Part 14 in a Series

The still deep cup of the wilderness

“Ah, to see again that far horizon! Wander where you will over all the world, from every valley seeing forever new hills calling you to climb them, from every mountain top farther peaks enticing you. Always the distant land looks fairest, till you are made at last a restless wanderer never reaching home – never – until you stand one day on the last peak on the border of the interminable sea, stopped by the finality of that.”

Friday, March 7, 1919 

"The still, deep cup of the wilderness is potent with wisdom. Only to have tasted it is to have moved a lifetime forward to a finer youth."

Friday, March 16, 1919

Rockwell Kent in “Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska”

On April 18, 1970, Ginger and John puttered back to Driftwood Bay in their newly purchased boat and engine.

“The trip was fantastic,” Ginger wrote. “Beautiful clear day, fairly calm waters. A drifting island of ducks appeared before us as we rounded Cape Resurrection…when the boat got close, thousands of the ducks flew off. Then we saw more and more.”

Spring sometimes comes late along Resurrection Bay, but when it arrives it bursts into existence with life – especially at the southern El Dorado Narrows and Cape Resurrection. These waters were still new to Ginger. John had experienced such wonders in Southeast Alaska. Ginger’s awe at the wildlife and landscape is no surprise as she and John motored home.

Those weren’t ducks she observed, but mostly common murres, the largest member of the Alcid family of diving birds, and among the most populous winged creatures in the Gulf of Alaska. In April they raft by the tens of thousands off Cape Resurrection. When boats approach, some take off low over the water but most just dive – for these birds are not built to fly. Ducks use their feet to propel themselves under water, as do the three species of cormorants in this area – pelagic, double-crested, and red-faced. Murres dive deep like other Alcids because, like their cousins the tufted and horned puffins, their wings are designed for underwater thrust.

Like many pelagic birds, the murres and puffins homestead in the open ocean, several hundred miles from land. That’s where they live in winter. They only come to land during summer to mate and gorge on the plentiful food supply created by increased sunlight, oxygen-rich waters, and the upwelling wave action at Cape Resurrection that brings up all the nutrients that sink to the ocean depths. Plankton growth – the base of the food chain – explodes.

Grey whales, benthic feeders – bottom feeders – arrive from the southern waters and pass Resurrection Bay as they head north to nutrient-rich arctic waters. Humpback whales who have spent the winter fasting and giving birth in warm waters like those off Hawaii, migrate east for Alaska’s rich coastal buffet, mostly plankton, herring, and other oily fish. They’ve been fasting all winter and spend most of their time in Alaska eating to bulk up again for the winter.

Ginger describes the “Sea gulls flying up and down, in and out in front of their nests at Cape Resurrection…flying in great circles. Our boat seemed to be in the center.”

These are the black-legged kittiwakes, other pelagic – open-ocean – birds that arrive in spring. Sometimes a Bald Eagle harasses a colony hoping to grab one of them or raid nests. In what we call a “dread flight,” hundreds flee their nests screaming as they fly in circles to confuse their prey.

Ginger observes “Several seals, sea lions and porpoises.”

She is describing harbor seals who blend into the shore rocks where they sometimes haul out, or whose eyes and snouts shyly emerge from the sea for a peek at us; the huge Steller sea lions who use their rear flippers to climb the rocky outcroppings. The males can weigh over a ton; and the Dall’s porpoise, whose dorsal fins surface rhythmically as they swim.

Perhaps Ginger also saw American Black Oyster Catchers, coastal mountain goats, a black bear, sea otters, some with pups, or a Peregrine Falcon. It was “a beautiful trip,” she recorded.

American artist Rockwell Kent, who spent the winter of 1918-1919 on Fox Island in Resurrection Bay, tried to explain moments like these in his book, “Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska.” He called such epiphanies soul-expanding.

To understand why John and Ginger Davidson loved their sacred solitude at Driftwood Bay – what Rockwell Kent would call their “quiet adventure” of the soul – one must appreciate how a trip like this can inspire the spirit. Kent tolerated Seward, respected the old timers, and needed to go back and forth to send and pick up his mail and get supplies. But he hadn’t come to Alaska to live in a small town. 

Ginger and John most likely felt the same – especially with the petty politics one can find in any small town. April and May had been especially toxic in Seward. “It was ugly,” one old timer told me.

It was good to be back home, Ginger later reflected. They had left Driftwood Bay quickly and been gone for over a week, so they checked for any damages and found only wet sleeping bags and a broken tent ridge pole.

The next day John worked to anchor his boat off shore so it wouldn’t grind on the beach in every tide. His anchor was an oil drum filled with rocks with a rail tie running through it to keep it from rolling.

At low tide, they tried to tie it to a couple of logs, float it to the right spot, and drop it. The job was too heavy for John to do alone, and Ginger didn’t have enough strength to make much difference. That was one of many tasks they’d accomplish as May ended and June emerged.

The town’s local politics became history for them as they struggled to survive amid the beauty of an Alaska coastal summer. 

“If an outsider read the local weekly, the Phoenix Log,” reporter Slim Randles claimed in the May 7, 1970 Anchorage Daily News, “he would be convinced that there are dope peddlers accosting children on the school playgrounds, and people dying in the streets from overdoses of heroin. That, however, is not the case.”

There were – and still are – drug addicts in Seward as there are in many small places. Maybe half a dozen, former Police Chief Kenneth Heri told Randles – and they were not hippies by anyone’s definition, he added -- but clean-cut-looking citizens, some with families, jobs, and homes, who are in (their) 20s and 30s.

Seward Mayor Bill Ullom – a high school government, English and drama teacher – wanted the hippies out of town. For him, they represented the drug problem in Seward. The police chief and the mayor didn’t agree, and it got personal.

After their boat was vandalized on April 18, Ginger blamed the mayor in her journal.

“Mayor Bill Ullom,” Randles wrote, “who is spear-heading a ‘war against dope,’ has chosen the long-haired citizens of Seward for his blame. His directives to the city council included a clause to ‘discourage hippies from settling in the Seward area’ and defined hippies as ‘people who use narcotics as an integral part of their lives.’”

Ginger believed Ullom’s “discouragement” encouraged attacks and vandalism.

Most residents may have agreed. Some were circulating a petition to recall the mayor.

Drug use was not an uncommon element in the “hippie” culture. But – it was and is not uncommon the in “straight” culture – especially if we dare include alcohol. Speed, marijuana, heroin, opium, and other narcotics have been embedded in many cultures for thousands of years.

The Baby-Boomers didn’t invent illegal drug use. They followed the Beats and some members of their parent’s generation.

Who were the LSD pushers?

Dr. Timothy Leary, who was born in 1920,  had begun with medically scientific intensions. It was author Ken Kesey, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” born in 1935, who convinced Leary to spread LSD around without a full investigation to create a spiritual and cultural revolution.

Once the government learned of its political implications, Kesey believed, they would ban it.

Marijuana had been a controlled drug in this country since the 1930s. It was outlawed in 1970. Now it’s legal in many states. LSD was a legal drug until October 1968. Before that date, drug raids on hippie communes targeted mostly pot.

Mayor Ullom called for a grand jury investigation of the drug problem in Seward.

“The ‘long-hairs’ were anxious to see such a probe. One of them told Randels, “I think it will open some eyes around here when they find out who the real ‘junk’ dealers are.”

Some admitted dropping LSD and smoking pot – in the past.

“I dig grass,” one told him. “I see no reason why it shouldn’t be legalized. But it’s not legal, and I’d be pretty stupid to be having any grass around Seward.”

Ironically, Randles expected upon his arrival in Seward, “to see half the town’s long-haired population jailed for dope peddling and the other half still peddling it.”

One issue of the local newspaper had five stories about the local drug problem, and federal bulletins about how to recognize dope addicts. A few long-hairs admitted to Randles they knew of some real junkies on hard stuff like heroin – but they didn’t know where they got the stuff because they didn’t associate with those people.

Randles fairly concluded that only a handful of Seward residents were “hippie haters,” blaming all long-hairs for the drug problem. He called them “the militant descents.” – a small but vocal group, dominating council meetings, rumor mill, and newspaper letters and opinion pieces.

“The majority of Seward citizens, however, know better,” Randles wrote.

His advice?

Talk to the town’s bartenders. They can tell you who’s doing and selling dope.

“It might do the city council some good,” he ended, and would save some time.” 

One day in early May, Seward learned that the police chief had been fired. Over 150 citizens attended a City Council meeting – held at the high school multi-purpose room due to the crowd. They wanted to know why.

“They were told by City Manager James Filip,” the Anchorage newspaper reported, “that (Police Chief Kenneth Heri) was fired for revealing information of an investigation into possible moral misconduct by Seward Mayor William Ullom.”

Copies were given to some council, school board members, and others. Filip had already hired Heri’s replacement, William T. Bagley, a former Juneau assistant police chief.

Police Officer Jack McClellen, also involved with the Ullom investigation, agreed to resign as of May 15. Because he was still a city employee, he wasn’t allowed to speak at the meeting – so he offered to turn in his badge immediately.

“He said he was resigning because he could not be a good law officer with the political feeling of the town hampering the working of justice,” the press reported.

He had two copies of the report at home, and the city manager ordered him to return them.

McClellen refused, stating “I don’t feel there is enough security in the Seward city offices.”

Filip refused to pay him for the investigation’s expenses. McClellen held firm.

The state troopers got involved. Someone hired a private investigator who got hold of a copy of the report. Bill Ullom hired Anchorage attorney Edward J. Reasor and sued the City of Seward under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Reasor told the press that the Heri’s report was “mostly innuendos” about Ullom’s past teaching career in other towns.

Police behavior like this had to be stopped, the lawyer said.

“If he (Heri) can do this to one person, he could do it to anybody…If the chief had enough evidence to file a charge,” Reasor said, “he should have done it at that time. Instead, he gathered together some loose opinions on Ullom’s character, and showed it to various people, therefore hurting Ullom’s chances of continued employment.”

Ullom resigned as Seward mayor and from his seat as the Seward representative on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. He also took a leave of absence from teaching and went Outside. According to some sources, the lawsuit was dropped and/or settled. I’ve found no record of it in public files.

During all this, Father Everett Wenrick from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Seward, tried to bring all sides together. Some called him “the Hippie Priest.” This was nothing new for him. In the mid-60s he and his wife Anne had worked in the American South with the Civil Rights Movement. He urged the city council to communicate with the long-haired youth – or, “the New Frontiersmen,” as he called them.

“After all,” he said. “most of them have experimented with drugs at one time or another, and would be very valuable in helping the police.

Meanwhile out at Driftwood Bay, life for the Davidson’s remained busy but quiet, and the world’s problems seemed quite far away.

To be continued.

Doug Capra is the author of “The Spaces Between: Stories from the Kenai Mountains to the Kenai Fjords”. In addition to many Alaska history articles, he wrote forwards for two reprints of books by American artist Rockwell Kent. He has written poetry, essays, and plays. His most recent play, “A Social Distance” is published in the June 2021 Cirque magazine. Earlier parts of this series can be found online at sewardjournal.com. People who knew the Davidson or who have photographs, information, or letters, can contact the author at capradr@yahoo.com.