And then Summer arrived to take Winter’s place and it was so busy with endless days that our fling barely had time for the musical fairs, salmon fishing, hiking, camping, friends and the laughter that filled me with joy and rejuvenated me like a kid again.

Last, but not least, was Bear who announced caution with honor. Bear was brown with blond tips, stunning, powerful and stately as he slowly lumbered the trails high on the mountain along the giggling streams, looking for sweet, ripe berries. Bear gave me the insight of respect, strength, patience and survival in peace. He showed me the way.

When I open my heart in gratitude to what is around me, I become available to witness all these miracles. All my loves will be with me always, and I am assured they will inspire me to co-create with what the Kenai so graciously offers.

Nicole Bowers has lived in Soldotna for 13 years and is retired. Besides the loves listed, she has three sons, two of which live locally and one in Boise, Idaho. She also has four teenage grandchildren whom she adores. Her two dogs, Hope and Luna, and her partner, Ralph, all enjoy the great outdoors, the community and the beauty of living on the Kenai.

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“So Close” by Corbin Rankin

There are many beautiful places on this planet we call Earth, and Alaska is one of them. I have lived in four countries and 10 states and traveled many more. Currently house-sitting at my 35th address, I came here to Alaska searching for “home” and I found it here on the Kenai.

Driving to Alaska in February 2012, the landscape was the first to capture my attention. The beauty of the mountains cloaked in their winter blanket of snow and the ice-covered trees sparkling in the sunshine — absolutely breathtaking! The transformation from the white of winter so quickly into a lush, green landscape with colorful flowers everywhere was amazing to watch — all an ever-changing canvas begging to be painted. The Kenai is a wildlife paradise for animal and nature lovers alike, whether hunting with a camera, rod, bow or rifle.

People from all over the world are drawn to Alaska and to Kenai, its playground. Sports enthusiasts, artists and sightseers all find that there is so much to see and do that they have to come back again and again. I know this as fact because my family camp hosted at a state park last summer and during those four months we met people from Germany,

Switzerland, China, Japan, Russia, Sweden and Italy. The many states represented included Native Americans from Arizona to Bostonians from Massachusetts. All were either repeat visitors or were already planning their next trip.

Regardless of nationality, language or culture, all come here to the Kenai looking for something. Many of you who are reading this were once, too, a visitor who came to stay. Whether a native or a transplant, what makes life on the Kenai so great is you!

The landscape is wonderful and the wildlife may attract, but one stays because of the people, and it’s the people that make life on the Kenai “home.”

The pioneering spirit thrives among the diverse people of the Kenai and it calls to me and to my family. The Kenai is a place to carve out our own piece of heaven on Earth and raise our kids to appreciate the beauty of the land and its people. Life on the Kenai is finding my place among you in the community and using it to somehow make the world an even better place, a place I call “home.”

And really, who misses football when you have the Brown Bears? (It’s OK to feed those bears!)

Born Elizabeth Becraft in 1960 and raised in the Army, Elizabeth Ward is well traveled and learned to make friends quickly, knowing it would soon be time to move on to another place — the next adventure! Elizabeth married Jimmy Ward in Switzerland and has four children, Christopher born in Pennsylvania, Alisha in Panama, Abigail in Germany, and Samuel in Utah. She likes diversity! She and Jimmy are expecting their seventh grandchild this fall. Elizabeth, Jimmy, Abigail and Samuel are planning to make their home in Kasilof later this summer after camp-hosting again in Sterling. Every day is a gift, a new adventure — especially on the Kenai!

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“A New Day” by Gracie Rankin

I can barely remember when I didn’t see a bear

And a moose with it’ babies very near

And a cold winter’s night and the Northern Lights

And the fireweed almost 8 feet tall

With a promise of a winter to beat them all.

I can barely remember anywhere else

With beaches of agates and beaches of shells

Where rip tides go in and rip tides go out

Where moose are our neighbors and they freely roam

I live in Alaska and Nikiski’s my home.

I can barely remember when I didn’t dip net

Or watching others with a gill or set

Or beached on the bank till a friendly yank

Or digging for clams in the muck and mud

Till the tide comes in and the beach is flood.

I can barely remember anywhere else

With beaches of agates and beaches of shells

Where rip tides go in and rip tides go out

Where moose are our neighbors and they freely roam

I live in Alaska and Nikiski’s my home.

I can barely remember summer with no midnight sun

Out with the bears count them one by one

And fishing all night in the summer light

By the banks of the rivers, and the lakes, and the seas

Till I drop with exhaustion and I catch my zzz’s.

I can barely remember anywhere else

With beaches of agates and beaches of shells

Where rip tides go in and rip tides go out

Where moose are our neighbors and they freely roam

I live in Alaska and Nikiski’s my home.

I can barely remember when to see an eagle was rare

Perched in the trees over here and over there

On a twig on the beach on the bluff out of reach

Or soaring up high in the clear blue sky

With the freedom to soar and to fly so high.

I can barely remember anywhere else

With beaches of agates and beaches of shells

Where rip tides go in and rip tides go out

Where moose are our neighbors and they freely roam

I live in Alaska and Nikiski’s my home, my home.

Tonya Halliday, 47, is the clinic manager of Cook Inlet Dental. She lives in Nikiski with her husband, Jim, and their children, Hannah, Ross and Thomas. Their oldest son, James, lives in California where he travels the world while running his own computer business. When she has the time she enjoys traveling, arts and crafts, genealogy, camping and writing.

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“View Finder” by Jan Sherwood

Life on the Kenai means stopping for moose to cross the Spur Highway, grilling fresh salmon and striking up conversations with strangers. It means hunting for rabbits, spruce hen, and the KSRM Easter Egg. Being from the Kenai Peninsula means walking the beaches, searching for agates, countless pictures of Mount Redoubt in the sunset, and stopping when someone on the side of the road has their hood up.

It’s waving at friends on back roads, small town Fourth of July parades, garage sales where you discover “so this is where you live!” and counting caribou on the way to church.

Life here in this amazing place means story hour at the library, “Dog Gone News” on the radio and friendly mayoral races. It’s birth announcements where you know the parents, grandparents and all the aunts and uncles by name. It’s old rusty trucks and rumbling Harleys. It’s being friends with both commercial fishermen and river guides, and understanding both of their ways of life.

Life on the Kenai means local theater productions, homecoming bonfires and buying raffle tickets from every student involved in every sport ever invented. It means football games in hurricane winds, track meets in the snow and stopping a soccer game to clear moose from the field.

Life on the Kenai means aurora borealis over the old Russian Orthodox Church, coffee shop open mic nights and “fresh eggs for sale” signs on the street corner. Free puppies at the mall, car washes every summer Saturday and Oilers games that bring out the fans, rain or shine.

It’s dirt track racing, T-ball and seeing gals on horseback riding down the sidewalk. It’s respecting our elders, our flag, and our veterans. It’s families and schools, churches and bars, rivers and lakes.

The Kenai Peninsula — a diverse and amazing place to visit, and the perfect place to call home.

Leah Jackson, 37, was born and raised on the Kenai. She is a wife, mother, commercial fisherman and hobby photographer. She enjoys boating, fishing, beach combing and local theater. Leah currently lives in Nikiski with her husband and their eight children.

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“Spirit of the Kenai” by Cynthia Hemphill

Oh, no she won’t.

Won’t entice me, with a few unexpected sunny days.

No sun dappled apologies

Can make up for that summer.

The ruined weekends,

Camping under awning and tarp.

Fishing ensconced in coated nylon.

Upper torso as cold as feet planted

Knee-deep in glacial-green waters.

Cold and damp, casting and casting

For the glut and bounty that never came.

Now, as I walk the rooted river trail,

September’s sun not too hot, not too cold.

Her breath stirs against my cheek and face.

Hues of green deepened by long days,

Lure me, as of old.

Speckled berries catch my eye,

And quicken my heart.

She would gloss over the months

Of disappointment with a single tryst.

No.

I know the consequences of a lost summer,

untanned, unfatted

for the breadth and depth of winter.

At first, I push her away.

Shorten my gaze for fear of succumbing.

But then, I, a knowing fool,

Explain the terms of probation.

I give her one more year.

She promises and leaves with a wink and a smile.

Darrell Keifer, a retired fish hatchery manager, lives in his recently built cabin in Sterling. He’s written screenplays, short stories, editorials and an occasional poem.

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“The Kenai Shuffle” by Breena Walters

It could be beautiful anywhere. That beauty could bring you to a faraway place by seducing you. You arrive only to discover its people fail to match its beauty. True beauty awakens you, helps you want to live by inspiring life.

Just as my mom awakens me to, “Kenai. We are here” and she smiled. My fears of a new place left me. Right then and there, Kenai was going to be like my mom, beauty and love.

Thirty-six years, Kenai and I are still together. Sadly, my mom left us two years ago. But my mom is with us, you know. I can feel her all around me — I can smell her fragrance in the flowers, trees and river. I can feel her warmth in the sun, her tears in the rain and snow. I can look everywhere and never feel alone. It inspires, it helps you want to continue to live. It seems fitting that such a great beauty is resting in a place of equal beauty.

Robin Whiteside has lived in Kenai since 1977. Writing has been a hobby of mine for some time and has helped me work through some tough times. I am grateful for that. I have worked in financial institutions for over 21 years.

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“Reflections of Kenai” by Kyn and Jackson Cross

Living on the Kenai Peninsula is divine. You can have fun under the midnight sun camping, exploring the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, or beachcombing. The Kenai has it all.

One of the most incredible campsites on the peninsula is Skilak Lake campground. Whether you have a tent or a motor home, it is fun either way. If you try fishing from the shores of the lake and you feel a tug, trust me it’s not going to be that big of a catch. All you’ll find are minnows and stickleback, but they are so fun to catch. Speaking of sticklebacks, if you go for a swim be prepared to be nipped at. After a peaceful night’s rest, at the glorious lake covered in silk, if you are there at the right time, you could witness the spawning of fish in the lake. At first the water will look black, but if you have very clear vision you will see endless eggs hatching.

The wildlife refuge is the heart of the Kenai Peninsula. It’s a great place to go hiking, exploring and viewing wildlife. Squirrels are common to see along the trails.

The most rare sightings are bears and wolfs. If you’re lucky you might catch sight of the magnificent bald eagle. There are lots of plants and trees on the refuge to investigate and scan.

Beachcombing on the peninsula is like a treasure hunt. You can go clam digging or searching for rocks and shells. You don’t have to be experienced to go clam digging. All you need is a low tide, a shovel and boots. Captain Cook State Park and Bishops Beach are two of the best beaches on the peninsula. You will find colorful rocks and shells abandoned by previous occupants to take home as souvenirs.

Come to the Kenai Peninsula to find great camping, breathtaking wildlife and peaceful beaches.

Peyton Story, 9, is a student at Soldotna Montessori School.

2 responses to “Paint and Pen the Kenai

  1. Tony Eskelin

    This is great! I loved these. Life on the Kenai.

  2. Bill Niendorff

    Very well done. This collection of essays says all that needs to be said about the Kenai, especially before the throngs of tourists from down below begin to arrive.
    Though I live in New Mexico, Alaska always draws me back on a regular basis, with the Peninsula being a magnet any time of year for the reasons expressed here.

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