Month: July 2016

Surviving the 180s

Three weeks ago I was up to my ears in work.

I would come home late every night and spend a few hours half working, half spending time with The Chief until I retired for a short sleep and awoke to do it all over again.

The Chief, on the other hand was searching for work extra work to supplement the lack of fire work he’d been called for. The fire season was off to a strange start and the jobs he would have normally been assigned hadn’t been sent his way.

The Chief was at home and hustling for work while I was rarely at home and hustling at work.

He kept up the house and I crashed once I got there.

I was exhausted, he was restless.

We were in different places.

 

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Sunrising / Sunrisen

 

It was a complete 180 degree shift from this Winter where he worked every day he could when he wasn’t sick and I was instead at home keeping us running.

It was a complete 180 degree shift from last Summer when we both were working like mad. We kept sane not through the support of a spouse at home providing a clean house or homemade meals but through the craziness of new love. It powered us through the summer madness.

Then, two weeks ago The Chief found more work and another 180 degree shift came. He and one of his best friends started working twelve-hour days for a film crew followed by a construction job. Things started falling into place again. A new rhythm started to establish itself.

 

Then, the storm came.

 

Literally.

I came home one night two weeks ago early for once and spent the evening alone since suddenly The Chief was the one working late. I enjoyed the time to just be in our home and listen to the thunder roll. Thunder and lightning in Alaska is a new thing. Coming from California and spending many Summers in the Midwest, I am used to thunderstorms. I crave them. They are so dramatic, so all-encompassing and then…they’re gone.

Yet, even a mere ten years ago, thunder was a rare occurrence in Alaska. Now it is common. The Lightning Belt has actually traveled North and so with the belt comes a cinching in, a sudden concentration and constant presence of lightning in Alaska.

Amazing, right?

In a way (for a lightning lover), yes and in another way, no no and no again.

You see, lightning as we all know, strikes.

In less rural areas it might not be such a big deal but in the wilderness? It’s a big deal. This Summer the state has been littered with lightning strikes, so much so that the map shows more red (strike points) almost than green (land) at times. And when lightning strikes, fire is a very real possibility. With most of the state being dense wilderness versus populated areas there often is little to no fire response nearby.

And so, that evening while I sat by myself and enjoyed the roll of thunder, I also felt a sense of worry for what the lightning accompanying the thunder might bring.

But what we worry about rarely comes to fruition and as a worrywort of sorts, time and time again I’ve seen that to be true.

Except for two weeks ago.

I worried that night two weeks ago that lightning would strike and cause a fire.

And cause a fire it did.

 

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This is the first picture I took of the fire as it started to become more and more noticeable.

 

And so, as the Fire Chief of the Volunteer Fire Department, The Chief was set to work by the Department of Forestry.

For days the fire went on with little concern from the outside. It had started in almost exactly the same place as a fire which had started 7 years earlier (the cycle of seven runs strong)  and so it was amongst “Old Burn” (areas that had already been burnt and therefore didn’t provide as much fuel for the fire). It seemed (or was speculated) that it would stay put in the same area, that the land would be re-scorched and then regenerate, and the fire would have served its purpose to help the land renew itself.

Wrong.

The weather this Summer had been unseasonably warm and the earth unseasonably dry and so, the new fire jumped the bounds of the old fire within days as it found new fuel.

 

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The fire starting to pick up fuels, especially due to the consistent wind to the Southeast

 

We spent the evening of a friend’s birthday looking out from the Hill Town down into the valley of the fire, watching huge smoke plumes build into mushroom clouds of smoke and watching flames jump so high into the air that we could see them with the naked eye 17 miles away.

 

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I’m down with a light show, but this was no Led Zeppelin experience. This was real and too close for comfort.

 

 

It was getting closer.

 

 

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The smoke plumes the morning after. The parts that look like clouds above the treeline are in fact smoke and that wind just keeps on blowing in the same direction.

 

Thankfully, we had a river between us and the fire.

Except that the river has a narrow point. A point where the fire could, if it had picked up enough fuel, “jump” the river.

Say what?

I’m no fire pro but I didn’t see fire as being particularly adept at jumping.

But it is.

The Chief told us all a sweet lullaby that night as we watched the beaming orange about fire and how she can get so hot and move so quickly that she can actually uproot huge trees in her path and spit them ahead of herself and high into the air like a catapult launching fire bombs to spread a fire.

Sweet dreams.

If this fire caught enough fuel and the wind kept up in the direction of the narrows, it was only a matter of time before it jumped onto our side of the river. Suddenly, less than 20 miles away no longer seemed like any sort of barrier. It was especially concerning for the isolated Lodge near the river jump point which was just downriver and in the exact direction the consistently blowing winds were going. The Chief was flown out over the fire to provide a better idea of its trajectory and then flew to the Lodge to help them create a plan of attack should the fire come their way.

Two more days of intense smoke-filled skies went by as tensions started to rise. The Chief now was no longer just working again, he was working around the clock. I, on the other hand, ended up with two days off in a row (I was actually still doing work from home for web design but at least I was finally at home except now, I was the one who was alone).

Another 180 degree shift.

 

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Water / Land

 

The heat kept up and tensions grew and grew. The Chief’s phone rang endlessly with concerned residents and Forestry briefs and attack plans. He was on the clock for 12-14 hours daily but couldn’t turn around without being questioned, on the clock or off. A town meeting was held to discuss the upcoming approach for different scenarios and that night an air attack was launched with the goal of preventing the ever-increasing fire from jumping the river.

The air attack (planes which dropped water and then refilled their huge tanks at local lakes) worked tirelessly and by the morning the fire hadn’t jumped the river. And then, just like that…

It started to rain.

Another 180.

It’s been raining ever since.

 

In the first week of the fire, I had two days off. The Chief had none. In the second week I suddenly had three as I had stopped working at the food truck. The Chief still had none. On my newly free day off I ran into a friend.

“A bunch of us are going into the backcountry for the next few days. We are bringing instruments and packrafts and we are going to just play music for the weekend and hike and then paddle all the way back. Wanna join?”

 

As a singer, I honestly can’t think of a better retreat into the wilder wild of the backcountry.

It was hot and sunny and the perfect time for backpacking. I was nervous about getting all the gear in order and squaring away things in time and I’ve always been wary of big group outings but I could tell it was a nervous that I needed to work through and so I set myself on going and started thinking of feelers I could put out for borrowing gear.

The very next morning was the start of the rain.

The trip was cancelled.

Another 180 degree shift.

And in some ways, in retrospect, I was glad. I spent my entire first day off in the cabin, grateful for the dreary weather in ways that were twofold: one, for the fire and two, so I didn’t feel guilty for staying inside. My body and mind were exhausted.

I finally felt myself start to relax. I let myself know that there was nothing that “had” to be done that day other than run the generator and do a few other chores. Overall, I could build a fire and read or watch movies or just do nothing.

It was heaven and in stark contrast to the go go go I’d felt since Summer hit. I don’t think I’d actually taken a deep breath since and so I melted into the day. Since it was still raining, The Chief was expecting to be off a bit earlier than his usual 10pm and so I started making a special dinner, excited to finally be home together when both of us weren’t moving at 100 miles per hour.

Wrong.

Just as I was settling in post-chores The Chief called.

“Change of plans, babe. I’m headed out on a helicopter to the Forestry station and spending the night there. I’ll be home in a bit to pack.”

Right. Expectations. I should have guessed.

Dinner for one, please.

Another 180 degree shift.

And so I spent the day alone, interspersing chores with utter nothingness and enjoying every minute of it (except for the moments when I worried, having not received word of his landing safely. I told you, I’m a pro worrier but also weather conditions in Alaska do change faster than you can imagine and I can imagine the worst).

And so now I sit in the middle of three days off, the most time off I’ve had in months. I planned to spend it outside in the middle of nowhere surrounded by music and people. Instead, I’ve spent it inside in the middle of my cabin. I’ve spent it mainly alone and chosen to do so. I’ve spent it with my thoughts whom are not always kind but are there to teach and with our pup whom is a pretty good teacher (especially in the art of relaxation) as well. I’ve spent it listening only to the sounds of the fire crackling and to raindrops on the roofing (oh, and to some so bad it’s good Netflix).

 

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New blooms from newly refreshed soils.

 

I’ve never lived a life like this, where the actual shifting of the wind can change the entire week or a rainstorm can send plans spiraling into the distance. Where Seasons are king and work is fluid and walking through life is done on one’s toes, constantly being ready for a change.

I’ve never looked back to a year past before for advice and found myself in the same physical place yet in such stark contrast to the daily life of the last year that there was no comparison and no advice other than to just go with it and expect change. There is no typical day or typical week or typical Season. This life is always changing.

It might sound exhausting and I guess sometimes it is, but it’s also the lack of pattern, the surprise of tomorrow and the tenderness of now which is beautiful. When you never know what’s next and never know if what you hope happens will in fact pull through you become a little more aware of what is now. Now may not be perfect or pleasant, but the 180s promise that it won’t be forever.

And so, for now, I sit cozily in our cabin, reheating the special meal for The Chief and hoping he does in fact get off of work early today on his return home, all the while knowing it’s entirely possible that he won’t. I’m sitting in the unknown and “planning” accordingly by trying not to plan at all. Clearly, I’m still working on it but I’m sure a few hundred more 180s will help me find my way.

Let’s just hope I don’t get whiplash.

 

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Rain may bring a dreary sky, but she also brings heart-shaped puddles, wonky as they might be.

P.S. A good friend of mine is a magician behind the lens. Here is what he captured of the fire pre-rain from the Hill Town.

 

A Reinterpretation of Thumbs

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When I was a child of 6 I had a bunny. Her name was Cinnabun due to her cinnamon color (not because of my affinity for cinnamon buns, though it is strong and not for Cinnabon the company. It was not even around at this point. Gasp! Contain yourself, or at least try to) and because she was a bun (short for bunny, ya know?). My parents had divorced years earlier and so she was a Dad’s House Bunny instead of a Go With Me Everywhere type bunny. And that was o.k., or so I thought.

Cinnabun made my time at my Dad’s house more bearable for me and she had been a breath of fresh, non-murderous air from my previous Dad’s House pets. My previous Dad’s House pets had all seemed to be been living out some sort of Roman Coliseum enactment. I had owned two rats whom had been incorrectly sexed as girls. I came to find out quickly that they were, in fact, boys. Two male rats might as well be two warring tigers, each with meat strapped around his neck to further entice the other into battle.

At night the battles began. Almost as soon as “good-nights” had been said the Battle Royale would begin. There would be squealing and shrieking and tearing about the cage, breaking their little wheel and spilling their food and water. I would turn on the light to find panting rats and blood everywhere. The moment I turned the light off, the battle would start again.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me or dare I say anyone, my Dad decided not to intervene for months and so every night I would pile pillows over my ears, in tears over the viciousness happening right behind my head (they were on a bookshelf behind my bed).

So that was one set of Dad’s House pets.

The next were 7 goldfish. At first, they were delightful; bright orange and gold floating little creatures with big eyes and hungry mouths. I loved them. For some reason the only container I was allotted was a Rubbermaid wash basin to house my new pets and so it was perhaps because of this that the Murderous Goldfish was born from within a potentially good goldfish. The bad seed bloomed.

Every day I would come home from school to find another goldfish dead. I didn’t get it. They were fed and housed and I talked with them non-stop (oh, maybe they were bored?). Sure, their accommodations were small but I was working on that.

Throughout the school week homeward I would come everyday to find one more dead goldfish each one looking suspiciously more roughed up. This was not just failing goldfish. Finally, the end of the week came and one goldfish was left standing. We realized once we looked back on the week (and the states of the goldfish) that he had in fact been killing the other goldfish. My Dad said he had seen him chasing after one, pushing it towards the corners.

How was I supposed to love this monster whom had killed all of the others? He was a jerk of a fish if I’d ever seen one. He even scared me. I would come to the “tank” and he would swim back and forth, jumping at me menacingly. I don’t remember what happened to this guy (he remained unnamed). He lived for a while and then after lamenting again and again to my Dad that all of my pets were murderers I returned one week for Dad’s House Days and the brute was gone. Perhaps the sewer systems of Sonoma County would know his whereabouts.

At his disappearance I was both relieved and disheartened all at once and so when finally came the day that Cinnabun came into our lives, a vegetarian hell-bent on little more than hopping about to find clover I felt I had finally found my pet. We would spend hours together, her hopping about, me following on all fours, wiggling my nose in agreement that indeed the best clover grew in the northern patches of the property. My dad and I built a teepee with sticks and grew sugar snap peas to climb up it, creating a hidden world for Cinnabun and myself to pass the days in.

But Cinnabun was not a Mom’s House and Dad’s House bunny, as I stated before and as I stated before I thought this was fine.

I was wrong.

One day I returned for my Dad’s House Days and Cinnabun was nowhere to be found.

“That’s odd” I thought to myself realizing within seconds that it wasn’t odd. Something was fishy here and now I was all alone again. Where was my friend?

I questioned my Dad mercilessly over The Days together. He didn’t know where she had gone or how.

Hmm..weird.

On one of The Days I was walking along on my stilts, pondering her disappearance when it dawned on me: my Dad had let her go.

Of course! She’s a bunny, not a jewel thief or Houdini. She didn’t crack the code or wiggle her way out of the cage. She was let out.

I angrily came to my Dad with this realization, hoping to be met with opposition but his response fell shorter than short.

“I did. You should have seen the way she looked at me, Julia. She was so miserable just being in her cage all the time.”

Umm…exsqueeze me?

I argued and argued. He could have let her out more, she always stayed near. He could have told me and I would have simply brought her to Mom’s house. He could have done anything other than what he had done but he didn’t see it that way. Plus, he added, his girlfriend thought she stunk.

Oh, well that makes it all the more reasonable.

I sat in the clover patch and cried and cried the rest of the Dad Days away.

A few weeks later on another set of Dad Days I was lonely and lazily walking through the garden. I had always loved digging in the dirt but it had always been a little nerve-racking. The garden was taken seriously and I was always afraid to make a mistake. I always seemed to water “too hard” or push down the seeds “too far” and I just “didn’t quite get it”. I didn’t have the green thumb of the family, that was for my Dad to claim and so I shied away from it. That was until it was time to plant the garden earlier that year. My Dad had told me that bunnies loved Nasturtium and so, setting my gardening insecurities aside, I planted and planted Nasturtium for Cinnabun to enjoy.

Well, the Nasturtium was now in full effect and remembering what my Dad had said about bunnies and Nasturtium flower I sat in the field and waited. He came out and noticed my efforts. “Nice job kid, maybe you’ll spot Cinnabun if you wait there quietly. She probably misses you.”

Ah, a dagger to the heart. Thanks, Dad.

And so I sat and sat and sat and ate and ate and ate Nasturtium, not wanting to leave for a snack and miss my chance at seeing Cinnabun again. I ate so much Nasturtium that Summer that I made myself sick daily and all for nothing. I never saw Cinnabun again.

My Dad on the other hand claims that she came back to visit him often to thank him for freeing her.

I guess she had no words for me, her captor.

I did however see her offspring. It seems she had teemed up with a Jackrabbit (or twenty) and suddenly all of the bunnies in the countryside were a clear mix between Cinnabun and Jackrabbit. My Dad singlehandedly changed the DNA of the bunnies in our area and I lost my friend, but hey, she had been “miserable” and she had stunk, right?

So, that was my intro to gardening (and half of my intro to pet ownership. Thankfully the other half at Mom’s House was a little less traumatizing). Planting and tending to the garden yet always critiquing myself or fearing critique. Planting for a purpose and then having that purpose destroyed. Not the best start.

I shied away from the garden after that. Even though it was truly something I enjoyed, it had lost something for me and carried a weight instead of relief.

As an adult I tried again. I started with cacti and killed them all via overwatering (also known as too much love). I tried orchids (geez, why not try bonsai next? A real recipe for success) and succeeded in promptly killing each and every one, except for the one I gave to a girlfriend who had it blooming within the week. Another deflated Garden Confidence Balloon.

Finally, I had my own house with room for gardening and I was determined to make something of it. The only problem was, I wasn’t the only one gardening and it turns out, my partner in crime was every bit the perfectionist my Dad was. I was “sloppy” and “watered at the wrong times of day” and in general, didn’t do it the way it was “supposed to be done” and so again, I shied away. And all of those critiques were perhaps valid but they weren’t the welcome wagon I needed to garner the confidence to start to garden again.

However, last year, before I left for Alaska, something started to shift (well, many things inside of me seemed to start to shift but this was one with a clear outcome). I decided the garden was going in instead of waiting for the call for “more soil” or “bring that shovel over” from someone else. I started to take a bit more charge. I found the place from which I would purchase my starts and planned out three beautiful raised beds. I was going for it. We even decided to bite the bullet and start raising bees as well.

 

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The wonderful D (whom I would eventually move in with before Alaska) and myself donning the beekeepers uniform.

 

The garden was going to be a success and I was finally including myself in the process. We bought the plants and tilled the soil, built a sun shade/green house and planted all in one day. I planted all of my herbs after we had finished on my own, each time hoping I had placed it correctly or watered it gently enough since because it was my herb garden and I was the only one planting it would be obvious that it was my fault if it failed. In the garden I didn’t know exactly which plants I had planted and so no one could have been to blame for a fruitless start.

 

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Look at those white legs! Maybe I’ve secretly lived in Alaska all along…

 

At the end of a long day I felt accomplished yet still nervous. I wanted to wash myself clean of the stigma I had accepted that I had a black thumb in the garden but I couldn’t quite until I had proven to myself otherwise.

 

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Ah to be able to simply go to the store and buy extra soil. Simple luxuries.

 

Well, I never quite got the chance to prove I was planting proficient (though in retrospect I had been running a beautiful and productive herb garden for the previous three years and had kept alive for three years a wonderful family Jade plant my mother had given me that she had cared for for 20 years prior).

I left.

Maybe a week or so after planting the garden and getting the bees I ended my relationship and moved out of my house, starting the flip of my world which would land me living in Alaska. I left all of my plant children and all of my thousands of bee children after all of the work I had put into them, never to receive any of the fruits of our labor. It didn’t matter because suddenly there was no salad or serving of honey that could have come from that garden that would have tided me over or sweetened the deal enough for me to stay.

Interestingly enough, the person I came to visit in Alaska, the person whom is the whole reason I am here today, came to visit that gardening day, right as I was planting roots in California. She just stopped over to say “hello”. Maybe as I was planting she too unexpectedly planted something in me, a whisper of options and happiness elsewhere. Who knows?

I missed my garden and my bees and checked in on them a few times when I returned to retrieve my belongings prior to leaving for Alaska but it wasn’t the bounty that I needed, it was the confidence I gained seeing the garden grow each time I returned. It was bountiful and I had planned and planted it. I hadn’t pressed the roots in too hard. I hadn’t transplanted them too roughly. I had given them a good start and with a little water and tending to they had grown into an amazing garden.

Once in Alaska, I missed having a garden even more since fresh can be hard to come by at times. But I planned instead of fretted (it was too late by the time that I realized that I was living with The Chief to get a garden growing) and got excited for the next year.

Well, the next year is here and despite its lessening, I have to admit that my self-doubt still whispers in my ear from time to time.

I was certain I wouldn’t be able to grow anything from seed.

I was wrong.

 

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I was certain I would plant incorrectly.

I was wrong.

I was certain that my starts wouldn’t fend as well as my neighbor’s did.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

You see, we have a communal garden between our neighbors and ourselves. There’s four of us and as the other couple is more experienced at gardening, I felt myself shying away again, feeling insecure, sure I would ruin something. But, between their encouragement and The Chief’s I started to have faith in the greenness of my thumb and let old insecurities start to fade away. Why not let them go? A fresh start.

 

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We all spent the day mending the greenhouse and planting seeds together

 

Sure, some things in the garden didn’t fare as well as others and despite even buying starts some of the starts I bought are now as big as my garden was in California within a week of transplant (and we transplanted the starts here a month and a half ago).

 

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Welcome in.

 

The soil needs work and the greenhouse needs further repair. Cilantro bolts overnight it seems and the garden can be soaked to the bones from watering in the morning and bone dry by midday. Gardening in Alaska is a whole other beast and you know what? It’s kind of perfect for me.

In California things grow easily. After the last frost it’s game on. There’s very little covering at night or babying of plants. For the most part, watering is sufficient given the right medium (soil) and the bounty is well, bountiful.

Here in Alaska the growing season is, just like most things in the Summer here, a race. Starts get going early on from seed and remain indoors until the last frost but often what one thinks is the last frost is in fact the second to last frost. I lost a few plants that way (and a shower unit due to freezing pipes). It’s all a gamble. You can have every aspect perfect and still, you might leave a plant out overnight and suddenly months of work are gone.

Oh well.

For a fearful gardener like myself, one might think this Alaska scenario would be defeating but, in fact, it inspires me. I feel like a mother bear protecting her young. The elements can be kind or cruel and its up to us and our neighbors to keep the plants going. Plus, there’s always room for improvement. Plus plus there’s never a critique or a lack of faith sent my way, only encouragement and that is worth more than I ever knew. And besides, even if I couldn’t grow anything myself, Alaska provides a bounty which constantly surprises me.

 

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A harvested Shepard’s Purse and Chamomile cuddle. Two hearts.

 

This year I started Nasturtium from seed. I worried it wouldn’t grow as I didn’t have the appropriate seedling mix. It grew. I watched it sprout as there were still snow patches outside. It grew alongside the celery that I grew from scraps over winter. It grew along with the many other starts that came up with it. Sure, some of them failed, some of them faltered, some of them, well, it is yet to see what they will do. That’s the joy of gardening now for me. It’s become an experiment. I take mental notes about what did what and when and contemplate why. I’ve started to shift from “you killed it” to “why did that not work and what can I do differently”? It’s no longer so personal and I worry less that I’ll be found out as the culprit for failure. Things come and go, ebb and flow. A perfect garden doesn’t exist, but ours will keep getting better through listening to the lessons it teaches.

 

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The Nasturtium hasn’t put out flowers yet and who knows if it ever will but over 20 years after the Cinnabun incident I still look at them daily and smile (and gag a bit). No longer do they have to stand for a Summer of heartache (and stomach-aches) but for a change of heart towards myself. My thumbs are neither green nor black but sometimes they are the color of the Earth in which they dig to create life. Our garden may not be perfect but it’s helped me to realize that nothing is.

It’s my first garden in Alaska, my first time planting Nasturtium as an adult and even better, it’s the year that the bunnies have returned to our valley. They are on a sort of seven-year cycle. They come back, the Lynx come back, the Lynx eat the bunnies, the bunnies die out, the Lynx go hungry and then die out and then, they start back around all over again.

Nasturtium and bunnies again. Oh, Alaska, your serendipity never ceases to amaze me.

Thank you.

There’s Always Something in the Woods

Last week was the first time I drove Bluebell (my mini motorcycle) all the way up the mountain to work.

I hadn’t driven her up there yet because:

a: I wasn’t totally sure she would make it. I had taken her up little hills before and she had struggled a bit, to say the least.

I had gotten stuck at the bottom of a hill in the 4th of July weekend crowd. Without anywhere to go but up and starting from a dead halt I had gunned it and had crawled up the hill so slowly that I crept up alongside two tourists and matched their pace, despite my full throttle action. I just looked over and gave them a nod. Yup, check out this hog, ladies. Pretty badass. I was going so slow that I almost fell over. I’m sure it was a scene from “Dumb and Dumber”, or the like, reincarnated. I couldn’t help but just laugh out loud since they only stared back at me, unimpressed by the sheer power they were witnessing.

Yes, that slow scale was situational but still, I worried. The way to work is 7.5 miles and the last 4 miles are a steady incline resulting in a 1,000ft. gain in elevation. I grew up basically at sea level so this gain to me seems pretty substantial. Needless to say, past embarrassments (or extremely cool events depending on how you look at it) taken into account, I was apprehensive, which was furthered by the next issue:

b: If she did make it, I had no idea how long it would take and therefore no idea when to leave for work. Things here are impossible to gauge. Less than 8 miles to work should take little to no time at all. Wrong. In a car it often takes 45 minutes. That’s almost to San Francisco departing from where I’m from in CA. Plus, even if I gave myself “plenty” of time there still was the possibility that she would break down and then I’d be stuck pushing her uphill and end up late to work.

I hate being late to work.

And so I avoided it for the first day I was scheduled to go up since getting Bluebell.

But come the second day of work and the second encouragement from The Chief that “of course she will make it up the hill” I decided to go for it.

I gave myself an hour to get there.

Or so I thought.

After packing for the day (meaning I packed a different shirt for if it got hot up at work, snacks to get through another 10-12 hour day, pants to paint in if the food truck was slow, bug spray, sunscreen, gloves and a hat and a jacket for the ride home and a change of clothes for the evening and an extra pair of socks. Seriously, you can never have too much along for the ride in Alaska. The weather changes faster than you can imagine)

I kissed The Chief goodbye and ran outside to greet Bluebell and head off for the day.

Wrong.

The little lady needed some fuel. So I ran to get the 5 gallon can of fuel.

Empty.

I rushed her over to the 55 gallon drum of gasoline in our driveway and pumped away, a bit too enthusiastically, resulting in gasoline spilling all over the both of us. Mmmm, gasoline in the morning (creepily enough, I truly love the smell but I’m sure it’s not the best aroma to serve food in). Then, on a whisper from my intuition, I checked the oil.

Good thing.

Almost gone.

I ran again to the shed where the empty gas can had been to find the oil. Empty bottles were everywhere, but a full one? That was a bit more of a search. Finally I unearthed some and ran inside to check with The Chief that I had in fact gotten the correct oil for her.

Check.

Back outside again I topped her off with oil. We were ready to ride. We just had to get her started.

Getting going is a five pronged process:

1. Turn on the fuel switch (I never even knew those existed)

2. Click the selector to RUN

3. (First find the key) Turn the key to ON

4. Wind her up with the foot crank

5. Pull the brake to start her

About ten false starts and some manipulation of the choke and she was finally off and on her way with me along for the ride.

At this point we had 45 minutes to get to work. I was calculating as I drove whether or not I would be late when suddenly a moose appeared in the middle of the road. She looked at me as I slowed down to give her space (moose are unpredictable and definitely something to stay out of the way of. A hoof to the face? No thanks) but instead of a standoff she just crossed and disappeared into the woods. Alright, 40 minutes to make it to work now. Unlike a vehicle we didn’t have to cross the bridge (meaning get out and unlock it, get back in, lock it again, check for other vehicles etc.) which takes longer. Nope, we just had to cross the foot bridge.

Did I mention it’s tourist season?

Bridge courtesy for motorized vehicles is to wait on the other side for others to cross or if you’re antsy to follow far behind (especially 4-wheelers since they can’t fit past a pedestrian). On the motorcycle I can easily pass someone but in the vein of courtesy, I kept a good distance between myself and the couple in front of me.

They slowly crossed without a care in the world, me behind them trying to keep my balance as I crept along. Finally we got across and we was able to move ahead on our merry way.

Sort of.

I should have known the holdups weren’t through with us.

Half-way up the hill I hit The Mudslide. I was at the bottom of it, heading up a short steeper hill within the 4 mile long hill and what was atop the steep little hill at the top of The Mudslide? Another dang moose.

Don’t get me wrong, I love moose, but they are a million times more unpredictable than a Whack-A-Mole and I had already ran into one that had been easy that morning. What were my chances of two? At least this one too was solo. Better than a mother and a calf.

This one was a teenager, through and through. It looked me up and down, considered moving and then considered otherwise. It paced back and forth along the road. I stayed at the bottom of the steep little hill, not wanting to have another incident like the one with the “Dumber” moment. If I matched its pace going uphill that was way closer of contact than I wanted. Ideally, I’d just zip past it, but since it was at the top of the hill and barely progressing forward, that was unlikely.

I honked my horn (it sounds almost exactly like the “meep, meep!” of the Roadrunner) and the teen just looked back at me, unimpressed. Did I just get dissed by a moose? I revved my little motor and the same look came at me again.

Finally, the teen moved into the woods. I cheered and waited for a moment before gunning it up the hill.

Success!

Nope.

As I peaked on the hill there was the moose. The teen seemed to levitate off the ground as I reached the top of the hill as it hadn’t in fact gone into the woods so much as up and over the hill out of sight and into the little pond alongside the road. I swerved to miss any incoming kicks and hauled tail up the second little hill in front of me, checking my rearview mirrors as I kicked up rocks and tried to steer clear of the big ones (the dump-you-off-your-bike-ers).

Ten minutes later I had finally made it to work.

What a day!

And it had only just begun.

We were busy busy busy and the day flew by. It was Friday, which means softball games at the ball field, games which I hadn’t gotten to play in weeks due to the tonsillitis events. I was stoked to get there. Just as we closed and started to clean in order to leave we heard a clap of thunder. The air shifted and the sky went black and it started pouring harder than I have ever experienced in Alaska.

Bluebell!

She was outside with her seat completely exposed (a seat which is currently only foam as the covering seems to have disintegrated over the years). I ran and covered her.

It seems a wet bum wouldn’t be the biggest issue of the night however.

I had forgotten my rain gear.

Rule #1 in Alaska: Layers. Always pack layers. And I had, all but one: my rain jacket.

Never forget your rain jacket. In Alaska it rains almost every day (or snows in Winter). Not always hard and not always long, but almost always a bit of rain.

This was a torrential downpour and I was caught without gear.

Oh joy!

My closing duties were done and the storm hadn’t moved down the mountain yet. Softball was still happening but if I rode down I would have been in town without warm clothes (my change wasn’t enough to get me through soaking wet) and soaked to the bone. So I waited for a ride from my boss and bid Bluebell adieu.

Well, she almost made her first full trip up to work and back.

 

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At least she was left with a view

 

By the time we got down to softball the storm had reached them as well and the game was rained out.

The next morning we couldn’t get up to her before work but seeing as I didn’t have nearly as far to go to work that day (I work at two places: one is the food truck at the top of the hill, the other is a restaurant at the bottom of it) I decided to try a different mode of transportation: my bike.

Last year I had a hand me down bicycle which had tire and gear issues which we were never quite able to remedy. Riding up to the food truck town was pure torture as none of my gears worked but one and riding uphill in one gear for over an hour is something I’ll leave to the pros, thank you very much.

This year, I had borrowed a friend’s bike but it was too big for me. Every time I had to get off of it I would try to hop and propel myself forward and every time I got on I would try to get a sort of moving start and aim not to fall (which was a good aim but not always the reality).

Finally, my neighbor’s bike which had been stolen (here it’s called “borrowed” but without permission it seems a bit more of a steal) all winter reappeared. In its absence she had purchased another bike and so after having seen me and my don’t-fall-over tactics on the Too Big Bike she offered it to me.

It fit!

The gears were finicky and only sort of worked and the handlebars surprised me with a sticky residue nearly impossible to remove but it had more than one gear and it moved me where I needed to go. It was all good.

Except the seat: the seat would not stay put. I’d adjusted it and tightened it and tested it countless times. It would even sometimes stay for a whole day but then the next time I would ride it I would slowly feel myself start sinking down, down, down. And so I would ride with my knees basically in my teeth, huffing and puffing just to get it going down the dirt road.

But, I ran into a girlfriend the day after my Bluebell expedition and she somehow strong-armed the bike into staying put. The seat remained in place and I was able to bike and bike and bike.

Until the tire went flat.

Easy fix, right? I borrowed a pump.

Nope.

It had “special tires” and for the life of me I couldn’t find a “special pump”.

And so it sat with flat tires and I resorted to the next step: two feet as my mode of transportation.

I walked to work the next day and at the end of my shift, The Chief and I drove up and finally collected Bluebell.

Someone (who knows?), unaccustomed to the fuel line situation, had left the fuel on and so we worried she wouldn’t start but after a few tries start she did. I let The Chief ride her home since he hadn’t gotten any Bluebell time. Finally she was back home and my modes of transport were twofold again (legs and Bluebell).

 

 

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The next day it rained and so I chose the less painful route of walking (water pellets hurt on a motorcycle). The Chief had the day off and spent it working on his own motorcycle which finally was resurrected.

Two working machines?!

We may not have a car that works but darned if we don’t have two machines.

That day I asked my girlfriend (the strong one) if she had a bike pump I could use and it turned out she did. I brought it home and pumped those babies up the next day before work.

Three modes of transportation?! (Legs, bike, motorcycle) This was too much.

And obviously it was too much.

5 minutes into my ride I started feeling myself slowly shrink.

The damn seat again?!

There’s always something in the woods. It’s always something when you live in the woods.

The day after The Chief got his motorcycle running he rode it into town. We got a ride home and the next day when he came back to get it he couldn’t start it, not even with a little help from our friends (Joe Cocker really rocks that version).

 

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Even Cinda was up to help

 

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This is a My Damn Bike Won’t Start face in case you’ve never seen one.

 

That’s just how it goes.

There’s always something in the woods.

Be it a moose or a holdup. There’s always something. No gas. No oil. Fuel left on. Rain storms. A dog that needs to come home so you leave a bike in town. A flooded pathway. A working bike one day followed by who knows what happened the next. A low rider bike. A wet seat.

But hey, at least it keeps it interesting. Between the dust and the potholes, two wheels and four wheels alike all have trouble at some time and if you can’t just throw your hands up and laugh along with Alaska then she will be on her own just laughing at you (in a kind way but still, you won’t be in on the joke).

I remember the first time anything big went wrong with my old car in California. The seat stopped adjusting (it was automatic) and my reaction was to almost be offended. How could this just stop working? I’m driving here, people. I’m so important, right?

Alaska doesn’t care who you are she just cares how you get through it and believe me, it’s not always with grace and ease and a song in my heart. But most of the time I can just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. So many vehicles, so little movement. When half of your day is just spent hoping to make it to and from work and the other half is spent working, there’s really no time to be stay grumpy.

The road here is always bumpy and so one can either learn to avoid the big bumps and glide with the rest or point each one out (but that sounds very tiring).

And so who knows? Maybe this week I will find a way to fix the seat. By then I’m sure Bluebell will catch a cold or my shoes will go missing or our vehicle will start working. It’s a constant game of musical vehicles but hey, none of them have electronic seats, so at least that won’t go out.

Cheers to living on the edge and in the woods. Who knows what’s next? Fingers crossed and backpack packed (this time with a rain jacket).

 

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Summer Speed & The Solstice Countdown

Solstice has always been a celebration of light for me, a nod to the sun in thanks for her light and energy and a sort of kick off to the festivities of Summer.

Let the fun begin.

Every year it’s been that same feeling of joy for the sun.

 

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Until this year.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a lizard for the sun. I find the place with the most Vitamin D per square inch everyday and put myself right in its light, moving with the sun as it draws across the sky.

But this year, Solstice was different. For one, I was still sick with Tonsillitis (last year I was also afflicted with a malady. Perhaps Solstice is my body’s annual fall apart moment) but being sick didn’t mean I wasn’t happy for the day, it just made me realize that I was happy for a different reason than I ever had been before.

The Winter Solstice this past Winter was a true celebration. We had made it through the darkest hours and from there it could only get lighter. But with the light come the crowds and with the crowds our small town of maybe 20 turns into a bustling tourist town with hundreds of people all wanting their piece, all here for a short time, all needing to get it all in. How we live becomes a sort of experience for others to snap shots of and report home about. Our life becomes this commercialized package for others to buy and record. We’ve had people step in front of the fire truck as we were driving in order to snap a shot of us. Friends have had lost tourists wander into their tucked away cabins. There’s a sense of shattered privacy and protection.

If that’s how you want to look at it or that’s what you want to focus on.

It can also be a great chance to meet new people from all over the world as long as you open yourself up to it.

Either way, either approach, it’s a world changed and light years away from the solitude and silence of Winter and a shift that everyday I have to prepare myself to see the best in.

So in celebration of the light returning this Winter, there was also an apprehension built-in. Thank goodness for the light, the energy, the plants and animals coming out to play and also, a sort of buckling up for the wild ride of the Summer approaching.

Summer Solstice to me has always been a celebration of light but I realized this year that I had been looking at it backwards, or ignoring what I knew: the Summer Solstice means that every day forward, the light is decreasing. It’s a departure from light.

 

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The sun barely sets, she just makes shadows.

 

Winter will soon be here.

The Chief and I were celebrating the Summer Solstice at The Restaurant and among the crowds of people I felt a sudden sense of overwhelm come over us both. But I paused as I realized that our friend was packing her bags in the Southern Hemisphere and I looked to The Chief, smiled and said:

“Winter is on her way. We are heading back to the dark.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him beam like he did that night.

I love Winter. But come last Fall as we bid adieu for 5 weeks, it was in the back of both of our minds that perhaps I wouldn’t like Winter, perhaps I would utterly despise it and then where would we go from there? So when I looked to him that night, a year later and truly happy to feel the approaching shift towards Winter, I swear I saw his heart do a happy dance.

We had so many uncertainties going into the dark together, so many unknowns. I literally walked into it blind with no idea of what I was getting myself into.

But I did not walk in alone.

And so we came out on the other side excited for another turn in the dark. Another Winter together in the woods, this time a little less blind. There will be snow machine trips to take, lessons to learn, time to just breathe, away from the hustle of Summer and away from the Springtime Shoulder Season of her approach. You see, the Summer here is completely opposite from any Summer I’ve spent anywhere else.

Before now, Summer to me meant cookouts and beach days, lazy hours by the pool, popsicles and ice cream, road trips, gardening and an overall sense of play and relaxation. I’ve always worked a lot as well, but there was a milder sense of urgency to earn in the Summer versus the Winter (work time).

Not here.

Summer means Go Time.

Summer is the time to hustle. To work as much as possible to make your money for the Winter months ahead. This week I worked over 50 hours, driving or biking or walking 30-60 minutes each way. It feels as if I haven’t been home in over a week because the only time I am home is to sleep off the day and prepare for another.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not all work and no play. The Summer here is also filled to the brim with things to do. Mondays are Movie Night, Wednesdays are Fire Night, Thursdays are Open Mic Night, Fridays are for Softball, Saturdays there is usually a band playing somewhere and Sundays are for Roast Chicken and Tunes. There’s also Yoga Classes and Craft Nights and Farmer’s Market and Rock Building Party and Events which I’ve never been able to attend. Every day can be filled to the brim with work and play and every night filled with a few hours of sleep to refuel for the next. Even if I don’t go out I still never get home before 11pm. Thankfully, the sun seems to make solar-powered people out of us all because despite little sleep and lots of work, we all seem to power through with energy not felt the other 9 months of the year.

And so it makes sense to miss Winter in ways, to miss the quiet and the calm before the party/work storm.

But for now, it is Summer. I haven’t seen a sky full of stars in quite some time because the sun graces us for what feels like the whole day and I can walk without a headlamp at any hour and place my feet with certainty. Instead of miss the stars I try to remember that it will be Winter before I know it and I’ll miss the gifts the light brings like…

Just Being Outside. No agenda. No rush. No need to do calisthenics to keep warm. Lazily walking the property to see how the sun has changed the earth’s face instead of hustling to beat the cold back inside.

 

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Color. The Winter is beautiful in its pristine white but a pop of color brightens the soul. I swear it took a month for my eyes to adjust to seeing all the different colors again instead of simply shades of white and grey.

Ice Cream. ‘Nuff said. There’s a store and everyday they have ice cream. Every day. Luckily for the integrity of the seams in my pants, I typically get off of work long after the ice cream store is closed but just knowing that it’s there makes my little heart sing.

Playing Outside & Exploring. Being able to just throw on a pair of running shoes and take off into the wild. Hiking on the glacier or along the river and hearing the rush and the movement of water broke the sense of stasis that a valley blanketed in snow created. Having the outside be accessible again without having to pack as if going out to war is so amazing and living in a place that is an outsider’s dreamland doesn’t hurt either. Sure, we may not have as much time as I’d like to go out and enjoy it but at least it’s there for the times when we can sneak away to it.

 

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Hiking on the West Side of The Glacier towards The Archway – an enormous arch of ice that leads deeper into The Glacier

 

Bare Skin. In the Winter I would walk twice daily to see the Sunrise and the Sunset. Every time I went out I would expose as much skin as I could to soak up the sun but often that only meant that I could sneak out my face or my hands and only for a few moments. Bare arms and legs in the hot sunshine makes my day everyday.

Friends. It’s impossible to walk through town without a familiar face and a hug. In the Winter we had to seek out company other than one another and 20 below zero temperatures didn’t make engagements any easier. To be able to just see sweet faces about our world (some that we only get to see for a few days a year) without planning and packing all day for it is a treat I try not to take for granted.

Gardens. In the Winter, the only living things in the house were the vegetables I was trying to grow from scraps (try it. It’s awesome. Even in the dead of Winter in Alaska I had green onions, celery and romaine lettuce growing). I missed seeing blossoms and blooms. The smiling faces of my pansies at the bottom of our stairs makes me smile/giggle every time I pass them. Almost every morning I forgo breakfast or a shower or reading with tea because I get caught up in the garden watering and checking on our plant babies. It’s magic to get to be surrounded by life ever-changing.

 

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I know, I know, it’s too early for a cauliflower to come out and this one may not taste great but this is the cutest dang thing I’ve ever seen and that’s redemption enough. It’s about an inch across. Adorable.

 

A Good Old Fashioned Party. Sometimes, you really just need to let your hair down. With The Restaurant and the local watering hole open every day now there’s always a chance to play. Sure, the bar can get panic attack packed but sometimes the feel is just right, the local to tourist ratio is in the local court and we are all in the mood for a rowdy night. The Winter doesn’t exactly lend itself to dancing to live music or staying up late with 30 friends. Sure, we get together (and often it’s around a big fire, which is pretty awesome) but there’s something about a big group of friends feeling good all at the same time, friends who haven’t seen one another due to busy schedules and sometimes all of the parts of the equation just add up to a night to remember.

Eating Out. I love cooking, but when you cook every meal you eat every single day of the week for months on end (minus the dinner party or potluck here and there) you are chomping at the bit to eat something you haven’t made on dishes you won’t have to clean. It’s pure luxury.

Overall Ease. When people ask me what we did all Winter they always seem to surmise that basically we were just surviving and in the most basic sense, it’s true. In the Summer we may be trying to keep our heads afloat (and on) throughout the never-ending Go Time but everything from driving to getting water to staying warm and fed are so much easier.

Plant Medicine. Last year I came down with my apparently Annual Solstice Malady and I was able to go into the woods with a girlfriend and harvest plants to help to ease the pain. I took medication afterwards (after someone in town thankfully had what I needed, otherwise I would have had to wait for a week for the mail plane to bring it in) but the initial care from the horsetail we harvested was a lifesaver. This land here is filled with remedies for everything from cramps to cuts and all one has to do is walk outside. It’s pretty amazing too the differences in flora between the two towns here: ours on the woodsier side and the higher elevation historic town. If there’s something I can’t find here I can almost always find it there. Nature is an amazing gift giver.

 

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From this…

 

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To this…to chapstick.

 

And the list goes on. Every day I add to it. Painted Toenails, Flip Flops, Not Freezing Every Time I Have To Go Outside To Pee. It really just keeps going and going. The point is not that I am trying to love Summer, it’s that I am recreating what Summer means to me and what Winter means to me. This place has completely turned my 29 years of understanding the “seasons” on its head and its something I have to remind myself of constantly. I like the challenge to see my world suddenly in reverse. Sure it can cause a bit of vertigo sometimes but life is made to stretch us and Alaska, you seem to think I’m a yogi. Maybe someday.

Until then, I’ll keep aiming to stretch with differences and appreciate whatever light there is in the sky, be it shining over snow or creating a double rainbow.

 

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It’s all pretty amazing.

Thank you Alaska.