Many people, when they hear the word "editor," might picture someone with a red pencil tucked behind her ear and chained to a desk when she isn't riding the subway with pepper spray in her pocket to protect her bag full of coffee-stained manuscripts. While this image might be inadequate in New York City and other metropolises, it's even more so when you're talking about an editor in Southeast Alaska.
Take, for instance, my editor at Capital City Weekly, Mary Catharine "MC" Martin.
Besides being managing editor of a paper that caters to all of Southeast Alaska, she finds the time to teach a creative writing course at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), be a personal writing coach, write book reviews and articles for CCW, take photos for the paper, and write books of her own.
Before becoming the editor for Capital City Weekly, MC was a staff writer for the paper and spent two wonderful years, as she puts it, "traveling around Southeast Alaska--Yakutat, Angoon, Hoonah, Ketchikan, Wrangell--writing about interesting people doing interesting things."
She finds it funny to think of what she does as "work." As she wrote to me recently: "Tomorrow I'm going to go to a performance of the Git Hayetsk dancers--a group of Tsimshian dancers who perform wearing these amazing, evocative masks one of the group's leaders carved--to take some photos for the weekly. That's 'work,'" she adds with a sort of whimsical irony.
In the course of doing research for one of her book projects, she circumnavigated Douglas Island where she lives, across from Alaska's capitol, Juneau, where her office is located. (Techinically, Douglas is part of Juneau.)
"The front portion of the island is roaded, but the back--around 20 to 30 miles--is wild," she explains, and adds that while on her trek (anyone who's circumnavigated an island in SE Alaska on foot knows that's no mean feat), "I waded into the ocean to avoid two young black bears, creeped myself out and had to move camp, scrabbled up steep hillsides by digging my fingers into the dirt, and almost killed my feet."
Did the experience get her down and dissuade her from continuing to do field-research on her book? Hardly. This is an Alaskan editor we're talking about.
"By the end I was humming to myself," she says, even though her feet had swelled up and she could barely hobble home. "I had to wear flip flops for a week, but it was my favorite thing I did last year."
MC is a born wordsmith, spending most of her waking hours thinking about words and stories since she first learned to read. She became known for her obliviousness to anything going on while reading, including her name being called over an intercom or someone dancing around in front of her trying to catch her attention.
"Once you're in that deep, editing, at least in your head," she says, "becomes involuntary. Soon I'll be one of those people running around with an apostrophe on a long stick and I'll just stand there, an apostrophe activist, in front of signs that need them. Just kidding. Sort of."
MC's sense of humor is something I rely on when I send her my column, especially when I tell her it may be late or I can't get the accompanying photo because the tide isn't cooperating. If you happen to follow her boyfriend Bjorn Dihle's articles in the Juneau Empire, or have read his book Haunted Inside Passage: Ghosts, Legends and Mysteries of Southeast Alaska (early release in Alaska, official relase May 2, 2017), you will find more instances of her sense of humor being put to the test.
As Bjorn writes in a chapter titled "The Ghost of Castle Hill":
"One afternoon, as sheets of rain echoed off the windows and the wind made the condo shudder, I was feeling a little lost in the mental doldrums. I decided to incite the wrath of my feminist girlfriend, MC, in the hopes it would help with my writer's block."
He goes on to do precisely that. And, as he says: "My plan worked. After she finished screaming and throwing books and cutlery at me, I was able to concentrate and write again."
I have a hard time picturing MC, with her unfailing good humor, being driven to that extreme, but you never know. If anyone could pull it off, I'm sure it's Bjorn.
Bjorn and MC are a matched set with their sense of humor, love of writing and books, and the urge to experience the real wilderness. "Most years Bjorn and I take a few weeks and float down a river in the Yukon or Alaska," MC says. "So far, we've floated down the Stikine (which was amazing--we spent about a week traveling from Telegraph Creek, in British Columbia, to Wrangell), and the Nisutlin, Pelly, and Big Salmon rivers, all of which are in the Yukon. This year, as research for the Klondike book I'm [writing], we're going to retrace the route of the gold rush stampeders."
MC will be taking a break from editing (I'm going to miss her, but I'm looking forward to working with another Alaskan editor/writer, Clara Miller), to do a writing residency at Alderworks, in Dyea, Alaska, the start of the famous Chilkoot Trail, until early June. Then she and Bjorn and Fen will hike the 33 or so miles of the Chilkoot Trail and paddle the 550 or so miles from Lake Bennett to Dawson.
"It'll take most of June," MC says, "and I can't wait."
I look forward to hearing about it, and how her book project goes. I'll be sure to share the results with all of you.
NOTE: All the photos, except the ones MC took of her office and the view of Douglas Island, are by Bjorn Dihle.
MC has recently edited my latest column, this time about a ghost town treasure, appearing Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at www.capitalcityweekly.com.
Since today is National Respect Your Cat Day, I thought it only fitting that I invite Katya, my Maine Coon, to tell you about our life out in the Alaskan bush from her own perspective.
You'll have to forgive my Person, she means well, but I'm sure all of you, like me, have thought since I first appeared on her blog that it would have been better written by me from the start. Better late than never. That is one thing I have to praise my Person for. She may be slow, but she always gets there in the end...with lots of encouragement. And some discipline.
For instance, I have trained her to recognize The Back. When she has done something inappropriate, like ignore my announcement that it's time for a treat, or to have my bedding changed, I will find the most prominent position in front of her--sometimes on a stool at the kitchen table, sometimes in front of the couch, sometimes in front of her laptop--and sit with my back to her. I can keep this up for an hour. I'm happy to report that, after a little training, she is now fairly prompt at recognizing that she has misbehaved in some way once she sees The Back. She will then, with pointed help on my part, figure out where she has gone astray and correct her behavior.
This is good, because my Person is worryingly dense when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For one thing, she's always trying to stay up past her bedtime. I can't tell you how many times I've had to resort to giving her The Back until she realizes her shortcomings and will get into bed and turn off the light. Sometimes I have to go to the neighbor's house and nearly rupture my vocal cords informing her that it's time to quit jibber-jabbering and head for bed.
She is so helpless that I've made it my business to escort her about her business whenever she leaves home. I try to educate her by encouraging her to take paths through intriguing, dense undergrowth, but she boringly sticks to the well-traveled paths.
If her blogs are bland, it's through no fault of mine, I assure you. When she's taking pictures of a scene, I always try to spice it up by putting myself in the frame. I have a better understanding than she does, apparently, that every picture is improved by having a Maine Coon in it. I'm sure you'll agree.
I take no joy in exposing my Person's faults, but it has to be said that she is sadly ungrateful. Sometimes, when she has been especially good, going to bed on time, giving me treats when they're required, changing my bedding daily, if not hourly, I will bring her a little something.
Sad to say, but she was badly brought up. Despite all my later attempts to straighten her out, she has never learned the gracious way of accepting a present, perhaps preserving it and mounting it on the wall. She could at least take pictures of myself and my trophy and post them on her blog. I'm sure all of you would have a proper appreciation for my prowess as a verminator. Instead, her response, every time, is to dispose of my gifts as quickly and squeamishly as possible. It embarrasses me to say this since she attempts to project an image of a tough bush woman, but it's true.
Here's another issue I have with her related to my graveyard shift on the vermin eradication duty (code name: VERAD): there are times, like night before last, when I am so focused on my job that I lose track of where the tide is. On this occasion it cut me off so that I couldn't return to the floathouse where I keep my Person and where she maintains my bedding and food dish.
Naturally, I took up a position as close as I could to the house and informed her of the situation. And I kept informing her, as loudly as I could all night long without taking any breaks. Until about four a.m. when the tide finally went back out and I could return to the house. I immediately went to my Person's bed to let her know the situation had been resolved (no thanks to her), but she was amazingly cranky. Apparently, she didn't realize that I was the one who had something to complain about.
It is spring now, which is when life becomes interesting. (I tried to get my Person to realize the insanity of snow, but she refused to put an end to it when asked nicely. Even The Back had no effect. There is nothing she likes more, apparently, then shoveling snow all hours of the day. I worry about her.)
I'll have to end here. I've noticed that there are ravens swaggering about on the beach like they own the place and since my Person won't do it, I'll have to go out and set them straight. Also, there is gravel to be rolled in to help dispose of my winter fur. Then there are the mink that need to be chased, vermin to be eradicated, small, hopping, scratching birds that obviously want to be stalked. Who am I to disappoint them?
See you later, vermin haters.
Special thanks to Terry for the idea and for many other reasons.
If you're not tired of reading about animals, my next column at www.capitalcityweekly.com, appearing Wednesday 29, 2017 is titled: "Twenty-Plus Dogs."
When my mother was a child in Michigan it was a big deal to go even two miles to the nearest market, so when she and her cousin, Patty Jo, decided to bike to the nearest big city, six miles away, they thought they were on an epic adventure that even their grandchildren would talk about.
How could they have ever pictured one day living in a remote fishing village in Alaska with only about thirty residents and no roads, right on the edge of civilization? Talk about an epic adventure! Patty Jo was a single mother with two sons, Mark and Alex. My mom had five kids--I was only six, but my older, city cousins made a big impression on me and I never forgot them, Mark in particular who always looked out for little girls who could have gotten run over in the rough play my older brother and his pals indulged in.
To my delight, Mark recently left some wonderful comments on my blog and agreed to write a guest blog of his memories of my Grandpa Frank. And here it is. (My comments are in brackets.) Enjoy! Tara, A Daughter of the Walrus.
MARK'S GUEST BLOG:
I told Tara I'd write a little something about Uncle Frank. He was actually my mom's uncle and Tara's grandfather, but we always called him Uncle. I have no idea when Frank and his wife Pat moved to the Chuck [Meyers Chuck], but when my brother and I arrived on our first ever floatplane ride he was there to help us.
Now I'm telling bits of stories from nearly forty years ago so Tara can separate fact from fiction. Frank was a legit 7 foot 2 man [actually, either 6'4" or 6'6"] man with hands like bear paws. I think he was close to 70, and I was told that he was one of the old school Montana loggers back in the day with longsaws instead of chainsaws. If you ever saw his house in the Front Chuck--it was gorgeous and big with log beams that ran the full width of the house--you could never deny any of his logging abilities. He built the house!
"How'd you get the beams up there, Uncle Frank?" Soft chuckle...."I put 'em up there."
He really looked like Santa Claus and never once over several years did I hear him raise his voice. He was a gentle giant.
I caught my first king salmon with him which weighed out at 28 lbs. At nine years old I thought I was going to get pulled from the boat and begged him to help me. Each time he'd just chuckle, look me in the eye and say..."It isn't my fish." I love that now, knowing he made me fight for what was mine and I didn't need help. Holding up the salmon I could proudly say....I caught it.
Then there was his woodchopping ability. In the bush everybody helps each other out and wood is a giant commodity when there is no electricity. Alex and I chopped wood every day but it was hard for a young woman and two boys to keep up with. I can't remember who would bring us wood [Tara's dad], but when it comes it's still in the tree trunk, cylindrical shape [called rounds]. Maybe 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 feet? [Depends on the size of the tree, or log.] Slightly bigger than a 5 gallon bucket.
You roll them from the boat to the woodshed and when you begin to cut you use the back of the axe to hammer a wedge into the log, splitting it in two. Then you use the axe on the halves to split them into about three pieces a side producing six normal looking fireplace logs that I get around the corner here in Chicago.
Anyway, Frank comes over to help us catch up. From the start to finish with the wedge might take me 20 whacks at the wedge if hit clean, then another 20 minutes to bust out 6 logs. We had been told watching Frank chop wood was something else, so we were excited.
He taps the wedge into the log with the back of the axe head, so it's upright on its own, and with one hand smashes the wedge, spins the axe and two swings left and two swings right, chops the halves as they are falling!!
Never, never, never have I seen anything close to that since.
Me and Alex immediately wanted to become loggers so we could do it, too.
He does about 20 of those for us and takes off in the McKee Craft. I didn't even include how quick he'd turn a cut log into kindling. We were set for a month in a half hour, if that.
The last is just a story I was told with him in the room. When I looked at him he just chuckled and nodded. Good enough for me.
So the story went, and this was 30 years before eating hotdogs and garbage was all over TV, he and Pat went to a steakhouse where if you could finish the big 84 or 74 (I don't remember exactly, but a Fred Flinstone steak), your entire meal was on the house.
This is one of those stupid bets that takes 3 hours for some dumb, big guy to get the last 20 bites down while sweating over his plate and taking water breaks. Frank apparently calmly carved through it like a normal meal and asked for seconds!
I don't know how true it is but hearing he and Pat tell the story together and seeing the glimmer in his eyes as he nodded at me will be forever priceless. I hope Tara gets the picture of me and him up. Everyone should get a chance to see my Uncle Frank.
Those are my favorite memories. Just remember when you read these blogs of Tara's, they're being written by the granddaughter of Frank, one of the true original Alaska bushmen.