It’s amazing what a difference 16° in latitude makes. I left Maine directly from my Sea & Sky Workshop at Schoodic Institute. I brought the same gear I had in Maine: sandals, a rain jacket, one fleece shirt and a waxed-cotton vest. I’m tolerant of the cold, but when the wind whips across the Bay of Alaska, it feels approximately like hell is icing over—and it’s still August.
My ability to paint on this trip depends on whether I am driving, whether I can balance my pocket watercolor kit on my lap when I’m not driving, and whether my hands are too cold to hold my brushes.
The road from Anchorage to Seward passes through Chugach State Park along Turnagain Arm, a narrow branch of Cook Inlet. Turnagain Arm has the second highest tides in North America after the Bay of Fundy. These move so fast that they produce a bore tide. It was misty and dark, and it was the first place I’ve smelled the ocean since I left Maine.
The road then crosses the Kenai Peninsula and descends into Seward. Portage Glacier is visible off to the left. Mea culpa: it looks nothing like a perennial snowpile. The Harding Icefield is also here. It covers between 300-700 square miles, depending on what reference you consult. These glaciers are massive structures, with the same fissures and cleavage as the rocks that surround them. Like rocks, they are infinitely variable in form.
Oddly, the Kenai Peninsula also marks the northern limit of the Pacific temperate rainforest. This is the largest temperate rainforest on the planet and runs north from California. The Gulf of Alaska marks the point of transition into sub-polar rain forest, where the dominant trees are Sitka spruce and hemlock.
Frequently, locals refer to the 1964 Good Friday earthquake as the watershed moment in modern Alaskan history. It was the most powerful recorded megathrust earthquake ever recorded in North America. First there was the 4:38 quake, then there was soil liquefaction, subsidence, and then a fire. That was followed by a tsunami. It must have seemed like the end of the world. For a few hundred people, it was.
Seward was destroyed. Its commercial port, its refinery, its homes, and its businesses were instantly destroyed. The new Seward largely survives on tourism.