|Christmas Letters Continued 1970-1979
A year full of wanderings started out on an adventurous note. Over New Year’s weekend we spent a few days with
four-month old David in a tiny, practically unheated cabin on a frozen lake in remote wilderness, at 35 degrees
below zero. (Have you ever cracked a frozen egg for breakfast? ...we have!) The next few weeks we were busy
planning our long-awaited trip Outside. Just before we departed we discovered that a moose had bedded down for the
night in our yard — it left plenty of droppings in the snow and chewed-up branches as evidence!
Our trip...left Anchorage on March 17...visited friends in snowy Alta, Utah... rented a car in Salt Lake City...
gleefully headed south for a week of camping in our beloved desert...Goblin Valley with weird-shaped rock
formations...Capitol Reef (high red walls, bright blue sky, warm sun)...Arches Nat’l Monument (winds so fierce they
blew our tent down one night)...drove over all the familiar Colorado mountain passes to Denver...then Boulder,
buried under three feet of fresh snow...a warm, affectionate reunion with many old friends...flew to Madison,
Wisconsin and two pleasant, restful weeks with Dick’s family...but unfortunately David was sick most of the time
there...flew to New Rochelle, New York for a lively reunion with Liska’s family...soaked up culture like mad... Dick
returned to Anchorage end of April...Liska and David stayed another blissful three weeks...although we enjoyed our
trip immensely we welcomed our return home just in time for spring (mid -May).
The summer was gray, cloudy and drizzly. A clear sun-ny day was a rare treat. At the end of June we spent a week
driving around Alaska. In Chitina, a ghost town on the Copper River, Dick was fishing for salmon (by dipping a
huge net into the river) while Liska stayed in camp with David. Suddenly she heard gunshots and found out that an
old Indian had just killed a grizzly bear one half mile down the road! We wandered up to Fair-banks, Alaska’s
booming interior city, always finding tempting campsites by lakes and rivers; it was a dreamy relaxing week.
The longer we live in Alaska, the more we are learning to “live off the land.” Our summer garden produces
vegetables which keep well into winter in our garage. This year, too, our raspberry bushes flourished and produced
an abundance for freezing. Dick and a friend rented a fishing boat in Homer one weekend and came home with
armloads of halibut, crabs and clams. In addition, Dick bakes all our bread now. We are really begin-ning to feel
more and more like “sourdoughs” (old-time Alaskans).
Added to this growing sense of self-sufficiency, we are finding another aspect of Alaska living which also gives us
the feeling of having more control over our lives. Alaska is a young dynamic state, with an equally dynamic group of
legislators. On numerous occasions we have met and talked to the people running our state, as well as our
representatives in Washington, D.C. What is even more remarkable and rewarding is that we’ve already seen direct
results from our actions; for example, the Mountaineering Club was instrumental in suggesting the creation of the
first state park in Alaska. The result was the dedication in August of the Chugach State Park —512,000 acres of
beautiful wilderness in the mountains behind Anchorage. Our legislators know what we want and fight for it!
This fall we rushed headlong into a flurry of activities. Liska spends her days caring for two one-year olds: our
David and Tony, the son of friends who work. They keep her hopping, but it is fun for David to have a playmate.
Sandwiched in between keeping the kids content, Liska still turns out the Mountaineering Club’s newsletter once a
month, translates occasionally, gives editorial assistance to a friend writing a book on hiking in Alaska, and takes a
class in Alaska Native Problems at the University of Alaska. We are both directors of the Anchorage Unitarian
Fellowship’s high school group, a challenging and rewarding undertaking. Due to lack of much snow so far, our
winter’s exercise has consisted of folkdancing and helping friends building cabins (a popular Alaskan pastime). Dick’
s job with the Geological Survey continues to be engrossing and offers occasional hops around the state.
David, now almost 16 months old, is a robust, cheerful, high-spirited toddler. He has added an immeasurable
dimension of joy to our lives, and on these dark, wintry days brings us endless bright sunshine.
The year started out in a typical Alaskan fashion... on New Year’s Day we skied in to a friend’s cabin — only to be
greeted by a bull moose hovering in their clearing! We had another adventurous weekend in March. We took six
Unitarian teenagers (and 18-mo. old David) to a cabin in the frozen wilderness. .on the coldest weekend of the year
(40 degrees below 0)...all the wood for the fireplace was buried under deep snow and was frozen solid...it ended up
being a weekend in survival training! Another March weekend was spent beachcombing along Homer’s lonely
beaches and finding an endless array of starfish, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, clams, mussels, etc. The rest of the
spring we were caught up in the busy whirl of sponsoring the Unitarian high school kids, folk dancing, conservation
activities and Mountaineering Club. Dick joined an investment club (the Muskeg Moneymakers!) and was elected
Our big project of the year was building an addition onto our house. After many discarded floor plans and ideas, we
finally decided how to build our big family room, with a large south-facing picture window overlooking the yard,
woods and mountains. We had some help with the foundation and framing, but from then on Dick did most of the
work himself. In August, Liska’s brother Walter came and in a magical two weeks he and Dick transformed the
rough shell into a very habitable (but unfinished) room, complete with paneling on the walls! We have spent a lot of
time this fall put-ting in the ceiling, flooring, etc. and hope to finish building in a new kitchen by early next year.
We are simply delighted with the result — a large sunny room with a superb view.
While Walter was here we took another trip to Homer and spent a glorious day in a boat exploring the coves and
islands of majestic Kachemak Bay. Dick took one weekend off in the summer to go dip-net fishing. He came home
with 40 salmon! We had another garden this year, but our cool cloudy summer resulted in a poor crop. However, it
was a great year for berries and we have gallons of blueberries and cranberries reposing in our freezer.
September came — and brought two welcome visitors: Liska’s parents came for a delightful 3-week visit. We took
several trips with them, just at the height of spectacular fall colors. Again the busy round of activities started up.
We are getting more and more involved in the Unitarian Fellowship. Under the guidance of our truly unique
minister and his remarkable wife (whose real home is their 10’ x 12’ cabin in the remote Brooks Range, north of
the Arctic Circle) the Fellowship has evolved into an extended family for all of us who live so far from our own
families — a very warm and special group of people. We are still sponsoring the high school kids — a most
rewarding experience — and took 10 of them on another wilderness weekend this fall. For a while this fall Liska
was editing the Unitarian newsletter as well as the Mountaineering Club bulletin.
Dick is slowly but surely working his way up the Geological Survey’s Water Resources Division. He is now in charge
of the operation of their chemistry laboratory. He still gets out into the field occasionally: one glorious fall day was
spent flying around in a helicopter check-ing out various seismic transmitting stations (to record earthquakes).
Liska took care of another two-year old all year long, so David had a constant playmate. David continues to bring us
the deepest happiness possible. What a lively, cheerful, fun-loving son we have! He continually captivates us with his
deepening interest and awareness of the world around him. How much we have learned from simply observing and
listening to him.
And now in these snowy dark December days we are eagerly awaiting the brightening days of January which will
bring us a very special joy — the birth of our second child.
May the good fellowship and richness of life which we have found also be yours throughout the coming year!
This year started out with a joyous occasion: we spent our entire 7th wedding anniversary (January 22) in the labor
room of Community Hospital, but Gary Michel was only born at noon the next day! We are just delighted with our
second healthy, spirited son, and so far David enjoys having a kid brother. By now, at the end of the year, David is
an inquisitive, lively three-year old, and ten-month old Gary, cheerful and enterprising, will be walking any day.
Parenthood indeed brings us tremendous fulfillment.
During the first months of the year we were mainly preoccupied with our two additions: the new baby and the new
family room. The first weeks with Gary went smoothly and happily with the invaluable help of Liska’s mother who
came for three weeks. Dick worked very hard in the new room building in kitchen cabinets and counters, which we
painted bright yellow and orange. (Our new kitchen is a joy to behold on these cold, dark mornings!) And now, at
this time of year we see glorious sunrises, sunsets, and pink alpenglow on the mountains, from our dining table.
Our big involvement this year has been the Unitarian Fellowship, of which Dick is vice-president. Through the
Fellowship we have found many dear and loving friends who have become an extended family in a sense. The
fellowship not only fulfills our spiritual needs but gives us a rich and varied social and intellectual life. For the third
year we are the advisors of the high school kids— a job which involves us more and more deeply as the problems
and questions of the kids are becoming more complex.
Homer is still our favorite place in Alaska and we went there several times this year. Dick took a group of
teenagers camping there in April when there was still a lot of ice and snow. Then the four of us went camping in the
Homer area for a week in June. Some friends let us use their primitive cabin on a spit of land (very narrow
peninsula) about eight miles across the bay from Homer. We chartered a boat to get there and spent several
adventurous days with only the isolated beach, winds, rains, and 30-foot tides for company! We return-ed to Homer
and started to look for land. We very much hope to buy some land within the next year — our own piece of Alaska.
With our many visitors we spent the summer hiking, swimming (really!) sailing, foldboating, backpacking,
berrypicking, gardening, and campaign-ing for friends running in local elections. Of all our visitors this year, by far
the most unusual were the moose who frequently wandered into our yard in winter to nib-ble on our alder and willow
In mid-September Liska left for New Rochelle, N.Y. with David and Gary and spent several weeks in joyful reunions
with family and friends. In the meantime Dick was sent by the Geological Survey to Menlo Park, Sacramento, and
Salt Lake City for various consultations. He then joined Liska in New Rochelle. We left our children with their
grandparents and took off for a blissful week alone, to Liska’s parents’ country place in upstate New York. We
spent most of our time exploring historic, picturesque Dutchess County and marveling at the spectacular fall colors.
Then we all flew to Madison, Wisconsin for a peaceful and pleasant visit with Dick’s parents and relatives. Liska
returned to New Rochelle for two weeks, while Dick went to the Geological Survey offices in Denver. He also
enjoyed visiting many old friends in Boulder. We were all back in snowy Anchorage in time for a joyous
Thanksgiving reunion with many of our friends.
In retrospect we think that what our trip showed us more than anything else is how much independence we have in
Alaska—the freedom to be ourselves. Somehow, the more individual and independent a person is in Alaska, the
more respected he is. This may really only be true in our particular circle of friends and acquaintances, but we find
great satisfaction in this possibility of doing, saying, and living exactly as we want, with no pressures to do otherwise.
Our live is full, rich, and meaningful; these are the qualities which we wish for you in this coming year!
This was a special year for us, because we finally found our land, that elusive piece of Alaska which we knew we’d
find some day, somewhere.
WINTER: On a snowy March day, armed with maps and directions we drive north to Palmer, 50 miles from
Anchorage. Soon we turn off onto a dirt road and follow it 3½ miles through the snowy woods. Then we don our skis
and glide another 1½ miles through the woods, all hushed and silent under the freshly fallen snow. Up a hill, around
a bend, down a hill. ..we arrive, catch our breath — we know right away that this is what we have been looking for.
We are standing on a south-facing slope, with a breathtaking view of the Matanuska Valley and the Chugach
Mountains beyond. Behind us, just a mile to the north, the Talkeetna Mountains rise sharply 3,000 feet. All around
us are beautiful woods and meadows on the hillsides. It is so peaceful...so perfect. We aren’t sure what lies under all
that snow (swamps, prickly devil’s club?), but we decide to take the chance. Back in An-chorage we purchase 12
acres of that snowy hillside, eagerly looking forward to spring.
SPRING: By the end of April we can already leave our skis at home and walk through the slush and mud to our
land. We know that in summer we will be able to drive in, but now we still enjoy the hike. Each time we go we
discover something new. From our high point we can see Cook Inlet many miles away. In May we made a delightful
discovery: we have a creek! It flows through a lovely meadow in the middle of our lower woods. There is even a
sandy, pebbly beach where David and Gary have lots of fun throwing rocks in the water. With the snow melting we
discover that we have no devil’s club (hooray!) and only parts of our lower woods are a little swampy (not bad!) We
delight in the bright green fiddlehead ferns poking through the drab grasses — a hint of the lush sum-mer to come.
SUMMER: The first project in June is to build an outhouse/tool shed, which we accomplish in several weekends.
Each time we go, we are amazed at how fast everything is growing. We discover that our hillsides are covered with
fireweed, now only green in early summer. but bright purple in July and August. We have pink wild roses, deep
purple larkspur, blue harebells, and finally “pootschki” a local name for the huge white cow parsnip. We have fields
of pootschki and therein we finally decide on the name for our land: “Pootschki Park.” We have wildlife too: bears,
moose, porcupines, foxes, rabbits, weasels, squirrels, owls and numerous other birds. We wait for the famous
Alaskan mosquitoes to announce their arrival. Surprisingly, there are few mosquitoes, but for several weeks in
July, we seem to host most of the flies in Alaska. By now Dick has built a sturdy picnic table and we spend almost
every weekend at Pootschki Park enjoying the peace and beauty and solitude.
FALL: We have decided where we will place the cabin so now we start digging the holes for the foundation posts.
With shovels, we dig eight holes, each four feet deep. David and Gary busily construct roads with their trucks on the
huge dirt piles we make. From Portage, 100 miles south of Pootschki we haul 13 telephone pole sections we have
bought from the electric company. Dick lugs, with a complicated shoulder sling, each heavy pole down the hill a
couple of hundred feet to the cabin site. During our breaks we enjoy the glorious fall colors: the deep red of the
fireweed stalks, the yellow and gold birch and cottonwood, against the dark green spruce. By the beginning of
October, eight poles are firmly rooted in their holes, just in time. On October 7th the first snow falls and Pootschki
Park settles in for another long winter.
Pootschki Park is important to us, because it is there that we experience that harmony of life which can be so hard
to find. We are very eager to build our cabin next summer and know that we will spend many weekends there,
enjoying our secluded wilderness. May the peace of mind we’ve found at Pootschki Park be passed on to you for
Last year we bought 12 sunny hillside acres (Pootschki Park) at the foot of the Talkeetna Mountains. This year
(with the cooperation of David, 5, and Gary, 2½ ) we became a family of cabin builders.
SPRING: We schemed and drew the plans, finally deciding on a 14’ x 20’ cabin. (Of course, our founda-tion posts,
put in last summer were placed for a 14’ x 16’ cabin!) Downstairs would be living area with outside entry porch and
woodshed, and upstairs, a half story with two bedrooms and a screened-in outside porch. Spring breakup brought a
problem: during the winter a culvert of our creek froze and now the torrent of meltwater roared down the road
washing it out. By May there were great gullies in the road making it impassable for cars. (It was not repaired until
the beginning of July.) Meanwhile we slogged through the mud to dig those three more holes for our foundation
posts. Liska spent many hours cutting steps out of our steep hillside (for giants only, it turned out) to make the
lumber carrying easier. At the beginning of May Dick went on a three-week field trip to Juneau, Ketchikan and
Sitka (in unheard-of glorious weather) which slowed down progress.
SUMMER: Lumber ordering time: our yard in An-chorage was piled high with lumber. In mid-June Liska’s 91 year-
old grandmother from New York visited us in Alaska for the fourth time and enjoyed her second visit to Pootschki
Park. The actual building started in mid-July; with the help of many friends we hauled loads and loads of lumber
down our steep trail (about 200 feet). As the nearest electricity is five miles away we reluctantly used a chain saw to
cut lumber. Dick took the last two weeks of July off from work and with the help of Liska’s cousin Tom, got the
cabin framed and the roof completed by the end of the month. (The steepness of the roof surprised them and “roof-
falling-off-prevention” became a major obsession.) While Dick was on another field trip, Liska decided to surprise
him by putting on the tarpaper. With the help of two teenage boys (plus David and Gary) we went up to discover that
none of us had any idea of what to do. So we just wrapped the cabin up like a big birthday present and cut out the
doors and windows. (It worked!) In mid-August a lumber truck dumped hundreds of fresh rough-cut (wet and heavy)
cottonwood boards at our parking area. Consequently we made hundreds of trips down that trail. These boards were
eventually nailed on vertically outside and horizontally inside for siding.
FALL: Once September came we had to move fast. Most of the windows were put in over Labor Day Weekend. On
the day David started Kindergarten, Liska’s parents arrived for a three-week visit and contributed lots of
babysitting. Dick and Liska spent five days at the cabin working feverishly, and made much progress. In went the
insulation: 9 inches in the ceiling and six inches on the walls. We worked well into the nights by the light of
kerosene lamps. Dick built three heavy doors and found it challenging to fit them just right. After many
computations and crossed fingers we cut the hole in the roof for the chimney. (We were almost right!) By the end of
September the cabin was enclosed and the wood stove was in. On October 4th we had a heavy snowstorm. Panic!
That weekend we rented a trailer and with trepida-tion hauled all the furniture and supplies down our steep icy trail
on a raw blustery day. We made it! But miraculously the weather changed and we spent three glorious October
weekends finishing up the outside of the cabin, hauling, cutting and stacking firewood, putting inside siding on and
building kitchen counters, shelves and a table.
WINTER: By now we had done all we could this year and started to enjoy the cabin. On a cold weekend in mid-
November we had to ski in for the first time (1½ miles) and we were proud of David who skied both ways. This was
the ultimate test: yes, it all worked! All those days, weeks and months of hard work paid off. The wood stove heated
the cabin in no time and despite the 0 degree temperature outside, we were soon warm and cozy in our secluded
cabin — alone in the hushed silent wilderness.
This was a year of contrast and adventure ranging from a boat trip through the steep red-walled can-yons of the
Colorado River in Utah to a snug evening in our cabin nestled deep in the snows of the Alaska woods.
We have always had a great love for the canyon coun-try of Utah’s desert, so this April we returned to this awesome
and desolate area with David and Gary. As David has a tremendous interest in prehistoric animals, we spent several
days camping by the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument. We hiked, studied dinosaur bones being
excavated from the quarry and savored the warm, green days of spring — a great con-trast from the cold and snowy
Anchorage we had left the week before. At Arches National Park we camped beside the huge red weird-shaped
sandstone formations. How we enjoyed the warm sunny weather, the strange and fascinating arches and the desert
wildlife: myriad anthills and tiny lizards! Our day-long boat trip down the Colorado River with short hikes to
petrified forests and Indian ruins was unforgettable. We also enjoyed brief visits with some friends and relatives in
Vancouver B.C., Seattle, Missoula, Denver, Boulder, and San Francisco.
Back in Anchorage we were really aware of the tremen-dous growth and continual construction taking place.
Anchorage is now a bustling, sprawling metropolis, caus-ed mainly by the pipeline. There’s a saying here that
“Anchorage is the closest city to Alaska” meaning that in Anchorage itself you will not find much left of the
Alaskan way of life, but once you get away from the city, you can find it. We moved to Alaska to experience a
“frontier” way of life — a touch of which we still found in Anchorage when we moved here eight years ago. Now
when we feel the need to escape from the cacophony and commotion of Anchorage, we head for our secluded cabin.
When we first conceived our cabin, we had no idea how much it would come to mean to us; now we cannot imagine
life without it. This year we finished the cabin: completed the inside, built a big porch on the front, stained the
rough-cut exterior, and hauled, cut and stack-ed our firewood for the winter. An hour and 15 minutes after leaving
our home in Anchorage we arrive at Pootschki Park (our land). The effect is magical as soon as we leave the car:
there is the expectant hush of nature only broken by birds twittering, animals scampering and breezes blowing
softly through the trees. Once we reach the cabin a great peace seems to settle down and envelop us, and for two
days we talk, take walks, play games with the boys, read books. It’s a period of great serenity and togetherness. We
return to Anchorage feeling so relax-ed yet envigorated.
And now some family news: Dick through his job has traveled around more of Alaska this year — to Kodiak Island,
the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and to many of the pipeline camps between Valdez and Prudhoe Bay. His main
duty is to determine the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of wells, streams and lakes. Dick is also
developing an interest in photography and spends many hours experimenting with his camera. Liska enjoys
volunteer work at the Alaska Center for the Environment, taking courses (for fun) at the Universi-ty, occasional
teaching at Gary’s co-op playschool, and some translating. David, 6, is in first grade and is excited about the worlds
opening to him through reading and math. He is a serious, sensitive student with interests in nature, outer space,
geography and history. Gary, almost four, is a fun-loving lively kid who keeps us laughing a lot. He is a non-stop
talker and keen observer of the world around him. This was the year of the grandfather for the boys. Dick’s father
finally made his first trip to Alaska for two weeks in August, while Liska’s father came for two weeks in
September. The grandmothers stayed home this year. Now the boys are counting the days until December 20th when
we leave for a family reunion Christmas at Liska’s parents in New Rochelle, New York. May your Christmas and
New Year be as joyful and spirited as ours promises to be!
In this Bicentennial year we are sharing with you our very unique Fourth of July experience... On Thursday July 1,
1976, Dick, Liska, David (6½) and Gary (4½) are at the Juneau, Alaska Airport watching with fascination as a pilot
crams and squashes huge piles of mailbags, boxes and odd-shaped packages into an old rickety-looking six-seated
wheel-float plane. He then beckons us and with trepidation we walk over, climb up and squeeze ourselves into the
little space remaining. A real feeling of adventure comes over us as we roll down the runway, rise up through the
Juneau fog and head west. After an hour we land in the water at a small remote fishing village called Pelican
(population 200) on the west side of Chichagof Island. On the float dock to meet us are our good friends Jim and
Janet Allan and 6-year-old Timo, who live there.
We spend a couple of days exploring the village. Most of the buildings are on top of pilings along both sides of the
1.5 mile long boardwalk. During high tide, the houses sit right above the water, while low tide reveals muddy,
clamshell-dotted tide flats. Along the boardwalk in addition to the tiny old houses and the big cannery buildings are
a general store, cafe, post office, bars, health clinic, city hall, church, Pelican “Wet Goods” (liquor store),
steambath, library, and a firehouse with an old but fully equipped shiny fire jeep which drives up and down the
boardwalk. There are no cars in Pelican and only a few trucks (garbage truck, snowplow).
July 4, 1976.. .Pelican is famous throughout southeast Alaska for its annual 4th of July celebration, and the village
people warmly welcome strangers to share their spirit of fun and festivities. Yesterday was a free roast pig feed on
the boardwalk, a dance at the community hall and fireworks at midnight (when it was finally dark). Today the first
event is a parade down the boardwalk. The shiny fire jeep festooned with streamers leads the “floats” which are
mostly children in costumes pulling wagons gaily decorated with patriotic themes. The “band” is a Revolutionary-
clad youngster diligently blowing a horn. David, Gary, and Timo are just beaming —so proud to be in the parade too.
We all slowly march to the schoolgrounds for a stirring flag raising ceremony and speech. A free hot-dog lunch is
cheerfully served by the village people to one and all. After lunch everyone gathers on the tideflats for an afternoon
of races and games. The first event is a foot race for ages 0-3! There are all kinds of races for all ages, with prizes
for the win-ners. Everyone joins in with many good laughs. We help ourselves to the truckload of free beer, soda
pop and ice cream. After the rolling-pin throwing contest and egg toss, there is a rowdy tug-of-war between the
fishermen and the cannery workers, across the wide cold creek. The fishermen finally win and pull the cannery
workers into the creek. A baseball game using cases of beer for bases is played until the incoming tide starts lapping
at the infield! Now the action moves down to the docks where there is a log-rolling contest. For the final event a 15-
foot heavily greased pole is extended horizontally over the water. Many adventurous people slip and slide on it trying
to catch the flag attached at the end, to win the prize, but they all fall into the cold oily water of the boat docks.
After two hours the exuberant onlookers finally cheer the winner, then slowly drift off in the driz-zle to go home
and clean up for another night of dancing and celebration.
Seven days after we arrive in Pelican a small plane comes for us. We leave with warm feelings for this village where
everyone from babies to grizzled old fishermen have come together in a spirit of fun and friendship to celebrate with
friend and stranger alike, this Bicentennial Fourth. How lucky we are to have this opportunity to see a glimpse of
small-town Alaska life. As our plane climbs up into the sky, our last view of Pelican is the boardwalk on which is
painted with huge red, white and blue letters “Happy Birthday America!” As we circle higher, the village becomes a
smaller and smaller speck in the endless panorama of the forested, mountainous islands and shimmering waters of
May the warm feelings of joy and friendship which we found in Pelican be yours for the coming year.
As 1977 draws to a close we think of how far north and south our family has been this year. On April 14, we find
ourselves driving through the picturesque, flower-filled village of Nalehu, Hawaii, the southern-most town in the
United States. Three months later Dick is looking out on the bleak windswept landscape of Bar-row, Alaska, the
The four of us leave for Hawaii from Anchorage on April Fool’s Day, during a heavy spring snowstorm and arrive in
warm, muggy Honolulu, six hours later. We im-mediately fly north to the Garden Isle of Kauai. What strikes us
first after the long white Alaska winter is the burst of color: the brilliant blue sky, deep red earth, lush green
tropical foliage and brightly colored flowers. The first few days we head for the beaches! After living in Alaska for 10
years Liska can hardly believe that she is lying in the sun under palm trees (her vision of Paradise!) while David and
Gary play in the sand and Dick takes up snorkeling. We then spend a couple of days in the mountains hiking along
breathtaking trails on ridges overlooking the shimmering blue Pacific Ocean on one side and beautiful deep
Waimea Canyon on the other. Our last few days on Kauai we explore the sparsely populated beaches and steep trails
on the luxuriant north side of the island.
We fly south to the Big Island, Hawaii, and drive up into the mountains to visit Volcanoes National Park. We are
fascinated by the huge desolate crater of the Kilauea Caldera (which erupted in September), with bursts of steam
emitting from the walls and floors of black lava. To our surprise, right next to the bleak volcanic land-scape is a lush
fern forest that had not yet been ravaged by the volcano. Back down at the ocean on a hike along lava seacliffs, the
waves hurl themselves furiously against the cliffs, and shoot up huge white sprays of sea water which splash
violently down on the rocks next to us —exhiliarating! Our last two days in Hawaii we spend peacefully at a small
tree-shaded campground by the ocean. We savor every last minute of sun, to take back to Alaska.
In contrast to the sun, lushness and warm breezes of Hawaii, Dick spends five weeks of the summer on the barren,
windy North Slope of Alaska. On June 3, Dick and a co-worker are dropped by helicopter on the banks of the
Miguakiak River at the outlet of huge Teshekpuk Lake, east of Barrow. The next three weeks they camp in total
isolation investigating for the first time various characteristics of the river system for the Geological Survey. The
vast terrain around them is completely flat and treeless, but their camp by the river is surrounded by delicate
tundra wildflowers. Unexpected visitors wander into camp: caribou and white arctic foxes. The number of birds is
astounding: Dick and his friend observe over 30 species of birds including a wide variety of swans, ducks and geese.
In July Dick spends another two weeks on the North Slope. This time he flies from lake to lake by helicopter doing
And now some notes about our family... David is now eight and in third grade. His big interest this year is foreign
countries: he collects coins, stamps, maps and facts. Gary, almost 6, is in Kindergarten. He loves physical activity,
arithmetic and crafts projects. We are all involved in Cub Scouting this year. Liska has started to work for the
Geological Survey, editing reports on a very part-time basis. Dick and Liska have a narrow escape in mid-August:
we are driving in the country on a dark rainy night, when a moose suddenly steps right in front of our new VW
Dasher. We slam into the moose, it flies up, crashes into our windshield, smashing it to bits. The moose is killed,
but miraculously we are not even hurt. We are so lucky!
We four are busy, well and happy.. .and... .all our warmest wishes for a GREAT nineteen hundred and seventy
This year was highlighted by trips of many types which added a variety of experiences and adventures to our lives.
WINTER: If a raven had been swooping and swirling near the slopes of Mt. McKinley on a cold, but clear March
weekend, it would have noticed two tiny figures slowly moving across the vast spruce forests and frozen marshland
below. A closer look would have shown the figures to be Dick and Liska, skiing through the isolated wilderness.
Occasionally we paused in the open marsh areas and gazed at the majestic mountain looming to the north. After 10
miles and many hours, as darkness ap-proached, we arrived at a friend’s tiny log cabin high on the banks of the
frozen Tokositna River, which is fed by one of McKinley’s massive glaciers. We spent a cozy evening with our
friend, warming ourselves by her woodstove. The next day we skied back through the un-touched wilderness
enjoying the silence and solitude of nature — it was truly an “Alaskan Experience” weekend.
SPRING: On a warm Sunday in May, we had another Alaskan experience—of an entirely different type. We were
peacefully canoeing down the Little Susitna River with David and Gary in our canoe, and two friends in another. We
rounded a bend and suddenly saw a cow moose on a gravel bar right by the river’s edge. Next to her were two round,
brown, glistening lumps. They turned out to be newborn calves, probably born within the last hour or so! We pulled
over to another gravel bar and pondered our situation. Mother moose glared and growled. She was obviously feeling
very threatened. The river was so narrow at that point, that we would have to pad-dle within a few feet of her. We
were afraid that she might attack us. We were miles from any roads and obviously couldn’t paddle back upstream.
So we waited. After a long time, mother moose and one of the calves, on very wobbly legs, disappeared into the
woods. The other calf stayed by shore, bleating and wobbling around in a confused manner. We shot by the calf in
our canoe to safety. But to this day we do not know whether the mother ever returned for her calf. It was a very
sober-ing lesson for all of us — on the impact of man on the wilderness.
SUMMER: The summer was highlighted by a coast-to-coast trip. After a great reunion with Liska’s family in New
Rochelle, New York and sightseeing in Washington, D.C., we flew to Madison, Wisconsin to visit Dick’s family. We
then spent almost two weeks driving from there to Seattle. The trip can best be summarized by the follow-ing
observations: Dick says the most interesting for him was Washington D.C., especially the Smithsonian Institu-tion
and the unforgettable film “To Fly.” The most fun was exploring the caves at Wind Cave National Park. Liska: most
interesting — the three new babies born in her family since January; the most fun — the day-long canoe trip with a
friend down the Clark’s Fork River, near Missoula, Montana. David: most interesting — the fossil trail in Badlands
National Monument and Mt. Rushmore; most fun — feeding the baby goats at the homestead of friends near Mt.
Rainier National Park. Gary: most interesting — the bubbling mud cauldrons at Yellowstone National Park; most
fun — the fat, fun-ny, frolicsome prairie dogs in Custer State Park, South Dakota.
FALL: Perhaps the trips that ultimately mean the most to us are the excursions to our cabin (“Pootschki Park”).
One weekend this fall, we hiked up to the ridge behind our cabin. From there we gazed across the valley at snow-
capped peaks, whose hillsides were bathed in the yellow and red colors of fall foliage. Far to the west we viewed the
shimmering waters of Cook Inlet. But nowhere did we see any evidence of man. We discerned no roads, no houses,
no telephone poles — only nature at her best —a feast for the eyes. We raced down the hillside, back down to the
cabin for hot chocolate or tea, to take away the chill of the brisk fall air. These are the moments we treasure.
Kid Tidbits: David, age 9—4th Grade — into Cub Scouts—coin collecting — devours Hardy Boys books. Gary, almost
7— gymnastics — learning to read — loves math, crafts. Both boys sit by the world map and plot trips they plan to
take in the future.
And all our warmest wishes for your future...
As we began our 12th year here in Alaska our family was caught up in the excitement of one of Alaska’s most
dramatic events: the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Back in the Gold Rush Days, a sled dog trail was established between Knik (50 miles from Anchorage) and Nome,
more than a thousand miles to the northwest. With the advent of small airplanes, the need for this trail diminished
and eventually it was abandoned. In the early 1970’s some enthusiastic sled dog mushers reestablished the trail and
organized an annual sled dog race to Nome. This year a close friend of ours (Mr.) Gayle Nienhueser entered this
grueling race. The months of preparations included: acquiring and training 12 sled dogs...building the sled...
preparing and packaging hundreds of pounds of dog food as well as food for himself...sewing hundreds of sturdy
“booties”’ for the dogs’ paws when going over rough terrain...gathering lightweight gear (sleeping bag, stove, pot for
melting snow, etc.) to carry on the sled...and then shipping the food and supplies to 25 small villages along the way.
The morning of February 24th dawned clear and cold in Anchorage. The 55 mushers (mostly trappers and hunters
who live in the vast wilderness areas of Alaska) left from Anchorage at 2-minute intervals. For the next 2-3 weeks,
the mushers followed the Iditarod trail, day and night, over snowy hills...across frozen lakes and rivers...over steep
mountain ranges.. .through birch and spruce forests.. .across vast flat frozen marshlands and occasionally through
villages where they were given a hero’s welcome. On and on they mushed, averaging 50-75 miles a day through the
bitter cold, snow and wind storms, sleeping on their sleds for a few hours at a time. Back in Anchorage, we followed
Gayle’s progress daily through newspaper and radio reports. Finally, after 21 days, he pulled into Nome just after
sunset, exhausted but cheerful. What an adventure!
Although Gayle had a unique trip across Alaska, we also had some exciting trips this year: a warm sunny reu-nion
with Liska’s parents in Hawaii in March...a chaotic fun-filled visit to Vancouver in July with Liska’s brother
Christopher and his family...and, among our Alaskan adventures, the following trip.
The destination was our friend Libby’s log cabin on the bank of the Tokositna River near the foothills of Mt.
McKinley. Getting there was half the fun! We hiked 2 miles to a small lake where a tiny float plane shuttled us in
three shifts (Libby and her husky dog, Liska and David, Dick and Gary) to another lake. We hopped out of the
plane, which could not get to the shore, and promptly sank up to our knees in muck. After we slogged to shore, we
whacked the last mile through alder bushes, birch trees, 5-foot high grass, prickly rose bushes and devil’s club,
swamps and (the saving grace!) heavily load-ed blueberry bushes. The blueberries were enormous —the size of
marbles — plump and juicy! When we reached the cabin, we saw vivid signs of a recent bear visit; there were deep,
angry gashes on the logs near the boarded-up door and windows. Luckily, however, the bear did not return while we
were there. We spent two days...hiking along the river...chopping and stacking wood...reading and talking...eating
plain blueberries, blueberry pancakes, blueberry desserts...and always gazing at majestic Mt. McKinley in its many
colors and moods. We returned the way we came...thrashing through the tangled wilderness to the lake (where we
trip-ped over a dead moose lying along the shore.) Our plane met us and shuttled us back in three loads...the end of
an unforgettable experience.
Family news: Dick’s job, studying the water quality of Alaska’s rivers, lakes and wells, took him on numerous field
trips throughout the state: Indian and Eskimo villages, as well as gold mining areas and ghost towns. Most of these
places can only be reached by small planes on wheels, floats or skis (in winter). Liska is very involved in the PTA
and working three days a week for the Geological Survey. David, 10, is in 5th grade, has a great interest in
geography and history and has started to play the cello. Gary, almost 8, is in 2nd grade, loves math, outer space and
is a chess fanatic.
This will be a very special Christmas for us, because once again, we will be flying “south” to share it with our family
and friends in Wisconsin and New York.
Continue to Christmas letters 1980s