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“Emery!” the Soupster called, glancing up from the outboard he was hunched over.
The cyclist screeched to a halt. “Hey, Soupster! How’s it going?” she asked cheerfully.
“Havin’ trouble with my starter,” the Soupster said, standing up with one hand on the engine and the other supporting his lower back. ”And this drizzle ain’t helping my mood none,” he complained. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“An inspiring, scenic location to write in the rain,” Emery announced.
“Write in the rain?” the Soupster echoed.
“That’s right, I’ve got a new notebook and pen that you can use in the rain,” Emery said.
“Yeah, I know the ones,” the Soupster nodded. “Official types of people use them.”
“And that’s why today I officially declare myself to be a local,” Emery replied.
“Why today?” the Soupster asked. “You’ve clocked up at least 5 years in Our Town, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, but as you know, becoming a local is a process,” she said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. First you’re a tourist, wandering down the main drag, wearing your new fur boots and hat.
Hang around a few more days and you realize you’re gonna need some rain gear. So, you get the cheapest you can find.
Then you start doing the wilderness thing. Before long, you discover you need gear that’s breathable, waterproof and indestructible, so you go back for more — more expensive this time.
You learn that cotton kills and start stocking up on wool and polypropylene. The variety of gloves, mittens and liners seems overwhelming at first, but you focus on your size and get a pair of everything. Wool, fleece, leather, Gor-Tex and neoprene all have a use.
Before you know it, you have your very own Alaska Sporting Goods Emporium. Then, just when you think you have everything you need for life in rainforest Alaska, your Xtra-Tuffs start leaking.”
The Soupster took over. “So you patch them with duct tape, till you realize that even duct tape has its limits. Time for new boots. The old faithfuls are converted to slip-ons, used for taking out the trash, quick trips to the grocery store and camping.”
Emery laughed. “So, just when I thought my emporium was fully stocked, I discovered a line of ‘Outdoor Writing Products for Outdoor Writing People’ that can all be used in the rain.
There are even these pens that’ll write under water, upside down and in temperatures ranging from -30 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. They’ve actually been used on a manned space flight.
So, I’m now the proud owner of a new notebook and pen. My adventure barometer tells me that ice climbing is going to pale in significance compared with things to come,” Emery predicted.
“Let the adventure begin!” said the Soupster. “And congratulations on becoming a local,” he added, extending an oil-stained hand to shake her neoprene glove.
“But before you go, a quick question: do the words ‘cheechako’ or ‘sourdough’ mean anything to you?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye.
– Submitted by Lois Verbaan Denherder
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Born into the Real World in the first half of the last century, Renny was the youngest of an extremely large brood – 11 kids all told. And though the oldest brother was practically out of the house by the time Renny arrived on the scene, the remaining siblings kept their four-room family apartment chock full at all times. Renny did not suffer loneliness in childhood.
In fact he craved loneliness – or rather, time alone.
It wasn’t to be, not where Renny grew up. Like when periodically Renny’s parents took him and a half dozen or so of his brothers and sisters to the beach to experience the great outdoors. On a holiday or during a summer heat wave – that meant that the blankets, towels, folding chairs, coolers, umbrellas and the bodies of a million beachgoers covered the sand so thoroughly that Renny had to pick his way on tiptoe between the sprawled out families to get to the surf.
When his 7th grade class studied Alaska, Renny’s takeaway was glorious, open spaces. He started putting aside a grubstake that year. He got serious about building up the account in high school with his wages from pumping gas evenings and weekends.
Soon after he graduated City High, Renny had enough for a bus ticket to Seattle and a boat ticket to Our Town. But when he reached his final destination, he was shocked.
Our Town was crowded – not nearly the boundless space Renny had daydreamed about. Surrounded by endless forest, he nonetheless found the residents of Our Town pressed cheek to jowl.
Renny weighed his options. This was back in the day when you could lay claim to land, just about, by living on it and filling out some paperwork. So Renny took a skiff north of town and set himself up a sweet little homestead at an unused spot on the beach, facing Mt. Edgecumbe.
Renny loved his quiet lifestyle, reading, hiking, listening to the birds and the wind. But civilization did not stop for Renny – one black day, a road was built and the cars and trucks started whooshing by.
And this is where the Soupster, who was visiting Renny’s place, joins our story.
“Renny? The noise from those big trucks doesn’t bother you?” the Soupster asked. “The last truck shook the whole house.”
“I used to care,” answered Renny. “I used to care a lot.”
“But now you don’t?”
“That’s a hard question to answer,” said Renny. “I still cherish my boyhood fantasies of living away from it all. And it’s great to imagine that giant sundae you had with a dozen scoops of ice cream and eight different syrups. But who’d want to eat something like that again? Not an old man like me.”
“Huh?” said the Soupster.
“I like my quiet,” Renny said. “But I like having people nearby.” He pointed to Mt. Edgecumbe, which filled most of the living room window.
“It’s all wild, out there – all of it,” he concluded. “I love that it’s wild. And I also love it that Our Town has my back!”
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Originally Published October 21, 2004
The Soupster’s rump itched. He squirmed in his seat. Pay attention! he told himself.
On the stage at the packed political meeting the Soupster attended, two familiar Alaskans debated the future of Our Town. Everyone was rapt to what was happening on stage, but the Soupster worried people could see him squirm and that they knew why.
At the right, standing at a podium, was a female brown bear, so tall she could reach up and knock the klieg lights above her head. To the left, behind the other podium, or rather perched on it, was a sleek raven.
“Ferry service!” squawked the raven. “Much better than roads.”
“Easy for you to say,” countered the bear. “You can fly. My constituents need roads.”
The crowd, all human, murmured in assent or dissent.
“Technology for medical care,” the bird called out. “Long distance docs!”
“Your doc should be close enough to look in the eye,” said the bear. “Of course, the last time a human looked me in the eye I ate him.”
The raven appeared momentarily worried.
“Hrrumph” said the bear.
The Soupster’s itch made him squirm again. This time he was sure it was noticeable. He wondered if he could slip out the back door, make it around the corner of the building and have a good scratch.
“You believe in large classrooms,” squawked the raven. “Lots of kids, too many kids.”
“I believe in the sanctity of the den,” said the bear, looking momentarily majestic.
“I believe in taking the chance at opportunity,” said the raven.
“And I believe in staking out your claim and never having to say you’re sorry,” said the bear.
The moderator banged his gavel and put forth the final question.
“If one animal could be said to represent the Alaskan spirit, which animal should that be?” said the moderator.
“I’ve been on license plates,” said the bear. “And on the “Made in Alaska” sign, although that’s my cousin actually. Representing Alaska, should, of course, be me.”
“My visage sells products from coffee to radios to football teams. Everyone knows a poem about me. Is there a poem about a bear that comes as easily to mind?” the raven posed sarcastically.
The bear became angry and clawed chunks out of the sides of its podium. The raven flew around the bear’s head in circles. The moderator banged his gavel repeatedly.
The Soupster used the fracas to cover his escape. By the time everyone had calmed and the debate resumed, the Soupster was slipping out the back door. Politics was the future, the Soupster knew and one had to pay attention to the future. But, he thought, passing out of sight around the corner, sometimes, there was more pressing business at hand.
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The Soupster and his friend Greta sat face-to-face on two hemlock stumps, chomping on jars of her latest batch of smoked sockeye and shooting the breeze.
“So you didn’t vote in the primary,” Greta said accusingly.
“I forgot,” sighed a sheepish Soupster. He chewed his fish silently. “It’s sometimes hard to remember that politics matters.”
“Oh, politics matters, all right,” Greta said. “What if I was to tell you that your vote could affect that very fish you are eating right this second?”
“I would say `how?’” said the Soupster.
“Glad you asked me that,” Greta said, standing, stretching her arms and cracking her knuckles.
“Now, I’m not going to use any names, in order to protect the innocent, but see if you can follow me,” she said, settling back on her stump.
“All right,” said the Soupster.
“Okay,” Greta started. “Say there was a guy running for the US Senate from Missouri who made some very unfortunate comments about pregnancy that got him in a big heap of bear scat.”
“I think I know who you mean,” said the Soupster.
“Well,” continued Greta. “His opponent in that race, the incumbent, is a big critic of some special breaks Uncle Ted got for Alaska Native corporations that have allowed them to score lucrative government contracts.”
“Okay,” said the Soupster.
“Now the sockeye you’re scarfing comes from a bay that a Natïve corporation is asking Congress for,” said Greta.
“But they say they’ll always allow public access,” said the Soupster.
“I’m sure they want to keep the public access – they understand the value people give to harvesting their own food,” said Greta. “But let’s say the lucrative federal contracts dry up and they start hurting for money.”
“Just then some gazillionaire comes forward and offers to buy a piece of land that the corporation wants even more than your favorite sockeye bay – in exchange for your favorite sockeye bay …”
“You make good sockeye,” said the Soupster, lifting a jar. “But your fish tales stink.”
“It’s no tale,” said Greta. “At least, it’s not impossible.”
“So if I wanted to keep eating this fish, how should I vote?” asked the Soupster.
“You can figure it out,” said Greta. “You’re the Soupster!”“
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After enduring a somewhat sketch marriage in her twenties, 34-year-old Annie was basically glad she had the romantic gumption to follow her heart and a charismatic fisherman to Our Town. But it gnawed at her that she had left a job as a retail store manager and could not find the equivalent employment here. Especially after the fisherman moved on — after different fish, she surmised.
To Annie, becoming a saleswoman again after so many years as a manager felt even worse than the simple demotion it was. Worse still was the cut in her pay. Our Town certainly didn’t feel any cheaper than where Annie had moved from. But in Our Town she had about a third less to make do with.
Bemoaning her fate is where the Soupster had expected to find his friend when he stopped by to pick up some flower bulbs that she was giving away. It was typical of Annie to be generous.
The Soupster smiled at the thought of generosity of so many people in Our Town. There was no better reason to be wealthy, the Soupster thought, than to be able to be generous with your time or your money. And here was Annie, struggling, yet using her time to give away her precious bulbs.
There are those who come to Our Town to take high-level jobs and, for them, financial discomfort may not be an issue. Others come for the mountains and the clean air (or a fisherman!) and cobble together several jobs to survive.
But that’s just money, the Soupster thought. A lot of life comes from family, friends, tradition, and belief – not to mention a good subsistence halibut or three. There was little sadder, the Soupster thought, than the old miser alone with his stacks of gold coins. And little more triumphant than someone thriving on modest means, surrounded by life and love.
And just as the Soupster had that thought, he looked up to see Annie’s face filled with life and love. She stood in her doorway beaming.
“Soupster,” she cried out, loud enough to startle a crow, “My manager decided just this week that she wants to move back to Idaho to be nearer her parents. The Assistant Manager’s boyfriend is being transferred to New Orleans and she’s going with him. So guess who’s going to be the new manager?”
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“I love this `Coast Guard Alaska’ show,” Zach said, sprawling in the magnificence of his basement man-cave.
The Soupster generally avoided subterranean structures of any kind, but he had to admit Zach’s man-digs were powerfully comfy. Heavily stuffed chairs and a still more heavily stuffed couch. A wet bar, a microwave and a big stocked refrigerator. And you couldn’t argue with the 46-inch TV screen – unless you had to move it or pay for the electricity.
“Check out this episode,” Zach said, motioning toward the glowing behemoth as, onscreen, a Coast Guard Jayhawk hoisted a stranded boater. “I know the flight corpsman, the co-pilot and the guy they rescued.”
“Wasn’t the flight corpsman’s picture in the newspaper yesterday?” the Soupster asked.
“Yep,” said a further vindicated Zach. “Nice that we’re on the list of Alaska shows, eh, Soupster? `Deadliest Catch,’ `Flying Wild Alaska,’ `Man vs. Wild,’ and `Man vs. Food.’ And that’s not even counting the Canadians, who have quite a few shows of their own.”
“The granddaddy show was “Northern Exposure,” the Soupster said, referring to the 1990’s television sit-com set in the quirky fictional Alaskan town of Cicely. “I was in Mesa, Arizona buying a light fixture at the time and the merchant checked my ID and said, `You’re from Alaska! I love that show!’”
“Now it’s true,” said Zach. “Now totally true. Alaska is totally a television show.””
“They should set more TV reality shows in Our Town,” said the Soupster. “We’ve got a million stories around here.”
“Eagle Rescue Alaska?” said Zach.
“No, you have to create more tension, as the TV guys would say. “Like “Ravens: Scared Straight.”
“You mean delinquent ravens subjected to Tough Love over golf-ball-and-grocery theft?”
“Yeah, said the Soupster. “Or an Our Town housepainter waiting on pins and needles for a dry spell to do this work. That should be good for six or eight weeks of tense episodes.”
“Might be too tense,” said Zach.
“I’ve got it,” said the Soupster. “What about `The Growingest Road’ about the Olympian task of state highway guys trying to cut down alder and salmonberry bushes faster than they can grow back.”
“Good,” said Zach, “Or one where they get up close and personal with one salmon. The star of the series would have to weather dry spells and sharp rocks, dodge bears and not get snagged by someone stretching the fishing rules. All for a disquieting ending.”
“One salmon’s struggle,” mused the Soupster.
“Or, `The Slug Whisperer,’” said Zach, suddenly very pleased with himself. “What about that, Soupster? `The Slug Whisperer?’”
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One Sunday morning in Our Town Mollie Papillion woke up thinking, “I’m in the mood for pancakes.” She walked into her kitchen and began looking for the ingredients, but soon discovered that she was out of eggs. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was only 6:00 a.m., which seemed a little too early to borrow from her neighbor, so she decided to drive down to the grocery store. “It’ll only take a minute,” she thought.
She threw her rain coat on over her pajamas, put on her indoor/outdoor slippers, grabbed her mug of coffee and started to walk outside, but realized almost immediately that her pajama bottoms had somehow gotten caught in the door behind her. She yanked at the fabric a couple of times, but it refused to budge, so she gave it one last firm tug. The material gave way with a loud rip, causing her to lose her balance and fall off the porch into the mud below. “At least I didn’t spill my coffee,” she sighed, getting up slowly and brushing herself off.
Not one to be easily deterred, Mollie continued on with her plan. She climbed into her car and drove about a block when, suddenly, a dog appeared in the road a few feet in front of her. She gasped and slammed on her brakes just in time to avoid hitting it, but, in the process, spilled her coffee all over the front of her pajamas. She tried to gather her wits about her and wipe as much coffee off of herself as she could using the old McDonald’s napkins from her car’s glove compartment. “Oh, my goodness,” she fretted, “I almost hit that dog!”
Rattled but still determined, she headed down the street again, turning on her windshield wipers so she could see through the torrents of rain that had begun to fall. She arrived at the store, got out of her car and walked towards the door, pulling her coat closed in an effort to hide the coffee stains and mud. She tried not to make eye contact with anyone as she walked down the aisle towards the dairy section, but the sound of her wet rubber shoe soles on the newly waxed floors made such a loud squeaking noise that two customers in the produce section were startled and looked up to see what was happening.
She stepped up to the display where the eggs were usually located and stopped dead in her tracks, staring in disbelief. There were no eggs. At that moment, the stress of the morning’s events finally proved to be too much for her and she shouted in desperation, “I JUST NEED SOME EGGS!”
Her words were still echoing through the store when the Soupster himself magically appeared. He quietly handed her a carton of eggs from his shopping cart and disappeared around the corner into the cereal aisle.
“Thank you, Soupster,” Mollie managed to utter as she started to cry, mascara running down her cheeks. “All I wanted this morning were some pancakes!”
– Submitted by Mary Ann Jones
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Carrie told the Soupster he talked too much and her criticism stung. The Soupster knew he could go on and on – maybe a tiny, little bit? — but he didn’t know his friend had been suffering. And for “quite a while,” no less.
“I bet you can’t keep your conversation to a minimum even for one day,” Carrie threw down the gauntlet. “Not even for one whole day.”
“I can,” the Soupster insisted. “And I will!”
Today was the day. The first mission of the new, zip-lipped Soupster was to check the mail at the post office. As the Soupster strolled downtown, he had to duck into a few storefronts to avoid fellow chatterboxes who might stress-test his mettle.
“Soupman!” The call came from Charlie, a hiking buddy who, unfortunately, happened to be in a store the Soupster had judged free of customers. “Tell me what’s new with the Man in the Can?”
“Not much,” said the Soupster, wishing he could have thought of a one-word answer. “Gotta go,” he said slipping out of the store.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire? Two busfuls of visitors hit the sidewalk and poured around the Soupster like a human wave.
Hide in plain sight? The Soupster pulled his cap low on his forehead and attempted to avoid eye contact with the cheery migrants surrounding him.
No use! The Soupster felt his lapels being patted and looked down into the face of an older man wearing a tag that said, “Hi! I’m Horace!”
“Hi, I’m Horace,” he stated the obvious, grasping the Soupster’s hand and shaking it vigorously. “I’m new to these shores.”
“Hi, Horace” said the Soupster.
“Yup, this is some different place,” Horace said. “Where’s all the big box chain stores?
Don’t you have any big box chain stores?”
“Nope,” said the Soupster.
“Our bus driver said he was taking us all over town but we only went five or six miles one way and then seven or eight the other. That can’t be all the road you have.”
“Yup,” said the Soupster, zipping his lips so tight he could taste metal.
“And this rain I keep hearing about,” Horace plunged on. “It’s certainly not raining now.
Is it going to rain soon? Am I going to get wet? I mean, isn’t this town too nice to be built by people who get rained on every day?”
As the Soupster moaned silently, a beam of sunlight illuminated a break in the throng of tourists ahead. “Yup,” said the Soupster, shaking Horace’s hand. “Nope,” he added. And then the Soupster escaped.
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