Lucky at Land's End

So I am at Land's End, a hotel at the end of the 4.5 mile Homer spit, attending the tenth annual Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference, with a lot of heavy hitters. Fran Ulmer is here ( the female Alaska politician and thinker and doer we all admire) just as a participant, to give you an idea. There's a NY agent, a contract attorney, writers and editors galore. Last night the former poet laureate of the United States, Rita Dove, spoke about why we write. "We are trying, as human beings, to describe the indescribable, so we search for the appropriate words. We are trying to grasp what cannot be grasped, but we are trying," she said. My room here in the older part of this hotel, is up a narrow staircase with a mural of the scene out my window painted on the plywood wall. A note next to it explains that it was painted by Homer area artist Diana Tillion. I knew her (she passed away a few years ago), not well, but in that small-state Alaska way. She and her husband Clem, also a well-known statesman, visited Haines when their daughter Martha was working as a doctor at our clinic one winter. My husband and I were on the clinic board, so we had them over for dinner in our apartment above the lumberyard. Clem said, "nice quarters" of the place. I remember that. Anyway, turns out we had more in common than the clinic connection. Diana's father was Haines homesteader Hjlmar Rutzebeck. Our cabin is built on the site of his old place. Before she died, a few years ago, Diana and Martha drove to Haines and I showed her the old place. She took pictures of the pond she recalled from her childhood. She had hoped to paint the views. I'm not sure that she ever did. But she did paint that mural on the stairwell. The one, the sign says, that was in the old Land's End hotel, the building that was "moved" by the 1964 earthquake and tsunami. It was taken out of that place, and put in the new hotel, the one I am staying in. I was at the first Kachemak Writers' Conference 10 years ago. I've survived a kind of ground shifting myself since then.Then, my five children were all home. Then, my mother was alive and I hadn't been hit by a truck yet. My old friends hadn't divorced. I thought life would always be the way it was. When Clem and Diana were at our house, his youngest child had just married, or graduated from college, I don't recall exactly. But I do know that he said he and Diana had the house to themselves now. I said that must be sad. He said no way, he said it's great to see your children set sail on their own. Now I know what I means. But I don't know the words for how this all makes me feel. I'm not a poet. Still, as Rita Dove said, at least I'm trying to find them-- For now maybe I'll just stick to "lucky". I'm lucky to be here, right now in a place that shifts and comes back geographically, spiritually, and emotionally, and that's also so full of people who know how to use words well.

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