Shall we continue?
The Chief was leaving and I was about to be alone in the woods. He and a couple of friends were building another friend’s house 3 hours away. Not exactly a commuting situation and so, away he would stay for…
well, we weren’t sure how long.
If you’ve ever been around construction, you know that it can take longer or shorter than expected at any given time, and so, being the super laid back person that I am, I tried to plan out how long exactly he would be gone.
Which, of course, we didn’t know.
Which drove me crazy.
Finally, after a few days of uncertainty, one thing was certainly clear: The Chief was leaving. Today. It was a cold morning, the sky felt pregnant with snow. We shivered as we unloaded our truck, re-loaded the work trucks and said “goodbye” and “see you soon”. No “See you Saturday”, or Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday or… Just “soon”.
And so it was. All that hustle, all that bustle, all the wrangling of gloves and boots and tools and last-minute wonderings, all that shuffle and then…
I returned home to a silent house.
Alone in the woods.
A few years ago, this sentence would have struck fear in my heart but this time, it felt like exactly what I needed.
Time alone has done a full-circle flip through my life a few times over.
Growing up, adults always noticed how I seemingly loved to fly solo. My grandma Gam would comment how she’d “never seen a child play alone for so long”. I’d entertain myself for hours on end, doing what I’m not entirely sure, but seemingly enjoying my solitude. I wasn’t an only child but my brother is eight years my senior which proved to be almost a lifetime in kid years and so our interactions were mainly wrestling (read: injury) based. I adored him but understandably, he wasn’t exactly dying to hang out and so I played alone. To increase the alone time, we’d always lived somewhat in the “boonies” (which, now, by comparison, seem like metropoles). Neighbor kids were far and few between and often an age gap lay between us as well that couldn’t be bridged by sheer proximity alone. And so, again I mostly kept to myself and for the most part, I liked it.
To add even further to alone time factors, I grew up in one town and went to school in another town over an hour away. So, until 3rd grade I didn’t really engage in the whole after-school playdates brigade, nor did I have many close friends who close by, but my troll dolls were all the posse I needed.
Public school in 3rd grade in my hometown, a mere 30-minute walk from my house, brought on an onslaught of interactions and by 5th grade I actually had some consistent friends again who even, catch this, lived nearby. Suddenly, it was all about talking on the phone and “hanging out” and being alone wasn’t as normal as it had once been. If my phone wasn’t ringing at night and notes weren’t being passed my way through sneaky hands in class, I felt lonely until being alone was no longer a thing I was known for but a thing I chased away. Whether the interactions were vapid or meaningful, I didn’t much care. Either way, I was filling the space.
However, in my twenties (sound familiar?) I found comfort in circling back to my alone time roots. It took me a while to sort out being lonely from being alone but once I had divided the two, I fell back in love with the solo sessions of my youth. Yet, I also found myself in a relationship where trust was about as present as a watermelon in Winter and despite my new love of alone, I didn’t take the time for fear of what would happen when I wasn’t there. In an effort to control what I couldn’t trust, I spent the time I should have afforded for me, to recharge and reconnect, being available for someone else so they wouldn’t go elsewhere, which, of course, they did anyway.
So, as Saturn struck and I found myself newly single, I promised I would be different. I’d spend the time learning me and creating new habits to bring into my next relationship, which likely wouldn’t be for a long time.
As we know from last week, Saturn picked me up in a flurry and “returned” me to Alaska and to the furry man we all know as The Chief.
The thing about relationships in Alaska, or at least out in the Bush is that you will likely come together at light speed. The time you have to set patterns for what is to come happens in the snap of a shutter. Dating? What’s that? We met, made eyes and moved in within a week. Thankfully, I felt like I had circled heartily around this old pattern of dropping it all and neglecting myself in the months I had been single, I had been practicing listening to what I needed and I had established a baseline.
And thankfully, Alaska helped fortify that baseline in a strange dichotomy of keeping us closer than I’ve ever been in proximity and also forcing us apart.
Alaska creates the built-in breaks.
From the first day we were together, we already had a built-in break come the end of Summer (I had to go back to California and The Chief couldn’t yet leave). Sure I was worried to part, but it also felt natural and honest. We were solid already, we could handle it.
Plus, almost every Alaskan couple I know spends at least one month apart per year. This for me has never been the norm in a couple but it was a welcome surprise.
The built-in breaks.
Over the last almost three years, we’ve had many of these built-in breaks. I went to visit my Grandma last Summer and to meet my first friend niece this Spring for 5 weeks. Our time apart has built up on average to about two months every year, so why did The Chief leaving this time feel so big?
Well, for the first time, since the first time I set foot in those woods, I was about to spend more time alone, without a partner, than I had for the last decade, anywhere. For the first time, I wasn’t the one leaving, I was staying, in our tiny cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere, alone. Not only was I testing my love for being alone by being in a place where I could go days without seeing anyone, I also was in charge.
And then, it snowed.
In the hustle, bustle, shuffle of getting ready for The Chief to leave, we had neglected a few things on the property. The snow took care of that and by “took care of” I mean the snow broke and buried everything. Goodbye mosquito tent.
First day, off to a good start!
I was feeling really rundown from all of our runaround and so, since the weather forecast called for rain to melt away the 6 inches from the night before, I let the snow sit.
Well, if trusting the weather (wo)man in Alaska is part of your good plan, you might want to rethink your trajectory.
The six inches of snow melted slightly and then promptly hardened. Still, I thought, maybe predictions for tomorrow would be right.
More work for me.
By the time I finally gave into the tug of war between the weather and the weatherman, things were firmly frozen into the ground. I spent the better part of an afternoon chipping the now ruined mosquito tent out of the ice grave it lay in.
But, one good thing came in terms of work in this world of snow (I mean, in addition to the beautiful snowglobe I found myself in): sleds.
If anything makes hauling piles of roofing tin from one side of the property to the other easy, it’s hauling it by machine. In the week prior, since we don’t have a trailer, I had hauled all of it by hand. Carrying sheets more than twice my height in length over and over and over again had wiped me out and seeing them frozen into the ground had visions of shovels and grunting going through my head. Until I remembered the sled. I attached it to the 4-wheeler and hauled the day (and debris) away.
Snow, how I love thee.
So, the first snafus of staying alone had been relatively easily rectified and the test of being alone, really alone, had felt like no test at all. I’d even had invitations to meet up, poker nights to attend and when I really checked in, I realized that really, truly, I wanted to be home, alone.
The first week flew by. I had been working online from home and had gotten behind so, I spent most of my days tidying up outside and typing away inside until finally, it was the day before The Chief was to arrive home. I decided to haul water that night so I could do dishes and shower and have the place all tidy and ready to go in order for his arrival the next day.
Out I went to the well, bundled against the cold and started it up.
I looked down at the feet after feet of hose at my feet from which water wasn’t spewing as it should be and put two and two together: water in a hoseline + freezing temperatures = frozen hoseline = no water.
One might think I would have learned this lesson last year when we returned to the Summer set-up frozen solid but alas, no. I had run the pump, turned it off, and promptly let it freeze.
And so we (I had to check with our other well owner to make sure I was taking the right route) disconnected the Summer set-up and brought in the smaller hose that would be our Winter set-up, to thaw.
The next day, ice chunks finally defrosted, I prepared to get water, but on my way to set it up, I brought the already warmed generator outside with me. I always try to multi-task when heading outside and that day was no different. I placed the genie on its stand and the six water buckets from my other hand on the ground while I quickly got the generator started.
Ten minutes later I was worried I had flooded the engine. I then spent the next ten minute trying to remember where the spark plug was in order to see if it was wet, indicating that the engine indeed was flooded. No such luck, well, no such wrench, at least not that I could find, anyways. After looking up seemingly endless and unhelpful YouTube videos, I finally gave in and asked for help.
Over to the neighbor’s house, I went, for the second day in a row with a problem.
Two hours, disassembly, correct socket wrench, spark plug checked and changed, gas drained, new gas added, oil added, fuel treatment added, ether sprayed, spark arrester removed, ether again sprayed, reassembly and we had troubleshot everything we could think of. It wouldn’t start.
Until, one last pull and…
The neighbor and I cheered and then he returned to his project I had stolen him from for the last two hours and I returned to mine: water. I attached the Winter set-up and…tadaa! Water, sweet water, was flowing freely. I took two trips inside to fill the shower and under the sink and the water on the stove and then three more trips to haul all six buckets inside. Finally, I was done. The generator was fixed, the yard was tidied and no more snow accidents would occur and the house was full of water so dishes could be done and showers could be had and…
it was already six o’clock. The day had disappeared like the Winter sun and The Chief was due home within the hour. The choice presented itself:
Dishes or Shower.
I think we all know the route I chose. And just then, as I started the hour-long process that is bringing in the shower curtain and the frozen tote I shower into to defrost and pulling up the stairs and setting everything up, just then, the generator stopped.
I had to laugh.
You see, there’s always something in the woods. Something always breaks, something always stops working right when you need it most and my ten days alone was no different.
And so, I did what I could: nothing. We had exhausted all options. It was a project for another day. I got in the shower and let that hot water laugh me through it.
The Chief came home just as I was finishing and amidst our happiness to see one another the dishes and the generator weren’t such a big deal after all.
I had survived, in the woods, mostly alone for the first time ever and a few things were made very clear:
I realized that yes, I truly do love time alone, with all of my heart.
I also realized that my system when The Chief is home is not all that different from when he is not here, which means that I am in fact living up to my wish for myself: to do what I need to do for me, whether I’m in a relationship or not.
I realized how grateful I am for the built-in breaks Alaska forces upon us. Of course, I love being around The Chief, Alaska sussed that one out already by putting us through our first Winter together in a tiny cabin with trials and tribulations aplenty but I appreciate the forced time apart. It makes it so you get time alone before you need time alone and so instead, you just miss one another. I adore being with him and I appreciate that we are able to separate and then come together again, even happier to see one another than usual.
This time alone journey I think has finally come full-circle once again and perhaps has found its resting place in the security of a peaceful relationship, with me and with us.
Thank you, Alaska, for forcing change on me even when I am hesitant to move, in shaking me up in conjunction with Saturn to toss me about and land me right where I need to be: in a place that challenges me and changes us and forces me out of my comfort zone time and time again. But please, don’t make the built-in breaks too long, O.K?