"Alaska's Magnificent Isolation"

An Alaskan Short Story Adventure by Alaskan Artist Dianne Roberson
Knik Glacier
Painting at Knik Glacier Icebergs


 As the boat raced along the Knik River, I watched the distant horizon with intense concentration that was heightened
by a silence enforced by ear muffs we were required to wear to protect our ears from the boat’s engine.  Occasionally I
braced my camera against the side of the boat as I leaned out the open window and took a picture of the passing
mountains or elusive wildlife, but I shot these photos quickly as I was anxious to see the much lauded glacier.  Knik
Glacier, twenty-eight miles long, in places six miles wide, and over one thousand feet thick, is located approximately
one hour north of Anchorage, Alaska.  I had been painting the glaciers in Alaska all year and wanted to add this
glacier to my growing series of glacier portraits.  My neighbor, Tom took me up the Knik River in his airboat.  Departing
about 9 a.m. from Buck Shot Rd. where Tom’s log cabin visitor’s center is located, we traveled seven miles up the Knik
River into the road less wilderness to experience great views of the Chugach Mountains at the Lake George National
Natural Landmark.  
 We passed deep blue icebergs floating down river and out to sea.  Some of the icebergs were dirty and encrusted
with black rocks, while other icebergs were bright blue with very few rocks. As the boat entered Knik Lake huge
icebergs floated by the boat.  It had been about a twenty minute boat ride to reach the lake.  The boat slowed to a
crawl as Tom maneuvered it through the huge chunks of ice and I was able to take off my ear muffs while he gave me
some historical facts about the area.  We cruised around mammoth icebergs and traveled two miles along the glacier’s
face, then pulled ashore at glacier camp.  The morning sun sparkled on the ice, giving me hopes of a bright sunny day
ahead.
 We got off the boat at the foot of a rocky hill next to the face of the glacier and climbed the hill to the camp.  I needed
to set up my easel and paints while Tom must to return to his visitors’ center.   I watched, with excitement, as the boat
pulled away from the glacier, but I must admit to a little apprehension at being all alone in this road less wilderness.  
When the boat was out of sight, I tried my cell phone just to see if I could use it in an emergency.  After all, bears
raiding my garbage, wolves howling in the night, and moose munching on the bushes were common place around my
studio near Knik River Road.  Today I had no one to cover my back when I got lost in the painting, as I always do.  The
cell phone was of no use; a signal was not available.  I would just have to pay attention to my surroundings today.
 It stared out a sunny day as sunny as Alaska days can be this time of year.  There were several patches of blue in
the sky and no breeze at all as noon approached.  Feeling hunger pains, I climbed on the enormous rock with my
oatmeal bar and looked over the area to make sure I had picked the best painting spot.  After looking around, I knew it
didn’t matter.  Every spot was the best.  The view was magnificent.  Straight in front of me the face of the Knik Glacier
glistened, with a field of huge icebergs in front of it reaching the bottom of the hill where I perched.  I had been
informed that the dirty icebergs with rocks all over them had been traveling for many years, accumulating debris as
they moved along.  The clean bright blue icebergs were the ones that had recently flipped over. Oh, it was peaceful
now!  The sun was warm on my skin and just enough of a breeze had begun to blow.  There were no flies or
mosquitoes to bother me and I began to hope Tom would forget to come back for me today.
 I could see the Knik Glacier reaching off into the distance and joining Colony Glacier. High in the mountains behind
these glaciers light blue ice reflecting sun rays glistened off hanging glaciers.  Laying back on the rock, I watched as
clouds began to move in.  The turquoise sky became laced with gray slow-moving clouds breaking the streaks of
golden sunlight.  I marveled at the depth of my vision into the heavens and leisurely observed the multitudes of layers
in its atmosphere.  
 My pallet was simple, and I painted fast, wanting to record the colors and the passion of this wild untouched work of
nature.  There would be time enough for line work and details when I was back in my studio, for now, I wanted to paint
as if I was making music, following the rhythms of the wind and light.  After I had painted two different views of the
glacier on wood panels, it began to rain lightly, just enough to make rain drops on my painting, which despite my fast
drying acrylics, began to streak.  I put my brushes and paint into my back pack, covered my painting board, but left my
easel up in hopes the rain would blow over.
 Exploring the area with my cameras seemed like a good idea.  I needed some exercise and was curious to see the
views down river. It was rough walking.  Gravel and loose sand on a hilly terrain made me glad I had worn rubber sole
tennis shoes.  The hills were spotted with gold and red wild flowers.  Sandhill cranes hollered in the sky as they flew
toward the distant mountains.  Dark clouds were moving in, bringing a heavy drizzle as the winds became more
intense.  I especially was eager to walk across the icebergs that lay like stair steps to the solid looking mass of ice on
the glacier’s face, but Tom had warned me that the icebergs could flip when I stepped on them.  It was too dangerous
he warned, “Stay on the land.”  Still, I wasn’t taking cover in the tent at camp.  I wouldn’t waste a minute of this day
inside a tent.  A folding chair from the camp was all I needed at my painting spot.          
 Pulling the hood of my jacket up over my head, I propped my feet on a good size rock and enjoyed watching nature
change the sky and water as the hours passed.  The glaciers in the distance were fogged in and I saw the Sandhill
Cranes flying back, or trying to.  They were flying in a v shaped formation and seemed to be undecided as to who was
leader.  I could see the three cranes near the point of each v changing places, as if challenging each other.  Maybe no
one could stay lead for long because of the strong wind that kept pushing them back.  About 4 p.m., it started getting
colder; as I searched the sky for breaks in the clouds I could see patches of blue toward Anchorage.  Occasionally the
sun would dart through and beam a glaring ray off the glacier ice, breaking the gray fog like a magic wand.  As I
watched the variations that nature gave my day, my thoughts wandered to the universe.  I felt so insignificant amidst
this display produced after thousands of years of evolution.  Finally I had taken the time from my busy life to see my
surroundings; which in several hours of total emersion lead me to feel these awesome surroundings and explore their
connection with my physical and mental existence.  The longer I sat alone near the top of the world in the wilderness,
the more I became serene, relaxed.
 Large waves rippled through the water getting my attention fast.  Suddenly roaring thunder startled me.  The thunder
was not coming from the sky, but from the water.  It was followed by a big splash and right in front of me a big chunk of
a huge iceberg broke off into the lake, flipped over, and sailed down river.  The rain had stopped and I took out my
paints and brushes rushing to record in paint the action I had seen.  Quickly my brushes flew over the painting board
with bold strokes of whites, blues, and grays.  I was painting the power of nature as I had witnessed it minutes before.  
These paintings were my field notes, the emotions and colors my camera couldn’t record for me.  Even though the rain
had stopped, the wind was becoming stronger and I had to paint with one hand on the easel to keep it from blowing
over and the other hand with painting with rapid brush strokes before my moment disappeared.  Satisfied with the
results, I packed my supplies and returned to the top of the hill as darkness approached and the storm grew stronger.
 All too soon, I heard the hum of the airboat engine.   I laughed when Tom ask if I thought he had forgotten me.  He
was anxious to depart because of the high winds and it was starting to rain very hard.  Reluctantly, I hopped on the
boat, my eyes glued to the magnificent Knik Glacier as we pulled away.  The winds were taking control of the airboat
and it was apparent that Tom was struggling to maneuver the boat as the winds pushed us toward the iceberg.  I was
clinging to the window and unable to hear his warning shout because of the ear muffs when I was jolted to the floor as
the airboat rammed into a big iceberg and slid up the slick icy slope.  The boat turned on its left side for an instant,
that seemed to halt the action, and then it reversed its forward motion and slid back down the iceberg with a splash
into the lake again.  The rain being mixed with sleet was cold and hard as it fell on our faces powered by the strong
wind the rain cut our skin before its icy stones melted.  Tom expertly maneuvered the boat through the icebergs as he
fought rough water and high winds and brought us safely to his dock. It was only after the motor was silent and we
were safe on his land that Tom let me know he was stressed.  The Knik Glacier and surrounding icebergs were so
magnificent that I was mesmerized by their beauty ignoring my fear and discomfort.  


Dianne Roberson is a free-lance artist, writer, and photographer who works from her studio in Palmer, Alaska and on
line at:  
http://www.artworldplus.com where you can view her prints and original paintings.
Dianne Roberson |    Palmer, Alaska  99645  

Phone:  907-775-4229  |   E-Mail:  
 dianne@artworldplus.com
Copyright 2003       ©  Dianne Roberson    All rights reserved.