From Library Journal
- Harold M. Otness, Southern Oregon State Coll. Lib., Ashland
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From the Author
"There's no place like Homer."
(visiting the town of Homer, Alaska)
By William C. Anderson
Since I once wrote a book about our Last Frontier state called Taming Mighty Alaska, I get a lot of queries from folks who think I know more about the state than I do. But in response to their questions as to one of my favorite spots in Alaska, I have to answer, "Homer."
We first visited this fascinating village some 15 years ago, and a recent confab with Rochelle Smith, office manager of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, brought me up to speed on what is Going on there.
It all started around 1898 when a gent named Homer Pennock brought a group of dreamy-eyed gold seekers from Michigan to seek fame and fortune on a spit of land that thrusts out into Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Although fortune eluded Mr. Pennock, fame did not, for in searching for a name for the newly opened post office, Pennock volunteered his own, and thus the colorful town of Homer was born.
Homer might be just another nice little coastal town were it not for an interesting ganglion that leads out from town for some 5 1/2 miles into Kachemak Bay. It is this spit that makes Homer unique.
Although those gold seekers did not find the yellow flash in the pan they were seeking, they did find black gold that was theirs for the taking. In 1890, a coal mine was established at Bluff Point, and a railroad led to a dock at the end of the spit. Coal was shipped as far north as Anchorage, and the spit population swelled to several hundred hardy souls.
Then, in 1907, calamity struck. Nearly every building on the spit was destroyed by a fire resulting from a savage storm. The pioneers watched helplessly as everything on the spit turned to ashes. Not easily discouraged, the local citizenry in 1939 pitched in to erect a second Homer dock for the burgeoning fishing industry. But in 1947, a severe winter storm hit the peninsula and ice took out the new dock.
Once again they rebuilt, only to have the earthquake of 1954 level most of the buildings, and the spit itself dropped 6 feet. At high tide the outer end was an island. This would have disheartened most folks, but not the stalwart Alaskans of Homer.
The largest riprap ever used in Alaska was hewn from nearby shorelines to rebuild the sunken area. The $7 million project was completed in 1970. However, even this gargantuan project was no match for a combination of heavy seas and high tides that washed the spit out once again.
Bloody but unbowed, the citizens rebuilt the weakened section of the isthmus, using steel bulkheads to keep the bay at bay. This lasted until 1982, when a 100-foot section had a mysterious sinking spell. This time, giant concrete blocks were fabricated and used as armor against the unrelenting encroachments of tide and wave.
And so this tug of war continues between man's indomitable spirit and nature's relentless onslaughts. It is this kind of history grit and spirit that makes the citizenry of Alaska such a fascinating species.
The spit now hums as the center of Homer's social and business life, It sports a new $9 million dock facility, a small boat harbor, parking and camping areas for RVs, shops, restaurants, motels and a watering hole called the Salty Dog. All of this surrounds one of the best fishing holes in the whole state of Alaska.
We had stabled Rocinante, and fellow motorhomer Dean Montagne and I headed for the Salty Dog for a wee dollop of the dew.
As a writer, I learned long ago that there are two places to visit if one really wants to rake the pulse of a strange town: the local pub and the Laundromat (amid the clunk-clunking of tennis shoes rotating in the dryer, one can pick up more dirt than one deposits at the local suds sanctorum). The saloon on Homer's spit turned out to be not only a marvelous watering hole, but a veritable fountain of information.
As Montagne and I sipped the battery acid disguised as spiced grog, we were drawn into conversation with a native fisherman who sported a fly-bedecked hat and a warm glow. As he downed his drink and picked up his fishing pole, I asked him what he hoped to catch.
"Hope to catch a halibut," he said, "but probably won't. Did you hear about the guy who pulled out a 374-pound halibut from these waters?"
"So help me! Fish was too big for his aluminum fishing boat, so he hailed down a big skiff so he could land it. Finally it took a spear harpoon and five shots from a magnum pistol to get it to surrender. Now that's what I call fishin'."
"Fishing? Sounds more like a revolution. That must be a record for halibut."
"Nope. Over 400 pounds is the state record. That makes fish and chips for one helluva party"
"Well, maybe you'll go out and break the record today."
"No way But it don't matter none. It's just nice to get away from the squaw. But I always come home with something, even if it's an Irish lord."
"An Irish lord?" Montagne's ears perked up. "That's a fish I'm not familiar with."
"I call 'em skunk fish. You don't ever have to get skunked fishin', 'cause you can always catch an Irish lord."
"What kind of fish is that?" asked Montagne.
"Ugly I mean we're talkin' ugly with a big mouth. You catch one of these on yer hook and if it ain't one of yer in-laws, chances are it's an Irish lord."
"What do you use for bait?"
"Anything. Spoons, spinners, cigar butts, Jell-O; they love bologna sandwiches. Gleanin' one's a real hoot. Never know what you're gonna find inside. One time I found in its stomach a pack of cigarettes still in the unopened cellophane."
"I'll be hanged," said Montage. "That's what I call a real game fish."
"Yep. See you, gents."
As the fisherman shouldered his creel and picked his way through the imbibers toward the door, Montagne slapped his knee.
"Damn, I love this country!"
And the ensuing years have been kind to Homer. The spit has decided to behave itself and is acting like a spit should. The population has now swelled to some 4,205 hearty souls, who think nothing of shooing moose out of their gardens or relocating the brown bears bent on socializing over the back fence.
New lodges and RV parks have been built, both on the spit and on the plateau overlooking the bay Bike paths now stitch their way across the verdant flora that encompasses the residential area. It is elected as a nesting site by thousands of migrating shorebirds.
It do get a tad chilly at times; the last time I checked the temperature, they were having a warm snap and it was up to 2 degrees F. But no matter how cold it gets on the outside, the weather does not dampen the warmth and friendliness of the natives.
So on your next motorhome trip through Alaska, be sure and include Homer. It is unique, it is an absolute delight, and the moose have pretty well been discouraged from eating the golf balls on the two golf courses that the city boasts.
Last year the fishing derby came up with a $33,000 prize for the biggest halibut. So grab your fishing pole, and we'll meet you at the Salty Dog.
My ever-lovin' spouse is buying.