Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Coldman Cometh

Is the memoir of Dr. Robert "Jungle Bob" Durr who I ran into in 1976 at Chase Alaska on a homesteading mission for a neighboring landowner, or lease holder from the 1968 open to entry land program. I was too late for that myself, but Durr, already roaming the country since 1963 was well-positioned to acquire this land at Back Lake. I never saw his lake as the Durrs were snobbish to anyone who dared venture into their territory and we, just like #1 son Steve had it turns out, inhabited the cabin near the tracks at the invitation of Rick La Francis when we weren't living at the greenhouse on Nita Kaufman's property. Sure, I have a personal beef with the Durr's after the chilly reception we got from the first family of Chase, and so I can relate to the newcomers who he leaves out of his story. For Bob Durr they aren't really there, which was my impression at the time.

In that vein, it's a strange place; very cliquish. My book has more of this and the lead chapter is online, but Durr rambles here; prone to literary cliches and superficial skimming of the difficulties faced in building his place and even more important, acquiring the money to stay there and buy the new Arctic Cats I saw him driving during my brief winter stay in Chase.

"I don't know where the money came from," he writes concerning his first chainsaw. Really? I sure would, and do vividly. Of course in those days most including myself were stoners, but still, what this book lacks is the day to day struggle to get supplies and pay for them. Does he intend to just hang out on a biologically dead lake(the one detail I enjoyed hearing: no feeder streams due to an earthquake) until the end? Did he ever use his Ph.D to get work locally teaching or whatnot? What about the last thirty years? The New York literary world was just waiting with open arms because of his former literary professorship at Syracuse? And how do sons Stevie and Jon, two scruffy marginal local musicians at the time make it there? The other people I met grew dope and sold it. I may not agree with that per se, but at least I get the idea of how they buy snowmachines and Banjos. Frankly I don't know what the hell the Durrs do and neither will anyone else who reads this book from the looks of what I can see in the text.


Blogger Jen said...

I can't help but laugh at the fact that you're blogging about this. A whopping thirty years later and that one incident still bothers you. Goodness. While the fact that you've labeled the Durrs as “snobs” and the lake as a "strange place" irritates me to this bad point where if I ever saw you I might poke you in the eye, I am happy to fill you in on some details. Jon and Steve do small time music money making. Playing gigs (which by the way is not "panhandling", Talkeetna summers bring in a lot of tourists a gig at the Fairview pays at least $200 depending on who owns the place), selling CD's to tourists, that kind of stuff. Jon also hunts and sells a lot of skins. Bob has done well as an artist, and his paintings sell for good money across Alaska. And, as you know, he's written novels that have been published and that brought in a fair amount of revenue as well.
As for the past, Bob wasn't exactly the most responsible and Carol most likely handled what little money they had. So it doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t know where the money came from. Also, with hunting and gathering a lot of their food, and no electric bills, rent, or car payments the living expenses were not much. Yes they did have some money in the first cabin when it burnt down, you surely don’t think that they had ALL of their money in a book in the cabin? They had just enough to pack up their stuff and go to NY because his father was dying, I can’t really remember but I’m pretty sure it was his father. There, Carol got a job at a hospital, and their rent was free since Bob’s father owned an apartment that he let them stay in.
One of my favorite things that you wrote about Bob was your question about his life. “Does he intend to just hang out on a biologically dead lake until the end?” It makes me smile because that was in fact what he intended to do and did. Back Lake was everything to Bob, he lived and breathed it, and it meant more to him than just about anything or anyone. Although my grandpa did a lot of horrible things in his life, but the one thing he did right was Back Lake. So it doesn’t surprise me that he shooed you away from his paradise. And when I inherit the lake, I’m sure I’ll do the same.

PS, the outhouse holes are REALLY deep.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Well Jen I call 'em as I see 'em. In this case lived it. This is a book review and since I happen to have been there in 1976 I'm perfectly entitled to my opinion. It is what it is. I don't know what they did other than they had a band. I was merely curious as to how they made a living there is all, but for all practical appearances these are kids still living at home. Timing is everything. I was too late to get anything and these were the people I found there. They didn't like Nita and we worked for her. End of story. My memoir is mine and Bob's is his. I don't know anything about his novels only the two memoirs.

I fell into plenty of holes out there and everywhere. Thanks for the summer of love message. Have nice life at Chase when you get there.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Of course you're entitled to an opinion! The book review part didn't bother me, it was more your review of my family that pushed a button.You made it sound like they sold weed, which isn't true, so I thought I'd let you know what they did do. So while I am sorry that Bob offended you, and if I too offended you, it's a person's obligation to defend their family.
Also, the outhouse comment was in response to you asking about the outhouse being so close to the cabin. I asked that once too when I was little and that was the response I got.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Well I don't recall saying they sold weed, although others around there sure did. Everyone was consumers though in those days.

I'm just saying your family weren't very welcoming to me when I showed up there. They raced back and forth on new snowmachines in winter and road the train with us in the summer. I'm saying like everywhere there was a class system in those woods. It disappointed me, but then so did too much traffic in the Brooks Range. People look out for their own. It's different when you leave family behind and make a go of it among strangers. So you're lucky in in that way. They gave you a place to go and where I come from up in Maine that's good parenting.

Good luck to you Jennifer. Bob was a cool guy. I would have liked to know him better but it wasn't to be. To me he's just a character in my memoir Alaska Tales. If he wasn't interesting he wouldn't be in there. I'm sorry he's gone.

Thanks for letting me know.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Jen: My Mom is your Grandpas cousin.
Would love to chat with your family.

4:59 PM  

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