Yesterday Bev Schupp showed me several more lovely spots on our way to Chilkat State Park to paint what the locals call “the hanging glacier”. So, I got up early today to paint before we began our trek north to Haines Junction and headed out to one of them—the Haines Cannery.
With the picturesque view of the cannery in the early morning sun stuck in my mind, I drove through a light drizzle, awed by the sight of a beautiful double rainbow. By the time I arrived, the sky cleared to reveal the beautiful morning colors once again. And, wouldn’t you know it, half way through my painting, I was surprised to find Bev parking beside me. She too felt called by this sweet scene.
Bev is a retired school teacher who came to visit her sister way back when, and, like many others, got hooked and decided to stay in Alaska. For the first seven years she taught art in isolated communities accessible only by plane or boat, rotating to another village every month or so. She even met her husband, also a teacher, in one of those spots. They both have managed sled dogs and raced in the Iditarod. “The problem,” Bev said, “is that you spend your summer fishing to have feed for the dogs through the winter, leaving far too little time for art.”
Although they usually had electricity, it was common to carry water and to collect wood to heat their homes, and most of what they ate was obtained by planting, hunting and fishing—just like all the other families in these small, remote communities.
The couple eventually decided that they wanted to remain in one community for a longer time, and switched to commitments of two or more years. After retiring, they finally settled in Haines. No longer occupied by sled dogs and basic survival activities, Bev is delighted to have more time for her first love—her art. Although her story sounds rather extreme to most of us city slickers from the lower forty-eight, Bev’s experience is hardly unique among the artists and others I have met in this rugged part of the world. What is most impressive to me is that no matter how hard life here may be, the beauty and freedom of Alaska inspire and they choose to stay.