In The Last Wilderness: Alaska’s Rugged Coast (Fulcrum 2013), Michael McBride shares his own story and that of his family. The memoir is also the story of Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, which is situated across the eponymous bay at an angle from the town of Homer, Alaska.
Homer is a thriving community that was discovered by artists, hippies and end-of-the-roaders in the 1960s. Many of them never left. One of the colorful characters who found his way to Homer about forty years ago was Michael McBride. With his wife, Diane, he built a home and a guest lodge out of the raw maritime wilderness. The McBrides still operate Kachemak Bay IWilderness Lodge with the help of the next generation of their family.
I have been fortunate to meet Michael a few times and to stay at his lodge with my wife and close friends. As a result, it is admittedly difficult to separate my feelings about the book from my experience at the lodge. But in the end, why should they be separate?
Michael is a passionate advocate for wilderness conservation and a compelling storyteller. Reading the book, which is written in a conversational style, is to rekindle memories of sitting on the deck with Michael, listening to him spin his yarns with just the right touch of the blarney. I won’t give it away, but the story of the 40-foot log, which is now “fine-sanded, amber-colored, oiled and polished” and holds up the roof in the lodge’s dining room, is almost as endearing in the book as it is in person, although lacking the benefit of Diane's colorful side commentary.
All of Michael’s energy and enthusiasm was needed to survive, let alone thrive as he has done, in the maritime wilderness of Kachemak Bay. He and Diane had to learn on the job, living and learning in true pioneer fashion. They have had a rough, but enormously rich, life that shines through his storytelling.
With these depths of personal accomplishment, it is all the more fitting that Michael never fails to thank the many friends who helped him along in the early years. He is equally sincere in honoring the history and traditions of First Peoples who inhabited the area that recent Eurocentric arrivals deemed to be a wilderness.
Subsistence hunting and gathering yield a significant part of the McBride family’s food resources, and Michael quotes a local aphorism that “when the tide is out, the table is set.” Kachemak Bay provides the McBrides with a plethora of clams, crabs, octopuses, sea urchins and other crustaceans, bivalves and, of course, fish. The Bay has some of the highest tides anywhere and the pools exposed by their ebbing contain a bountiful harvest.
My favorite personal memory of staying at the lodge involved arising early one morning to harvest buckets of fresh mussels on the rocky beach at low tide. The chef cooked them up later in the day with a heavy dose of butter and garlic. The mussels made a delightful al fresco repast, nicely paired with a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc, as our group lounged on the deck, looking out over the inlet of the Bay, savoring the long lingering afternoon.
Anyone who has been to Michael’s lodge, anyone who would like to, and anyone who just enjoys a good read about nature and the pioneer spirit, narrated by a master storyteller, should read this book.
Want to read more about Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge? You can find their website at www.AlaskaWildernessLodge.com. You can also check out the discussion of Kachemak Bay at my new website, www.AccessibleWilderness.com, which is a first-time visitor's guide to a road-accessible wilderness vacation in Alaska, using Anchorage as a base.