alaska

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.

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.

 

 

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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.