The view from Ken Castner's outhouse is as beautiful as any in America. Rolling green hills, brushed with purple fireweed. Layers of black spruce trees etched against an immense pale sky. And beyond, the Kenai Mountain range, its wide white glaciers spilling into the bay.
Castner doesn't mind the outhouse, with its peeling red paint and unpleasant odor. Like thousands of young people who've come to Alaska recently, he's here for the view.
At 21, with a year of college, Castner left a comfortable home in Topsfield, Mass. - his father is a New England Telephone Co. Executive - and moved to Homer. Four years later, he looks no different - a bushy brown beard, scruffy corduroy trousers and hiking boots. He lives in a patched up trailer with no running water. "The Hovel." he calls it.
But Castner is a pillar of Homer, a small town on the eastern shore of Cook Inlet, the finger of ocean that points from the Gulf of Alaska toward Anchorage. The inlet is the next part of Alaska scheduled for intensive oil drilling.
He is a successful businessman and a budding politician despite the fact that he is the kind of person that old-timers here once called "hippies."
He and his friends are slowly becoming a force to reckon with in Alaska.
"There's opportunity here," Castner says. "It's a huge state, but it's small." More than twice the size of Texas. Alaska has fewer people than Montgomery County, Md.
Quiet Sports is the name of Castner's store on Pioneer Avenue, Homer's main drag. He sells cross-country ski equipment and expensive Swiss chocolate bars. He built the store himself, a handsome log cabin structure, with pre-fabricated materials.
"When you come to Alaska, you strip away the mystiques of the East Coast," he said. "Everyone here is their own electrician and plumber. The percentage of Alaskans who built their own homes is very high. You see there's nothing to it."
Independent. Self-sufficient. Pioneering. These are the labels pinned on Alaska's new immigrants. But they aren't the traditional ki nd of pioneers - gold diggers or pipeline workers with dollar signs imprinted on their pupils. These are backpackers come to roose with an intense feeling for the land and almost religious dedication to a "laid-back" lifestyle.
"The new people have come for the beauty, the easy fishing, the slowed-down pace." Castner said. The idea of offshore oil drilling in the Lower Cook Inlet - with projections of 84 exploratory wells, 420 development wells, 20 gas wells, 80 service wells, 23 platforms, 400 miles of pipeline, two terminals, one refinery and one liquefied natural gas plant - doesn't figure in the vision.
Next door to Quiet Sports, Gary Williams doubles as publisher of the weekly Homer News and mayor of Homer, having recently defeated the eight-year "pro-growth" incumbent. Bearded, blond, in a blue work shirt and gold rimmed glasses, Williams, 33, looks like he came from California, which he did - just a few years ago. He'd grown up in Homer, left, and returned a new man.
"Homer is like Carmel and Sausalito, a very creative community," he said. "There's a desire to create a lifestyle we've dreamed about. People want space and a lessened consciousness of time."
He looked out the window. "You see the fireweed on the hill? You can judge the season by it. When the fireweed tops out, children go to school. It's around Labor Day. We're losing that. We're compromising the reasons we came here.
"Alaska has always been exploited, but some of us are saying. 'Wait a minute.' You can't keep drying it up. This is the end of the road."
Homer is, incidentially, the end of the road, and not a few of its residents admit this is how they happened to settle here. Alaska has few roads and the only place to go from Homer is back the way you came, from Anchorage. The weather here is mild by Alaskan standards, rarely below zero in winters, with summers in the 60s.
Some oldtimers wish the newcomers would go back the way they came. Homer's city council, alarmed at the influx of outsiders, recently passed an ordinance requiring three years of residency to run for office. Castner, who has lived outside the city limits, is buying a house in town to run for city council and challenge the law as unconstitutional.
On a clear morning, Castner revs up a 20-horsepower motor on a wooden skiff. The boat is docked off Homer's Spit, a 4 1/2-mile-long arm of sand that beckons vessels into Kachemak Bay. Homerites boast it is the second-longest spit in the world, after a South America one. On holiday weekends, its two-lane highway is lined with Winnebagos from Anchorage and fishermen stand elbow to elbow casting off its sandy beach.
The bay, however, is almost empty, except for an occasional fishing boat seining for silver salmon. Across from Homer, it looks like a cross between Switzerland and Hawaii. Three snow-capped mountain ranges and five active volcanoes from the Lower Cook Inlet, descending abruptly toward the water in ledges of dark green spruce. The snow never melts on the summits and glaciers creep down the crevices.
Critical habitat is what the biologists call the Lower Cook Inlet, and on this, an unannounced visit, its inhabitants lived up to the reputation. Foot-long shiny salmon somersaulted out of the water, snapping at some invisible insect. Puffins, resembling a cross between a duck and a parrot, with orange breaks, sprinted across the bright blue bay.
On an outcropping of rocks, eight seals lazily lounged, rolling under water when visitors appeared. The sleek back of a killer whale surfaced for an instant and porpoises glided around the skiff. A bald eagle perched on the skeleton of a dead spruce.
"Do you know what synergy is?" Castner asked. "It's intense energy that produces more energy. That's what's going to stop the oil leasing.
"I whas appalled to see 10-year-olds carrying signs saying, 'We want jobs not wilderness,'" at a recent public hearing, Castner said. "Soon they'll be saying, We want jobs, not oceans.' The next generation is going to curse the 20th century. There's too much at stake to go punching holes in the Lower Cook Inlet.
"It used to take one man a year to build a wooden sailboat.
"Now a few men can turn out six fiber glass boats a day. We've pushed everything into energy intensive units. People are busy, busy, bury. Guy end up forgetting their families for their jobs.
"How far can we go before we reach the end of the rope energy-wise? We should cut back on production, not increase it. As long as the Arabs want to sell us oil we should buy it and keep our own in the ground."
At the Ebb Tide Cafe, Frank Tupper, 36, who owns an art gallery up the road, was boasting to a few friends, "I delievered my first son with my own hands and circumcised him too." No one was surprised -- in Alaska.
The conversation turned to oil. "Is man the center of the universe?" Tupper asked. "What about crabs and fish? Do they have rights?
"It's not just a laid-back lifestyle we're talking about. I can't accept that I'm the center of universe and everything revolves around me."
Tupper traveled to Washington a few weeks ago to talk to the Secretary of the Interior. His message was "Alaska is the last orgy. The last [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the cornucopia -- oil pipeline, gas pipeline, timber, native corporation. The attitude is, 'Let's get it. It's there.'
"But that's not the opinion of some of us. This is our last chance to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] right."