Kickin' Back on the Kenai

A Higher Plane

After dinner don't forget to check the bioluminescence in the water.

Diane McBride issues that reminder as I and eleven fellow guests — a full house at Kachemack Bay Wilderness Lodge — prepare to dive into our nori-wrapped halibut with wasabi cream sauce. In 1969 Diane and her husband Mike boated from Homer to a then-uninhabited, undeveloped island peninsula across the bay. Twenty-nine years, one main lodge, and six satellite cabins (with communal sauna, solarium, and hot tub) later, they're still infatuated by their surroundings.

"There's so much stuff going on in this estuary," Mike exclaims as we move on to the summer berry cheese cake. "The water is just full of life."

The next morning he leads us on a low-tide walking tour of his beloved mudflats. It's like watching a 3-D environmental movie with McBride serving as our red-cellophane viewing glasses. All we're oblivious to, he sees: a hole an octopus burrowed in the mud ("He's like a beaver. He's actually sitting in a pool of water down there. He's made himself a dam."), the thumbnail-sized limpins that cling to jagged rocks ("These guys are little grazing animals. You can think of them as cows."), a strand of bull kelp ("This is the fastest growing plant in the world. This stuff can grow an inch an hour").

The McBrides have created a marvelous resort cum classroom. Mike is resident professor and a passionate polymath. He's on the board of the Smithsonian Institution and an elected fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. He's also a one-time bush pilot, deep-sea fisherman, and commercial abalone diver. His survival skills are such that he could probably fashion an emergency shelter out of dust balls.

"This is a powerful place," Mike says of Kachemak Bay. "It's in the soles of my feet."

Chris Day feels it too. She's a biologist based in Homer who frequently takes McBride's guests on fly-hikes to the remote alpine zone of Kachemak Bay State Park. She and I spend an afternoon exploring Kinikinak Lake. It's another 3-D movie treat. Day points out the white reindeer moss and bright red bear berry I'd normally stride by. She examines the seeds in a splat of old bear scat, then picks a willow rose bud and peels back the layers to show me where a wasp deposited its larvae for safekeeping.

"There's lots of neat country that people could get into," Day says, "but they're not sure it's here and they're afraid of it."

We scramble around the periphery of Duroshin Glacier with her dog Pete for four hours. Like Eddy the Advice Man, Day is a big fan of grizzly bears. Thinks they're misunderstood and unjustly maligned. We don't encounter any on our hike. I blow another chance to get elevated to a higher plane. I'll have to settle for a ride in one: I can hear the faint drone of Ken Day's Red Otter seaplane. He's coming to pluck his wife and me off a mountain.

"You could be either the first person or the last person on earth standing in a place like this," says Chris. "It's a real good feeling."

We are neither the first nor last people on earth. However, at this particular moment, in this rarefied place, we may be the luckiest.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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