Kirsten Dixon first came to Alaska in 1979 to work as an intensive care nurse, but quickly moved into Alaska's backcountry with her husband to run a fishing lodge, where she began her more than 30-year career as a chef. She attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, and earned a master's degree in gastronomy from Adelaide University in Australia. She and her husband raised two daughters in Alaska, with one following in Kirsten's culinary footsteps. Her third cookbook, "The Tutka Bay Lodge Cookbook -- Coastal Cuisine from the Wilds of Alaska," co-authored with her daughter Mandy, is due out on October 1.
This morning I am looking out over the steely ocean water of Tutka Bay toward Grace Ridge, the mountain that directly faces my bedroom window. Every morning, that view, a canvas of living art, changes - through moody light, to puffy clouds headed for elsewhere, sun that makes the water sparkle, and hills splashed with all the changing colors of each changing season.
I'm having a quiet cup of coffee, reflecting back on the past thirty-five years I've lived with you, Alaska, along with your wilderness and winters, wildlife and natural wonders. You've given me a most remarkable life.
I remember that youthful exhilaration and ambition my husband Carl and I had as we set out for parts unknown into your backcountry. We quit our jobs and moved to a piece of land along a river to start our family and our married lives together. I remember that old root cellar under our living room floor we had to climb down into to gather our carrots and cabbage in the winter. I remember the silhouette of Carl against the blue hue of winter light shoveling snow from the roof of our cabin, smoke from the woodstove curling up toward the sky. And, in the summer, when the river thawed, birds were everywhere and the salmon were leaping out of the water right in front of us. It might not have always been an easy life, but it was ours to define.
We raised two daughters, Carl and I, and they are proud to be born-and-raised Alaskans. Carly and Amanda learned to work hard, to be responsible, and to have a love of the natural world. The girls grew up playing along the river, at first splashing at each other in shallow pools, and later expertly driving jet boats up and down the deep fast moving currants to fish for salmon. Our daughters are starting their own families now and a new generation of Alaskans in my family are learning to appreciate that early morning light, the sound of loon song echoing over the lake, and fat fresh blueberries just picked from the bush.
Living in wild places has given Carl and me the freedom to invent who we had always wanted to be. I wanted to cook for people and so I have. Carl wanted to build my kitchen and he has done it several times over. Carl wanted a life lived close to nature and that is a value so central to our family, it's hard to remember when we lived any other way.
Now, guests from around the world come and stay with us at our two small wilderness lodges and we work hard to show them why we live here, why we care about this place so deeply. Carl wants to show our guests the blue pools of glacial waters just near the edge of the deep mountain pass. He wants to show them a moose grazing in the meadow. We both want visitors to understand what it feels like to stand on earth never touched by humans before. It's a powerful and moving moment. Carl and I can spend the rest of our lives just exploring the small corner of the vast place that Alaska is and never see or understand it all. You are a miracle that every American should experience.
I know you don't always reveal your secrets so easily. It's sometimes in those elusive and small perfect moments that Alaskans come to treasure you the most - a whale breeching or a glance upward to the northern lights, an animal track imprinted onto fresh spring snow, or a day spent on a mountain ridge so vast and high, it seems to be some mystic outdoor temple, at once ancient and alive.
Alaska, you have given me my life. You have given me untold moments of wonder and adventure. And, you've always made me feel special.