Saturday, September 25, 2010

Goodbye Katmai Summer

As we were taking off from Lake Brooks for King Salmon via Park floatplane earlier this week, I felt an underlying sense of sadness and slight unease to our departure. We were all commencing our own individual journeys now, to familiar or new places and exciting adventures beyond Katmai, but we knew we were leaving behind the three Park employees and their pilot whose plane was lost in August and had not yet been found. As we got into the Park plane and arranged our headsets and seatbelts, we listened with added attention to our pilot Alan’s pre-flight instructions as if our lives depended on it; where the ELT was, how the satellite radio worked, where to find the fire extinguisher. We patted each other’s shoulders, reassuring without words because none were needed. We were all thinking the same thing. We had climbed into our plane much as Neil, Seth, Mason, and Marco must have done with theirs. We put our faith in our pilot that we would land at the float plane dock in King Salmon unscathed but we also knew there were no guarantees. So for the 25-minute flight I gazed out my window, watching for wildlife but also considering what a small maroon single-engine float plane might look like in that vast Alaskan landscape of mountains, tundra, streams, rivers, and lakes.
As soon as we unloaded the plane Alan was off again for Brooks Camp, to load the next threesome or foursome of Park rangers along with boxes and packs of belongings. I think he made four round trips that day. Later, several of us drove the short distance to the post office to mail stuff home and close out our PO boxes. For a couple hours in the late afternoon the dorm halls were pretty quiet – naptime! I personally was exhausted.
For dinner I was craving a good cheeseburger (no, no, not salmon!!!). Probably 30 people got together around 6:30PM and took over the dining room of KingKo, a local restaurant across the street from the dorm. I had a great time sharing a couple of pitchers of beer but eventually I went back to my room as some of the others drifted into the bar to play pool, foosball, and shuffleboard. I was still exhausted.
I left for Anchorage the next morning around 9:30. All the interpretive staff who were not leaving that morning came over to the airport (also across the street from the dorm – King Salmon is NOT very big) to say final goodbyes to Phil, Jacqui, and me. It was a sweet and funny gesture as we stood around the tiny terminal laughing and joking. Soon our flight was announced and I was waving goodbye to my summer at Katmai.
We all had made quite an impression with our carryings-on in the terminal – as we were lifting off, a fellow in the seat behind me inquired if I was someone famous! I had to admit that I was famous for being completely unknown, and he commented that yes, on second thought, I did look famously unfamiliar. As we burned a path through the sky at 10,000 feet, I worked my crossword puzzles in relative obscurity, marvelously content to have had my Katmai experience and looking forward to a few days in Seward but happy, nevertheless, to be on my way home.

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