Arrived in Sitka late on Friday 17 Feb, after a slow three-flight island hop around southeast Alaska – enlivened by some superb Alaskan views from the plane.
Tottered up the frosty midnight path to our home for (nearly) a month – the abode of cultural anthropologist, author, radio personality and all round national treasure Richard Nelson. Richard’s an Alaskan who’s mad about Australia and is on his annual pilgrimage down under – giving Carol and me the chance to housesit.
And what a spot. His cottage sits opposite the water in Sitka, looking out to the islands, mountains and waterways of Sitka Sound, backing onto Verstovia – a steep forested mountain that begins in the back garden. A long time collector of fascinating stuff, Richard’s house is like a museum where the staff have gone home and left you to play. Bones, rocks, shells, carvings, teeth, jaws, feathers, artefacts, antiques, glass fishing floats and books, books, books. Not to mention ample evidence of Australia should we get homesick – 13 superb didgeridoos, Australian art, huge maps and even more books. There are more wonders and toys in the little boatshed across the road where I sleep sometimes when I’m feeling rustic, and even more down in the cellar and hidden behind secret doors in the attic.
So – time for Carol and I to settle in for some writing after our two weeks of Alaskan adventuring. Except that the weather on our first weekend was brilliantly sunny and glorious, so we were compelled to go and play and visit our favourite spots before cracking our knuckles and getting down to work.
My project is a novel called All the Bright Days set in Australia, Japan and Alaska. It’s a story about humans and whales, hunting and haunting, told through the journey of young Australian activist Bronte Walker, who travels to Japan to apologise for the death of a Japanese whaler in a skirmish with Sea Shepherd in the Antarctic.
Or something like that. At any rate, it’s in the very early stages, though it’s been quietly brewing for two or three years now. It’s exciting to be getting my teeth into it at last.
We’re here in Sitka under our own steam this time – unlike two years ago when we were joint writers in residence with the Island Institute. It’s very exciting and stimulating being a writer in residence – and Carol and I made the most of every opportunity that came our way – which meant we had a great time and brilliant adventures – but rather less actual writing. This time we’re living a few miles out of town, just that bit further away from distractions – and we have fewer bookings on our dance cards. We’ve still had catchups with friends from last time around, like the wondrous Blue Canoe Writers Group, and of course our good friend Blossom. But we’re both committed to words on the page.
It’s meant a much more productive writing time for me – in a fortnight I’ve written more than in the whole month of our 2015 residency.
Plus the weather is helping! Sitka isn’t known for heavy snow, and in Feb 2015 we barely saw any at all. However the snow blew in a few days ago and has settled – we’re delightfully cosied up in our cottage, watching the snow flurries come in across the water and taking too many snow photos out the window. There’s a good foot of snow on the ground – practically unheard of, I believe – and more coming over the next week or so. Not so good for exploring and hiking, but very very good for getting the arse down on the chair and getting the work done.
So that’s about it from the magical snowy north. Two more weeks and I’ll be home – hopefully with a good chunk of that novel down on paper.
Love Jesse xxx