Sunday, June 14, 2009

North to Alaska

For many years I have had the good fortune to migrate like a bird, spending part of the year in Alaska and another part in the desert southwest. So again this year we left our sunny desert home and traveled to our island retreat near Sitka, Alaska.

We moved to Alaska in the mid-70's and lived in several places in Southeast Alaska, spending the majority of our time in Gustavus, the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park.

We homesteaded 160 acres of wilderness land there. This meant building bridges, clearing land, and "taming" the wilderness.

We built a home using lumber that Al milled from trees he logged from our forests.

For several years, we didn't have electricity, so I learned to cook on a wood cookstove, bathe in a large tub, and read by kerosene lights. Days were full of chores -- pumping water, hauling firewood, filling the lights, keeping the home fires burning. Fortunately "city" electricity arrived shortly after our second child was born.

Not long after that, we built a small country inn which we operated for over a decade. We eventually added a second lodge and a charter boat business, focusing on sightseeing trips into Glacier Bay, whalewatching trips, and fishing.

With two small kids, up to fifteen employees, and as many as forty dinner guests many nights, those were busy, sometimes hectic, always challenging days.

Because we were so busy in the summer, we didn't get much chance to enjoy the best part of an Alaskan year.

So, after several years, we decided to become snow birds, escaping the rain and dark, dreary winter and traveling to the sunny southwest -- somewhere where we could hike and bike and get in a car and drive.

(Though Gustavus was on the "mainland", it had only ten miles of bumpy, dirt road and huge mountain ranges separating it from Juneau and the rest of "civilization." So, access was strictly by boat or plane. Our little Cessna 170B was our lifeline, carrying us to "town" for groceries, doctor visits. . . and not much else!)

Spending part of each winter in the southwest was a very welcome respite for these Alaska homesteaders! We enjoyed television, movies, hikes in the red canyons, concerts, eating out, and all the conveniences of modern life. . . and would then return to Glacier Bay for another busy summer.

As our children grew and we felt the need to give them more opportunities and greater exposure to "the real world", we sold our inn and charter business and began to spend more time in the southwest.

However, Alaska was in our blood and desert summers can be pretty oppressive, so it wasn't long before the north country began to call us back. Fortunately, we had the foresight many years ago to purchase a small island near Sitka, thinking that it might be a nice place to retire to "someday."

Living on an island brings its own set of challenges and rewards. As our friend, Jan, who travels with us says: "Everything becomes more simple and at the same time more complicated. No electricity but the convenience of batteries. No running water but rain barrels and drinking water hauled from town. No indoor plumbing but an outhouse with a view of the ocean. Natural lighting from the long hours of daylight. Schedules that are governed by the changing tides. Good company, good food and life can't be any better than that."

We have had glorious weather for most of the time that we have been here this year. Lots of sun and little rain or wind. Many days the ocean is as smooth as a pond.

Though I don't bring a sewing machine to the island with me, quilts and quilting manage to stay in my thoughts. . . a lot! This is my time to cogitate on ideas for new patterns and techniques and to "fill my well" with inspiration.

Over the next few weeks I look forward to sharing with you some of the special moments of my summer on the ocean. I hope you'll check back often to see what is new at beautiful Sitka-by-the-sea.

Until next time, happy stitching!



  1. Enjoyed the story of your Alaskan life...and am envying you that view from the island. We visited the ocean at San Diego last ran through my head that if I ever win the lottery...You have hit the jackpot!

  2. Dear Annie,
    I'm loving being able to read about your life in Alaska. We traveled there for two weeks last year and fell in love with it. Wish we could return again this year. I would find it very hard to live without my sewing machine though. Please continue to share your life there to those of us so very far away. Thanks, Annemarie

  3. wow, Annie. You were a true homesteader. I am very impressed. I hope you are enjoying the beautiful Alaska summmer. It is getting hot here in St. George.

  4. Annie loved your experiences in the wild but I must say I can't see you without a sewing machine. Loved the pictures and experiences so keep us up to date here in the desert.
    Ann Bryan

  5. Oh My,
    What an incredible place to be even if you don't have your sewing machine. It looks so peaceful. The views are amazing. Congratulations on realizing part of your dream.
    Sincerely, Lois

  6. Hi Annie, We have also returned to Alaska this summer, but further north in Wasilla for 2 weeks. Will be passing by your island on the Columbia leaving Haines on July 5 and stopping in Sitka for a couple hours. Yes, Alaska in still in our blood too, but the sunny southwest also speaks to us in the winter. ENjoy your summer. See you in the fall

  7. That was just pure delight to share your experiences and those wonderful pictures. All your Herculean efforts over the years have paid off with those well deserved summer respites. Jane

  8. All those years of Herculean effort have brought the well deserved respite you can now enjoy when you aren't hauling 16 tons and making other improvements! Really enjoyed the pictures. Jane

  9. Annie, Thank you for sharing, I am ten deg. cooler just looking at your pictures. Sometimes down time from our passion of quilting gives us the time to ponder and re-created, a time, if not forced, we would never take. Have a great summer and enjoy...............Annie, N. Las Vegas


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