On Friday morning, I wondered whether I was stranded in Anchorage with a dead SUV. Since I wasn’t expecting this, I had no Plan B. It turns out that the engine misfire isn’t a fatal problem. The bad news is that we still don’t have a running car.
After the track bar was re-welded on Friday, our mechanic suggested we make ourselves scarce until he had time to work on the engine. My daughter Mary recommended Potter Marsh in the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. Here, the Seward Highway runs along Turnagain Arm. Across the water are the blue peaks of the Chugach National Forest, shrouded in clouds. Any of these land features would send me hurrying for my paints; together they were overwhelming.
At the first overlook, I met another plein air painter. He turned out to be Gil from Plein Air Painters of Alaska. They were holding their weekly paint-out at the marsh. Chattering happily, I set up next to Gil, only to realize that I’d forgotten to buy odorless mineral spirits (OMS) and medium after my flight. Mary ran off to the art supply store, and Gil kindly poured enough OMS into my tank to get me started.
I painted until about 1 PM and returned to the garage. Eventually, the mechanic realized that he couldn’t diagnose the problem in the time left. Disheartened, Mary called her friends Debbie and Jason to ask if we could stay another night with them. Jason drove the car and listened to the misfire. He called a mechanic friend of his for help, who offered to look at the car on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Debbie cooked up a drawing class for me on Saturday morning. We spent a few hours at Westchester Lagoon learning how to measure, about perspective, and how to draw a tree and a house. It was a beautiful distraction from car trouble.
Jason’s mechanic friend turned out to be a born teacher himself. He reasoned through every step with us. By the time he’d spent a few hours puttering, he’d convinced me that the problem is a blocked catalytic converter. Trouble is, the work can’t be done until this morning, and there’s always the question of parts.
Jerry and Heidie Godfrey met us in Anchorage for lunch. They were on their way to Costco; we convinced them that they really wanted to go up Mt. Baldy to enjoy the perfect autumn weather. They hiked; I painted Denali.
Denali is 250 miles north of Anchorage as the crow flies. The mountain is less a presence than a shimmering mirage floating above the horizon. How does one paint what doesn’t even seem possible? The picture isn’t finished, but I did work out some of the light and color questions that are so different than my native northeast vistas.
On Sunday I finally admitted I was tired. After services at Eagle River Church of the Nazarene, we had a midday dinner of Alaskan salmon and halibut, caught and cooked by the Godfreys themselves. The wind blew and rain spattered. Mary did laundry and prepped road food. I did absolutely nothing.
Anchorage is a beautiful and kind city. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people, eat fantastic food and work out the kinks in my painting kit. However, I’m keenly aware that we’re imposing on others. Each day is a day closer to winter. Saturday, we scraped frost off our windshield and Eagle River saw termination dust, heralding the end of summer. Summer—especially this far north—is fleeting. The open road is calling me.