Years of writing newspaper articles on Alaskan adventures for a Sunday outdoor section of the Anchorage Daily News gave local author Douglas “Doug” Pope the skill of …
Years of writing newspaper articles on Alaskan adventures for a Sunday outdoor section of the Anchorage Daily News gave local author Douglas “Doug” Pope the skill of chronicling river trips in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Twenty years later, and splitting his time between Port Townsend and Hope, Alaska, the skilled river man and father decided to turn his hand to something less literal, and more lyrical; to follow the path of the heart.
“I was really fortunate to have my own business,” he said of working as attorney. The flexibility of his job permitted the adventures he used as material for his column, and eventually, his book.
“I wanted to be something else,” Pope said during a recent conversation
“I just kinda got tired of it,” he admitted. “I started focusing on the internal journey.”
He started crafting creative essays and getting encouragement from friends. He read at open mic events.
Above all, he wrote.
A climber pal told him he had something good.
“He just really forced me,” Pope said. “He said, ‘You need to have a manuscript.’”
Every week, Pope would send him an essay, and he’d receive feedback.
Eventually, the circle of readers widened. Feedback expanded. A book was taking shape.
Complied of older essays interwoven with new material, it took awhile for the manuscript to speak to Pope, but eventually a voice emerged.
“The more I looked at it, the central theme that could run through this book is love stories,” Pope said.
“The Way to Gaamaak Cove,” published in June 2020 by Cirque Press Books, is the result of “linking essays into memoir.”
Pope was refreshingly candid when it came to portraying the life of a working writer.
He would write for up to eight hours a day for sometimes five days in a row, take a break, and return for another immersive go.
“My process has been, ‘OK, what is the story?’”
A bit of a perfectionist, some of the essays that made the final cut were edited as many as 20 times.
“Endless revisions,” he recalled.
The editor of Cirque Press Books and Pope got into a debate about the way the book is divided into chapters. Pope pushed for movements. “People thought it was too esoteric,” he said.
He submitted a revised draft to Alaska writer Seth Kantner, who some describe as the Hemingway of Alaska.
He didn’t hear anything back for a long time. So long, in fact, that Pope had decided to go to press.
But a fortuitous email from Kantner — who’d been off grid — made Pope push pause on the printing project while he went into yet another round of revisions.
“His critique was right on,” Pope admitted.
While the book was reading as a narrative whole, the “episodes,” or stories, were falling short.
It was while weaving the shorts into the whole that the prevailing theme of love for his wife, Beth, a central character in the book, was revealed.
The book begins with the two together, then dips back in time to acquaint them, before they merge into a world of wild Alaska trips, and ultimately, a life and family together.
Beth is a veritable element of Pope’s memoir, as much a part of the landscape as the incessant rain, the roiling rivers, and an endless expanse of wilderness. As a former commercial fisherman, she is cool and collected in the hairiest scenarios. As the episodes roll past, she builds in depth, and a reader cannot help but be mesmerized by her strength.
In fact, she seems very like the river she rides within.
“She had just an amazing presence,” Pope said, of traveling remote backcountry by boat. “She didn’t get ruffled.”
While the pair enjoy their time together, they chose to bring their two sons, and sometimes Beth’s daughter, on the river, too.
While the rain in “The Way to Gaamaak Cove” seems relentless, somehow they manage to make it bearable for a 5-year-old and 8-year-old boy, the age they started bringing them into the backcountry.
“Beth probably took them to hundreds of swimming lessons,” Pope said, adding they made sure the boys were in wetsuits for the trips.
By paring down paddling, camping, and activities into bite-sized stints, the boys grew to love their time on the river.
They encounter wildlife, campsite challenges, and difficult family dynamics as the book progresses, but one thing is certain: The river is the link that oxbows around each person to connect them.
“There was a lot of intention involved,” Pope said of their journeys.
“I made every mistake a writer could make in getting a book published,” Pope said.
But, he admitted, he’s happy with it.
In fact, while it was quietly released last year in a pandemic, and sales in Alaska, where he and Beth still own a home, have been good, Pope is already on to Book Number Two.
“I’m still figuring out the second book, even though I’m writing it,” he said.
“The big difference between this book and the previous one is that all of the characters in this new book I’m interviewing right now,” he added.
Some of the scenes will involve memories hanging out with childhood friends as a 12-year-old boy.
“Alaska didn’t become a state until my buddies and I were in high school,” he explained.
“I want to explore some of our early adventures.”
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