In the photo above I am laughing, surrounded by my fellow Pages to the Alaska State House of Representatives.
We are sitting at the Clerk of the House’s desk, adjacent to the right of where the Speaker of the House sits, at the head of one half of Alaska’s State Legislature, the House being the ‘lower half,’ a 40-member body of elected representatives from across the state (the State Senate has 20 members).
Us Pages were a part of Alaska’s 10th Legislative session since Alaska officially became a state in 1959. Our tenure occurred during one of Alaska’s most history-making periods of time.
Among many pieces of ground-breaking laws, the 10th Legislature created the Alaska Permanent Fund- a giant savings account intended to save some of Alaska’s new-found wealth for future generations. It’s from the dividends of this fund that the state pays its relatively small population - every man, woman and child - money each year (the idea behind such a revolutionary idea being then residents will watch over and want to protect the fund from being raised by shortsighted lawmakers).
That year marked the beginning of operations of the then, just completed trans-Alaska pipeline. The 800-mile pipe stretched across Alaska from the very top of the state all the way to port and waiting oil tankers in Valdez, AK.
The pipeline took 80,000 workers and three years to construct in order to send oil from Prudhoe Bay - the largest oil field in North America- to markets on the West Coast. This occurring nationally as the United States was seeking to end its dependence on foreign oil to fuel its energy needs.
Beginning that legislative session, of which us Pages were witness to, billions of dollars would begin flowing into Alaska’s state coffers, forever changing the 49th state in ways for better and some Alaskans might argue, for worse.
The idea of having Pages was to allow young people the opportunity to witness laws being made first hand.
How I became a Page and began what were essentially the college years of my life are the subject of an early chapter in my new book, ‘A Normal Life.’
I chose the excerpt below because in October, I will be returning to my beloved Juneau for a book tour.
I haven’t been back in 20 years, which I can not believe. I always wanted to live at least part time in Juneau- where many of the friends I made all those years ago remain. Then, we were young, idealistic and energetically-filled with new ideas about how we wanted to live our lives and we wanted to change the world. And in many ways we did.
I keep in touch with many of my old Juneau friends, including some of my fellow Pages pictured above.
Welcome to the beginning of the chapter four titled: “Living Back to Nature Can be Hazardous to Your Health”
To this day, I have dreams about being in Juneau. And nightmares. Few towns or cities exist in such a spectacular setting. Juneau lies between mountain peaks of the Alaska Coast Range to the east and a handful of channels, bays, and inlets to the west. From Downtown Juneau, one has to walk only a few streets to find the side of a mountain or a wilderness trail along the beach.
Alaska is a land of extremes, and this is certainly true for Juneau. On a sunny day, there is no place more beautiful on earth; during a winter storm, there are few places more miserable. Southeast Alaska is so different in climate and popular culture from the rest of the state
that my moving there was in many ways like moving to Arizona.
I found myself in a place radically different from any I had known before.
In Arizona and again in Juneau, I fell in love with the place and people. I found a niche and discovered more about myself—even if I had to do it the hard way.
A historic gold mining town with an ancient and rich Native history, the city is located in Alaska’s Inside Passage, the lengthy archipelago of islands and waterways along the northern Pacific Coast adjacent to Canada. It’s where you or someone you know has been on an Alaska cruise.
Alaska is now one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world, but when I moved there, the cruise industry was virtually nonexistent. The town was a mix of isolationism and worldliness, and residents tended to identify more with Seattle and the Pacific Northwest than with Anchorage.
In fact, many Juneau residents then and now despise Anchorage. Hate it. It’s a feeling not uncommon all across the state toward Alaska’s largest city, ostensibly the biggest recipient of state financial resources and attention. With Juneau, it gets personal. The day I arrived, even my cab driver ranted about hating Anchorage.
When I asked if he’d ever been there, he replied, “The airport.” His response was so common that I began telling people I was from Eagle River, a suburb just north of Anchorage. “Ah, Eagle River,” someone might say. “That sounds nice.”
Juneau-ites hate Anchorage because for years legislators from the northern parts of Alaska have tried in vain to move the state capital to the Anchorage area, or at least somewhere on the state’s limited highway system. That’s where most of the state’s population lives, more than half in Anchorage alone.
This is because no highway or even rail service connects Juneau to the rest of the state. None. Zero. The only way to get to Juneau is by air or sea—when everything isn’t
shut down due to a severe storm. Juneau is also in what is known as a temperate rain forest, with as many as 220 days of rain per year and over 50 inches of rainfall. Most residents wear rubber boots all the time, favoring the brown, steel-toed boots popular with fishermen and those who work outdoors. It rains so much in Juneau that I was taken aback the first time I
saw a fur coat there. The young woman wearing a vintage mink had of-- course — just arrived in town that day. Rain gear is de rigueur in Southeast Alaska. I was elated when Gore-Tex was invented. When I think of my time in Juneau, the weather comes first to mind because I was so often in it. Initially, I had no car, and there was no mass transit where I needed to go, so I ended up walking—a lot.
When I arrived, the city had a lively arts and theater scene, a few good restaurants, and lots of bars to cater to the town’s population of blue-collar workers, fishermen, and government bureaucrats. From a distance, the downtown, with its handful of multi-storied concrete and glass office buildings, seems to have the skyline of a large city. Most residents, though, live about ten miles “out the road,” accessible via the town’s only highway.
The Mendenhall Valley is named for the Mendenhall Glacier, a popular attraction and hiking
area for locals and tourists alike. Suburban neighborhoods are located along a wide swath of flat terrain created as the glacier retreated to its current location. The rest of the road services the airport, a shopping mall, and a number of beachfront neighborhoods before coming to an abrupt end about forty miles north of Downtown Juneau.
You’d be surprised how far forty miles can feel when you’ve got nowhere else to drive.
If my late teens were all about playing in nature, then moving to Juneau put those ideals to the test. For much of the four years I lived off and on there, I did so without running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing.
But my move to Juneau happened to place me in the center of a whirlwind of political and social change that would impact the entire state of Alaska for decades to come.
The first order of business when I arrived was to find a place to live. When the Alaska Legislature starts in January, hundreds of people swoop into Juneau, including elected officials and their staffs. Along with this influx come dozens of recent college graduates, lobbyists, and former political volunteers hoping to get jobs.
The annual flood of new people strains Juneau’s chronic housing shortage, causing government workers to bunk in apartments and houses like frat brothers. They might seek housing anywhere from cabins to cheap hotels to fishing boats docked in the downtown boat
In the 1970s, jobseekers longed for the short- or long-term posts with a state employment system known as “the gravy train.” This came from the state’s then-generous benefits and high pay, attributed to the difficulty in attracting employees when most chose the high-paying jobs linked with construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
When I first arrived, I stayed with friends in an apartment in the town of Douglas, on Douglas Island across Gastineau Channel from Juneau. Then I learned of a small cabin in the woods I could have if I fixed it up.
The cabin was a small A-frame originally built to be a sauna. It was about the size of your average walk-in closet, with a loft just big enough to sleep in. It came with no windows, no heat source, no running water. So I did what people who live like the Amish (but are not Amish)
do: I organized a work party. About a dozen friends and I descended
on my new abode and had ourselves the modern-day equivalent of an
Luckily, some of those who showed up were carpenters. We stapled heavy sheets of clear plastic over the window openings, installed a tin wood-burning stove, built a ladder to the loft, and made the place livable. Sort of. It was cute. The only downside was I had to live there alone and had to travel a narrow, slippery-when-wet boardwalk through dense scrub brush and evergreens from the road to the front door. At night, it was pitch dark. Without streetlights or nearby houses, I had to guide myself using a flashlight. Every time I went home, I feared running into a moose or, worse, a bear. Or any number of other creatures and ghosts and everything my nineteen-year-old mind could conjure. I often ended up bunking on other people’s couches.
Once the Legislature went into session in early January, I participated in what was then the tradition of lining up along the second-floor hallway connecting the chambers of the State House at one end and the State Senate at the other. Longtime legislative members and staff recall the spectacle of people lining the halls and passing out their resumes. I’ve always loved a party, so I did what I always do in such settings: I walked and talked and met a lot of people
and made a lot of friends. I had no idea what I was up against, but I quickly figured out I
needed to look more professional in order to compete with all those. I went out and bought a new pair of dress shoes.
This was a big deal, as I didn’t have much money. I spent some of my last funds on those darn shoes, which I proudly showed off to all my new friends. They were all outraged when I got the news: all the legislative pages had been already hired. I was not one of them. Then I learned that those hired to be pages had never even appeared in the halls. They were the relatives of political party volunteers, party regulars, and the like, all college age, all great kids, all deserving, no doubt, and all decided upon weeks or months before.
I hadn’t had a chance. Fortunately, I had friends. Many of those I met in the hall that
first week of the legislative session got jobs with various representatives and committees. At some point that week, I also made friends with the representatives from Fairbanks. It was that group that sent a sternly worded letter to the House Rules chairman demanding I get hired. He
also got an earful from others I had befriended. I was standing in the hall when the slightly embattled-looking chairman came out of his office and, with a slight grin, handed me a document declaring I was hired.
Normally, there are six House pages. I became the seventh.
Why are there lots of magazines/websites/blogs et al for children this size? (My triplets- of sorts- as preschoolers). But not when they become TEENS.
This occurred to me the other day when I spotted a ‘Parents’ magazine in my therapist’s office. Yes, therapy. When you have three teen girls, you not only need therapy you need shock treatments; a lobotomy even sounds good.
But I digress. ‘Parents’ got me through all the years raising my three, from infants to tweens. I lived for each issue filled with articles on subjects such as the latest diaper rash advice, or how to still breathe, much less think about sex, or make-up for the On-the-go Mom who-looks-like-a-fashion-model.
In other words, for me, ‘Parents’ was like reading science fiction. Wow, that’s cool. Maybe someday I’ll look good in leggings and we’ll go to Mars.
But after age 12 or so -suddenly- there was no pages on, say, the development of a 14 year-old.
Or advice on what to say when one daughter declares she wants to vape; or how do you explain to Snapchat-adled teen brains that sending nude selfies is the dumbest damned thing you’ve ever heard of since you were in high school and all your friends wanted to go skinny dipping. Or wanted to take saunas together, in The Nude. Did I do any of that? Of course I did- I was once a stupid teenager.
Where is the ‘What to Expect When Raising Teens?’ Book? Where is Dr. Spock for Mothers of Teen Girls who might want to smoke pot one day?
Bad idea, I tell them. Drinking too much, bad idea, too- how do I know? Nevermind -
Nothing but deafening silence out there when it comes to raising teens. My three love horror movies. Why? Because raising teens is horrifying and being a teen is pretty scary, too. I’ve come to refer to them as Werewolves, which they regularly morph in and out of- without missing a single Snapchat String or spilling their precious Starbucks Frappuccino. Or as I now call it: ‘Star-There-Went-Your-College-Fund -bucks.’
One of my daughter’s friends wrote on her Instagram page: ‘I hate my life!’ Don’t worry, we hate it, too. JUST KIDDING.
You’re supposed to hate it. Teens are caught between childhood and adulthood. If lucky the former was wonderful- if luckier- the latter looks great, too, because your parents are GREAT ACTORS!
I try to make being an adult seem as fun as possible - that it’s totally awesome to be able to do piles of laundry, clean up after pet messes, manage the wardrobes, the Home Library, the Family Archives, the Family Museum (note- all filled with childhood keepsakes, like baby clothes I couldn’t bear to part with after paying full price at Baby Gap for things those pink patent leather boots).
I am the Keeper of the Roomba, the Family Schedule (now there’s a horror film idea for you) and so on.
(Note: my pet peeve- laundry soap ads with fathers gently talking about washing the Little Princess’s princess dress. Just pop it in the wash- one measly dress- but wait they forget to tell you about getting that dress off the Little Princess. Hell hath no fury like a toddler who does not want to take off her filthy, dirty, stinking overpriced Princess dress).
I am in therapy for anxiety. I never had anxiety before I had kids. I was a hard bitten, fierce newspaper reporter! I was part of a large team of reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize! I wrote a book. They made it into TV movie. There was no hill or mountain I couldn’t climb. Nothing stopped me.
Nowadays, forget coffee, I need Joe’s Bar&Grill on Home delivery. Especially like the other day when one of the Werewolves came up to me and said: “Mom, I want a belly ring.”
A Normal Life: I’ve been behind this summer on my Journal entries. In part because my oldest daughter Charlotte (in photos) finally had time to attend Driver’s Ed.
She passed and now we are car shopping, or Tank shopping, because that’s what I want to put her in.
A Normal Life is about my quest to have children just so I could experience such rites of passage. What I didn’t know was how fast such moments would come; how one day my oldest is a toddler; then the next headed out the door with car keys in her hands.
Every parent knows this sense of time rushing by in way it never seemed to before having children. Never before have I wanted to freeze time- just a little- now and then. Never before have I pondered the notion of time travel- and how if I could go back in time it would be to when all three of my daughters were toddlers. That way I could pick them up again, squeeze them, then put them back down to watch them scamper off. Or nap with them - or even change a diaper. I don’t care. Any mundane activity was fine with me back then. I just loved being a Mom.
Nowadays, I try to remind myself that while they appear full grown - my girls are not. I still need to be patient, positive (even when they act like Teen Trolls!) and loving. This summer, Charlotte turned 16. I’m still trying to comprehend this milestone.
I ran across these photos of her during an early driving lesson and with her true ‘first’ car.
In the photos, I think she’s showing she can keep her eyes on the road and her hands on the wheel. That’s the good news. But us parents know what having your child be able to drive is the beginning of watching them go. I wonder how many times I will watch the tail lights to her car pull away as I watch feeling a mix of pride and a bit of sadness.
I arrived home in the early spring of 1975. I had swapped Arizona’s sun and heat for Alaska’s gray skies and breakup, when winter’s snowfall turns to slush and mud.
I felt disoriented at first; picking up and leaving Phoenix wasn’t easy. Back in Anchorage, I had to find a place to live. I had no car—heck, I didn’t even know how to drive.
I bounced between staying with my guardian, with a friend’s parents, and with a group of young people in Mountain View, one of Anchorage’s poorer neighborhoods.
The group house seemed like a good idea at first. My friends were all staying together in a broken-down house that was more or less a shack.
A couple of the guys living there were in a garage band. They set up their instruments in the living room, where they practiced and played for nearly nightly parties.
The place was small, crowded, and dirty. I hated living there and soon began to become disenchanted with hippies—although it would take a few more years before I abandoned the concept altogether. Eventually I settled into living with the Dodges or the Johnsons.
That fall, I enrolled in Steller Secondary School, Anchorage’s alternative public school. Years later, I would refer to Steller as the “Hey, Wow, Man” school.
Even so, it wasn’t quite as hippie-ish as the so-called Free School some teens had created in Anchorage, where it seemed all they did was drive around together in an old van. Steller was named after eighteenth-century German scientist and explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller, who had extensively mapped Alaska’s flora and fauna. Steller was founded by civic-minded parents and veteran educators who wanted something different—a place where students learned to love learning. The school philosophy emphasized self-learning. Steller was right in line with an educational movement occurring across the country. Parents disenchanted with a traditional education worked to create schools that mirrored the youth-oriented counterculture that had begun a decade earlier. They viewed informal education—or, as they came to call it, “open education”—as an answer to both the American education system’s critics and the problems of society.
The focus on students learning by doing resonated with those who believed that America’s formal, teacher-led classrooms were crushing students’ creativity. At Steller, that meant calling teachers by their first names, forming student-led government to deal with discipline issues, and letting teachers create any classroom environment they wanted as long as the state-mandated curriculum was covered.
Students could come and go from classrooms without hall passes. The more relaxed atmosphere seemed perfect for me. It was at Steller that I learned to love learning. I constantly discovered new fields of interest and new paths of knowledge to follow.
As much as we really learned, sometimes independent study courses got approval that maybe shouldn’t have. One such independent study program, a girlfriend and I tried to teach ourselves “ground school” in order to learn to fly. Ground school.
Two teenagers teaching themselves ground school. This was somehow approved.
I remember the friend and I meeting in the hall, sitting on the floor, together trying to read aloud a text book on aerodynamics. We used our hands to demonstrate the principles of airflow, air pressure and lift around an aircraft’s wings. It got so hard and so boring it was all we could do to keep from falling asleep. After a session or two, we dropped the class for something else.
About 150 middle and high school students attended Steller. Many came from Anchorage’s upper-income homes or families with long histories. They were the sons and daughters of politicians, community leaders, and otherwise civic-minded families.
“We had a school uniform,” a friend from Steller quipped. Just about everyone wore hiking boots, belted jeans or corduroy pants, and waffle Henleys or flannel shirts. Back then some students, mostly males, carried buck knives; I used to joke that they were prepared should a wayward moose enter the building during hunting season.
Actually, we weren’t hunters, or even Eagle Scouts or Girl Scouts ready for a campout. I suppose the knives were for popping open a beer at high school parties. At Steller, I took philosophy, music, art, and US government. Once standard high school core classes were covered, students could propose their own course of study.
For my government class, my classmate Sigrid and I decided to pursue a project that would explore which agenciesowned or managed Alaska’s lands. Whoever owned these lands—the federal government, the state, Alaska Native groups, or private owners—was and still is a hot topic in Alaska.
Alaska did not achieve statehood until 1959, and when I was in high school, the state was still selecting the lands it was granted through the Statehood Act.
Sigrid and I went around interviewing the heads of state parks, those who oversaw federal lands, and directors at the Bureau of Land Management.
It was an important topic to us, since most of my classmates were outdoorsy. At Steller, I discovered a life of mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, and all-night bonfires.
My class of 1976 was the school’s second graduating class. We had about twenty students.
We were, without a doubt, the Dazed and Confused generation, like the kids in Richard Linklater’s film set on the closing day of the 1976 school year.
‘This is my Steller Secondary Alternative School graduation photo! This was us- in homemade graduation gowns we each decorated on our own. I’m the one in the tie-dyed number! I remain in touch or know what’s going on with just about every classmate!’
We had nothing in common with the Baby Boomer generation that immediately followed World
War II. We didn’t participate in the rebellion of the 1960s; we didn’t march against the Vietnam War; none of my male peers faced being drafted to go to war.
By the time we graduated, the Vietnam War was over. Our cultural rallying cry didn’t come so much against anything but more for something.
That something became being outdoors in every fashion and form we could think of: hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain climbing, or gettingion and form we could think of: hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain climbing, or getting on the water—usually freezing cold water.”
This is me and my best friend Ellen doing what many Anchorage teen hippies did back in the mid-1970’s – hitch-hike to Homer, AK.
The small, coastal fishing and tourism town, 221 miles south of Anchorage, on the Kenai Peninsula had at that time become something of a Mecca for nature-seeking young people. Homer, with its picturesque setting along the northern shores of Kachemak Bay, was one of the rural places in Alaska that seemed a desirable place to buy some land and build a cabin.
That was the Dream, folks.
Residents of Homer couldn’t have been too thrilled to see a bunch of long-haired types showing up during the summers, many to work in area fish processing plants; others to squat with their own pup tents or handmade shelters on the famed Homer Spit, a 4 ½ mike spit of land that juts into Kachemak Bay.
The whole ‘back-to-nature’ thing began in earnest with the first-ever Earth Day, held in April, 1970. Then, I was a Tween. By the time I entered middle school, or Junior High, I had folders decorated with colorful nature scenes – fields of wild flowers or of North Face, the actual mountain in Yosemite National Park. The folders were created by the Sierra Club.
Even though it would be another three years – and not until I entered high school in 10th grade – before the transformation from a somewhat shy, awkward pre-teen to full-on fashionable Hippie. I entered middle school, like all girls my age, wearing whatever Twiggy wore, The indeed twiggy-like fashion model with doe-like eyes and trademark pixie haircut. She, like a lot of pop culture then was part of the British Invasion in music, fashion and cosmetics. I favored baby doll dresses and platform shoes. I may have worn wore Cover Girl Blue eye shadow and Love’s cologne but I had a crush on British singer/songwriter, Donavan. But by Ninth grade, I was someone who wore handmade denim overall skirts - hand embroidered with beads and embroidery thread - with expensive Raichle hiking boots and no make-up at all.
I still remember how betrayed I felt by the Media and whoever it was who told me to stop with normal grooming routines. Yet rock stars we all worshiped were all dating and marrying fashion models. It would be a few more years still after the photo above was taken before I would grow weary of heavy, ill-fitting clothes and hair that badly needed cutting.
But there was Ellen and I with my faithful rescued Border Collie, Yukon, standing under the sign (I can’t recall if we were heading there or heading back home) taking photos. Nowadays, we’d be pasting these images on our social media pages.
I still remember the less-than friendly looks we got from the townspeople on that trip to Homer, especially when we’d naively ask about land or cabins for sale, or possibly seeking property to ‘homestead’ (a State-run program that allowed residents to acquire wild parcels of land back then).
I doubt we had much money. Inquiring about land? We were 16.
I know what you are thinking: Who hitch-hikes with a dog? I guess we felt safe with Yukon.
On my back, I’m wearing my green Kelty backpack I had bought, along with my own red North Face pup tent and a blue, down North Face sleeping bag. I was an astute student of what one had to possess to be truly ‘back-to-nature.’ I spent hundreds of dollars on all three items in order to fit in with the group of friends I had begun hanging out with. I felt welcome and a part of something among my new friends, many of whom lived with their families in handsome, but modest homes along the so-called “Hillside” of Anchorage, the flanks of the Chugach Mountain range that borders Anchorage to the east.
I initially fell in with this group of kids, who all attended Service High School, a large, new campus tucked right up against towering mountain peaks. I had met most of them the night they showed up at my house on 12th Avenue when I threw what became known as the “Woodstock” party.
The winter after my father’s kidnapping and murder, I somehow managed to live at our house without adult supervision. FOR MONTHS. Yet, I still went to school, riding the bus to East High, where I had entered high school that Fall of 1973. I wanted to go to school. I wanted to be a normal teen. I had a stepmom, a woman my dad had married just a month before he was abducted. But she was only a teen herself (though she looked much older, it seemed. My dad, who had turned 40 that spring, routinely dated cocktail waitresses and topless dancers in their 20’s).
I barely knew his new wife and hated her. After my father disappeared that August, I refused to have anything to do with her. She and my dad had been mostly staying at one of the massage parlors my dad had begun running. I had lived at our official residence.
After my father disappeared (it took police months to find his body) my stepmom put some roommates in the house to help pay the bills. One was a couple who were a pimp and his girlfriend/prostitute. They were both hardcore heroin addicts.
I, on the other hand, attracted a group of young people – homeless teens – some who stayed at the house for a time turning the place into our own version of Neverland.
Do you see why being a Hippie Wanna-Be had such appeal to me? What I knew at the time at home was anything but desirable to an otherwise regular teen girl.
It’s another story how I got through that first winter without adult supervision and when that ended. But it didn’t end before I managed to rent a copy of the film ‘Woodstock’ and rent a film projector and with a sheet strung up in my living room, played the movie to a house full of teens who had come from all over town.
By the spring of 1974, I was fully into the whole hippie thing, as least in style, if not substance. You wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between me and my new group of friends with our matching boots, and skirts, or jeans, or down coats, or flannel shirts. And of course the name-brand pricey gear we all just had to have.
Think of that Kelty backpack, which I still have, as the IPhone of the 1970’s.
I got the nearly $1000 I needed to buy my camping gear by holding a garage sale that spring, several months after learning that my father, who disappeared in late August, had indeed been murdered. His body was eventually recovered in an old mining area, about 50 miles north of Anchorage. His killers had been rounded up and were sitting in jail awaiting trial the day I put out everything I could drag outside the house to sell. Mostly junk, really, some dishes, old tires, fishing waders and such.
A friend of my dad’s named Ed who ran a pawn shop, drove up, looked over everything and handed me hundreds of dollars in cash to buy it all. Ed was a big guy with a big heart. I had always been fond of him never more than at that moment. I knew he didn’t want the junk. He was just trying to help me out.
He was the last person to see my dad alive. My dad had invited him to go get a drink but Ed, who had a family, declined. Word was he always thought he could have stopped my father’s death if he had taken my dad up on that drink. I don’t think so.
So Ed loaded everything up into his station wagon and drove off. Soon, I got my outdoor gear that I used for many outdoor adventures during the remainder of my teen years.
Despite the decades that have passed and all the moves between several states and cities, I still have that Kelty backpack.
That’s me, age 16, sitting on a bench at Anchorage International Airport, late summer 1974. I was waiting to board a red-eye flight to Seattle. I was finally going to look for America.
Through much of my childhood, everything I thought I knew about the rest of the country, including Hawaii, came from television shows and movies. Alaska felt so remote that we had several ways to refer to the contiguous states – ‘The Lower 48,’ ‘Outside’ and ‘Down South.’ For me, America seemed a mythical land of endless summer, glamorous cities and countless landmarks. The first time I took a cross-country trip west to east, across the center, I kept asking my traveling companions and driver, ‘Is this the Great Plains? This?’
A Canadian friend once described a similar feeling toward the United States as ‘living in the attic of a house having a party.’
And boy did I want to attend that party. Another friend from Rhode Island thought it interesting how me and my pack of friends, who he deemed ‘Little Pioneer Women’ because we wore long cotton skirts and hiking boots, a fashion for awhile, laughed at how we all ran around talking about ‘the STATES’ (yet another phrase used to describe the rest of the country). We were going to ‘the States.’
Whether it was the emerald green forests of Puget Sound, or the cliffs of Northern California coastline, or the cable cars of San Francisco, or the Empire State Building, I knew of it all and wanted to see it all. On that first trip, I only had planned to fly to Seattle, then with my companion, hitch-hike to San Jose, where my friend’s mother and brother, a junior high boyfriend, then lived. After that, I was going to take Greyhound buses all the way to Phoenix, my final destination.
I chose Phoenix because the winter before I met a college-age friend of a friend who was from there. He was passing through Anchorage on his return home after working a lengthy stint at a cannery in Southwest Alaska. Flush with cash, one day he sat me down to tell me he wanted to help me leave Alaska, since that was all I talked about, and gave me $100 to donate to the Kim Discovers America fund.
I am still friends with him and his family to this day.
That night, in typical teen fashion, a dozen or more friends came to the airport to see me and my friend off. Ironically, as much as I wanted to travel Outside, I felt bonded to a large group of friends. Most of also viewed the Lower 48 somewhat cynically the older we got, figuring it was all overcrowded and ruined, until Alaska where we barely had one ‘freeway’ in Anchorage.
I must have thought I was coming back. And did eventually, over and over again through my teen years. But that night, me and my crew of hippie-like friends, took group photos and partied in the airport until time to leave.
At some point, I decided to capture the moment in my journal – which I kept through all my teen years. I must have been tired, or that frown was just your average teen look of angst. Or I was tired. I was only 16. I think about this now and I’m horrified that someone so young was out doing such things. I had no idea whether I would get along with my traveling companion (I didn’t) and the adventures that were ahead of us.
I remember many ‘firsts’ from that trip – the first time I experienced 100 degree heat at night, specifically at Midnight in Redding, California. I still recall the night I stood outside a party in San Jose, staring up at the stars, listening to ‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd, feeling homesick and excited all at the same time.
I still recall the day we traveling to Santa Cruz to visit the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Later, I would eventually board a Greyhound bus for what seemed an endless trip from Northern California, down to Los Angeles, where I transferred to another bus bound for Phoenix. What amazes me is I don’t remember feeling afraid, at least not on that trip.
I still don’t know where I found the courage.
Here’s a photo from ‘A Normal Life,’ Me, as a singer/guitar player at the Alaska State Folk Festival, circa 1979. I began my college years in Juneau in the late ‘70’s- a time of vast changes in Alaska. In college, I majored in music, studying classical guitar and voice. On the side, I began singing and playing the guitar, mostly at parties or yearly at the Alaska State Folk Festival.
During my first time at the Folk Festival, I performed solo. For several years after, I performed as part of a trio/band the ‘Maintainers.’ The group was founded by me, a high school friend and a guy we knew who played electric guitar and came from a big city Outside (We liked the irony of using an electric instrument at the otherwise all-acoustic event). Back then, the Folk Festival was a huge event in small town Juneau. The Capital of Alaska, a mix of blue-collar fishermen and urban, state employees, had only about 25,000 residents. But it felt much bigger. With the trans-Alaska pipeline newly completed and oil flowing through it, the State was flush with money. Juneau was the place to be as the state of Alaska was suddenly thrust into an oil boom. Juneau is located inland as part of what’s known as ‘Southeast Alaska,’ the archipelago of largely uninhabited wilderness and a handful of fishing towns, accessible only by air or water.
Back then Juneau, with its picturesque setting amid towering mountains, was a magnet for young people looking to live ‘back to nature.’ The town was full idealistic young people - new college grads hoping to score a job with the state or the State Legislature. The other group was young people hoping to live off the land in the biggest nature state in the union!
I was there for both reasons. First, I moved to Juneau after graduating high school with hopes of getting a job as a so-called ‘Page’ in the State House of Representatives. After doing that for ended up being two legislative sessions, I enrolled at the University of Alaska, Southeast.
Among those with long roots in the Klondike-era city was a group of about a half dozen young men, new high school grads, all from Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods. This adorable group of shaggy haired boys from Ferris Bueller Land had just finished stints working as loggers and when I met them. Us nature-like girls were in heaven! One would eventually become a longtime serious relationship. With them and others - we couldn’t have had more fun- throwing potluck gatherings at newly erected cabins on undeveloped land only recently acquired. Or we spent weekends closing down the local watering holes. During this vibrant period of my life, I would eventually own my own ‘back-to-nature’ home, what we all called a ‘float house,’ a popular new kind of smaller dwelling hippies without property were building. Most were located along Douglas Island, with its historic namesake town at one end, and a mostly wild land along the ‘north’ end. That’s where me and my friends parked our float houses, or those who bought land, built cabins- all with no modern amenities such as electricity, running water or flush toilets.
We had outhouses, carried our own fresh water, paid for showers at the laundromat, and heated our homes with wood using wood stoves bought in town.
Despite our rugged lifestyle, at least for a short time, we all thought we had found Nirvana.