Climbing up the riverbank reveals the remnants of cabins. Each one whispers a different story. Carefully placed logs sink into tundra.
Where should I paint?
A winding path takes me to each home and deepens my understanding. Empty homes. Cherished memories were dust on the windowsills. A mischievous wind carried hints of laughter and joy. But inside the cabins are only cobwebs and dust. It must have been hard to leave this beautiful place when airplanes replaced riverboats in the 1940’s.
We only traveled seven miles down the Koyukuk River but our boat took us back a hundred years. Gordon Bettles chose this site in 1896 to establish his trading post during the gold rush. It was as far as the old riverboats could navigate.
One of the buildings catch my attention. My friend reminisced, “We used to come here on snow machines in the winter and danced all night”. The General Store appeared to bow in acknowledgment. The dance floor had been removed but the old weathered walls held onto memories of festive days.
Her story made my choice of subject matter easy. I firmly plant my easel in front of the General Store and spill all the contents of my bag onto the ground. Paint tubes, palette, brushes, water, clips, mosquito repellant, sunblock. I went right to work. Old bottles peek at me from the windows. I study the weathered sheet metal and signage. Fireweed dance in the breeze along with the golden birch leaves. A perfect day to soak up local color and paint wildly on a sunny September day in Old Bettles.
Spending the day here made me feel close to the people who had lived in Old Bettles. I don’t know them by name but I feel a kinship from spending time behind an easel in the shadow of their homes on the Koyukuk River. I share that connection with you.