In the novel, Spirit Made Smaller, most of the settings occur in Anchorage, Alaska. I’ve selected a handful of facts for readers who may wish to know more regarding this city and its environment.
Anchorage sits along the coast of Cook Inlet at the base of the Chugach Mountains. It is as far north as Helsinki, Finland and as far west as Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1778, while searching for the elusive Northwest Passage, Captain James Cook explored the waterway that downtown Anchorage now borders — the Cook Inlet. When his ships had reached another dead end at the southern arm of this channel, he named it “Turnagain” because the vessels had to “turn” around “again.”
Mudflaps encompass the tidelands beneath Turnagain Arm. At low tide, the inlet is nearly void of water, and the mudscape appears serene and solid … BUT IT’S NOT! THESE MUDFLATS BEHAVE LIKE QUICKSAND! Intrepid mudflat walkers have perished when trapped, unable to free their legs — tragically drowned by the incoming tide. (Note to crime writers: consider a mudflap drowning as a novel means behind a murder.)
Nearly 300,000 people live within the city limits, and close to a hundred languages are spoken in the Anchorage School District. There are 19 hours, 21 minutes of daylight in summer; yet only five hours, 28 minutes in winter. The average July temperature is 58.4F; in January, 14.9F. Average snowfall is 69 inches.
Anchorage has more than 120 miles of paved bike and multi-use trails and 85 miles of summer non-paved hiking paths. In winter, residents enjoy more than 130 miles of plowed walkways and over 100 miles of groomed trails — 24 miles that are lighted. Anchorage’s Kincaid Park is certified for international Nordic ski competitions.
Besides Anchorage being the starting point for the annual Iditarod dogsled race every March, another main winter attraction is viewing the Aurora Borealis from September to mid-April. The best conditions are clear, moonless nights away from city lights when high magnetic activity is forecast. Auroras result when charged particles from the sun stream into the earth’s upper atmosphere. The earth’s magnetic field channels this “solar wind” toward the poles where they strike molecules of atmospheric gas and make them glow, producing the aurora. The color of auroras depends on which gas molecules are being excited and varies by altitude: ionized nitrogen at 250 miles above the earth = violet; juiced up oxygen atoms at 185 miles = red; charged nitrogen and oxygen at 65 miles = red and green.
Berry picking has always been a summertime attraction around Anchorage. In “Spirit Made Smaller,” the main character, Gharrett Graywood, and his son, Bobby, often went to Hatcher Pass, a large blueberry picking spot north of the city. They’d drive 43 miles north on the Glenn Highway and turn west onto Palmer-Fishhook Road. They entered prime blueberry picking country once this road to Hatcher Pass elevated above the tree line.
Closer to home, Graywood and Bobby also gathered wild berries at Prospect Heights, Chugach State Park. The park’s entrance can be reached by taking Upper O’Malley Road to Prospect Drive. In the wooded areas along the trails they’d first discover lowbush and highbush cranberries, trailing raspberries, and currants. As they proceeded toward Wolverine Peak, they’d find ample blueberries hugging the alpine slopes.
The find more locations and events around Anchorage, please visit those described in “Spirit Made Smaller.”