Steve Kahn and Anne Coray enjoy dinner for two at Browns, their favorite Lake Clark dining establishment. Photo by Steve Kahn.
There is absolutely nothing funny about the COVID-19 pandemic, so why were my wife, Anne, and I chuckling? It’s because, while many people struggle with social isolation, we hardly noticed a difference in our lives. Living on the north shore of Lake Clark, far from the road system, we’ve been in training for years without knowing it.
We were year-round residents for the better part of two decades, and for the past six years, we’ve split our time between Lake Clark and Homer. Misanthropes we are not—we like people and have friends both here at the lake and in town. Someday we’ll be cashing in with alacrity on deferred hugs. But for now, it is mostly just the two of us.
This summer we saw our neighbors, who live miles away up and down the lake shore, rarely if at all—and then only from a safe distance. Only four boats brought people we knew to our bay. Anne remarked how this summer reminded her of winters past. Not temperature or darkness-wise, but in the dearth of social contact. September brought even less activity, as summer residents boarded up their cabins and left for the season. But we know this feeling well. The place feels lonelier, but wilder in a good way. It is a more challenging and intimate time for us, both in terms of our relationship to one another and to the increasing harsh demands of living in the bush.
In the winters we spent here, I’d fly to get our mail two or three times a month. I normally would see only a few people each trip, but Anne, who kept the cabin warm, sometimes didn’t visit anyone but me for months at a time. Anne once mentioned this to someone she met at a party and the woman replied, “Oh, I couldn’t stand to be with my husband that much!”
Entertainment options are generally self-sourced. We play Scrabble, dust off the guitar and songbooks, and have written a few songs and screenplays together. Since we don’t retrieve our mail often, our Netflix subscription equates to a movie a month. I am a tad embarrassed to admit we’ve dressed up for Halloween a couple of times with absolutely no one to entertain except ourselves.
Our books fall into three categories: his, hers, and ours. For decades we’ve selected a book to read aloud together. Anne will read to me while I stretch on the floor, play with the dog, or do dishes. Lately, our reading comes late at night, and nodding off (on both parts) often leads to pop quizzes the next morning to find out when the other person’s attention was sucked into the pillow.
But even the smallest deviation from our well-grooved daily routines can refresh attitudes and rekindle appreciation of place and each other. Restoring Brown Carlson’s historic log cabin has been a years-long project—as in eight summers’ worth. Though not completely finished, the cabin has an ambiance that welcomes us inside. Its hand-hewed log walls reflect the pioneer spirit and resilience of the first permanent Euroamerican settler in this area. We like the feel of the place more than we ever thought we would. Nowadays, instead of pressuring ourselves to finish the window trim or build more shelving, we simply enjoy hanging out there.
Dinner at Brown’s
Going out to eat is usually a rare treat saved for our time on the civilized side of the mountains, but when I suggested we have dinner at Brown’s cabin we both locked in on the idea. I must confess a momentary pang of something akin to laziness. Dinner prep, clean up, and dressing up become more involved and less appealing the older I get. But I have to ask myself which evening meals I best remember—a hearty but often duplicated stew or vegetable stir-fry savored in the warmth of our cabin, or steamed grouse breasts and potatoes roasted in the coals of a campfire as an impromptu dinner on a nearby island?
We often pass a baton of enthusiasm in order to bust up the routine. On this occasion, Anne took charge, and made reservations for two at Brown’s. We selected an entree of smothered black bear burritos. She baked a rhubarb cake, decorated it with wild geraniums, and put on a skirt. I picked out a clean shirt and chilled a bottle of white wine in the nearby mountain stream.
It was a five-star experience. I thought the waitress was cute; Anne appreciated the attentiveness of the wine steward, and she remarked on his dashing mustache. We are pretty confident we can get the table by the window next time we call for reservations.