Nested into the corner at a coffeeshop in Palmer Alaska. Looking out on the red alders and rain-shrouded foothills of the Alaska Range. Least that’s what I think they are. Waiting to read at Fireside, the local Indie bookstore. Wondering what section will fit the occasion.
Clueless. & Childless. & Wifeless. For the moment.
Just as no one speaks about what a great pleasure it is to watch your child ripen before your eyes, departing the larval stage, taking on a particular personality, no one told me that the cool thing about a 12-city/town book tour is getting to see so many folks from all those different periods of life. Michigan. LA. Seattle. Homer. My editor spoke of the power of story to connect people. I considered this to be a fiction. Not anymore.
I should mention here at the outset of this blog, for those folks who have been faithful readers, the situation with our tugboat has resolved itself. Not only because we sailed those 400+ miles and hauled her out (read about it in the upcoming Smithsonian Journeys) but also because the city attorney in Sitka who had it out for us, who threatened to call Office of Childrens Services because we were raising our child aboard, who searched the boat without permission, who threatened to cut the lines and let us drift into the channel, was fired. And here’s the kicker. Rachel (my wife) got her job. Which is particularly hilarious because our boat was still impounded when she took over. Not anymore brethren. Not anymore. On top of that a very nice letter from the harbormaster welcoming us home. Thankfully, folks came to their senses. We were patient.
The trip north back home from Wrangell, after hauling out, wasn’t exactly a sled ride. Except this time when the engine shut down we had air built up. And we knew it was the fuel filter. Bang. Undue the hose, take a gulp of diesel and spit it out. Watch the bubbles, the dirt clear. Fire the beast back up. Boom.
(I’ve included some pics here, taken by the brilliant Katie Orlinsky, of the trip down. The article comes out later this month, or early July. It will be a good one.)
Just two days after pulling into Sitka and making the boat fast the family yoked up and headed east. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a generous article I wrote on being a Philly guy in Alaska. Things got off on a grand foot in Brooklyn at the launch, and we were off to the races. Boston, DC, reading with Chris Cleave in Philly. On National Public Radio with the inimitable Marty Moss-Coane, who I listened to as a kiddo. The spark of seeing the book in airports. In the wild. I took to walking around with the book through the concourses with the cover facing out. Free advertising, right? Author-dork, this guy.
From there west to San Francisco, to read at Stanford, introduced by my hero Tobias Wolff. (I was excited. HMJ not so much. See below.) In San Francisco got to see my name up in the bright lights. Thrilling. There were my ten minutes. HMJ melted down that night at Green Lights, one of my favorite bookstores in the world. I went on to L.A., a city I continue to love, despite or because of its celebration of emptiness. It has a whiff of Eastern European sadness, which I also love. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting that celebration of the body in face of calamity could have been set in L.A. Easily.
From L.A. to Portland, where a strange thing happened. I arrived for the reading, only to find the store shut down. Fire in the elevator shaft. So we did the event on the front stoop, which seemed half South Philly-style, half Alaska. Tourists paused with cameras, hoping I think for fire-eaters and jugglers, then departed confused. Disappointed I should say. I had a grand time. So did the guy banging on the metal statue across the street. Afterwards there were many drinks. I got to catch up with the former editor of The Rocky Mountain News where my parents met as journalists (you can see him here in the front). The man who taught me to fly fish. We talked of steelhead streamers as he sipped from his whiskey sour.
Then to Seattle, two events in town. I had the great honor of having dinner at the house of Jonathan Raban, a writer I have long-admired. An intimate evening in Bellingham with seven people in the crowd, two of which were close friends. A buddy Kyle you’ll recognize from previous blogs – we dive-bombed people in his floatplane in Alaska, hunted in the alpine – now has a superstar boy he’s raising.
On that same subject I should mention yesterday Rachel and I took the Drano test. For those who don’t know it’s mixing Drano crystals with pee to see whether you’re having a boy or girl. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_dywuoabJ0) Liquid drano doesn’t work – we have an unused bottle of it at home. And do this outside so you don’t kill the child, and perhaps the mother with the off-gassing. That would be sad.
So if the mixture turns greenish and transparent, girl. This is what happened with Haley. If it goes dark brown, boy. And friends, as we stood watching from the window on the tug, that’s exactly what happened.
Findings will be confirmed (or not) June 20th.
So much for book tour in the Lower 48. After that it was an awesome reading in Sitka, a good 60 folks there with standing room only. Homer, Anchorage, Juneau, all wonderful readings with great crowds. In Homer I took a break to do a bit of fishing, stunning a rainbow in a Kenai lake with a Castmaster. Also had dinner with two Alaska superstars Rich Chiappone and Tom Kizzia. Rich’s Liar’s Club is hilarious. I’ve also been re-reading In the Wake of Unseen Objects, essays by Tom. Holy shit. If you have any interest in the bush of Alaska, check these out. Humble and true, messy at times, so sincere in this age of irony and sarcasm. I’m re-reading Everything is Illuminated for my next project. It pains me why the kid can’t just write a true goddamn line. I wish my generation had more courage. Why are we so scared?
Then back home to the boat, which was waiting patiently, enjoying her new clothes. Rachel’s mother and grandmother visited, and they went out and got the first king of the season, a great honor. I carved it up. Salmonberries have been coming in strong, we jammed a bunch the other eve. When Haley gets hungry she gravitates toward the bushes, and the low fruit works as perfect bait to get her to stand. I swear she can’t get enough of the stuff.
After these readings, just one more after Palmer at the University of Alaska bookstore, it’ll be back in Sitka, fishing, working for the wonderful Sitka Fine Arts Camp, teaching writing. Of course working on the boat – there’s a slew of projects, re-routing this new instant hot water, organizing the cargo hold, rebuilding a leaky corner. I tell you tangentially one thing I appreciate is not having to deal with license and inspections. All those hours you spend filling out paper work and drawing up plans are instead devoted to just doing the work. Best part of owning a boat. Worst part, I suppose, is that the darn thing can sink.
But back briefly to that note about connection – old friends are great reflectors of your own soul, where it’s been, how it’s evolved. It’s been a trip to think of this book that started it all off, Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters to dear Franz Kappus. “Trust in what is difficult.” The words both cursed and blessed. Young naif. Eager to destroy it all then build it back up again. I can’t figure if I was a hurt kiddo looking for romance, or a romantic kiddo looking for hurt.
Okay, off to the reading. Actually I think it’s just a signing. And it’s starting to thunderstorm. Chances are it’s going to be me sitting in a chair surrounded by piles of books watching the lightning shoot over the mountains. Not the worst place to be, I suppose. Definitely not the worst.