Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Dog in the Kayak

My eyes drifted to a wall adjacent to our living room gas fireplace.  As often happens, Karen had just defeated me in our nightly game of Upwords (kind of a vertical Scrabble) and I was already on a mental voyage to my next blog post.  My eyes rest on that wall of our log home every night -- at my favorite painting -- Karen’s  “Bessie at the Helm.“ Given a choice between hanging the Mona Lisa there or Karen’s watercolor and I’d take Karen’s piece.  Hands down.

Karen painted the subject from a photo I snapped on a kayak trip I once shared with Bessie, our second-hand golden retriever.  Being lazy by nature, I had brushed out a trail from a logging road near the southeast corner of our island.  From there I could portage our kayak down a steep slope dodging wind thrown logs, roots and holes on our stumble to a beach.  From there I could launch it into Dry Strait and paddle through a series of islands, their rounded tops showing the power of glaciers during past ice ages.  Never mind the mud flat I had to slop through that covered my boots and Bessie’s paws with gray ooze.  I figured it saved my about ten miles of the paddle from Petersburg -- not counting the distance currents forced us far offshore as we paddled past the North Arm of the Stikine River.

We found lighter ice conditions than we met during our last blog post so Bessie and I made it almost to the glacier with an overnight camp out en route.  We opted not to go to the glacier because of my preference not to be floating under a chunk of ice the size of our house, or any size for that matter, that toppled off the glacier’s face.  Fearing entrapment by that ice in a pocket where a rugged valley offered a logical camp site on the east side of the glacier, I found a barren knob on the west side -- just a glacially rounded granite hump worn smooth by the ebb and flow of LeConte Glacier through the eons.  It afforded a panorama of the face of the glacier with seals lounging around on newly calved icebergs.  It offered a spot to pitch my tent minus the luxury of comfort -- unless you like sleeping on a solid stone with your head and feet the thickness of a sack of dog food lower than the middle of your spine.

With nothing to tie it to, I pulled our kayak far above the tide line and spent the evening doing what one does when camped on a rock above a glacier -- exposing rolls of film, exploring for more photo ops and eating. 

Somehow the night passed.  With its demise, dawn brought a light rain.  Checking the kayak I discovered that sometime during the night LeConte Glacier must have had a large calving event.  How could I have slept through that when I didn’t sleep all night?  One of the things one learns about tidewater glaciers is that large calving events produce large tsunami-like waves -- albeit on a somewhat smaller scale.  One of those waves overshot my carefully considered precautions to address that issue.  The wave managed to climb up our rock wall and under my kayak -- ebbing a sack of dog food’s width from floating it away.  A close one.  I hadn’t brought along enough peanut and jelly sandwiches to prepare for that possibility.

With the advent of rain and being the woosie that I am, I decided to head back to my launch site.  Lazily paddling and pushing through the ice in LeConte Bay, the miles just evaporate like mist over a tea pot.  Even soggy days provide an infinite variety of visual feasts when the viridian greens and cobalt blues of icebergs seem more intense the worse the weather -- up to a point -- a point we fortunately did not reach that day.

                               Bessie at the Helm    9 x 13 inches    Watercolor

The rain eased to a drizzle as I wearily kayaked out of the Bay, by now fighting tendonitis in both forearms.  Amused at Bessie’s ability to find comfort under any conditions, I chanced dampening the electronics of my camera and snapped a photo (well, more like a dozen) of my traveling companion at the “helm” of the kayak.  Somehow we made the 20-mile paddle in a day with the finale, the portage back across the mud and up that too-steep-to-be-fun slope to our waiting car. 

Eventually that image was published in Alaska Magazine, but the best representation of it is Karen’s painting.  “Mona Lisa” or “Bessie at the Helm.”  Give me the dog in the kayak.


Susan Christensen said...

Bessie's blissful expression is delightful!
wishing you both a creative week, sus

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Thanks, Sus. It's amazing how these pooches of ours can find comfort in these seemingly most uncomfortable situations.

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Sus. I think Karen captured Bessie's Mona Lisa smile.