|Christmas Letters continued 1990- 1999
What a year!...filled with adventures and travels for all of us from beginning to end.
JANUARY: David, who was spending his junior year studying in Freiburg, Germany, started out the year with a trip to
Czechoslovakia. He was there just in the midst of all the dramatic political changes and witnessed the excitement of the
people. At the same time, Liska and Dick flew to the Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Molokai to celebrate their 25th
wedding anniversary in the “warmth and sun.” Ha! A tropical storm drenched the islands the whole time. The flooding was
so severe on Molokai, that once we had to drive through water that came up to the car doors...scary! Meanwhile, back in
Alaska, it snowed and snowed, and Gary cross-country ski raced like mad.
FEBRUARY: During a 2-month break from the university, David flew to Africa alone for 7 weeks. He traveled by train,
local bush taxis, and rickety crowded buses...stayed with a friend in a remote village in Kenya, in hostels and small primitive
inns...journeyed to Uganda...always met other young travelers, so was never lonely. Back in Alaska, it snowed and
snowed, and Gary skied. The snows accumulated to such record-breaking heights that the moose were suddenly unable to
move in their search for food, and starved to death by the hundreds. Moose who were “lucky” enough to accidentally find a
highway or the railroad tracks where they could walk, were tragically killed by trains or vehicles. Dick once counted 103
moose along a 50-mile stretch of highway north of Anchorage.
MARCH: David’s travels took him on a camping safari to view wildlife and an endless, hot, bumpy, bus ride through Kenya
and Tanzania to Dar Es Salaam, where he spent a blissful civilized 3 days in the home of old friends. While David was
touring Africa, Dick and Liska decided to take a tour too...the “15-Mile Tour of Anchorage Ski Race!” Quite an adventure
for our first ski race!
APRIL: David boarded a creaky old slow dhow (boat) to the enchanting island of Zanzibar, and then spent a week in the
captivating ancient Muslim town of Lamu on the Kenyan coast...he was constantly amazed how easy it was to travel, meet
people, find lodging, and food to eat!
MAY: Gary graduated from high school and left 2 days later for his dream trip to Europe for 8 weeks with two friends.
They started in London and traveled by train through Belgium...Germany...Italy...and ferry to Greece. After hearing
wondrous tales about Turkey, they took a ferry there...were fascinated with the ancient ruins...friendliness of the people...
and cheap prices. They explored Istanbul and Athens and headed back north...Rome...Switzerland...watched the “Tour de
France” bike race. David spent an engrossing week traveling in Hungary and Romania, observing the upheavals.
JUNE: While David and Gary attended the big rock concert at the “Wall” in Berlin, Dick was up on the North Slope of
Alaska for a couple of weeks studying water quality, and Liska went to an Editors’ Meeting near San Francisco. Gary
traveled through Scandinavia which reminded him of Alaska. By the end of the month, all our paths converged in
Anchorage, and we were actually together for 3 weeks!
AUGUST: Dick and Gary headed for Boulder, where Gary began his freshman year at the University of Colorado. He
immediately started rock climbing and training with the cross-country ski team. A few days later, Liska and David met Dick
in Madison, where David started his senior year as a political science major at the University of Wisconsin. We enjoyed a
relaxing visit with Dick’s parents and then plunged into a large, noisy family reunion with Liska’s family in New Rochelle, N.
SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER: Finally...a peaceful time at home...our official status as “Empty Nesters” began...spent
weekends at the cabin cutting wood for winter and catching our breath!
NOVEMBER: Dick left for a major Geological Survey project in the Grand Canyon...hiked down Bright Angel trail and
boated through about 140 miles of the Grand Canyon...spent a week working on the Colorado River in the heart of the
canyon...certainly one of the most exciting field trips of his career!
DECEMBER: This Christmas will be very special, because the four of us will be together again. What a lot of tales we’ll
have to share about this unusually exciting year!
As we approach our 25th Christmas in Alaska, we thought it would be fun to re-read the first annual Christmas letter we
wrote in 1967. One sentence that caught our attention was, “It is also interesting to note the blend of Eskimo, Indian, and
Russian influence.” The Russian influence we were referring to evolved from the time the Russian fur traders visited Alaska
about 200 years ago. They converted the Native Alaskans to the Russian Orthodox religion. In 1967, we were struck with
the number of Russian Orthodox churches and the people and places with Russian names. But now in 1991, we see an
entirely different aspect of Russian influence.
Alaska lies very close to the Soviet Far East (a part of Siberia). Up to the 1950’s, the Eskimos of northern Alaska and
those of the Soviet Far East visited and traded with each other, and even intermarried. The Cold War put an abrupt halt to
contacts with that area and its proximity was virtually forgotten. With the coming of Glasnost, the restrictions were suddenly
lifted. Now Alaska and the Soviet Far East, particularly the cities of Magadan and Provideniya, are experiencing a
blossoming of cultural exchanges. Airlines have regularly scheduled flights back and forth. All types of Russians are coming
here: businesspeople, doctors, students, hockey players, and planners. Whole new worlds have opened between the two
countries. And the Eskimos who had not seen some of their family members on the other side for 40 years are having joyful
reunions. Three congenial Russians joined us and our usual group of friends on Thanksgiving Day. What a lively and
animated dinner we had with biologists Lyudmilla and Mikhail, and economistl legislator Zoya. They were here to work with
their U.S. counterparts in planning an International Park encompassing Russian and Alaskan lands around the Bering Sea.
We Alaskans are developing a warm affinity toward our newly discovered neighbors.
Family news: Last March, David and Gary had their college Spring Breaks during the same week. The four of us met in
Boulder and converged in the remote canyonlands of Utah with friends from Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, California,
Wisconsin, and our nephew Jonathan from Vancouver, B.C. We jeeped down the mud-slickened “Hole-in-the Rock”
Road to the edge of the Escalante River canyons and climbed deep down into rugged Coyote Gulch. For three days we
sloshed through the sandy-bottomed creek, tramped across expanses of slickrock, and clambered over large blocky
boulders. We were continually enthralled with the massive vertical walls, the huge rock am-phitheaters, the lovely burbling
waterfalls, the delicate greenery of early spring, and the shiny full moon that lit up the canyon at night. The way out of the
canyon was a steep rock climb. Some of us found it very scary and challenging (Liska) and others found it “no sweat”
(David and Gary)!
In May, David graduated from the University of Wisconsin with majors in political science and international relations...
enjoyed his 2-week road trip across the northern United States, driving only on back roads, up through Canada to the
Alaska Highway...and home...this fall he is working as a legislative aide for a young, popular, liberal State Representative...
he’s studying Japanese...and hoping to line up a job in Juneau (Alaska’s capital) when the legislative session starts in
Gary wound up his first year at the University of Colorado and came home for the summer...when he wasn’t working at his
job, he was a study in perpetual motion: biking, hiking, roller skiing, running, rock climbing...now he’s back in Boulder
majoring in biology, training with the cross-country ski team, and living in a big old house with one guy, four girls, and two
We all had fun this summer with Liska’s brother Martin, his wife, and three kids, who came for three weeks...at the same
time, two college friends of David were also here... somewhat chaotic! A highlight of the fall occurred when Liska was sent
to Denver for an electronic reports processing class. Dick came to Colorado too and this evolved into a happy reunion in
Boulder with Gary and Dick’s parents who flew out from Wisconsin. And now we are looking forward to another family
reunion at Christmas with a very special guest...Liska’s mother...who is coming for a visit.
This was a year of much adventure and excite-ment. One of the most dramatic natural events we’ve ever experienced was
the eruption of Mount Spurr Volcano, about 80 miles west of Anchorage. Late in the afternoon of August 18, the volcano
erupted suddenly, shooting great billows of black ash about 60,000 feet up into the sky. A wind from the west blew the ash
toward Anchorage. At about 8:00 in the evening, a big black cloud began to envelop Anchor-age and by 8:15, grains of
ash began pattering down like raindrops. Normally at that time of year it doesn’t get dark until 10:00 p.m. On this day,
however, the sky was pitch black by 8:30 and ash rained from the sky for several hours. The next morning we awoke to a
hushed gray world. A layer of ash shrouded everything: rooftops, cars, sidewalks, streets, flowers, and vegetable gardens.
The world was eerily silent: no planes droned overhead, no traf-fic hummed on the roadways. The thick hazy air reeked of
a burnt odor. Slowly people began emerg-ing from their houses. Decisions had to be made: was it better to sweep up the
dry powdery and sandy ash creating voluminous dust swirls, or was it better to hose it down creating heavy piles of sandy
muck? People wore face masks when they ventured outdoors. Children and pets could not go outside to play. Air filters for
car engines sold out in hours. The airports shut down for 24 hours stranding thousands of tourists. Businesses turned off
computer terminals so the volcanic ash in the air wouldn’t get into the systems. Eventually soft rains came, slowly cleaning
off the trees and bushes and flowers. Street cleaners worked overtime. But just before the first snowfall in mid October,
piles of ash could still be found in the woods, in street curbs, and in gardens. It was a sober reminder of the unpredictable
power of Mother Nature.
David had a most exciting year. From January through May he was the Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms of the Alaska House of
Representatives in Juneau. He managed the messenger pages, recorded the House sessions, and witnessed first-hand the
colorful, chaotic world of Alaska politics. In August, he left for eastern Europe to observe the changes caused by the recent
political upheavals. David wandered through Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, and
Macedonia. On October 1, his delightful girlfriend Patty (from Juneau) joined him in Istanbul for a month of travel. They vis-
ited ancient historic sites in Turkey, Syria, Jor-dan, and Egypt, enjoying the warmth and friendliness of the people they met.
David then traveled alone to remote Yemen for 3 weeks, and is ending his trip in Israel.
Gary’s adventures were a bit more local: when he wasn’t working at his summer job, he was out in Alaska’s wilderness.
On the Fourth of July, he joined 250 other men in Alaska’s annual notorious Mount Marathon race in Seward. The runners
race from downtown to the base of the mountain where they charge straight up 3,000 feet to the top, slide down a
snowfield, and leap straight down steep rocky trails back to town. The winners of this 3-mile race stagger across the finish
line--muddy, bloody, and ecstatic—in less than 45 minutes! Gary also took part in a 24-hour Wilderness Orienteering Race
to locate about 60 sites marked on a map, over a 64-square-mile mountainous area. The racers battled constant rain,
mosquitoes, underbrush, and had to watch out for bears and caribou. Even though he was cold, wet, and exhausted, Gary
thought it was great fun! Now he’s in his junior year at the University of Colorado, majoring in biology.
Dick and Liska kept busy with work and visitors. During March and April, we had a teen-ager again: Philip Gutzeit, a 17-
year-old German student from Berlin lived with us and attended the local high school. Summer visitors included Dick’s
cousins Marge and Ron Daentl from Wis-consin, and Liska’s brother Christopher and his family from Vancouver, Canada.
In the fall, we enjoyed our whirlwind trip to Wisconsin, New York, and Idaho and cherished our reunions with family and
This was also a year of anniversaries. In the summer, we celebrated our 25 years in Alaska. On November 20, both Liska
and the Alaska Highway turned 50! Now we are eagerly await-ing Christmas: David will be home from his travels, full of
adventuresome stories, and Gary will be home from college to brighten up our lives. May the holidays bring you joy and
As another year comes to an end, we reflect on the events and activities that have enriched our lives. This year, river trips
were a highlight for all of us.
Gary had at unique river adventure on a four-week Arctic Research Field Trip. At the beginning of June, he met 10 other
University of Colorado stu-dents and two professors in the remote outpost of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest
Territories. Together they flew in a small plane even farther north for 200 miles and landed on a frozen lake near the Mara
River. Winter was nearing its end...snow patches...cold nights...cool days. Although the river was still frozen, snowmelt
runoff on top of the ice produced enough water for them to float the river in inflatable canoes. They spent most of the time
study-ing Arctic biology and geography on the treeless tundra. Suddenly, after a week, it was spring! The days became
warm and sunny, snow melted, and the lakes thawed. The ice still on the river bottom started to break off in chunks and
floated up to the surface. Sometimes these chunks would pop up right under a canoe, so that abruptly the canoe was
perched on top of an iceberg!
Caribou frequently wandered into their camps, musk-oxen peered at them curiously, and wolf howls pierced the silence.
When pitching camp or hiking, the group had to constantly watch their step, so they wouldn’t disturb the countless bird
nests that dotted the tundra everywhere. After two weeks of spring, summer announced its appearance with a vengeance...
in the form of bugs...zillions of them! (Treats for the birds...torture for the humans!) After floating down the river for 100
miles, the group finally reached Bathurst Inlet, their pickup point, near the Arctic Circle. When their plane landed on the
river, the whole group was startled by the strong smell of gas fumes--a sudden realization that for a month they had no other
contact with any other humans--only nature at its purest.
The rest of the family had somewhat less adventurous river trips. Over Labor Day Weekend, Dick and Liska floated the
Kenai River, observing numerous eagles and salmon. Later in the month, for five days, Dick and a friend boated down the
remote Copper River (10th largest river in the U.S.) during the height of the golden fall colors. But one of our most
enjoyable trips was in August.
Dick, Liska, David, and his girlfriend Patty spent a couple of days canoeing down the swift-flowing Susitna River deep in
the Alaska wilder-ness. To get to our launching point, we drove 100 miles to the village of Talkeetna. There we loaded our
canoes and gear onto the baggage car of a two-car “homesteaders’ train” that slowly putt-putted through the roadless
backcountry, picking up and dropping off homesteaders and cabin dwellers. The train left us at the bridge where it crosses
the Susitna River. We paddled down the river back towards Talkeetna through the silent spruce forests. At our campsite on
an island, we enjoyed the endless light of the long summer night. During our two days on the river, we saw only one other
boat...and two bears! A truly peaceful experience of solitude.
This year, the furies of Mother Nature seemed to coincide with our trips to the lower 48 states! In February, Dick and
Liska spent a delightful week exploring Arizona’s cactus country near the Mexi-can border, during the rainiest winter the
southwest has experienced in many years. In March, Liska arrived in New York to visit her mother, just in time to be
greeted by the “Blizzard of the Century.” In July, Dick and Liska went to a great big happy Snyder Family reunion in
Illinois, and flew over the Mississippi River during the height of the flooding. In October, Liska attended an Editors’
Meeting in San Diego, and arrived on the day the devastating brush fires whipped through southern California... what can
David spent the first part of the year working in Juneau for the Alaska State Senate. During the sunniest summer Alaska had
in 45 years, we toiled indoors remodeling our kitchen. In August, David and Gary drove the Alaska Highway to the lower
48. David dropped Gary off in Boulder for his senior year at the University of Colorado. Then he contin-ued on to the
University of Wisconsin in Madison for graduate studies in geography. Now we are looking forward to Christmas, when
both boys will be home for the holidays!
(Words from Liska)
When Dick and I moved to Alaska in 1967, we had originally planned to stay for only two years ...as a kind of youthful
adventure before proceeding with our "real" lives. But we grew to love our lives here and never left. We love the unending
wilderness, the dramatic seasonal changes, our rustic, cozy cabin, our jobs, our group of close friends... everything. But the
one thing that has always been hard for us is the great distance from our families. As our parents grew older, this became
even more difficult. This year, both Dick and I made several trips back east to be with our parents. In the middle of
October, I went to New York again, to be with my mother when she entered the hospital for surgery. I sat by her bedside
for three weeks. She was serene, sometimes quite spirited, and never suffered. On November 7, my beloved mother died
peacefully. She was a remarkable woman: her warm glow of caring, generosity, and perennial optimism lovingly encircled all
those who knew her. Although I will always be grateful that I was with her at the end of her long and unusually happy life,
the sense of loss is profound.
Life back in Alaska continued to flow along throughout the year. Dick spent most of the summer doing field work all around
the state. But we had a very pleasant interlude in July when his cousin Mary visited for two weeks with her friend Carolyn.
One cloudy, gray weekend the four of us flew in a tiny plane to the small fishing village of Cordova on Prince William
Sound. Cordova can be reached only by plane or boat: no roads connect it to the rest of Alaska. However, we rented a
car and took it on the one road out of town: an old railroad bed that was converted to a gravel road and now meanders for
50 miles through the Copper River Delta. The road crosses myriad channels of the immense Copper River which flows
through glacier-clad valleys and extensive wetlands. This is a place of rare and spectacular beauty teeming with eagles and
At the end of the road, part of the river bank changes dramatically. Instead of thick trees of the mossy rain forest or the
wide expanse of the marshlands, a mile-long section of the river bank suddenly becomes a 300-foot-high blue wall of ice:
the spectacular terminus of Childs Glacier. The massive wall of ice presents a spell-binding, ever- changing drama of
dynamic motion. The fast-flowing deep river undercuts the glacier edge causing persistent calving of building-size masses of
ice and snow. But this ice calving is not a silent process; on the contrary, a sharp cracking cacophony—like an orchestra of
thunderous Norse gods—continually accompanies the gigantic ice walls as they slough off the glacier and crash heavily and
deeply into the river. Large rhythmic waves pound furiously across the river and swiftly roar up onto the rocky shore on the
other side. These waves can sometimes be so powerful and high that they totally flatten the trees and vegetation and fling
salmon up onto the banks. We spent 24 hours mesmerized by this eye-popping, ear-splitting performance of Mother
Nature. It certainly surpasses any drama conceived by man.
Both our sons were home this summer. David wound up his first year of graduate school at the University of Wisconsin and
spent the summer doing research on his thesis in economic geography: trade between Alaska and the Russian Far East. He
and his girlfriend Patty will spend several weeks at Christmas time visiting various "Lower 48" family members. Gary
graduated from the University of Colorado in May with a degree in biology. He is so happy to be back in his beloved
Alaska wilderness (living at home of course, like most college graduates of the 1990's!). He is teaching a couple of biology
lab classes at the local college, coaching cross-country skiing, and thinking about graduate school. All our warmest wishes
to you for serenity and contentment throughout the coming year.
This was a year of adventures for all of us. Our experiences ranged from roaming the back roads of Eastern Europe,
exploring untouched Alaska wilderness, and canoeing in a swamp in Georgia.
Probably the most exciting news is that David and his girlfriend Patty are spending this year in Hungary. They are teaching in
Szeged, a university town on a river near the borders of Romania and Croatia. Because English is a requirement to get into
Hungarian universities, native English speakers are in great demand. David is teaching geography and English in a high
school where all subjects are taught in English. In addition, both David and Patty had no trouble lining up a variety of English
tutoring jobs. They are enjoying the lively atmosphere of the town: friendly people, lots of music, cafes, nightlife. On
weekends they explore eastern Europe, such as Romania and Slovakia. One memorable weekend they even picked grapes
out in the country during harvest time.
Gary's adventure was somewhat more energetic! He and his friend Ike plunged into a truly epic and somewhat unbelievable
backpacking trip this summer. They carried very light packs (30 pounds each) and simply started hiking up a trail into the
Talkeetna Mountains, about 100 miles from Anchorage. Soon the trail petered out, and they doggedly climbed up
mountains and down valleys, slogged across snowfields, clambered over rocks, thrashed through forests and thickets,
squished down into boggy tundra, and forged across turbulent rivers. They fought mosquitoes, rain, hunger, fatigue, fog, and
wild animals. After doing all this for 140 miles in under 5 days (about 30 miles a day), they finally reached a sign of
civilization: the tracks of the Alaska Railroad. They collapsed, exhausted. A couple of hours later they heard the train
coming, ran out to the tracks, and flagged it down. It picked them up and took them to the town of Talkeetna, 40 miles
away. This, you see, is Gary's idea of fun!
Dick and Liska's big adventure was truly tame by comparison: a lazy canoe trip in a swamp. At the end of October, we
took a 2-week road trip around the South. One fine warm fall day, we canoed through Okeefenokee Swamp in southern
Georgia. How quiet and peaceful it was. The only sound was the slap of our paddles in the dark still water. Then we saw
our first alligator sunning on the bank...ignoring us, thank goodness! We finally decided that the alligators of Okeefenokee
were like our local moose: they are used to people and if you leave them alone, they merely stare at you impassively. The
alligators were very black in color and their huge mouths curled in a long wavy sort of grin. It was an extraordinary day, just
moseying along watching the large white birds flitting against the dark cypress trees and looking for alligators among the
thick reeds and broad flat lily pads. Quite a contrast to our rugged Alaska wilderness.
Family News: Dick's big news is that on January 3, he will be an official Retired Person! Yup, after 33 years with the
Geological Survey, he decided it was time to sign off and go on to other things (yet to be determined)... Liska will continue
her work as an editor, for the time being...it should be quite an interesting change around here. In May, David got his
masters in economic geography at University of Wisconsin and came home to Anchorage for a couple of months...during
the year, Gary was either working in Alaska or traveling in the Lower 48...his girlfriend Heather moved up here from
Colorado this fall...they are both working and coaching cross-country skiing here in Anchorage...Gary will start a masters in
biostatistics at the University of Alaska in January.
So as another year draws to a close, it's fun to reminisce about our experiences with our family, our friends, and our
relatives (in June, we attended a great Snyder Family Reunion in Madison) and truly hope that the coming year will be filled
with good things and happy times for you!
This was a year of both deep sadness and great joy. We lost a beloved family member, but gained one too. In January,
Dick's father died while we were visiting in Madison. During the year, Dick spent a lot of time with his mother, Evelyn,
helping her to close up and sell the house. She has been living with us for much of the year, but wants to try living in a
retirement home in Wisconsin. In the midst of all this stress, we had some joyful news. David and Patty became engaged!
They returned to Anchorage in July after a year of teaching in Hungary and traveling around eastern Europe, Cyprus, and
other obscure places.
We would like to tell you a little about our new daughter-in-law, Patty Trott (she is keeping her maiden name). Like David,
Patty majored in political science in college. She then worked for the lieutenant governor of Alaska in Juneau. David and
Patty both share a love of traveling, reading, hiking, canoeing, and skiing. Patty grew up in the village of Nenana (population
400) on the banks of the Tanana River in the middle of Alaska. If you look at a road map of Alaska, you will notice that
very few roads cross the State. Most of the villages are on rivers and are accessible only by small plane or boat. Nenana is
unique: although it is a typical Alaskan village, it is on the road and railroad systems, as well as on a large river. Therefore it
is a "mini- transportation hub" for much of interior Alaska. Patty's parents work for Yutana Barge Lines. All summer long,
big barges slowly chug up and down the Yukon and Tanana Rivers bringing villagers their refrigerators, motor vehicles,
food, fuel, and everything else they need before winter settles in. The rivers begin to freeze in October, and life in Nenana
slows down. But on October 12, Nenana came to life!
* * David and Patty's Great Alaskan Wedding Adventure * * *
It was a lovely winter wedding. In a rented van full of out-of-town guests, we drove the 300 miles from Anchorage through
the snowy wilderness to Nenana. At dusk on Saturday, people tramped through the swirling blizzard to the warm and cozy
little log church (built in 1905) near the banks of the river. The altar was covered by white moosehide decorated with
exquisite Native beadwork. Three circular chandeliers lit with candles cast a golden glow over the church. Gentle Celtic
harp music played as people gathered. Patty came down the aisle to the soft strains of a Brahms trio. Dick's cousin Mary,
who is a minister in Illinois, performed the ceremony, which was very touching and sweet. David and Patty had written their
own vows to each other. Mary read a funny poem David wrote about how they met in Juneau four years ago. Everyone
was very relaxed and happy. As soon as the ceremony was over, the spirited bouncy music of Marvin Gaye singing "How
Sweet It Is" filled the church and they danced back down the aisle to much applause and joyous noise!
We all left the church and drove a few miles down the highway to Patty's aunt's roadhouse, the Tamarack Inn. It is a
genuine Alaskan place: beautiful polished log walls and high roof with log beams, a fireplace in the middle of the room, and
of course, the bar. A delicious and elegant buffet dinner was beautifully arranged. We ate, drank, danced, and blew
bubbles. The Nenana locals and Anchorage urbanites mixed congenially for an amazingly fun time! Our out-of-town friends
and relatives spent the night, either in the Corner Bar and Motel, or in sleeping bags on the floor of the Civic Center. On
Sunday morning everyone trudged through the village in the snow to Patty's parents house for breakfast. We are simply
thrilled and delighted with our new daughter.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dick retired in January, but has not had time to launch into his "retirement projects," because of all the details dealing with
his father's death. Liska's job as an editor of technical reports continues to be challenging because now she is entering a new
world: the Internet! David was a campaign manager for two local candidates this fall. Now he is working odd jobs while
looking for a "Real Job." Patty works for the city of Anchorage in their Purchasing Department. Gary and his girlfriend
Heather are both going to University of Alaska in Anchorage full time. Gary is working on a master's degree in biostatistics:
his thesis will be on counting sea lion pups! Heather is working on a degree in social work. We love having these adult kids
coming and going in our lives. Dick and Liska's trips this year included 10 days in a rustic cabin on the Hawaiian island of
Kauai in March and an unforgettable lively reunion with 18 members of Liska's family on Cape Cod in August.
It was thirty years ago-in July 1967-that we moved to Alaska. Back then, it was like moving to the end of the world. We
didn't even know anybody who had ever been to Alaska. We were young, adventurous, and fully expected to move back
to Colorado after two years and get on with our lives. So why have we lived here so long? Sometimes, believe us, we
wonder about that ourselves. We wonder why we live here when a heavy snowstorm dumps in early October, while the
rest of the country is basking in the warm glow of golden Indian summers ... when the sun barely rises above the horizon in
winter and sets four short hours later ... when we stare helplessly at piles of dirty snow and big puddles and mud
everywhere in April, while the rest of you are watching the flowers bloom and the trees turn soft green ... when we get
inundated by swarms of hungry mosquitoes and endure weeks of gray sky and drizzle in summer.
So why have we stayed here for thirty years? Because we thrive on the unique blend of the breathtaking beauty and
continual new adventures in the Alaska wilderness, and life in the thriving lively town of Anchorage. We live here because of
... the shimmering northern lights dancing in the winter sky ... the endless light summer evenings ... the quiet relaxing
weekends at our rustic cabin in the nearby Talkeetna Mountains ... the moose prancing around in our backyard ... our
sunny house overlooking the woods ... the colorful wildflowers blanketing the mountains in summer ... the networks of
cross-country ski and bike trails that extend from the mountains to the sea right through town ... the classical music
concerts, Broadway plays, world-famous dance troupes, jazz and folk festivals that perform in our grand Performing Arts
Center ... and especially our Alaska "family" of close friends. We could go on and on.
Memories of this year... the ski train: together with 700 other cross- country skiers, we spent a sunny day skiing high in the
mountains and then dancing polkas in a boxcar on the 3-hour chug back to Anchorage ... the backpacking trip to a
secluded valley in the mountains behind Anchorage: we woke up to find four dozen mountain sheep wandering around our
campsite ... the hike we took near Fairbanks: after many miles tramping through forests and up hills we suddenly found
ourselves on a vast plain dotted with amazing huge stone pillars—a kind of secret "Stonehenge of the North" ... the long
summer evening camping at our lakefront property with David, Patty, and Gary: while talking softly by the campfire we
suddenly saw a bear ambling along the opposite shore ... Dick's boat trip: he spent a week traveling 300 miles down the
remote Kuskokwim River in western Alaska with some old friends from work, staying in Native villages at night ... the
midnight sunset on the longest day in June: the pink hazy sky was streaked with muted gold while a great white moon rose
over the mountains... the weekend beachcombing on the shores of Kachemak Bay 250 miles south of Anchorage. A few
years ago we toyed with the idea of retiring to the Lower 48, but now we cannot imagine living anywhere else. How could
we give up all this? We love this place. This is home.
Family News: All of our kids are somehow involved with the University of Alaska in Anchorage. David teaches a
Geography course there at night, in addition to his full time job doing computer mapping. Patty is the administrative assistant
for the Political Science Department. Gary is working on his master’s degree in Biostatistics (his thesis is on the declining
population of sea lions in Alaska—he spent much of the summer traveling around Alaska counting sea lion pups at
rookeries). Gary's fiancée Heather is in her final year of studying for her degree in Social Work. One of Dick's fun
retirement activities is working with a bunch of other retired "cross-country ski dads" putting on ski races in winter and
maintaining the ski trails in the summer. Liska is still commuting through our woods on foot, bike, or skis to her job as an
editor for scientific reports. We are now looking forward to a visit from Dick's mother, Evelyn, over the holidays. She has
been living in a retirement home in Wisconsin for the past year. Our house now has a real official honest-to-goodness guest
room. Come for a visit!
This year we each had a momentous event... one domestic, one joyous, one scary, and one meaningful...
David and Patty had the domestic event: in January they bought a house! Much to our delight and amazement, the house is
just a few blocks away. It is a small cozy house in mint condition, but the best part is the big beautiful backyard that
overlooks the woods and mountains. We can walk to each other's houses on the bike trail through the woods. They spent
the summer planting flowers, trees, and bushes. They are also learning about the headaches of home ownership: furnace
repairs, new hot water heater... all that fun stuff.
Gary and Heather's joyous event was their wedding on May 23. About 50 family members and friends came up from the
Lower 48. The week-long festivity included a boat trip on Prince William Sound, beachcombing in Homer, camping at
Denali National Park, and lots of partying! The wedding was at Alpenglow Ski Lodge in the mountains above Anchorage.
Large windows looked up at snowy slopes and down the barely green valley towards Anchorage. The sunny room was
decorated with balloons, flowers, and family photographs. Before exchanging vows, Gary and Heather invited all the
children up front and read stories to them. A good friend performed the ceremony, which was very personal: informal,
serious, funny, and meaningful. During the reception, some close family members and friends shared their thoughts about
marriage and related anecdotes about Gary and Heather. Then came dinner, champagne, the cake, and a pinata for the kids
(and some adults, too!). The evening turned into a lively party of friends and relatives dancing and visiting. Gary and
Heather's "honeymoon" was camping for six weeks on a small isolated island near Kodiak, counting sea lion pups for the
Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Dick's event was scary. In July, he accompanied some of his former work colleagues on a three-day river-sampling field
trip to a remote part of Katmai National Park. Two trips in the open, flat-bottomed riverboat took them to the sampling
site. The steep riverbanks had dense vegetation, so the only place to camp was on a gravel bar island in the middle of the
river. The wind blew and rain fell nonstop. Because the river was rising a bit, they camped on the highest point on the island.
At midnight, one of Dick's colleagues saw to his horror that the river had risen very fast and water was just inches away
from the tent! He quickly woke everyone, who then started frantically packing up all their gear. Before they even finished,
water was covering the floor of the tent. They had to cut the ropes of the tent—the stakes were under water. The only
place to go was the boat, which thankfully was still accessible; it was tied to a tree. Wearing hip boots, they waded to it,
threw all their sampling equipment, personal gear, and themselves into the boat as fast as possible. The group ended up
spending a long wet night shivering in the overloaded boat, watching the island disappear under water. But luckily, by
morning the river level had lowered and they boated back to civilization.
Liska's most meaningful moment was in Braunschweig, Germany on September 3, which would have been her mother's
90th birthday. Her mother, Nellie Friedrichs lived in Braunschweig from 1912 to 1937, when she had to leave Germany
because of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. After the war, Nellie frequently visited Braunschweig. For a Jewish exhibition
in 1980, she wrote a memoir about her life that became a bestseller in that city, and consequently Nellie became a well-
known speaker for school and community groups. In 1989, Nellie received the Civic Medal of Braunschweig "in eternal
remembrance as a dedicated pioneer of Jewish-German reconciliation." And now she was being honored again. Dick and
Liska were present at a ceremony in the historic City Hall, at which the Mayor and also Liska's brother Chris described her
life, and a third edition of her memoirs was distributed. The most exciting part came when we drove to a new neighborhood
called "Gartenstadt." And there it was, on the street sign: "Nellie-Friedrichs-Strasse." The street named after her is filled
with young couples, children, flowers, playgrounds, and lovely gardens. It could not be a more fitting memorial. What a
meaningful and emotional experience that was for us.
Family Tidbits: David is still doing computer mapping during the day and teaching a geography class at the local college in
the evening. Patty is a disability adjudicator for the Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Gary got a master's degree
in biology in May and is now working on another one in teaching (junior or senior high biology and math). Heather received
her degree in social work and is a health assistant for Head Start. Dick's mother, Evelyn moved in with us a year ago, and
has adjusted to her new life in Alaska. A special highlight of Dick and Liska's trip to Europe this summer was spending four
unforgettable days visiting friends in Hungary. This was a good year for all of us, and we hope that the last year of the
century will be filled with good things for all of you!
Although we have lived in Alaska for 32 years, much of this vast state remains unknown to us. This summer we explored a
new place. If you look at a map of Alaska and run your finger due east of Anchorage towards the Canadian border, you
will see that the eastern part of the state contains Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Not only is this the biggest U.S. national
park (larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined), it is the least developed and most inaccessible of them all. The
terrain includes tidewater, forests, icefields, and glaciated volcanoes and peaks up to 18,000 feet in altitude. It was to this
rugged wilderness that we went in the middle of August. First we drove for 8 hours. The final 60 miles of narrow dirt road
ends at the banks of the turbulent Kennicott River. With our backpacks, we tramped over a footbridge and then for another
mile to the remote village of McCarthy. We spent Saturday night in a rustic old cabin belonging to a friend.
Sunday evening a bush pilot flew us and two friends (and their dog) in a tiny plane in two loads to a beautiful broad valley
called Skolai Pass. The flight through the high mountains covered with glaciers was spectacular. The plane suddenly
swooped down, landed, and bumped along two rocky ruts on the valley floor. We set up our tents under gray and
threatening skies. Monday was rainy, but we slogged around exploring our environs. (It is amazing how fast one gets used
to soaking wet feet.) We hiked to two endlessly long waterfalls spilling out of the mountains down a steep cliff. Tuesday, the
weather was even worse. It was raining hard and windy, so we took only a few brief walks, and spent a lot of time in tents
reading. Wednesday (which was our son David’s 30th birthday), the weather broke and we actually had periodic sunshine.
That felt heavenly. We hiked up the steep hills behind our campsite, and climbed up to a viewpoint where we suddenly
discovered a long valley that had massive rock formations jutting out all along the length of the valley. But the most amazing
thing was that between each rock mountain was a glacier flowing down to the valley. We counted eight glaciers, all
culminating in the huge “Hole in the Wall Glacier” that filled the valley bottom. It was like looking at a 4-mile long scalloped
edge...truly a wondrous sight. All around us were enormous mountains, large glaciers, wide rivers... we felt like just tiny
pinpricks of humanity in this vast wilderness. The next days we had breathtaking views wherever we hiked – even as far as
the Yukon Territory in Canada. Words simply cannot describe this wilderness. Even photographs can’t do it justice. One
has to experience it to fully comprehend it. One thing we were very grateful about: we had no bugs and saw no bears!
Those are the two things we had worried about. We did see Dall sheep and a magnificent large red fox. On Friday, our
bush pilot flew back us to McCarthy. It was truly an unforgettable experience.
* * * *
David and Patty celebrated their third wedding anniversary in El Kef, Tunisia. They had flown to Budapest at the beginning
of October, visited many old Hungarian friends, and then spent two adventurous weeks touring the back roads of Tunisia.
They enjoyed the many ancient Roman ruins, the spectacular Sahara Desert, swimming in the warm Mediterranean, and the
excellent spicy cuisine. Now David is back at work doing computer map design and computer program administration for a
local utility, and Patty enjoys her challenging job of assessing disability applications for the Social Security Administration.
Gary and Heather spent their first wedding anniversary in Istanbul, Turkey. On their six-week trip in May and June, they
hiked in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy, and explored the countryside and visited friends and relatives on Elba Island,
Norway, Germany, and Denmark. In February, they bought a cozy, sunny little house with a big yard not too far from us.
Gary is now teaching science and math at his former high school, and is also the head coach for cross-country skiing.
Heather continues to work as a health assistant for Head Start. They both walk, bike, rollerblade, or ski to work.
Dick’s retirement keeps him busy with house projects, visiting his mother, community council meetings, ski race activities,
babysitting for friends, cutting trees at the cabin, computer stuff, getting exercise, and taking naps. Liska plans to retire next
May and is looking forward to joining Dick in our new lifestyle together.
Continue to Christmas letters 2000