Monday, October 21, 2013


Homer reminds me so much of my favorite little West Virginia blip, Shepherdstown. Nightlife here is predictable, everyone knows everyones name, theres a strange dual feeling of being nestled into paradise as well as being marooned on the monotonous face of Mars. 
And I say that in the most endearing of ways.

I have a serious spot in my heart for small towns with culture. Used book stores and quirky posters for interest groups, local theaters, outdoor education and research sites, wildlife preserves and an eclectic coffee shop -
 these are all the tell-tale signs of vibrant life.

Ivory Goose Antiques and Tea

One of my favorite interactions in Homer was with this man at the Ivory Goose.
He and his wife Coletta, who was out that day visiting with a friend I was told, run what he assured me is the best tea shop in Alaska. Sadly the Ivory Goose shut down just  few months after my trip. I must have puttered around the store for nearly an hour. About half way through tasting and smelling I thought to ask:
"What's YOUR favorite tea?"
to which he answered:
"Pu erh, I'd have to say. Not many folks like it. I'd liken it to lickin on an old saddle. But that's just me."

Of course I instantly fell in love with him and we proceeded to discuss the superior qualities of Pu erh for the next half hour.

Observance of Hermits

It's rare to come upon a bookstore that so enslaves its master's sentiment. The books cling to the shelves and bunker down on the stairs in homogenous clusters. The Russians do not mingle with the French. Nor do the Fairy Tales adventure over to their distant cousins in Science Fiction. The store is open for viewing and potentially for sale, but the master holds his books dear to him and only the step-children are parted with.  

The Observance of Hermits, as the avant-garde name suggests, is a totally different bookstore from any used bookstore you've been in. For one, it's mostly Russian books. Kandror himself is Russian and his story is that of an immigrant whose childhood revolved around the books he collected and was then constantly forced to sell or leave behind. When he came to Homer he decided to collect in earnest. His bookstore is so much an extension of himself that he never mars a book with a scribbled price or a tainting sticker. He knows his books like a parent knows his children. 

I came up to his counter with a handful of books. He smiled gently and took the first from my hand. A first edition Wizard of Oz. The cover was so richly illustrated and so well preserved that the colors seemed to glow in the dimly lit store. 

"This one is expensive," he said, the smile playing around his lips and eyes in an almost mischievous way. "I don't know if you want this one." He set the book down gently and rested his hand on it like a protective mother might cup her hand over her baby's head. He would not be parting with the Wizard of Oz this day.

 I left that day with Eben the Crane. He looked at the book like an old dog, like he remembered it's playful youth but ultimately had no more use for it. 

"Three dollars," he said, with a dismissive wave. He shifted a pile of books and bent to write me a ticket. I picked up my book softly, wondering if Eben's feeling might be hurt. Was Eben looking over at Wizard of Oz with angry tears in his eyes? As a longtime lover of books I was suddenly surprised to find myself thinking of them in a previously unexplored context; in the context that this reluctant book salesman must always have thought of them in. 

Observance of Hermits sits on Pioneer street. Hand painted signs out front say Used Books. Nothing more. Had my host not told me about "the used Russian bookstore that you absolutely must visit during your trip," I might have missed the sign and kept on driving. Kandror doesn't seem to exert much effort to draw people in. You find it or you don't. 

Even the locals tout Observance of Hermits as something other-bookstorely. Homer News wrote this story when the bookstore opened with the title "Don't think bookstore, think center for ideas."
Ultimately the bookstore is an extension of Kandror's personal collection and the space for translation, literary study and bookish reverence are the real items for sale here. 

The third generation booksellers at Old Inlet Bookstore have a floor to ceiling bevy of antique books. I snagged this Bonsai book for $10 and resisted the urge to buy more. I was excited to see so many books about Alaska and living up North. The bookstore is attached to a little inn and cafe. 

Of course what really draws people to Homer is the bay. Kachemak Bay with its views of the glaciers is pretty spectacular. I walked down to the rocky shore and met a man in his Land Rover.

"You from here?" he asked.
"Nope, are you?" I asked.
"Nah I'm a surfer. Came over from Girdwood to surf."
The water was so placidly calm you could almost see your face in it. It rocked gently and broke like a soft sigh over the rocks. He fell into a low yogi squat and pulled out his camera. Switching to the recording mode he held his camera an inch from the ground and filmed the tiny lapping waves.
"Guess I'll send this to my surfing buddies and see if I can fool them. There ARE awesome swells here sometimes with the storms but I guess we didn't get lucky enough this time."
I mused on the luck of missing tumultuous storms as he pulled away in his car leaving me on the beach.

My hosts in Homer were wonderful people - Andrew and Heidi - who I met through couch surfing. Andrew is the local eye doctor and Heidi is a linguist. Their house was stunning and they were so warm and welcoming. 

Homer host house
View from my window

And of course I love a good cemetery and this community plot had some nice old specimens. 

Oh and also everyone has a dog. Homer is so darn cute. 

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