Month: September 2016

Too Much Birthday

These last weeks have been like the story from The Berenstain Bears collection called Too Much Birthday.

Never heard of it?

Well, it goes a little something like this (or at least this is how my memory provides it to me). One of the little bears, probably Sister, is having a birthday and she just wants more and more and more. A bigger cake, more guests, more games. She’s a little glutton (to whom I can relate). But eventually, despite her initial tenacious persuasions, all that she was chasing falls apart and in the end she really just wants to go to bed. All the party guests leave and she’s suddenly with her family celebrating quietly and reflectively, enjoying the simplicity.

The end of Summer here is like planning for a big birthday, except every occasion turns into another birthday and another…and another. It’s Sister gluttony to the extreme.

Everything here shuts down. Everything. The shuttle stops running, the hotels close, the store shuts down, the tour companies leave, the planes stop flying. Everything stops mid September.

And so as each door closes there’s another Last Night to celebrate. The Restaurant shut down for the season and a huge Open Mic Goodbye Party erupted. The Bar closed and The Last Man Standing Party carried on late into the night.

 

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The aftermath of The Last Man Standing. Burnt out bonfires and beer cans.

 

And at each event it became noticeable that there were fewer and fewer faces.

The mass exit had begun.

 

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The hand cart at the Footbridge making its last trips

 

Almost everyone who seasons here is gone and the year-long residents remain. The endless birthday bashes are over and it’s back to “real life”, to life before the Summer started and our sleepy little town became a bustling beehive of activity. Back to simplicity, to eating at home instead of eating out, to getting inventive to stretch what food or supplies you do have when you can’t resupply and no one is coming in to help, everyone is going out. It’s a strange feeling to be standing still and watching others stream around you heading in the opposite direction like a herd of buffalo. It’s unsettling, and feels as if you should be running too. But you stay put.

 

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The suddenly silent Swimming Hole

 

And, suddenly, just like The Bears, it’s just the family once again. People who’ve weathered all of the seasons together for years (and a newbie or two like me). It’s the family time after the big party.

The family of friends has gotten together almost every day this week. We’ve had dinners to celebrate a friend’s first moose kill which he’s generously fed us with every night of the week since his kill. We’ve had moose ribs which we were so big they made me feel like Wilma Flinstone, fried moose, grilled moose, moose over a bonfire, neck of moose, backstrap and more and more and more.

 

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Dinner parties in the dark. Headlamps and bonfires help.

 

We’ve come together to play poker (a true sign that Summer has ended) and to celebrate a dear friend’s actual birthday. We’ve been out a lot but the energy around the celebrations no longer holds the Summer fervor. The intensity is gone along with the constant air of surprise in it all. There’s no longer the chance of meeting new people or running into tourists in our town which has taken on its ghost town feel once again. Familiarity and comfort and rhythm have returned.

Just in time for us to leave as well.

 

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The last hairs of the Little Eintsteins hanging on.

 

Yet, when we return and the ground is covered in snow and the quiet is upon us, the family will still be here or be returning as well. We will reconvene after seeing our loved ones down South and return to the North and to Winter and to our Northern family of friends.

Cheers to the end of the never-ending parties and to the start of the quiet here. I’m sure I’ll miss the Summer in the dark days of Winter but for now, I welcome the calm with open arms.

But first, to the South, to the Golden State.

To California.

 

 

The Glacier

Before arriving in Alaska I can’t say with much certainty that I knew what a glacier was. I’m only slightly sure that I was aware of their existence (but not entirely sure I didn’t just think they were large icebergs) and definitely sure that I didn’t grasp their many faces. And so, my first time on The Glacier was a complete slap in the face and every time since has been another awakening unto its own.

You see, my first time on The Glacier I went ice climbing.

Me. Ice climbing.

If you’re beginning to think I’m some sort of badass you can stop yourself right there. I can say for certain that I did not know what ice climbing was, but with my girlfriend’s encouragement (and the loan of her dog) I let her sign me up with her guides.

I’d never even been rock climbing before (a likely introduction) but there I was, gearing up with boots and crampons and an enormous backpack full of gear for a ten-hour day of hiking and climbing on our friendly neighborhood glacier, followed by crashing an ice climbing course meant solely for the guide company which I had no business attending (but was too afraid to leave on my own since it would mean traversing solo across a glacier which I had just met and then finding my way back to the trailhead and then back home. No thank you). And so I climbed, and despite the fear of heights that I thought I had, I felt safe and secure and successful, followed by completely out-of-place, cold and tired at the training but hey, at least I was in good company.

My second time on The Glacier was with the encouraging girlfriend. We explored a bit, I got my first solid lesson in using crampons and we ate curry for lunch. It was a beautiful day and again, I didn’t have to hoof it alone.

That was last year. Now, I’ve lived here for a year. I’ve been through Winter in the cold, dark north. I can handle The Glacier solo, right?

Well, sort of.

It was a beautiful sunny day at the tail end of a wind event a few weeks ago and so, despite the sun and the sights, I was still feeling a little off-kilter from the ever-present gusts of dirt in my eyes and blow-back winds pushing me about. Still, when it’s sunny and you are free, it’s time to get out. Some friends only had a few days left in Alaska and they invited me along to go out on The Glacier. I hadn’t been on it all Summer and had been scolding myself for not having done so. And so, despite the blustery day, I headed out to meet them.

The Chief and I drove across the river into town with a friend to jump our truck (which I had been stranded with the night before) and she fired up quickly. All set. And so I sent a message up the hill to let my comrades know that I was on my way. Even though it was my day off I was in a bit of a hurry to get going. This town is notoriously slow going since things always seem to go wrong or take longer than planned. It’s not uncommon to hear someone come in late for work because their batteries were about to die and they forgot to run the generator and then the generator was out of gas so they had to pump gas and then spilled it and had to change and…you get the point. Things come up. And so I was trying to stay ahead of the game. The truck was running and I was on my way. Plus, I had a massage scheduled that day (best day off ever) and I wanted to make sure I would be back in time.

I helped Cinda into the truck and off we went. We were listening to our favorite Cocteau Twins song when the truck chugged to a halt. Thinking that the battery had given out again (the battery in it is a wee bit small for the truck) I called The Chief to see if he could jump it (again) with our friend’s truck. He left work and borrowed the truck and 20 minutes later, when I should have been arriving to meet my friends, The Chief gallantly arrived. He quickly deciphered that it wasn’t the battery. Thankfully he had a can full of gas that we filled our tank with and the new infusion in what we think is simply a bad fuel mix was enough to start the babe right up. He followed me up to the Hill Town even though he really needed to be at work because, well, he’s amazing like that. We bid adieu as I successfully glided into the Hill Town.

 

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Finally, we made it. But where are they?

 

My friends were heading down from one friend’s house and after a few confusing texts and calls we found one another at the guide shack (I had forgotten that we would need crampons, remembering The Glacier as only being a sweet little thing requiring hiking boots alone. How quickly we forget). We all geared up and headed out The Glacier Trail. An hour and a few miles later we started to descend and I felt totally lost. The creek between the hillside and The Glacier had shifted enough that the “entrance” onto The Glacier, the spot where everyone would come off the hillside and find their way onto the glacier had completely changed from the two times I’d seen it the year before.

I wish I could say with certainty that if I had gone alone earlier this Summer to The Glacier that I would have figured this out and not just “cliffed out” at the old entrance but I’m not really comfortable with lying. I can hope that I would have figured it out, that my stubbornness would have helped me find the way, but as a serious creature of habit and lover of comfort I’m not totally sure that I would have pushed that hard. Maybe. I hope so. I think in reality that I hadn’t made it to The Glacier yet this year out of fear of the unknown and so a hurdle like that could have derailed me, had I made it that far.

We scaled down the hillside, the dogs far ahead of us and already begging from tourists camped at the base of The Glacier.

 

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Our view from the base. The Glacier lay ahead in all its glory.

 

We stumbled immediately upon an ice creation.

 

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Melted out ice caves

 

I ran in, excited to see it from the inside and just barely dodged falling rocks. Whoops! I forgot my glacier manners and ice cave rules. Look before you leap.

 

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Little rocks (thankfully) and water falling from to top of the ice cave

 

Manners in mind and footing in place we headed up and onto The Glacier. One member of our group lost her manners quickly. My sweet pup decided to let nature call in the number two fashion upon the pristine glacier. I picked up her little gift with a newly available Costco sized M&M bag (we had to eat the remaining M&Ms in a hurry to free up the space, which, while delicious, kind of lost their appeal due to the situation) sealed it tight and placed it into my backpack. The backpack which held my food.

We were off to a good start.

 

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Hiking up the first icy hill of The Glacier

 

And we actually were off to a great, albeit stinky, start. For the first fifteen minutes we were fine going simply with our hiking boots but once the terrain turned a bit tougher it was time for crampons.

I’m not a fan.

I know that they make it more feasible to hike up and down into places in the glacier which would otherwise remain unseen to me but they also make me feel like a toddler wearing platform shoes. It’s as if I’ve attached bricks to my feet, lost all flexibility and then, decide to attempt the scary stuff.

This was the part I had forgotten about. The scary parts. The year before when I had gone ice climbing we had hiked the mildest parts of The Glacier (the simple up and over route instead of into the depths) and put on crampons only to scale into the basin where we would set up camp to climb. I barely needed instruction because they were necessary for moments only and the fall would have been into a soft obvious location not into some wormhole into the heart of The Glacier. The second time, as I had conveniently forgotten, we had taken a more hilly route, jumped over little rivers within the glacier and climbed sheer sides. I had been afraid but I had forgotten that fear.

Key words being “had forgotten”.

Suddenly the fear came upon me like a whisper from behind as we veered away from the easy route on top of The Glacier and immediately started sidehilling down it. We stopped to put on our crampons and layers as the already present wind began to pick up and up and up. I watched Cinda’s fur blow in the breeze and then suddenly her whole body jolted back as a powerful gust of wind hit her. Everything had shifted in an instant. Suddenly, I had high heel things on my feet, extra disorienting wind and more challenging terrain.

Gulp.

Our first move in our newly acquired garb? Cross an ice bridge between two moulins (a tubular chute, hole or crevasse worn in the ice by surface water which carries water from the surface to the base far below, like a sudden sinkhole which appears with little to no warning). They were substantial holes on both sides, both tunnels leading in opposite and unclear directions into the stomach of the glacier. You fall in and…good luck. My girlfriend shouted to me through the wind:

“You might want to watch Cinda on this one. It’s a little sketchy.”

Just as I was about to grab her and find ourselves another route, she scampered across with the utmost ease and so, my excuse to find a better route now gone and my better judgement aside, I started to cross. My stomach dropped into my feet and my heart up into my neck as my body slowly and awkwardly carried me across. I did not feel centered, I did not feel competent. I felt like a wet rag trying to dance a tango. Not my most graceful of moments.

On the other side I caught my breath.

“That.

Was.

Scary.”

I told my friends and I nervously stopped to eat a snack. I felt like I was going to be sick. You see, I try and try and try again to fool myself but my body reminds me. I am afraid of heights. In my mind I see the path but my body reacts. Wanna look down into a moulin? I can’t. My feet literally won’t take me.

 

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This I can handle.

 

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Peering down into this? No thanks. These pop up out of nowhere.

 

And so, after crossing (sorry, I couldn’t take a picture but just imagine two huge tunnel slides to each side of you and a maybe two foot wide expanse to cross over them) and remembering the fear I had felt before, though not to this level (and never during ice climbing (perhaps the harness had something to do with it)), it suddenly dawned on me that I would be doing the return trip alone.

 

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Since the truck had died and our meet up had been slow, time had been moving despite our still trying to catch up with it. We had been on the glacier almost 40 minutes before we even put the crampons on and now, I had 20 minutes before I needed to head back. We had basically just gotten there, just gotten to the “good stuff” (read: scary but more beautiful and worth the challenge) and now I needed to turn around.

We traversed a few more creeks within the glacier and went up and down hills that seemed impossible to ascend or descend any other way than on hands and knees or slide down like penguins but somehow I remained upright (and awkward). Finally, tucked away from the gusts in a little alcove I announced my need to depart in order to make it back in time for my massage (a statement that sounded unbelievably swanky and out-of-place while standing in the middle of the wilderness).

 

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Beautiful Jess. Wanna come back?

 

I had already stated that, of course, they probably wouldn’t want to head back when I had to, but secretly hoped that someone might want to. At the same time, I knew the challenge would do me good and in a way hoped I would fly solo.  It was divided 50/50. Though I was scared I said my goodbyes and whistled for my Lou and turned to head back the way we had come (though already planning to avoid the Ice Bridge of Doom) when I looked back and couldn’t decipher up from down.

 

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The last views of my friends

 

Where in the world had we come from and how?

I had purposefully been paying attention (I thought) to our route but when I looked back it all looked the same and the hilly landscape seemed unrecognizable in reverse.

Oh well, they were moving one way and I had to head the other.

 

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A last goodbye from the Buddha

 

I cannot explain how grateful I was to have our Cinda Lou with me. She was like a little ice fairy, floating along the face of the glacier, jumping over moulins like a professional hurdler. She made it look easy, and so, as I have done so many times before, I channeled her confidence and picked a route forward.

 

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Lou smiling at the moulin

 

Within minutes we were nowhere we had been before and facing crossing fast flowing waters and climbing an almost 90 degree incline. I looked to the right: even worse. I looked to the left and could only assume that it turned into a sheer drop-off to the moraine (the rocky below) since all the rest to the left had been as such.

How had I gotten us here?

I had simply gone in the same-ish direction back and now, we were somewhere completely unknown, out of sight and alone.

That’s the thing about a glacial terrain, one minute you’re walking on flat ground, the next there is a sheer cliff at your feet. Another, you’re protected from the wind storm, the next you’re basically windsurfing, trying not to lose footing. Next you’re looking down a moulin into the mouth of the glacier and next you see a turquoise lake appear, calm and pristine. It’s forever changing and after two trips one year ago prior to completely different spots on the exact same glacier, I was feeling completely lost and completely out of my league.

Oh well. There was no other way but forward.

I found a narrower crossing and planted my feet in order to make the big jump to the other side of what now was become a river in The Glacier in order to climb up the face to the other side. I looked and then leapt and…

I made it. Safe and sound.

 

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The water was 3-4 ft. wide

 

And solo.

Cinda did not follow.

Suddenly, my trailblazer was stunted. She didn’t trust the jump. I walked to the narrowest point and urged her to follow suit on the other side. I cooed encouragement at her and promised I would grab her. She didn’t budge. Then she started pacing back and forth, starting twice by trying to walk the divide, the water which would have been up to her shoulders and the current which would have swept her up and sent her who knows where in the blink of an eye lapped at her paws and she quickly retreated.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

We both let out a little whimper and I allowed myself a moment of panic. And then I grabbed my breath back and called her back as she started walking towards the ledge. We are doing this. You can make it Lou.

I called her to a different narrow spot and steadied myself to grab her if she didn’t land the jump. She gave me a look of utter displeasure but also of trust (yes, I’m anthropomorphizing but I’m comfortable with it) and then, she jumped.

And she made it.

And then she was off with me scrambling behind her.

She ran towards the hill. It was so steep that she had to lean as far forward as possible while still having to sidehill up the face it. I got down low and hands and knees and crampon toed my way up. We both stopped at the top, breathing heavily and looked at one another with a sort of It Can’t Get Worse Than That, Right? type of look. I hugged and kissed her and spent a moment more just breathing while trying to plan the remainder of our route (while still avoiding the Ice Bridge of Doom). I surmised that it couldn’t be much longer (though I couldn’t see the exit) and decided to hug the Easternmost route for the remainder of the return. Thirty minutes later we were off The Glacier and back to finding the elusive trail. I had created mental markers for myself but in the end, it didn’t matter.

 

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A big rock (in front of the far away Castle Rock) was my beacon towards the trail

 

My Cinda knew the way (even though she had never taken it before that day). She led me back and up the steep hill, circling around every few steps to smile at me. I’ve never seen her do that before. One, two, three, four steps, circle, look at Mom and head forward for four more. She checks on me when we are out together but never in such a rhythm, with such consistency.

 

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Four steps forward…

 

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…one circle to look back.

 

For a dog whom isn’t always overtly forthcoming with expressions of love, this less than subtle check in warmed my heart. I felt like crying. I had truly been scared. Scared of falling, scared of picking the wrong route and sliding into a river of ice, scared of losing my dog. Seeing her look back to me I suddenly let it go. We were off the glacier and we had gotten off of it together.

 

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Crossing over a raging creek and looking back at The Glacier

 

The rest of the hour-long hike back she checked on me every few steps. She even took a shortcut (which I knew and planned on taking) and when she realized I hadn’t made it to the entrance yet, she circled back to show me how.

 

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Fall was in the air and the winds had started to die down a bit and an ecstatic calm (if that dichotomy can somehow exist) came over me as we hustled back.

 

 

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We got back just in time to grab a snack and water us both before going into a greatly appreciated massage. I was physically tired from the hike but also emotionally tired and simultaneously elated by the journey.

We had made it.

To many out here, it would be nothing to simply turn back alone. It would be nothing even to go out alone and come back alone. To find a route and follow it with confidence. To me, it was a challenge. To choose my own route, completely on my own (or at least without other humans) is a new practice. To trust and to expand past the comfort of the known into the discomfort of the unknown isn’t my first choice, but in a way, at this point in my life it’s the only one.

I may not be the first to try a new route or to scale a mountain. I am still cautious and careful and perhaps overly so, using my respect for the grandiosity and potential danger of this place at times as an excuse. But that’s O.K.

I’m learning to stretch.

I’m so grateful to live in a place and among people whom share their adventurous spirits with me. People who prance across an ice bridge like it’s nothing, who find their own way when lost in the woods, who set out to summit a mountain they’ve never been to. This place and the people within it both intimidate and inspire me in such a combination that I consistently find myself a little outside of my comfort zone but in very good company, be it scenery or people or animals or, simply my new self who’s learning, day by day to trust again in the intuition we all have within.

I hope that next year and every year from now on that I remember the fear and embrace it rather than tuck it away. I hope that I push forward with or without invitation from others to see this land. I hope that as my confidence in myself grows the fear will realize it can start to let go.

Thank you for the endless challenges and chances to expand, Alaska. You sure keep me on my toes (and, when the going gets steep, my hands and knees).

 

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Today Was a Good Day

Some days stand out more than others. Some days remind me more than others of where I am, of the majesty of this place and of the refreshing concoction of absolute wilderness and strangely cosmopolitan offerings we enjoy and of the importance of friendship.

It was a Sunday and a somewhat gloomy day in the very first moments of September. Some gloomy days welcome me to the indoors, others make the indoors feel frantic and claustrophobic. This one embodied the latter. Although I typically think of Sundays as a home day for family time (and pancakes. Lots of pancakes), our schedules haven’t really met up to make this shiny Sunday ideal a possibility. And so I sat in our cabin alone, knowing I should be writing or reading or whatnot and enjoying the peace and quiet but I was instead feeling stifled by the four walls around me. I needed to get out.

In these moments I typically suit up and head out alone, walking the River Trail by our house (hoping the dog doesn’t ditch me) and returning refreshed. But that day I needed more than the River Trail. I needed an adventure. Since my post about getting out a few weeks ago I’ve been on a sort of mission to explore more whenever possible. Sunny days make it easy, it’s the gloomy ones that feel a bit like a ball and chain. But once you’re out, and break free of whatever imagined heaviness you felt, you realize you were always free and well, it’s on.

And so I ventured out of my typical approach of solo outings and contacted a girlfriend instead. She is someone I’d enjoyed meeting up with all Summer but we hadn’t made time to have intentionally set girl time, it had always been by a gathering’s happenstance instead. She replied immediately.

“I’ll be ready to go in 30 minutes.”

Oh, snap.

Apparently it was time to get moving. In true Sunday fashion I was still donning PJs, sleepy eyes and a head full of bed.

I started collecting what I’d need. We had decided on a walk to The Toe (the end of one of the local glaciers). I dressed and I packed (snacks, water, a knife, extra socks, jacket, rain jacket) gave the house one final look and set outside to get going. 30 minutes had already passed. She was going to walk and meet me down at the parking spot (literally one spot to the right of the No Passing sign down at The Toe) after 30 minutes. I realized that she didn’t know how far I lived (and I had overestimated my get up and go timing) and told her to hold those horses but that I was on my way.

Right?

I remembered then that I had told our neighbor that I would exercise his pup that day. And so I loaded Cinda up into our new (to us) truck and headed out to gather him.

Nope.

The truck (which had been giving us quite the go around in true wilderness vehicle fashion with an un-diagnosed fuel issue which had already stranded us multiple times) started but the moment I put it into reverse it chugged to a stop. I tried again. This time she fired up with gusto (thattagirl!) and I decided to take a few steps forward before venturing backwards again (there was a hump within the first few feet behind us which required a bit more power than the little lady seemed to have). She roared forward and then started strong backing up and…chugged to a halt. Cinda looked at me like she did while I was learning the stick shift last winter, as if to say “Lady, I could do this with my eyes closed”. Well, close those eyes Cinda Jones because this is about to be a do-si-do dance of frustration. I tried the back and forth a few more times before calling it on account of gas. She needed a fresh pot to brew on (she seems to think she’s empty when she’s not and so sometimes adding 5 gallons of gas does the trick, even if there’s already plenty of fuel to spare).

I topped her off and ta-da! Off we went with Jones rolling her eyes the whole time. We were on our way and, dog-disses aside, were having a pretty good time already. I popped on some tunes and headed to get our second backseat driver: Cinda’s brother Diesel.

After shocking him half to death just by opening the door due to his hearing loss it then took me almost 5 minutes to get him out the door. I pet him and cooed at him and made big gestures, all the while hearing the truck chugging in park (no way was I turning the beast off after all that) and hoping she would continue. Finally, he rose, stretched and gaily skeedadled towards the truck. He knew the drill, even if he’d never seen the truck before. I loaded him up and got in myself as the dogs settled in with their backs to one another, looking out their respective windows without so much as a ruff of acknowledgement. Oh siblings.

Finally we were off.

We decided on a new meeting place: The Restaurant. After all that, this girl needed some stronger coffee. Coffee, some chit-chat and an enormous breakfast burrito later and now all of us were off together.

I realized quickly that I didn’t know where I was going. I had been driven down to The Toe once last year when I had first arrived and once again via the Wagon Road coming from the opposite direction on the back of a 4-wheeler where I was more concerned with spotting the bears leaving the plentiful piles of bright red berry bear poop than I was with remembering directions.

Thankfully, my girlfriend had a solid knowledge versus my inkling and she guided us safely into harbor.

 

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The leaves setting the mountains afire in color.

 

It was beautiful. The day which before had felt gloomy now felt luminous. We started walking to the glacial lake when we spotted what looked like a photo shoot. Three girls were gathered behind a rock. Two were doting on one, bringing her flowers and fixing her locks. Then, I realized that I knew one of them. I waved hello and she shouted back joyfully:

“We’re having a wedding!”

We shouted our congratulations to her friend and looked to the left to see the groom and his men waiting for the lovely bride. It was beautiful and set such a sweet tone to head into nature with.

We walked along the cliff’s edge of the lake as the dogs ran up and down the steep terrain. Eventually it evened out and we descended on an easier slope.

 

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Icebergs ahead!

 

Just then, the dogs went crazy. They had picked up a scent (they were no longer ignoring one another. Once out in the open they run together, trading off leading and deciding together what should and shouldn’t be peed upon by both of them). They followed it with a voracity that is normally reserved for…uh oh.

Bears.

Just as I realized that my girlfriend coincidentally said: “You know, I was going to bring my bear spray (essentially a massive can of pepper spray that is a favorite accessory out here if one is without or not in favor of a gun) but then I realized that I was with you and you’d know how to handle it.”

Funny you should say that. I had packed two dogs as protection but noting further.

Just then, as we neared the water’s edge, I looked down.

There they were.

Bear prints.

Not just any bear prints. These were brand new, and huge and clawed, meaning that they likely belonged to a grizzly bear.

 

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Oh joy.

I alerted my girlfriend and we both looked up to see the dogs running after the scent. The good news was that the tracks were heading in the direction we had come from, and thus away from us, and so we called the dogs off and to us and continued hastily in the opposite direction of the enormous prints.

We walked and we walked and we walked, occasionally looking over our shoulders for a hungry grizzly, until we made it to the far end of The Lake where we dropped in to explore some new caves. The ice of the glacier proved too slippery without cramp-ons (little metal teeth you attach to your shoes) and so we decided to continue on to find more easily accessible caves further into the moraine (basically the dirt and rock on top of the glacier which is sometimes very thick and sometimes so thin that a mere scratch exposes the ice below).

 

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…and then there’s the enormous boulders too.

 

The best part about hiking on the moraine is that you never know what you will find and there is only the trail that you make. Nothing is laid out in front of you. And so we chose our route, sometimes following the dogs, sometimes choosing to scale different approaches more friendly to our two-legged selves when we came upon another body of water. The color was unbelieveably blue. Just across from it was a beautiful cave created by the melting and morphing of the glacier.

 

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The moraine and the glacier are a constantly evolving landscape. Sometimes huge “wormholes” (big holes standing tall above the ice created by the melting of the ice) will suddenly be gone, collapsed and melted. A lake within the glacier can break and flood through the holes and crevices and places we explore. Rocks fall. It is a beautiful place but also a place for vigilance. Look before you leap.

And so as we went into the hollowed out cave we watched for falling rocks and debris, noticing the piles from previous falls. Just as I had finished taking a picture of a little ice bridge formed by melting and had turned my back to walk back to the little lake a shift must have occurred and rocks and debris came spilling onto the area where I had just been standing seconds before.

 

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This cave is made completely from ice and covered in rock and dirt.

 

Time to move on?

We watered the dogs and ourselves and then ventured out and up and took stock of our surroundings.

 

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In all truth we didn’t have any real idea where we were and suddenly it was getting late.

 

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Looking down towards the cave after crawling out. Suddenly neither of the lakes were visible.

 

We had a few hours before we needed to be back still but we had been walking already for hours. We took in the landscape and starting positioning ourselves in a general direction. We didn’t want to take the same route twice and so we went up and over hill upon hill upon hill until we hit a treeline with sandy dirt and easier walking which led up all the way back to the truck.

 

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Icebergs, Lakes, Sand?

 

 

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Cinda Jones in all of her glory.

It was ice cream time. I had been stalking a cone of ice cream from the General Store for two weeks now. Every time I had tried to get ice cream they had been closed or I had been working. It just wasn’t happening. But not today. Today I knew their hours and I was ready.

We loaded the pups and set off for an ice cream sundae Sunday.

Or not.

The truck wouldn’t start.

Thankfully, I had 5 gallons of gas in a can that I had thrown in the back of the truck (I had already pumped the can full twice that day: once before trying to leave, then I had emptied it into the truck in our driveway when she wouldn’t start, then I had gone through the rigmarole to fill it all over again.

Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t gas.

The battery was dead.

Thankfully, I remembered that The Chief had told me he had put jumper cables in the truck.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a soul around except for us. The wedding party had left, no one was there and we wanted to solve this via the ladies, not just by calling our boyfriends for help.

Thankfully, we remembered that our other girlfriend was in the Hill Town that day. I called her. My phone wouldn’t work. It rang and picked up but I couldn’t hear a thing. Thankfully, my girlfriend’s phone did work and she was able to get a hold of her. She said she’d be happy to but that she was almost out of gas and wasn’t sure she could make it home if she also came to get us.

Problem solved. We had 5 gallons of gas for trade.

She was on her way.

A little while and some trail mix later and she arrived to save the day. We all laughed realizing that we three approached the task differently, but too many cooks in the kitchen worked out just fine and a few minutes later the truck was purring again. We filled her tank with a couple of gallons and thanked her.

 

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Notice that the lights are on? Yup, me too. I’m still new to the truck and, well, I forgot they were on.

 

She had to leave then and so we continued on our way back to town with just enough time to make it to yoga class (yoga class in the woods?! I know. Pretty amazing). By now our ice cream dreams were in the past. Another day.

We parked and walked into the old cabin where yoga was being held. We arrived to the welcoming smiles of other girlfriends. A big bellied stove in the middle of the room took the chill off until the motions could warm us on their own. It was beautiful and exactly what I needed and suddenly two hours had flown by.

By the end, the hike and the yoga had started setting in and a serious tiredness was taking hold of me. There was live music in town that night at The Restaurant and as we drove by the glow of the place was as inviting as could be but I was done for the day. I hugged my girlfriend and thanked her for the day, for inviting me to go to yoga with her (something I always mean to do but rarely make it to), for getting lost in the wilderness with me and for brightening my day. We had brightened it for one another and a new closeness was born.

I slowly made my way home. The dogs were pooped and sprawled out in the backseat. I puttered towards the bridge when I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. I stopped the car.

Fireworks.

I drove to the middle of the bridge and put the truck into park and sat watching my own private show of the lights.

It’s a pretty special thing to start a day with a looming gloom only to end it with an impromptu fireworks show and fill it with every sort of soul warming goodness in between. That’s the magic of this place.

I made my way home that night feeling happy and fulfilled. I had nurtured a friendship, cared for myself, adventured and been awed, all in one day. I arrived home (after stopping to give The Chief a kiss and say goodbyes to friends until next year at a BBQ in our neighborhood) tired in the best of ways and happy in the most important of ways and the only thing I could think to myself over and over was:

today was a good day.

 

And it was.

 

 

A Wind Event

Of all the elements, I have to say that the wind is my least favorite, especially to be exposed to. Indoors, watching the wind blow through the trees, listening to the creaks and bends of trees in a storm, that’s one thing.  It feels chaotic but inside I’m relatively protected. But being outside in the middle of a windstorm? No, thank you.

Wind has always made me feel hectic and off kilter, as if my body and mind can’t quite seem to make the handshake on how to interact. I feel discombobulated, irritated and overall just “a little off”.

The winds started a week from last Saturday. It was “Prom” in town, a yearly event with a theme and a King and a Queen and a whole mess of mainly locals boisterously celebrating the nearing close of the Summer. As we walked into the mayhem the wind picked up. It was a warm wind, a “Witches Wind” and it laid way for a strange feel to the night.

In the morning the winds hadn’t ceased but their warmth had retreated and their ferocity increased. The day was blustery and ominous.

The next day they were at their peak. From inside our cabin I could hear trees being pushed past their creaking point. They were being overpowered by the wind. Almost every time I walked outside I would hear a tree fall, crashing through its comrades and eventually down to the ground.

That day I was working a 3pm-close shift at the restaurant. I walked there in record slowness as I stayed bent forward at a 45 degree angle in order to not be blown backwards. As I rounded the first corner out of our driveway a cracking sound began and within seconds a huge aspen tree fell right in front of me. They were dropping like flies. Everywhere I looked bundles of trees had fallen together, tripping over one another like a bumbling group of drunks. The forest was tumbling over. I continued on into the normally protected woods but the wind still found her way in, whipping through the usually quiet spaces. I had to climb over fallen trees and jagged stumps that had fallen in the path just to make my way.

 

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The stump itself stretched feet above me. Land of the Tall Trees.

 

I stumbled upon a pile of very fresh bear excrement and looked around me. The wind was so strong and the noises it produced from blowing brush and breaking trees were so loud that even if the bear had been feet away, neither one of us would have been able to hear the other and there’s nothing quite like spooking a bear. It felt truly eerie and truly out of my hands. Cinda and I hurried along to the opening at the river trail, glad to be out of the thick woods but unfortunately back into the brunt of the wind. We steadied ourselves and trudged forward.

Over an hour later I finally made it to work (a little late). The last few minutes of the walk were the dustiest and a miniature tornado spiraled into me, leaving my freshly showered self filthy and my mouth full of dirt. At work I walked into an obvious mood. The wind wasn’t pleasing anyone. After weeks and weeks of rain people had been overjoyed by the few days of sunshine we had been experiencing. But now, the blue skies weren’t so welcoming when your face got a wind rash after being out in the elements for an hour or so. And, as the days of wind continued more and more damage was done.

Two friends sidled up to the bar and told me of their wind carnage. One friend’s entire living situation had been ruined. He had spent the Summer already chasing off bears each morning, clearing trails and setting up his wall tent to live in until he could put up a more permanent structure. It hadn’t been easy living but he was making it work the best he could. When the winds came on they picked up his entire structure and threw everything about. It looked like a tornado had come through. It was time to build (and time to move out until he could build). Another friend had a huge tree fall and crush his Summer storage tent. A few feet one way or the other and it would have taken out his shower or his permanent shed. Two other friends completely lost their sheds. Another friend’s trailer had a tree woven in between it and three other trees but hadn’t been damaged. Another friend’s driveway looked like a game of pick-up-stix. Trees were strewn about and entangled so completely that it took hours and hours to clear. If there had been an emergency, he would have been completely stranded.

Flights were grounded, planes were stuck, people were stranded, missing their trips home, mail couldn’t come in or go out. It was chaos.

Yet instead of panic, the community came together and got to work. Vans were put together to get people to where the planes would have taken them (unless they were going to the backcountry or trying to come in from the backcountry. If that was the case they unfortunately remained grounded or stranded). The Chief had thought to put a chainsaw in our truck and was prepared to clear his way to work. Groups of residents went out to the main road and cut trees for the entire day to clear the road so people would have a way in or out.

In California there are road crews. Trees fall down, power lines go down. Tree companies come to clear the trees, PG&E comes to restore power. It’s not always fast and it’s not always easy, we too have been stranded at our house due to downed trees, but it was always a waiting game. We didn’t have a chainsaw and even if we did I wouldn’t have been confident enough to take down a redwood (and rightly so). The problem is yours but it’s the responsibility of someone else. Here, the responsibility is all of ours. See a tree? Have a chainsaw? Take it down and out of the road. Not “your” road? It’s all of our road. If you’re on it, it’s your responsibility, just as much as anyone else.

People spent all day clearing roads that they themselves rarely use because that’s how it goes out here and I love it for that.

After work The Chief came into town to visit me at The Restaurant. He left around 9:30pm, mentioning that he and our neighbor would be clearing their way home. I had walked the road only a few hours prior and they had driven it an hour before. It wasn’t too bad both of us thought and so we planned to see one another in an hour after I finished up work and headed home to meet him.

It was the shift that wouldn’t end and so despite “closing” at 10pm we finally got ourselves closed up by midnight. I bundled up and went out to the car with a flashlight to light my way, trying to see in the dark despite the wind whipping dirt into my eyes. I jumped into our truck, closed the door and took a deep breath, happy to be out of the mayhem. And then I went to start the truck.

And then I went to start the truck again.

The truck wouldn’t start.

Everyone was gone. Town was deserted and here I was. Stuck in a windstorm in the dark.

I called The Chief.

No answer.

I called our neighbor he had said he was going to clear with.

Answer.

“Hey lady, we are still out here clearing, what’s up?”

It was almost three hours after they had left and they were still clearing the road just to be able to get home.

He handed me over to The Chief who hadn’t heard his phone in all the noise of the saws. I had originally called to see if he could come get me but now that he was still working I had already decided on a second potential. One of the chefs at the restaurant was my neighbor, maybe he could jump me if I got a hold of him quickly. I explained my idea to The Chief and got off the phone in time to call the chef’s girlfriend for his number (thankfully she responded) and get him before he crossed the bridge. Catching someone before they pull up, park, get out, unlock the bridge, drive through, park, get out, lock the bridge, drive away, turn around and do it all over again just so they can come get you at midnight thirty is ideal. I caught him right as he was unlocking it. He came back to get me but we both ended up being jumper cable-less and so I caught a ride home.

As we approached the bridge I looked to the right towards the ice fall and told him to stop.

The Northern Lights were out.

They were bundled up behind a cloud, creating a glow that lit up its dark edges. Then they would dance from behind it in streaks of green light that disappeared just as quickly as they came.

We sat parked on that bridge for a good while, admiring nature and science and the majesty of the place we call home. In the middle of all the mayhem and destruction the last few days had brought, this moment of respite and silence was beyond welcome. The winds had even stopped for those moments we watched from the bridge which is almost always windy. But not that moment in that night. For a few minutes it was peaceful again.

We rode the rest of the way home, noticing all of the fallen trees and uprooted soil. The soil in Alaska is shallow and so root systems are already challenged by the terrain. Add to that a month of rain followed by a few days of sunshine and then whipping winds and you have yourself the perfect combination for a forest dropping like dominoes. As we drove closer to our common driveway I saw all the work they had done. Trees upon trees upon trees cut down and cleared from the road. It would be an enormous clean up.

 

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Piles and piles high up from the ground

 

We parked at the turnaround in my driveway when we looked ahead to my neighbor’s road and saw that it was completely blocked by a huge Spruce tree. It was a task for tomorrow, he said. We said goodnight just as The Chief rolled in. He too was done for the day, I was done for the day, we all were. It was time to hunker down and listen to the wind and the falling trees and pray that none fell upon our little cabin in the woods.

We went inside and built a fire to take off the chill of the no longer warm winds and put on music to unwind and distract from the tumultuous outside. We traded stories we had heard throughout the day and sat in a sort of stunned stupor of what had transpired from the powerful element. And then, we cozied up and dozed off.

 

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Io came to inspect with me the next day. This is the road after the boys cleaned made it passable.

 

Never before have I felt so at the mercy of the Earth and never before have I felt so close to it. In California, if a storm was raging I could simply drive home on paved roads and head inside. If there were trees in the roadway and a road crew was taking care of them I would grumble as I rerouted myself home. I would walk in the door and flip on the heat and the lights and none of it would really be my issue to handle.

Here it is all of our issue to handle. The next morning, wind still whipping, we drove into town with our neighbor to jump our truck. On the way in we answered calls from fellow neighbors with him, looking at what it would take to repair ripped off shingles and tin roofs and checking in on an out-of-towner’s home. I love that sense of community and the common sense of responsibility. Our neighbor’s wellbeing is our own. We all need one another out here and we all have different strengths to share.

The beauty within the destruction we all saw was the continual coming together that this community shares. We are here for one another. Passing someone on the road? You always stop to see if they need a ride. Have a lot of greens in your garden? You see if anyone wants some. In cities we can find community but the sense of need for one another is different. If I need something I can go to the store. Out here, if you need something you call your neighbors. You put the word out and people come around full-bore. It’s a beautiful and continual circle of giving and receiving and despite the unfortunate conditions which can create need, like a massive windstorm, what one receives is often an improvement. A tent destroyed turns into a structure made from a friend’s old shed. A road blocked with trees turns into a night of bonding for two friends. A dead battery leads to a shared ride and a friend to watch the Northern Lights with. Out here we are not alone, we are a community and I’m so proud to be finding my place within it.

Thank you, Alaska.

 

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Cinda Lou enjoying a finally cleared road filled with Fall colors.