History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

17 August 2009

Kodiak Part One

A few posts ago in the comments section of Amanda's fun post on the Russian settlement of Fort Ross in California, she mentioned that she would like to hear about my Kodiak experience. It was one of the great adventures of my life and not only because of what you can see from the picture at the left. Every take-off was towards that mountain and every landing you wondered if you would stop in time. But the story begins a few months before our arrival.

In the spring of 1972, six months into marriage, my husband, a junior officer in the Coast Guard, announced that his orders had been changed and we were not moving to New York City but to Kodiak, Alaska. Needless to say it took some time for this east coast girl to wrap her mind around a move that far from Fifth Avenue to a place so far west that Russia was a bigger influence than the "lower 48"

Two months later, we arrived in Kodiak. Take a minute and click on this link. if you scroll around it will give you a sense of the topography of an island the size of Connecticut. The base is not on the map but is about nine miles west of town on Women's Bay. If you move out you will get a sense of where Kodiak is in relation to the rest of the state, far enough south that we did have a few hours of daylight in the winter.

The Blayneys took up residence in a true diamond in the rough, a two bedroom, one bath cottage with an amazing view of the main runway and the water. High on a hill overlooking the rest of housing, Quarters 24B gave us a much valued commodity -- privacy -- and contributed to our total enjoyment of the two plus years we spent there.

It hardly mattered that our kitchen was original 1950's era when the base was built. Fabulous meals were downright easy when the menu included a constant supply of freshly caught salmon, halibut and king crab. Six of Paul's Academy classmates were assigned to Kodiak, most of them pilots of the C-130's and helicopters that are the backbone of the Coast Guard's search and rescue misson. We entertained all the time. An amazing number of people came through Kodiak and, if they passed through the legal office, we invited them to dinner.

The outdoors was as entertaining as our friends. Kodiak is the only place we lived that I ever caught a fish or even wanted to try. I have a profound love of nature, its pysical beauty and power, but would prefer to observe it from a comfortable chair. Paul is the opposite.

His Kodiak adventures included flying off (literally) after work to find a fishing spot no human had ever seen before, hunting in the Brooks Range where he and his buddy would be dropped off for ten days with no other human contact, a beachcombing trip by plane to find and retrieve a life time supply of whale bone (when it was still legal to collect it). ..

Once I did try an adventure with him -- flying out on a sea plane to collect razor clams. No one told me, until we were airborne, how big a razor clam is -- the size of an adult's hand. When you see an airhole you dig in the sand really fast and then haul it out. So not my thing. I tried to be a good sport but did not catch one. We both learned from that experience and except for some fabulous hikes I (happily) stayed home. Usually my friend, Linda Koloski, and I would worry enough to talk about what we do if our husbands did not come home (and yes there was at least one truly life threatening experience) but usually I did what I enjoyed the most, read books, wrote letters (lots of them), took pictures and, at the end of our stay, cared for our newborn son.

If my blogged about writer's retreat gave me my most recent insight into myself as a aging boomer in the 21st century then Kodiak was fundamental in shaping the adult I am. Not only did it shape our marriage as one where we welcomed the other's intersts but it showed me a life style that was as different from my upbringing as sea ducks are from eagles.

It amazed me that I loved life in a place where there was no TV, little shopping and few restaurants. I learned to enjoy what I did have: a glorious natural setting, friends all around me, a community of poeple in the town of Kodiak whose lives showed none of the east coast influence that had been the foundation of my life

Living in Kodiak was a fabulous experience, research at its most basic. I began writing there. Who knows where my career would have taken me if I actually believed the National Geographic when they reponded positively to my query letter for a story (complete with pictures)on life on Kodiak. I was busy busy busy with other things and thought that the editor was just being nice. Boy, did I have a lot to learn about publishing!

Kodiak was such a great experience that it deserves another post. Next time it will be about the Island and how history shaped it.

Take a minute and share the place that ranks high on "favorite places I have lived" and how they shaped your life.

By the way, Paul was eventually assigned to New York City, on Governor's Island. I loved every minute of that too, for entirely different reasons.


Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Great post, Mary!! As a native New York City girl who has only spent 4 years somewhere else (college at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY) I completely idenfity with your fear of leaving your comfort zone in many ways, including, of course, geographically. Yup, Kodiak seems about as far as you can get from Fifth Avenue.

My husband is a real outdoorsy type too. He loves hiking. I will only run for a bus. He's a fitness enthusiast. I exercise my right to sit on the couch and read a book (or at my desk and write one). [That's not really true; I work out 6 days a week -- but I do tend to think of nature as more of a spectator sport than a participatory one.]

Believe it or not, NYer that I am, I have never visited Governor's Island! (or Liberty Island, for that matter).

Have you ever fictionalized a version of any of your experiences in Kodiak in one of your novels?

And, oh ... could you see Russia from your house? ;)

2:47 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

LOL, no I could not see Russia from my house. But the Russian cultural influences were everywhere since Kodiak is where the first Alaskan Russian settlement was.

I used Juneau (where we lived from 1982 to 1984) in two contemporaries but both were rejected. One because Juneau was more like a character than a place (which was right and part of the appeal imo) and the other because "our readers can't relate to Alaska" Amazing how we recall those rejection letters. This happened in the twelve years between my second and third sales.

I have a few ideas for historicals set in Alaska gold mining days which I may yet use in the paranormal novellas I do.

Nature as a "spectator sport" is exactly the way I feel too.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Wonderful post, Mary! I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area my entire life. It's certainly shaped me, particularly the contrast between living amid trees with well water and no cable and yet spending a lot my days in San Francisco. I think that shows through in the town/country aspects of the settings of my books.

As someone who shares the "spectator sport" view of nature to a large degree (I love sitting outside, the beach, walks but I'm not much of a hiker to end a day in the outdoors with a nice meal in a restaurant rather than round a campfire), I really admire you for moving to Kodiak. That's true love!

4:11 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Paul insists that when he told me about the change in orders I did not say a word, but turned around and walked out to the house. In fact I decided that I would go to the library and check out all the books on Kodiak and found there was one book on Alaska which had two paragraphs on Kodiak.

We learned in Kodiak that I will rough it all day but want to come home to a meal and a bed. Nice to know I am in such good company.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Mary, I've greatly enjoyed reading about your adventure. And you're a true explorer at heart! Six months into a marriage and it survived this sort of a bombshell? That's one marriage that's going to last a lifetime. I look forward to more of your stories from Alaska.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Thanks Keira -- so far so good. One of my all time favorite cartoons from the New Yorker is a couple obviously celebrating their anniversary. The man says to his wife "Here's to twelve great years." The woman replies, "Out of fifteen, that's not bad."

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Elaine Fox said...

Mary, fascinating blog -- and just a part of a fascinating life! You're going to have to use this sometime in some future, perhaps contemporary, book. I can see a 'Northern Exposure' type story with characters brought to life as only you can do it! Great pictures too!

6:59 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I loved this post, Mary, not just for the info about Alaska, but for your story. I know how important images of "home" are in your work. It's wonderful to come to understand how this derives from your having had many homes, and such different and interesting ones.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Pam, Your explanation is as good as any I've ever considered for my fascination with domestic architecture and the homes we can turn them into. In all honesty, Amanda's desire to hear about Kodiak made me realize that I have lived a life of adventure and change. It's just that so many of my friends were doing the same that it did not seem unusual!

Elaine, thanks -- Northern Exposure was absolutely on target, but like many comedies became a caricature of itself at the end. I can see this happening to The Office with great disappointment. But that's an entirely different subject.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

As an army brat I grew up with a strange combination of loving the enforced changes in life that moving required and a great valuing of a place to call HOME.

My married life has not been one of shared adventure, such as moving requires, but one of stablility. I guess I'm glad I've had both in my life. But I envy your adventure with Paul, the chance to test yourself in so many diverse places. Kodiak sounds like so much fun - a great learning experience about yourself, your marriage, and life! But I'll bet you were glad to not be there forever.

Still, sometimes I just want to MOVE. To go to a new place and live a new kind of life. I'd love to move to NYC or to London or rural England. I'd love to move to a place I've never been before.
Or to stay here among friends and family....

9:01 AM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Mary, that cartoon's funny.

10:54 PM  

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