|Liska Snyder's Christmas Letters continued
As the new millennium dawned, we stood on the Town Square in downtown Anchorage. It was dark and cold, about
zero degrees Fahrenheit. Thousands of bundled-up people stamped their feet to keep warm. But the atmosphere was
festive: A circle of Native drummers beat rhythmically on a huge sealskin drum. At the stroke of midnight, the sky
exploded with a massive display of spectacular fireworks...the drums boomed in the background...people cheered and
clapped. The long awaited moment came and went in a flash. It was very dramatic and exciting.
The new millennium brought a big change in our lives. Liska retired from her job as a U.S. Geological Survey editor at
the end of May. She had wondered how she would spend all that new free time. No problem! June was filled with
visitors and July was spent renovating our 25-year old cabin and going on a backpacking trip. In August we launched
our new retirement scheme. The plan was to keep a car filled with our camping gear in the lower 48 states. From now
on, we will fly to wherever the car is, pick it up, and travel around. So first we had to get the car and gear down there.
We spent nine days camping our way down the Alaska Highway. We enjoyed a few days hiking in the Jasper-Banff
National Parks area. The most dramatic moment of the trip was the visit to an old friend in Missoula, Montana in the
middle of the wildfires: the air was shrouded with thick gray smoke, the vegetation was crackling dry brown, and the
huge wildfire flames were roaring in nearby mountains. It was eerie and scary.
We arrived in Colorado in mid-August and had a wonderful time with many old Boul-der friends from our Colorado
life of 35 years ago! The best was yet to come. Twenty-five members of Liska’s immediate family gathered for a family
reunion. All four of her brothers, their wives, all their kids, our kids (David, Patty, Gary, and Heather) and a German
cousin converged at a small ski lodge in the mountains. It was truly a memo-rable and unforgettable week. We went
horseback riding, rafting, hiking, and did lots and lots of talking. The most fun was the hilarious game of Trivial Pursuit
with the 12 females (ages 10-57) pitted against the 13 males (ages 14-61). We found out much to our amazement in
this game that the only state that does not have houseflies is Alaska. This was quite a revelation to some of us, because
we swat flies at our cabin all the time (hmmm.... maybe they are called “cabin flies”).
We spent another ten days visiting friends in western Colorado, Boise, and Seattle. We left the car in Seattle and flew
home from there.
If you are wondering about the photos on this card.... Well, in mid-September we were in the wedding party of our
dear goddaughter Robin Naughton in Seattle. It was, as you can tell, a very elegant wedding! A far cry from our normal
life, which is pictured on the second photo taken two days later at Mount Baker in northern Washington. We flew to
Seattle, picked up our car, did the wedding activities, and then went hiking and camping in glorious weather for a few
days. Such contrasts in experiences keep our lives mighty interesting and fun!
Our Anchorage family is fine. David enjoys his computer mapping job, Patty works for the State adjudicating disability
applications, Gary is teaching high school science and coaching cross-country skiing, and Heather is now at University
of Alaska full time working on a masters degree in social work. Dick’s mother lives peacefully in a nearby assisted
We hope the new millennium has brought good things to your lives!
This was Liska’s first full year of retirement. In April and November we flew to Salt Lake City where we had left our
car full of camping gear, and spent each month camping and hiking in the southwest. At home, we hiked, biked, cross-
country skied, worked at the cabin, gardened, volunteered, and enjoyed time with family and friends.
We had an exciting week in early March. We both volunteered for the International Winter Special Olympics (held
every four years) which was here in Anchorage. Nearly 3,000 athletes (all with some degree of mental retardation)
from 80 countries de-scended on Anchorage along with coaches and family members. More than 5,000 people
volunteered for the seven winter sports: cross-country (XC) and downhill skiing, figure and speed skating,
snowshoeing, floor hockey, and snowboarding. Dick spent every day during the Olympics as a coordinator between
the Ski Club, Ski Patrol out on the trails, and the doctors on call, for both the XC and snowshoe races. When an
emergency call came in from the Ski Patrol, Dick drove out to the location on a snow-mobile and transported the
injured person to the medical facility, where doctors and nurses were waiting. Liska’s job was in the XC awards area.
Every athlete received an award ranging from 8th place ribbon to a gold medal. Each of the 30 daily award cere-
monies was full of music and cheering crowds. It was truly heartwarming and emo-tional to watch the athletes as they
competed, and to witness their enthusiasm and excitement.
In June we took a unique trip to southeast Alaska. Misty Fiords National Monument, east of Ketchikan, is a
spectacular place of sheer granite walls towering thousands of feet high above deep narrow glacier-carved fiords and
quiet valleys. It was in this magical place that we spent 12 days with our friends Larry and Gail on their 36-foot-long
cabin cruiser. We spent our days navigating the fiords, narrow passages, and channels of the Inland Passage. Most of
the time we saw no other boats or people. We did see whales, porpoises, seals, bears, deer, eagles, and thousands of
birds. The vegetation was lush with dense rain forests, muskeg (peat bogs), and alpine meadows. The waterfalls were
astounding ... countless and endlessly long ... they fell forever from the top of the sheer cliffs down to the water. Every
night we anchored in a peaceful scenic bay or cove, set out our crab and shrimp pots, and gazed at the scenery and
wildlife. To get to land, we launched an inflatable raft and rowed to shore. Hiking in this part of Alaska is somewhat
challenging. The few trails are obstacle courses of mud, wet vegetation, huge exposed roots, large rocks, downed
trees, small creeks, slippery moss, and slimy boardwalks. Signs of bear were almost everywhere, so we had to be
super alert. The weather was typical for southeast Alaska: wet, cloudy, drizzly, rainy. However, the sun did actually
show up a couple of times! Altogether, it was a truly unique opportunity to see a rare and wild part of Alaska in a very
Family News: David enjoys his computer mapping job and teaching geography at the Univ. of Alaska. Patty still works
for the State adjudicating disability applications. David and Patty were traveling in Eastern Europe, including war-
scarred Bosnia, on September 11. The last week of their month-long European trip was stressful and full of uncertainty.
They were relieved to get home. Gary is teaching high school science and coaching cross-country skiing. Heather got
her master’s degree in social work in May and is the women’s health improvement coordinator for a local non-profit
health clinic. Gary and Heather spent June on a small isolated island west of Ketchikan counting sea lion pups for the
Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“To every thing there is a season... a time to be born... a time to die...” This phrase has special meaning to us right now.
One generation has passed on and the next one is on the way. Dick’s mother turned 90 in November and died
peacefully one month later. And we are happy to announce that Gary and Heather are expecting our first grandchild in
In Alaska, the summer solstice, June 21, is always a day of festive celebration – the longest day of the year! This year,
the sun rose at 4:20 a.m. and set at 11:42 p.m. At 10:09 that evening, while the sun still shone brightly across
Anchorage, our first grandchild was born: Gary and Heather’s daughter, Tazlina. Now she is nearly six months old, and
of course brings us sheer joy. We babysit for her often and love every moment of it. Gary and David had always called
Liska’s parents “Omi” and “Opi,” which is German for Grandma and Grandpa. We have decided to continue the
tradition, so are relishing our new roles as Tazlina’s Omi and Opi.
This summer marked our 35th year in Alaska. We drove up here in the summer of 1967, with the idea of living here for
a couple of years and then returning to the “lower 48,” to get on with our lives. Well, that never happened! We fell in
love with this state. When we first moved here, one of our very favorite places became the picturesque fishing village of
Homer, about 225 miles south of Anchorage. On the shores of Kachemak Bay, it surely has one of the most
spectacular settings in the world. Across the shimmering bay are the snow-capped Kenai Mountains, replete with
glaciers and forests. A narrow 5-mile spit of land extends into the bay, and at the end of the spit is a lovely old inn,
called “Lands End.” We spent the first weekend in March here, as a Christmas gift from our kids. Our room
overlooked the ocean, and we watched the seals floating in the water and eagles soaring overhead. In the morning we
wandered along the isolated wintry beach and in the afternoon we cross-country skied on well-groomed trails in the
hills above Homer, in bright sunshine. Always our eyes feasted on the glorious views across the bay.
In July, Dick returned to Homer with some friends for a halibut fishing trip. It turned out to be one of the most unique
experiences he ever had. In the ocean about two hours from Homer their boat suddenly came upon a large group of
humpback whales -- arching out of the water, spouting, flopping tails, waving fins, breaching, cavorting around, and
putting on a spectacular show for the fishermen. And oh yes, they caught a whole bunch of halibut, as well as a surprise
catch of two big fat orange octopuses!
On November 20, 1942, during a cold blustery day in the Yukon Territory, a ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the
official opening of the Alaska Highway. On that exact same day, Liska was born near New York City. So on
November 20, both the Highway and Liska turned 60. Liska and Dick celebrated her birthday in Kauai, Hawaii, in the
sunshine on the beach with good friends Doris and Dayton from Seattle. What a great way to start the next decade!
David and Patty are still happy with their careers. In the spring they picked up our car full of camping gear in Phoenix
and spent a warm week camping and hiking in Ari-zona. In March, Gary spent 10 days in Greenland as an Alaska
cross-country ski coach for the Arctic Winter Games. Now he teaches in the mornings and Heather works in the
afternoon. They each take care of Tazlina the other half of the day. Tazlina is already a true Alaska wilderness kid. She
went on her first camping trip at age three weeks.
Our days are filled with volunteer work, being with friends and family, going to the cabin, gardening, and of course
hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and canoeing. We are grateful for our good health and happiness, and that is what
we wish for you ....
Twenty-one years ago, in 1982, we did extensive remodeling on our house. We built a second story and re-sided our
whole downstairs. Well, this describes our sons and daughters-in-law these days. Both families are going through
chaotic house renovating activities. Our original house (bought in 1968) was very small. Twice, we built addi-tions to
enlarge it instead of moving, because we passionately love the wooded green-belt behind our yard. We can hike, bike,
or ski westward 4 miles to the waters of Cook Inlet or eastward 4 miles to the foothills of the Chugach Mountains, all
on trails through woods, without ever crossing a road.
David and Patty bought a small house on this same greenbelt several years ago (a few blocks from us), but have been
looking for a larger house. They finally decided that a house on the greenbelt was too good to leave. So they are
building an addition onto the back of their house, overlooking the woods.
Gary and Heather also wanted a bigger house and much to their delight found one on the greenbelt right across the
woods from our house! They spent months this fall do-ing major house remodeling. Now all three families live on the
same greenbelt and can walk to each other’s houses through the woods.
Some vignettes from our year...
Easter Morning... Dick and I are together with old friends camping on a remote plateau in southeastern Utah canyon
country. We hike many miles down the slickrock to the Escalante River and then up a side canyon to a gorgeous
hushed place named The Golden Cathedral. The high canyon walls arch together overhead forming a rock am-
phitheater with a pool of water at the bottom. Above the pool, three large openings swirl into the amphitheater walls
forming natural round windows. Our friend Joy, a gifted vocalist, starts singing and her rich melodic voice resonates
deeply all around us echoing off the walls. This magical spiritual experience is one that none of us will for-get.
June... together with some long-time Alaska friends we spend a few days in a simple cabin on Kachemak Bay in a
lovely rainforest. The cabin is accessible only by boat. The silence and beauty of the moss-covered trees, the steep fog-
shrouded hills, and the mirror-like water are calming and peaceful. We hike, go boating, and spend time in the warm
cozy cabin reading and relaxing while rain pelts down on the roof.
July... Two 18-year-old nephews, Bryan and Jeremy, come for a visit. Dick takes them camping at Denali National
Park, and miraculously, majestic Mount McKinley was out in full glory, instead of hiding in the clouds (as is more
common). Looking at the mountain in soft daylight at one o’clock in the morning under a full moon is an unfor-gettable
August.... Dick takes a unique trip on the Yukon River. The U.S. Geological Survey is doing a major study of this large
river basin. Two big motorboats have been taken down to the mouth of the river by scientists doing the study, but they
have no time to get the boats back upstream. So Dick and four other volunteers fly out to the tiny vil-lage of St Marys,
and start motoring the boats upstream. They spend five days travel-ing 800 miles on the river. At night they camp on
sandbars. They see lots of wildlife including the largest bull moose any of these long-time Alaskans have ever seen.
They also witness a dramatic battle in the sky when two peregrine falcons attack and kill an eagle, which then went
plummeting down to earth.
The best part of our lives is enjoying our 1½-year-old granddaughter, Tazlina. She is a cheerful, spirited, healthy
toddler whose enchanting smile warms everyone on these cold dark winter days.
Thirty years ago, in 1974, we were in our mid-thirties, David was five years old, and Gary was two-and-a-half. We
decided to build a cabin on 12 acres of land we had bought the year before, about 53 miles from Anchorage. So we
spent that summer building a two-story cabin. When we think back on it, we cannot imagine how we did this with two
small children running around. And if anybody had told us that thirty years later we would still use this cabin, we never
would have believed it. But yes, spending time at our cabin on the hillside in the mountains overlooking the vast and
beautiful Matanuska Valley and Chugach Mountains is one of our greatest joys. When we first built it, there were only a
couple of cabins in the area, the road was primitive and not plowed in winter. Those first winters we had to ski in about
1½ miles to the cabin.
We vividly remember the first time we skied in to spend the night in winter. It was a cold snowy November day in
1974. Dick carried Gary in a backpack and went ahead to start a fire, and I skied in slowly… oh so slowly, with
David, who chugged on valiantly without complaining. By the time we got to the cabin, it was dark, but we did it! This
summer we took our 2-year old granddaughter, Tazlina, for her first overnight alone with us at the cabin. That was fun!
Now, of course, many more cabins have been built and so it is not real wilderness any more. But luckily, our cabin is
still in a quiet and secluded spot. Last February, we went up there one weekend after a big snow. It was a glorious
sunny day, so we donned our cross-country skis and started skiing up the hills behind our cabin. Up and up we went,
to the top of a high ridge. The sun and view were simply breathtaking. It was deeply quiet. We were all alone on the
mountainside. We then zig-zagged and swooped down the hills back to the cabin. It was such fun that the next day, we
did it all over again. What a perfect weekend…
The highlight of our year was Liska’s Family Reunion in August. Our whole Alaska family went to New Hampshire for
a week and got together with Liska’s four brothers, three wives, one fiancée, all their kids, a couple of boy and
girlfriends, and a few assorted cousins: about 35 of us! We ate, played games, hiked, canoed, rafted, and spent lots
and lots of time talking and visiting. The amazing thing is that every single family member was there for at least part of
the week. Everyone made a huge effort to arrange their lives to be there. This was a truly awesome and memorable
week for all of us.
Our lives continue to be fulfilling and busy. We do a lot of volunteer work, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing,
babysitting for Tazlina, and traveling. And oh yes, still helping our kids with their never-ending house remodeling
projects! We took some trips around Alaska during the summer with a few of the two dozen visitors who came this
year. In November, we picked up our “lower 48” car near Boston We visited many friends and relatives on our month-
long drive to the southwest, where we left the car. On the way we spent two fun days in Cajun country Louisiana. We
stayed in a quaint old cabin overlooking a slow-moving bayou. Both nights, we pounded the dance floor at a nearby
joint, doing the Cajun two step and waltz with local lively bands. During the day we slowly boated around a nearby
swamp silently ogling the alligators, herons, ibises, and many other large swamp birds.
David still enjoys his job doing computer mapping. His new hobby is playing hockey! Patty is a hearing officer for the
Social Security Administration. Gary is teaching high school math. Heather’s job ended in June and she is enjoying
being at home. Tazlina has a message for all of you. “I am going to have a baby brother or sister next April.” So 2005
promises to be another wonderful year for us…. and we hope it will be for you too!
to christmas letter for 2005
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