Month: August 2016

Here Comes the Sun

Hindsight is supposed to be 20/20 but having astigmatism, I can’t say I truly know what that looks like. I can say, however, that I get the gist; knowing what is now would help us to navigate what was then.

This past week at the Restaurant a group of 30-somethings came in from the backcountry (I had never known what this term meant prior to living in Alaska so if you’re scratching your head right now, fear not, you are not alone. To go into the backcountry essentially means to go into the wilderness. Silly me, I thought we already were there. Out here it often means hopping on a bush plane and hoping for solid weather to enable your pilot to land. If you’re getting picked up a few days, etc. later, you then hope for good weather as well so that you can make it home. Otherwise you walk or you wait. Hope aside, you always pack extra food, just in case the plane can’t make it in to retrieve you due to bad weather). They were tired and hungry and ready for a pint to wash down the backcountry.

Sounds good to me.

IDs please?

I had just clocked in for my 2-10pm shift.

Alaska is beyond strict with drinking laws and being out in the woods is no different. I carded the group and only 2 out of the 6 had their IDs on them.

“We are all in our 30s, it’s fine” they reassured me.

I know. I believe you. I still can’t serve you. I’m sorry.

Being in this position isn’t always fun but people typically shrug it off as “rules are rules” and deal with it.

Instead, the two who had their IDs ordered beers which I poured for them. They then promptly ignored the beer and waited for the rest of their group whom had headed to the foot bridge 0.7 miles away to retrieve their IDs. They sat at the bar and stared at me. I mentioned again that it wasn’t anything personal but that the laws were strict in Alaska.

“We know. We are locals.”

Well, how nice to meet fellow countrymen. And you’re Alaskans, not locals. Otherwise I would know you and your age and we’d all be merry and gay. But I don’t know you and I can’t take the risk. Even in the woods there have been sting operations and it’s just not worth it to me. I’d rather be stared down from across the bar then paying off a fine for the next ten years.

Once the others arrived and the beer started flowing to all they warmed up a bit and I did as well though I was still a bit cautious due to their earlier grump towards me. I’m just at work, trying to enjoy my time, trying to do a good job. The service industry can be tough, so patrons, don’t make it tougher, please.

A little while into their meal (after one had almost fallen while standing up to get a second beer – his legs had turned to Jello while he sat at the table after hiking and paddling for a week in the backcountry and he didn’t realize it until he stood. Recognizing “Backcountry Legs” I hurried the beer over to him so he didn’t have to move) one of the ladies of the group came up for a second beer. I asked her about the trip and she recalled some highlights for me when suddenly, something in her shifted. She stopped talking about their trip and asked me:

“Do you get out much?”

“No, actually. I haven’t been out once this whole season. We’ve been really busy here.”

And that’s true. The restaurant has been busy, I’ve been working for friends doing website work and overall, the entire Summer has mainly boiled down to working. I started realizing this about a month ago when tables at the restaurant would ask me about my favorite spots but they ended up knowing more about the different places to go than I did.

My priorities, since I got here last year have been to work and save for the Winter. It was the Alaskan M.O. I heard uttered most often and I adopted it blindly. This year I’ve had a handful of real days off, the others I’ve spent doing pick-up web work. My true days off are often spent recovering from a busy week, trying to tidy up the house and making meals to bring with me in the coming week at work. Adventure has been lacking.

None of this was on purpose. My plan was to change my lifelong workhorse habit and work only 4 days per week between the food truck and the restaurant and then work from home 1 day per week. Then, the rest would be for play. For summitting mountains and packrafting rivers and even taking backcountry trips. But that’s not how it worked out. And so, I’ve done a little exploring and packrafting but rarely have I felt that I’m living up to the potential of being here and seeing and doing what there is to see and do.

And so, that interaction with that woman at the bar was both a reality check for me and I think for her. I can only assume her pause was in her realizing that she was on vacation and I was working. She was on vacation in the place I call home and she probably saw more of it in a week than I have seen all Summer. Maybe as grumpy as they were at me for not giving them what they wanted when they wanted it, I was also just as grumpy at them for getting to be here so untethered by responsibility. Maybe I was jealous. My reality check was that it doesn’t have to be that way.

I remarked to a friend whom is also my boss at the restaurant later that day after the backcountry-ers had left, happy and satiated, that I was tired of living through tourist experiences. I wanted to only be happy for people (and I almost always feel happy for people’s experiences, unless they are unkind for no reason) because I too was being fulfilled. I wanted to get out. She was on board. She’s the type that says she’s going to do something and then, you know, actually does it.

And so, a few days later I awoke to the following text:

“Get up bizatch. We should bike to town today.”

Direct. I like it.

The plan quickly morphed as kids were added to the picture and we decided on a hike. It was 11am and I had to work at 2pm. Thankfully, she decided that the restaurant was slow enough that we didn’t need overlapping shifts and I could come in late.

We were going up a mountain.

As we drove to the mountain town the kids started getting excited. They were noticing the changing colors of the leaves and the way the ice had melted on the glacier.

“I want to hike to those trees!” said one about a grouping off fall colored beauties way up on the mountainside.

That would be awesome.

We set out just to keep moving. Hiking with kiddos, as you may know, can be tough, a constant redirection of attention and encouragement to keep going even when it starts to get tough.

And it pretty much was tough right off the bat.

Uphill was the only way and we started hoofing it. Pretty soon we were all huffing and puffing. My girlfriend had her youngest on her back and while I wanted to try it I was nervous it would be too hard. But after going straight up for a mile plus and taking a break I asked if I could carry him.

 

thumb_IMG_7935_1024.jpg

 

Oh man. Hiking uphill is hard. Hiking uphill with a baby? A bit harder. The good thing is the distraction and the cuddliness of it all. He would play with my hair and coo at butterflies or mushrooms we spotted. He’s pretty adorable. And, he’s obsessed with food, so, needless to say, we get along just fine.

At a second break spot we stopped for snacks when suddenly one of the kids looked up.

“Look! We are actually getting close to that patch of trees!”

 

thumb_IMG_7954_1024.jpg

 

He was right, they were no longer just blurry images. We were getting closer.

Maybe we can make it to them. Do you kids think you can keep going?

Emphatic “yes’s” rained upon us.

Alright.

And so, after two hours of straight uphill, we decided to keep going. We were making it to those trees.

We kept hiking and took the turn off towards the old Angle Station where the ore would switch directions back in the copper mining days. All we had to do was cross the creek and we could hike up to the Station and the surrounding trees.

Did I mention its been raining for the past month? This was the first bluebird day in a month and I was so happy we were taking advantage of it and getting out. But, rain for a month will do funny things to a landscape. And so as we headed toward the creek we would have to cross to get up to the trees and we heard gushing water we figured it might be a little bigger than usual.

Wrong.

It was a lot bigger. In the Summer the Creek is often no more than a trickle (I’m told, remember, I didn’t get out much). We approached a raging body of water.

 

 

 

 

With a baby on my back, three kids by our sides, three adults and two old dogs (Cinda flew up that mountain faster than any of us. That old lady’s still got it but she looked at the crossing and promptly decided it was a bust (see above)) the math for crossing was not adding up.

My girlfriend decided to try to cross while the boys emphatically started trying to throw together a “quick bridge” out of sticks. Ingenuity at its best.

 

thumb_IMG_7963_1024.jpg

 

As she started to cross it became clear that this was a bad idea. By the end of the crossing the raging water was at the top of her thighs and ready to push her in. As she made the crossing back I was fully prepared to explain that I was not attempting that (even though she made it fine herself) with all of these factors.

I didn’t have to.

“That thing is crazy!”

Even if we didn’t have the kids and the dogs, I would have been wary. I would have done it but I would have been scared.

 

thumb_IMG_7968_1024.jpg

You’re lucky I like you Baby, because you aren’t light.

 

And so, what was there to do but to turn back?

A bit disappointed but still proud to see how far they had gotten, the kids made their retreat after deciding that in fact they probably couldn’t build us a bridge in time.

On the way down we remarked on how fast we had gotten up and how close we had come to the trees and, of course, how hungry we were.

 

thumb_IMG_7980_1024.jpg

 

We finished our descent, taking a different path over another bulging creek (this one already had a bridge in place) and through historic sites.

 

thumb_IMG_7999_1024.jpg

 

thumb_IMG_7982_1024.jpg

The old Mill Building.

 

Then we made our way back to The Restaurant for some sustenance.

I was so hungry I couldn’t even explain what I wanted and so I ended up just grabbing the food I had brought from home. Once I had eaten, I felt human again, not just some ravenous beast and I understood (though still hope I wouldn’t do the same) why some people come in so distracted and panicked with hunger that they can’t quite behave. Now, it was time to clock in and serve others whom had adventured that day as well and provide them with food to recover with.

Finally, I was a part of the adventurers. I was both. I had gotten outside and enjoyed the sun and I had worked.

The hindsight this Summer has given me is a perspective shift. I tried to start the Summer working less. It didn’t work out and so I succumbed to working. I would walk to work in order to get exercise, sometimes waking up at 5:45am in order to walk the 3.5 miles to work on time. I have to exercise in some capacity daily to feel good. But what I didn’t realize was that, in living here, my standards have changed. I don’t just want to walk to work, I want to go on a hike. I want to go and see the things people travel from all corners of the Earth to see here. I live here but I haven’t seen all there is to see. It will probably take years and still, it is always changing so what you’ve seen once, will be different some time later.

This Summer has been chalk-full of lessons of what it means to really live here and how to navigate being a local in a tourist town. Some days I’ve dealt with it gracefully and others I’ve had two left feet. But the lesson I keep learning again and again is adaptation. Things change constantly around here and as a creature of habit, that’s been hard for me. The thing is, when working 4 days a week went to 6 or 7 I could have built adventure into my days but honestly, I didn’t realize how badly I needed it.

Good ‘ol hindsight and her 20/20.

And so, I’ve pledged to myself to make the most of the next month before we head to California to see this place in the capacity that I can. Maybe I won’t get into the backcountry, maybe I will but I can build adventure into the pockets of time that I have. The leaves are changing and the fireweed is going to seed. Everything around me reminds me to use my time wisely.

 

thumb_IMG_8059_1024.jpg

Fireweed fluff means Winter is coming.

 

Maybe next year I will actually work that 5 day work week instead of 6 or 7 and I’ll have to learn how to maximize that, but if not, I’ll take what I’ve learned this year and do my best with what I have.

Cheers to good friends who make us do what we say we will, to second day soreness that reminds us of adventures and to nature who can lift me out of envy in a single afternoon.

Thank you Alaska.

 

thumb_IMG_8043_1024.jpg

The view of the mountains we climbed (directly in the middle with the shadow over it) as seen from our spot down by the River.

With the Band

All my life I’ve wanted to be part of a band.

I grew up with a father who was in a handful of groups with little local claims to fame, claims which as a child I build up to Zeppellin-esque proportions in my head (perhaps with a little help from my pops). And so, thanks to him I grew up around music. I basically was birthed into his bands. All the “Old Fogies” as he called them would come over on weeknights and we would jam until the wee hours when it was imminent I go to bed for at least a few winks before school. Because of them I learned the classics and because of my dad I learned the fundamentals: rounds, harmonies, timing. He would test me over and over again on harmonies for his songs until I got them just right. And then, we would do them a few more times for good measure.

There was a recording studio in my house where I would watch my Dad splice tape to create tracks and eventually albums (old school, pre-digital). I grew up with musical instruments galore and albums upon albums of the greats. There was a wealth of information and opportunity in front of me but I never took it. I was the singer and I sang the songs they told me to sing. I didn’t branch out. I didn’t pick up the guitar and try it, someone else who was better could do that and my Dad was very particular about his things.  I wasn’t allowed to even be in the studio alone until I was almost an adult. I didn’t look at my Dad’s albums and explore. Someone else knew the music better and could pick songs I “would like” and I “might break” the record and so it was best to keep it in the sleeve, even as I got older.

Looking back with adult understanding I get it. My Dad was cautious of his things and would rather streamline the effort than stop to teach me how. The band only had one day per week to play. They were all once working musicians and they didn’t want to wait around for a little lady to plunk her way through a song. They wanted to play. They deemed me to have the best voice out of the lot and they wanted me to sing and they wanted me to sing what they wanted to play and so we did. I was only 6 or so when these jam session invitations came about and I wasn’t about to rock the boat. Singing made me feel weightless and forget about whatever my little self was worry-warting about. We played with mics and amps even when we practiced and it all felt so official that little me felt small in comparison. As I got older I would give up requests and sometimes suggestions for how to start or end a song but for the most part, I knew their music and they didn’t know mine and so we played theirs how they wanted it played.

And in so many ways, I’m grateful for that. I had a schooling in their form of give and take of playing in a group, in the ways of music and communication on stage.

However, I didn’t find my autonomy. I went along with the flow, feeling joyous to be playing music, yet unfulfilled by my lack of participation and choice. I felt pressure to like songs my dad would write and play for me, even if I didn’t like them. I lost a bit of myself in my efforts to please.

As I grew older I continued that fashion, choosing songs for performances that I could tell my music teachers wanted me to sing but that I didn’t really resonate with. I got very good at pleasing others with my voice but also very good at dissociating from my wants. I was letting myself be shaped solely by others instead of shaping myself.

At 17 I was given my first guitar by my family. It was beautiful. I picked it up to play and immediately my dad and brother alerted me that it was upside down.

The guitar was right-handed.

I am left-handed.

It’s not that they weren’t thoughtful or that they didn’t know my handedness, they did and it was a very thoughtful gift. The thing was, I hadn’t played enough in my life to know that, in fact I played the guitar left-handed. My dad was a lefty and he played right-handed and so, it was assumed that I did too. I flipped the guitar and gave it a shot as a righty and went with the flow.

I still can’t play the guitar.

And so, throughout my life I’ve gone along with the musical flow. I’ve done recordings on everything from meditation to rap albums. I’ve performed with cover bands and “Old Fogies” and rappers alike and while I’ve loved it all simply because I was able to get out there and sing, I felt disconnected and at times a bit embarrassed by the repertoire.

And then, something shifted as I inadvertently moved three thousand miles away from home.

I arrived in Alaska and within 4 days I was invited to play with the local band. It didn’t hurt that my girlfriend dated the lead singer and so as we were all having dinner one night and the guitar came out and my voice came with it, I was invited to play with them. Just like that.

They told me to pick songs I liked.

I stalled.

This was out of habit for me. I was used to just going along with the flow.

Fine.

They gave me the set list and told me to choose the songs I’d like to play.

No, you can just pick the ones you need help with.

Geez, lady!

We played together a handful of times and finally, at the end of the year, right before I left for California, I played my first show with them at the local watering hole.

I was walking on air.

My girlfriend’s dog, upon hearing me start to sing, pushed his way into the bar and curled up at my feet on stage. I love that dog. He was my comfort in my discomfort on that stage. I felt strong and happy afterwards, like a weight had been lifted and a change was coming. But I wasn’t totally there. After that the band told me to think of songs for next Summer and they would learn anything I wanted to play. That’s a pretty awesome offer coming from a band that I just walked into.

So did I?

No.

I arrived at the beginning of Summer with no more of a set list than I left with last Summer (which were all songs they had known from before). There was something in me resisting. I worried that it would seem like disinterest to them. It wasn’t. I’m not even entirely sure what it was. The breaking of old bad habits or the shedding of a new vulnerable skin. Either way, I clung to it with a love hate grip.

It took me half the Summer to start making suggestions but I finally did. They jumped on them. It took me half the Summer to say that I didn’t want to sing certain songs and to ask if I could have others. Something shifted and suddenly, I wasn’t just reacting anymore.

It’s been a back and forth. Sometimes I still revert back to my reactionary self but I’m on the other side now and there’s no going fully back to singing show tunes for smiles unless ya know, that’s what’s on my menu suddenly (though I doubt it).

This past weekend we played a show for the Festivus at the restaurant I work for. Basically, it’s an ending of the season party, a sort of “thank you” to locals for their business and a chance to all be together before people start the slow procession out of town for the year. Last year I watched the band played and wished so badly that someday I could be on stage with them too (they had invited me to play with them that night but I had deemed myself unprepared).

 

thumb_IMG_7906_1024.jpg

On our way to the Festivus

 

I had been able to practice once with them since our last show early this Summer. Recipe for disaster? One might think but it went really well. They had been practicing together and sounded amazing. I had chosen songs I love and I gave them my all, even cracking my voice a few times from belting them out but I didn’t care. I was finally starting to let go. I even took the mic off the stand (this sounds trivial but stage presence is a major issue for me. I feel awkward. But I did my best to push through it, to talk to the crowd, to dance and move and truly try not to think so much).

There’s still a lot of progress to be made but the hardest part has come:

I have a band.

I have always wanted a band and finally I have one. We have one. And hey, all I had to do was completely drop my entire life in California and move to the wilds of Alaska. I couldn’t have thought that one up in my wildest dreams and if I had I would probably have been too scared to chase it.

Thank you Alaska, you sneaky thing, for pulling me in and breaking me down so that I could build back up again. Thank you for my friends who make me feel loved and confident even when I’m nervous and for my band mates for all of their support and excitement. And thank you for a man who encourages me and pushes me when I need it every step of the way. A man whom, when I look out to him from the stage, has his eyes closed and his head back and a smile on his face reaching ear to ear as he listens to me sing.

I am eternally grateful.

 

thumb_IMG_7917_1024.jpg

I love these ladies.

A Winter Tale: Falling on Ice Ain’t Twice as Nice

Some days, you just can’t quite catch up with the universe. You wake up “off” and stay “off” until a switch flips and suddenly you are right side up again.

Before I lived in the woods one of those days might look like this:

  1. My alarm failed to go off and thus I awoke in a state of stress and hurry, rushing to get to work on time.
  2. In my rush to caffeinate and avoid looking as if I haven’t showered (which I haven’t because I am late) I am simultaneously putting on mascara while making coffee when I stab myself in the eye with the mascara wand and in my reaction, I knock over the freshly brewed coffee.
  3. I remedy the eye situation but decide to forego a second round of coffee. I get into the car and get ready to go just as I remember I decided not to stop for gas last night. I guess I’ll be a little later to work.
  4. The gas station is packed.
  5. I get to work late and the storm continues and the day continues to hiccup me through it.
  6. Finally, I get home (after hitting every red light possible) to an empty fridge and a cold house. I turn on the heat and jump into a warm shower and from there on out, the stress of the day is gone and there’s nothing a good movie and a bachelorette style dinner of cereal can’t fix. Of course the remote is out of batteries but hey, I survived.

 

In the woods, one day in particular sums up that “off” feeling perfectly. There was no work to be late to or boss to impress (or not impress) or gas stations to wait at impatiently but still, the same sort of tumbling, bumbling mess of a day arose, even way out here in the woods.

It went a little like this:

 

It was late Winter, almost Spring and the last few weeks of good skiing were upon us. My girlfriend invited me over for some girl time and a ski which I eagerly agreed to, having woken up a little blue and a little “off” that day. And so, I prepared myself to leave for a visit.

It wouldn’t take long.

Wrong.

My plan was to drive (with my newly acquired stick-shift skills which were still pretty shaky, especially in snow) our Jack-in-the-Box of a vehicle to the Footbridge since we still hadn’t broken down and bought our ($300) bridge pass for the vehicle bridge (which would have meant enjoying the luxury of driving straight to her doorstep). From there I would ski to her house a few miles away.

Easy peasy.

I just had to get a few things done first.

Coffee: we were out. So I ground by hand enough for the week. Out of almond milk too but hey, black will do.

Next up: I went to make a fire to take off the chill of the night before and to keep the house from freezing while I was out (The Chief was at work until late that night, working construction on concrete floors in the freezing temperatures).

 

thumb_IMG_6157_1024.jpg

Freezing temps the night before had made little ice covers on previously melting snow

 

Out of wood.

So I geared up to chop some and came back inside with a heaping armload.

Next up: water (we were out).

I again headed outside almost slipping down the ramp which had frozen a bit and came back up ten minutes later (after many a try to get the generator started) with 80 lbs. of water, stepping gingerly to avoid a catastrophic slip. Inside I managed to spill half of the contents of one bucket all over the cabin floor while trying to transfer it into the pot on the stove. As I stepped on the floor I could feel the water beneath the boards. I had also managed to put the fire out. Nice move.

I sopped up the water as best I could, chopped more wood, and got another fire going with the hopes of drying out the cabin floor.

Still, moving forward, determined to get to the comfort of my friend, I dressed myself for the still cold temperatures (it had gone way below zero the night before and the snow had turned to a slick sheet of ice with mush underneath, not exactly perfect conditions).

I chose all of my favorite layers, trying to cozy myself up and treat myself kindly in this already frustrating gloomy day. Long johns, thick socks, snow pants, flannel, sweatshirt, jacket, hat, gloves, face buff.

I was ready. Just then I looked at the impressive fire I had built and started to worry. Should I leave such a raging fire going unwatched? I’d heard about chimney fires and with the way things were going that day I figured it best not to take chances. I sat in my layers, starting to sweat, watching the fire, imagining coming home to a pile of smoldering wood (our house). I decided to check outside to make sure everything was ready to head out while the fire died down a bit.

I gathered my skis and walked over to the car. It was completely iced in.

 

thumb_IMG_6205_1024.jpg

 

The driver’s door doesn’t open so I went to the passenger’s side and just as I pulled the latch I started to slip on the ever so slick ice surrounding the vehicle. Haha, not so fast, universe. I caught myself, jumped in the car and popped open the driver’s side door. My first triumph of the day, at last!

I walked carefully around the car. As I was about to step into the driver’s seat to check the gas level I felt my foot break through ice as I fell backwards. The ice around the car was fresh from the night before. Apparently I had overestimated its strength. I was suddenly lying in an ice puddle, my skis and poles and ski boots scattered everywhere. I felt the water seep into my boots and down the back of my pants.

Wonderful!

I slipped a few more times until I finally got myself up and out of the ice pit and into the house where I stripped down, rung out my clothes, hung them to dry and dressed myself all over again. Luckily I had just been given a pair of snow boots so I didn’t have to wait until they dried and the ski boots which had fallen when I fell were still somewhat dry. Since I had been wearing my backpack when I fell I thankfully hadn’t hit my head on the ice but the backpack too had gotten wet so I unpacked, hung up wet contents and repacked it as well.

O.K. back in gear. The fire was no longer reminiscent of a fire-breathing dragon, it had a steady flame and I felt comfortable leaving it. I again walked outside, slow and steady. The driver’s side door had shut in all the commotion so again I walked to the other side, crawled in and opened it. I slid through the car to the other side and checked the gas level.

It was full.

No, of course it wasn’t.

I carefully got out the other side and placed my skis and poles and boots and backpack into the car and then headed for the gas can which was also full.

No, of course it wasn’t.

I pumped gas quickly. Too quickly. The gas came spewing out the top and all over my newly adorned outfit. I’m used to a little gas so I just went with it. I tried to add gas to the car but couldn’t find the funnel so I just went for it. It got everywhere. It was even too much for me to handle. I was like a walking match. I finished filling the tank and went back inside for yet another clothing change (though despite new clothes I still stunk of gasoline).

Alright! Fueled up and ready to go.

I made my way slip sliding to the bridge, carefully exited the car and got out my skis, changed into my ski boots, bungee corded my snow boots (the second pair of the day) around my backpack and off I went. The ice was slick and within moments I had almost landed on my back twice but no, not again universe. I was determined to stay upright.

I started to get the hang of the slick ice so much so that I called a good girlfriend while skiing (a first for me). I was feeling pretty impressed by myself and better and better as I listened to her words of wisdom when suddenly, I heard a helicopter almost directly overhead.

The T.V. show.

They were filming the area. I immediately thought to myself, “ugh, I don’t want to be in their shot, I didn’t agree to this!” And as I took one look up, deciding to ski away quickly to shelter under a nearby tree what happened? I fell completely backwards on an uphill that was at such an angle that even wearing my backpack with boots strapped to the back I still hit my head.

Hard.

I picked up my phone and the last remnants of my pride and sanity and told my girlfriend what had just happened when suddenly, the fog lifted.

 

thumb_IMG_5077_1024.jpg

 

I started laughing, giggling at first and then it morphed into a roar. Maybe I was concussed or maybe the fall just knocked it out of me. She was laughing on the other end and our sudden shift just kept egging one another on. I started moving again, phone in one hand, ski poles in the other, trying not to fall again but at the same time suddenly being O.K. with all of it.

Yes, today I was clearly out of sync with the universe. I wasn’t jiving and oh freakin’ well. My girlfriend, after we had finally stopped laughing said “Wow, you’re dealing with this day really well” and I remember finally understanding that it wasn’t up to me. This day was a bit of a lion but my anger towards it wouldn’t do me any good and really, I had to just laugh at all that had happened: more wardrobe changes than a pop concert, bumps and bruises, turning our house into a lake, a splitting headache, falling while simply looking up in front of a whole crew of people I knew, stinking of gasoline and still, it could have been worse.

We got off the phone when I realized that I was suddenly lost. I had decided, in my new attitude towards the day, to try a shortcut I had heard of but had never tried, especially in Winter.

I called my girlfriend whom I was visiting and she, as per usual, didn’t answer. I had already made a few gut instinct turns while on the phone and couldn’t be totally sure of the path I had already taken and so, the only way to go was forward. I continued on with confidence and immediately hit another slick spot and down I went!

Again.

Third fall’s the charm?

I picked myself up and got the snow out of my pants and continued on. Eventually, the girlfriend called back and I described my surroundings in detail:

“Well, there are a lot of trees.”

“Did you pass the left turn to the Toe yet?”

“Sure!” (I had no idea)

“Just go straight, Julia. No turns.”

Okey dokey, I got this.

And I did. Eventually I found her (a couple hoots and hollers exchanged between us helped). She walked down from her cabin to greet me and after a quick once over and a lot of friendtuition (friend intuition) she asked:

“Woah, my dear what happened to you today?”

We went inside, me leaving my boots on because we had planned to go for a ski, that was the plan, right?

“What do you need?”

I love her.

What I needed was to slow the heck down for a minute. What I needed was to recognize that the comfort I had spent the whole day in discomfort to get to was suddenly in front of me. She didn’t care if we skied of just sat and talked and we ended doing the latter for quite a while. Suddenly, the day was almost gone (it had taken me almost four hours to get there from the time I had talked to her that morning when it should have taken one) and I was exhausted and in pain and emotionally drained but after telling her the story of my day which again ended in an uproar of laughter I felt even better. We decided to go for a quick ski in which I did the most epic slow motion fall either of us have ever seen, setting my headache right back in place.

Fourth fall’s the charm?

 

 

thumb_IMG_6148_1024.jpg

 

We returned, still laughing about the fall  when she opened a cider and promptly hit herself in the neck with the cork, resulting in a bruise. We roared. I made pepper sculptures while we cooked dinner and we spent the rest of the night talking and laughing, a lot of laughing.

 

thumb_IMG_5108_1024.jpg

 

The first part of that day may have been some of the most frustrating moments I’ve ever had. All I wanted was to get to my friend and it seemed the universe was hell-bent on making me work for it. Maybe that’s what it needed from me, a little gusto. Most everything that could have gone wrong did and things I didn’t even think could happen happened. Even in the woods (I might even say especially in the woods), those days happen just when you don’t need them the most, just when things are already hard. That’s when those days happen.

This whole week was kind of like that day but with its parts evenly dispersed through seven and it seemed to be that way for a lot of folks. It was like trudging through mud. But instead of suffer silently, people talked. I had people I love dearly and people I barely knew telling me how hard the week had been for them, that tears kept coming and frustrations kept jumping in the way of progress and they didn’t quite know why. Maybe it was the weather (it’s been raining and gloomy for weeks), maybe it’s the Summer coming to an end, maybe it’s a deep-seated issue, maybe it’s really nothing at all. Either way it was a weird one and I couldn’t stop thinking about that day last Winter where eventually all I could do was laugh.

 

thumb_IMG_7891_1024.jpg

Even the sunsets were weird. Beautiful, but weird.

 

And so, I remind myself that no matter where I am, those days will happen, those weeks will happen. I will fall flat on my back (or more recently on my face, resulting in a beautiful black eye just in time to see my family last week where my nephew told me “Auntie Juju, you look like a zombie”. Thanks, kiddo). I will feel the buildup of pressure and frustration and I can decide to run from it (though it seems to run faster) or I can stop, look at it straight in the eye, see it’s not so bad and appreciate the ridiculousness of it all.

This week may not have been my shining moment of glory but hey, at least I was in good company and at least together we were finally able to laugh some good belly laughs. If you’re going to be out of sync with the universe, it’s at least nice to be there in good company.

Cheers to answering honestly when asked how you are and to finding some friends to wade through the muck with, it makes it a lot easier. And hey, at least after a weird week of rain (or three) the mushrooms, some as big as your head, come out to surprise you.

 

 

 

A Hidden Lake Breaks

Summers around here remind me of the filling of a balloon. You can fill a balloon with air or water or chocolate pudding if you like (“Now and Then” reference, anyone?) but at some point, the balloon breaks.

This town is the balloon and the Summer fills it with parties and get togethers and events and concerts and bear sightings and bear run-ins and happy tourists and grumpy tourists and hard work and long work and it just keeps coming. The good and the bad just keep coming and filling it up until the town bursts.

In a tiny town where everyone knows one another and everyone is in the same balloon together, it feels tighter and tighter as the Season goes on and at some point, the balloon breaks. The tension is released and the contents are freed.

This last week, the balloon broke for me the moment that the Lake broke.

 

flyakite

Fly a kite over a glacial pool? Yes, please.

 

Every Summer the Lake breaks.

The Season is spent in anticipation of the day that the subglacial waters of Hidden Lake far off in one of the resident glaciers will heat enough to break through their icy confines and head our way. Unlike the picture above, the amount of water is immense and the lake hides beneath the glacier. The release turns our rivers into beasts.

Last week the Lake broke with a vengeance. Boy did she move.

The water rapidly flooded from its origin miles away down to the River which divides the town in two: the East Side of the River and the West Side of the River (we live on the West Side, the side which is more remote. The East Side houses the restaurants and hotels ((which makes it sound much larger and industrialized than the two restaurants (one of which is also The Bar) and two hotels actually shape it to be. Heck, we still have dirt roads and the businesses provide their own power by generator. It’s no downtown New York or anything, but compared to the surrounding areas it definitely resembles a sort of town)).

As I was rushing to work that day I was stopped at the footbridge while people slowly crossed. Slowly is an understatement. They stopped, took pictures, stood in awe. Frustrating as it was to wait there with their complete disregard for my existence and/or need to cross to make it to work, I’m lucky it happened because it caused me to look around and notice what was occurring. Suddenly I realized: the Lake broke.

People were gathered at the other side watching the waves of water fly much much higher than they had all Summer or even in the past near decade. The River, which normally rushes and alerts you to her presence by way of a solid outpouring of water was now screaming her power with almost wavelike rushes. The energy around the water was intense and the freezing glacial waters sprayed up towards the walkway.

But off to work I had to go. I felt moved by the sheer volume and height of the water but still in the zone of the Season: work.

I spent the evening working at The Restaurant and listening to reports from excited tourists and Locals alike of the River.

“It’s higher than its been in 10 years!”

“It’s almost to the grates on the bridge!”

It was too much to just hear about. The Chef and a Manager whom had been stuck at work all day had to check it out. It was 7 o’clock and the whole town was down there by now.

7 o’clock.

If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry, you know that 7pm is the Witching Hour. It’s the time when your night will either get thrust into mayhem with table after table after table, or when you’ll realize it’s going to be a slow night.

Seeing that there were little to no tables at the time we thought their leaving would be fine. They had to check it out, we all agreed. It was a moment all should witness.

Not more than 5 minutes after their departure the crowds began.

Within 10 minutes I had almost 10 tables to myself.

Ugh, we should have known.

It went as smoothly as it could and just as the rush faded, the two returned, stoked from their adventure all the while apologizing for the unexpected rush we had just endured.

Who knew?

After a 9 hour shift I was tired but as I walked closer to the bridge to meet The Chief, I felt the energy of the earthly event start to grab hold of me. It wasn’t just the Lake that had burst, it was the whole balloon. I could feel it. There was an energy around it, a wildness celebrating not just this amazing happening but something else:

The end of Summer.

Never in my life have I ever welcomed the end of Summer. Not once. But this year, I feel it. The Lake breaking, to me, was the pin in the balloon of the ever-building Summer intensity. The annual event had happened and now, it was time to enjoy the last bits before the Fall. It gave a new perspective in the unending rush: the rush was about to end. Enjoy it before it is over.

I walked towards the bridge when suddenly…

in the starting shadows of 11pm I saw two familiar shapes: CindaLou (our pup) and The Chief.

They had both independently left the impromptu party at the bridge celebrating the Lake break: The Chief due in part to the overwhelm of the crowd and also to find me. Cinda left due to the fireworks going off. She is not a fan. As soon as the fireworks started firing, The Chief assumed she’d scurry but hadn’t seen in which direction she’d left. Needing a break from it all himself (crowds and crowds after Winters of solitude will seemingly never stop overwhelming Winter dwellers, self included) he started walking my way and we all ended up meeting in the middle at the Watering Hole.

The only way back home was back towards the crowd and so we all steadied ourselves for a change of pace and headed towards our car on the other side of the bridge, open to the possibility of staying at the party for a while to celebrate.

Cinda, did not get that memo, nor did she agree to it once it was proposed.

As we approached the gathering her ears clung closer and closer to her head, hoping to drown out the booms in her thick fur. She panted as we stood and decided to stay or go. Halfway through the discussion we both looked at her at the same time: she looked miserable. As she caught our eyes, her ears perked up with our attention and she nodded in the direction of home, her body promptly following. If there was even half a chance we were leaving, she was taking it.

She was halfway across the bridge before we conceded and started following her home.

We were both fine with missing a party but I needed a moment in the water.

We paused on the bridge, much to Cinda’s chagrin. If she had hands she would have been tugging at our pant legs but instead she whipped out the puppy eyes and tugged at our heartstrings. Still, I told her to wait on the other, quieter, side. I needed a moment.

The Chief and I held onto the rail and looked beneath us to where the water was pummeling against the legs of the bridge and over the boulders beneath us. The sturdy metal bridge was rocking back and forth in a way that could have made a weak stomach seasick. Hours before a huge rogue iceberg had been swept towards the bridge with the heavy current. It had pummeled into the structure and rocked the watchers standing upon it. Hours later there was another iceberg, beached but ready to run at the slightest influx in water.

 

bergin.jpg

Icebergs as big a small houses can be moved in an instant in the raging waters

 

It was a beautiful moment there on that bridge, listening to the rush below, feeling the intensity of the movement and holding on just a little tighter.

Nature, is amazing. Water can move boulders, change landscapes, destroy and bring life. It can be kind or cruel and of course that always depends on which side one looks at it from but that night I felt the calm in the crash.

We went home that night, happy our Lou had led us away from a party and towards home instead. It was a quieter celebration for me, an ability to finally take a deep breath. To see the finish line in sight.

The great break had shifted something in me and seemingly most of the locals in town. There was a renewed calmer energy about town. But not only did the break shift us, it shifted the land.

That mass of water had to continue somewhere and the farther the massive surge went downriver from the bridge, the closer it went to the banks of the West Side by our home.

I went out to explore.

The entire River channel had switched.

 

then.jpg

Before.

 

today.jpg

After.

 

In the braided rivers of Alaska, it’s common for rivers to switch channels, but seeing it happen so swiftly only gave greater clout to the power of water. I walked upon the new shore that just days before was all rushing water. I explored that which had been left behind and felt the intensity with which the water had changed the landscape.

 

 

 

today2

The deepest part of the old channel

 

today5.jpg

Dried veins of the path of the water.

 

I’ve always been drawn to water but I thought it was simply due to living near the Pacific Ocean. Water had always been in my day-to-day. Even if I wasn’t at the beach I lived my life around it. I used it as my compass to orient my world around. Now, living hours from the Ocean, I realize it’s not just the Ocean I crave, it’s water in general. Every day that I can, I walk the paths from our house down to the River. I sit on her banks, take her temperature, listen to her and look for the treasures she unearths.

 

joneseatsbones.jpg

…or the treasures Cinda unearths, like this bone of who knows what here.

 

No matter how despondent my mood at the beginning of my walk, going down to her banks always lifts me from a funk. I still orient towards the water and still, towards the West. My point of reference has always been water.

 

 

 

I love living in a place where an act of nature is cause for celebration. Where fireworks are set off to high-five Mother Earth and the whole town hoots and hollers to her.

I love living in a place where there are natural phenomena on the daily to celebrate but I also love living with a person whom doesn’t have to see the end to every party to celebrate in his own way and whom also lets me celebrate by myself in a moment of quiet in the middle of the wind tunnel on the bridge with the water rushing below. I love living in a place where every walk shows me something new, a change to the Earth I feel I know so well and yet still lose the path on regularly. Just the other day I became so distracted by the changes of the River that I walked right past the last shortcut home.

And so, I took the long way home.

Here’s to the finish line finally coming into sight and to enjoying the moments in the midnight sun that we have left. Despite the rush and rumble, I’m sure I’ll miss it dearly at times come Winter.