Month: June 2016

Bluebell

I spent the later part of this Winter learning how to drive:

1. in the snow and

2. in a stick shift.

I patted my own back as I began to learn how to control a slide, to drive in slush and ice and everything not so nice and eventually, I took my first long voyage to a girlfriend’s house 15 miles away.

It was triumphant.

With the exception of the end.

Back then, Ole Lady Jack in the Box had little to no shocks and her back-end wobbled all over the road at the slightest interference like a less than predictable belly dancer. But just as I would feel about to lose control, she would snap back into action. It was my first time in 4th gear and my first time with passengers that weren’t my person (The Chief). Our neighbor and her pup and my other neighbor’s pup who relentlessly followed up for a few miles until we just decided to kidnap him for the day and Miss Cinda all packed into Lady Jack and headed to another girlfriend’s house on The Lake 15 miles away. It was relatively smooth sailing despite the rocky waters of The Road and the inexperienced Captain (yours truly) but we got there in one piece and high fives were definitely in order.  All I had to do was turn around once we reached The Lake to face homeways before we trekked on foot across the frozen waters.

Funny thing was, I couldn’t quite find 1st gear after spending so much time out of it. With a cliff heading down to The Lake behind us and a 1.5 car road and blind turn in front of us, I set out to find 1st and right us in the direction homeward (that’s a thing out here. You always pull into a destination in a way so that you are faced homewards. I don’t know if it stemmed from fire trucks in our family or what, but it’s a habit and one I see almost everyone do out here and ya know, it makes a whole lot of sense).

7 tries later I finally found a little momentum. I caught the gear, a little too hard and flew forward enough to stall the car and land on the horn. The stall coupled with the high-pitched and long “meep” of the horn left us in tears from laughter. I swear the dogs were even laughing (after they were done rolling their eyes). A few tries afterwards I found 1st again and about ten minutes later we were turned homewards, without falling off the cliff or running into an oncoming car.

Success!

The rest of the day was spent spotting bald eagles and their babies and walking with the dogs along The Lake (we had acquired 4 more at this point. Outnumbered again.) as they found salmon to munch on and the ladies caught up.

 

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I doubt it will ever cease to amaze me how flowing water turns seamlessly into a slippery highway.

 

Oh girl time, how I love thee.

That night, The Chief and my girlfriend’s husband ended up driving out to The Lake as well and due to a raucous party in my belly to which I had not been invited to chaperone, The Chief drove us home.

So, that morning was my last time driving a stick shift in any gear higher than 3rd on The Road. I’ve never even been off The Road, never driven on anything other than the fertile learning grounds of 60 miles of bumpy and deserted lands and thus have never entered a highway or driven in stop and go traffic.

But suddenly I was about to. You see, I spoke too soon.

And I should have known better.

 

The tonsils struck back.

After last week’s adventures in Abscess Land I figured I was free. Sure, the idea that they might come back again was in the very back of my mind but I haven’t organized back there in a while and it was easy to look past. All was good.

But again, I spoke too soon.

Just as I published last week’s post I felt it: the heat. My right ear started pulsing again and my ear and neck felt as if they were on fire.

Again?!

I called my doctor in California and she promptly advised me to “hop on a plane to California. The infection may be coming back and who knows where it will land next”. She would send in a referral sight unseen for me to see an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat specialist) and I would likely have a Tonsillectomy.

I half choked on her words as I almost laughed a response out of nervousness. Hop on a plane? The nearest airport is 8 plus hours away. Correction: the nearest airport is 3.5 miles away. I can get there on foot. That being said, that airport brings in mail twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays on small planes packed to the gills. Those would be the only days I could potentially get out via air (if they weren’t already booked with passengers) and it would cost a pretty penny just to get to Anchorage where again, pennies would get even prettier as I purchased my way back to California. In addition to that, simply going to the high town here (at an increase of 1,000 ft.) made my ears go crazy so jumping in a plane sounded more like a torture chamber than a refuge.

But what could I do? Kaiser would only refer me to Kaiser and guess what?

There’s no Kaiser in Alaska.

Who knew?

Well, I for one did and I for one did nothing to start working out my medical situation in Alaska in anticipation of a future need for care.

Care I needed right then.

Plan ahead? That’s cute of you to suggest. No, I think I’ll go for the fly by the seat of your pants and potentially have to sell the shirt off your back to pay for it approach. Yes, that sounds much more serene.

After hours and hours and hours on the phone trying to figure out my best options through MediCal, Medicare in Alaska, Kaiser and Partnership (some go-between for MediCal and Kaiser that is confusing to everyone in the medical system) to get in to see an ENT, it dawned on me:

The Chief and I had basically spent the entire Winter with his ENT. Maybe they would see me.

No referral needed. They set me up with an appointment for that coming Friday.

Perfect.

Now then, our car was (and is) still broken and we can’t very well steal away in a Fire truck during a time of extreme fire danger, but make the appointment I did.

Our neighbor came to our rescue lending us his valiant Subaru steed and with that we were set. I called around for a vet appointment for Cinda as well as she had been having some older lady problems that we had been unable to get her in for and when you’re going to Town you pack in every appointment you can. Two birds? Why not try for 20 with one stone. Try we did.

Town Run.

This time, it was a Town Run on steroids.

Our plan: leave Thursday, return Friday night.

20 hours of driving in 36 hours.

And we were going to share the driving.

Gulp. Stick shift training in a hurry.

Why the rush? Saturday was packed to the gills: there was a Fire Department Kickball Game & Cookout Fundraiser and I was performing with the local band at the bar for our first gig. We had to make it back.

All week I made phone calls trying to finagle a way to ensure this visit and the potential CTs and Xrays the doctor had suggested would somehow be covered. Many times throughout the week, even though I still had to take loads of Ibuprofen to function and couldn’t make it through any evening event, I tried to convince The Chief that maybe we were wasting our time.

“Julia, you had an abscess on top of Tonsillitis which blew up in your mouth. We are going to the doctor.”

Fine, sheesh.

He’s good like that. You see the thing is, (gross part approaching) as I had guessed, the drainage of an abscess is supposed to happen in the hospital and then following the drainage, patient’s are given a high dosage shot of Penicillin. And it didn’t quite roll out that way.

I guess he had a point. Besides, my Mom was in California backing up The Chief’s every call with a Do You Need Me To Come Up There And Drag You To The Doctor Myself Mom Voice so I knew I was going no matter what.

But I was still worried about the money because who knew where in the system this was coming from but if it didn’t land somewhere, it was coming from me and me is not exactly rolling in the dough.

“You are getting the care you need. I don’t care if we have to pay it off for the next 20 years.”

I have never had someone so blatantly and selflessly throw themselves on the line for me (other than my Mom) and make me feel like we are in it together no matter what.

I was honored (though I still tried to get out of it).

But I didn’t get out of it and so we left Thursday, ready to return Friday and hoping the doctors wouldn’t require us to stay longer (we’d experienced that move before and were poised to debate it if we needed to).

We left with a zoom, as if we were gathering running momentum in order to pole vault ourselves back. A few times I thought The Chief might ask me to drive and I readied myself for the challenge despite the intense pain building in my ears as we went up and down and up and down the mountains. But he didn’t.

No driving yet.

We stopped about 4 hours from home at the nearest DMV. About a month ago I was on a Girl Trip day mission to the same town to get two things done: loads of laundry and licensing at the DMV. Since I’ve lived here since December (and you’re supposed to change over licenses after living somewhere for something like 30 days, I’ve just found out) I was way out-of-bounds. But I was hesitant. I liked my CA license. I’d never had anything else. It felt like I was saying “goodbye” and it made me apprehensive.

That is until we showed up at 11am on a Thursday and the DMV was closed. In that moment, I realized that a license is just a license and I needed my license in AK. My heart and at times my feet will always have a place in California but in order to get this whole medical shebang moving, I needed to come at it legitimately.

But living in small towns means small DMVs, DMVs like you’ve probably (I hadn’t) never seen before. It’s a one room tiny building with one owner/operator whom obviously (though it wasn’t obvious to me before arriving) is able to set her own hours of operation. 9-5? Think again.

When I saw that Closed sign I knew I wanted that license. Leave it to Alaska to give you just what you were secretly asking for, only to help you realize that you didn’t really mean it.

So, here it was, today was the day: legitimate driving in Alaska. I had waited a whole month to be able to get back here and I was stoked. I had studied online, found out all the paperwork I needed and I was ready. I came in, gave her my forms and identification and proof of residence and she looked at me and said:

“Oh no, you live at the end of The 60 Mile Road, don’t you?”
She recognized me from Winter when we came in for Fire Truck registrations on one of our trips to Town.

“You didn’t bring your passport or birth certificate by any chance?”

No, I had looked online and it asked for Identification. If it had asked for my passport I would have brought my passport. It was sitting in our kitchen drawer, four hours away. The Chief had suggested I call the DMV but I had stubbornly ignored his suggestion. If I hadn’t I would have known that apparently I needed my passport.

She knew we wouldn’t be able to come back until I could catch another ride into town who knows when but there was nothing that could be done. I took the test and passed (it’s an abnormally hard test for some reason so I was glad to make it through) and we placed all of my paperwork in an envelope for me to return with when I could.

Ugh.

Another DMV letdown. Man, I’m really going to have to work to prove to Alaska that I do want to be here, I guess. That’s O.K., I’m in.

Third time’s the charm?

The Chief kept driving from there and about an hour outside of Town we reassessed. He said he’d be fine to just finish it up (it’s like driving to L.A. from Sonoma County,  not a small quest) and so we pulled into Town ahead of schedule and settled in for the night.

The next morning it was pouring down rain.

“Maybe I’ll just drive to the doctor’s office. Anchorage can get hectic in the rain.” The Chief offered. I was relieved. Stop and go traffic in the rain for the first time on a stick I’ve never driven that’s also not ours? No thank you.

We got to the doc’s office and the whole staff gave us confused looks as I entered as the patient instead of The Chief. He had one of the worst cases of sinus infections they had ever seen and so was remembered by the team. The doctor came in, evaluated my tonsils and ears and said:

“The infection doesn’t seem to be spreading. You still have Tonsillitis, despite the burst abscess so that’s why you’re still in so much pain but keep on the antibiotics and call me if you need more.”

And then:

“So, shall we take them out?”

Thank you! Finally, a doc who gets it. Personally, I am not one to jump at surgery (heck, I can barely get myself in for a check-up), but my tonsils scare me. They feel constantly on the brink of infection and this recent abscess on top of infection was enough to make me worry. I don’t want to be in the woods constantly dealing with Tonsillitis.

“Alright let’s schedule you in now.”

Now? Like next week? Oh heck no. I have a show to play tomorrow.

We asked if we could push it…to September and he gave us a look that meant “Sure, but your tonsils will decide”. So we scheduled for September so I could spend the Summer working instead of recovering from surgery (apparently it’s a pretty gnarly surgery for adults) and crossed our fingers that the infection doesn’t spread and my tonsils don’t start going for gold in the Tonsillitis Olympics again.

I left feeling heard, finally.

We had five hours to kill before the Vet which seemed like an eternity. Two errands later and we had 2.5 hours left. Time flies when you’re having fun in Anchorage.

The rain kept coming and first gear started acting up. The Chief kept driving.

Two more errands later and we were at the Vet. Poor Lou was so nervous and in so much pain when they even attempted to look at her lady bits that they had to give her morphine. It didn’t exactly calm her (she’s a dog raised in the woods without laminated flooring or leashes, it’s all unfamiliar to her) but it did deaden her senses enough that as we left she fell over in the car after we made a quick turn. The thud was both sad and hilarious at the same time but there she was, smiling goofily as she slowly picked herself back up. Triumphant T, the Hallucinating Husky.

 

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With a Doped Up Dog and a Surgery Scheduled Sweetie on board The Chief drove us out of Town. We stopped for supplies an hour out and as he grabbed an energy drink he said he didn’t mind just taking the whole drive.

I’d love to pretend that I was a little disappointed but I wasn’t. Learning a new stick on a car I don’t own on big traffic-filled roads with a testy 1st gear in the rain in a rush to get home (as it was now almost 7pm and we were still 7 hours away) sounds 100% like a typical Alaskan learning experience but 100% not what I was up for at that moment. And so, I let go and let him take us home. Thank you.

We got in late but in record time and all in all we had made it out of town which was really all that mattered.

The next day was a flurry of activity getting ready for the fundraiser (though thanks to our friend almost everything was already in place, she’s awesome). I was down at The Restaurant and had just plated the last batch of cookies I’d made to bring up to the fundraiser. I walked outside to go the long way to the ball field instead of scaling the treacherous back way and just as I stepped outside, The Chief rolled up, horn meep meeping.

She lived!

A few months ago The Chief gave away the Honda to a wonderful mechanic friend. I was not excited. I loved that Honda and wanted to get her back to life (I’d never seen her in action), but we didn’t know to fix her and hadn’t had the time and so, in the circle of life things live around here, she was given away to hopefully be resurrected and loved by someone else.

For some reason though, as I said goodbye to her I knew I would see her again.

He pulled up meep meeping the horn and I almost threw the cookies in the air with excitement.

“It’s for you, babe.”

Our mechanic friend had gotten it working but decided he didn’t need it so he had sold it to his brother for $100.00. The brother had brought it to the Kickball game to potentially give it to another friend but when The Chief saw it he immediately ran and got his money. This is for Julia.

I spent the rest of the day smiling at her when I wasn’t riding her and getting bugs in my teeth my grin was so big when I was riding her.

She was a hit with the kiddos too.

 

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At one point someone ran up to her and went to take her off her kickstand and I yelled across the field: “Don’t you just jump on Bluebell! She’s an old lady and deserves respect.”

She had a name. It had just popped out.

Bluebell.

At the end of the fundraiser I rode Bluebell down to the bar and for some reason The Chief suggested I take the key with me. We both looked at one another with our heads cocked as he said it (we don’t have a key to our house and we never lock anything out here. The keys are always inside everyone’s vehicles and there is just trust in the town for it to be so) but I did it anyways.

And it’s a good thing I did.

 

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Sound check.

 

Hours later, after playing music for 2-3 hours and having an awesome night a local ran into the bar and said “Someone just stole your bike!”

Excuse me?

We ran outside and down the trail and sure enough someone had tried to steal Bluebell but when they couldn’t get her started they had thrown her in the bushes. I picked her up and dusted her off as The Chief hightailed it after the invisible thief whom had disappeared into the night.

Thank goodness we had taken the key with us.

That night as I drove Bluebell home (completely un-equipped in my dress and gloveless frozen fingers) I giggled out loud from happiness. I had loved that bike since I first saw her and to have her come back around full circle is what this place is all about. It makes my heart warm.

 

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Her first time back at home. 2am and feeling fine.

 

And so, despite two attempts at the DMV and zero attempts at a stick shift in town, my driving karma has finally taken a turn with Bluebell.

Yesterday morning, I went outside to check on the garden.

 

 

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I was almost to the ramp to indoors when I spotted Bluebell in her parking spot. I couldn’t resist. I fired her up (a process of five separate steps) and flew down the road on a mini joy ride down to the river before we left for the day, slippers and all. I just couldn’t walk past her without jumping on.

And so, Tonsillitis (which seems to be improving everyday) and Town Rampages aside, this weekend was one of the best I’ve spent here so far. I may not know how to drive a stick shift in Town yet and I will still have to make yet another trip to the DMV but I suddenly have the best rig a lady could ask for.

Cheers to resurrections of vehicles who have more lives than cats and cheers to The Chief for buying her twice.

Cheers to Bluebell.

 

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Wish.

A Tale of Two Tonsils (and Ten Years)

Reader beware, you are entering the FYI (For Your Information) possible TMI (Too Much Information) zone, or as my Mom called it: “Gross, gross and gross!”

She cracks me up, but she’s also right on point. It will take a moment to get there but just remember, when the moment comes, I warned you. Read on if you’re up for a good story with a gross ending.

One year ago I did one of the crazier things of my life by packing up my things and accidentally moving to Alaska and into a house with a total stranger (though I felt that I knew him immediately).

Ten years ago was one of the other most noticeably crazy, or shall we call it “free-spirited” things I got myself into:

Italy.

In both scenarios and settings, a prior break-up was involved as well as a great leap of faith. Oh, and tonsils, tonsils were also involved.

Ten years ago. I was newly 19 and had just been dumped by my high school/partial college sweetheart the night before Thanksgiving. As a girl who loves to eat, this put a real damper on the day. I was too depressed to dive in and the food just sat in front of me as a reminder of my loss all night. One of my five Fairy Godmothers, as they call themselves, noticed my devastation and started talking to me about Italy. She was a professor at the local University and was leading a group of students there.

“There’s no better cure to heartache than Italy.”

O.K. I was in, anything to get away from that feeling. I needed direction and I trusted in her, she was a Fairy, after all.

“Perfect! We leave in June. You should probably start taking some language classes and dual enroll in the local University to start getting credits so you will be accepted to go with us.”

June?!

June was 6 months away. I was in pain in that instance. It was time to leave.

Right?

No. I was so near the end of my Fall Semester and despite heartache, or any adversity, I’ve always been stubborn for school (at least since entering college). I would finish the Semester. I needed a focus, so I decided to try for all A’s to help secure my acceptance into the University’s travel abroad program with my Fairy.

I finished the semester and buckled down, working as much as possible to save for Italy.

Finally the next semester came and I was like a horse to stable just trying to get to June. I was accepted into the University program and started taking Art History classes while simultaneously carrying a full load filled with Italian and other General Education classes for my degree at the local Junior College.

That was when I met my beautiful red-headed friend. A girl in my Italian class had said that her friend too was going to Italy in June. In fact, as it turned out, she wasn’t just going to Italy. She was going to Rome. With the University. Chance? Happenstance? I think fate. It was Kismet. She put us in contact.

It was friend love at first sight.

 

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We bring out the weirdo in one another. I love you L.

 

The first day we met we decided to room together in Italy. We purchased tickets for the same flight and probably spoke some cheesy typical Italian phrases as celebration.

Pasta!

Grazie!

Buon giorno!

Yea, my lessons were paying off alright.

That was when I first made a little leap.

For some gut reason, I added two weeks onto my flight at the end of our month-long schooling in Italy. Six weeks instead of four.

“What will you do? Where will you stay?” My red-headed friend’s mother asked me.

“I don’t know. I didn’t plan on this, it just now came from my gut and…I’m doing it.”

It didn’t seem real anyways and I tucked it away to deal with later. I was sure I’d find someone to travel with and if not, I love to be alone. It just seemed right.

A few months later and we were off. School was amazing (though since Rome was also so amazing we rarely slept more than a few hours a night. We probably could have absorbed more information without the late nights but hey, we got the Roman experience. We would trade-off which of us would get to sleep longer and which of us would go order espresso, though I feel like I often ended up with the sweeter end of that deal than not, thanks L) and I saw and learned things I felt I had been destined to see.

 

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…and ate a lot of things I felt I was destined to eat.

 

A psychic before my departure had even said to me (Rome unannounced) that I had a Roman background and had fought in the Colosseum. Who knows, but I do know that the place struck me down in my bones and still everyday I feel a constant pull to return.

After a month I bid “Adieu” and “See you soon” to my fire haired friend (who is still one of my best friend’s to this day) and started traveling with a girlfriend I met in the program.

 

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Rose and I at the train station, about to board the wrong train.

 

Eventually, after a week or so she had to leave as well and I found myself alone in Amsterdam. One morning I got very lost and unbeknownst to me, found myself in the Red Light District. I sat in a window to study my map and get my bearings at which point I realized where I had stumbled. I felt a presence and looked behind me. The window was inhabited by a naked lady dancing. It was 9am.

Oops, sorry! Blocking the show.

At the end of the week I met up with two girlfriends from home who were embarking on a whole semester abroad in Florence. They had a few weeks before school started and we figured we should go to Croatia because, well, we had heard good things and why not?

On the bus/train/bus rides there I decided that I wasn’t going to make my flight back to The States in a few days. I called my Mom and made the bigger leap. If anyone would get it, it was her and so she told me to be safe and let her know when I found myself some plans.

Croatia was amazing and we stayed longer than anyone had planned but eventually school beckoned and I decided to hoof it back to Italy with them to see where it would take me.

Well, it took me to the doctor.

Our trip from Croatia was about 36 hours of straight travel. I had debated staying, had debated taking up the offer from a local to live with him but had declined. I had more to see. The moment we said goodbye and got on the bus the girl in front of me threw up all over herself. It poured onto the floor and back towards me. I was able to pick up my feet in time but the smell was overpowering. Everyone opened their windows in a symphony of shrieks as the girl just sat there with vomit from her mouth to her toes.

Maybe I should have stayed?

The rest of the journey begged that question as well. We didn’t sleep or eat much, just traveled and as the day and a half wore on I felt a sickness brewing in my throat.

The vomit girl!

By the time we reached Florence I was so weak I could barely carry my pack. I said goodbye to my girlfriends as they found their housing and went out in the early morning Florence drizzle to find accommodations of my own. Finally, hours and Carabinieri catcalls later, I found a sweet woman with one bed left in her hostel. I fell into the bed and didn’t wake until dark.

She helped me find a hospital the next day after remarking that I “no look so good”.

Thanks.

The “hospital” that I entered was in fact a church hospital.

 

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It did not look like this, it was a bit more ominous but this was my favorite church I saw and now you can see it too.

 

Nuns speaking very rapid Italian gruffly moved me towards a man in the back. I recited my rehearsed phrases:

“Ho un mal di gola, Signore.”

I have a sore throat, Sir.

He jabbed at my tonsils.

That year I had already had at least three episodes of Tonsilitis (an infection in the tonsils) and three episodes of Strep Throat. I even had a little hint of Mono! It wasn’t the best of times.

The man spoke rapidly in Italian (what other way is there?), some of which I gathered to basically mean “Hold up, buttercup. This is going to hurt”.

Just then, all of my 7th grade Science training came back to me as he produced a Bunsen Burner and a wire mesh screen attached to a small metal pole which altogether resembled a larger version of the mirrors a dentist uses to look at your teeth.

“Whatcha thinkin’ bout doin’ with that, Father?” I nervously translated into something less abbreviated and more respectful.

He gestured for me to open wide (which I couldn’t) and so he forced my mouth open a bit, enough to fit the mesh screen he had been heating (unbeknownst to me) over the Bunsen Burner into my mouth in order to burn my tonsils.

Hold up, did he just cauterise my tonsils?

Still in shock the nurses shuffled me off and lay me facedown in a chair, gesturing for me to expose my toosh a little. I gave them one cheek and before I knew it they were jabbing me with a shot (I’m guessing penicillin but I have no idea) and off I went. I was charged nothing and left with two prescription orders.

I staggered to the pharmacy in a haze, still unsure of what had happened and unsure of what medicine I was about to ingest. I crept back into my bed at the hostel to recover. All said and done I was only 10 euros (and probably some skin on my tonsils) out from the day. Oh European healthcare.

But wait. A Bunsen Burner?! I was too woozy to care and simply hoped his Medieval practices would heal me.

Within a week I was feeling better and I was back to my usual antics of late nights and days of art and history.

 

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and Sexy Pasta.

 

I even found a job on a dare at a local bar when I told the manager that I was going to work there while simultaneously hearing the base rate and asking for a raise. I got it and the next day, in I went. Ah to be very young, headstrong and obnoxious. I’m sure I only retain two out of the three today. The day after I enrolled for language school and found a house to rent. I was set.

Until another week passed and the Tonsillitis came back with a vengeance.

This time I went to the “Emergency Room”, a hollow corridor of an empty ancient building. I literally resulted to “yelling” (more of a loud talking voice in my condition) in order to find anyone to help me. They too charged me nothing but thankfully this time my tonsils were left un-singed and I went home with new antibiotics and fingers crossed.

That time did the trick and the rest of my what ended up being almost a year in Italy instead of 6 weeks was relatively sickness free.

When I returned to The States my tonsils struck again and this time I asked for them to be taken out. At that time (woah, that statement makes me feel old) doctors were hesitant to take tonsils out for fear of them bleeding without stop and because they were and are supposed to be the body’s first line of defense against infection (except some, like mine, harbor that infection instead of process it, leaving me again and again with Tonsilitis. Oh joy).

“Plus”, the doc said “we don’t really have proof that you’ve had all of these incidents, since they occurred abroad.”

Umm, I beg your Physician’s pardon? Call the strange church I went to, or the emptiest Emergency Room that’s ever existed. They will tell you (rapidly in Italian so maybe pull up Google translator. Oh how I wish I would have had that) that my tonsils looked the size of strawberries and were just as red and bumpy.

Proof my patooty. Just look at my BBQed tonsils, that seems proof enough, no?

So I gave up for the time being. The doc wasn’t budging and I certainly didn’t want someone who didn’t have faith in the operation getting near my tonsils anyway. They’d been mistreated enough for that decade.

And you know what? That was very close to true. I never had another problem with my tonsils again.

Until now. Almost one decade later.

**Warning, if you thought anything earlier was gross, you might want to get out now. If not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here we go:

Alaska is currently experiencing its highest pollen count on record. That being said, new to the flora about these parts I have been having some symptoms. The whole town has. Sore throats from pollen abound and a few weeks ago a sickness started to sweep through town.

My sore throat persisted but I felt I had dodged the sickness. No cough, no mucus, just a painful throat. Nothing to write home about (who am I kidding, I still call my Mom when I have even a sore throat, but you know what I mean).

Until one night, talking outside of our house with a friend who was helping us with our truck (our Jack in the Box went on the fritz two weeks ago and we haven’t been able to remedy it since) I felt something shift. The sore throat was suddenly gone but my right tonsil (consistently the worse side, if I remember ten years ago correctly) was swelling and swelling fast. We said goodbye and I immediately did a salt gargle. It hurt. I put myself to bed with get well thoughts in my head.

I awoke to something else.

My right tonsil was even more swollen than the night before and my right ear was throbbing. I felt a familiar feeling but couldn’t quite admit to myself that I might have what I thought I might have. The T word.

 

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My tonsils we pocked and craggy like the clouds in this sky. Except they were the sunset version.

 

I buttoned up and buckled down with my Ibuprofen at my side and off we went to work. The Chief had somehow re-injured his neck earlier in the week as well and so we arrived at work (now in major Go Mode as the restaurant was set to open that week) looking like Frankensteins who couldn’t turn to look at you without turning our whole bodies and one of us who could barely speak.

Sexiest couple of the year award goes to…definitely not us that day. Stiffest maybe.

As the day wore on I felt more and more dragged down. Swallowing became something I tried to avoid and then it happened:

I didn’t want to eat because it was too painful.

My girlfriend later said “I knew you were sick when you weren’t eating. That’s your favorite hobby”.

I know girl, I know.

Being the friend that she is, we made a makeshift tongue depressor and used our flashlights to look down my throat.

“Oh man, can you breathe? Your right tonsil is so swollen it looks like it’s blocking your airway”

I had tried to ignore it but when she mentioned it I couldn’t any longer. No, I couldn’t really breathe well.

I got the You Probably Should Go To The Hospital look from my co-workers and so after 8 hours, I went home to rest.

You see, the funny thing about going to the Hospital is, well, it’s twofold:

  1. Our car just broke down so I have no way to get there and there is at least 4-5 hours away.
  2. I don’t have insurance in Alaska. Apparently, MediCal only covers expenses in California, a tricky loophole I found myself diving into upon realizing I might need aid.

Add to all that the fact that even in the past with health insurance and a Hospital 15 minutes away I still have avoided going to the doctor like the plague so having these challenges just made me shy away from it even more.

The next day I woke up in excruciating pain. I could barely open my mouth and swallowing or drinking was torturous. This was beyond anything I had experienced before. When I spoke it sounded like I had a mouthful of marbles. I decided to head into work with The Chief to see if a co-worker’s husband (The Paramedic) could look and see what he thought.

Hospital.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

I called around and found where I could get care if I could find a ride and just then The Paramedic said “I’m going to town tomorrow. I’m leaving early though. You should come.”

We decided to meet at the 5 mile marker of The Road at 4:30am the next morning. The last time I was up at 4:30am was probably because I was going to bed at 4:30, not rising. I thanked him and left.

I slowly walked the 3.5 miles home (since we are car-less and had driven the fire truck to Town which needed to stay in Town for that night’s training) and arrived home exhausted and in increasing pain. I knew I needed to call about my insurance but I was hurting so much and was so tired that I literally couldn’t.

A nap later and groggy as can be I got through to the Hospital and Clinic and after getting all the information I was thoroughly confused.

I could either go to the Clinic and pay out-of-pocket or go to the Emergency Room and potentially be covered. Key work: potentially. If not, I would end up with a much bigger out of pocket.

Oh health system woes.

I’ve never been much of a gambler, not with my money at least. Big life choices? Sure, roll those dice but not for money.

Overwhelmed and in ever-increasing pain I tearfully called The Chief. “Please have someone else run training tonight. I need you.”

He was home within the hour and I was calmed though not convinced that the insurance situation would be any sort of breeze the next day. A hurricane maybe but not a breeze.

It’s one thing to be sick. It’s another to be sick and to be worried about going to the doctor for fear of financial ruin. It’s a tale that’s often told and yet still persists.

The Chief tried to quiet my worries and made me a smoothie so I could eat something and we cuddled into bed to rest.

Nope.

In the potential 5 hours of sleep we could have gotten I slept a total of maybe 30 minutes. Every time I was about to fall asleep I would have to swallow and the searing pain would wake me up. Or, as I was drifting off my ear would start pulsing from the pressure. The Chief is thankfully a very good sleeper and was able to knock out a few Z’s before his big day ahead of him (opening day at The Restaurant) but we both awoke at 3:30am groggy and in pain.

I “awoke” so puffy I couldn’t even feel my jawbone and touching my neck felt like I was scorching it with fire (or wire mesh heated on a Bunsen Burner). I felt like something was growing and growing in my throat and it became harder to breathe and more awkward and painful to swallow.

The Chief drove me to meet The Paramedic and the Ibuprofen finally started to work a little since I had upped my dose. We were able to talk a bit, get to know one another, that is when I wasn’t drifting off mid-sentence.

Finally, a stop at his Brother-In-Law’s to drop off something and pet his pet donkeys later and we were in Valdez. I smelled the Ocean which I haven’t really smelled since November (and as a coastal kid, I’ve missed it) and it felt like all would be fine.

 

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I forced myself to take a walk along the pier with a girlfriend.

Eventually.

The clinic would take walk-ins from 9-11. We arrived around 9:30 and a friend of The Chief’s who happened to be working that day greeted us. He explained the different avenues I could go and so I checked in with the front desk of the clinic who sent me to the Emergency Room to see my options. Once at the Emergency Room they sent me to Billing. Once in Billing they told me I had to cancel my MediCal because it only works in California.

I hadn’t realized that of course, resident or not, your insurance needs to be where you are. I’m in Alaska more often than not these days and I need to be able to be seen there. So I spent the next hour on the phone cancelling and confirming and watching the clock for the Clinic walk-in time limit so that I wouldn’t miss that opportunity if the Emergency Room still ended up sending me away.

Nothin’ like stress to help the healing process.

Within a few minutes of me explaining my situation ((I have MediCal but through Kaiser so I apparently am in a weird situation that ended up (hopefully) being to my benefit)) the whole office was working on it. I love Alaskans. They are so quick to get in there and help to figure things out. Three ladies were making phone calls and the rest of the office were debating the pros and cons of my visiting the ER versus the clinic.

In the end, since my insurance would only cover the ER we found out, I went in.

I was already exhausted but still needed to be an advocate for myself, ask the right questions and get the help I needed.

My tonsil and ear were throbbing. I cuddled into the crinkly paper and closed my eyes to rest as I waited for the doctor.

When she arrived she asked if I was the friend my friend at the Clinic had mentioned. I immediately felt taken care of and safe.

Knowing that I live in the woods and that any need to change medication (if it didn’t start working in 72 hours and thus was for the wrong strain) would be very difficult she did all the leg work to make sure that medications could be flown out to me.

The whole staff made sure I was O.K. They were wonderful. I left about 4 hours after entering with a prescription and with hope.

I eventually found the pharmacy in town, collected my meds and hit the grocery store just in time to get picked up by The Paramedic after his awards ceremony. We then headed to The Sister Restaurant of The Restaurant to see some good friends, have some marble talk and head home.

5 hours later, we arrived at the opening party of The Restaurant. I was exhausted and in more pain than I thought I could handle but I had watched this place go up over Winter, watched my friends and my Chief work in the below zero cold, and worked with my own hands on it. I was not missing this.

Plus, that’s where my ride was going.

Everyone was so happy as was I but it was hard to show through the stabbing ache. They sent me out food and it took me over an hour to eat a small stuffed pepper. Every bit was agony (but also delicious) and I was starving so I kept on. Finally, I hit my wall and drove myself home.

 

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My tonsils felt about as calm as this swimming spot in the sea at Capri.

 

The next day I awoke not to feeling better but worse. I had started the antibiotics but felt no shift. They said to wait 48-72 hours so I tried to distract myself. All this time we’ve been working day in and day out and suddenly, I was finally home, without plans, where all of the things we’ve neglected due to busyness lived and I couldn’t do any of them.

The next day I awoke, certain I would feel better and for a little while I did. I got in the garden and the dirt in my happy place. I did some chores and then suddenly the pain came back something fierce and I was exhausted. I laid down to nap for a while and suddenly it was 6pm. Time to eat something, woman, no matter how much it hurts.

I made sweet potatoes and mashed them up like one would for a baby and then added some avocado and tomato and lemon. It looked delicious and I’d psyched myself up to deal with the pain in order to finally eat it.

I took one bite and immediately almost threw up.

(You guessed it, the grossest part is NOW).

There was a foul taste in my mouth, dingy and dark and tangy and utterly disgusting.

What is that?!

I smelled everything in the bowl. I couldn’t tell. My sense of smell was screwy. The sweet potatoes had seen better days but nothing seemed wrong with them.

The taste kept coming. I felt like a cat with tape stuck to her feet, I couldn’t get away from it. I was revolted.

I rushed to the sink and threw down the bowl of food I was so desperately excited for and grabbed my toothbrush to scrub and scrub as much as one can in a mouth that won’t really open.

I spit out the toothpaste and suddenly the white turned to brown and red.

I almost started vomiting from the taste. It’s back! That putrid taste. But how? Then, I truly did start to dry heave and the pressure on my throat produced more of the taste and more of the foul liquid.

I realized then that my tonsil had popped or more specifically, that I must have had an abscess on my tonsil and it had popped.

I had read online about abscesses of the tonsils and had asked the doc if that’s what she saw but when she said “no” I let it go, sort of. In my gut I knew this wasn’t just the normal run of Tonsillitis I was used to.

This was it, the abscess was expelling the infection inside of it.

I gagged and cried as it was by far the worst pain of the last few days. It kept coming and I was choking and gasping to get it out while still breathing. Crying only made the pressure worse but I couldn’t help it.

Finally, the waves of expulsion slowed and I knew I needed water. To be in water, specifically. I got in my robe and headed to the shower. Showers heal all when I’m sick. I checked the propane, the battery and the water level.

Good. Good. Bad.

Great.

I went to the generator, fired it up and braced the hose in the water reservoir so I could distract myself by throwing grass seed to build our lawn while the 55 gallon drum filled. Ten minutes later I finally got in the shower.

Sweet relief.

I kept coughing and spitting up bloody brown until the last few minutes of the shower when finally, it stopped.

My ear was no longer throbbing, I could swallow without excruciating pain though I still felt some and my tonsil (though it still felt misshapen) had shrunk.

It was by far the best and the grossest thing that’s ever happened to me medically.

I texted The Chief: “The grossest thing just happened to me. I can’t wait to tell you about it.” I felt like a different person. I was still exhausted and still in some pain but I was drinking water in gulps like a human. I was eating grapes by actually opening my mouth and chewing. It felt like a miracle.

A disgusting putrid miracle.

The Chief returned home and we spent the next hour catching up while I made a paper bouquet for my girlfriend on her birthday, needing to distract myself, afraid that the tonsil would somehow just fill itself up again and my freedom would be taken away.

But so far it hasn’t.

We went to the party, though I was so exhausted from the infection and the day’s events that I only could stay for a short while. In that while I spread the gospel of the disgusting tonsil explosion, thoroughly grossing out the guests as I went. What can I say though? People need to know these things.

So now (if you made it through the gross gauntlet) you know. If you live in the woods and your car breaks down, find a ride and get yourself to town. And if your tonsil suddenly feels like a rectangle instead of a ball, you might have an abscess, actually, a Peritonsillar Abscess, if we are being medically correct. Resist from Googling it, just trust me on this one.

Oh, and the doctor should drain it for you. That’s how that’s supposed to go. But hey, who knew?

Lessons learned.

Cheers to the woods and the sweet small simple world they create and cheers to help getting out of them swiftly when that world gets a little more complicated.

Cheers to you, getaway driver. I owe you one, if we can ever get our car running again.

Cheers to my tonsils, making (I hope) one last-ditch effort to get my attention before quietly calming themselves forever.

Cheers to leaps of faith, even if they get us into a little trouble here and there.

And cheers to you if you made it through this nastiness. You’re a toughie, you.

Love,

Beneath The Borealis.

 

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Nature’s ombre. She’s so fashionable.

 

 

Love in the Woods: Year One

A year and one week ago I met my person at the Friday softball game. We talked all night after the game at the local watering hole and as I fell asleep that night my girlfriend told me I had whispered to myself that I was going to kiss him.

A year ago today that kiss happened and it took us both into a whole new life.

I resisted at first, tried to tell myself that it wasn’t a part of the plan but it was a resistance like politely refusing the last pour from the bottle of wine. No, no, no. I couldn’t possibly. O.K well, maybe.

I drank from the cup and the potion suited me just fine and I finally relaxed into the reality that I was done for (in the best of ways).

The reality that we were together at last, since once I met him it felt like I had finished a journey I didn’t know I was on, overcame the planner in me. I went with the flow and answered questions about our future with “we will see”.

But eventually, as the Summer started to come to a close and my departure to California rang the leaving bell louder and louder, we needed to plan in order to see one another again.

The Chief had always said he would never leave Alaska for any stretch of time longer than he had to.

I left Alaska in the last week of August to meet a girlfriend visiting from Norway and to attend two weddings of four people I love dearly and, of course, to see my family and friends.

Thank goodness for the draw of loved ones; it would have been tough to pull me from Alaska otherwise. In some ways it was fear that made me want to stay in Alaska, fear that we would change while apart or forget what we had. But after living my life in that way for so long, I knew I needed to stretch and to leap with at least a little faith. I mean, geez, I had been drawn to Alaska like a magnet. Time away from one another could either make that draw stronger or dissolve it completely and that was a reality I couldn’t change. So leap I did, back to California, back to the comfort of my people and the joys of a long shower and electricity.

At times, perhaps fueled by the worries of others, perhaps fueled by my own inner gremlins, I wondered if in fact The Chief would get on that plane on October 5th. Maybe he would have a change of heart. Maybe the uphill battle of leaving would be too much. He would need to winterize the house completely and shut her down for who knows how long. He would need to get the dog approved for flight. He would have to leave paying work that rarely occurred into Winter for pick up or no work at all in California. He was leaving all his comforts to meet me in mine.

But leave he did with a one way ticket and no plan of return.

We both leapt.

California was both wonderful and rough but we made it through together. We moved countless times, packing and repacking ourselves into nooks and crannies of wonderful hosts. We were given an RV and thought we were ready to roll, only to find out that it would take a lot more time and money than we had planned, plus we would have to find a place we could park it. Oh, and the dog got skunked the first night we spent in it. It was pouring down rain and there was no covered area for her. We couldn’t leave her outside so essentially, we all got skunked.

Oh joy.

But oh well.

We love her.

 

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Still to this day I can smell skunk when she gets wet.

 

It was constant logistics and shuffling.

 

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Our toothbrushes in the RV. Looks like one of them and got pushed off the pillow and almost the bed. This is us in toothbrush form. 

 

We spent a few minutes in the morning and a few hours together every night since I was working like a fiend to save enough to get me through Winter while The Chief tried to busy himself during the day finding random work or adventure in order to give our hosts some privacy. We had to pack up my storage unit to the brim, gather last items from my ex and tidy up my life to actually leave for a stint (since last time I had planned to be back in a tic).

We were tired and overworked and underplayed and so in love that it didn’t matter because we would rather be in Choreland all day than be 3,000 miles apart.

 

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You make me smile.

 

Finally, we both felt it. It was time to leave. We had already been through so much together and yet it was time to embark into more unknowns. This time, the unknowns would be for me.

Winter in Alaska.

As we left my parents’ house my Mom and I both went weepy. If I had a choice, we would live down the street from one another but my preference would be my dirt road in Alaska and hers would be her paved road in California and so we bid adieu and an “until we meet again” and hoped that again would be sooner rather than later.

 

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Just a slight family resemblance, eh? Cinda Lou could not care less.

 

 

I felt stripped down and built up all at once as we left. We were starting a new chapter. This was no longer a simple Summer Romance. We were embarking on a life together. We had met one other’s families and friends and now it was time to create our home.

 

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It may be harder to read this way but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. On the plane, headed to Alaska. In Winter.

 

California was a condensed version of hard and easy. Winter in Alaska was exactly the same and at the same time the polar opposite and with a longer life span than our time down south.

I planned our Winter in my head. Me at the oven pulling out perfect loaves of bread while The Chief played guitar for us and we all (The Chief, The Lou and I) sang along. Silly me, planning again.

Some days weren’t so far away from that glittery image and others were miles off. The Winter is something people here congratulate you for surviving, both in body and in spirit. On an extra cold day where all you want to do is cozy up with your person and read books but your person has to work all day in the cold, it can get lonely. A phone call to a friend while taking a walk can be the perfect medicine until your phone dies from the cold and the dog ditches you because she’s smart enough to head home in such weather.

You feel alone.

You miss the convenience and independence of your own car on a city road. You miss meeting a girlfriend for a drink or a walk. Heck, you just miss a walk where you don’t have to batten down the hatches and dress yourself for war with the elements to simply walk outside.

You miss your Mom.

 

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But that is the whole point of the Winter. She brings you back to bare basics and strips away the comforts you expect. She forces you inward. She forces you to truly greet yourself, wherever you’re at and so instead of becoming tri-lingual or a master knitter I ended up spending a lot of time by myself getting to know me and trying to become the person I want to be.

The process wasn’t always pretty and in a 408 square foot home (counting the loft) it wasn’t something either of us could really ever could hide. And thank goodness for that. We weathered the Winter together and our relationship grew because of it. Without much of a separate room to go to in a tiff I would go and sit on our cooler in the kitchen to cool down (I didn’t realize the pun in that until just now) and then we would come back together with more understanding and less fire.

Spring Break came and the Break-Up began. I didn’t realize until later that people were also talking about couples. The sun shines a bit more and the hardness of Winter is over and sometimes as the ice breaks, couples too go their separate ways.

I can see how it happens but I’m so glad it didn’t. In fact, I wished for more Winter because between work and surgeries I never really felt like we got the Winter I had planned on. Whoops, I did it again. But that’s O.K. because we have so many Winters ahead of us. All of them will be different and all of them will probably differ from what I expect but I welcome them.

Now it is Summer again, the time when we met, the time when we fell in love. The leaves are back, colors are everywhere, bees are out and mosquitoes are trying to conquer us all, bite by bite.

 

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Dandelion armies at attention, ready to recreate themselves.

 

There are little reminders everywhere tucked into ourselves and this town and the people within it of how we came to be and how I first saw The Chief. Now, as I know him deeper it’s sweet to look upon the past when he was still such a mystery and I’m sure in another year I’ll feel the same again as we both continue to change.

The other day, I was wiggling my toes as I wrote. I looked up to see The Chief smiling at them. He loves my feet, the one thing I’ve consistently been self-conscious about on my body throughout my entire life. I even tried to hide them from him when we first started dating by way of shoes and socks and covers but he found them. They were the one thing I didn’t want him to see and he loved them instantly and in a sense, this has been our way. The parts of us that we’ve tried to hide have found their ways from under the covers and instead of banishing them, we’ve tried to give love to the parts that the other sees as a flaw.

We’ve softened one other’s edges and brought down our shields because it simply hasn’t been possible to keep them up. For the first time I feel safe in my imperfections and safe in my person’s as well. Sure, there are things we both want to move past or change and we will but I feel a foundation, now one year old that has been strong enough to hold us together through all we have seen already.

 

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Today is our anniversary and I am spending some of it writing because that is what I love to do. The Chief is happily researching fire videos to train the crew on rainy days and reading like a fiend. We will go out as a family (The Chief, The Lou and I) and explore and hike and then eat dinner with our friend family who brought us together and then watch an amazing friend do stand-up comedy at the Rec Hall. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect day. Heck, there might even be pancakes factored in there somewhere (there was).

Thank you Alaska for your hard-handed shoves and soft-fingered flicks to push me to where I am today: imperfect and in love in the middle of the woods. I never saw it coming and I only want to see it growing.

With all my heart, thank you.

 

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A little time at The Toe.

 

 

 

Locals Only

I remember the first time someone called me a Local here. To me it was a badge of honor, something I didn’t take lightly and in fact, barely took at all.

“Local?”

“Yea, you live here. Didn’t you realize that yet?”

I guess I hadn’t and I certainly hadn’t thought to give myself the title. Just like becoming part of any team or group I think belonging is gained by earning it in time, not by trying to take it by force and it’s not something you should expect.

Of course you have to feel that you belong too but that doesn’t mean that you should expect others to feel the same way immediately.

In a town built on hard work and old school values there is a certain feeling of a gentleman’s agreement: show you’re meant to be here, feel you’re meant to be here and maybe others will feel the same. It’s a show of respect and a nod to tradition. There are old timers here that will barely acknowledge a newbie, waiting until they’ve earned some stripes and you know what? I like it. We are often so self-congratulatory that a hesitation from someone who has already earned their time here is a good reminder to bring the self pats on the back down a little.

And so, although I do live here, I am still reticent to shout from the mountaintops that I am a Local, to lay stake to that claim. As you live here you realize that there’s still so much to learn and so much you don’t even know that you have to learn. Yet as you start to feel a bit more comfortable claiming the place as home, as you softly tread towards the place of belonging, suddenly a shift starts to happen. You are edging towards the other side and suddenly, newcomers seem foreign, even though you were a newcomer just one short year ago.

Now, I grew up in what I thought was a small town.

I was wrong.

I was a Local there from birth. I could walk through town and see familiar faces and it was quiet enough that a horse or a tractor could be among the “traffic” of Main Street. It was safe and cozy and creative. There were hippies and farmers alike in the sleepy little spot and it was peaceful.

Then came the grapes.

The town had been known for its apples, always apples. Since I can remember the fields were covered with apple trees. The area is even known for its Gravenstein apple. There’s an Apple Blossom Festival in the Spring meant to welcome the new and to bless the harvest in the Fall. We would run and play through all the farmers’ apple orchards, picking a less wormy snack off the ground if we got hungry. No one cared about fencing or property lines. It was small and quaint and kind and communal. The town was all apples.

 

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But one year and for every year after that, people started to decide that apples were no longer the key.

The key?

Grapes.

Wine grapes.

And so it went that every apple orchard suddenly was ripped up and planted with grapes and every spot of undeveloped land which could be used for grapes was purchased and sold and turned for profit. It felt like it happened overnight. The farmers I had watched going down the dirt roads on their old tractors were replaced with hired hands on fancy new equipment and the old timers seemed to disappear into thin air.

The grapes had taken over and thus the town was forever changed. With the grapes came an influx of money and with that an influx of people with money. Small Town Simple Life turned to Small Town Chic as visitors flowed in from all around the world to taste the crop and sample the quaint town of ours that was, in fact, no longer ours.

It was the first time I had ever felt a sense of ownership or protective pride over the town and it came as it was slowly sifting through my fingers like sand. It was impossible to gather up and put back together again. It was forever changed.

The town had always been a melting pot but with a common undercurrent of a simple back to basics life. In came those who could buy that idea and aim to emulate their version of it. Those who had lived in the town for decades could no longer afford their houses. Children who had grown up there could no longer afford to stay. New school hippies came in with money that they used to try to be like the old school hippies whose houses they had purchased. But money couldn’t buy what the old timers simply were.

The new school hippies felt contrived, as if they had read A Hippie Life for Dummies book; as if they could simply buy the lifestyle, wear the t-shirt and become accepted as the same. And then there were also completely different types added to the mix, good and bad or bad and good depending on who is asking and who is telling. It’s all in your perspective. Either way the town had suddenly been taken over, the new population outweighed the old and the ways of old were deemed unimportant or falsely duplicated in a way that made it feel cheap. My town was changed.

And so upon coming here, I thought I knew something about living in a small town. I didn’t want to impose, I wanted others to feel respected by me and positively affected by my presence, if affected at all.

I knew nothing of living in a small town.

My old “small town” meant I knew maybe half of the people in my graduating class. This Winter, on a good week, one where there’s a poker night or Christmas, I might see 12 people. For New Year’s Eve we had a party  and there were 5 of us. That was a good showing. Every person counts and the night is changed simply by one addition or subtraction.

But now it’s Summer and the influx has started and now instead of one or two people, it feels the whole world has RSVP’d “yes”.

Locals had told me about the anxiety that comes with the Summer. Last year I had seen friends simply stop in the middle of the street looking at the packed bar. They would have to walk away (or at least have me order their drink and bring it out to the safe(r) zone of the porch.

I didn’t get it.

I had arrived in the busy time. Busy was normal to me. I’ve always been a bit of a social butterfly (or hummingbird as one girlfriend used to call me) able to roll with a thundering crowd and meet new faces until the wee hours of the night.

Until now.

The other night The Chief and I decided to stop for a drink at the local watering hole on our way home from work. We planned to head home afterwards and put some starts into larger pots, transplant and replant but we wanted to catch up with friends whom had just returned to town.

We showed up to a huge crowd that exponentially increased by the minute. Pretty soon there were over 100 people there. Going from 12 in the Winter to 100 overnight could give even the biggest social hummingbird anxiety.

I’ve been in that bar in the dead of winter, the only one there, waiting for work to start (work that only existed because of a film crew in town, otherwise it would have been closed and silent until late May). I’ve listened to the creak of the old wood beneath my footsteps. Suddenly, I’m shoulder to shoulder with a mass of people and I know less than 1/4 of the crowd and I can’t hear anything except the beating of my own racing heart.

What happened?

The tourist season is underway and as it turns out, so is my crowd anxiety.

The Chief and I looked at one another wide-eyed and found a place outside the porch even to gain some distance and to be able to actually connect with our friends whom we did know there. The great divide between Tourists and Locals had begun.

Luckily for me, even though I was one of those tourists last year, I was a tourist because of a Local and so I was given access and entrance to a different world. Otherwise, who knows if I would have met any of them, much less the shy Chief.

Now I’m on the other side of things. I am fielding the questions about living here (“You actually live here in Winter?”) and giving constant directions to places I know of but often haven’t ever had the time to visit. I’m trying to help people not commit faux pas and to gently correct them when they do let their dogs swim in the drinking creeks or leave their trash for someone else to haul out.

 

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This was all snow not so long ago…all to ourselves.

 

I hate the idea of ownership over a town but I hate it just as much as I love it.

You should love your home.

You should feel pride in where you rest your head and maybe one day your bones.

But sharing it with outsiders? Unfortunately, that can feel hard, even harder when outside of 50 people (seasonals and year round) everyone is an outsider. The thing is, not even a year ago I was an outsider. But in a town when the addition of even five people is noticeable the addition of 50 or 100 is overwhelming and it can be difficult to remember the ultimate truth: these newcomers are here because they want to be a part of the beauty of this place. The way they interact with it may be different, you may never be friends, you may never even meet but that doesn’t mean that what I so loved about this place should lose practice or not be shared.

 

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I love that people always wave when they pass one another here, that they say “hello” or give a nod and pull over to catch up.

The other day, I found myself not recognizing a vehicle and not making a move to wave because of that.

That’s not who I want to be.

I don’t want to protect my newfound membership in a club by making others feel like outsiders. I want to be a refuge from city life for others and to facilitate a place where everyone waves and shares the feeling of the beauty around them.

 

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The once frozen river, crossable by snow machine. Now only traveled by boat

 

The other day I was driving down the hill from the glacier to town. Tourists are constantly walking the road, and at this time in the season the tourist vans aren’t running because it’s too early in the season or too late in the day. This couple had hit both options. They jokingly threw out upwards pointed thumbs to me, seemingly more going through the motions than seriously expecting me to stop.

I did. That’s how we do things here.

“Need a lift?”

It’s four miles back to town and even farther to the campsites if someone isn’t staying at the hotel. After a day out on the glacier or ice climbing or packrafting, an added four mile walk can be just the opposite of what the doctor ordered.

They looked tired.

“Really? Oh, my gosh. Yes, please. That would be so fantastic. Thank you.”

I had been in the car plenty of times when this same situation arose but I had never gotten to be the driver, never gotten to be the one deciding to pick someone up, to do a good deed and to show some hospitality. You always pick people up if you can, that’s how the town goes.

 

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We will totally pick you up as long as you can handle the fuzz…

 

In the weeks prior, as Spring had shifted to Summer, my protectiveness over the area had turned closer to un-hospitable than I’d like to admit. It isn’t how I actually feel, but it was how I started to act and I’m not proud of that.

The thing is, we’ve all been tourists at some point. We’ve all walked on someone else’s turf only to realize we’ve mistakenly poked holes in it. I think my living in a town forever changed by outside forces has made me sensitive and cautious of newcomers, just like people here might have been cautious of me. I’ve seen the town change just by the few people who’ve been added in a year (myself included). The television show certainly has left its mark. But it’s impossible to live if we are constantly afraid of change, even if that fear is somewhat staked in reality. We fear the town changing for the worse, but my worse isn’t yours and so we all influence what happens and have to compromise accordingly.

Picking up this couple and having a great conversation with them during the ten minutes of the bumpy drive refilled my tank and inspired a shift in perspective.

I can spend the entire Summer months here guarding my territory. I can complain about tourism, feel the intensity of the influx of people. Or, I can share. I can let each person’s experience here be their own, it doesn’t change mine. I can even learn about the area from them, since they are here to tour and I am here to live and sometimes I miss the newest cave that’s opened up. I can welcome them and hope for the best or I can be my smaller self and try to keep all the cookies for me. But really, that just makes me sick.

Sure, the crowds are still overwhelming but I can instead feel that increase in energy as fuel to my fire instead of letting it dampen me. I can see the pros and accept the cons and realize that I’ve been those tourists and I could have been them last year, had I not had an “In” and because of that, be reminded to treat everyone with kindness instead of becoming a curmudgeon. I’ve already moved to the middle of the woods, if I close myself off from newcomers, I’ll really be out here and if the town had closed off to newcomers, I wouldn’t be here at all. And so, I aim to change my disposition, divert my anxiety towards more useful emotions and see the beauty in what is before me.

 

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My hometown changed and still is changing but the biggest uproar is in the past (and I’m sure again in the future). Anytime we face a full 180 degree turn it’s hard to adapt but as the years go by the edges soften. Now, in my town, the apple is gaining a sort of resurgence. Cider has become a huge industry. The kids of families that I grew up with have started businesses around this. We are paying homage to the past but in a newly defined way. Change comes no matter what we decide about it but change can loop back around and find its base again too.

The Summer is intense, but there is so much that is good about it. Adventures and colors and rainbows fill the day where before the cold and the lack of light decided our actions. Besides, soon enough, it will be Winter again. The quiet will return and the constant party will cease. Summer Camp will end. Books will open, fires will be made and tended to. Eyelashes will freeze and the dog’s toes will turn furry again. And then I’m sure I’ll wish for a girl’s night out on the town that won’t exist until Summer again. The ebb and flow.

And so every day I look at the river and wonder how it was ever frozen enough to let us cross it but instead of missing the snow I try to remember that it will return, but for now, she flows.

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Let Grown-Up Summer Camp begin and remember to call in sick (hiking) when your patience is fading. Cheers to the highs, cheers to the lows and welcome to Summer.