Cordova Chronicles: The lessons of self-isolation

Our granddaughter Ellie gleefully realizes she is about to top Grandma Sue and others in a match of “Chicken Foot” at the duck cabin. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

As the coronavirus pandemic and resulting self-isolation continue, it occurred to me that every summer many Cordovans seek voluntary isolation in cabins at Boswell Bay, Canoe Pass, on the Copper River Delta, at various USFS rental cabins or even as far away as Long Lake near McCarthy.

There is magic in getting away from it all, which includes eliminating the incessant blare of TV and the electronic addiction of computer-based entertainment.

Of course, technology has expanded the reach of telecommunications to almost all of these cabins; and I would be the first to admit that discovering XM Satellite Radio works on the Delta has been a boon to us baseball or college football fans who can now listen to crystal-clear live broadcasts.

Before he retired, the melodious voice of Vin Scully and his classic opening line, “It’s time for Dodger Baseball,” was a perfect way to relax in a bunk following a long morning shoot.

Also, cell phone coverage provides a nice safety net, making it easy to check in every night; and apps such as WINDY make a marvelous addition to weather forecasting.

More than once, I have been able to use that app to zoom in to the mouth of nearby Alaganik Slough, which can be notoriously rough in strong southeasters, and discover that it is blowing 35 mph there while only 20 mph at our cabin at Pete Dahl.

My 14-foot river boat will stay anchored for another day.

As will our tradition of restricting electronic entertainment, for the most important joy of cabin life is being truly together with family.

A typical day begins with the gang sleeping in on tiers of WWII Navy-ship canvas bunks made more comfortable by foam pads and layers of sleeping bags, while I rise early to make a pot of coffee and head outside to do chores or chase ducks.

Our grandkids Liesl and Huck come up from Texas every summer, and delight in the cool waters of Pete Dahl Slough as their mother Heidi looks on. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

The honks of geese and the quacks of ducks make a wonderful alarm clock.

When I return, it’s time for hot chocolate and sweet rolls, and leisurely getting out crafts or playing games, with a brunch to follow later.

After that, a nap, or a long walk outside, or cutting brush and firewood, or playing in the back pond, or making fools of oneself in a muddy sandbar, or helping with cabin maintenance — there is always something to do.


On an inside wall near the door to our cabin is a row of small horizontal black marks, labelled with names and years, that represent the height of each of our children and grandchildren over the years. It’s a tradition started by Dad, back when we built the cabin in 1959, and shows how truly time flies when you’re having fun.

Tucked in a corner of the cabin are several decks of cards and various arts and crafts supplies, as well as sets of board and domino games that we have played together as those years have passed by.

Who can forget the squeals of delight at having Grandma draw the Old Maid from the little hands of a 3-year old, or the excitement of slap jack?

As the youngsters grow older, the grin of a granddaughter while holding the final tile in the domino game of “Chicken Foot” makes the whole trip worthwhile.

“Dogopoly”, a clever version of Monopoly, is serious duck cabin business for budding Texas capitalist grandkids Liesl and Huck. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

Then there are those intense battles for $$$ and property in Dogopoly, a highly entertaining modified version of the ever-enduring Monopoly.

Time marches on, and soon it is heated games of rummy, with our adult daughters Heidi and Gretchen bantering in lively manner about Texas vs Alaska rules, among other things.

Through it all, moments to cherish and remember.

This pandemic is not something to cherish, but it is certainly a time of togetherness through being apart that we will never forget.

There are lessons in life at a cabin, and in self-isolation.

Now is a time for all of us to become one big family, and make these days of sacrifice a proud moment in our collective lives.