Tomorrow we will leave Manley and drive south. Jerry is going to show me some parts of Alaska that I have not yet seen.
Our days here have passed quietly and peacefully. Almost every day since we arrived here I worked on paintings for most of the day, and I have completed 6 paintings in 6 weeks. That is, I think I have completed them. I’m never certain that a painting is really finished.
Each afternoon between 4 and 5 o’clock I put away my paint brushes and Jerry and I sit down at the kitchen table for wine and conversation. We have the radio news playing which often begins the conversation. We talk politics, something on which we don’t always agree. I am liberal, Jerry is closer to being an old style conservative: that is, he harbors suspicions of government, of many social programs and he instinctively dislikes rules and regulations. One of the reasons he likes Manley is because here there are no property taxes and no building codes.
We don’t change each other’s minds, but I think we inch closer to the views of the other. I have become less trusting and cheerfully optimistic about public policies — more careful about dismissing every position taken by conservatives. And I have brought Jerry around to my view that you won’t get the best people teaching our children until teaching jobs pay salaries that compete with those of other professionals. We both think this country needs a single payer health care system (but we know it isn‘t going to happen), and we both deeply deplore the growing anti-intellectualism that is gripping the United States.
We move on from politics to science. We have been studying geology and reading a book on the ice ages (Jerry has an affinity for ice and snow and cold) but over wine we go for the big picture. Why is life, with its unimaginable complexity, flourishing in a universe that is supposed to be running down? Life is such a highly ordered system, and yet it leads to an increase in entropy. Why does the universe take this circuitous route to increasing disorder? We pour another glass and go over the first and second laws of thermodynamics (1. You can’t win; 2. You can’t break even.) Is there another, as yet undiscovered, law that would explain the development of life? Since neither of us is religious at all, for us God is not part of the equation.
Why do a couple of glasses of wine make us think we are smart enough to fathom these things?
Since we will almost certainly not answer the questions, I finish cooking the dinner. After dinner we feed the dogs — they have to sit quietly and look at their dishes full of food until I say “okay”. Then they dash for their supper.
The dogs finish eating in 30 seconds or less, and we start on our evening walk. There is a trail up the hill behind our house. It was originally cut by the man from whom we bought this house. He fancied himself a trapper, and he sprinkled the trail (and the surroundings of the house) with a variety of odd little trap arrangements made from tin cans and chicken wire. I am not sure what he expected to catch. I have seen squirrels, rabbits and two moose since we first came. Last year there was a great grey owl which hunted voles in the yard. However, I know he caught some animals because the tool room of the house (which Jerry and I are going to convert to a bedroom next summer) still smells from the skins of dead animals.
The walk, like the talk, has stages. It lasts about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much we stop and look and how far we go. The woods are predominately birch and quaking aspen. These are not trees that live a long time, and there are many horizontal fallen trees punctuating the strong vertical thrust of the forest. In some parts there is the beginning of an understory of white spruce, which eventually will take over and be the climax vegetation. All these hills were logged when the first white men came to this part of Alaska. The wood was used to power the steam boats that worked along the Tanana River.
We go uphill for 20 to 25 minutes. That’s hard, especially after dinner and wine. The hill seems steep, even now after 6 weeks. Since last year a lot of growth has occurred so Jerry sometimes takes the pruners to clean it up. I keep track of markers, like piles of logs and a downed birch with its crown across the path as we slog up the long hill.
Here are some pictures of the woods and one of a spruce grouse which may have a nest there. It has flown into a tree a couple of times as we passed by.
After 20 minutes uphill we get to the mining road. That is a much gentler slope, and we go up that for a short distance now that the mud has abated. The road undulates, and I am always hopeful of seeing wildlife as I mount each crest. Last year there were moose tracks all over that road, but this year there are none.
At some point one of us says, “That’s enough, lets go back.”
Then we have the delightful stroll home. Downhill all the way. Back through the empty woods. Looking over many miles without houses or people. It’s always cool, and we are hot from climbing. The poodles, too, like the downhill best. Now they run ahead and sniff the sides of the track.
This lovely routine comes to an end tomorrow. I’ll be sad to leave. On the other hand, if life becomes a little more eventful I’ll have fresh blog material. There’s just so much you can say about peace and tranquility.