Paula Krebs, 83, pilots her boat, the Turquoise Lady, in Prince William Sound. The boat is her way of staying close to wild places. Courtesy MaryLee Hayes.
Directions to Paula Krebs’ unusual summer home include a drive through a 2 ½-mile tunnel that is shared by both trains and vehicles, the longest in the world. The tunnel opens to the scenic mountains that surround the tidewater community of Whittier.
At the end of a dock in the small boat harbor, a golden husky by the name of Kanuti suns himself. He is tethered to a boat, the Turquoise Lady, and waves his big tail in greeting. Inside, 83-year-old Paula Krebs is doing what boat captains do: reading nautical charts, repairing the vessel, or gazing at the wild shoreline of Prince William Sound. This is her home.
Krebs is one of the many women profiled in the book Alaska Women Speak: An Anthology of Photographs, Art, and Words from the Journals, 1992-2017. Besides being featured in the book, Krebs was also the quarterly journal’s food editor for 28 years. On the day we met, she was waiting for two friends, the editors of the anthology, MaryLee Hayes and Angie Slingluff. Krebs planned to take them boating. These women have a history together and much of it is woven through the pages of Alaska Women Speak. Hayes and Slingluff were early editors of the quarterly journal that continues its publication today.
Now a retired professor with a Ph.D. in plant ecology, Krebs came to Alaska in the 1970s. It was an era when women’s roles were changing. She worked with NASA for the University of Alaska to map the vegetation of Alaska by satellite. The job took her to wild places all over the state. When Krebs was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1985, she could not imagine a life without being immersed in wilderness. Her illness ended her backcountry sojourns by foot and backpack, but she was not deterred. She bought a 25-foot, Swedish-made Albin and learned to pilot it. The waters of Prince William Sound became her new place to explore. It wasn’t long before she became a Coast Guard Auxiliary instructor, teaching boating skills to hundreds of students over the years.
Krebs also became well-known for her cooking. She has sourdough starter dating back to 1902. A recipe for sourdough bread and starter is one of the entries in the anthology.
From poets to painters, essayists to photographers, Krebs is an example of the rich variety of women’s voices featured in the journal over the years. Themes included topics like “Cabins I’ve Loved,” “Faking It,” and “Baggage.” Hayes and Slingluff were always delighted to read the range of submissions for each theme.
The anthology also documents some of the history of feminism in Alaska, beginning with the first women’s feminist conference in 1989. Many of the writers, artists, and photographers are well-known Alaskan celebrities. Others are everyday women who had a story to tell or a poem to share. All told, with nearly 300 contributors, the anthology is a testament to the grit and creativity of women of the North.
One contributor, journalist Rhonda McBride, remarked, “It’s said the shortest distance between two people is a story. … Over the years, Alaska Women Speak has been the glue, connecting women through its photographs, essays, and poems—which have not only helped women find support and inspiration but also served as a reminder that being a woman in this great state with all of its uniquely Alaska challenges, is worth celebrating.”