|Christmas Letters continued 1980- 1989
A year of contrast and adventure for us, ranging from exploring medieval castles in Germany to exploring our new
wilderness acreage near Mt. McKinley.
On May 14, the four of us left a brown, drab Anchorage, flew over the ice-capped Polar Regions, over a soft pink
Norwegian sunrise and descended into flower-filled, sunny Frankfurt, Germany 10 hours later. An elegant white
Mercedes taxicab whisked us to the spacious apartment where Liska’s brother Christopher and his family were living
for a year. Our days in GER-MANY were filled with...hearty reunions with assorted relatives...coffee and cake
(always with whipped cream!) at 4:00 in the afternoon...many wanderings up and down narrow cobble-stoned streets
of old medieval towns...the centuries-old silence of massive, dark cathedrals...a delightful few days with old family
friends in a small farming village...a chilling visit to the border of East Germany, with its high fence, mine fields and
glaring lights...but mostly the castles — all kinds of castles...especially the huge Rheinfels ruin: David and Gary raced
around breathlessly all day exploring the countless terraces, secret stairways, myriad dark passageways leading to
hidden rooms, the crumbling walls, the tower with winding stone steps up to a magnificent view of the Rhine River and
the steep vineyards. For a whole day they were truly “knights in shining armor” (with shining eyes!).
Then off we went on Europe’s fast, clean and efficient trains to BELGIUM: a day in the ancient, lovely city of Bruges...
swans floating in the canals...everyone on thick, rubber wheeled bicycles...steep-roofed stone houses and windmills.
Across the English Channel to ENGLAND: a full, exciting day at the historic Tower of London...a cool, gray morning
in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey mak-ing brass rubbings... parks and pigeons...double-decker buses...the
amazing British Museum. Back to the coast for an unforgettable ride on a huge Hovercraft across the channel to
FRANCE: in Paris the atmosphere was crackling, exciting...saw countless street performers (jug-glers, musicians,
mimes, flame swallowers)...but also muggings, fist fights and an attempted pickpocket (on us!)...spent captivating
hours in the historic buildings, cathedrals, museums...and we shall never forget our view of Paris in the morning mist
from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Back in Anchorage, which had magically turned green and summery by late June, we found out to our astonish-ment
and delight that we had won the option to buy a 4-acre lakefront parcel of land. Almost all of Alaska’s land is owned
by the Federal or State government and Native Corporations. Occasionally the State sells some of its land for private
ownership. One of the methods used is a lot-tery: people pay a fee for a chance on each lot they are interested in, and
the winners are picked at random. This time we were one of the lucky winners and since we have lived in Alaska more
than 10 years, we can buy the lot at a 50% discount.
Time to go exploring to see what we won! Fourth of July weekend we drove 130 miles north of Anchorage near the
foothills of Mt. McKinley and started hiking (in the rain) the three miles in to Sunny (HA!) Lake. Due to the rain, mud,
overgrown trail and hordes of mosquitos our first impressions of Sunny Lake were not exactly op-timal. What a
difference, two months later, when we hik-ed in on a crisp, sparkling fall day. This time the sun shone through the
golden leaves, and we caught glimp-ses of majestic Mt. McKinley through the trees as we approached the calm, clear
lake. A beaver swam by eye-ing us curiously. Exploration of “our” 4 acres disclosed alder buses, birch and spruce
trees, gentle hills, sunny meadows, giant ferns (David and Gary had a grand time making a huge fern fort) and a
generous amount of bear and moose droppings. So now we are the fortunate owners of another piece of Alaska’s
The wood is stacked at our mountain cabin and we are looking forward to many winter weekends skiing, sledding,
reading by the fire...peace...and may it be yours in the year to come...
As the year draws to a close, we think of the good times we’ve had, and again would like to share some of them with
you. Our long hot summer trip was highlighted by wonderful visits with family and relatives in New York and
Wisconsin. We will always treasure the warm (no pun intended!) gatherings with so many of you. Then, leaving
relatives behind, off we drove to the West. David and Gary have summarized our western trip experiences as follows:
most relaxing time...wandering around on our friends’ (the Claassens) ranch high in the mountains of southwestern
Colorado; most historic...exploring the 800-year old Indian cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde; most desolate...driving
through the vast, unending but colorful desert of the Navajo Reservation in the Four Corners area; most exciting...the
spectacular mule ride down the steep, bumpy trail into the Grand Canyon; most adventurous...hiking along a narrow
ledge cut into a sheer, massive rock wall (with a 500-foot dropoff) at Zion National Park (their mother says it was the
“most terrifying...”); most unique (to them)...the gaudy gambling casinos and flashy neon lights of Las Vegas, where we
caught a plane back to Anchorage.
Back home, we have gained entry into whole new worlds of Alaska we’ve never seen before: we bought a 16-foot
inflatable motorboat. We experienced the most exciting of our boat trips late this summer with our friend Dave Church
(from Berkeley, California). A train took us, the boat and gear through mountain tunnels to Prince William Sound, a
coastal wilderness of fjords, islands, glaciers and wildlife. There, we loaded up and skimmed through the water along
the wooded shores, for about 35 miles. Suddenly, we rounded a corner into a fjord and gasped. All around us, huge
glaciers flowed down steep mountains ending in the waters of the fjord. Between the glaciers, long silvery waterfalls
cascaded down the slopes. Countless small icebergs dotted the chilly waters. Frisky sea otters swam and dove among
the icebergs...it was a breathtaking sight. We nosed the boat into a steep, rocky cove and clambered up to a lovely
mossy meadow carpeted with plump round blueberries. We ate a pic-nic lunch in absolute awe, absorbing the
majestic view. The stillness was shattered occasionally by a giant roar as big chunks of glacier walls calved off into the
water. After lunch, we boarded the boat and made our way across the fjord to the toe of one of these glaciers. To our
delight, we discovered numerous ice floes where dozens of hulking seals silently sat, watching our approach curiously.
As we got closer, they slid into the water, popping their heads up periodically to study us...very different from the sea
otters which were much more frolicsome and playful. Whenever a chunk of glacier crashed into the water, big
swooping swells gently rocked the boat to and fro. And to top off this unforgettable day, on the way back a killer
whale leaped out of the water near us and dove back in, arching its distinc-tive dorsal fin. Alaska’s wonders still
continue to excite and amaze us.
Dick continues to have adventures on his field trips at work: (being stalked by grizzly bears; camping next to a creek
which rose suddenly in the night, stopping just inches from his sleeping bag; getting stuck in whiteout conditions in a
helicopter, and other such “everyday” Alaskan experiences). Liska is now working as an editor of Geological Survey
reports and still translating French and German scientific articles. David, 12, is a seventh-grader in junior high, and
Gary, almost 10, is in fourth grade. They spend many hours with their friends unraveling the complexities of the
mystical, medieval game “Dungeons and Dragons.”
Now winter is here again and both boys agree that their favorite pastime is climbing the silent snowy hills behind our
cabin...up and up they go. Way up high they turn around, jump on their sleds and whiz down through the snow,
swooping, twisting and turning down the long, long trails...eventually, breathless and red-cheeked, landing back in front
of our snug little cabin...where the four of us join together...to sincerely wish you a bright and sunny nineteen-eight-two!
This is the year we exchanged canoe paddles and knapsacks for hammers and nails, climbing up mountains for
climbing up ladders, and exploring the wilderness for exploring the inner recesses of our attic...
JANUARY — APRIL: We have lived in our 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house for 14 years, and realize we need some
more space...so, we decide to build an addition! We plan to do most of the work ourselves and hire help occa-
sionally, as needed. After drawing up and discarding countless floor plans, the final one is a big bedroom for Dick and
Liska, a small office, and a big bathroom/darkroom on top of the back of the house, overlooking the woods and
mountains. We also decide to extensively remodel the old part of our house.
MAY: Start tearing off siding from old part of the house, put up new insulation, remove our old leaky windows. Where
are the new windows? They were ordered weeks ago. (“Uh, they’ve been delayed”.) Cover up window openings with
JUNE: Dig a “moat” around the house and insulate two feet down along foundation. The rains come, turning the dirt
piles around the house into mud. Our windowless house with insulation for siding, sitting in a sea of mud looks like a
disaster zone. Where are those windows?? (“Any day now.”) Put up new siding. Take a break and enjoy a wonderful
3-week visit from Liska’s brother Walter, his wife, and two small children. A great time of sharing experiences and
showing them Alaska. (The windows finally come; two were the wrong size — back to the shop...)
JULY: Dick flies to Madison for his 25th High School reu-nion and brings his parents back for a relaxing 2-week visit.
(Finally, the windows are in!) Now, the “big push”: order lumber, supplies, and more windows (from another place)
for the new upstairs. Our hot water heater bursts; a week’s delay to install a new gas heater and locate the source of a
mysterious gas leak.
AUGUST: Starting tearing off the roof shingles with help of David, Gary and some friends. It rains...on with a huge
plastic covering. (Too bad we didn’t see the leak slowly dripping water on the sheetrock over David and Gary’s
bedroom...) Sun comes out...off with the roof! Truckloads of old lumber to the dump. Oops, someone steps on the
sheetrock ceiling over the kids’ room...it’s soaking wet and a big slab of ceiling with heavy wet mounds of fiberglass
insulation crashes down. All the bedding, games, books, and toys are smothered with sheetrock, dust, and wet
insulation. The mess is phenomenal and takes a week to clean up. Back upstairs; lay the floor...put up walls and roof.
Put in the windows...paint outside.
SEPTEMBER: David (age 13) starts 8th grade and Gary (10), 5th grade. Finish up outside, now we go inside: wiring,
plumbing, insulation in the walls and ceiling. Build a new entrance hall downstairs.
OCTOBER: Splurge and hire someone to hang the sheetrock walls and ceiling. What a luxury to have someone else
do the work...but, oh what a dusty mess! Clean it up and paint the walls. Liska has an interlude: she goes to New
York for three weeks to stay with her mother while her father is seriously ill in the hospital. Dick and the boys stay
home and build a beautiful staircase.
NOVEMBER: Install bathroom fixtures and carpeting. Finally, on Liska’s 40th birthday, we move into our big new
sunny bedroom and have our own bathroom.
DECEMBER: Repaint two downstairs bedrooms and fix up according to David and Gary’s wishes. Repaint liv-ing
room, hallway, and install new carpeting. Now finally, at last, the project is just about done...only a few minor details
We spent every weekend and all our time after our regular jobs working on the house. It was an exhausting year, but
the end result is extremely rewarding. “The light at the end of the tunnel” has always been the knowledge that we
would relax in Hawaii over the Christmas holidays, spending time together.
This year, the first in a long time, was a relatively subdued one for us — no big Alaska adventures or hair-raising
building projects to write about.
So we thought we’d describe to you the changes that have taken place in Anchorage. When we moved to Anchorage
in 1967, a frontier quality of life was still very much in existence. A large portion of Anchorage was heavily -wooded
with dirt roads leading to the nearby mountains. Only a couple of tall buildings dotted downtown where log cabins and
small frame houses were abundant on the bluffs overlooking the water. Quaint stores sold a variety of Eskimo and
Indian arts and crafts; restaurants were cozy family-run affairs. The one concert series was eagerly attended by
everyone who craved good music and dance. Anchorage Communtiy College was just a few night classes in a high
school. On the streets, we often saw people wearing beautiful handmade fur parkas and mukluks with intricate
Now, 16 years later, all that has changed. Anchorage’s population has doubled and with it the housing developments
proliferated, taking away many of the wooded areas. The log cabins have disappeared, replaced by glass-faced
monolithic skyscrapers and elegant hotels. The dirt roads have yielded to four lane highways and rush-hour traffic
jams. Dozens of impersonal shopping malls and fast food restaurants have sprung up. Fur clothing has given way to
down jackets and plastic moon boots. And, like all the modern cities, Anchorage is also plagued with problems of
drunken drivers and drugs in the streets.
But with the bad, comes also the good: the school system is excellent with great opportunities for all types of students.
The community college has burgeoned into a branch of the University of Alaska, complete with a lovely campus in the
woods. The amount of culture is astounding: world-famous musicians, dance groups, and symphonies (as well as rock
groups, David and Gary want to add) come to town in a steady stream. A first-class repertory theatre presents
professional actors and actresses in Broadway-caliber plays.
And yet, despite the constant throb of urbanization, the spirit of old Alaska lives on: in winter, the moose wander into
our yard from the woods behind the house. A few years ago these woods were set aside by the city as a “greenbelt”
and so “our” woods are safe from development. Even though we live smack in the middle of a city of 200,000 people,
we can ski or bike for miles on beautiful trails starting right behind our house. Eighty miles of well-maintained bike/ski
trails criss-cross Anchorage, often winding through woods and along creeks, with bridges or tunnels at major road
The spirit of Alaska is also brought to life by the exciting Iditarod Dog Sled Race. This past March, nearly 70 dog
teams started in downtown Anchorage, went through “our” woods and continued 1049 miles to Nome! We all got
involved in the preparations (including Liska’s mother, who was visiting) because a 19-year old friend was running the
race. This young man is a diabetic, and yet he accomplished this amazing feat: racing with his dog team across the
frozen wilderness, over high mountains, across lonely river valleys for three weeks! Yes, Alaska still enchants us with
Family news: the year started out on a sad note with the peaceful death of Liska’s father following a brief, but serious
illness...Liska made a couple of short trips to New York to be with her mother...in July, the four of us spent a warm (!)
and wonderful week at a Snyder family reunion in Wisconsin...on to New York for a family wedding and a delightful 2-
day visit to historic Plymouth, Massachusetts with friends...Liska’s brother Christopher and family came for a fun-filled
three weeks in August...David (14) started high school; his main interests still lean towards history and languages...
Gary (almost 12) in 6th grade, is an avid reader of mountaineering-expedition books...Liska is becoming more
involved in her part-time careers editing and translating scientific reports...and Dick continues to travel around Alaska
studying water quality of Alaska’s many rivers and lakes.
Our weekend activities still center around outdoor activities in the great Alaskan wilderness, that never changes! May
the year nineteen-eighty-four bring you good things galore...
Once again the frosty Alaska winter envelopes us with its snowy fingers; what a contrast to the hot sun that beat down
on us this summer in Utah’s colorful desert.
The four of us spent two days canoeing 70 miles down the remote Green River through the heart of Utah’s spec-
tacular canyonlands. (During that time we saw only one other group of people.) The river was flowing so fast that most
of the first day we tied our two canoes together and basked in the warm sunshine while the current carried us
downstream at about 6 miles per hour. Huge red ca-nyon walls towered above us, sometimes rising right out of the
water. The only sound was the gentle slap of water against the canoes.
In 1871, the great Colorado River explorer, John Wesley Powell boated down this stretch of the Green River and
named it Labyrinth Canyon, after its amazing twists, turns and meanders. He described this area as follows: “Buttes,
pinnacles, turrets, spires, castles, gulches, alcoves, canyons and canyons, all hewn... out of the labyrinth of solid rock...
the most fantastic region we had yet encountered.” In the late afternoon, we reached a place he called “Trin Alcove”
where three canyons came together at their mouths. We hiked up one of these ca-nyons to a lovely alcove, a hundred
feet high, with a shimmering pool at the bottom. A hushed church-like atmosphere surrounded us.
That night we gingerly pitched our tent in a field of flowering prickly-pear cactus. Jackrabbits, lizards and mosquitoes
kept us company. The next morning we leisurely floated downriver and explored another canyon — we had plenty of
time — or so we thought!
Shortly after lunch, we had an unexpected jolt: sud-denly a strong wind hit us, blowing upriver! We quick-ly untied the
two canoes, and tried to paddle against the wind — Dick and Gary in one canoe, Liska and David in the other. The
current got rough — big waves splash-ed up and rocked the canoes. After about an hour of hard paddling, we pulled
into a small cove and figured out that we had gone only one mile! At this rate, we would never arrive at our “take out”
point (25 miles away) in time to be picked up the next morning. We had to keep going! The wind blew relentlessly, in
stronger and weaker gusts. When it was weak, we paddled like mad and made some progress; when it was strong we
struggl-ed sideways to the shore and hung on to bushes, to keep from being blown upstream. Here was the most spec-
tacular part of Labyrinth Canyon, but we were working too hard to enjoy it. Oh, our aching arms!
Hours later, with the approach of darkness, we began to look for a place to camp. No luck: the terrain was either
sheer walls, or low, wet, “bottoms.” Finally, we spotted a high dry, narrow stretch of land, backed by a towering
canyon wall. Only one problem: no place wide en-ough to pitch our tent. But, in desperation, we worked with a
vengeance moving rocks and pulling up small bushes to make a clearing. Still not big enough, but we pitched the tent
anyway, at a very skewed angle. Darkness. We collapsed, exhausted. No one was even hungry — no dinner tonight.
Woke up to sunshine and no wind! For the last 6 miles, we drifted lazily downriver enjoying the gorgeous scenery to
our “take out” point. It truly was an unforget-table trip — mostly idyllic, but with enough drama to make it exciting, too.
After visiting family for a few days in Vancouver, Canada, we spent a week driving 2,500 miles up the Alaska
Highway — a first for the Snyder family (much to our embarrassment, after living here for 17 years!) It certainly gave
us an interesting perspective on how far away we really live, which we don’t get when we fly in and out of Alaska.
Family Trivia: David (15) works with his school’s backstage crew putting on plays and still enjoys his hobby of
collecting foreign coins. Gary (almost 13) is a Boy Scout, is active in sports, and has fun with his pets: a guinea pig and
a mouse. Both boys have become avid downhill skiers, while their old parents still prefer the more sedate sport of
cross-country skiing. So, all’s rolling along merrily for us, and we hope for you too.
As the cold, dark Alaska winter closes in, we think back on our sunny trip to Europe this summer, and would like to
share some of our experiences with you.
After a few days in Germany, staying with cousins and exploring castles, we whirled through Italy for a week. All four
of us were enchanted with Venice: the charm and quaintness of its myriad alleyways and canals, and its ancient
buildings, such as our hotel — a 14th century palace tucked away on a small canal in a quiet corner of Venice. Our
enormous room was astounding: it was 25 x 25 feet in size, had a 16-foot high ceiling, a gorgeous inlaid wood floor,
marble walls, and antique furniture. The room was shrouded with a deep sense of history. Who were the people who
had trod the floors? And what intrigues, whispered conversations, and strange events had those walls witnessed
through the centuries?
We returned to Germany and stayed with Liska’s mother, Nellie, at a friend’s apartment in Munich. After 10 days of
exploring southern Germany, we left for Berlin. Our locked train, patrolled by gun-toting guards, sped through the
drab countryside of East Germany and whisked through its grim-looking cities, without stop-ping. Seeing the many
vicious guard dogs at the border, and then the Wall dividing West and East Berlin, were chilling experiences. The Wall
itself is an endless mural covered with colorful graffiti, bitter slogans, and heart-felt poetry.
The most profound experience of our whole trip was a visit to East Berlin. We were surprised how easy it was to
cross the Wall: no paperwork to fill out, no searches through our knapsacks. Together with Nellie, we were simply
herded down corridors and through locked doors to obtain visas and exchange money. Suddenly another door was
opened and we were out on the street! For several hours we visited museums and walked on wide streets, filled with
stores and people, but with hardly any cars and no bikes. Then Nellie called an old mathemati-cian friend, Professor
A. He quickly and joyfully rush-ed to meet us, and spontaneously invited us to his home for a visit. We took a shabby,
very cheap (6 cents each!) trolley, and noticed everyone scrutinizing us curiously. Professor A. then led us to a
monolithic building with rows and rows of small square windows, and through a maze of hallways to a tiny, but
beautifully furnished apartment. His charming wife brought out trays of elaborate sand-wiches and refreshing drinks,
served in elegant glassware. Our conversation centered around their deep frustration with life in East Germany.
Before the Wall, Professor A. had studied in Paris and traveled freely. In 1961, he was teaching in East Ger-many,
when suddenly the Wall sprang up. He was trapped. As a highly respected mathematician, he often receives invitations
to attend conferences around the world. But since he refuses to join the Communist Par-ty, the government has
rejected all his requests to attend them. He simply can not leave the Eastern bloc coun-tries, yet from his apartment
window, he can see West Berlin.
After our visit, Professor A. accompanied us back to the border near the Wall. He waited in line with us as we wound
our way to the final barrier with the border guards. He came right up to the barrier with us, where we said “good-
bye.” None of us will ever forget that tremendously heart-rending moment when we simply crossed the threshold to
return to the bright lights and bustling activity of West Berlin, while Professor A. turned around with a sad hopeless
shrug and slowly walked back into the graying dusk of East Berlin. What a lesson for us about the true meaning of the
A few days later, Dick, Liska, and Gary flew home. David stayed in Germany with a delightful family and had a great
time improving his German, making friends and sightseeing.
SUMMER: We enjoy wonderful visits from Dick’s father and from an aunt and uncle... Gary backpacks for five days
in the rain and learns how to rock-climb. FALL: David (16) gets his driver’s license and a part-time job, and runs
sound and light systems for school performances...Gary (almost 14) takes up cross-country running and prepares for
intensive cross-country ski racing over the winter. WINTER: we enjoy one of our favorite annual experiences...gather
together with friends at our cabin.. stoke the fire...tramp through snowy woods looking for Christmas trees...hours
later, deed accomplished...reconvene back at the cabin, now all warm and cozy...for steaming hot drinks and good
When we first moved to Alaska almost 20 years ago, we had no friends here...no traditions...life was a blank open
book waiting to be filled. And slowly through the years, as we made friends and adapted our lives to Alaska, a rhythm
of traditions evolved. This year we thought we’d describe some of them.
SPRING: For almost 13 years Liska has been meeting with the same four friends one evening every other week, to
share friendship. At the beginning of each spring, the five of us spend a long weekend at our cabin. How we look
forward to our annual “cabin weekend” — a break from the “busyness” of our lives. We treasure the relaxation and
closeness the weekend creates.
SUMMER: Every June, together with friends, we rent a Forest Service cabin on an island in Prince William Sound, a
boaters’ paradise on the other side of the mountains from Anchorage. We lug our big inflatable boats on the Alaska
Railroad through the mountains and spend days exploring the glacial fjords, forests, islands, and coves.
FALL: The many friends who use our cabin throughout the year gather there one weekend in September to haul, cut,
split, and stack wood. Everyone brings food and en-thusiasm, and by the end of the weekend, we look gratefully at
our big woodpile, ready for winter snows...For about 15 years, the same five families have joined us for a large, noisy,
joyous Thanksgiving feast. Each family always brings food that was a tradition in their family when they were growing
WINTER: Christmas traditions abound...a day at the cabin with friends cutting our trees...Christmas Eve and din-ner
with the same friends every year...families at our house on New Year’s Eve for games and midnight fireworks. But our
very favorite tradition of all is the
Great Alaska Ski Train! Early on a cold dark February morning, the four of us go to the Alaska Railroad Station with
700 other members of the Nordic Ski Club, and pile into a long train. What confusion! With skis, poles, knapsacks of
warm clothes and bags of food, we all trip over each other in the aisles looking for friends. Final-ly, we get sorted out
and settle down to enjoy the three-hour train ride through the frosty wilderness, watching the darkness slowly evolve
into light. High in the moun-tains, the train stops in a peaceful secluded valley sur-rounded by rugged peaks and
glaciers. We all stream out of the train and for the next six hours the hills and valleys for miles around are dotted with
colorful skiers. All that glistening untouched snow...what paradise! At 4:00, when dusk begins to shroud the valley, we
all climb back onto the train, flushed, tired, and happy. Now the fun starts. Everyone is in a jovial mood. The German
“oom-pah” band squeezes onto a tiny platform in a boxcar and plays lively polka music for the crowd. The train rocks
rhythmically all the way back to Anchorage as we dance, eat, drink, and make merry with friends!
As you can see, we who live so far from our families in the “Lower 48” form very strong endearing friend-ships. All
our traditions are bound together with our friends; we depend on each other in times of need and rejoice together at
times of celebration...in Alaska we are each other’s families. Now a word about our family...David, a senior in high
school, is involved in student government and a job. Gary, in 9th grade, spends all his free time training for the
upcoming cross-country ski race season. This summer the four of us enjoyed a five-week trip driving from Vancouver
(Expo) to Madison, Wisconsin, and then finally to New York where all 22 members of Liska’s immediate family held
a festive reunion.
The Fourth of July usually evokes visions of hot sunny days...parades... flag waving...fireworks...hotdogs...but not for
the Snyders this year! On July 4, 1987, Dick, Liska, and Gary were perched, bundled up and shivering, by a
snowfield on a ridge staring with frustration at a wall of fog. This dense fog was obscuring what should have been a
glorious view of North America’s highest peak...Denali (Mt. McKinley). Meanwhile, on that same day, David was
basking in the sun on the exquisite Greek island of Santorini, and swimming in the warm Aegean Sea.
Dick, Liska, and Gary had left Anchorage on July 3, with three friends: our goal was to celebrate the 4th in the foothills
of Denali, on the ridge with the famous view. We had backpacked for 5 miles across the trail-less tundra, wound our
way around deep blue lakes, climbed up ridges, hills, and snowfields, and finally set up camp. We spent the 4th
shrouded in the thick fog, but hoped to awaken the next morning to sunshine and the “view.” But that was not to be -
the fog was even thicker! Now we had a problem: we had hiked to this spot using only detailed contour maps to find
our way, because there was no trail. Today in the dense gray fog, the maps were useless, since we could not SEE any
of the features (lakes, mountains). The only method of finding our way back to the road would be with a compass.
And so for the next 5 hours we crept slowly, all six of us close together, pushing our way through the fog blanket. It
was an eerie experience, not being able to see anything! We blindingly stumbled up hills, waded through soggy
swamps, slipped down steep snowfields, groped through thick, wet bushes...always following the compass, never
veering from the direction we knew we had to follow. It worked! What a sigh of relief, when we suddenly stepped on
the road! We learned such a lesson about the unpredictability of Alaska’s weather: a simple device like a compass
saved us from having to spend days waiting for the fog to lift.
While groping through the fog, our thoughts often turned to David, sunning in Greece. For many years, he and his best
friend Tony dreamed of traveling through Europe together after high school graduation. They both worked hard to
earn enough money for the trip. On May 29, the two 17-year-old boys flew to Europe and spent the next 9 weeks
traveling by train and staying with families, in youth hostels, or camping on beaches. They explored Germany, Austria,
Hungary, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Holland, and Belgium. Many times they traveled with
other young people from all over the world. They had adventures galore...and unforgettable experiences. Liska also
had an unforgettable trip: this fall she spent 3 delightful weeks traveling in Germany with her mother, visiting friends and
Now David is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. So far, he is thriving on the stimulation and
challenge of a large campus and all its activities. An added bonus is having his grandparents in the same town. Gary is
almost 16, a sophomore in high school, and deeply involved in his passion: cross—country ski racing.
This year, so many moose wandered into our yard, that it was more of an annoyance than a thrill. But one day this fall,
while Dick and Liska were walking in the woods behind our house, a big, beautiful bald eagle swooped and swirled,
and gently lit upon a branch of a spruce tree right in front of us. Now, that WAS a thrill...the kind of Alaskan
experience that continues to excite us about living here, even after 20 years.
This year started on an upbeat note, because in mid-January we acquired a daughter for 5 months. Berit Bein, a 17-
year old friend from Germany arrived on a cold, wintry day to experience living in Alaska and attending an American
high school. Berit slipped very neatly into our family life and added a lot of sparkle and enthusiasm to those dark
winter days. It was fun for us to see a new vision of Alaska through her eyes, and we especially enjoyed having a girl
in this very male-oriented household!
We took many trips with her: one weekend in April we went to Homer, our favorite fishing village. We spent our
nights in a rustic cabin, which we reached by slogging through deep snow up a steep trail. One gusty, rainy day, during
an unusually low tide, we tramped several miles along a beach until we came to an extraordinary tidepool: while eagles
flew overhead, we wandered through dazzling arrays of brightly colored starfish strewn among the rocks and little
pools...red, green, blue, purple, orange...a feast for the eyes!
Berit lived through the amazing transition from dark winter to the endless light and airy summer days. By the time she
left in June, she had experienced dog-sled racing, cross-country and downhill skiing, canoeing, boating, and seeing
wildlife at Denali National Park (Mt. McKinley).
In Denali Park we witnessed a dramatic and sad encounter between a grizzly bear and a moose. Off on a distant
hillside, we saw a moose running back and forth in a strange and agitated manner. Then we saw a grizzly bear nearby
wandering in and out of the bushes. It was evident that the bear was looking for the moose’s newborn calf. Sure
enough, we soon saw the bear dragging the moose calf out of the bushes and begin to feed on it. All this time mother
moose was running frantic circles above the grizzly knowing that she was completely helpless to protect her calf. It was
a harsh lesson in the realities of Mother Nature...
In May, David came home from a very satisfying and rewarding first year at the University of Wisconsin. He spent the
summer working for the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, educating people about consumer and political issues.
It was a highly interesting experience and most of the other people he worked with were college students from all over
the country. While David stayed home to work, Dick, Liska, and Gary spent the month of July traveling in the “Lower
48” mainly visiting relatives and also happily re-establishing ties with many old friends.
In fall, David returned to Wisconsin and decided to major in political science. Gary took up rock climbing. One of his
favorite places to climb was along Turnagain Arm, a fiord south of Anchorage, where he and his climbing buddies
could watch the white beluga whales surfacing in the waters below them. Dick spent much time this year working on
Kodiak Island and at an Air Force site near Fairbanks, studying contaminated well water. Liska still enjoys editing and
translating scientific reports.
Liska’s mother came for a delightful month-long visit. On her 80th birthday we took a long walk on the exciting new
addition to Anchorage’s unique bike/ski trail system: the new Coastal Trail. This trail starts in downtown Anchorage
and winds its way for 12 miles along the waters of Cook Inlet next to beaches, on top of bluffs, and through woods. In
summer we bike or walk along the trail watching whales and spectacular late evening sunsets. In winter we ski on the
trail, next to gigantic ice floes heaving through the water. Even after 21 years, Anchorage still enthralls us with its ever-
changing scenery and its continual enhancements to the quality of life.
This year started out with real Alaskan weather--a frozen blanket of icy Arctic air descended over the State and kept
Anchorage temperatures hovering around 20 below zero for several weeks. It was COLD! A refreshingly warm and
sunny break came in mid-March, when Dick, Liska, and Gary flew to Salt Lake City and met David who joined us
from Wisconsin. We piled into a rented mini-van and headed to our beloved canyonlands country in southeastern
Utah. Together with friends from Colorado and Idaho, we spent a week exploring remote canyons and camping in the
We arrived home to the devastating oil spill which destroyed Prince William Sound. For years we have boated through
this pristine wilderness of massive glaciers, picturesque beaches, and waters teeming with birds and marine animals.
This year we could not bring ourselves to return there. Friends who explored the area this fall said that on the surface,
the “cleaned-up” beaches look free of oil, but when they picked up rocks; they found pools of oil in the sand.
Seaweed is thick with black oily goo. The area is eerily silent and still: no birds flying and screeching, no otters or seals
frolicking in the waters. It will never be the same in our lifetime. What a sad legacy to leave future generations.
The summer flipped by like a series of snapshots...a visit from Dick’s father to celebrate Dick’s 50th birthday...a long
period of sunshine with record-breaking heat (800!)...Dick’s cousin Helen and two kids, Susie and Mike, for a great
10-day visit...caring for our 4-year old nephew Jeremy for almost a month while his family was in Israel... David and
Gary working full time...and suddenly it was fall.
David left to spend his junior year studying at the University of Freiburg in Germany’s Black Forest. All his classes are
conducted in German. With his great interest in political science and government, David certainly picked an exciting
and historic year to be in Germany. Gary started his senior year of high school and is involved in a myriad of activities:
cross-county running, student government, newsletter editor, rock climbing, political activism and cross-country ski
Dick and Liska decided to escape with a Labor Day Weekend trip to McCarthy, a deserted old mining town deep in
the heart of the majestic Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. We drove across 250 miles of Alaska wilderness to the
ghost town of Chitina, and then bumped along another 60 miles on a narrow dirt road to the banks of the wide,
turbulent Kennicott River, where the road ends. To get to McCarthy, on the other side, we climbed onto a kind of
“chair lift” cable car contraption (locally called the “tram”) and pulled ourselves with a rope across the rushing torrents.
A half a mile away lay McCarthy.. .the place time forgot: no electricity, no running water, no telephones. The dozen
hardy souls who live here year round have carefully restored some of the old cabins and buildings to create a slow-
paced lifestyle of peace and harmony. We visited friends in their cozy log cabin: looking through their lace curtains at
the historic buildings and rusty implements, we felt as if we had stepped back to the turn of the century. The highlight of
our visit was on Sunday night. The “locals” had cleaned out a huge empty mine building 5 miles up in the mountains,
and invited an Old-Timey Bluegrass Band from Anchorage to play at a dance. The whole town and all the weekend
visitors showed up, and everyone had a rollicking good time dancing up a storm. Late at night, it was also quite an
adventure getting back down the 5 miles to the “tram” and crossing the river in the darkness to our campsite on the
other side. Our weekend in McCarthy was not a “wilderness” experience, but truly one which evoked the feelings of
Continue to Christmas letters 1990s