June 03, 2012
One of the long-standing traditions at Camp Denali is the presence in each cabin of a hand-made quilt for each bed. These quilts bring visual warmth to the cabin and literal warmth to guests, but time works normal wear and tear on quilts. Once the quilt is beyond simple repair, it is designated a Staff Quilt and replaced with a new one.
This year eight quilts retired. This meant that eight new quilts needed to appear on those guest beds. Since the best time to build quilts is before the guest season starts, in early May, before the Park road opened to travel, two additional staff members, Alex and Lee, joined the early wave of “openers,” and flew out to Kantishna to assist with waking up the property for the season…and to make quilts.
With the designs chosen, and with Jenna assisting, we selected fabrics, reviewed skills and reminders necessary to the cutting of fabrics, width of seam allowance, pressing of seams, tying layers (backing, batting, top), where to tie the layers…. Lots of information.
Next? Production. For two-and-a-half weeks--and under Jenna’s initial direction, Alex and Lee cut, sewed, ripped out, re-sewed, matched seams, pieced together, safety-pinned layers, wrestled with turning the stitched layers, “ditch-stitched” the quilt, and chatted, laughed, shared stories, watched snow fall and sun shine.
As we sewed we named the quilts: the queen-sized quilt for Last Chance became “Infinity” (it has no border); Nunatak’s double is “for Signs and for Seasons and for Days and Years” (spring flowers, autumn leaves); and the two twin-sized quilts for that cabin and of matching fabric are “Romulus” and “Remus.” The four twin-sized quilts for Last Chance are C, S, N, and Y (the fabrics are the same, but the pattern keeps changing).
The final step is Jenna’s. On the back of the quilt near one corner, she embroiders the first three letters of the cabin name, the initials of the three of us making the quilts, and the year in which they were made. We hold the memory of the shared work, but the finished work holds each of us in memory, too.
So the tally: three people, eight quilts. Three friendships cemented by working together, and then an additional eleven people to hold the quilts for the picture. Another equals the photographer. Plus all the housekeeping staff handling the quilts, the guests who’ll pull those quilts up around their shoulders against the Alaskan evenings.
Far more, these quilts, than simply colorful fabric.
June 06, 2011
It's a clear morning here at Camp Denali, sun shines brilliantly, staff members bustle about carrying baskets of last-minute cleaning supplies, cooks produce mouth-watering aromas that waft on the crisp air, flowers bloom cheerfully from hanging baskets...and, out grazing in Nugget Pond--rippling the reflection of Mt. McKinley--are the first moose cow and calf of the season. And on Opening Day!
Simon sent out a CB message calling attention to the presence of our feeding fauna, and those bustling staff members, the busy cooks, even our four staff children all gathered on the lawn, stopping, quieting, to observe.
Everyone here agrees that we live in an extraordinary place, but on mornings like this with such surprising and pleasing moments just happening, suddenly there...well, the extraordinary becomes exhilarating.
April 29, 2011
With April about over, the office hums with the work that leads up to the summer season, and paperwork flies from desk to clipboard to file: staff lists, order forms, shipment notifications, vehicle permit acquisition, guest details, meeting agendas, arrival schedules. The pieces end up in the right places, and the preparations create the indoor urgency matching that found outdoors.
Spring surges forward more each day. Pre-dawn light in the sky stretches backward to reach extended late evening twilight, buds thicken, birdsong grows, catkins burst forth. As temperatures have stayed above freezing for the past couple of nights, and beneath the strengthening sunlight, the snow cover diminishes a bit more each day. In the sunny spots there’s bare ground, but snow is still present in the woods and shaded areas. Footgear becomes a harbinger of seasonal change, too; snow boots give way to Xtra-Tuffs, snowshoes replace skis.
With the shrinking of the snowpack come the notices announcing how far into Denali National Park the road is open. Because a mid-month notice signaled an open road 30 miles into the Park to the Teklanika River Rest Area, last weekend I got into the car and entered the Park for the first time this season. Sunlight warmed the day enough to allow the windows to be open, and it felt good to be the only car on the road—but only for a little while.
After swinging wide around at least two joggers, I followed the road as it climbed out of the Nenana River valley. All the landmarks I remembered from my Park exit last September showed themselves. The higher I got and farther along I traveled, the more my spirits rose. At last, after a protracted road trip, I could feel Milwaukee slip off my shoulders, and I was fully free now to embrace the uniqueness of Denali National Park.
At Mile 10 of the road, I looked to the southwest for the first glimpse of Mt. McKinley...and there it was. Huge, snow-covered, still 80 miles off, but there, elbowing the horizon aside. But more than the mountain, there before me lay a glimpse of a tiny portion of the whole the Park. Huge, snow-covered, in my face, and simply there. Spruce trees tacked down the snow cover on broad ridges that rolled up to peaks anchoring the middle distance. Ah, home.
By the time I reached the Teklanika River Rest Stop, I was singing in the fresh breeze, soaking up the warm sunlight, and peering through binoculars across the ice-bound river for—well, for anything. Even trees and rock formations, while not porcupines or caribou, were still welcome sights. Eventually, refreshed, I drove back to the Parks Highway, and back to the house for homemade soup and fresh bread (not a bad destination, either).
In another month, I’ll help pack up the office, load my duffel bag and other gear, and then get into another vehicle for the trip into the Park. This time the trip will take me all the way into the Park to Camp Denali and North Face Lodge. Ah, summer home.
It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.