I remember when I first started telling people I was headed to Alaska. The first reaction was always:
“Oh man! You’re gonna be the only girl there. Good luck.”
And maybe, in some towns that’s the case, but here, oh no. This town is buzzing with beauties. Beautiful women from the inside out. Women who can beat you in a race up a mountain, catch all the fish, raise gorgeous gardens and can ice climb into spaces you wouldn’t dare attempt. They are powerhouses. Everyone seems to specialize in something from local plant knowledge to massage to mountaineering. I was beyond impressed by the talents I saw but also by the harmony in which they all co-existed and the importance that was placed on girl time together.
But then, it became winter. Suddenly, the town was no longer abuzz. People were tucked away into their homes or had left for the winter. In the summer, the local watering hole was a good place to gain familiarity with someone over a couple of nights, slowly make friends and maybe eventually go for a hike or whatnot together. The slow build of friendship. In the winter, the local watering hole closes. There’s nowhere to randomly show up to, no place to start building familiarity, putting names to faces. Nope, like so many things here during the winter, you just have to jump straight in.
Remember in Kindergarten when we were all too young to realize our vulnerability and you would simply ask someone “Do you want to be my friend?”.
Well, welcome back to class.
Without effort, it’s unlikely that you’ll see much of someone out here. Our houses aren’t all close to one another, a (sometimes) frozen river separates the town and to go anywhere is a bit of a to do. You aren’t just wandering around meeting people.
And so, just like when I was four, I found myself asking either blatantly or by suggestion: “Do you want to be my friend?”
This type of bare bones vulnerability is awkward but essential out here, unless you prefer to be alone.
Luckily, it’s worked out pretty well. The women around here can really rally (crossing rivers and wading through forests to meet up) and we’ve made it a point to have girl time.
You see, when you’re in a couple in the middle of the woods, in the middle of winter you spend all of your time together. All of it. You take down trees together. You build a fire together. You make dinner and breakfast and lunch and snacks together. You divide and conquer chores and to dos but overall, you are together. And it’s amazing but it also makes girl time that much more essential.
Years ago, I didn’t understand the importance of this. I was always the girl that hung with the guys. I could keep up with the dirty jokes and the beer and the pizza and it was great. Shoot, I was even a pretty good WingWoman. But something was missing. Slowly, I invested more time in girlfriends and found a whole other community I didn’t know I needed.
Now, being here, I am suddenly apart from my women people in body (though not in spirit) and so, again it was time to invest time in making another community.
The first new girlfriend’s house I went to made me realize just how different it is to make friends here than anywhere I’ve ever been. In California I might have met someone, gotten their number and asked them to meet up for a walk or a drink somewhere.
Here, a meeting place is likely to be someone’s house because there is shelter in case the weather turns. And so, a first meeting is a full on greeting to who this person is. Oh, and it’s also chock-full of interesting directions.
“You know where the airfield is?”
“The air strip or the air field?”
“The air field, where we get our mail.”
“Oh, ok, yes.”
“Ok, just before you get to the airfield you will see a snowbank on your right* with a quick opening, take that down the hill, veer right at the first fork. Then when you get to the cottonwood tree that looks like it’s doing a graceful side bend you will veer left. Then you’ll pass a trailer on your right, keep going and eventually you’ll hear the dog barking. He’ll lead you to the house.”
*Note: everywhere is a snowbank, so keep your eyes especially peeled.
It’s also fun to play the turn around game at a new person’s house. Will they have a circular driveway or will I have to figure my way out (one of our snow machines conveniently doesn’t have reverse)? It keeps it interesting and it keeps you on your toes. Man, I used to get anxiety about going new places when I had a map in front of me or worry about parking in San Francisco. This is a whole new ballgame. Missed your turn? It might be a while before you get back to it. Reverse. I had no idea how much I loved you.
The first time I took a solo snow machine trip was to a new girlfriend’s house. She and I had spent time together this summer so when I heard she was coming back in for winter I quickly solidified her answer to the question: “Do you want to be my friend?” She was in (yipee!).
I had a vague idea of how to get to where she was staying since I had been there once in the summer (though it took me about an hour longer than it should have since I got myself thoroughly lost). Funny thing is, you cover everything in snow and suddenly, the world you vaguely knew to begin with is a whole new mystery. Surprise! So, with slow progression I found the turn, found the tree, found the trailer and the dog found me and thus, a first girlfriend date began.
Our plan: skiing and waxing (not the skis)
Oh, you didn’t think I had a beauty regimen in the woods?
Actually, I’ve never been much of a waxer, but the juxtaposition of waxing in the woods really got my goat. It just seemed so opposite. It had to be done. And that’s lady love, to grow out your armpit hair for a friend, only to have her rip it out. Love or lunacy. I prefer to think of it as the former instead of the latter.
So, the ski. At the time I was still falling down while on a flat surface in my skis (if you’ve never skied before, which I hadn’t, just know that the main idea is to stay upright and the easiest time to do that is when you are on a flat surface. So, needless to say, I had some skills to work on). Therefore, the obvious choice was to choose a hilly backcountry trail (read: lots of tree limbs and roots to smack you in the face or trip over and a previously uncut (unattempted) trail)).
Hey, the only way to get better is to try.
We made it through the hairier parts to the top of the biggest and longest hill I had ever attempted on skis and before I had a chance to guess twice whether or not to try it, she was at the bottom.
Oh, ok. So we are doing this I guess.
I followed suit and zoomed down after her (and then almost into her and the dog. It turns out I didn’t get the stopping lesson down as well as I thought). But now, we had arrived to our destination: a big glacial lake.
Just as we started to make our way to the edge of the overhang to view the lake, the dog took off after something. We turned to see him chasing off two moose.
We made our way to the edge and she showed me where a large part of the glacier had calved recently, a piece so big that she had heard it from her house that was the twenty minute ski we had just taken away from here. She remarked on how when another glacial lake higher in the mountains had broken it had moved even the largest icebergs in the frozen lake.
I love living in a place where our time is marked by breaking lakes and calving glaciers. Where memories are based on the land and life is lived by understanding what is happening around us. Nature nerds unite.
Eventually the sun started setting and as we turned to head back to the waxing palace the moon peeked her head over the mountaintops.
We picked up a trail she had put in a few weeks earlier and made our way through the deep snow, thinking the whole time how we need to find a harness to put that pup in to pull us away.
Home sweet home and the wax is waiting but all that skiing worked up our appetites. By the time we had changed (my backpack contained an entirely new set of clothing to replace my sweaty ski clothes. It also contained a bottle of wine, a girl date staple in case you ever wonder what to bring. Oh, and chocolate. Bring chocolate. I don’t even care if that sounds stereotypical, it’s just a safe bet), snacked and made dinner we realized that we hadn’t even heated up the wax and since it had been on the floor of the cabin, it was now frozen.
And so out came the wine (from me) and chocolate (from her) (see, I told you) while we waited for the wax to heat on the fireplace.
A quick trip outside to refuel the generator gave light to the happenings in the sky: “The lights are going off! Bundle up” she said “We are headed out”.
“The lights” are the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis. They started off slow, a little glow here and a little ray there. “They’re shy” she said. “You have to sing for them.” And so we did. She whistled “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding while I sang along and before we knew it, the lights were dancing.
The show lasted long enough for me to reach for my glass of wine at the end only to find it stuck to the porch. A little colder than a red should be served at, no?
With a little love, it came unstuck and we decided to check on the wax status and warm up a bit.
It was time. My armpits shivered in fear. I’d never waxed them before. They would be shocked! We had always been so polite to one another. Here I was coming in with a wax army. I didn’t know what to expect.
You know, you really reach a new friendship level when you’re waxing your friend’s armpits.
My pores got angry and I started sweating. We couldn’t stop laughing, me nervously and her at/with me. Oh, and did I mention I’m ticklish. Probably the armpit wasn’t the best place to could pick, ya think? But we persevered and before I knew it (after she had tweezed the sneaky remainders, ouch), those things were smoother than a skating rink.
Is it weird that I’m telling you this? Well, this is the nitty gritty of how bonds are formed. You’re welcome for the look into the intricacies of female friendship.
The accomplishment had us both pretty jazzed and before we knew it the clock struck 1:30am and I still had to drive home, now in the dark, on my second ever solo snow machine trip. But hey, if I could survive winter waxing a la fireplace heat up I could handle making it home.
And I did. All the way home to my furry man (they say opposites attract, right?) who, although I had spent the last month with him and had seen him only 8 hours before, I still had missed. I guess that’s what living in the woods will do to you: force you to make quick friends and force you to find someone you can live in a tiny space with and still miss when you’re away for a day.
So, yes. There are girls here. Awesome girls (women, to be precise) and lucky for me (though my armpits aren’t so stoked), I get to be among them, of them and with them.
Thank you, Alaska.