In my mind, it went like this: A book arrives to Giverny in the spring of 1914. Claude Monet glances at the title, "Voyage en Alaska," and leafs through its pages. A passage catches his eye.
“Never before this had I been embosomed in scenery so hopelessly beyond description. To sketch picturesque bits, definitely bounded is comparatively easy -- a lake in the woods, a glacier meadow, or a cascade in its dell…but in these coast landscapes there is such indefinite, on leading expansiveness, such a multitude of features without apparent redundance, their lines graduating delicately into one another in endless succession, while the whole is so fine, so tender, so ethereal, that all pen-work seems hopelessly unavailing.”
For years, Monet had lived quietly in his corner of nature, painting until he lost the light, and his eyes hurt. He found larger canvases to amplify the intimate beauty of his lovely pond where blossoming lily pads became worlds unto themselves.
But what if this place--Alaska—what if it really did possess beauty that all pen work, or brushwork, would fail to capture? He had seen some of the most inspiring landscapes in Europe. How different could this be? Would it be worth time away from his dear Giverny?
He thought so. And soon penned a letter to John Muir, the book's author.
Monet boards a steamship bound for Seattle. The journey will take weeks but thanks to a newly constructed canal in Panama, less than half the time as just two years earlier.
In Seattle, he finds Muir, heavily bearded, with a single knapsack and a mischievous smile. "You've come for the mountains. Be prepared for so much more. You will not return the same man as is standing on this dock."
The steamer presses north and the landscapes grow more severe. Sheer cliffs and mountains rising for thousands of feet straight up from the water line, Monet imagines this is what the Alps would look like if flooded by God.
At night, John and a few Tlingit men make camp. Simple tents and stew and a loaf of sourdough, but the men aren't want of more. The moon is full and the men sit around a crackling fire sharing stories of adventures in the Inside Passage. Monet mostly listens as he gazes across the bay to the moon and mountains in the distance. He moves closer to the fire, grabs another piece of bread and thinks of Giverny.
With John hiking up a ridge to get a clearer view of the valler, Monet stays on the edge of a river. He's taken by the blackwater reflection of cedar, sitka spruce and hemlock--greens like he's never before seen. Salmon jump out of the water ever so often, distorting the reflection of the trees. Monet waits patiently and paints until John returns.
A quick walk around the glacial lake at Mendenhall before fueling up in Juneau and heading south.
Monet makes one last painting as the ship heads south to Seattle.