Sometimes, I feel a little like an anthropologist in our back and forth life. How do people live? What are the customs in this new land? What are the social graces and faux pas to learn? After a certain amount of time away, each new locale, even one as familiar as my childhood home or as my home in Alaska, feels like a whole new adventure and with that, a whole new learning curve. And so, we investigate, we learn, we stumble a bit, we right ourselves, and eventually, it’s off to the next adventure, the next learnings.
California: After landing in California, I had to remember how to drive over 65 miles per hour, and learn traffic patterns (i.e. don’t try to drive between 3 and 6 pm). I re-discovered that Farmer’s Markets happen year-round (wooooohoooo!!!), and that winter has a whole other meaning the farther south you go (hello tank tops in November!).
I felt the sheer joy of being 30 minutes instead of 4-8 hours from a doctor when I needed one and the ease that was everything medical, comparatively. I also remembered how expensive CA life can be and how gratifying creating and sticking to a budget feels.
Alaska: Since my return to Alaska a few weeks ago, I’ve had to re-learn quite a bit as well. Most of my sentences have been littered with “Do you know where X is?” and re-discovering my systems.
Why did I have empty space there (a luxury no one has)? Oh, right, because it was still “warm” when we left and I was using it as a cool place to store fruit. Now, it’s too cold. Time for the winter version of that space: non-freezable goods. I’ve also had to remember how to walk on slick surfaces (and learn this as a different version of myself who really, reallllllly doesn’t want to fall), how to drive in snow, how to be patient when everything takes longer than expected and…that AK life can be damn expensive as well. There have been lessons aplenty and my knowledge gap is still there but the best thing I’ve remembered from our life here has been neighbors.
In the last place I stayed in California, my friend had a truly sweet little ‘hood full of best buds within walking distance of one another. They would cruise to one another’s houses to drop off goodies, help one another, play hoops or catch in the street. It was really sweet and also something I personally hadn’t experienced all that often in my life in CA. Don’t get me wrong, I have a super sweet group of friends. We would spend our holidays together, we vacationed together, dropped in on one another when we were close by but…we weren’t super close by. All of us were at least 15 minutes away by car.
Here, I’m footsteps away and boy did I miss walking those paths. In our little ‘hood live three households of our best friends, all within a 3-minute walk of one another. Despite being way out here, we are tucked into a community of close-knit comrades and the intimacy this juxtaposition breeds of being so far away from society yet so close to one another is pretty amazing.
For instance, right now we have two dogs: our pup Leto and our nephew Kudo. I love that instead of leaving the Valley, little KuKu gets to stay here with us while his pops is working down south. No one expects him to be boarded with people and pups he doesn’t know (not that there’s anything wrong with that and not to say that he wouldn’t be thrilled), we all just pitch in to make sure he’s well taken care of. We will have him for a few weeks and then when we move to Anchorage the next neighbors will start their round of care.
And that’s a huge part of our days here: taking care of one another. Don’t get me wrong, you have to be self-sufficient to survive the 180’s of life in the woods. Yet the hard here also facilitates a closeness, a breaking down of the normal barriers and that builds an intimacy I truly love. Sometimes it’s as small as sending someone home with one of your last pieces of fruit because you know they’re low too or doing loops around your neighbors yard to give them easy access to their house when it’s been snowing and they’ve been out of town. Sometimes it’s as big as your friend snowmachining down a frozen river to your house every day to drywall and paint (and even clean) before you come home. From small to large and every variation in-between of borrowing a cup of sugar to borrowing a vehicle, there’s a closeness here, a softness bred out of the hard.
Yesterday, while in full-on nesting mode (read: I pulled the entire living room apart and dusted, scrubbed for 8 hours straight) I realized I was down to my last pair of skivvies. Not a good look. It would have taken me hours to get (read: find) our little washer, haul and heat water and get through 10 pairs. Plus, it would have greatly delayed my top to bottom scrub-a-thon. The solution? Neighbors to the rescue! Off I trudged with my bag over my shoulder and our still slightly frozen detergent in hand. 40 minutes and a quick walk-n-talk with my girlfriend later, we returned to her house and a load of laundry, freshly clean. Heaven.
After months of being gone, I still do feel like an anthropologist somedays. I forget that when I suggest we take a Sunday Drive it will mostly consist of me white-knuckling my way through, supporting my bouncing belly as The Chief navigates the icy terrain that are our roads. Not the windows-down-let’s-look-at-(the nonexistent) wildflowers-spring-vibe I was going for. I re-learn not to take power and water and food for granted. I remember just how much dust a woodstove can produce but also how absolutely delicious it is to sit in front of on a chilly morning with a book. Slowly but surely I’m remembering the ways and bringing back with me newfound findings from the exotic Lower 48 (like the fact that oat milk is delicious and a little amount of pampering goes a long way). But my favorite (re-)discovery so far has certainly been our little neighborhood and the neighbors within it. Nestled amongst the trees, tucked into the far away wilderness, lies a closeness I’ve always craved. It’s good to be home.