A modest crowd of about 40 attendees gathered for an afternoon of storytelling and poetry Dec. 30 at the Grand Mesa Arts & Event Center. As the last event for 2018, this matinee featured guest AJ Slagle sharing true stories from his Alaskan adventures and reciting poetry by Robert Service from the gold rush era.
His new mother-in-law and local community member Phyliss Hoffman introduced Slagle. She described him as an "avid outdoorsman" and "romantic poet."
"I've seen nature at its best and its worst," commented Slagle in his welcome. And he would know, having spent most of life, and career, in the Alaska Panhandle.
He worked primarily in Ketchikan -- five years in the logging industry, six years in aviation, eight years as a big game guide with 18 brown bear kills and 18 seasons working on fishing excursions.
Poetry comes into the mix thanks to Service's book, "Spell of the Yukon," which Slagle has carried with him since 1986.
The result? Many of the poems are now committed to memory, allowing him to recite them with passion and detail. He said the words "explain a lot about Alaska."
During the 90-minute program, Slagle alternated between telling a story and following it with a poem that best resonated with the emotions he wished to portray.
For example, Slagle recounted one of his favorite memories, filled with excitement and awe. He was 26 and hiking in a remote location in Southeast Alaska when he suddenly realized a brown bear was close -- within 800 feet.
"The experience was truly remarkable," he said. Usually these animals can sense when someone is nearby, but Slagle said he was able to watch unnoticed.
The poem following, "The Rhyme of the Remittance Man," he described as best correlating to the feelings he had after the experience. "I am signed and sealed to nature. Be it so," ends the poem.
Slagle's interest in poetry began when he was little. He recalled sitting on his grandfather's lap listening to "I Have But Fifty Cents."
Being in areas so remote many are only accessible by plane, Slagle found comfort in the poems of Service. "I just desired the flavor of the country and enjoyed his work," he said.
As for Slagle's stories, they were filled with triumph and close calls. One detailed how he battled 60 mph winds and the tides in an effort to protect a boating dock. Many times he had to travel in below freezing and unstable conditions, overcoming "nature flexing her muscles."
He summarized that his adventures have taught him self-reliance and to appreciate life. He loves the outdoors primarily because he can "go out and soak up the sounds and wind, and it's totally soothing to the soul."
Slagle ended his program with a chilling wolf call, capturing the essence of the last frontier.
Those interested in reading about some of Slagle's adventures can find them on his Facebook page by searching "AJ Slagle Jr."
To see upcoming concerts, classes and other events at the Grand Mesa Arts Center, visit www.grandmesaartscenter.com. The next event is "Murder and Mystery on Grand Mesa" presented by James Wetzel on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. Call 970-856-9195 for more details.