Taking in an Alaska talk

Dale Johnson commented and showed films on Alaska to members of the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association and their guests, On March 5. Lectures are held at the auditorium of McAuley High School on Stevens Avenue, Portland.

Johnson asked how many in the audience had been to Alaska, and many hands were raised, mine included. That pleased the speaker. Roberta Morrill and her husband have reservations for a trip to Alaska in August, and I spoke with Gertrude Parker in the lobby after the program. She said the lecture gave her many memories of the trip she and her late husband, David, had there several years ago.

I read in the “1997 World Almanac and Book of Facts” that early inhabitants of Alaska were the Tongit-Haidi people and tribes of the Athabascan family. The Aleut and Inuit (Eskimo), who arrived about 4,000 years ago from Siberia, lived in the coastal areas. Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer working for Russia, was the first European to land in Alaska, in 1741. The first permanent Russian settlement was established on Kodiak Island in 1784. In 1799, the Russian-American Co. controlled the region, and the first chief manager, Aleksandr Baranov, set up headquarters at Archangel near present-day Sitka. Secretary of State William H. Seward bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million in 1867, a bargain some called “Seward’s Folly.”In 1896 gold was discovered in the Klondike region, and the famed gold rush began. Alaska became a territory in 1912.

The films showed the audience many mountains, including beautiful shots of the highest peak in North America, Mount McKinley, now called Denali, the Indian name meaning “The High One” or “The Great One.” The many animals we saw included the red fox, caribou (with their tall antlers), polar bears, grizzlies, wolves and moose. The first city we saw was Anchorage, with its high buildings, international airport, many restaurants and hotels. Next was Fairbanks, the second largest community, where the University of Alaska is located. It also has an international airport. The state capitol, Juneau, cannot be reached by road, only by sea and air. I have read recently that the present governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, wants to have the capital moved to a more accessible location. That possibility of moving the location was voted down in 1974.

We also saw scenes of several remote areas, with fishermen pulling in huge salmon.

It’s quite possible that people attending this lecture will want to plan a trip to Alaska, so fascinating was the lecture and films.

I was pleased to see an old friend, Barbara Seaman, who used to hike on the trips several of us enjoyed, led by Joe Kocknavate. She is now living at Piper Shores, in Scarborough.

Taking in a trails talk

Nan Cumming spoke March 7 to the Westbrook Historical Society on the mission of Portland Trails and explained the current plans for trails in Westbrook. She had two maps of trails on display and had brochures on trails to pass out to members.

Cumming is the executive director of Portland Trails, a private nonprofit land trust with a mission to save open spaces and build a network of multi-use trails throughout Greater Portland.

Before coming to Portland Trails seven years ago, Nan enjoyed a lively museum career, first at the Whitney Museum in New York City and then as museum curator and assistant director of the Maine Historical Society. She received her master’s in American and New England Studies at the University of Southern Maine, writing a thesis entitled “Fin de Siecle Diana: The New Woman Discovers the Maine Woods,” an examination of urban women and the back-to-nature movement at the turn of the century. Based on this work, Nan wrote a chapter in “Of Place and Gender: Women in Maine History,” which was published by the Maine Press in March 2005. Nan lives with her husband, Drew Masterman, on Munjoy Hill, Portland. She walks to work every day, is an avid hiker and swimmer, and ran her second marathon last year.

The brochures described the hiking trails and their locations: Walton Park on the Presumpscot River in Falmouth, Back Bay in Portland, Capisic Pond Park in Portland, the boat put-in in Riverton, in the park property there, and the trails being explored beside the Presumpscot River in Westbrook. She said her group has recently purchased land along the river where the Haskell Silk Mill was located.

Walking is such good exercise, and helps keep to a minimum many of our health problems as we age. To have these trails develop in Westbrook will benefit many residents.

At the refreshment hour after the program, three members baked these: Yum Yum Cake, Nancy Curran; lemon cake, Lucille Waite; and coconut cookies, Ellie Saunders.

Member Al Waite told me to be sure to take a slice of the lemon cake, and another slice for my husband, as he knew how good they were – his wife had made them. I had made the Yum Yum Cake last week, and printed that recipe in the column. Nancy Curran’s husband, Phil, told me, with a smile, that he had gained three pounds, after eating that cake!

Members enjoy that social hour, and a chance to look over the gifts and other acquisitions in the museum collection.

Soapstone sequel

I had written about soapstones in last week’s column, asking if anyone had information about them. My Westbrook friend, Ellie Saunders, sent an article to me from a 1975 book, “Price Guide to Country Antiques and American Primitives,” by Dorothy Hammond. It included pictures of a boot warmer and a griddle, both of soapstone. The article said:

“Soapstone is a soft rock having a bluish-gray smooth appearance that not only feels slick to the touch, but actually resembles soap. It is from these characteristics that it derives its name. Soapstone is a very durable mineral that is heat-resistant, non-absorbent, and takes a high polish.

Large amounts of soapstone existed in the coastal regions of our country during the early years. The colonists quickly learned that pieces could easily be turned on the lathe, or cut with saws and knives. As a result, a variety of useful objects were produced, including pans, kettles, lamps, inkwells, foot warmers, as well as egg-shaped hand warmers, boot warmers, stoves, round and oblong griddles. Also, there were a few novelty items which are of much interest to collectors of this ware”.

Southern comfort

We enjoy sweet potatoes baked. Here is a recipe for sweet potato pie that sounds interesting. It is from the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, in Georgia. The title is “Open Books, Open Minds, Open Doors”.


2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (about 3 medium)

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup evaporated milk (heat until warm)

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pastry for single crust, unbaked pie shell

Mix together the mashed sweet potatoes and orange juice. Add sugar and eggs; beat until smooth. Add butter and milk. Stir well; add nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, lemon extract and salt. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for at least 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean and crust is nicely browned. Serve warm with whipped cream.

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