One Thanksgiving Past
by Stumblin' Jimmy Watermelon
don’t know if it’s mostly to do with my compounding age or just the times we live in. I expect it’s a lot of both. More years of seasons now than I care to mention have flown by all too quickly. Youthful summers, falls and winters to springs that hung languidly in time now dance away like autumn leaves to a building tempo in the wind across my sky. The span from October to this November’s beginning seemed like the blink of an eye and finds me waxing nostalgic. Just let me pour my morning glass of “liquid fiber” and I’ll share a little memory with you.
It was, now, some twenty years ago, a young man, born and raised on our southern shores found himself, though not abroad, quite far from home. He was nearly as far as the continent allowed. Though it was on a coast and the geographic term “south” was within the content of its placing, this place was far different from his “southern” home. He had set himself there with a project of his own making. It was a test.
Right about now, you’re imagining a wind-up monkey’s drum roll setting a suitable tone for the moment. This young adventurer’s location of choice was south-central Alaska. Not in a city like Anchorage, mind you, where during that May his in-bound flight had landed. Not even in a small town 280 miles out from that city, where in late July, his road had ended. Noooo. He had then gotten a boat and motored 10 miles across a bay called Kachemak to camp on a wilderness beach beside a water named Eldered Passage. This was, remember, in late July. I would note here that this yet “experience-challenged” fellow had grown up weaned on National Geographic magazines and lowcountry places, while at the same time enthralled with the antics of The Three Stooges and Barney Fife. It should then be no real surprise when I tell you that his project was to create an “in-place underwater sculpture.” I suppose there should be some consolation in the fact that he was scuba diving and using whatever tools necessary. Not just holding his breath and beating his thick head against the chosen submerged stone.
Be that as it may, he toiled and rollicked in the moment all through August and September. October, with work still ongoing, brought snow. Along with it came the opportunity to move his base of operations from the beach to a wilderness lodge, thirty minutes away. Transportation was by boat, of course. Like his beach camp, outside of a float plane or helicopter, there was no other access. It was well back into a deep fiord named Sadie Cove and was nestled at the base of a 2500 foot ridge that ran to the headwaters. The same was across the quarter mile wide, 300 foot deep water, on the other side. This opportunity came with the requirement that he maintain the lodge during the owner’s winter hiatus. No doubt this would be a warm, secure winter location and the project appeared not to be ending any time soon.
As November crept in, our young stalwart soul was beginning to realize just how much he had bitten off and the effort of the chew. He was in the middle of, begging the lodge owner’s pardon, ...nowhere. There was an oncoming Alaskan winter, who’s fall had already been challenging. He had only a motorboat for transportation and an am/fm radio and vhf marine radio as contact with the outside world. Through days of snow, and though making headway, the project was still some time from completion. And oh yes, lest I fail to mention what the lodge owner had breezed through in passing conversation, a little trifle know as ‘the Sadie eighties.” That was when the wind coming off three glaciers at the cove headwaters would barrel down in between the two high ridges of the fiord producing an air flow that could accelerate from zero to “you know” in as little as 30 minutes. Don’t believe me? I wish you’d been my guest.
The day before Thanksgiving a radio call came in to the lodge that a friend of the owner, her uncontrollable children and new boyfriend were going to be coming across the bay for a Thanksgiving outing the next day. They were bringing loads of food and hoped the young caretaker would be there to partake. In any event, they intended, as they said, “to arrive and unload themselves on the place.”
With a solemn oath of responsibility given to the owner on his departure (and a southern gentleman always keeping his word,) the decision was clear. Any mainland thanksgiving plans he’d made were cancelled with an apologetic radio call to waiting friends. That afternoon he stacked firewood and prepared the lodge for the next day’s onslaught of humanity. They never came.
In their place arrived a snow storm the likes of which he had only read about. In giant flakes, it came down at the rate of nearly a foot an hour. On and on through the morning it went this way. It slid off the steep pitched roofs of the lodge buildings and added to the already heaping snow, layering on the wide dock they were built on. Every few hours, then for a time by the hour, the decks had to be shoveled clear. Penned instructions had been found thumb tacked inside by the main door of the lodge center building. As the falling snow seemed to lighten and a glimmer of hope to motor away to the mainland, another caller came, the “Sadie eighties.” It seemed that all of the snow fallen in the cove was at once whipped into the air and was to remain there for days. They call it “white out.”
So here was our young adventuring lowcountry southerner, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a howling white gale outside his door. Static from the storm made the radios useless. One could barely walk outside much less manage an escape. It was Thanksgiving day. Huddled by a warming wood burning stove, he ate what meal there was on hand; mugs of hot tea and honey, pine nuts and sliced onions on pilot crackers, drizzled with canned sweet cream.
How you may ask, could this have to do with Thanksgiving here, much less November on this southeastern coast? Where do you think his thoughts were in those days of lonely isolation? This Thanksgiving, look beyond yourself, across that table filled with food, surrounded by family and friends, outside though rain or shine but surely more peaceable weather. What you see this Thanksgiving were his dreams on that lonely day in Alaska many years ago.
Oh, and the sculpture project? Well, that story could fill a book. I’ll tell you the whole thing sometime. Have a happy Thanksgiving y’all.