Phebe Horschel at her Aurorian Nights Resort. Photo by Gosia Nuwer

by Hank Nuwer (First published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 9/6/2023)

A cartoon in The New Yorker last week spoke to me and my wife Gosia. Old Father Time stood on a street corner with a sign reading, “The End of Summer is near, and you still haven’t made any plans.”

So, we got busy this weekend, or rather, we stopped getting busy and relaxed.

On Saturday last, we drove through Delta Junction so that I could show Gosia the dramatic vistas of Isabel Pass and a favorite old state cabin of mine at Fielding Lake. The glaciers from my last stay here in 2001 had  greatly diminished.

The beginnings of fall were here in the browning trees.  Whenever we stopped and ventured away from the car, mushrooms greeted our every step, although all had white gills. A couple did look appetizing, and I picked them. “If we ate those, we’d be dead ten times over,” Gosia said.

While en route to Fielding Lake, we took a rest stop in Delta Junction.  As always on our trips to eastern Alaska, we stopped at the library in Delta Junction which always puts free books in the entryway. I have been trying not to waste my four years of Latin at a seminary and high school, plus two years of college Latin, and so I was delighted to pull a Latin refresher course out of the pile.

After the library visit, we went to forage for food. Gosia spotted a tiny, single-story building with an open sign. A sign on the building’s side read “The Wok,” also known as the “Hard Wok Café.”

A delightful spry woman of 74 greeted us. She worked as chef, owner, waitress and dish washer. Our chef, whose name I could not catch in three tries, met an American in her native Saigon in 1974 and has been in Alaska ever since.

We consulted the menu. I don’t know why Gosia looks at menus in Asian places. She always orders sweet and sour chicken.

“I’ll have the red curry,” I said.

“We have no curry.”

I was disappointed.

“We have green curry,” the chef said after a pause.

“Perfect,” I said, and our meals turned out perfect, too. The portions were huge, and the vegetables and fruit were fresh before cooking.

As we finished our meal, two young men casually entered. They were dressed in brand name designer clothing. They approached the counter where the owner waited pen in hand for the orders.

“I’ll have the curry,” the young man said.

“We have no curry.”

 “Ask her if she has green curry,” I said. He spoke in French and English, and she answered him “yes” with a happy nod.

Gosia and I asked the visitors where they were from. They were French nationals on a self-assigned mission to see wild animals and scenic views in the U.S. and Canada.

I uttered a sentence of my one-semester French, but when the young man unsuccessfully hid a giggle, I reverted to speaking English.

The French-Chinese young man was Waikit and his traveling buddy was a Frenchman named Simon. They shipped a custom-fitted Citroen motor home to the U.S. from a port in Belgium. “Its name is Remy,” Waikit said.

They then flew here by air with their golden-hued striped cat Malo to meet Remy. They were You Tubers who called themselves “The Rolling Potatoes,” and their cat was on their business card.

The two visitors started eating.

“This curry is fantastic,” Waikit said. “My family originally is from China, and I expected the usual bad American style Chinese food. I know Vietnamese food, and this is wonderful.”

At this point, our chef came up to stand with us at their table. We were of Polish, American, Chinese, Vietnamese, and French heritages. Then, Gosia and I departed, leaving our three new friends with handshakes and mutual good will.

PS June 4, 2024. Gosia and I camped last weekend at Fielding Lake and ate again at the Wok in Delta Junction.  We had another fantastic meal.  We also met daughter Phebe Horschel who gave us a tour of her Aurorian Nights Resort.  That visit will merit another column later this month.