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.

Three More Days

There’s always a song.

For most of my life, I’ve had a song stuck in my head. Not so much stuck in my head, actually, but more a sort of mental placeholder, a marker for the time being. Others pop in and out constantly (some  I feel like I’m playing Whack-A-Mole with. “Get out of here, Bohemian Rhapsody!” Just kidding, that song rocks) but often, there’s one that sings to me in the background, over the in and outs and often it’s trying to tell me something.

When I was a young soccer player, I grew certain that whatever song popped into my head while playing would be an omen for the game. Since my 9-year-old self-was deep down a Country music rabbit-hole the outlook for my achy-breaky heart didn’t look good. After nearly three undefeated seasons I realized that my interpretation of the omens must have been slightly off. I must have just been hearing the message wrong. And so I grew to see my song companions as more of a horoscope. You can read into it whatever you want. Or you can just enjoy a (hopefully) really good song.

Last year, when we ventured to California, the song was, fittingly, “California” by Joni Mitchell. It stayed with me for months, holding space, holding its place as a teacher and a reminder amongst the awkwardness of shifting lifestyles of the beauty of this golden land and reconnected me to my love for it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Central Valley Sunset California

Hello, Golden State.

 

 

This year, all I could hear was Ray LaMontagne (if you don’t know this sweet Southern-ish songbird, do yourself and your ears a fabulous favor and take a listen. Don’t worry, it’s not like the Country from before). In my ear, he sang the song “Three More Days”.

“Three more days. Girl, you know I’ll be coming home to you”.

The song is about returning to your love after being out on the road and getting the job done so you can return. It’s also, to me, about how there’s a draw for the road and for home, a dichotomous relationship between being stationary and being on the move. Wanting to leave as much as he wants to come home. As much as he loves the road, he loves his lady but both take him away from the other in a sort of tug of war of the heart.

It also speaks to a pretty steamy reunion, which never hurts.

This song popped in and didn’t pop out and at first, it seemed a little too obvious. Normally, the songs that stick have a deeper meaning but “Three More Days” starting on the day we left home? Well, yeah, from start to finish our journey takes us three days.

Come on.

Easy!

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Flying to Alaska

The first of many flights. Into Winter we went.

 

 

I’ve always accepted the journey for what it is: 3 days of upheaval, of packing and repacking, a flurry of activity, of last checks on the To Do list all wrapped up in a constant state of mild to moderate anxiety. “Did I turn off the propane at the house?” “Did I bring my Winter gear in case we need cold weather survival clothing on the way home?” and the Alaskan favorite due to our constant Red-Eye flight times and constant stories of missed flights: “Did I get my flight date right?”

But all of this is normal, right?

It wasn’t until I heard the song for the 50th or so time in my head as we trucked along that I realized how incredibly bizarre a journey like this is. It feels “Old time-y”. One friend asked me if we drove all the way here. Another asked if we had taken a boat. Both were joking but it made me realize that this journey Home (in either direction) is really, really, really long!

The initial message of the song may have seemed obvious but I guess I needed it because really, truly, I had never quite recognized what a trek it is. This Summer gave me an inkling after I returned from my 5th trip out. A quick weekend trip to Fairbanks of three days I realized was actually padded on each side by travel days. 9-hour long travel days. Making the grand total actually a 5-day endeavor with a return at midnight.

And then there’s recovering from it all.

We left our home, anxiety levels high and mental and physical checklists being manically ticked off around noon. We still had a few stops but we’d be on the road by 1pm, we figured. We barreled through our last chores. First: securing all merchandise in plastic totes at the Fire Department so we wouldn’t return to a cozy vole home of shredded Fire Department hoodies laden with the sleepy-eyed little mongrels. Next: Mail to send off final Thank-Yous for our Fire Department fundraiser. Then, storage. Our dear friend generously let us store our non-freezables in his basement again. Last year it was frozen items and non-freezables but with the addition of our new solar freezer, things had changed (more on that soon).

Finally, we were picking up our road buddy and we were off! Sort of. We crossed the bridge and headed to The Chief’s boss’s home to collect his last check of the season and to check out their enormous home. There’s a tower, people. A tower. There’s also a bridge. Honestly, all they are missing is a moat and this thing is a modern-day castle. Quite the shift from the cozy cabin life. After a tour and a catch-up, the road called our names and we were off.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Alaskan Off the Grid.jpg

Goodbye, Swimming Hole! See you in the freeze.

 

 

It was almost 2 pm.

The song began.

Nevertheless, we made great time to Town and floated into Anchorage in the late evening with plenty of time still left for a smorgasbord of sushi.

The next day was a whirlwind of “Town Chores” like doctor appointments and buying last minute winter gear and, of course, checking incessantly that we indeed had the correct departure day. “Ok, we fly on the 28th at 12:30 am so we need to be there tonight, right?” It sounds easy enough but when you’ve heard tale after tale of missed flights, you start to wonder.

Finally, it was time for the flight and after another sushi dinner (I can really pack in my “sush” on those Town Runs) we were ready. We settled in to try to get some sleep.

Nope.

A few restless, neck kinking hours later, we landed in Seattle where I suddenly remembered we had a four-hour layover. Oh joy! The Chief looked at me like I was crazy. He had been prepared for this blow. Didn’t I remember?

Nope.

We had booked the tickets way back in May and I had completely forgotten the mess we had gotten ourselves into in order to spend only a small fortune versus a large fortune on travel. The Red Eye Layover. So, at 3 AM Alaska time, we landed, tried to sleep, found ourselves incapable and succumbed to four hours of people watching and, for me, working.

Truth be told, people watching is my favorite, but sleep? Sleep is pretty high on the list too.

There would be none.

At 11:30 am we landed (hard, after popping out of the cloud cover to a seemingly closer than they realized runway) in California.

5 hours later, after a meal (a second for me. I had already had sushi for breakfast. I know, it’s a problem) and multiple introductions to friends of my Mama’s we were in bed.

Three days of travel and we had finally arrived.

We were exhausted.

And rightly so. Three days of travel. How had I not seen it before?

In the three days since we’ve been here, the song has continued. Perhaps, it’s helping me to see the obvious: that this trip I’ve always taken to be “normal” is actually above and beyond “normal”, ranging on “crazy” and thus granting ourselves permission to dip into the California pool slowly, toes first. To take time to acclimate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Northern California

Dip the toes in. Peek out from the clouds.

 

 

Perhaps, outside of the obvious, which was not so obvious to me, it’s there to remind me of the dichotomy in which we live, the two very different lands our hearts simultaneously straddle. The wanting to stay and the wanting to go and the beauty of wanting both at once. It’s both hard to leave and a joy to arrive in both places. The pull of the new and the warmth of the known and the way each shifts to fill the hole the other creates.

Perhaps it’s an omen.

Perhaps it’s just a really good song.

Either way, in any way, it’s this year’s anthem.

Cheers to you and yours, whether at home or on the road, nestled in and waiting for Winter or rushing away with the chill of Fall nipping at your heels. Cheers to the omens, great and small.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Fall in Alaska

Until next Fall.

 

 

With love,

from Alaska & California

P.S. Next week, one of my best friends is getting married and so, in wanting to be present with her, I’ll be taking the week off. See you in two!

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Make a Wish

For the Love of Film

The last time the Three Amigos hit Anchorage, Anchorage hit back. What was supposed to be a quick trip in to see a doctor about a pesky sinus infection turned into a week-long endeavor, sinus surgery included. So, when The Chief mentioned a trip for the motley three of us again, I figured “Count me in! What could go wrong?”

The last trip was during my first Winter and was less motivated (for The Chief at least) by his sinuses and more about Fur Rondy (Fur Rendezvous) a 10-day festival in the height of Winter to celebrate the start of the Iditarod and to showcase well, fur. Being from California, this sort of thing was a bit foreign at first but in a place where the temperature can quickly shift to 40 below zero, there really is nothing like fur to keep you warm. That being said, I haven’t exactly been converted into a collector, but I do cherish my vintage white as snow Arctic Fox stole my girlfriend gifted me before I joined The Chief for my first Wintry adventure.

Fur Rondy was an adventure all in its own. There were Reindeer Races a la Running with the Bulls in Spain and furs I’d never even dreamed of and a general feeling of happiness in the dead of Winter.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Fur Rondy.jpg

 

 

However, as I mentioned, it wasn’t all hunky-dorey after The Chief’s doctors appointment turned into a scheduling session for emergency surgery. We left a week later, The Chief swollen and bruised, and all of us cranky from the amount of money we had had to spend in order to survive for far longer than planned in the concrete jungle.

Still, it was a great trip.

And so, we planned the next one.

Why? You ask.

For the love of film.

The Chief adores movies. When I picture his perfect evening, it’s Winter outside, the fireplace is going inside, and we are donning jammies while watching movies. And so, when we go to town, my little movie buff goes bananas. Catching a flick is his top non-chore priority. It’s one of the added bonuses of what can be a very rushed and tough few days during a Town Run.

But this time, it wasn’t the bonus, it was the reason.

You see, apparently “one of the best movies ever” was being re-released for its 50th anniversary for one week across the nation.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Hal

Perhaps this will give you a clue…

 

 

Since it came out in the 60’s, it was the first opportunity The Chief had ever had to see the film on the big screen. The movie? “2001: A Space Odyssey” co-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick (the other co-writer was Arthur C. Clark whose short story “The Sentinel” inspired 2001). The first I heard of the film was while we were in Anchorage. The Chief had just picked me up from a two-week family visit and as we sat and sipped our caffeinated beverages the next morning, The Chief told me about this amazing happening: re-released! One week! IMAX!

When?

Next week.

We were in Anchorage. We still had errands to run and an 8-hour drive home. I hadn’t been home in almost three weeks at this time due to travel on both ends and now The Chief was suggesting we do it all again 5 days after getting home.

I couldn’t have said anything other than an emphatic “Yes!” The sheer excitement in The Chief’s eyes made the choice easy. He was adorably elated.

And so, we made plans.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Alaska

Finally home. Only to leave again.

 

 

We packed up the truck with my barely unpacked suitcase and hitched up the trailer The Chief’s Dad had made for him years earlier. We were locked and loaded and ready to go.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Alaska National Parks

Just missing one Amigo.

 

 

8-hours later, we arrived at our Airbnb. It was…interesting. The homeowner was extremely kind. The house was…in transition mode and the set-up was a little differently than I had thought. Our third Amigo was to sleep in the basement in a bed with barely enough clearance to turn over. Still, as they themselves proclaim, those boys can sleep anywhere and so we made it work and by “we” I mean “he” because he really took one for the team by taking that “bedroom”. I was scared just to walk down there, much less sleep.

We settled in and showered up and I got to go to dinner with a dear girlfriend and eat sushi. Be still my heart. The night finished up as the 8-hour drive caught up with us and we settled into dreams of the big screen.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Monolith

Haunting.

 

 

It was amazing.

Hype is a sure-fire way to make me skeptical and this movie couldn’t have had more hype. Anyone I mentioned the movie to was over the top excited about it. My co-worker about lost his mind when I told him of our plans and he realized he had almost missed an event (the re-release) he’d been waiting decades for. So, yes, needless to say, the hype was hyper-present.

It was also correct.

Even if you hated everything about the film, you’d still have to appreciate it. The sheer ingenuity of Kubrick to create those scenes without the use of today’s special effects was and is monumental. The film is a sensory experience. It just gets to you. Here I go, hyping it up now to you but really, if you haven’t seen it, do. Big screen or not, the film computes (and, I think it’s still in some select theaters. Go!)

After the three-hour film (oh yeah, did I not mention that? It even had an intermission. Amazing) we were amped and off we went to celebrate. We had even picked up another Amigo from our town and to add to the celebration, it was her birthday weekend. We joined into the downtown Anchorage weekend mayhem like Anthropologists watching a newly discovered people.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Anchorage AK.jpg

I didn’t realize someone had painted a portrait of The Chief in Town!

 

 

 

We ended the night with a walk home and fell into bed. The whirlwind of our trip had caught up with me and I was exhausted.

Just in time for more chores.

We awoke the next day, tidied the house and were off to errand our way out of town. There were just a few things to finish up since we had done most of our errands the day before in a mad rush of constantly checking our phones to make sure we had enough time to get to the movie. We had zig-zagged across town enough times to make me dizzy gathering up random necessities and helping friends with some last-minute pick-ups. Yet, at the end of the day, the lumber was ordered, the pick-ups were picked-up and we were all set for an easy out. Out of town. Back to home to finally settle in after what now felt like a month away.

Easy-peasy, right?

Wrong.

The first clue to our day of fun (that was sarcastic) was the lumber yard. The great thing about going to the building supply store we did was that they pick and pull the lumber for you (and actually pick the good pieces versus some other big box stores), wrap it and have it ready to load onto your rig. Well, our rig was ready but the lumber was not. As it turned out, not one pound of the near 4,000 pounds of lumber we were picking up had been picked out.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Anchorage AK Spenard Builders Supply.jpg

 

 

And so, we helped to load each and every piece and pound until we were face to face with the next bit of fun: our trailer was not going to be able to carry this load. So, into the bed of the truck I climbed. I crouched under the truck topper and pulled out every single thing from the right side of the truck bed. It was the first of many reorganizations of that day, another little hint of what was to come.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Remote Life Alaska.jpg

Only one item is ours: the sweatshirt on top.

 

 

Once the bed was clear, it was time to offload and reload the lumber that we had just loaded onto the trailer. 80 2x4s later, the truck was loaded and the trailer was lighter but there was still no way it was hauling that load. For around our valley, that thing is a beast but it was never meant for a trip like this, we had just hoped it would work.

It wouldn’t.

An hour later, after a teeth-clenching 20 mph drive along the freeway, the reality was unavoidable: we would have to buy a trailer. Suddenly, our 8-ft. trailer was traded up to a car trailer. This was a whole new driving situation. I’d never pulled a trailer until half-way through our 8-hour drive out and that had been without a load. This was a whole new ballgame. Thankfully, The Chief was up for the task.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Hauling Lumber Contractor.jpg

 

 

After learning all of the new things to know about this behemoth, then came the next task: loading the lumber. Again. Thankfully, this time we had another set of hands as a friend (whom we’d just said “goodbye” to hours ago after picking up some things for friends at his house earlier that day) came to retrieve the other trailer and haul it out later that week. Another hour later, the lumber was again loaded and secured with burly tie-downs. The situation felt umpteen times safer. Finally, we were situated. Finally, we could get on the road. We bid adieu to our friend for the second time that day and consulted our timepieces.

Our jaws dropped.

It was 5pm.

We still had Costco to do.

We still had 8 hours in front of us.

The idea to stay the night and try again for tomorrow came upon us like an angel’s kiss. Sweet relief! Until we collectively realized that the items we had collected for our friends that morning and the day before from multiple places were needed back at home ASAP. No relief.

Our bellies grumbled as we realized that no one had eaten that day (well, I had eaten almost all of our leftover pizza but it was a small pizza!) but time was of the essence so, we decided to run our last two errands and then head to Costco, the land of food. An hour plus later, shopping carts full, we found our treats to eat and took a moment to breathe. It was nearing 7pm. We packed the truck again, carefully re-organizing so that when we returned home, the things we needed most would be accessible.

By 8pm we were on the road.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Alaska Off the Grid Living

The drive may be long but it’s gorgeous through and through.

 

 

We still had shopping to do in the town an hour outside of town but at least we were on the road.

An hour later, we revved our carts like they were racecars and headed in for the last push. That momentum faltered as we tried to remember just what it was we needed here. It’s a funny thing in those moments, time either stands still and you walk around like a zombie, completely oblivious, comparing just which non-dairy creamer looks the best OR you panic, decide you need nothing and end up with a cart containing little more than random items you didn’t need and nothing you actually did need.

Finally, we re-packed for the last time that night and headed off into the night, The Chief at the helm with a caffeine co-pilot and myself up front, our third Amigo in the back in the somehow completely full backseat. The truck was packed to the gills, mainly with other people’s things but packed it was and ready we were.

8 hours later, we returned home.

As the clock struck 5am and I bobbed in and out of sleep, grateful for our third’s ability to stay up and entertain The Chief since I had failed at my copilot’s duties to do so, we pulled into our newly spiffed up driveway. The sweet smell of chamomile welcomed me back as we all let out a sigh of relief. As good as it sounded to not drive all night and to stay in Anchorage, being home felt so much better.

We layered our friend up for his cold ride home as he still had a 40 minute 4-wheeler ride across a river and a “creek” (read: river) and congratulated ourselves on another Amigo adventure. It hadn’t turned out the way we had planned, which meant it had turned out exactly as planned.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Make a Wish

Wish you may, but you still might not get home until 5am “tonight”.

 

 

Almost 20 hours of driving, countless hours packing and re-packing thousands of pounds and all of it for the love of film. I can’t say I’ve ever worked that hard to see a movie in my life but I can say it was worth it.

Every pound, every mile was worth seeing those two Amigos smiling from ear to ear for three hours straight.

Another trip for the books.

Until next time.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Alaskan Highways.jpg

Fall is a comin’

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Firefighters

The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive

In my 31 years, I’ve found quite a few ways to bring home the bacon. I started young, as soon as I could, and worked in everything from babysitting to planting (and cutting down) Christmas trees. At the time, I figured the Christmas tree stint was just a blip in time of tight work pants, tough boots, long hours and a perpetual state of dirtiness. It may have just been a hyper-seasonal job I had randomly fallen into but I loved every minute of it, from the mingling smell of pine and dirt and gasoline to the sound and feel of the chainsaw to the meditative state I felt falling into bed dead tired. Yet, when Santa’s sleigh had sled on past and the mistletoe had wilted, the work was done.

And so, I moved on to another job.

Yet, as I retired my boots and settled for slightly less functional footwear, I missed the physicality and the gratification from seeing the work I had done for the day.

Enter: Alaska

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Wilderness Glacier

Pups n’ pals.

 

 

After switching careers most easily expressed via footwear: running shoes (gym), high heels (radio station), Danskos (server) back to running shoes (owning a gym), I found myself in Alaska without a career, donning hiking boots.

Back to function.

And looking for work.

My first two years, I juggled working in restaurants and nanny-ing. Last year, I added online consulting to the mix with the goal that this year, I’d solely work online and by the grace of goodness, it happened: I was working full-ish time, year-round, in the wilds of Alaska, and everywhere else we found ourselves. Ecuador? Still worked. California? Worked. Winter in Alaska? Working. It was and has been amazing and I still send a “thank you” up skyward on the daily. Yet, like all amazing things, it has to have downs for you to appreciate the ups. This month was slightly less stellar. My hours scaled back and suddenly, I found myself with a little more downtime than I was comfortable with.

Enter: Fire.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Fire Department

Our newest addition on the left. Who knew fire had such fashionable colors?

 

 

And just as my amazing job hit a less amazing valley amongst the peaks, the sun came out, both literally and figuratively and the fire engine was hired to patrol.

Well, guess who was on it?

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Women Firefighters

Riding high breaking in the new gear (photo credit: AT).

 

 

Right when my regular work dried up, the engine needed a replacement person.

That person was me.

The luck was sublime.

For the first time ever, The Chief and I worked together for the State patrolling The Road. In two days we worked 22 hours and drove countless miles. We “took weather” together, called into Dispatch, checked on reports of smoke, worked on vehicles and informed the public of the Burn Ban. It was beautiful to step into The Chief’s world in a way I’d never seen it. It gave me a new level of respect for the person he is for our community and how hardworking he is for our family.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Volunteer Firefighters

Big Red.

 

 

Between fire and construction, The Chief has been working for 30 days straight. Construction is a 9 hour day and fire is 11. He’s had little more than a few hours awake at home, the rest reserved for sleep. And all of this I knew before we worked together but without the experience, that knowledge lacked context. After two long days with him, I was tired. Driving about in an engine sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Seeing a day in the life of patrol face to face shed some serious light on the intricacies of the job and they add up quickly. The physicality of the job, even without working a fire line, coupled with the weight of responsibility and the trust of the town and the State add a layer I’ve never quite felt in a job.

I loved it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Firefighters

Red lipstick courtesy of the 4th of July parade, not a workday.

 

 

Falling into bed after taking off my boots and work pants and washing off the day’s dirt, I felt that same feeling I’d had at the tree farm: a tired body from a job I took pride in. Despite the shower, I still smelled of the sweet trifecta of pine, dirt, and gasoline and as I rolled over that night, that beautiful scent was doubled by the man I love.

I’m beyond grateful to work from home, it’s a dream I’ve had most of my working life and one I hope to continue, yet in the times of slow, I feel so lucky to have found myself in a place that put me back in boots, back in the dirt and back to falling into bed dead tired.

Cheers to the conventional coupled with the unconventional, to wearing a new type of shoes or to trying someone else’s.

Cheers to getting your hands dirty.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive National Park.jpg

Hot and Dry(as). Stay safe, all.

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Kennicott River

Swimming

In Alaska, I’ve had to learn a new language. It’s one I didn’t know I didn’t speak and certainly didn’t know existed until I stumbled into it. The focus of my learning has been less on dialect or accent and more on meaning. Take, for example, the word “hike”. To me, coming from California, I considered myself a pretty good hiker. I’d go off on my own for a few hours, traversing the mountain lion, rattlesnake filled fields and feeling very brave along the way. That was a hike. In Alaska, or at least in my neck of the woods, a hike may mean something very different. My first “hike” in Alaska turned into an 8-hour day, for which I was neither in shape nor mentally prepared. I came back feeling like I had gone through a battle. I had gone through an Alaskan “hike”.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Kennicott glacier Alaska

A “hike”. Ice climbing was just a quick add-on.

 

 

Another example is the word “cold”. California cold is anything colder than 50 degrees. Freezing is just insane. “Cold” in Alaska? Let’s just say, during my first winter, when I first experienced a week-long stretch of the negatives (25 degrees below zero, to be precise) that was considered “warm”. When I used the word “cold” to describe how I felt (like someone was sandwiching my fingers and toes and nose between ice cubes) people would downright laugh.

Laugh!

At 25 below zero.

So, needless to say, there’s a lot of play in what means what and to whom and Alaskans just have a different threshold of what’s normal to me.

“Hike”: Anywhere from 4-10 hours

“Cold”: 60 below zero

“Hot”: Anything above 70 degrees

And so, I’ve learned this language as I go along, oftentimes by finding myself in the midst of a situation I thoroughly thought I understood only to realize I was sorely mistaken and highly under-packed in snacks. So, to avoid said misunderstandings, I try to avoid assumptions and never leave the house without at least three other layers, a change of socks, a rain jacket and snacks enough for a half-day endeavor. Therefore, even if I don’t fluently speak the language, at least I might have the tools to survive whatever I’ve gotten myself into.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Hiking Alaska

Another “hike” before I got the terminology down. It was 6 hours long and included a barefoot river crossing and ice climbing through caves.

 

 

The most common area of the Alaskan language that I still find myself tripping over is scale. “Hills” here are what I would consider “mountains” and “creeks” are often what I would deem “river” material. Just the other day, scale popped up again when my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to take a stroll.

Stroll (my definition): a lackadaisical walk, perhaps with ice cream in hand – no, scratch that, definitely with ice cream in hand, in footwear ranging from flip-flops to none at all across even terrain, preferably covered in soft grass, or sand.

Stroll (her definition): a 4-6 hour hike (hiking shoes most definitely required) through a forest, followed by scaling a rocky hillside to a bolder-laden steep peak surrounding a glacial lake far below and eventually ending at another lake requiring sidehilling (read: trying to emulate mountain goats, or in my case, falling with style – or not) and then doing it all in reverse. Call me crazy but this, I would call an “adventure”.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Trundling Alaska.jpg

This is where she wanted to go. My first time to The Toe, with the boys who became brothers.

 

 

So, yeah…a clarification of terms and scale is helpful.

But it’s not always the obvious trip-ups like scale either, sometimes the Alaskan language is a little sneakier.

The other day, when I decided to sign-up for the 3rd annual Women’s Packrafting Clinic, I felt very secure in my decision because I knew what I was going into. There were no unknown Alaskan terms and the conditions of the day were understood. We’d practice some skills, self-rescue techniques and then have an awesome ride down the “creek”, which I knew to be more of what I would consider a “river”. The “creek” was raging from our hot days we’ve finally been having (hallelujah! Welcome, Summer weather. We missed you) but I knew that already. The day would be long but beautiful and I had just enough snacks. No surprises here.

However, I felt a little tingle as my spidey sense alerted me to something that suddenly felt closer to me than I was comfortable with: swimming.

“Swimming” was a verb I felt competent I knew the definition of until moving here. When I first heard it used, no one was smiling, but there I was with a big grin. Swimming! Fun! No, no, silly.  “Swimming” to me conjures up images of pool floaties or Ethel Merman-esque swimming caps. It has a lightness to it, an easy, breezy, “these are the days of our lives” feel to it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Poolside Santa Cruz

Like this. Poolside cocktails with my favorite cookie.

 

 

That definition also exists here but there’s a second “swimming”, the “swimming” I heard where I was smiling solo, a “swimming” which would perhaps be more aptly named “falling out of a boat into a freezing river”. It doesn’t have quite the same ring though, does it? And so, “swimming”, I came to find out, means two things here: fun swimming (smiles included), and potentially scary swimming (less smiley). I opted to stay on the smiley side.

I’ve been packrafting (an awesome sport, check out Alpacka Raft for a look into the wonderful world of bringing your boat wherever you go) a couple of times each Summer here since my first three years ago and it’s a sport with an instantly addictive quality. The Women’s Packrafting Clinic is one of the highlights of the year and since I missed it last year, I was stoked to join in. 35-ish women teaching and learning from one another, packing up boats and hiking a few miles upriver and then boating down? Amazing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Packrafting

First clinic.

 

 

Still though, that spidey sense was kicking. Swimming. I’d never “swum” before and for some reason, it felt like it was knocking on my door. During the freestyle practice time in the local swimming (fun swimming) hole, I did something I normally don’t and I practiced falling out of the boat and self-rescuing. I practiced three times and on the third flip, something tweaked in my neck, sending it immediately into spasm. Oh joy!

A few ibuprofen, some lunch and an hour or so later, the spasming had lessened and I figured my spidey sense would too but there it was. “Careful, Miss Pancakes!” it warned, “You’re going to swim”.

Always listen to your spidey sense.

Perhaps I swam because of that voice in my head. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps, it was simply time. Three years without a spill was starting to get to me. I kept wondering when it would be my time to “swim” and how would it go? The anxiety of its looming inevitability had crept up and so, by my own doing or by pure chance, inevitability finally showed her face.

One moment I was up, the next I was caught on a rock and the next? I was coming up for air, facing the wrong way, flipped to the wrong side, heading face first into Class III rapids.

I was swimming.

Thankfully, instinct and training kicked in and I flipped onto my back and turned myself around, feet first as I rode the next set of rapids while trying desperately to grab my boat. I had managed to hold onto my paddle and used it to the best of my ability to steady myself as I aimed to keep my head above water. It wasn’t going well. Each time the water would go over my head, I’d come up just in time to hit the peak of the next wave and take on more water. I started to panic. I wasn’t getting enough air. I couldn’t see. I was hitting my feet and seat on rocks as I sped through the mid 30’s-degree water. Then, I heard the voices of the women that day.

“If you find yourself swimming, stay calm. Keep your feet up, hold onto your paddle and don’t worry about your boat, worry about your life.”

In that moment, I realized that my attempts to catch the boat were going to be fruitless. As I gave up on rescuing the boat and focused on rescuing myself, I slammed into a rock, coming to a stop as I watched the boat speed away. Slowly, I assessed my surroundings. I was sandwiched between the rock that had caught me and the current that was pushing me into it. Thankfully, it wasn’t so strong that I couldn’t move and so, ever so carefully, I steadied myself to find my way to shore. Foot entrapment was also something we had gone over that morning and as I felt the shifting rocks below me, I again heard the women’s words:

“Slow and steady. People have drowned in even the shallowest water from getting themselves trapped in a mad dash for the shore. Slow down.”

Slowly, steadily, I made it to the shore.

Just then, the rest of the group showed up, saw my predicament and eddied out to help. After they checked in with me with the double “Are you ok” (the first happens immediately, the second comes a few minutes to make sure you’re telling the truth when you reply “yes”) we devised a plan where two of them would scout for the boat and the other would stay with me. Upon their sighting of my craft, I then hiked downriver and they all rafted down. Finally, after bushwhacking along the moose track laden shore for 10 minutes, I caught up.

There they were, my group, waiting with smiles, and my boat (which had beached itself – see, don’t worry about the boat, worry about your life) to greet and congratulate me.

“That was a long swim! Nice work!”

I love those ladies.

The rest of the ride home, I talked myself through the rapids as I always do, pumping myself up as I go and congratulating myself on doing it…

I had finally gone swimming…

and I was exhausted.

Staying afloat in those icy cold waters is no ice cream-toting stroll in the park and the fear that kicks in could tire a horse. Yet thankfully, this pony was headed back to stable.

As I came into town, sleepy and sopping wet, I made my way to our truck to change and regroup. There, under the center console was a cookie, just for me. The Chief had bought me the little treasure earlier that day and I sniffed it out like a kid finding hidden Christmas presents. It was glorious, like a hug from within.

Learning to speak Alaskan has pushed me into situations I might have otherwise wiggled out of. It has coaxed me out of my comfort zone and into the unknown. It has given new meaning to words I thought I knew and still new meaning as I learn what they mean for me. “Swimming” was a word I lived in fear of. When would I swim? How would it go? Learning the word and living the word are two different things and here, there are still so many words I only know the definition of. Yet, despite the bumps and bruises that sometimes come with learning them, I’m excited to add my own stories to my Alaskan dictionary. Cheers to learning a new language, even in the place you call home and to learning a new side of you along the way.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Packrafting Kennicott River

The fabulous K. I always feel good when she’s on the water with me. Plus, she’s got the best drysuit I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Cheers to our very varied definitions of terms and to learning to speak the language of the locals.

Cheers to swimming, in all it’s forms.

 

With love, from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Glacial lake.jpg

I think we can all agree on “beautiful” for this one, eh?

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Back in the Saddle

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by horses. I spent hours in the stables chatting away with my beloved friends, sharing stories and carrots and sometimes just a wee bite of their oat mix. They were my world and to answer the burning question I know must be on your mind, yes, my birthday parties were pony themed and I’m so sorry we didn’t know one another then so that I could have invited you.

Riding horses was my life. However, as any lady or gent of the pony parade knows, riding horses isn’t always about riding. Sometimes, it’s about falling.

From the first time I set foot in the arena to the last, emphasis was always placed on preparing to fall. We practiced finding a safe landing to the inevitable via what my instructor called Flying Dismounts, a special surprise situation we would find ourselves in at least once a lesson. There I’d be, focusing on doing a flying change (where the horse, in mid-air, like the magical beasts they are, switches which foot goes forward first in a canter. Try it, I dare you. I’ve never tripped myself harder) when all of a sudden, my teacher would crack a whip while simultaneously yelling “flying dismount”. The whip would hit the horse in just the right way to break his concentration and buck he would and, ideally, off I would fly, totally in control, landing gently and effortlessly on the ground in one, unharmed, piece.

Ideally.

More often than not, the Flying Dismount looked less like a flight and more like I’d been shot from a catapult aimed straight at the ground. I’d flail through the air and meet the arena soil before I even knew what had happened. Dazed, I’d stand up, find my horse, listen to my instructor’s critiques and pop back into the saddle. I was like those clown faced blow up therapy punching bags that just pop right back up at you after you give them your hardest hit. Pop! There I was.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Julia Sings the Blues (Leggings)

The closest picture I can find of me on horseback, at present. Back in the studio saddle.

 

 

Now, this may seem like a rough lesson for a kiddo but the thing is, riding really can be just as much about falling as it is riding because if you ride enough, you’re bound to fall and when you fall, a little grace never hurt. And so, fall I did, gaining a small bit of grace as the years went on. Back then, the ruling was that in order to be a great rider you had to have 7 non-instructor induced falls and I was quickly making my way towards that magic number.

Once, in a moment lacking, perhaps, my best judgement, I decided to ride a horse in a nearby field whose owner I neither knew, nor consulted. Obviously, the room for disaster was minimal. What could go wrong? A nearby bee heard my confidence and decided to sting said unknown pony in the rear. Ah, I forgot to mention too that it wasn’t just myself I entered into this surefire sob induced drama. I was also “babysitting” a neighbor who was a few years my 8-year old self’s junior. She rode in front of me and for the few minutes we trotted about, it apparently didn’t occur to me to mention the old Flying Dismount maneuver.

Bee in play, horse in panic and us bouncing around uncontrollably like a bunch of pre-teens in their first mosh pit, the outlook wasn’t good. The horse was at deadspeed (as fast as it can go), which for a moment was thrilling since I’d never before reached that elusive speed, until I realized I was not exactly in control of the situation. It was time. “Jump!” I yelled.

It didn’t go well. We both ended in rocky thistle patches and walked the mile home with bloodied knees, elbows and faces, crying at the top of our lungs. Truth be told, I was crying mainly out of fear as the repercussions of my not-so-bright idea came to full clarity and the screams of the kiddo that was my responsibility got louder. I competed with her cries, dead-set on not getting in trouble.

It did not work.

Yet, even that fall, I think perhaps it was number 5 or so, didn’t bother me. It was all part of the game. I was racing towards number 7, hell-bent on getting that badge of honor and fearless in my endeavor.

 

 

43dVH40PQtuXBgURRh5SVg

Pop up, poppy Page

 

 

Until…

the next fall.

The next fall was unintentional, non-teacher induced. It counted and I was closer to my 7 but I didn’t jump for joy because this time, I was unconscious. I had been riding one of the bigger horses, a departure from my favorite white pony named “Killy”. My Thumbelina stature made me feel look like a mouse on an elephant but the power of the horse made me feel powerful too. I went for it, full-bore.

And so did he.

Spooked by something only he could see, he reared up as we rounded one of the four corners of the arena. Feeling very brave, I aimed to stay on. He, aimed for me to dismount.

He won.

Bucking his hardest, I finally lost my grip and went flying into the air, landing headfirst into one of the 16-inch by 16 foot logs that created a barrier in the arena. The last thing I remember was my helmet cracking and the visor snapping off and then?

Darkness.

When I finally came to, the first thing I did was laugh and the first thing I heard was “Time to get back in the saddle. Every good rider has to get back on”.

“Pop on up, buttercup”, I thought to myself as I nervously laughed my way through the pain, but a therapy doll I was no longer. My body wouldn’t let me.

I was terrified.

Thankfully, Mama to the rescue, the lesson ended early. I promised to get back on as soon as I felt better. I just needed rest, I reasoned. But the aching in my head was not what was holding me back. I’d been stepped on and bounced into the ground more times than I could count from lessons and unintentional lessons of falling but I’d never felt that fear. And I’d never failed to get immediately back in the saddle.

Eventually, shortly after, I made my way back in. I rode the horse that had bucked me and made my peace with the fear, but it didn’t leave. It sat beside me, monitoring my movements and dealing me visions of doom. I was back in the saddle, but I had seen the other side and I was changed.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Goldenrod

 

 

The past few months have dealt The Chief and I more bucks than I thought possible. Every time something else would happen, we’d say “Well, it can’t get any worse than this” and then, it would. Don’t try that tactic, it doesn’t work. And so, we stopped saying it and as thing after thing after thing piled on, we eventually had to laugh our ways back into the saddle. We laughed, not because of the humor in the situations, of which there was none, but because of the sheer shock.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Anchorage Art Museum

The exhibit I unintentionally went to during the ups and downs. Well, that pretty much pins the tail on the donkey, Anchorage Art Museum.

 

 

The Chief and I lost two family members back to back, so fast that we found ourselves in the same funereal attire before it could make it back into the closet. After that, we were continuously kicked while we were down, financially, physically and emotionally. The small things didn’t matter compared to the loss but they made it feel like we would never come up for air. If that horse had trampled me while I had been on the ground, that might have been a close second to how we have felt these past few months that I haven’t written. It’s been a haunting hiatus but also one filled with immense love.

Our little neighborhood has been hit hard this year. A surge of sadness abounds in such a small area and our love for one another links us so that our pain, is theirs and theirs, ours. Yet, we’ve been able to lift one another. While we were gone to California in the familial tailspin, our neighborhood came together to hold us from afar. They tended to our seedlings, watering them and keeping a daily fire in our house to protect them from frost.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bell Pepper Seedlings

Bell pepper from Ali. When a friend brings you a pepper gift, why not try to make her one too?

 

 

They kept our freezer frozen by running our generator. They kept our hearts from splitting from our chests when the struggle to keep them in felt far too great to bear. Those whom we love, from here, from near and from far have found us when floundering and steadied our stride. To our friends and family everywhere, we are forever grateful.

Like that fall off the horse, these blows too tried to force fear and for a while, it worked and sometimes, it still does. Every time the phone would ring, I would panic. Every moment felt like an opportunity for disaster because disaster was all I saw. Yet, that fall wasn’t meant to teach me fear and neither was this, it was to teach me respect. Respect for that which is greater than me, that which I cannot control and perspective on that which I can. Respect for the relationships I value and the beautiful story we all lead.

Respect for life.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Double Yellow Squash

What hides behind? A double yellow squash from the saved seedlings.

 

 

To feel pain is to know we are alive and I don’t want to live at half-mast. I was blinded to the beauty all around me while under the spell of pain but I have awoken. Let’s move through, shall we?

Thank you for your patience in this time off and thank you for joining me again, back in the Beneath the Borealis saddle. Here’s to entries of joy.

 

To you and yours,

to life,

with love,

Julia

 

//This post is in honor of the three females who raised The Chief. To Donna, Jane and Cinda, I am eternally grateful. We miss you dearly and feel you with us daily. Your touch on this world lives on.//

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Grandma’s beauty still blooms.

 

And thank you, M for the push to start again and for the fabulous snow pants I will wear with pride. I appreciate you.

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

Somedays, in the woods of Alaska, you wake up to an exact serving of fresh coffee grounds and the sweet sound of the tea kettle already boiling water. Your kitchen promises two dozen eggs at your disposal and the woodstove glows with last nights logs, now in beautiful coal form which means, lighting a fire will be a cinch and that the house is already likely above 50 degrees. Plus, a huge stack of firewood rests at your disposal next to the fireplace. You barely have to step outside for more than your morning “restroom” break (read: one must learn the art of the nature pee to live out here).

You spend your morning drinking your coffee, having scrambled eggs with veggies (you have tons at the moment) and your favorite cheese and even some orange juice on the side. You’re freshly showered and the laundry bin is empty as you spent the day yesterday doing laundry, depleting your water stores, and then hauling water to replenish them. You are stocked up in all avenues: food, warmth, clothing, hygiene, water and you even have some extras sprinkled on: orange juice, special cheese, freshly cleaned socks.

You are, as my Mama would say “In ’em”.

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

Things are looking on the bright side and lining up quite nicely.

On the other hand, some mornings, you wake up to a house at 37 degrees. You gingerly grab your robe, cursing the logs you had hoped would “catch” before you went to sleep and cursing yourself for not babying them further to ensure they would put out warmth. You go downstairs to find that there not only are no grounds, but there is no coffee, at which point, the rummaging begins to find where exactly in this tiny home of yours, you’ve hidden this gem from yourself. You further find that you are nearly out of water but luckily enough, you have just enough for coffee and so delicately fill up the tea kettle, hoping not to spill a drop. You’ll be hauling water shortly.

You go to light a fire and find that the fire did not catch well, but did leave you with a charcoal mess, by the time you organize it, you look like a chimney sweep. You resign to build another fire but there is no wood in the house at which point you decide to venture outside into what will, of course, be a brr-inducing morning and find that there is no chopped wood outside either. Being a stubborn beast, you decide to chop wood, despite the cold, with bare hands and slippers in your robe. Wild-haired, sweating with soot on your face, you return to start a fire, just as your water boils. Now it’s time to build a fire, find the coffee (and hope that you, in fact, do have extra coffee) and grind it. 15 minutes later, you’re finally getting the day started. It’s breakfast time but you realize your last egg went down the gullet yesterday and so you opt for oatmeal instead but realize you don’t even have enough water. A slightly mealy apple it is.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

In all likelihood, your last shower was a bit too far off for comfort, your socks have been “recycled” once or twice (let’s be honest, at least twice) and your fresh food supply is starting to not even meet Alaska Good standards (a term my girlfriend created in California as a way to gauge if something was indeed too far gone to eat. Alaska Good is still edible, but it’s close. Really close. I’ve been known to grab things before people throw them in the compost, saving apples with little bruises and lettuce that has a few slimy pieces but I do cap it at Alaska Good, most of the time). You’re dirty, hungry, under-caffeinated, out of water, out of wood, warm only because of the exercise your just beginning day already required and the only extra you have sprinkled on is the plethora of chores you have to do. The only bright side is that you can see the beautiful fire you just made because in the ebb you made an amazing concoction out of orange peels that takes away the grime and leaves you with this:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

You’re, as my Mama would say “Not in ’em”.

Some days, you’re in ’em and some days, you’re so far out of ’em you don’t remember what ’em looked like.

The ebb and flow here might as well be called the drought and the downpour because that is exactly how it goes.

Home from Town?

In ’em.

You’ve got meats and cheeses and eggs, oh my! Juices and fruits and veggies! You even have spinach.

Spinach, people. In the woods. That stuff barely keeps in the city but somehow, if you baby it every day, you can make it last a week here.

And then, a week passes and suddenly, supplies are rapidly decreasing. What felt like a boatload of supplies starts to look more like a mere bucket full and the rationing begins.

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

Yet oftentimes, just as you’re about to grab your divining rod, Alaska smiles upon you in the drought. Just as you crack your last egg, your friend’s chickens come out of Winter production and he’s selling again. Just as you face down your last bell pepper, your girlfriend picks you up one as a present one day while doing a laundry journey into Close Town.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Or, you remember the Shaggy Manes your girlfriend gave you a while back and you rehydrate them.

 

 

And the same rings true in reverse. Just as your neighbor runs out of salt, there you are, having bought extra with extra to spare. When all of your avocados ripen at once, you make a guacamole to share or you send one along as a gift. And then it returns, for just as you feel you can’t possibly cook another darn meal (as you cook every meal you eat, every day), someone calls to say they made extra chili if you’re hungry.

Of course, you are and you have a block of cheddar to top that chili with.

The go around come around makes the drought and downpour feel a little less torrential and a little more like an ebb and flow. It makes a life that can be hard, a little easier for even though the hard is what makes it good, sometimes you just need a little reprieve.

I’ve never lived a life where I couldn’t just pop into the store for what I’ve needed. I’ve never relied on my neighbors or felt comfortable enough doing so to call them at 9 pm and ask if they have an extra can of tomato paste. I’ve never cherished fresh as I do today or looked at a salad as if it were a goddess.

So, despite the sometimes harshness of the drought and downpour, the frustration of there not being wood, or not being water, or feeling like I may as well put in to be a member of the Garbage Pail Kids, the appreciation provided by the times where we are “In ’em” is enough. This place makes gratitude easy for the necessities are obvious and the ebb or flow of them is immediate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Ice Fall Nizina River Alaska

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

may your water buckets (or pipes) be full, may your pantries be stocked, may your baths be often (I am living vicariously through you, a bath is a gift from the Gods) and may your neighbors be kind enough to send over a little sugar once in a while.

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Bonfire

Chore Strong

Alaskan Chore Strong

Life in an Alaskan Tiny Home Requires Big Chores

 

I’ve always wanted to be strong. Since I was a little girl, I would flex on command my little tennis ball biceps and burly quads. I grew up a competitive Irish dancer and the amount of control you need quickly brought me into a conversation with my body. What can it do? What can’t it do? How can I get it to do that? I’d watch the older girls and shuffle my feet in mimicry until, one day, I could be taught those dances.

 

At home, my strength was required on the monthly dump run where I would lift and throw with my Dad the things that would then live in the pit below. One time, I myself even ended up in that pit, but that’s another story. Yet overall, my strength was relatively for my own pursuits in leisure and play.

For the most part, it stayed that way. As an adult, I had random chores and days that required strength. I’d marathon garden the heck out of some ivy, battling it until we both swept our brows in fatigue and called a leafy truce. Yet, those days were more of a choice and less of a chore.

Not anymore.

Nowadays, the chores choose.

When we returned this year, our neighbors were over when we realized we needed to haul water. There was not a drop to be found. Not a drop in the tea kettle or under the sink running to our faucet, not a drop in the pot that sat on the stove, not a drop in our glasses. The house was parched and so was I. So, we quickly set about to haul the 55-gallon refill required via 5-gallon buckets through the slippery snow and up the Ramp of Doom.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Spring in Alaska

The ROD with an added pleasure: a frozen in, slick, watering can, right in the path!

 

 

Our friends jumped in.

My girlfriends, total badasses as they are, grabbed two buckets apiece and headed up the old ROD into the house in one effortless motion. Despite the lack of a trail (read: post-holing through the knee-deep snow with 80 lbs. of water hanging from your arms) they made their way up the slippery Ramp of Doom in no time. I, myself grabbed two buckets to follow and quickly realized that, despite their having broken trail for me, even following in their footsteps was not going to be the break that I needed.

I was no longer chore strong.

I dropped the second bucket and hefted the other up and around into a belly bear hug hold at my chest and waddled my way to the house.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Icicles

…and through the second hurdle: two foot long icicles hanging ominously at the Ramp’s beginning.

 

 

It wasn’t pretty but it got the job done and got my wheels turning.

Chore strong.

From chopping and hauling wood, to driving snowmachines, to carrying the generator up and down the ROD to moving and refilling water vessels inside the house, the body simply can’t go a day in a total standstill here. And so, despite how far I had to come (adding a whole 40 extra lbs. to the load, to be exact), I knew I’d get there.

Two weeks later, there I was. Without even realizing it, I easily picked up the two 40lb. buckets and made my way inside. Lifting them over one another to stack in the kitchen, pouring them into the different vessels without spilling a drop, it all came easily whereas weeks earlier, it had felt so far away.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Tiny Home Water Systems

160lb. of water stacked and sandwiched in-between the stove and the refrigerator.

 

 

When I was a personal trainer, if you wanted to get better at something, you kept doing that thing. Sure, you’d do complementary exercises but for the most part, you kept going back to that which you wanted to better yourself at. Yet this wasn’t the same.

The two weeks in-between the one bucket at a time haul and the two bucket haul were dimpled by water runs, but the funny thing was, I wasn’t a part of them. The Chief had hauled water in the interim for us and so, I hadn’t practiced the feat since I had been at bucket one.

Yet in those two weeks, I had used my body in ways I hadn’t in months. I had forgotten the chore soreness. My forearms ached every day from chopping wood and skiing and lifting and moving boxes from the truck, up the ramp, and into the loft. My legs tired from walking through snow and lifting and skiing and climbing our stairs countless times a day. All these little muscles I hadn’t known I hadn’t used conspired together to make sure I knew where I had started but also to get me to where I needed to go.

The body responds.

Through my life, my body has been strong and soft, vigilant and lazy, painful and pain-free and all other iterations in between. I’ve loved it and loathed it, doted on it and ignored it, cursed it and coddled it, pampered and pushed it and still, it shows up for me.

The reckless little bicep flexing youngster still resides in me, I want to feel strong, but thankfully, she’s starting to couple with a different knowledge: I need my body. The times The Chief or I have been downed here, by injuries or illness, I’ve watched the entire house shift. All the chores rotate to one person and while that is the ebb and flow (and the luck) of having two people, it doesn’t feel good to be the one just watching.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Sledding

Like when you accidentally get taken out by a sled…thankfully this produced more laughs than injuries.

 

 

The chores are endless here but in this home where the hard is, I consider myself lucky. Lucky to see the growth and appreciate the starting points. Lucky to challenge and nurture simultaneously. Lucky to get laid-out when I’m not listening, even if it doesn’t feel lucky at the moment. Lucky to have someone to split the chores and the wood with.

Cheers to the chores, whatever yours may be and the bodies that allow them. May they teach us the lessons they hold and may we listen and then, upon their completion, may we celebrate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Bonfire

Dig a fire pit? Celebrate a fire pit. Well done, friends.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Easter 2018 Brunch Quiche

The Great Alaskan Adult Easter Egg Hunt

One of the first things I realized when I realized that I lived in Alaska was this: I miss my kids.

In California, I had kiddos galore.

Now, don’t get ready to call the authorities, I haven’t left a clan of little Julia’s running about stealing people’s pancakes and causing a ruckus. No, they weren’t little Julia’s, they were the littles of my friends and family and together, we ran thick as thieves.

I remember some of the first gatherings I went to with this particular group of friends turned family, over ten years ago now, and everyone laughed as they turned to see me, surrounded solely by children, not an adult in sight.

I was in heaven.

Growing up as the younger sibling of a brother 8 years my senior, things could get a little quiet around our house. I spent a lot of time alone, which I liked, but there had always been a part of me that wanted a big, bustling family.

Well, I got it.

Every week, at least once, we all got together to celebrate anything from Taco Tuesday to Frittata Fridays (actually, we never did Frittata Fridays but that is a genius idea. Jotting it down now). The point is, we were together all the time. From regular days to holidays, we were a great big extended family.

Those kids taught me so much: how to speak “Giggle” (as some of my adult friends now call it), how to make something from nothing, the art of a snack and the ease of pure love.

Upon arriving in Alaska, I missed those interactions, those lessons, those laughs and I spent my first Summer missing them more as I realized I was staying. Holidays were the hardest. Our first Easter here, I let float by with little more than a realization that it was, in fact, Easter. Without the littles running amok, what was the point?

Yet, thankfully, it wasn’t long before the families with kiddos became our friends with kiddos.

Hallelujah!

Since they aren’t always around, the littles I met here couple with missing the littles I’ve known in California for over a decade brewed a new reality: every holiday is cause for celebration, kids or no kids.

And so, along came Easter weekend, and there were kids and also no kids.

On Friday, I got my kiddo fix in the form of a lake party under a very nearly full moon to celebrate the birthday of a little lady of the lake.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Full Moon March 2018

A full moon and alpenglow? Lucky, indeed.

 

 

Although I didn’t know the kids as well, we had yet to establish inside jokes or hand signals, just being around them brought me back to the time of being surrounded by such intimacies. Plus, watching one of them fall asleep while in the middle of gearing up (boots, jackets, gloves, etc.) brought on the belly laugh that only kid foibles can.

Then, came Easter. The plan was a brunch but the day before, inspired by the kiddo time, we decided to add a little play into the brunch-y day.

The Plan: a sort of white elephant meets easter egg hunt, for adults.

Everyone brought a present or two to hide and by 5 pm, the frittatas, quiches and salads (gosh I love brunch) were eaten and the presents were hidden.

The hunt was on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Easter Egg Hunt

And so it begins…

 

 

I was fully impressed. Unearthed were a soldering iron, a movie, a jar of whiskey, a coconut ladle, a leather-bound journal, a backgammon set, a hat and a picture frame. Everyone scored.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Adult Easter Egg Hunt Alaska

Tadaa!

 

 

Before too long, the sun was starting to make its descent, and in following with my family holiday post-meal tradition, I suggested a walk. The boys were already in pyro mode, setting up for a bonfire, and so the ladies and the pups and I took a stroll down to the river.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Snow Spring Diamonds

Snow diamonds.

 

 

An hour later, and the bonfire was roaring and the seats around it filling up.

It was time for the second hunt.

Having fully enjoyed the childhood energy of searching for goodies, we decided this couldn’t just stop at ourselves and so, The Chief and I donned our Bunny tails again and hid a new kind of egg in the shape of a can and the colors of the American flag. That’s right, people: The Great Alaskan PBR Easter Egg Hunt.

The eggs lay in snow-covered trees and in snowmachine nooks, at the top of our library and plopped straight into the snow and one by one, a thirsty bonfire-goer would return victorious with the chilled golden liquid in hand.

Yet, like every Easter I’ve ever been too, one egg remained unfound. I had deemed it the “Golden Egg”, as in my family there is always a Golden Egg. It’s the Cats Pajamas, the Cream of the Crop egg, normally containing a treasure paramount to the other eggs and it is always the hardest to find. My nephew prides himself on his Golden Egg radar and we could have used it because the lone soldier still stands today.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Easter 2018

Can you spot it?

 

 

The night faded and I tucked into dreams…

and awoke to one last wiggle of the Easter Bunny’s tail:

A girlfriend had come by and dropped off a chocolate Easter Bunny, and, in very Alaskan fashion, a scoby to make my own kombucha with.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Chocolate bunnies

What a combo!

 

 

How I love the woods.

Thank you, friends, for coming together for a beautiful meal, for testing and proving that a Himalayan salt candle does, in fact, also serve as a salt lick and for celebrating in kid-like fashion a day which I’ve missed celebrating.

Here’s to the lessons from the littles. I’ll miss you until I see you, but until then, I’ll try to live up to your liveliness.

Thank you.

Happy Easter, happy Equinox and happy Spring to you.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Easter 2018 Brunch Quiche

Brunch: the best meal…until dinner.

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Home Improvement

Alaska: Spring Cleaning // Spring Fever

Even Off-Grid Living in Alaska Doesn’t Escape the Spring Clean

A Tiny Home, a Desk, a Tree and a Solar System Get a DIY Reboot in the Backcountry of Alaska

Featured: DIY, Alaska, tiny home, backcountry, off-grid living, cross-country skiing, solar power, spring cleaning, spring, home improvement

 

It all started with a desk.

I believe they call it a Captain’s Desk, or at least that’s what this They has called it since I was a kid sitting at my prized possession: my Grandfather’s Captain’s desk. Sitting at that desk, composing little more than scribbles to pen pals, I dreamed myself a great writer, the likes of my Grandfather. At that desk, anything was possible and everything was intriguing. It had slots for organizing things I didn’t yet have like bills and checks to send out and things like postage and envelopes that I still didn’t quite grasp.  Every corner felt like a secret peek into adulthood and possibility.

I adored that desk.

So, when I arrived at The Chief’s bachelor pad three years ago, I was awed to see that he too had a Captain’s desk, with one little mishap: the front, or rather, the lack thereof. Normally, the front of the desk folds out into a scribe’s station, resting upon horizontal legs that lie within the desk and then, upon the scribe’s cessation of work, the front folds back up, hiding and tidying that which resides within. Dreamboat! But, like I said, this was missing.

That was three years ago.

Spring has sprung and unlike every other year where we arrive in the dark of Winter and spend months slowly coming out of our cocoon, we have budded and bloomed in the span of a week. Instead of slowly still putting away groceries over a week or two (as is the norm when you shop for 3 months at a time – simply finding the space to store your booty takes days on end) we were unpacked in days and onto:

Spring Cleaning.

Like I said, it all started with a desk.

The Chief had been noticing that I was in dire need of a workspace and awoke one morning a few days after we arrived with it on his mind:

“Let’s fix the desk.”

Yes, please.

But we have lots of ideas and lots of projects running through our mind around here. Most of our conversations are spent brainstorming ways to improve and increase the functionality of our home. Our house is peppered with To Do list dreams and doodles and so, I didn’t assume he meant right away, but eventually. We both went off to do our separate chores, though I got lost in some intricate girlfriend-inspired hair braiding first:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Braids Halo

Braid halo, window halo. What does it all mean?

 

 

…and suddenly, The Chief was enmeshed in what I can only describe as utter badassery coupled with potential insanity. We’d talked about (see, it happens all the time) moving our solar panel from the roof of the house to another, higher, better-placed location. Suddenly, it was happening. Before I knew it, a “simple” jaunt up onto our snow-laden roof to de-ice the solar panel…

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Home Improvement

How’s the air up there, dear?

 

 

…turned into a new project: moving the solar panel.

While I was encouraged by his enthusiasm, my heights-wary self wasn’t so sure how a solar panel was going to make it from the top of our house into a tree (a tree that as far as I could tell, didn’t have some magical stairs on it) that stood even higher than our roof.

I also wasn’t sure exactly how, once in the non-stepped tree, he was going to cut off the top of said tree.

I found out.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Stihl Saws

A 24-foot extension ladder, a Tree, a Hubby-To-Be and, of course, a Chainsaw (a running Chainsaw, nonetheless).

 

 

Like I said: utter badassery mixed with potential insanity.

Follow me on Instagram to see a video of this mayhem: @beneaththeborealis

After this wild feat for him and a closer to the ground day of chopping wood (see a video of my Tasmanian Devil wood chopping abilities on Instagram) for me, the day was almost done.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Lumberjane Lumberjack

Whackin’ action shot.

 

 

I finished it off with the first meeting of the Westside Women’s Ski Team and an impromptu party.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Cross Country Skiing Women.jpg

Olympics, here we come.

 

 

By morning, I had already forgotten about the desk, but The Chief hadn’t. He awoke again with a desk notion and this time, like Spring Fever, I bit.

Let’s do it.

But it was less of a Let’s job and more of a You job. The logistics proved that two was too many, or at least that’s what I suggested as suddenly, the Spring Fever hit me too with some good old fashioned Spring cleaning.

I used to balk at the Spring Clean but I’ve come to regard it as an essential member of the grouping of events that keep my head on straight.

From 9 am to 6 pm I cleaned. Top to bottom, like my Mama taught me, and into the nitty-gritty: organizing.

Organizing here is a constant game of Tetris. One moment you have no space because you’ve just arrived from Town with everything plus a little more. One month later, you are eating your last frozen peas and the cupboards are roomy, if not empty minus that can of beans you keep avoiding yet can’t seem to chuck. Yet either way, packed or full, without a system, even the most organized goodies turn into frustrations.

Day 1 of the New Desk: The Chief had the desk completed before I had even contemplated which cans should go where but was I ready to move in to said “New Desk”?
No sir-ee-Bob. I was mid-project. I couldn’t stop now.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Tiny Home Organizing

Hiding behind the shower door…

 

 

I continued with the Spring Clean, scrubbing down and organizing the kitchen until it didn’t even recognize itself. Finally, the day of successes ended with the sweet reward of giggling the night away with a gaggle of girlfriends.

Day 2 of the New Desk: Move-in day. For real.

I hadn’t anticipated for move-in day to actually take a day (though The Chief probably had when I had admired the desk the day before but just not been ready to pull the trigger). Just like I always do before accepting something new into our space (even though it was a mere panel that had changed) I had to make it ours and that usually has something to do with cleaning. Bingo. Spring still having sprung, the spray bottle of Mrs. Meyers was poised and ready for action from the day before and so, I gave the old desk a little spruce up to go with its new accessory.

What started as cleaning out the desk and officially moving in (since, without the panel, it had been both too short and too tall all at once – I can’t explain it – so I had never really worked at it) turned into a full-on, full-bore Spring Clean Upstairs/Living Room Edition. Because, once the desk was clean, I noticed the window behind it was dirty, which alerted me that all the windows were dirty upstairs, which alerted me that all the windows were dirty downstairs in the house.

Dirty here means a little more than a need for some Windex. Think dust and dirt build-up for the last 6 months: dead bug massacres in windows, window frames that may have never been deep cleaned, etc. etc.

It was daunting.

Plus, every time you open a window to clean it the inside bug-laden grooves, the cleaner starts to freeze. It’s a race against time and at 10 below zero, a bit of a finger freezer.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Engagement Ring

But a little added sparkle this year made it all rainbow surprises.

 

 

The Chief, ne’er a day without some sort of high-up high jinks, it seems, also had a window day as he helped our neighbor put the windows into his new home next door.

He arrived home and saw me sitting in my perch (in the sink – I had finally made it downstairs. Four more windows to go) to clean the kitchen windows when his Spring Fever kicked back in as he set out to clean up our battery bank.

While cleaning the windows downstairs I ran into some of the usual suspects: bones. From antlers to jawbones to teeth and skulls, we run across some pretty cool stuff here but one set of jaws had been calling for a cleaning for quite a while. So, clean it I did. I decided to throw the bones in boiling water on the stove to get off excess dirt and gunk inside (after further research, peroxide would have been a great option but, this is the woods. We can’t exactly pop over to CVS for a quick pick-up so sun bleaching it will be until the next trip to Town. This is the perfect example of why things take forever in the woods and something I didn’t quite understand until I lived it).

An hour later and I was wondering what was smelling so good on the stove.

Eww.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Skeletons Preserving

Boiling bear bones. Now I understand the expression “Long in the tooth”. That thing is insane!

 

 

Fresh bone marrow? Delicious. Old bone marrow? I must have been channeling Lou.

Yet, now we have prettier bones.

By 6 pm, dust bunnies devastated and top to bottom halfway complete, we were both pooped. The wires under the stereo no longer looked like an abstract painting and the windows glistened from the inside out (though not the outside in, that’s for another day that rises above freezing. Patience, patience). The sun set on another fevered day.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Battery Bank Off the Grid

The 60-armed octopus only now has 8 legs.

 

 

We left Fall here to find Summer in California, followed by Fall, followed by Winter, followed by Summer in Ecuador, followed by Spring in California, followed by Spring in Alaska. We’ve season hopped like the wild rabbits through our yard and after months of packing and unpacking, we are finally unpacked and nestling in.

It all started with a desk.

 

 

 

 

Happy Spring (or whichever season you find yourself in) to you all.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Cross Country Skiing Julia Page.jpg

Thank goodness for you, Diesel-boo. Cinda’s brother joins the daily ski.

 

 

// If you want to see The Chief in all his Stihl-induced wonder or me chopping up a storm, follow me on Instagram: @beneaththeborealis to see that video and other content not shared on the blog. //

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