"Alaska is a fairyland in the magic beauty of its mountains and waters. The virgin freshness of this wilderness and its utter isolation are a constant source of inspiration.
Remote and free from contact with man, our life is simplicity itself." — Rockwell Kent, from "Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska, 1918-1919. "
For more than 100 years Alaska's Fox Island has provided the perfect place to get away from it all. On Aug. 28, 1918, an all but unknown American artist and illustrator named Rockwell Kent set sail in a small boat from the port of Seward, Alaska.
Accompanied by his 9 year-old son, Rockwell Jr., the two headed into the vast inlet of Resurrection Bay in search of some remote island where they could live together for the following seven months.
"A calm, blue summer's day — and we rowed upon our search. Somewhere there must stand awaiting us, as we pictured it, a little forgotten cabin, one that some prospector or fisherman had built. ... We come to this new land, a boy and a man, entirely on a dreamer's search; having had vision of a Northern Paradise, we came to find it."
Their quest ended when they discovered Fox Island.
Fast-forward to Aug. 18, 2011. Just as it had been for Rockwell Kent and his son almost a century before, the sky was bright blue over Seward as my friend and I boarded our boat, the Coastal Explorer.
A sleek craft capable of carrying up to 100 passengers, she was a good deal more commodious than the Kents' dory. But our goal was the same magical spot where they had eventually landed — Fox Island.
Their home had been a refurbished wood cabin that had previously sheltered the small herd of goats that were tended by the island's only other inhabitant, an old Swedish homesteader named Olson. He also raised foxes in the manner that had given the island its name.
Our accommodations would be considerably more luxurious — the Kenai Fjord's Wilderness Lodge and its eight comfortably outfitted cabins.
Here is how Kent describes the moment when he saw Fox Island for the first time: "It was truly sheer-sided and immense, and for all we could discover harborless; till in a moment rounding the great headland of its northern end the crescent arms of the harbor were about us — and we were there.
What a scene! Twin lofty mountain masses flanked the entrance and from the back of these the land dipped downwards like a hammock swung between them, its lowest point behind the center of the crescent.
A clean and smooth, dark pebbled beach went all around the bay, the tide line marked with driftwood, gleaming, bleached bones of trees, fantastic roots and then the deep, black spaces of the forest."
Today Fox Island looks almost exactly as Kent described it, though the former cabins have long been reclaimed by nature. In their place stand the public and private sections of the lodge, which is managed by the tribally owned CIRI Alaska Tourism Corp.
The corporation's goal is to maintain the serene, isolated beauty of the island while offering a variety of options.
The majority of visitors arrive at Fox Island as part of a Kenai Fjords day cruise. They disembark, stay a few hours, enjoy a salmon feed in the spacious dining hall or on the sunny deck, hop back onto their boat and sail away. Those who choose to stay, as we did for two wonderful nights, enjoy a very different experience.
After being greeted and checked in, guests are escorted down the rocky path that skirts the shore to one of the eight cabins that lie nestled among the pines between the pebbled shore and the island's small freshwater lake.
Rustic but comfortably designed, these cabins provide ample room for relaxing, either indoors or on the outdoor patios that face the bay.
Overnight guests are treated to their own separate facilities. These include the lodge with its friendly living room and fireplace for chilly nights and dining room where freshly cooked dinners and breakfasts are served.
Then, after the last boat of the day has departed, the staff traditionally builds a campfire on the beach (weather permitting) where guests are invited to gather and share in a round of s'mores as the long Alaskan summer twilight fades. The effect is to feel blissfully marooned.
Rockwell Kent was an avid follower of Henry David Thoreau, and his goal was to attain a simplified, hermitlike existence that would put him more closely in touch with the spirit of nature. He found that simplicity on Fox Island.
His days were taken up with the task of clearing trees, weatherproofing the cabin and producing the succession of paintings and drawings that would eventually illustrate his journal.
"I wonder if you can imagine what fun pioneering is. To be in country where the fairest spot is yours for wanting it, to cut and build your own home out of the land you stand upon."
Of course Fox Island is not nearly as isolated as it was when the Kent staked his claim to it. But visitors who leave the beach and the day boat visitors behind and venture off on one of the island's root-tangled trails can find themselves totally alone, free to enjoy the sound of water in the creek, the rustle of wind in the pines, the blue expanse of sea below and the cry of a soaring eagle above.
Exposed as it is, Fox Island is subject to the vicissitudes of weather that pound the Kenai Peninsula. The rain can be incessant, particularly in winter, bringing with it high seas. For this reason the Kents found themselves island-locked for weeks, even months at a time.
Visitors between June and August, however, are likely to experience the Alaskan summer at its best. And aboard one of the CIRI Corp.'s fleet of cruise boats they can enjoy a close-up view of the peninsula's abundant wildlife, which includes whales, dolphins, orcas, otters and massive seabird rookeries.
Most overnight stays on Fox Island include a day cruise to one of the region's magnificent glacier inlets known as Kenai Fjords.
"And now at last it is over. Fox Island will soon become in our memories like a dream or vision, a remote experience too wonderful, for the full liberty we knew there and the deep peace, to be remembered or believed in as a real experience in life.
It was for us life as it should be, serene and wholesome: love — but no hate, faith without disillusionment, the absolute for the toiling hands of man and his soaring spirit. "
For me two days on Fox Island was hardly enough. Looking at the remains of the wooden cabin where Rockwell Kent and his son spent that year of revelation, I know I must return.
WHEN YOU GO
Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge offers special packages that include lodging plus sea kayaking and wildlife glacier cruises: 877-777-4053 or www.kenaifjordslodge.com.
To read the book before you go: "Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska" by Rockwell Kent, Wesleyan University Press, 1996.
Jim Farber is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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