August 01, 2012 - When opportunity knocked, Dalton Warden answered.
The door opened to Alaska.
The 2011 Brandon High School graduate spent nearly two months in Ketchikan, Alaska, from May 7 to July 1, working full-time and drawing scenery in his spare time.
"I met a friend in college (Adam) and his neighbor (Corrine) was born in Alaska and raised in Michigan," said Warden, who is majoring in art at Northern Michigan University. "She was driving to Alaska and I hitched a ride with them. I just got the opportunity and it's very far away and I wanted to see something new."
The trio drove to Washington state and took a ferry to Alaska. Warden began work on May 15 in a tourist shop on the Revillagigedo Island, where Ketchikan is located. Corrine had set him up with the job prior to his arrival.
Part of the attraction in going to Alaska for Warden was that he had never traveled west of Michigan and as an art student, he was excited to draw Alaskan landscapes and native culture.
"My favorite artist is Norman Rockwell and he would travel the world and draw what he saw," said Warden. "I want to do that, too."
The 19-year-old brought paper and pencils with him and drew what he saw—including Deer Mountain, the famous mountain in town, and a man with a bald eagle. Warden was disturbed when he saw the man with the eagle. Tourists paid the man to have their picture taken with the bird.
"I did a drawing that showed how sad it was," said Warden. "The eagle is a symbol of freedom, but it was chained to his arm. My drawing shows that side of it."
Drawing is his favorite pastime, and in Alaska, Warden's confidence grew. He did about two drawings a week. On average, his drawings take him about 3-6 hours to do, although he has previously spent up to 25 hours on one drawing.
"I was living the dream," he said. "I felt on top of the world. I was closer to Russia than home and I'm this young. It was a beautiful city and an awesome trip."
The locals were friendly and there were less than 13,000 people on the island, he said. The city of Ketchikan is about three blocks wide and 15 miles long, in the side of a mountain. While he described his ride to work everyday as a postcard, his friend Adam left early, unable to bear the weather.
Warden describes Ketchikan as a rainforest, saying it rains in a drizzly, misty kind of way about five days a week. Indeed, the city receives about 154 inches of precipitation annually and the average high temperature in the summer is about 64 degrees.
Still, Warden loved it. Bald eagles were everywhere he looked (and unchained). Elk and mountain goats were regular sights. The trailer he stayed in literally allowed him to see humpback whales from the backyard and large purple starfish when the tide was low.
"It was just amazing," Warden said. "Absolutely beautiful."
He flew home, having worked the summer to pay for his return flight, but it all felt like vacation to him anyway and he left with no regrets.
Warden returns to school at the end of this month and says he can't imagine where he might end up next summer.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville