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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cloud Gazers

John works at the Hotel Captain Cook as a wine steward, and when he wandered into the gallery tonight he was truly baffled that in my year with Stephan’s he’d never seen me before.

That was how our dialogue began. With disbelief.

In answer to my question of which painting was his favorite, John indicated an original oil by Tom Missell, the subject matter of which is clouds. I concurred, citing it as my personal favorite. But then, I apologetically explained, I am a cloud-gazer.

He turned to me, startled. “You too? Ah, she’s a poet. Have you seen tonight’s clouds? Sunset is going to be a doozy.”

Ah, a fellow cloud-gazer. I met another one recently, also at the gallery over the very same Tom Missell painting.

Then he pointed to “Turnagain Treasure” by Charles Gause and said this was a painting he must have before he moves this fall. I replied that it is so far the only painting of Gause I’ve collected. Again, a weird moment of symbiosis.

It is sometimes scary to meet someone with whom you so totally, instantly connect. I made very sure to talk-up my children and marriage.

It turns out John has four children too. Two are in their twenties, two are teens.

Having just finished reading “Into Thin Air” by Krakauer, I felt compelled to blurt the question/comment: “So, you’re a climber.”

He again looked startled. “How did you know?”

“You look like one.”

He didn’t require further clarification, but took for granted that we both agreed it was true. John is very tall and very thin and very tan and his short hair sticks straight up in the air. He wears rumpled clothes, but they are clearly of the highest quality (Carhartts, North Face, etc.) with real-life wear and tear. He’s also got raccoon eyes from then-absent sunglasses. A dead giveaway. If you’ve ever drank beer in Talkeetna in mid-summer, next to a table full of climbers fresh (and I do mean FRESH) off Denali, then you’ll know what I mean.

John admitted he doesn’t do more than day hikes anymore. The days of invincibility are over. As he’s gotten older (40’s, maybe? – I never asked) he admitted to increased fearfulness about life.

“You are fearful,” I said, “for the same reason you stare at the clouds.”

He looked at me quizzically.

I further explained: “Cloud gazers have vivid imaginations.”

Boy, is THAT ever an understatement. But after a moment’s thought, he agreed.

It turns out John is also a book reader. He threw down the gauntlet when he suggested he is a more maniacal reader than I am.

“Well,” I bragged, as only I can, “I have bought over 200 books in the past six weeks.”

He was shaken. What? Where? How?

“Library book sale, as a jumping-off point.”

He asked me my favorite author, and the most profoundly affecting book I’d read recently. I was blank. Where is my book journal when I need it? I am helpless without it. It is both a weapon and an elixir. I failed that challenge miserably.

John wanted to recommend a couple of titles to me, specifically from Robertson Davies and William Boyd.

“Oh,” I said, “I have some books from them.”

“You have books from them that you haven’t read?” John couldn’t seem to grasp this concept. Clearly he needed a bit more clarification.

“John, I have over 1,000 books I haven’t read yet.”

John laughed and said, “You are crazy. That’s great.” He seemed genuinely pleased.

I win!
So that was one of the interesting experiences I had tonight at work. One I don’t want to forget. And, on the drive home, I got to enjoy the most beautiful sunset of my life.


At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only in Alaska.... You have such a cool job!-k

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How interesting! My parents went to Alaska a few years ago and stayed in the Hotel Captain Cook. Small world. I ran across your blog address from librarything.com. You write well. I've enjoyed reading a few of your bloggings.


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