Have Poems, Will Travel ~ 1600 Mile Loop

June 17, 2019

In late May I left McCarthy on a 1600 mile writing loop. I drove to Haines, camping en route by a lake loud with trumpeter swans. Distributed visitors guides along the way and met some Edible Alaska contacts. The road from Haines Junction to Haines was gorgeous and weirdly empty. I made good time and had time to kill in Haines before catching my ferry the following day, so I visited Foundroot Farm, Fireweed Restaurant, Mountain Market, Haines Brewing Company, and more, and camped out by Chilkoot Lake.

 

The sunny ferry ride reminded me of the last time I'd been to Haines and Skagway back in 2015 when Overwinter came out. It's always sunny in Southeast. Had a great time at the North Words Writers Symposium in Skagway, with the generous and brilliant Susan Orlean headlining. Most attendees came from Alaska, with a couple from Canada. I hope more Canadians participate in future years, with just a short, gorgeous drive that happens to involve a border crossing separating Skagway from Whitehorse.
 

The conference is relatively small—limited to 40 participants—so it has an intimate and informal air to it, even as the programming is rigorous and useful. The panels were anything but ho-hum... passions piqued at times over issues of import. There was a sizable contingent of Alaskan faculty members, plus novelist Jonathan Evison and journalist and author Susan Orlean (The Library BookThe Orchid Thief, years worth of contributions to The New YorkerRolling StoneVogue, etc). I still remembered Orlean's 2011 onstage conversation with Julia O'Malley in Anchorage, through 49 Writers' Crosscurrents series, and loved her latest book. Only took me ten years to get there, but it was finally time to see what the North Words fuss was about, and I'm sure I'll be back.  

 

I continued on to Whitehorse, Yukon. I was lucky to read there with essayist and Fulbright scholar Corinna Cook. We read our own work, plus an excerpt of an ongoing collaboration. We were pleased with the turnout, and it was great to finally meet poet Clea Roberts, as well as author Kate Harris and others. Dave White of CBC North invited me to chat on the radio and I enjoyed a great meal with a fantastic group of amazing writers—including Corinna, Patti Flather, Jamella Hagen, Joanna Lilley, and KJ Munro. We brainstormed ways to get Alaska and Yukon writers together more. 

 

I drove north from Whitehorse to Dawson City, crossing the Yukon River on the small ferry after dinner. I drove through alpenglow with the Top of the World Highway all to myself. The border—the northernmost international land crossing on the continent—closes at night. I enjoyed a long late night sunset and great sleep before crossing when the border opened. Such a radically different crossing than so many on the country's southern border. 

 

A few miles back inside Alaska I saw a large gray wolf (the first wolf I’d seen since 2005 and the first of two wolves I’d see within a couple weeks). Visited Chicken, gained Tok, and reached my cabin in McCarthy by dinnertime. Great trip and there’s no place like home.
 

 

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