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61°North

An island retreat: Oysters, adventure and the art of homemaking in Halibut Cove

  • Author: Matt Reed
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 30, 2015

On my first morning at the Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge, we woke up with no power, a fact I didn't realize until owner Lucinda Sidelinger, bright-eyed and quick-talking even at 7:30 in the morning, mentioned it almost in passing as she served up a breakfast of pancakes, eggs poached in individual ramekins and fruit smoothies. There had been a brownout somewhere along the power cables that extend across the floor of Kachemak Bay between Homer and Halibut Cove. Kevin, Lucinda's husband, had called Homer Electric and service was expected to return sometime that day. I imagine the Sidelingers had been working on contingencies and plan Bs for the better part of the morning, but as a guest, slowly rising and finding his morning feet in the naturally lit hallways and sitting rooms of the lodge, I was none the wiser. That's the magic of the Ridgewood.

Owned and operated by Kevin and Lucinda Sidelinger along with their son, Bowman, and his wife, Jess, the Ridgewood manages to be homey and spectacular at the same time. It sits on a clearing among steep grassy hills and ponds on the Eastern-most edge of Ismailof Island in Halibut Cove, a boat-in/fly-in lagoon across the bay from Homer.

A vegetable garden has been cut into a nearby hillside. You'll frequently find Lucinda—a talented chef and the heart of Ridgewood—crouched over with clippers and a handful of rhubarb that will later find itself in homemade coffee cakes and pies. The lodge itself, Kevin and Lucinda's home for the last 20-plus years, was hand built by Kevin. The large wooden two-story chalet has floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room, a space that once served as a hay barn and basketball court. Venture out onto the wraparound deck and you'll find views of Kachemak Bay State Park and the blue floats of the Sidelinger's nearby oyster farm. You might also find Bowman and Jess's two bike-riding sons, Talon, age six, and Chase, age three, patrolling the deck with foam swords.

But of course, while the lodge is a comfortable place to kick up your heels, the Sidelingers, with an ATV, a skiff and a small armada of kayaks, have long used their lodge as a jumping-off point for adventures along Kachemak Bay and the nearby glaciers.

Glaciers, jellies and the international language of dinosaurs

For a moment we thought we were goners. Bowman, who that day had guided us safely up and down from Grewingk Glacier and toured us around the family's oyster farm, and who we had complete trust in, had managed to get the front of the six-person ATV around the switchback, and now, as the rear of the vehicle crept around the 180-degree turn, it had begun to feel—at least to the uninitiated—a little tippy. Among the uninitiated were Ueli and Marlena Sahli, a semi-retired couple from Switzerland sitting in front with Bowman, and their adult children, Johnny and Fabia, in back with me. The five of us scrambled to lean into the middle of the turn, while Bowman sat upright and relaxed as he pointed out the differences in the various kinds of vegetation thwacking our shoulders and ears. After some patient downshifting, the side-by-side ATV righted itself and we rumbled out into a clearing. Next to me, Johnny pointed toward a fenced-in pasture covered in high grass: "Look, a triceratops."

After a day and a half of eating sack lunches at the foot of Grewingk in gale force winds, poking jellyfish and watching them undulate away from our fingers and slurping down oysters on the halfshell, I had become fast friends with the Sahlis. But after struggling to bridge the German-English language barrier with talk about the Eurozone crisis, taxes and different forms of representative governments, we had found a subject we could discuss easily: Jurassic Park. The German for velociraptor, I learned, is...velociraptor.

We were settling into the easy camaraderie of shared adventure, nudged along by good food and our honorary membership in the Sidelinger extended family. At least for one weekend.

At home on the island

Our first evening at Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge, Kevin had taken us on a tour of Ismailof Island. If you visit Halibut Cove, this is likely where you'll spend your time. It's a small narrow island, mostly privately-owned, with boardwalks along the water and narrow jeep roads snaking up among the hills to homes and rental cottages.

While the Ridgewood claims Eastern frontage, the far Western end of the island is home to a gazebo on a cleared hillside overlooking Kachemak Bay. On the floor is a marker for Diana Tillion, the renowned Alaska artist who lived and worked in Halibut Cove for most of her career. In 1958 she began painting and drawing in octopus ink, sometimes using as little as a drop to complete an entire canvas. It was a medium she would work to perfect until her death in 2010. Next to her marker is a space reserved for her husband, Clem.

It was hard to know whether or not it was okay to stand in the gazebo—it was intimate and moving, and also seemed to be performing a sleight of hand. Where most graves bring your gaze down to the earth, this memorial had a roof and railings and places on which to lean. Instead of looking down, you found yourself taking in the wide mountain views of Kachemak Bay, experiencing just a taste of what led Diana and Clem to make their lifelong home in Halibut Cove.

This article appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of 61°North. Contact 61° editor Jamie Gonzales at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com.

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