It took me a while after I first arrived here to realize that Trash Day doesn’t exist here. There isn’t one night a week that you’ll run into your neighbors as you line up your cans or watch them in the morning cursing their forgetfulness as they hurriedly place them in a row. There are trash cans everywhere. Trash and recycling duties are performed by the Park Service but they are not for local use. Of course you may occasionally use the cans for typical use (that ice cream wrapper has to go somewhere) but bringing your household trash to the garbage cans? That’s a No-No.
So, then what?
By the time I realized I was living with The Chief (the plans of a building a platform finally put to rest and my boots settled comfortably in what was now Our house) I realized I had a lot to learn about how the house actually worked. As a visitor you (or at least I) kind of gloss over certain details. You toss something in the recycling at someone’s house and then for you the process is done. Until suddenly you live there.
And so I set in to learn just how everything magically went Poof! and disappeared.
Well, I’ll tell you right now it is not magic.
It is, on the other hand, a lot of odoriferous work.
But that’s fine with me. I grew up amongst pungent projects. My favorite household chore as a kid was going to the dump. I loved the sounds and the big machines, wearing “dump clothes” and tough leather gloves. I loved the seagulls and the utter vastness of the pit. It was powerful to me in some way, like looking out on the ocean from a clifftop. Back then you got to drive straight up to the actual garbage pit.
For some reason they stopped allowing people to do that. Sometimes I wonder if it had anything to do with this little girl who fell down into the pit one day because her father threw the rotten 2x4s they were heave-ho-ing into the pit on the count of “3” instead of “Throw” (you know “1, 2, 3, Throw!” vs. “1,2,3!”. It’s the ultimate debate) and she flew into the pit along with the boards. Down, down, down into the vast array of who knows what just as one of the big garbage chewing machines (this may not actually be their technical name) was coming by. The driver couldn’t see her and he was approaching fast. Scared and a bit discombobulated, the little girl started to try to move but she only sunk into the mounds of garbage around her. Thankfully, just then a random dump-goer ran in and carried her out and both escaped unscathed.
Oh yeah, that little girl was me. I spent the rest of the day showering the stink of adventure off of me.
So, needless to say, I’m familiar with taking care of my own garbage and used to the odors it can produce. Or so I thought.
The thing is, I’d grown soft. After years of Tuesday Trash Days and Monday night meet and greets with the neighbors over the lining up of our refuse, where the trash went and how it got there weighed less heavily on my mind and depended on very little more than a short walk from me.
So, fast forward to moving to the woods which obviously (obvious now, not so much at first) does not have Trash Day. What does one do?
One of the biggest issues with trash here is storage until it reaches the next step of transferring it to town or if it’s burnable, burning it. It makes sense, of course, but if I had been without The Chief, I can see myself piling trash outside and coming home one night to a bear dinner party that I was not invited to join or disrupt. Trash needs to be secured. So we have 55 gallon drums that we’ve purchased to store trash until we can take it into Town.
In the Summer, it may be another story. You see, the bears can undo the drum latch. I can barely undo the latch with two hands and two thumbs and a pair of work gloves. It’s a challenge every time but a bear? He can pop that thing open like Popeye and his spinach. So, we will have to test it and see how it fares.
Hopefully it will fare better than the freezer last summer. Which brings us to the next issue: getting rid of bigger items. It’s been said many times around here that this is often the final resting place for the things that find their way to the woods. From cars to tank tops to snow machine seats and 4-wheeler tires, things are used and re-used and re-purposed till the end. But when something no longer works and cannot be fixed, then what? Start a junkyard?
It feels strange to see “junk” in the middle of the woods but getting items out is always harder than getting them in (and getting them in is often darn hard. Need building supplies for your house? Unless you want to/have time to do 50 truck loads 8 hours each way yourself, you’re going to need some help from freighters). So last year when a hungry bear came to our house every night and made meat popsicle out of our stored food and broke the freezer, what was there to do? The freezer no longer worked, the food was ruined. Ah, clean up, you can be such a disgusting charade. And now we had a freezer on our hands that didn’t work and was broken past repair. The plan? Haul it out. Someday.
The next issue of life in the woods is recycling. Alaska has a pretty detailed recycling system. All items must be clean and sorted appropriately (there’s seemingly one billion different plastics classifications), bottle caps removed and non-recyclable items not included (even if they say they are – Costco apple cases? They seem to be recyclable. They aren’t accepted in Alaska. Surprise!). We have a recycling bin inside the house that then gets bagged up, taken outside and then eventually sorted into many different bags. However, the sorting process doesn’t always/can’t always happen immediately (sorting recycling at 20 below zero just doesn’t always appeal to the senses) and sometimes on the way into town there just isn’t room enough to take loads of recycling. So, it starts to pile up. Since we are heading into town again, I decided to tackle the recycling. It’s contents range from Fall until now so needless to say, the job was sizeable. Thankfully, it being Spring and all, a lot of the ground had melted around the bags but some were still frozen in and had to be shoveled out.
About 20 bags and countless amounts of old beer spilled on me later, we were sorted.
We started to debate how much we would actually be able to bring with us. With a barrel for fuel and all that recycling plus 4 bags of trash, things were getting a little crowded, and we still had that old freezer plus countless other random items that needed to be retired for good. We settled on putting in as much as we could and leaving a day early in order to complete all the dump and recycling runs. But, we ran into a much better option. A friend had started a trash and recycling business last year and was taking a trip out, his first big run of the season.
Residential services were available and so we called to see what he could take. We hustled all day to get as much gone as possible which meant cleaning out another freezer that had stored the rotten meat from the bear encounters with the other freezer last year. A lot of gagging and bagging up meat turned unrecognizable and we would finally put to rest the bear debacle that started 8 months ago.
That’s how things go out here, in stages and never as fast as one would hope. But now we could see the end in sight. We piled the truck high with our first load and then our second and slowly but surely improvements to the property were becoming noticeable.
The Chief had done a day of falling trees for our friend who was running the trash business and so the beauty of the barter and trade system that flourishes out here was put into play. Just for us to haul the freezer to the dump would have been $100, plus gas and time, plus it would have taken space away from hauling in other items. Our friend was able to do it for much less and all in all, credit from a day of work from The Chief paid for a day of hauling trash and recycling from our friend. Any time something out here is made just that much easier, it means the world. Saving a day at the dump (even though I still do love going) means that we can spend that getting the property even more ready for Spring before we leave, for as the snow melts it’s amazing the treasures (and trash) I’ve found.
The dog we are dog-sitting (he’s our nephew) came in one night biting at his paw. He allowed me to look at it and I yanked out the molar below.
The next day, as the snow had melted exponentially more, he came up with the whole half bear jaw and some claws.
Thankfully now there’s a way to get rid of the trash we find amongst the treasures on a regular basis and a way to avoid potentially creating bear amusement parks in our backyards. It makes the “hard” life we live just that much easier so we can focus on other Spring things like getting the garden ready and switching out Winter boots for Summer boots.
Cheers to Spring time (I’ve finally given in) and all that it unearths.
Ah, and a brief sidenote: The Chief is named The Chief over here at Beneath the Borealis not because we are ensnared in some hierarchical patriarchical relationship where he reigns supreme but because of his profession. He is the Fire Chief of the town and thus, The Chief seemed a sweet moniker for the man I spend my days with. So no, don’t worry, I’m not bowing before him or asking for permission to sneeze. We are partners. Different in our talents and equal in our value.