alaska

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Elephant

The Fox and the Hound

Our little Leto is one month shy of his first trip around the sun. Recently an old friend came back to visit, reminding me of one of the best highlights of his first year: The Fox and The Hound.

When Leto was just a few months old, his Auntie E brought him his first-ever toy: Lambchop. Leto and Lambchop were an inseparable pair.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Lambchop

Two peas in a pod

 

Every morning I’d come downstairs and greet the pair, often double-taking between the two of them to decipher which was which. Despite being nearly the same size, little Leto carried his friend with him on all of his adventures. Lambchop was by his side more often than not but soon enough his mini-me started to lose her parts. An ear here, an eye there. His little teeth made his way through the toy till there was nary a lamb shank left.

Thus, entered his second-ever toy: Elephant.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Elephant

Love at first sight.

 

Despite her lackluster name, Elephant was the apple of little Leto’s eye. While Lambchop had been by his side more often than not, Elephant might as well have been glued to it. Outside they ventured together into the woods, Leto always bringing her back in, tucking her into the bed they shared each evening. He would lovingly mouth her trunk but not a bite was taken from her, ever.

One day, Leto’s Unclue Ruger (a 2-year old German Shorthaired Pointer) came by to check-in.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and German Shorthaired Pointer

Just a couple pups, out for a drive.

 

The dogs of our neighborhood love to do the morning rounds, greeting each household, checking for treats, marking “their” territory. Only this morning, Ruger had another plan in mind. In he came for some morning snuggles and no sooner had I bid him “Hello” did he lunge for Elephant and abscond with the prized possession. Leto was in hot pursuit but his 3-month old legs were no match for the long-legs of his thieving friend. Defeated, he sat on the front porch and howled, a long and mournful howl, for the first time ever.

He sat out on the porch that day, bewildered and tucked into bed that night for the first time, alone.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute puppy toys

He did, however, stay entertained with a duck he was “gifted” from Uncle Ruger, much to Ruger’s chagrin. The gift we think started it all.

 

As the months wore on, the captive Elephant would make random appearances with her captor. Through the yard he would prance, head held high with his prize daintily held between his teeth. Leto would try to catch him, as would we, but none of us came close. It seemed he moved Elephant every day or so, always staying one step ahead, guarding Elephant like the treasure she was.

And so, Leto found other ways to amuse himself.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy with Morel mushrooms, Alaska

Like hunting for Morels (he pointed me to all of these! I just had to get to them before he devoured them all).

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy yawn

And ignoring his replacement toy.

 

Until one day this August when Leto and I returned from a walk by the river to come home to…

Elephant.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and toy

No bumps, no bruises and only a little worse for wear.

 

Gently placed in a cluster of willow branches lay his prized friend. He grabbed her and yipped and threw her into the air and then brought her inside to safety.

Months went by and as our little pup seemed to grow overnight, outgrowing his elephant by leaps and bounds, his fondness seemed to hold steadfast. We’d bring her with us on road trips and he’d cuddle her along the bumpy roads and each night he’d tuck her in. All was right with the world again.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and firefighter

Little tiny, not so tiny.

 

Yet our little one, who suddenly was not so little, grew up and suddenly, grew a little careless. One night this Fall, he left his Elephant outside in the early November snow. I saw as he attempted to bring her inside but she’d frozen into the ground and so, cavalier pup that he is, he left her to weather the night solo. The next morning as we warmed ourselves by the fire, I saw a shuffling figure outside. I went to the window and watched as a fox came up the driveway and sniffed about. Loving finally seeing the animal that whose tiny prints painted our yard, I grabbed my phone to tape the sighting and no sooner had I turned it on did The Fox discover Elephant and…

After a few tugs to pull her from the ice, off he went with her (see the video here)! I barely realized what was happening before he had snatched her. I hurried outside and he stopped and turned to face me. I was having a hard time holding in my laughter as I asked:

“Are you certain? Do you really want Elephant?”

If he took it, surely we’d never see Elephant again. After such a long journey back home, I didn’t want a howling Leto to twice lose his Elephant. Yet lose her he did, for a second time.

The Fox stared at me as I questioned him and then seemed to think to himself, “Yes, I really, really do want Elephant!” and off he went with her in tow.

Leto ran outside behind me, sniffing in seeming disbelief. He paused where his Elephant had been and sat down in the spot, dumbfounded. Then, he took off after The Fox. An hour or so later, he returned, empty-pawed.

Elephant was gone.

Again.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute 9 months old

Pouting on the couch

 

The Fox returned almost every day that week, sometimes more than once a day, seemingly to taunt Leto as his Uncle had in the Summer. They would have a staredown, The Fox in the driveway and Leto in his pup cave under the house and then, one of them would make a move and the chase would be on.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Cross Fox

So much cuteness.

 

It went on like this for weeks until we dog sat another dog and suddenly, three was a crowd. The Fox didn’t return again.

Until…

One day, in the last days of December I walked out into the driveway and there was Elephant, completely encased in slobber made ice. The Fox had returned her. It seemed the whole neighborhood was in on the game now, The Fox and the Hounds (well, Pointer and Malamute but you know what I mean). Who would make the next move? Only time will tell.

These days, she’s still the apple of Leto’s (outside only, it seems) eye. Outside Elephant sits with nary more than a torn ear. She’s weathered many a storm and gathered many a tale…if only she would tell.

With love,

From The Fox, The Hounds, and Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy

What’s in a Name?

Two years ago this Winter Solstice, The Chief and I got engaged. We’d talked about marriage since the week we first met and cheesy as it may sound, the moment I saw him, I knew we would marry. I knew, but I certainly didn’t know how. The odds seemed stacked against us. I lived in California, he in off-grid Alaska in a lifestyle completely foreign to me. I was looking for a change but hadn’t anticipated a change that great. I wanted a career and living in the woods seemed like the last place one might bubble up. Yet, that feeling, that knowing I felt when I first saw him, that was all I needed to know. I threw my cautions to the wind, gave fate up to the universe and dove into a life together.

Thank goodness.

Having discussed marriage right off the bat, we had always had an open dialogue surrounding it. How would we do it? Where? Would we change our names? Did we care if we were married before we had kids? Just like any hatchling of an idea, we brainstormed about where and when and how it would all go down, what we valued (food, food, more food) and what was less important but one thing was missing: our engagement.

I figured it was just a formality, a simple change in status from girlfriend or boyfriend to fiance. Yet, once we were engaged, things actually did change.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters

Post-engagement photo courtesy of LB

 

After getting engaged, our dual daydreaming we’d nestled in together for the two years prior suddenly became public and the questions and comments started pouring in.

“Where will you get married?”

“When?”

“Alaska? Alaska is too far.”

“Whose name will you take?”

Suddenly, our private dreams turned public were instantly open for opinions, suggestions, and scrutiny. As with any public decision, that’s the norm. We all do it. I’d seen it happen and I’d done it myself despite friends lamenting to me about it. Yet even familiarity with this switch didn’t prepare us.

Alaska is a long way off from a lot of the people we love but it’s also our home. Yet, within weeks of getting engaged, we were suddenly somehow planning for a California wedding. Things moved so fast. At first, I was just looking at dresses, then suddenly I was being asked to sign on the dotted dress line, all while discussing our venue options, all while in California.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Dillon Beach, CA

She’s beautiful, isn’t she?

 

Returning home to Alaska made us realize that, just as always, despite the hard, despite the sacrifices, Alaska is our home and home is where we needed to be married. And so, we planned together for our marriage in Alaska.

One of our plans was that I would change my name. This was something we had gone back and forth about since the very beginning and it was a decision made after much debate and a little magic. You see, The Chief and I both have some interesting familial twists and turns and as we followed each potential family name, we often found ourselves at dead-ends. There were adoptive names, step-family names, names we could have created together and family names. After trying all of the above and more on for size for years, we had finally settled on choosing a family name of which there were two contenders: Page & Chester. However, other than occasionally (and jokingly) being called The Chief in town, The Chief has been known as his last name since moving here: Chester.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters of Alaska

Chief Chester

 

In deciding for whom it would be more difficult to change, I decided that it should be me to switch. Changing my last name was less of a hassle than essentially changing The Chief’s first name. My change would consist mainly of paper while his change would require a complete social shift. While The Chief agreed that perhaps it might be easier, we both wanted to be thoughtful in the process and all the history it carries with it.

We sat with the idea. It grew familiar and warm and sweet. I cherished it.

The Chesters.

Still, despite the sweetness, I wondered if it really mattered? Why do we need to share a last name when we are already sharing a life? I ran through my reasoning in my head. Some reasons were small like the simplicity of just writing: The Chesters versus both of our last names and the idea of our kids not having to enter epically long hyphenated names on a scantron test. Some were larger, deeper like the fact that growing up, almost everyone in both of our households had different last names. Everyone was a step or a half and I wanted us all to be a whole, the same. For me, it always boiled down to having kids. To me, this was our chance for a new start together as our own family unit.

Still, I waffled. What would it mean publicly? Would I be considered less of a feminist? Looked down upon by those who had held fast to their names? Would I miss my own last name?

Despite the waffles (and the pancakes), the true, most basic reasoning I wanted to change my name was that my gut told me that “Turning the Page to Chester” (a phrase coined in an Anchorage bridal shop by a spunky lass from Ireland) was an important move for me, one that I needed to make in order to transition from just me to us.

Still, logical or better doesn’t always compute to easy. Change has always been uncomfortable for me, even when it’s in my benefit. I’ve ducked many a change just to avoid transitional discomfort. This change I was hurling my own direction.

So, like any big decision, I put it up to the Universe. I’d ask, the Universe would respond and that would be the end of that.

Right?

Sort of.

The first time, which I swore would be the one and only time, to help me decide I asked:

“Universe, what do you think? Should I be Chester or Page?”

I was driving the backroads of my childhood hometown, roads I’d frequented for almost 30 years at the time. I knew every stretch, every turn. No sooner had I finished my query did I look up and, on a road I’d driven umpteen times, there was a sign, literally: Chester Lane. The sign was old, not some newbie staking their new territory. It had always been there.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester, CA

Chester Lane

 

Convinced, I drove on, feeling warm and light and calm. It was decided.

A few days and a few “Oh, you’re changing your name, huh?” conversations later, I was feeling a little less warm, light and calm. Should I not change my name? Our private decision, which had once felt so right was being publicly challenged. Perhaps I had misheard the Universe. So, again, I asked:

“Wait, did I hear you wrong? Seriously, what do you think? Should I be Chester or Page?”

I said this in an antique shop as I thumbed through vintage postcards. They were divided by state. I was sending cards to people based on where they were from in the country. Missouri for my Grandma. California for Chris and my family, etc. I was halfway through California when I posed the question to the Universe and the next card I thumbed past was a postcard of a snowy scene…in Chester, California.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters, Chester, California

My little reminder, on my desk still today

 

I’d never even heard of Chester, California and I’d lived in the Golden State most of my life.

The second time was the charm. I was tired of debating, tired of going back and forth and tired of not listening to myself. I wanted to be Chester. I would be. It was decided.

Our wedding day grew closer and closer and with it came public formalities: registering for a wedding license with the state, filling out paperwork, making financial decisions. Our once private decision-making was now not just public, it was about to be set in stone in the public record. While weddings are, at their base level very romantic, they come with a lot of red tape and planning and learning the hard way. They may not be for everyone, but for us, it was an important transition that I cherish (though certainly, I didn’t always at the moment).

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Marriage License, Anchorage, Alaska

Cuteness.

 

After two years of waiting, the real deal wheels were set in motion and in early September this year, I became Julia Chester.

Sort of.

Talking about a life change and making that change, as I had learned already with talking about marriage versus actually doing it, are two different things. Talking about becoming Chester was easy, changing was less so.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019,The Chesters of MXY

September 2019

 

A month after our wedding, sitting solo in the Social Security office on a rainy Fall day in Anchorage, it didn’t feel so easy. Writing my old name next to my new name made me well up and not with joy. I felt a sadness I didn’t quite understand. Still, forward I went. The Universe had answered, twice. I need not ask again.

A week later, back at home, I received my new Social Security card. Julia Chester. The Chief beamed. My stomach hurt.

“I’m having second thoughts about changing my name,” I told him. He responded with kindness and comfort, telling me to do whatever I needed. He encouraged me to take a pause, a breath, a moment. Besides, it would be a while before I would be headed back into Town for phase two of my name change (my license). I would take this pause, slow things down and see where it lead me.

For a few weeks, I decided not to think about it. I’ve always been someone who needs a lot of space to think and a lack of self-judgment to connect with what is true for me. It’s not easy. I gave it some breathing room. After a few weeks had passed, the planted seed started to sprout. I started to think about it again, to research. I reached out to friends I trusted, who were married and who had or planned to have children to ask how they had decided on their last name. I researched the topic on the internet. I researched within.

Then, I put it up to the Universe one final time.

“Should I be Chester or Page?”

Silence.

Nothing.

Everything.

At that moment, the moment I waited for a sign, I heard nothing from outside but from within, I heard myself say “Chester”.

Chester.

The sadness I had felt in the weeks proceeding suddenly felt far away, outside myself. The warmth returned. I no longer felt I was losing a part of me, I felt like I was moving into a new part of me and a new part of us. It felt exciting, new and pretty darn adult. Speaking with my therapist (yes, I see a therapist. I highly recommend it and hope that sharing my experience with this tool helps to remove the taboo of seeking help. If you want it, it’s there and I support you finding it) helped me to realize that, for me, letting go of Page was much deeper than a name change. For me, it meant letting go of what Page had always meant for me: being a daughter in my family. My name was given to me by my parents and thus, my attachment to it was my attachment to them, to my family, to what might have been. Moving on meant letting go of that and moving from the role of daughter to wife. My family as a whole was getting larger but my family unit was getting smaller. My unit had shifted from my parents, my brother and I to instead, The Chief and I.

A unit of two.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019,The Chesters of MXY Wedding.jpg

Something old, something new

 

Plus Leto. A unit of three.

I finally felt at peace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, changing one’s name is a royal pain in the patootie. The instructions make it seem simple:
1st: Change your Social Security card

2nd: Your driver’s license

3rd: Your passport

Badabing, badaboom! Easy peasy!

Oh so very wrong.

Aside from the fact that changing all of these means 16-hour round trips (#2 and #3 both requiring #1 to have been completed first, meaning another at least 8 to 16-hour round trips), there are the nitty-gritty changes that I never anticipated. You see, once I’m in, I’m in and having loose strings hanging drives me crazy. Having already completed Step #1, I thought I was close to the finish line. I started in on the other, unmentioned changes I hadn’t quite factored in: changing my bank, my checks, my computer ID, my logins, my email, my work information, etc. etc. and at each junction, I ran into issues. Mailing in copies of our wedding certificate, spending hours on the computer, sending a photo ID and other legalese has proven far more time consuming than I had ever anticipated. To say that changing your name is a breeze is like calling a hurricane a breeze. It’s not. It’s difficult and time-consuming and frustrating, all of which is exacerbated by our remote location.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Sunset in Alaska

3:30 pm sunset.

 

Yet still, despite the annoyances, each juncture has allowed me to continue my commitment, our commitment to the private decisions we made years ago, in our tiny cabin in the woods. For me, it’s been extremely healing, for others it might simply be a non-issue. We are all different. I’ve spoken to many different people and gained countless insights while I hemmed and hawed over my own decision. I’ve learned that even when in public it seems someone is moving effortlessly through life phases, in private, they might not be. Everyone struggles in different ways. We don’t know until we ask. We are all different, yet one thing everyone agreed on was their advice: find what works for you.

While this sounds so simple, for me, it wasn’t. It took years to discover and years to accept but now that I find myself on the other side, it’s the best advice I could give: Find what works for you. You know. Deep down, you do know. Do what works best for you and your family. It’s no one’s decision but your own.

Thank you to everyone who has candidly shared their private decisions turned public with me. Your honesty and openness helped me to be open with myself. Open to a new name, a new unit, a new phase. May your transitions be smooth and may the Universe guide you, if not anywhere, then back to yourself.

With love,

 

From Alaska

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester Christmas

Happy Holidays

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester Christmas Leto

From the three Chesters

Beneath the Borealis, Stay, Home Sweet Home

Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay

Last night I received a text from one of my dearest girlfriends inviting us all to her annual Vision Board Party. Despite the madness of the holiday season, every year, she calls us to action to think about what we want going forward and despite the hustle and bustle, we all show up. Truth be told, this woman could rally a group of sloths into action. She’s spunky and fun and has always been able to motivate our squad into whatever quirky plan she’d hatched. Once she came over after I’d just awoken from a nap and somehow convinced me to play dress up like we did in Elementary School together and go for a walk. We were decked from head to toe in random 80’s workout gear, fanny packs included. Did I mention we were in our twenties? Like I said, she’s a good motivator.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Stay, Best Friends

Dress up Nerds then. Dress up Nerds now. Love you two.

 

I got her text invitation last night as I sat in front of our fireplace, book on my lap, dog snoozing by my side, Winter finally having arrived and I realized, that last year’s Vision Board had come true. Well, last year’s Vision Board Party premonitions at least. I never quite got to the board.

Last year, everyone cutting and pasting away while laughing over discussions of love and life, I felt loved but lost. People kept sending the wedding magazines my way. I wasn’t that bride. I hadn’t even thought of our wedding. There were travel magazines filled with places I’d like to travel to and skills I’d like to hone. Exercise, relationship, work goals all sat in front of me. It was normally my smorgasbord of goodness. I’d normally dive right in. I just didn’t feel motivated.

What I did feel motivated to do was to go Home. It took my other dear friend telling me so first though. There, amongst the scraps, she looked at me and said: “As much as I don’t want you to, I think you need to spend the next full year in Alaska.”

It felt as if someone had given me permission to sleep after months spent awake. Suddenly, a weight felt lifted. In a few short weeks, we would be heading Home to the wintry North and Home we would stay.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Stay, Home Sweet Home

Last year. Finally home.

 

It’s funny the things we get used to, take as fact, expect and accept, even if they no longer serve us. Every year our pattern has deviated slightly but overall, without much thought, has been the same: months away from home, starting in the Fall. Dont’ get me wrong, it’s been great but until last year, we’d never evaluated whether it was working for us any longer. Besides, it’s a classic Alaskan pattern. Our pattern began when I left Alaska after my first Summer to return to California for two different weddings in late August. I’d already RSVP’d (though probably only verbally. Sorry, y’all!) and I’d already changed my ticket once. I was going down South.

Soon after, The Chief, having not left the state in years, joined me and we road-tripped down the Pacific Northwest into California where we stayed for the next two months. All in all, I was away from Alaska for almost four months and The Chief for almost three. A third of that year and a quarter of that year, The Chief and I were gone from Home.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Home Sweet Home RV

Home sweet California Home (or one of them).

 

It was the longest time The Chief had been gone from Alaska since he had moved here.

By the time we were leaving, he ached for Home. I, on the other hand, was trepidatious. Home wasn’t quite one Home to me yet, rather it straddled two states. My first Winter in Alaska loomed before me and stared menacingly like a beast under the bed. It was unknown and uncertain with just a pinch (or two, or three) of fear added in. Leaving California, leaving Home to go Home, was hard but love is a crazy drug. Off we went.

Once we got Home to Alaska and I started to get the hang of a whole new type of Alaskan life (Winter), I fell in love with this place all over again.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Happy Husband

Day # 1, Winter #1. The happiest hubby in our happy place.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Stay, Alaska

The back-backyard.

 

Still, the following Fall we left again as we have every year because suddenly, that’s what we did. With one trip a rhythm and an expectation had been created in ourselves that we simply followed without much thought. It was nice to know when I’d next see friends and family. Nice to know when I’d get a change of scenery.

So, we did the finding housing in California dance (which always starts long before we leave, as does the stress of it). We did the car dance, making sure our California rig was registered and ready (which, of course, it never was). We spent hours on end preparing our house for Winter, packing away that which would explode when frozen and hoisting off of the ground anything we didn’t want to become unusable yard art. Then, to top it all off, we spent thousands of dollars to make the journey through plane tickets and vet appointments and health certificates, car storage fees and more. All of which was fine. It was what we did. 

And I’m glad we did. We spent quality time with those we love and those we have lost. We grew to know one another’s friends and family and backgrounds. We got to experience the love one another’s friends and family feel for them and now for each of us.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay,  Friends

Julia Dinner. I will always cherish this picture. Thank you, Sloats.

 

We loaded up the car and boarded planes countless times to travel here or there to learn one another’s past and grow our family as a whole larger by combining our two worlds. Traveling from home for months on end became the norm.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Dillon Beach

So did beach days with this love (the one with two legs).

 

We didn’t think much of it. Seasonal travel is a common rhythm for Alaskans. The Great Exodus starts in late August with a boom. This town goes from hustling (for us) to hushed in a matter of days. Yet those who stay welcome the quiet and settle in to enjoy it for the time they have left until they too depart. Conversations lead with Winter plans. Every few weeks someone is leaving for a few weeks, a few months or until next Summer.

This and many other things Alaskan quirks have become the norm to me:

  • Outhouses are now old hat and sometimes preferable (except in the middle of the night. I’ll give indoor plumbing that).
  • Smelling of gasoline is the new norm (when dealing with the generator. Don’t worry, I’m not using it as a chosen perfume).
  • Spending intensive time with and without my partner (this is a true Alaskan relationship tip that I think is priceless: build in time to miss your partner).
  • Salvaging bits off produce that before I would have thrown away whole into the compost (I think L.H.’s term was is it “Alaska good still?”. Love it.)
  • Showering once, maybe twice per week in the Winter with birdbaths in between.
  • Leaving.

Yet this year, Leaving suddenly didn’t feel normal. After seeing so many of our beautiful friends and family at our wedding, celebrating together and feeling so much love and validation for our place here, leaving just felt like the exact opposite of what we needed and so, we didn’t.

As much as I miss our friends and family down South, this is what we needed. A time to be cozy together. A time to nest into our life here that we’ve thrown on the backburner for the last few years. A time for firsts. First birthday at home, first Thanksgiving. A time to focus forward on our future here.

California, lucky for us, was Home to both of us for twenty plus years. It will always have a place in our hearts and our itineraries but this year, the Vision Board Party wish came true:

Home Sweet Alaskan Home.

This year, I’ll connect with the Vision Boarders vis FaceTime as we wish one another well in our year to come but this time, I’ll be doing it from exactly where I need to be: Home.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Vision Board

First year’s board. A lot of checkmarks here!

 

May your wishes come true and may your Winter be cozy, wherever you may be.

Cheers to the motivators in your lives, the loves who know you even when you don’t want to admit they are right. Cheers to tough choices and friends to help you make them, even if it’s hard for all of you. Cheers to dear friends and family, near and far. I can’t wait to see you.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Nephew

I’ll miss my O snuggles for sure.

 

With love,

from Alaska

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Alaskan Malamute

and Leto at 3:30 pm.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan Malamute

Porcupup

Almost two months ago now, back when Fall colors had fallen and the leaves paved our paths in gold, we were starting to settle in. Time had slowed, Summer had fallen away and with it, hundreds of people were gone. There were no drumbeats for us to keep pace to. The quiet was upon us.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Fall colors Alaska in September

Handsome hubby.

 

With the wedding in the rearview and no looming leaving deadlines ahead of us, without plane tickets requiring chores to be done and the house to be shut down, we were home for the foreseeable future for the first time ever in our four years together. Since our very first year as a couple, the Fall has meant packing up and shipping out to the Lower 48 and spending a great deal of money to do so. It’s been a time of continuing the energy from Summer, rather than a slowing down as the season requests and of spending resources we don’t exactly hold in excess.

This year, we looked forward to the continuity and calm of home and the tightening of our financial belts by living simply.

So, two months ago, on a quiet Sunday, in keeping with a calm home program, Leto and I decided to take a walk with our neighbor and her dog while The Chief read and dinner bubbled away on the stove. The stage for the night was set: a leisurely sunset walk with a friend, sausage soup with greens from the garden and herbs harvested throughout the Summer for dinner and a cozy evening, just us three.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute family photo

Chester Family photo, September 2019

 

Leto has a tendency to be like a horse to stable, barn sour if you will. For most of the duration of our walks, he’s within eyesight, regularly stopping to check in on me, sit and watch for me, circle back for me but there’s a point too when he realizes that “Homeways is rightways now” and home he heads, leaving me in the dust. Our last pup, Cinda, used to do the same thing and we joke that she’s up in Pup Heaven (a.k.a MXY in the Sky) teaching him her wonderful ways. So, I wasn’t surprised when, as we rounded the bend up from the river, indicating the turn back towards home, he started gaining ground ahead of us, taking a shortcut through the woods.

I was surprised, however, when I heard what I can only describe as a scream coming from the direction he’d run (and by surprised, I mean surprised and then terrified). It sounded as if something had been dealt its final blow. The something, I wasn’t sure of. It was a noise I’d never heard Leto make but something told me all was not well with my pup. My heart started pumping faster as I tried to place the scream and run towards it. Bears were still out, moose are always a concern and wolves had been roaming the neighborhoods of the valley and have taken dogs as their prey. There was no knowing what this could have been but the sinking feeling I felt told me the options weren’t great. If I found him, I expected to find him dead.

“Leto!” We yelled as we circled back through the woods he had run through. No, this didn’t feel right, I thought. Homeways, head homeways. Screaming for him and hearing nothing in return, no movement, no yip, no whimper sent my fear into overdrive. I started running home and then, around the corner, running towards me, came Leto.

Leto with a face full of porcupine quills.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute with porcupine quills in Alaska

The Porcupup

 

In my wildest worries, I had never considered that the scream could have come from a porcupine encounter. A wolf, a bear, a moose, yes, but a porcupine? We just don’t see them on our side of the river very often. In fact, I had never seen one in our neighborhood in four years. Lucky Leto, he’d found the mystical West Side porcupine.

Immediately upon seeing me, he came in for a moment of comfort and then ducked into the trees to lay down and assess his situation. I did too and the outlook was grim. I’d seen dogs with quills before but they’d always been few enough to pull ourselves. This was another level. He started thrashing about, trying to pull them out with his paws, each time coming precariously close to the one just centimeters from his eye. In his panic, he threw open his mouth and I saw the roof, littered with quills.

This was bad.

Still, he wasn’t dead. A face full of quills was suddenly the best-case scenario I hadn’t considered and bad as it was, I was glad we were in it as opposed to the other fears that had fetched my mind.

Finally, we convinced him to come home with us but the quills in his paws must have been excruciating as he would duck back into the soft mossy ground of the woods every few paces and lay back down. I needed to get him home to where the pliers were to see if this was something we could even handle on our own. Finally, he just stopped.  He wouldn’t move and I couldn’t get a hold of The Chief as he was fully ascribing to our evening electronics shutdown goal and his phone was off.

Our neighbor offered to go and get him while I stayed with Leto. I didn’t want him running off deeper into the woods like he wanted to. I had a flashback of our Cinda doing the same thing when she got the injury that eventually ended her life and it made me sick to my stomach. Off E went to fetch The Chief and just as I heard our truck rumbling closer, Leto decided he could make the journey home.

Like ships in the night, the missing game began. The Chief came my way, I went back his way. Now we both were panicked. Back at home, Leto tucked himself in under the house. I crawled in after him, still listening to The Chief calling for us but still not wanting to leave Leto. Our neighbor came to check on us and saw that The Chief had missed us and off she went to find him again. Thankfully, this time when ships in the night floated past one another again as he turned back home at the same moment as she arrived to tell him where we were, The Chief was headed back to us. The Laurel and Hardy, Who’s on First routine certainly didn’t help the frustration of an evening already thoroughly thrown off the rails.

Quiet night?
I think not.

After we pulled the first quill, huddled under the house with headlamps, Leto knew the game and was not a willing player. Quills are barbed, like sea urchin spines and so when they go in, they lodge there, making pulling them out extremely painful. He was wild-eyed and after pulling 15 or so, we realized that this was not going to work. There was no way we could get the quills in his mouth, he wouldn’t dare let us near them. Another neighbor came over to check on us and validated what we feared: a trip to the vet was in order.

Tonight.

The emergency vet was four hours away and I didn’t know if she was even on-call these days (I called our regular vet and she was out of town and wouldn’t be back for weeks). Thankfully, she was.

“How soon can you get here?”

“Probably by 11 pm, depending on how good driving through The Pass goes.”

And so, we set out to drive the wintry pass to Valdez. We loaded our quill-faced pup into the car where, after an hour of pain and thrashing and panic, exhaustion started to set in. He sat up, trying to sleep without putting pressure on any of the quills, not being able to rest his head. The drive was dark and tense as we still hadn’t purchased our much needed new headlights (after losing not one but two lightbars to the 60-mile bumpy dirt road) and the view of the night was dim at best. I put on an audiobook to lighten the mood: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. If you know the book, or just even a basic history of our beginnings, you know that it didn’t quite do the trick.

Finally, four hours later, we arrived. Still, despite everything, Leto wagged his tail and joyfully greeted the vet. He’s a big fan of new friends. A few minutes later the sedation came on and the quills started coming out. His face filled with blood as she ripped the quills out of his delicate lips and sweet little nose but it wasn’t enough and he thrashed about, despite all three of us holding him down, screaming and crying as only a Malamute can do. It was awful. Finally, with more sedation, she was able to prop open his mouth to unveil the work to be done inside. It was like a cave with stalactites and stalagmites. Top to bottom was filled with quills: tongue, roof, cheeks, gums. She started pulling. Some were wedged in sideways, going longways through his gums but she worked methodically to get them out and soon he was near finished.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute with porcupine quills

Still smiling (or just very stoned).

 

She checked his body for any stragglers and found them in his back, his neck, his paws and his shoulders. We had a moment of lightness as we joked, “Did he roll on it?!”. I pictured him trying for a tasty bite of the “spikey bunny” and being in such shock at the pain of the taste that he fell and rolled onto the poor creature. Some quills came out quickly after we found them (which is no easy feat since the quills burrowed through three layers of fur) but some had gone in completely and lay flat against his shoulder blade and face. She tried to cut them out but decided they weren’t going to budge. “They will work themselves out”.

Two hours, one very wobbly drugged dog and 400 plus dollars later, we were out the door, in Valdez at 1 am with nowhere to stay. We stopped by every hotel we could find but as the tourist season had just closed shop for the year, our pickings were slim. We took turns running into the hotels and each time came back with a thumbs down: no dogs allowed. Finally, the last hotel allowed dogs for a 20 dollar fee per night.

20 dollars in addition to their nightly rate of almost 200 dollars.

Thankfully, the front desk took pity on our little man and gave us a discount bringing the total to just under 200 dollars.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute after the vet

Still a stoney baloney

Still not able to walk, The Chief carried Leto through the slippery parking lot. He howled and cried every time he moved even an inch, in pain and dysphoric from the drugs. We settled into our very expensive hotel room and I washed the night off of me with a bath. Leto whimpered and panted all through the night. None of us slept well. The next day, my morning started early and with yet another bath (someday, someday I will have a bathtub and I won’t even have to pay 100 dollars per bath) as I prepared for three hours of Monday morning meetings at work. Thankfully, there was a breakfast buffet.

A few hours and a few meetings later and it was checkout time. Leto still could barely put pressure on his paws but he finally peed on his own. It was time to go home. We filled up on fuel and grabbed some road snacks and off we went.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Valdez, AK

At least it was a beautiful drive.

 

What a Sunday. What a start to the week.

Four hours later, we returned home where yesterday felt very far away.

In just 12 hours, we had spent over 800 dollars of unplanned expenses and our quiet, cozy Fall evening had turned into a panicked, hours-long stress fest. We were all completely exhausted, but we were home.

Home sweet home.

Two months later, we are still finding quills in little Leto. They burrow their way out and pierce through the skin. One erupted over a few hours and was heading straight towards his eyeball until The Chief deftly pulled it out. Even last night, I was rubbing his chest and felt one slide sideways through his tissue. Someday, they will all work through.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan Malamute

Hello, handsome dude!

 

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be crouched under a cabin with my husband in the middle of nowhere pulling quills from our Malamute. Four years ago I’d never even thought twice about porcupines. What a difference a few years can make.

The Fall finally fell into place and the quiet settled in again, even more so as the final departees left the valley. We retightened our financial belt that had been busted loose from our porcupup and cozied down, preparing for Winter.

In the two months since Leto’s brush with the pokey bunny, we’ve had two more unexpected trips to Town and the expenses to go with it. One to replace The Chief’s broken snowmachine and one to repair a UTI turned kidney infection of mine. Oh, joy! So much for spending less by staying home but, still at home we are, mostly. Despite missing friends and family, I know it’s exactly where we need to be right now: cozied down, pulling quills and praying for snow.

With love,

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan couple

Knit cap brigade.

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

Cabin Confessions: Putting Up

I’m not sure what was in the air or the water or the stars this October but for some reason, the month brought with it many confessions. From candid to long-hidden, confessions came from dear friends and new friends alike, as if the month held a sort of truth serum that all of us had unknowingly drunk (for, of course, I had confessions of my own).

In this growing age of online versus in-person, of creating personas based on snapshots and moments in time, it’s easy to assume that another’s life is just how he or she portrays it: downright near perfect. That’s not to say that across the board, we all simply share the good times and hide the bad. I’ve seen plenty of Instagram feeds with hilariously relatable “fails” or beautifully honest posts. Yet overall, the online personas we often see showcase the best of the best of the very best sides of all of us and sometimes, I think that too flows into our in-person lives.

Enter: October

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Leto the Alaskan Malamute

Leto and the new ice.

 

I think the truth is catching and it caught like wildfire. The truth serum must have been drunk at a gathering of gals early on in the month and from there it spread. That night I learned “dirty secrets” (that were neither dirty nor did they need to be secrets) that made me feel…

Normal.

Since that night, I’ve aimed to honor that honesty and spread the good word: we all have things we think are odd, weird, ugly, bad or boring when it comes to ourselves but unearthing those hidden weirdos, bringing to light what you consider bad might just make you feel a little bit of good.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Best Friends

Let’s hear it for the weirdos in our lives! Love you girls.

 

 

And so, in that honest vein, I bring to you: Cabin Confessions, a sort of mini-series within BTB to keep the truth moving through us all, self-included. May it spread your way and help you to feel a little better, brighter and lighter. Or, just a little more normal.

Here goes:

Cabin Confession: Putting Up

Sometimes it feels that upon moving to Alaska, you’re supposed to have already learned all of the “Alaska Skills”.

Chop wood? Of course I can!

Fish? Sure, old hat for me!

Garden? Duh, easy peasy.

Sew? Yep!

Knit? Mmmmhmmm!

Survive in the woods? Yesireebob!

The list goes on and on. The truth is, when I moved here my first Winter I scored about a wobbly, uncertain 1.5 out of 6 on the list above and the above just breaks the surface. Heck, I didn’t even know how to dress myself (and in truth, when the weather changes these days, I still find myself wondering how I did it last season). So, when it came to Putting Up (a term I had never even heard before) I felt my familiar “friend” creep over my shoulder. Hello, Overwhelm.

Four years later, I still feel that sense when it comes to Putting Up food.

What is Putting Up?

Canning fish, pickling cucumbers, drying herbs, making sauerkraut, freezing bulk garden goods, etc.

Basically, to Put something Up means to harvest and preserve something you’ve bought or for more Alaska gold stars, something you’ve grown or harvested (typically in the warmer months), so that you can enjoy it for the colder months to come.

Easy, right?

Confession: Nope. Not for me.

Certainly, some Putting Up I fell in naturally with. I love harvesting, though sometimes I have trouble with the follow-through if the follow-through involves more than drying. Thank goodness for tea!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, harvesting wild alaskan plants

Goldenrod, Spruce Tips, Labrador Tea, Yarrow, Lupine & River Beauty

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, harvesting spruce tips

Spruce tips (and Leto0

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, foraging for morels

Morels, found by Leto (and Leto)

 

Yet, for some reason, putting up fermented foods has always made me feel more put down, by myself. The phobia I had discovered in California didn’t suddenly melt away upon moving to Alaska (I must have missed the Alaska Newbie Handbook), it froze solid. I can’t tell you how many cabbages I’ve bought at the store to make sauerkraut or kimchi that ended up moldy in the compost. Wasting food out here, where the nearest grocery store is 4 hours away is a serious no-no. Sure, food going to waste happens, but it’s often more of an accident; someone gifted you something you couldn’t quite finish or you had to leave for a few days unexpectedly and your refrigeration failed in some way. It’s not often because you have been staring down your food, too scared to fail and thus too paralyzed to do anything with it, that it goes bad. This year, to ensure I’d really learn the kraut craft, I grew my own cabbages.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, starts from seed

April starts

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan garden starts

Brand new garden bed

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbages

Gigantic cabbages!

 

The pressure was on but it was ok because this year I was making sauerkraut, no matter what.

Yep!

Sure was.

Right?

Nope.

Wrong.

A few days ago, I peeked at my last harvest of cabbages, 5 beautiful cabbages I had been lovingly caring for since starting them from seed in April. Watering, feeding, guarding, admiring every day, watching grow bigger and bigger…

They were rotten.

I’ll give myself a slight out to say that food storage in a tiny cabin where the temperature fluctuates between 90 and 40 degrees almost daily is a challenge but…I had also procrastinated for almost a month since their harvest. Sure, there had been an unexpected Town trip and well, I definitely needed to deep clean the oven…twice. I had procrastinated them into oblivion.

* I did, however, eat these first babies up!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages

First harvest

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages green

Cowabunga, dude! Enormo!

 

My last harvest of beautiful cabbage babies met their end in the compost, joining the many before them.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

The second harvest as the frost came tumbling in. Leto helped a lot.

 

Not only was it disappointing in the sense that all this time and energy had gone into this food that now lay spoiled before me, not only was it disappointing to have lost 5 good cabbages which could have made endless meals if not kraut, but the disappointment that again I had failed after 6 months of preparation was almost too much to bear. I was so disappointed…in me and I didn’t want anyone to know that I had, yet again, failed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute puppy

I felt a little bit like this.

 

Thankfully, The Chief was in the next room, a few feet away to hear the sigh.

“It’s OK, we just won’t let this happen next year. It’s OK, Julia. Plus, we still have one cabbage left!”

Oh great, one more cabbage to stare me down as it degrades.

Yet, instead of going down that path, I remembered honesty. I told everyone about my ruined cabbages and as I listened to others lament about kraut cold feet or pickling paranoia I suddenly felt better. Not in the misery loves company way because they were no longer miserable as I was, in the way that I felt I could (finally) get over this, as they all had.

The last cabbage left was a behemoth of a babe that my girlfriend had grown this year. She is an epic gardener (you can read all about it here) and after a dinner date at her house this Fall (read: 2 hours out, 2 hours back. That’s an Alaskan dinner party, if I’ve ever heard of one!) she gifted me one of her gargantuan gals.

I may ruin storebought cabbages and I may ruin my own, but I wasn’t going to ruin hers.

Right?

Finally, the answer was “Right”.

Three weeks later.

Meh, better late than never, right? I had been battling this fear for years, three lousy weeks weren’t going to take me under this time (plus, I had some gentle nudging from a friend, moving me slowly but surely along).

So, three weeks later than I had planned on doing something with her cabbage, I finally did.

1 Quart for experimenting

1 Big Bowl of Potluck Coleslaw for Poker Night

1 Big Crock

later and the enormous cabbage was finally gone and…

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest making Sauerkraut

Half-way through

 

Kraut is on the way.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, Malamute puppy in Alaska

Finally, I felt like this!

 

I’ve psyched myself up time and time again to do the Putting Up I dream to do here but time and time again, I’ve found myself talking myself down, stressing the details, deciding I’ve failed before I’ve even started and thus, never begun. Perfectionism sure is a sneaky beast that robs you of entering new experiences with lightness or confidence, if you enter into them at all. Yet step by step, uncertainty by uncertainty, I moved forward this time and I owe it all to honesty (and certainly to some truly non-judgemental love from The Chief and friends and to my furry Leto, who sat on my toes or watched me squish cabbage the whole way through).

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute 9 months old

Ice dance.

 

Opening up about my own shortcomings, or things I just see as such, has helped me to see how normal they are. Certainly, mine may not be yours. You might be scoffing at this little backwoods cabbage waster but I’m certain there is something for you too. Some half-finished project, some goal yet unmet, some hidden habit that you feel guilty or sad or embarrassed about. The good news is: you don’t have to! Who knew?! Feeling bad provides little impetus for change. Feeling bad leaves the cabbages rotting and the sauerkraut supply still empty. So go and tell your tale of your closeted self, whoever that may be. Chances are, the person you tell might really, truly need to hear it and I guarantee you’ll feel better.

Best wishes to you and to all of your quirks and flaws and beauty that make you who you are. You are doing just fine.

Cheers to you.

Cheers to honesty.

May it spread to you and yours and beyond.

With love (and sauerkraut),

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alpenglow Alaska

Alpenglow time of year.

 

P.S. Do you too have a fermenting phobia? My friends pointed me towards Nourished Kitchen, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and searching Facebook for helpful groups. There are many salt to cabbage ratios but one tried and true method I’ve heard (and tried) is to make it as salty as the sea. If that’s too vague for you, I totally understand. Let the professionals guide your way, it’s not as scary as I thought. I promise.

P.P.S Beneath the Borealis has been featured on Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2019. Thank you, Feedspot! I’m honored. Check the good company we keep here: Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs

This post is dedicated to Danielle. I love you. Thank you for always encouraging me to keep trying new things in the kitchen and beyond.

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, McCarthy Alaska

Back to the Waves

A week ago we returned home from a week in Anchorage for a Town Run.

Town.

{insert ominous music}

As we drove out, we waved to passersby on The Road (our 60-mile dirt “driveway” that leads to the “town” we live just outside of).

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19 Malamutes of Alaska

Helllllooooo!

 

Around here, we wave to everyone. Everyone does. It’s a sort of natural reflex we all seem to feel out here. Everywhere I go, every person I pass, I wave a greeting of “Good day”.

Yet, that’s not true.

As we hit the pavement, the waves continued…until at some point they didn’t. Around 4 hours into the trip they just stopped for both of us automatically. It wasn’t due to waving fatigue, those muscles are strong, (waving fatigue, a real killer. But, like I said, we are seasoned wavers) it was something different.

By the time we reached Anchorage, waving was no longer a part of my repertoire, it wasn’t even a consideration.

Perhaps it’s due to the reality that even a seasoned waver might get fatigued with all the faces to greet in a big town. Perhaps it’s the fact that in all likelihood, you’ll never again see most of the people you wave to in a city whereas in the woods, you may not know the person but in all likelihood, you eventually will. Maybe it’s because in a city we are all too busy. Maybe it’s because a city feels as if it belongs to no one and a small town feels as if it belongs to everyone. Everyone gets a Mayoral wave. Maybe it’s because out here we are rarely anonymous and out there we almost always are. Perhaps I’m just missing the wavers. Perhaps they’re waiting for me to wave first.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

In all the hustle and bustle of Town, contemplating waving fell far back in the line of things to do and I promptly forgot about waving altogether. With our wedding date fast approaching and a litany of lists of To-Dos, and the simple fact that we were in Town, my contemplation didn’t get much deeper than How Do We Do Every Single One of These Chores Done in Not Enough Time to Do Them? and Oh No, I Forgot to Eat Again! What’s Close and Quick?

Town is a jungle for us. We navigate our way through traffic and hike through lines of people. We get cut off and passed at 90 on the freeway. It’s intense going from one extreme (where I swear I haven’t driven over 30 mph in months) to the next but in all honesty, the place gets a bad rap. There’s a great art scene, delicious restaurants, fun cocktails, and beautiful trails. The truth is, it gets a bad rap because we rarely get to enjoy the benefits of Town. It’s in and out and rushed all the way through.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, Get Married in Alaska

Chores galore. Even this became a chore…but we did enjoy ourselves.

 

We ended up staying at our best AirBnB yet tucked next to a sweet little creek on a trail system with salmon swimming upstream and ripe raspberries prime for the picking in the backyard. It was tranquil and idyllic and still we had next to no time to try to soak in the meant to be mini-vacation (unless, of course, you consider walking your dog at 11 pm soaking it in because damned if I wasn’t going to walk the trails, even if it did have to be after a 12-hour chore day). It wasn’t all rushing, we did get to see some great friends, try a cardamom cocktail(!) and enjoy some delicious eats, just all with a steady level of hurry packed in with them.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19 Cardamom cocktail

Cardamom & Star Anise? Yes, please.

 

After our unanticipated week in Town (we meant to be there for 2 days but realized we had chores enough for 10) we were beyond ready to be Home. We hit the pavement, leaving Anchorage at a bright and early 12 noon. Ouch. The 8-hour drive stared at us menacingly, but we didn’t care. We were pointed in the right direction.

It’s funny how quickly we can change, adapt, forget. Within 7 days I had gotten used to getting a mid-day coffee or chai and so as we drove towards Home I pondered which I would order when we stopped for coffee…

In the middle of nowhere?

Nope.

As the city fell into our rearview I realized I was 4 hours out from the nearest coffee shack which just might be open when we got there. In just one week I had forgotten that a coffee stop wasn’t just a few streets away at all times.

Then, I had to pee.

This time, the realization that we weren’t in Town was a joyous one. Having to pee in Town means lines, people, sometimes a purchase, waiting. Having to pee in the woods (or at least on your way) is a simple switch of a blinker and a slow down. The Chief pulled the truck over and Leto and I each found our spot and within a minute, we were back in the truck, back on our way Home.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, Malamute puppy in a wedding.jpg

Happy puppy, tucked beneath a mound of flowers.

 

Within a week I had gotten used to some aspects of Town and forgotten the way we do things. The new normal happens so fast.

Four hours or so into our drive, it happened.

We both waved…

to a stranger.

And the stranger waved back.

It hit me then. I hadn’t realized our waves had stopped in the city until that very moment. That wave brought me back all that we were driving towards. To the calm I feel out here. The connectedness.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some city time. I love the art and the culture and the variety and sometimes the anonymity but I also love predictability. Friendly familiar faces. I love the wide-open spaces and the feeling of being known, even by strangers. That simple wave, that automatic reflex reminded me of the goodness and the simplicity that sweet gesture makes me feel.

Yet as the week has passed since we’ve been home I’ve pondered: does the act of waving have to live in such a dichotomy? Is it a Venn Diagram with an empty center circle or am I creating this image? In the last month, I’ve done more online shopping from our tiny cabin in the woods than I’d like to due to the sheer fact that I can’t just pop on over to any store to get what I need. I’ve brought the metropolis to me (my aching wrists can vouch for this). Further, while in Anchorage, I saw Steelhead swimming upstream in the most relatable of struggles: life. I walked in the woods by simply stepping off concrete and our pup bathed in waters minutes from our home away from home.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, Sockeye Salmon

Can you spot the Salmon?

 

The city finds the woods and the woods are found in the city. They aren’t that separate after all.

It’s easy to feel solo in the city, to feel like your anonymous life doesn’t impact others. To sit in your car facing forward and never make eye contact. I’ve done it. I did it for a week straight. I shifted into city mode. Yet the reality is, we are all humans, always, anywhere, despite the veneer a city can provide to make us forget. And, of course, if I lived in the city I would have my familiar faces and places, I would have my people I waved to.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that our people are everywhere. In the city, in the woods. We are all impacting one another.

So why not throw up a little wave wherever you might be? Maybe at first, it’s small, maybe at first, it’s infrequent. Maybe you get strange looks but in the end, I think the benefit will outlast the output.

I’ll try it if you will.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, McCarthy Alaska

Hello and goodbye to the sun

 

Speaking of waves, this gal is giving a momentary wave “Goodbye” until after our wedding dust has settled. So, until then I bid you adieu, with a wave, of course.

Beneath the Borealis Post The Fluff 4-15-19 Honeybees

The Fluff

I jumped the gun, counted my chickens before they hatched. I promised exciting news before it was in my lap.

The Chief and I have been milling around the idea of getting a puppy. We’ve gone back and forth and around again until we were furry in the face from all the pups we’d looked at. We were offered three different husky pups, one which was taken back just as soon as it was offered and two that rang just too true to our Lou. Nothing felt quite right. We paused looking on and off for months. I was waiting for our dog to jump from the screen and choose us but it just wasn’t happening. Looking for a pup brought up a mixture of excitement, guilt, and trepidation. It was a step forward into a new chapter, it was a new start that we weren’t totally sure we were ready for and so, it seemed, it wasn’t ready for us either.

There were multiple times where it almost worked, and then at the last moment, we were like ships in the night. Something just wouldn’t line up.

With a girlfriends’ trip to Town fast approaching, I looked like mad for our little furball but the puppy shoes I tried on didn’t quite fit. I decided that it just wasn’t in the cards for us at this moment. We’d wait until after the wedding this Fall and start looking again. I gave myself plenty of reasons why this was the right thing to do and I was pretty convinced.

Almost entirely.

Two days before our ladies’ trip I decided to allow myself one more look. If the “perfect” dog was there, we’d get him.

And there he was.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post The Fluff 4-15-19 Malamute Puppy

Cuteness abounds.

 

Our “perfect” dog was not the dog in front of me. He was bigger and in completely the wrong geographic location but immediately I knew that he was our puppy.

After everything that happened in the passing of our Cinda Lou and all of the loss we’ve experienced in the last year and a half, we wanted to make as many guarantees as we could that our puppy would be healthy. This pup had everything in that realm. His Mom and Dad both had bios up with healthy hips and all that goodness. The Mom was a beauty queen and the Dad a mushing dog who could “pull all day”. After a Winter of Skijoring, we were looking for a working dog but also a family dog, a dog who wanted to be our number one. His parents looked healthy and happy as could be. It just felt right. In his picture, he was even standing on the same rug in his kitchen as we have in ours.

The Chief came home for lunch that day and I asked if he wanted to look at one last puppy. I tried to conceal my smile but it was near wrapped around my face. Without pause, his smile erupted too just upon seeing the picture.

“That’s our guy.”

He was the last boy left in the litter.

By the end of the day, I had put a PayPal deposit down on our pup (which is by far the best online purchase I’ve ever made). We were elated. I couldn’t stop looking at his picture.

Still, we had quite the journey in front of us: we were going to do the Alaska Triangle.

What is the Alaska Triangle, you ask?

Well, clearly we made it up! But I think it could have some staying power. The Alaska Triangle, framed from our neck of the woods, would be our trajectory for the week:

Our neck of the woods to Anchorage: 8 hours

Anchorage to Fairbanks: 8 hours

Fairbanks to our neck of the woods: 8 hours

Now, this may seem like an excessive amount of driving but when you’re used to driving 8 hours to get your groceries, your perspective shifts a bit. Plus, like a dog with treats, every leg of the journey held insanely wonderful incentives:

Our neck of the woods to Anchorage: Here laid the root causes of our trip: First, we would get to listen to the heartbeat of the newest addition to our girl gang! Our beautiful friend is having a baby girl and these aunties were going to get to hear her little heart beating. Second, we were also shopping for wedding and bridesmaid dresses (a task I was inclined to think of more as a chore on my own but with help, actually thoroughly enjoyed). Finally, there laid bloood draws and doctors visits and all the other delightful town duties.

Anchorage to Fairbanks: 8 hours: Puppy pickup! (‘Nuff said)

Fairbanks to our neck of the woods: 8 hours: We’d trade off between driving and puppy pets, bringing all of our precious cargo homeward. Then, introduce the Chief to our little one.

We pretty much squealed with excitement the whole first hour of the trip. Puppies, babies and wedding stuff?! This really was a trifecta of goodness.

The trip was even longer than the triangle too because the first day of the trip was actually spent driving to the end of The Road (60 miles of dirt and busted glaciers) to participate in a fishing derby. By participate, I mean show up in time for the awards and food and miss all the fishing, unfortunately, but when you’re packing for The Alaska Triangle, time gets away from you. We drove 12 miles back down The Road towards home, despite every inch of my being telling me I was going the wrong way, to spend the night at our friends’ cabin that they graciously loaned us for the night. We all felt the excitement building. Finally, the next morning we were off. Back down The Road, Round II.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post The Fluff 4-15-19 Honeybees

Keep your eye on the prize.

 

Everything went perfectly. Appointments we needed had last-minute openings, our Airbnb was cheaper than even the dead of Winter rates, everything was looking up.

The next day we got to hear the baby’s heartbeat and in true Auntie fashion, we were in tears. It was a beautiful start to the trip, full of hope and happiness.

Later that day we shopped for wedding and bridesmaid dresses and found something for everyone.

Still, just to be sure, the next day we went to another wedding dress location.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

As someone who needs to comparison shop even the smallest of items, this was helpful to me to verify that we should, in fact, get the dresses from the day before.

Everything was going so perfectly!

I called then and there to order my dress as there were only two in stock. No answer. In the growing hours of daylight, I had lost time and the dress shop had closed. I felt a little panic well up inside of me. As soon as I hung up, I noticed a text I’d missed:

“So, the pups are acting a little “off”. I don’t know if you can delay your trip or not but I am taking them to the vet tomorrow to get checked out.”

A sinking feeling in my chest forced me to sit down amidst the fluffy white gowns. I took a deep breath and called the breeder.

“It’s probably nothing” he assured me “but Parvo is rampant here so I wanted to be sure. He’s still eating and drinking so he should be fine. But if he does have Parvo he could die within a few days.”

As a vet tech, he had mountains of information he delivered matter of factly that I needed to hear but in that sea of white, what I needed more was to get off the phone so I could cry. I fell into the arms of my girlfriends outside.

I couldn’t believe it.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post The Fluff 4-15-19 Anchorage Alaska

Reflective weather.

 

We spent the night talking about and distracting from the subject but it hung close. This puppy felt like the new start we had hoped for and again, here we were faced with possible death.

Still, maybe it wasn’t Parvo.

We had planned to make our next leg of The Triangle in the morning but without information as to the pup’s health, we figured it best to stay put. We unloaded once again into a new Airbnb. It was beautiful and colorful and felt like home. It also felt like sadness, like there had been a loss but in some ways, that felt comforting because amidst the loss, there was so much love and happiness. After I got this feeling, I went into the bathroom where there was a painting of a woman kneeling over a dog, the dog’s paws were holding onto her legs in a gentle embrace and blood was pooled around the dog. Yet, the dog’s spirit came up from him and turned into a raven. The painting was titled “Grief and Healing”, two things we’ve done a lot of in these past years.

A sort of calm came over me as I realized that I had grieved before, I could do it again but what was most important at that moment wasn’t me, it was him. This little fluff of a pup was fighting for his life. I wanted him to live for him.

The next day, we didn’t have to rush out of the house first thing. For the first time in the trip, we got to just sit for a few hours. We all ended up working, I had a huge project due by week’s end and since the drives I had been planning to work during suddenly weren’t happening I had to squeeze every moment in that I could. After we checked out, we set to do the chores that we never do in Town, the ones deep down on the long list of To Dos which always end up in the “Screw It” pile after chore fatigue sets in. On the way, I got a text:

“He has Parvo.”

 

Beneath the Borealis Post The Fluff 4-15-19 Alaskan Winter

 

I am not a fainter. I am not a damsel in distress. Yet, this news took me over. My chest started radiating in a tingling sensation that only got worse with each breath I took in. I was sobbing as my arms started to go numb and my vision tunneled. I pulled over and just cried until I couldn’t cry any longer while my girlfriends stood guard and rubbed my back. I felt numb.

A few minutes later I got another text:

“We are going to treat him for it. Vet says his chances are good because we caught it early.”

The girls did chores, some of them mine (I love you ladies) the rest of the day and let me dig into work. The deadline was fast approaching and the distraction helped. I broke the bad news to The Chief (just as he had told me that he had cleaned up all the poop in the yard to prevent any Parvo issues) and almost simultaneously heard his heart break for the millionth time. We’ve done so much crying together these past years. Here we were again. Our little beacon of hope might not make it.

The girls and I reconvened again in the evening to do our final chore run: Costco.

We were leaving Town the next morning and going home with almost everything.

The trip had been such a success in so many ways. The baby was healthy, we all would be showing up to the wedding with clothes on (yahoo!), we had done chores we hadn’t even dreamed of getting done and stayed in beautiful homes. We had bonded and eaten delicious food and seen good friends and…we wouldn’t be returning with our puppy.

Still, fingers permanently crossed, I was hopeful.

Yesterday, as The Chief and I prepared to take our annual Pack Test I suddenly felt like we had news. I checked my phone:

“I don’t want to get your hopes up too high, but I am optimistic about your pup. Part of the treatment is that I force feed them Nutri-Cal every 2 hours. I just went out to do that and he greeted me with tail wagging. First time his tail has wagged in almost a week. I take that as a positive sign. Once he starts eating without being forced we will know that we are in the clear. Should be within 48 hours or so.”

The Chief and I just held one another. It was a good sign. Finally. Our little fluffball was fighting.

Later on that night, exhausted from 4 hours of driving in order to go carry 45 lbs. 3 miles (are we just gluttons for punishment?) we got this:

“He is eating cooked Salmon on his own. Yeah!!!”

“He is eating a lot of it too. I am going to watch him. If he keeps it down that’s an awesome sign.”

Included was a picture of him and his sister:

 

Beneath the Borealis Post The Fluff 4-15-19 Malamute Puppies of Alaska

The fluff is strong with these ones.

 

Still, we weren’t certain. He wasn’t giving us the green light but things were looking up.

This morning, as I sat down to write that I had jumped the gun, I had no sooner gotten that sentence down than I received the following text:

“He has eaten several times now and is running around like a puppy again. I would say that he has it beat.”

The Chief and I cried happy tears for the first time in a long time.

I hope with all my might that I have not jumped the gun again but there was nothing else that I could write about this week and so write about it I did. This is real life. This is what’s happening. It’s the only thing on my mind, the last thing I think of as I go to bed and the first thing I think of in the morning.

Thankfully, this morning, it was with a bit of peace in my heart for our little fluffball fighter.

We love you so much already.

Please send your good thoughts his way. Happy, healthy thoughts sent out to all of you and yours.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post The Fluff 4-15-19 Poppies of rebirth

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping The Confluence

In Celebration of Women

Friday before last, I awoke to the day with a sturdy mix of excitement and nervousness.

Today was the day.

What day, you ask?

A day of firsts.

A few weeks ago, about halfway into our puppy sitting the cutest little dude I know (who goes by the name of Kvichak. Pronounced like “Quee-Jack”), a plan started brewing. It all began with crossed fingers and a lot of treats: we were going to skijor. Until a few years ago, I’d never even heard of skijoring and I’ve only tried it once before and that was a year ago. Yet there I was, locking myself into a physical agreement with a pooch I’d only heard knew what he was doing. Apparently, that clout was good enough for me.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Huskies in Alaska

That arm…hardcore chillin’.

 

Skijoring is like dog sledding in the sense that the dog wears a harness and pulls the rider. Yet with skijoring, there’s no sled in between. The skier too wears a harness and a mere bungee rope connects the pooch to the skier, entering them into a serious game of trust (hint: the pooch has the upper hand).

After that first squeals of excitement filled run, I was hooked and on the mission to find a setup of our own (as we had borrowed my girlfriend’s and thus couldn’t both go at the same time). In the lovely land that we live, a message board post I put up had us outfitted in no time, thanks to the kindness of our not so nearby neighbors (thanks again, M & P). And so it was that my girlfriend and I could skijor together and hatch our plan:

An overnight.

In the snow.

At a destination attained via skijor.

The plan hatched quickly and then went through iterations too many to count. There was the issue of houses freezing, as my girlfriend’s husband would be out of town on the chosen date and unable to man the house. There was the issue of location and distance and weather and details too many to count but all of those could be navigated.

In truth, the greatest hurdle for me was that of motivation.

The comfort of home can be hard for me to leave and trying new things, especially things that might prove me less than savvy, is hard for this recovering perfectionist. Yet the discomfort I felt around the adventure, before even its realization, was a familiar feeling that told me I had to go.

Mid-week, the plan still relatively unrealized, our momentum sagged. There was a lot to prep, a lot to plan and being that I had never camped in the snow (honestly, I didn’t realize that was even a thing people would opt to do), a lot to learn. The -20 nights had me shaking in my snowboots and so, any easy out started looking nicer and nicer.

Thankfully, after a few more hems and haws, we voted away the easy out.

We were in.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping

Packing quickly took over the house…

 

It was time to get things in order. The night before the big adventure, The Chief and I made some modifications to my sled via a drill gun, paracord and a lighter. Everything we’d need from firewood to sleeping bags was going on our backs or in our sleds. At the night’s end on the eve of our great adventure, weighted down by a few rounds of logs, the pup and I took the sled for a test run. For the first time I too was pulling weight and the short loop around the neighborhood had me winded.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Skijor Sled

 

Gulp.

The morning came and with it my nerves. The weather had warmed but still, we were sleeping outside! Utter badass that she is, my gal pal, a backcountry ranger, (I mean, how cool of a title is that?!) who has logged days on end backpacking convinced me that we didn’t need tents. We would instead be using the burrito method.

Now, I know my food references but this one I’d never heard. Still, the trust of my dear friend intact, I packed a tarp and did not pack a tent.

Gulp.

The morning nerves were soon accompanied by news. As I logged into work, a headline came up on my computer: today was International Women’s Day.

Today?!

My nerves melted away. I felt blanketed in power. Today was a day to celebrate women and I could think of no better way than adventuring out of my comfort zone in the comfort of my girlfriend’s (and two adorable pups’) presence. As soon as I heard the news Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” was playing through my head (and soon through the speakers). Today was a good day already. The half-day workday flew by and in no time…

It was time.

Despite the sleepover being for merely one night, the multitude of necessities was startling. I stuffed extra layers of all types into a stuff sack and packed a parka, bibs, gloves, scarf, extra socks and a hat for the evening. I donned my ski outfit, composed of much lighter fare due to the suddenly warm weather of 30 odd degrees outside, a swift shift from the day before. After bungy-ing and re-bungy-ing my sled and its contents, we were finally off (only an hour later than our planned departure time)!

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Skijor Alaska

 

No turning back now.

 

 

Kvichak and I breezed along, the weight only seemed to encourage him rather than slow him down. We dropped down out of the woods onto the river trail and promptly…

Threw up.

In his wanderings of the neighborhood, the little dude has earned the nickname Kvichak the Kleptomaniac. He’s returned home with everything from a frozen zucchini to compost filters to an empty milk jug and full on logs, not sticks, from neighboring woodpiles. So, I can only assume he found something that was not quite his but quite delicious nonetheless that perhaps hit back when it hit his tummy.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping Husky

Showing off his compost filter steal…

 

He barfed twice and then looked at me as if I was crazy to be concerned and started to pull again. Apparently, all was well. Less than 10 minutes in, one barf session down and miles more to go. What could go wrong?

Thankfully, not that much. There were some epic falls for us both, on all sort of terrain including flat, up and downhill. Sometimes the dog feels resistance and stops. Sometimes, unfortunately, that’s right at the apex of a hill and you have to fight with all your might to pole yourself up that incline. Or slide down backward and have to try again. Other times, you fall. Hard. Aside from falling, a lot of skijoring when you first are training is spent untangling. While Kvichak has an uncanny propensity for not getting stuck despite stopping often to make puppy snow angels, the eventual snag or two (or twenty) are inevitable and you hobble along trying to untangle the pooch back to his perfect puppy pulling potential.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Skijoring in Alaska

Skijoring into the sunset (plus a rainbow).

 

Snags and snafus aside, we made it to camp in about three hours. Wolf tracks graced the latter half of the trail and the dogs perked up to follow them across the frozen river we skijored upon. The sun was setting and the moon was rising as we found our home for the night. The place which had been our goal.

The Confluence.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping The Confluence

Mid-bunny hop (Icefall behind)

 

Where two rivers meet and an icefall marks the spot, we found an area nestled between the river and a higher bank that we thought might provide cover from the potential wind tunnel we were in. Running water could be heard nearby and icefall looked down on us in all her glory. We packed down the snow in our home sweet home as best we could, using the sled as a flattening tool though still punching through. Walking about camp we looked a bit like toddling babies, doing our best to stay afloat amongst the uneven terrain.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Backcountry Winter Camping

Breaking trail to camp.

 

As soon as we had regrouped via a complete change of clothes (Naked in the middle of a frozen river, eh? Never thought I’d cross that one off the list) it was time to build a fire and make dinner. The warming fire kicked right up in my expert gal pal’s, despite the fact that it was built in snow. The light of the flames warmed the dark new moon night. We got out our heating implements and drank tea to warm ourselves as we warmed our dinners. The setting of the sun had brought on a quick chill but still, the night gave no promise of the 20 below nights we’d been having.

Already cold fingers crossed.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Backcountry Winter Camping Alaska

Hello, moon.

 

The pups too ate their dinner which was accompanied by water in order to get them to drink (a common difficulty in the snow). Kvichak looked at me as if I didn’t know who I was dealing with as he expertly chased down the bits of food, avoiding the water like a bobbing for kibble expert. At first, I was worried he wouldn’t drink. Then, he slurped it down. A purist, I see. He left just enough water to show his rebellion which promptly froze in the bowl.

Finally, it was time to see what this burrito sleeping situation was all about. I heated more snow for drinking water as I watched my girlfriend lay on the snowy surface the tarp we had burrito-wrapped (so many burritos!) around our sleds to keep our goods intact on our journey out. She expertly laid both sleeping pads beneath her two sleeping bags and then cocooned herself and her pooch inside. Then, she wrapped the tarp around them. The burrito. 

My burrito ended up more like a taco. As claustrophobia is one of my less-favorable traits, I couldn’t quite get down with the wrapping action and, with a Husky as my companion, he too needed his space. Husky’s are notoriously independent but this cuddlebug did sleep next to me the whole night through.

My girlfriend and I, perfectly packed into our respective Mexican dishes hooted and hollered “Goodnight! Happy International Women’s Day! I love you!” to one another over the fire. I patted the pup and bid us both a good night and good luck. I fell asleep cozy as could be, though about 60% certain I was about to die of cold in my sleep.

An hour or so later I woke up in an overheated claustrophobic panic. Losing layers in a hurry as if digging myself out from below ground, my temperature and panic dropped. Well, I guess I wasn’t dying of cold. I fell back into a cooler, calmer sleep. An hour or so later, I awoke again, this time cold, as the taco ruffled in the windy night. I zipped down tighter as I gazed at the stars before pulling the tarp overhead. Claustrophobia plays second fiddle to cold.

We awoke in tandem, my girlfriend, the pups and I and I let out a hoot and a holler.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping in AK

Morning, sunshine!

 

We had done it! We had camped in the snow, in tarps! Seasoned as she is at such feats, I had known my gal pal would make it, but me, I wasn’t so sure.

Yet I had.

I had slept overnight in the middle of a river in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness on the shoulders of Winter.

Just a few years ago, I’d never heard of skijoing and certainly hadn’t considered camping in the snow in a tarp. Even if I had, the hurdles I would have had to jump in order to make such a thing happen would have stalled me in my thoughts. That morning, as I looked around at the greatness of nature and the ease with which we could access it, I thanked my lucky stars.

After an exceptional oatmeal breakfast, we slowly packed away the camp. I, upon my girlfriend’s suggestion, had slept with my sweaty clothes from our ski in. Why, oh, why you ask?! Same here. Apparently, this will help them to dry. I’d heard this before and met it with the look of a single cocked eyebrow but trusting her as I do, I tried it and…it worked! Sure, they were still a little wet but nothing like the night before when they had frozen to the tarp within minutes of taking them off. I donned the slightly damp clothes, naked again in the middle of Winter in Alaska, and danced about the still uneven terrain to warm from the self-imposed chill.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Huskies of Alaska

Returning from the expanse, looking very tough.

 

Soon, with nothing left to pack but ourselves, I showed Kvichak his harness and his tail began to wag. We skied from one river to the next watching the stories of the wolf tracks dance out in front of us and listening to the river flow beneath. About halfway home, the tired set in. I hadn’t felt all that worked over by the day before’s activities but suddenly they caught up. My pack somehow felt heavier, my legs felt like logs but home was in sight.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping GSP of Skijoring

Homeways is rightways now.

 

I returned home to water easily accessed, not made via my melting of snow and veggies not frozen from exposure. The comforts of home wrapped their sometimes excessively enveloping arms around me but that day they felt just perfect. I fell into bed that night, grateful for the warmth of a non-burrito blanket though missing the stargazing and whispered goodnight to my girlfriend, grateful as ever for her.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Ladies of Alaska

Sunset snowmachine

 

Without her, I wouldn’t have known about skijoring and I certainly wouldn’t have ventured out snow camping. It’s funny how one person can open your eyes, not just to new ideas but to new realities and expanded views of yourself. I know that to some, snow camping is a no brainer, but to me, it was truly daunting and I thank my friend for her guidance into what turns out to be not so scary.

Here’s to the ladies in all of our lives. The ladies who love us, who awaken us to the unknown and who push us just enough to see that our comfort zone is wider than we think.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping Libations

Cheers to you, boo!

 

Happy belated International Women’s Day to all of us, for we all get to experience the wonder that comes from women.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping Women of Alaska

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Tracks

Snowtime Stories

People always wonder at me how it is I stay entertained in this blank canvas. Without the bustle of business, the tremor of transactions, nary a Starbucks in sight, how does one fill the void left by the sudden loss of the familiar hustle of humans?

Yet, without the clamor of a consistent chorus, the songs are still there. They simply play a different tune.

The quiet here opens up the possibilities to hear the faintest stories.

A vole scampering by on my way to the woodshed, diving out of my footstep into a snowy cave below.

A chickadee, grateful for our (or at least our seed’s) return.

And still, sometimes, the loudest song stories are those which require you to see, not hear.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Tracks

Lou and I deciphering human tracks, 2016

 

 

A little over a week ago, while on a mid-day ski to the River, I happened upon a story I’d only ever been told, one I’d never read myself: the story of the Wolf.

You see, vole tracks, with their heart-shaped happiness dart about with the Arctic Hare in the arsenal of tracks I hold in my mind. Bear and moose too make easily identifiable imprints (though, much to my chagrin, I mistook a hare for a moose my first Winter. “Moose have been all over the yard!” I exclaimed as we jumped out of the truck that first night of my first Winter, so proud to identify it, incorrectly, first. The Chief gently suggested a bunny might be the more likely culprit, considering the print’s depth. I love that guy).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Bear tracks

Summer bear track bounty

 

 

Yet the wolf, I’ve always been second on the scene to identify. Mostly because every time I’ve seen the tracks I’ve been in the company of my best guy friend who is a tracker extraordinaire. The day I beat him to identify a wolf track, I will probably pass out from giving myself too many high-fives.

The odds of identification were stacked in my being second to notice them for years until this year when, suddenly, I stopped in my tracks to notice…tracks.

And not just any track, a track that stuck out all its own.

This time of year, the neighborhood can get quite quiet (and truth be told, my tracking pal was out of the area when I spotted this find so I don’t think I’ll pass out from high-fives just yet) and this year is no exception. The only dogs in the area on the day of the tracks were tracks I knew. Full grown pups who leave what seems like a big print.

This was something entirely different.

As I stopped to take a picture, The Chief rounded the corner on the snowmachine on his way to Mail, his machine threatening to sweep away all the clues that lie ahead. I flagged him down and pointed, certain enough to be the one to say it first (à la the bunny tracks of that first Winter) yet still a little uncertain in my qualification:

“Wolf tracks.”

He nodded and gave The Chief “Yep” and then mentioned that our neighbors too had just told him that they too had wolfy suspicions.

Bingo! Bunny mishap no more. My confidence was on-track (sorry, that one was too much but I couldn’t help myself).

I took a picture, using my glove as a reference point like a pulled splinter next to a penny, steered The Chief to the right of the tracks and kissed him “adieu” as he smiled a mischievous smile at me, knowing I’d be tracking the Wolf the rest of my woodsy wanderings.

 

 

 

 

Wolf of the left, Dog on the right. Same glove.

After my first foray into following tracks, one might think me a bit of a fool to follow in the footsteps of a furry non-friend (I mean, we weren’t friends yet), but I had read the first sentence and I was hooked on the story. Plus, it was mid-day and the wolf was probably long gone by now ((two things I wasn’t totally certain of at the time but have, after some research, verified. Wolves are indeed night-time prowlers and they move on through quite quickly minus the presence of an unearthed invitation to stay and thankfully, I didn’t think it had found one (trash, etc.)).

I followed the tracks along the trail that I myself meander each day, honored to walk in the prints they had lain the night before. That much I knew, these were fresh. The snow here sets out like a blank page upon which is written the stories of a secret world. We may often miss the first showing, but at least we get to read about it the next day.

But wait…

I thought about the night before.

I too had been on the River Trail.

At nightfall.

 

 

beneath-the-borealis-snowtime-stories-2-4-19-sunset-ski.jpg

Fire sky sunset

 

 

A non-stop day at work had left me sequestered inside and so, despite the falling of dusk, I decided to take a quick ski.

Strangely enough, despite how distracting that ski had been (I had actually been on the phone with a girlfriend had some verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry good news) I had kept stopping to look over my shoulder.

I just felt like I wasn’t quite alone.

Perhaps I wasn’t.

The tracks headed down to the River and led right out onto the River’s frozen surface, which was now shattered by the breaking of Hidden Lake (a glacial lake, which normally breaks in the Summer but for the last four Winters has also broken in the Winter). The path back was no longer but never you mind because the backtracking was not the goal of this endeavor.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 River Crossing

River crossing

 

The tracks continued…

Back to our neighborhood.

I followed the storied imprints towards home until our trails divided and I tucked myself into homeways while the Wolf continued on. As we parted ways I dreamt up a tale of the wolf’s passing through, its certainty in its steps, confident and steadfast.

From then on, I visited the tracks every day to see if I could unearth further clues. I visited them in better lights of day and photographed them, I found scat and photographed that too (because I am a weirdo and because it’s a clue!). Every day I returned until one day, I found a new clue: more tracks.

I quickly checked with our neighbors to make sure they hadn’t ventured in this direction lately (even though I knew the tracks were too large to attribute to any pup I knew).

They hadn’t.

A return visit.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Wolf tracks

Well hello again.

 

 

Perhaps the Wolf had found something of interest in our neighborhood? When I consulted the interesting options, the neighborhood dogs as a snack were at the top of the list. We collectively kept a closer eye on the pups who roam about laissez-faire here from cabin to cabin visiting and exploring on their own free time.

Still, the tracks never led directly up to our houses and other than natural instincts, the Wolf didn’t tell me of ominous plans.

I visited the tracks every day again, looking for old clues and waiting for new ones.

And then, just like that, the book was closed. It started to snow, washing the tracks away, tucking them beneath the layers of stories already told and those still to come.

That’s the thing: out here, the story whispers at you to listen, to follow, to imagine and just as soon, before you know it, that whispered invitation is gone.

I guess that is the long answer to a short question of how I stay entertained. I like the stories this place tells and the urgency with which they arrive and depart. The scarcity makes each story louder, the closeness makes each one more personal.

Today, as I write, the snow falls thick again hiding all the tales since its last frosted ancestors fell, leaving a blank slate for stories anew, waiting to be explored.

With love (via heart-shaped vole prints),

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Animal Tracks of Alaska

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska

A Confession: Phase I

Here’s a confession:

As much as I love our life and where we live, I’ve always been a bit reticent to show what our house looks like.

Well, at least on the outside.

The inside of our cabin is our cozy haven, filled with bright colors and soft fabrics and candlelight enough to make a Dane shout “Hygge!” (if you don’t know about the Hygge movement, check it out. You won’t be disappointed).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Christmas

First Christmas, Family photo

 

 

The outside…well, let’s just say it doesn’t quite evoke the same feeling.

Still, I tried to pretend it didn’t matter. In my newly found simple life, it felt incongruous to care so much about appearances. It was such a small part of my life. The outside of my house bothering me? It seemed petty. I tried to push it down.

I’d take nighttime photos of snow lit evenings, the house aglow with the warmth it possessed inside but in the day, without the camouflage of night or the focus shifted to something in the foreground, I was less likely to share the view.

Why?

Our house is naked.

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska

Hello, love.

 

 

With Tyvek that doesn’t even cover all of the house and no siding in sight, our little haven looks a little rough from the outside.

There’s a lot of things I’ve grown used to while living in Alaska that I realize are still strange to others, no matter how normal they’ve become to me.

Outhouses? Normal.

Peeing outside? Normal.

No running water? Normal.

Infrequent showers? Normal.

Living off the grid? Totally normal.

I’ve adapted and found a way to make these changes work for me and some I’ve embraced completely unaltered, loving the way they’ve changed me instead. And of all those normal to me, strange to others things, not a one felt noteworthy or strange or something to hide…except for the outside of the house.

It’s a work in progress and a work in progress is a very common thing in Alaska but it never sat quite right with me. Perhaps it’s because we are really stretching the “normalcy” of it all since we most likely are holding the current record for most years before siding. Still, it’s not as if our neighbors scoff at it, though it is a bit of an ongoing joke at this point.

You see, our house was built by The Chief and his family over a decade ago. I loved it on sight and it immediately felt like home. Despite its bachelor veneer, I saw the beauty underneath and with a little (ok, a lot) of scrubbing and love it became our home. Our cozy cabin has everything we need. Yet, because of the grand plan for the house (The Chief added a 10’X12′ addition on a few years back and we have plans for more expansion), our house has remained “in progress” and naked (read: without siding) since birth. We may not be the only house in progress, it’s definitely more common in Alaska than the Lower 48 but still, at ten plus years, our house really takes the cake.

Houses, like ours, that have additions added throughout the years are lovingly titled “More-On” houses where we live. It’s, you guessed it, pronounced like “moron”, insinuating simultaneously that you’ve learned a lot of what not to do along the way and that the project is never quite done. There’s always more to add on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Winter Construction

An oldie but a goodie. The first shelving project.

 

 

It took me time to adjust. In the Lower 48, you buy a move-in ready house or construct a house and often, you don’t move in until the last nail is placed and the final bits of sawdust have been vacuumed. In Alaska, it is far more common for people to move in before the project is finished. There are a lot of factors that make this so. For The Chief, it was a race against Winter. He could stay in the house he built, even though it was unfinished, or he could again rent a cabin that was not his own. He chose to go with his own work and finish it as time went on. And he did, but when it came to the siding, it just didn’t take priority. Houses take two things to build on your own: time and money and when you’re a young man in your 20’s with a roof overhead that you built by hand on a property that you own, I’d say you’re doing pretty well. Who cares if you don’t have siding? And, if you plan to expand, why go through the time and money to simply provide a finished look outside, when the inside is where you spend your time?

It made sense.

I guess.

Yet still, the more we planned and talked about the projects we wanted to do in the future, the farther away we realized that the future would be. As we already know, construction is costly in both money and time and every project here always ends up being 10 times more involved than it seems. From needing extra wood because you missed a cut to running out of screws or vapor barrier or running into unpredictable weather, there is always something that prolongs the process. So, for now, we’ve decided that we have plenty of space in our 12’X22′ cabin for the two of us. At some point we will expand, but for now, we’ve decided to focus on improving that which we already have.

And so, along came the birth of the siding project.

It would be simple. The Chief have already harvested trees and milled them into boards in a late Spring shuffle. All we had to do was “slap them on” (a favorite phrase of The Chief’s).

Phase I:

In order to put siding on your house, your house should be complete. This was the step I thought we had completed prior to deciding that it was finally siding time. But (big, big “But”), in talking more, we realized that wasn’t true.

As a man in his 20’s building a house from scratch on his own dime, The Chief had to be resourceful and so, in that resourcefulness, he had incorporated plenty of recycled materials to finish the job. From windows to interior siding, our house was a lovingly crafted hodge-podge of materials from the valley we live in. From historic to hand-me-down the house had come together in a wonderful, less-expensive amalgamation of materials. Yet, despite the low-cost at the time, the novelty of some of these things was wearing off as they started to lose their functionality. We finally relented to the fact that the old windows he had salvaged that no longer had screens and wouldn’t open, needed replacing.

“Great! Let’s do it next Summer when we have a little more money!” I suggested.

Wrong.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Construction

Windows out!

 

 

Like I mentioned earlier, a fact which is clearly new to my construction understanding, every change needs to be complete before the siding goes up.

We had ten days before we were leaving.

If we wanted to side the house this Winter when we finally would have time to, the windows needed to go in.

And so, The Chief made the trip to town which he graciously allowed me to back out of since I’d basically been on the road since July.

A few days later, he returned and the race began.

New windows before departure.

The clock was ticking.

In a hustle like I’d never seen, The Chief not only put in windows but also built us a shed for our newly acquired solar freezer (so we did not have to ask for storage help as much) in less than a week. Thanks to some serious help from our friends, everything was built in time to start the project…

This Winter.

Siding project: Phase I: Complete.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Windows

New windows. One less couch. New set-up. Thanks, K!

 

 

Now, we only have to wait a few months until we get home to start actually siding.

Just like everything in Alaska, this too will take time.

And so, now that the secret is out, now that you know our house is naked, I’ll share with you it’s clothing process along the way.

Until then, may your projects be speedy and finished…eventually.

With love,

 

from Alaska & California.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska California

Good day, sun ray.