dogs

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19 Fairbanks, Alaskan Malamute

The Fluff, Part II

Our lucky stars aligned.

Our little one made it.

The Fluff is home.

After a week of wishing and hoping and living my life in a permanent state of superstitious paranoia, our little Fluff gave us the green light. The Chief and I immediately started simultaneously laughing and crying at the breaking of the good news.

Good news.

We couldn’t believe it.

My heart leaped at this happiness, hungry to not feel heavy, lunging for lightness.

Thank you to every one of you who thought good thoughts and wished on stars and didn’t step on cracks and pretty pleased their way with us into the universe’s good graces for our little beast. He and we are forever grateful.

As soon as we heard that he was ok, I wanted him with us. He’d been our little man since the day I laid eyes on him and not being with him through it all had been a new kind of parental torture I’d yet to experience (yes, I refer to myself as a dog parent, I know it’s not the same as kids…but is it?). We were beyond ready for him to be home.

Home, however, was 370 miles away from where he was. Fairbanks, AK, where their deep winter temperatures laugh at ours by comparison (60 below, anyone?). Despite having just been gone the week before, my boss understood that I needed to get to my little beast. “You bring that pup home, Julia,” he told me. Lucky, once again.

The morning of the trip I had umpteen things to get done before departure and about one million to get done once I got there with an 8-ish hour drive in between.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19 Fairbanks, Alaska

Fluffs.

 

After the events of the week, the up and down rigmarole of emotions, I was grateful for the solitude of a long drive through open country. The drive is less of the curlicue mountainous route that we are used to when heading to Anchorage. It’s more like the plains in the Midwest, wide and big and open and insanely gorgeous. I listened to tunes and podcasts and silence, letting the reality hit me that in the morning, I would have a partner in crime with me. I cried tears of joy more times than I can count.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19, North Pole, AK

North Pole, AK. Santa Claus is coming to town.

 

That night, I arrived around 7pm to…ice cream.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19 Caribou Caramel Alaskan Ice Cream

Caribou Caramel. ‘Nuff said.

 

Ice cream, people!

This may not seem like a big deal, it may even seem like, “Why don’t you have ice cream? It’s cold there all the time!” Yet, with the early Spring we’ve had, bringing back ice cream minus the purchase of dry ice is not really an option. So, when the hotel concierge greeted me and alerted me to the complimentary Ice Cream Happy Hour, this girl was elated.

Still, there was no time to bask in the melty goodness. I dropped my bags and picked up my scoop (Caribou Caramel, yes please!) and headed to a store I’ve had zero reasons to frequent lately but have dreamed about going to:

The pet store.

I

Love

Pet

Stores.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19, Fairbanks Pets

Option overwhelm.

 

I love them so much that I had to get kicked out of this one. It was announced on the loudspeaker that the store was closed and could the person in the store please bring her purchases up to the front.

Whoops!

The musher we were getting him from, Aaron, had given me a particular recipe for fat and protein, phosphorous and calcium content for his food and I was having a helluva (as my Mom says) Goldilocks experience. Too little fat but enough protein. All the above but no phosphorous. What even is phosphorous?! Waist deep in 50 lb. bags, I sheepishly asked if I could have a little help. The crew kindly helped me sort through and find what we needed and I thanked them and apologized for my tardy departure. Packed to the gills with all things puppy, I made my way back to the hotel to eat before the restaurant closed. It was already 9:30.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19 Fairbanks, AK Love Alaska

Love Alaska? We do.

 

Since, apparently, the grocery store closes at 11 pm I wouldn’t be able to shop that night (for which I was grateful, honestly, even though it meant the morning would be a push. I was completely pooped still from my trip the week before). I drew a bath (heaven!) and read up on raising a puppy. It’s been a while.

I fell into (the huge) bed.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19 Fairbanks, Alaska Pike's Landing

King size me, please!

 

The next morning, my heart was pounding to the drumbeat of “get it done and get it done fast!” By 8 am I had exercised, went grocery shopping, checked our oil, worked and started our laundry. Two work meetings to go and I could go get our little dude.

At the strike of 11 am I folded our laundry faster than I knew I could and ran to the truck. There was an atm (to get the remaining balance for the pup) and a coffee hut (Alaska is chock-full of these drive-up little huts. I’m a huge fan) right next to one another. Score! Two chores, one stop.

Nope.

I was meeting Aaron at 11:30 across town. It was 11:15 and the atm was telling me “No way, girl”.

What?!

It turns out that I had forgotten to activate my new card (since I never use it) and thus, it was invalid. Thankfully, after a call to my bank, I found that there was a supported branch on the way to our meeting spot. I made every attempt to guess my account number with complete failure and then was shown some good old-fashioned Alaskan kindness as she withdrew the money despite my lack of clarity (don’t worry, I had jumped through quite the many identifying hoops already). Aaron called me back and suggested we make it noon and not to worry.

At 2 minutes to noon, I pulled into what I thought might be the meeting spot (his directions had been vague: a bank near Fred Meyers) and immediately knew it was right.

In the back of a minivan in a little kennel filled with hay lay our little dude. He was a little shy and a little sleepy, nuzzling into the arms of his first Papa. Almost an hour later, after I had asked him probably every question known to man about Parvo and puppies and mushing, oh my, we parted ways. Though not before a USPS woman stopped because she “just had to see the cute little thing” and show us pictures of her pup who ended up actually being a cousin of ours. Small world, eh?

Our little guy and I got into the truck and took it slow. I let him sniff about and explore his new world and his Mama.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19 Fairbanks, Alaska Malamute

First quick cuddle nap.

 

An hour or so later, we decided we were good enough friends to get going.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19 Fairbanks, Alaskan Malamute

I can’t handle the cuteness.

 

It was 2 pm and we had an 8-hour drive ahead of us.

Right?

Well, sort of.

We did have an 8-hour drive, however, the 8 hours it normally would take us stretched into an epic 13. We were bonding. Every little bit or so, we would stop for food and drink and to see if he needed to pee. It took 4 hours just for him to feel safe getting out of the kennel out into the big world in front of him. Yet, despite his not wanting to leave his kennel yet, he never once had an accident. He mainly slept with his paws touching my leg through the grate. I waited for the motion sickness I’d anticipated to kick in but it never came.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II, 04-22-19, Malamute pup and me

The bestest fluff.

 

6 hours in, realizing I hadn’t really eaten that day, we got out (he was a pro now) to grab a snack. As I ate and drank, he ate and drank and then…

he cried.

Aaron had warned me that the separation might be tough, especially after all that he’d gone through.

He gave me a little howl that I tried to take very seriously, despite its utter cuteness. I comforted him but something told me to put him on the ground as well. There, he peed.

An hour or so later, he gave me a few sad cries again.

Uh oh. He’s missing home.

I pulled over and out he jumped. This time, to make a poop. I diligently sanitized the spot, digging up the ground and anything around it and then we were off again.

A few hours later, 20 miles from home, his howls started again, this time more frequent. Eyes heavier and heavier as the night wore on, I stopped repeatedly and let him out to do his bodily business but alas, none was to be done.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19 Fairbanks, Alaska Caribou Crossing

Caribou crossing. Hoooey! The wildlife was out that night. We saw about 6 Caribou, 10 Moose, one million Snowshoe Hares, and one Lynx.

 

At the onset of the next howl-fest, I stopped and opened his cage. He jumped into my lap and nuzzled into my arms. He had just needed some Mom time. My heart melted like the Caribou Caramel.

10 miles later, full-up on Mom time, he put himself back in the kennel and buckled up for the rest of the ride. We were almost home.

Around 3 am we arrived to a sleepy Chief and a once again shy pup. It was all so new. We brought his crate upstairs and left the gate open and just as I was about to crawl into bed, he came out for some belly rubs and kisses (with puppy breath!). We were home.

The last few days have been a total whirlwind of utter joy. I can’t believe that a week ago this little guy was fighting for his life. He is a tough little beast and I can’t believe we get to be his parents. He is sweet and funny and prone to face planting at any moment

 

 

 

He pitter-patters back and forth after me around the house and comes (sometimes) when called. He knows not to bite and also knows that he prefers to do it anyways, though just after nap time, those nibbles are gentle and full of licks (with puppy breath!).

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II, 04-22-19, Malamute pup and The Chief

Thanks for the Lamb Chop, Auntie E!

 

The little one, so far, sleeps through the night and then gently gives us a yip warning when he wakes up around 6 am that he has to pee. He’s my favorite alarm clock. He is a huge fan of belly rubs and not a huge fan of baths but he tolerates them (as long as Mom gets soaked too. Mission accomplished).

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19, Malamute puppy bath time

That face.

 

He is everything we dreamed of. I think even our Cinda Lou would approve.

In addition to all of this happiness, there also has been a seriousness, even after he made it through Parvo because of what having had Parvo means. It means he’s contagious until he’s “shed” the virus. Different sources say different amounts of time but most say it takes about 10-14 days to “shed” (read: poop out) the virus. Every time he poops, we bag it and the surrounding area up into a baggie and let loose a barrage of bleach (which makes my Mother Nature loving heart hurt but is trumped by my Dog Loving heart. We are waiting for a non-toxic and even more efficient vet-used product but, of course, they wouldn’t ship to Alaska so bleach it is until my Mama can ship it to us). We’ve quarantined him from other dogs and encourage those around us to reach out if they have any questions.

The following sites, plus discussions with breeders and many different veterinarians have been very helpful, however, I suggest you speak to your veterinarian to decide upon your specific pet’s needs and again, reach out to us with any questions, etc. We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our beloved pup residents. Dogs under a year, unvaccinated dogs, or dogs that are immune compromised are the groups most at risk. Still, the research we’ve done suggests that a yearly Parvo booster can’t hurt. Parvo is prolific and lives for up to a year in the soil (which is why we dig up the area he poops in and bleach it). While it is very unlikely that dogs outside of the at-risk groups (and unlikely in the at-risk groups, except with puppies who have not had their full round of Parvo shots) will contract Parvo ever (they likely have already been exposed since it is everywhere and their bodies fought it off) there’s no reason not to take extra precautions. We are keeping him well bathed and groomed and will be doing a full overhaul once he has fully shed the virus to rid our home of it (read: lots of bleach, lots of, unfortunately, things going into the garbage or if burnable, burned). It’s easy to panic in this information so again, we ask that you talk with your vet and, if you like, talk with us. We are open books and will be happy to further explain all of the precautions we and anyone in contact with him are taking.

Helpful sites:

American Kennel Club on Parvo

VCA on Parvo

Aside from the Parvo mania we find ourselves in, we also find ourselves deeply in love with the goodness that has graced us and are trying to focus on how lucky he has been, how hard he fought and how dang cute he is.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II 04-22-19, Alaskan Malamute

Hello, world!

 

Thank you, again, from the deepest depth of our hearts for all of your well wishes. We felt your love and we can’t wait to share our new little love with you (when you’re ready).

Best wishes and happy, healthy thoughts to you and yours.

With love,

from The Scribe, The Chief, The Pup (to be named) and Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Fluff Part II, 04-22-19, Fairbanks

You beauty, you.

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 - Little Letting Gos - Smile Baby.jpg

The Little Letting-Gos

If there’s anything Alaska has tried and tried to teach me time and time again, it’s been the slow transition.

These past few weeks of Fall have been glorious (a word that often seems a bit over-enthusiastic but suddenly seems a Goldilocks “just right” to describe the colors we’ve seen).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Golden Hour

 

 

Truly beautiful. The Summer seemed to slink away overnight and suddenly we awoke to a world changed. Everything. The leaves did their dance through the wee hours into new colors and the air suddenly broke into crisp and away we went from a smooth Summer and into the quiet…

 

The quiet.

 

The quiet that descends upon this Valley is one I’ve never truly experienced in the Fall. Every year before I’ve either left before it came or left just as it was settling.

Well, it has settled.

It’s a Winter kind of quiet that wraps its arms around you and tells you to dive in. It’s the kind of quiet to feel alone to, like a sad song you need to hear to feel what you need to feel.

But it’s not Winter yet. And suddenly, the Fall is no longer the Fall but the Shoulder Season into Winter because just as quickly as Fall settled in, it faded and so now we welcome the Shoulder Season of the in-betweens and the lesson it carries.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - The Change.jpg

Fall fades.

 

 

 

The lesson that Alaska keeps hammering, time and time again.

The slow transition.

I outwitted the last slow change.

 

 

 

 

I had my last ski in March, left for California and returned in April to mush (and very little of it).

 

 

 

 

No skiing. Awkward walking. But the bulk of the slow transition has passed before I had come home and we were at the tail end of the Spring Shoulder Season just as the long Spring was just about to jump into Summer.

This time, for this Fall Shoulder Season, I decided to let it come. Let it wash over me. Historically, Fall was always an awkward time for me. I think I noticed the quieting of that which surrounded me and tried my darndest to avoid it. But there’s no escaping it. Even in a bustling city, you can hear it. You can feel it. The slow down. And it sank into my bones and made me ache for the rattling of Summer to take me away from having to dive deeper.

This Fall, I wasn’t running. I was driving. We were supposed to drive South. We were going to watch the colors change on the trees and then change back again as we drove from Fall here back into Summer down South. The “we” was Cinda and I. We had been planning it for almost a year, since before we had even gotten our first truck, round 1. I’ve always been a huge fan of road trips, especially of the solo variety. There’s no way to return unchanged. I was nervous, of course. I’d never taken the route and certainly not solo, but I didn’t feel solo. I had my girl.

We would talk about it and plan about it when we were out for walks. I would envision us with our windows down, Lou’s ears blowing in the wind with that specific smile she had for when things were just so easy, so good.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Smile Baby.jpg

Super fuzz face

 

 

 

We would camp together and I’d finally get to cuddle with her (she wasn’t a huge cuddler but she would tolerate a bit) in a tent of our own like her and her Dad had done on the property when they first settled in, a decade before, to our home. It would be our first solo road trip together.

My Mom used to tell me about a road trip she took with one of my childhood dogs, I believe out to see my Grandmother in St. Louis, then all returning together to California. I pictured Lou and I in the same light and it felt like a sort of changing of the guards, a tradition passed on from my Mom and her first baby to me and mine. It felt important.

It, of course, didn’t happen.

We returned home to the end of Summer without our first baby in the Time of Plans.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - The Change Fall Foliage.jpg

Fall time foliage

 

 

“What are your plans for Winter?” which, of course, means, where are you going in the Fall and Winter and Spring until we see one another back here at Adult Summer Camp.

My plans had been set in stone and then, suddenly, there was nothing.

It took me weeks to speak what I already knew: I didn’t want to leave and at the same time, there was no place I wanted to be farther from. Cinda was everywhere, in everything. She was the bush at the Swimming Hole she loved to tackle after swimming. She was the road into Town that we would walk every Friday night to go see her Dad play Softball. She was in the flowers I had planted that were now shifting to seed, the fireweed sending its last showers of pink upon us. She was everywhere in a landscape that had shifted so much in the torturous week we had been gone. It had been full-fledged Summer when we left and now, it was ending. Everything was different and everything was the same except that she was nowhere to be found and yet everywhere all at once. I couldn’t stand to leave her and I couldn’t stand to be here without her.

And so, against my tradition of running, I decided to stay. I decided to stay in the pain of being here without her and of being here with her, in everything I do. I decided to sit through the long transition and let it wash over me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Fall y'all

Solo shadow.

 

 

Her death has been full of slow transitions, full of little letting-gos.

For the first few weeks I found her Cinda fuzz everywhere, she was notorious for it. Our friend used to joke that we could come over as long as I told Cinda not to shed. We would all laugh aloud as she said it. “Lou-Lou, don’t you shed now, O.K?” I had taken to one fuzz in particular and used it as a bookmark and then put it into a locket a dear friend sent me. And then suddenly, there were no more. No more fuzzes. Suddenly, I was cleaning dog hair from visits from our neighbor dogs, but not from mine.

Little letting-gos.

Last week I finally felt ready to contact a girlfriend whose dog I thought of immediately to give Cinda’s dog food to when she passed. That was two months ago. Being the super-savvy dog mom that I am, I had found a way to get her food out here for free and delivered monthly and since I like to be ultra-prepared, I had two months of dog food in the arsenal, ready for my Lou. We returned to the 55-gallon drum full of food and two months later I was finally ready to empty it. I brought a sample of it to a girlfriend’s birthday where I knew my fellow dog mom friend would be so she could see if her little lady liked it. All the dogs followed me around all night like some Pied Piper and it felt good to feel important to a dog (or 10) even if it was just because of food. Thankfully, that popularity held true for her dog as well and the food was a hit, and just like that, it was time to give it up.

Little letting-gos.

Today, I woke up ready to jump on the train of this day and ride it to the last stop. I had and have a lot of work to do but right as The Chief was leaving this morning, my phone was telling me to check it. On it was a reminder: CJ kennel.

Cinda Jones kennel.

Today was the day to give it up.

A friend had posted on the Mail Shack bulletin board that he and his fur baby were looking for a kennel for travel. It was posted right when we got back without Cinda and The Chief called to let him know he could have ours. Two months ago. Today was the day. I went to load her kennel into our truck for The Chief to drop-off when I realized that the hardware was not with it. Savvy dog mom that I am, I had put it away separately in my suitcase. I crawled under our bed and moved the various totes out of the way and pulled the suitcase out and as I opened it, I broke down. There was my baby’s travel kit. Her no-spill water bowl and her collar that she only ever wore if we were traveling and even little poop bags for the trip out of the wilds and then, the hardware. I ended up giving him everything except the collar (obviously), packing it away with love for the new generation and love for ours we had lost. The Chief and I held one another as tears rolled down our faces. He had just been telling me earlier in the morning of a dream he had about her, alive again and well and here we were, sending off her things. Time to let go.

The little letting-gos.

The little letting-gos in the grand scheme of the large letting-go.

It’s been two months since we lost our little Lou, our Tiny T, Cinda Muffinberry, Fire Marshall Jones and it has been the most poignant lesson from Alaska yet, the slowest slow transition, in the Fall of all times. This year, I welcomed the Fall, I welcomed the quiet and the time to truly take that slow transition and to feel pain. Losing Cinda has made me realize that my whole life, I’ve run from pain. I’ve seen its glimmer and have shielded myself and so, it grew. It compounded and bubbled up and started to ooze out of cracks I hadn’t reinforced until suddenly, it burst. Submitting to the pain of Cinda has opened the floodgates to truly feel pain.

I highly recommend it.

It’s awful, it’s the depths you didn’t know but it’s finally moving through you and what better time to let go than the Fall?

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Sourdough Sunset.jpg

Sourdough Sunset

 

 

 

The glorious colors of Fall have faded and it would be now, in the past, that the sinking feeling would come in but there’s no need, it’s already been here. The leaves have turned to brown and fallen. The landscape is full of browns and greens again, making color a treat for the eyes instead of a constant. The rain lets up for a day of bluebird skies, only to fade away into a dreary pitter-patter pattern on the roof.

And for the first time, it’s O.K.

These little letting-gos haven’t made me feel farther from her, on the contrary, they’ve made her feel closer. The constant torture of remembering feeling the life leave her as her head grew heavier on my knee that day has stopped being as frequent and instead I tend to remember more her goofy smile when she was sleeping on the couch or her prancing dance she’d do when we got home at night (if she wasn’t already with us).

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Couch Smile.jpg

Cozy comfy

 

 

 

And I remember her lessons. She not only taught me how to move about the woods, how to find my bearings and my way home she taught me to trust. Cinda is the first being I’ve ever truly, wholeheartedly trusted and it was amazing to know how that felt. And more than that, she taught me to trust myself again. She gave me her utter faith and she made me feel like a good mom and then she taught me to feel the pain.

I could have asked for nothing more, except for more time but I guess that’s just another little letting-go in a land of slow transitions. I think I’m learning, Alaska.

Love to you, my Lou. Thank you for taking me through the seasons of myself and finding the quiet within. It’s not as scary as I thought.

Happy Fall to you, whatever it may look like. Here’s to the little letting-gos and to the big.

 

‘Tis the season.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Golden Hour 2.jpg

 

 

 

The First Hard Frost

I anticipated the first hard frost here like an innocent youngster anticipates a chance meeting with their first crush, not really knowing the depths of what it meant or what it would bring. I was simply excited. I thought it would mean that Winter actually was on her way instead of just threatening to be, that our town would quiet down and the berries would sweeten up and off I could go to harvest them, a small feat which I’ve always turned into something larger and one which I’ve always set myself up to fail at.

You see, one of my own little personal Julia recipes calls for:

a bit of a procrastination

with a dash of self-doubt

mixed with a large serving of an uncanny expectation to do things right the first time.

(There are many more uplifting recipes, of course, but I might as well be honest about the collection).

 

This here concoction has set me up for failure more times than I can count but it has also done something worse: it has set me up to do nothing at all.

And so, this year I promised it would be different. I watched the weather and waited and when the first hard frost hit, I promised that out I would go to reap the benefits of the fruit sweetened overnight by the harsh conditions. Harvest and enjoy instead of again missing them. But like a first crush, I didn’t think about what else the first hard frost would bring. I was just excited.

 

 

 

First Hard Frost Fall

 

 

 

And then I awoke, to the first hard frost. We’d had a frost a couple of weeks before and the buzz over thermometer temperatures had spun through town.

“I had 25 when I woke up this morning.”

“25! I had 29. Wow.”

Fall is coming.

 

 

First Hard Frost Sunset

 

 

 

And then she did. She blew right into the valley, down the 60 miles of dirt road and into our backyard (and presumably into many of back and front and side to side yards of others). And I awoke and immediately realized the fault in my young crush desires.

Because the first hard frost meant something I didn’t anticipate:

While the berries may have sweetened, most of my plants, the plants I had grown for months, some from seeds started in April, were now dead.

Before and after.

 

 

 

 

 

The plants that I have spent more time than ever before loving and trimming and thanking as I picked them and placed them about the house or into our food. The flowers that have brought me such joy when I return home to their shiny faces.

 

 

 

 

 

The plants that I have too slowly been harvesting because although I was anticipating her arrival, I hadn’t hurried enough for Fall’s approach or realized the (now obvious) tenacity with which she would arrive. It was a juxtaposition of wills and wishes that ended in an equation I didn’t quite add up.

 

Some plants survived and I immediately made a mental checklist of all of the preserving that I needed to do. Preservation? Canning? This, like berry picking and processing, is a major mental block of mine. My girlfriend had visited from California and the one thing she wanted to do in Alaska? Teach me to make fermented foods. I couldn’t bring myself to do it consistently on my own and so, we whipped up an entire batch, 12 quarts of beautiful sauerkraut adorned even with local juniper berries we’d harvested on a hike. It was glorious. And then, as fate would have it, The Chief and I promptly left in a state of emergency with Cinda and returned a week later without her to a house full of spoiled kraut. My first endeavor.

So yes, I have a bit of a block about it.

But this was the year to change that and now, it is time to get a move on. Perhaps this is where the procrastination part of my recipe, paired with a serious deadline from nature will come into play and our shelves will be lined with krauts and kimchi and pickles to boot from cucumbers and cabbages and berries harvested.

Perhaps,

perhaps,

perhaps.

 

I tried to revive the plants that didn’t survive the night but their shriveled leaves and broken cells were far past repair. I tidied them as best I could and then went to chop some wood to try to overcome the persistent cold that had settled into the house with the frost. I returned inside to see The Chief making pancakes.

Pancakes, people. Pancakes.

In case you don’t know, Pancake is my middle name (well, second middle name: Julia Elizabeth Pancake Page) and the last few months have been utterly devoid of the fluffy fantasy that is eating pancakes.

And so, one would think I would be overjoyed, for the only thing better than eating pancakes is eating pancakes you didn’t have to make yourself.

But instead of the elation that follows the presentation of a present as perfect as pancakes made by the man you love just for you, what followed were tears.

Big rolling alligator tears, slip-sliding down my cheeks and chin and down onto my robe (it was Sunday afterall) that soon slipped and slid down onto The Chief’s robe as he held me in our kitchen, pancakes pancake-ing in the cast iron next to us.

I had spent the morning in and out of sleep, waking to my worst memories of Cinda, of the moments when she was in so much pain that the only words that describe the sound she would make is a bone-chilling scream. I was preyed upon by the memories of the hope we had repeatedly being crushed by the weight of obscenely unlucky circumstance. I was paralyzed remembering watching her try to walk and not be able to, trying to move and howling in agony. It haunts me though I try to shove it away. And so I had tried to shove it away this morning, the morning of my highly anticipated first frost, but when I walked outside and saw all of the beauty of my favorite distractions gone, I lost all ability to shove the haunting away.

 

 

 

First Hard Frost Nasturtium Down

 

 

 

The plants and flowers I grew had two purposes:

One: Joy. They made me happy. They greeted me as Cinda would have when I came home and made coming home to The Quiet a little easier.

Two: Food. They provided sustenance and flair to our kitchen. Fresh food that we didn’t have to buy. Fresh food I could be proud of.

But when Cinda died, they served another purpose.

Three: Ritual. Every day or so, I would walk to Cinda’s grave to add to and take away from the bouquet of home-grown flowers that I’ve kept for her since the day we put her in the ground. As I walked out into the frosted landscape to see them all shriveled and dead it hit me: we are moving into the next season without her. She truly is gone.

Recently someone asked me how it is that I decide upon what to write about each week. I told her my favorite image of myself writing: an idea comes when it decides it’s ready and then I circle around the idea like a dog trying to get comfortable enough to lay down. I circle it and circle it until it feels just right and then…I sit down and write it just like a dog finally settles in and stays put for hours, so do I. But recently, the only thing I’ve been able to circle around is Cinda and for the first time ever, I’ve not allowed myself to write about what it is that comes up for me. I’ve censored myself. And so last week, with the censorship in progress for fear of becoming a broken record even I don’t want to hear, I instead wrote nothing.

The thing is, writing is how I move through and eventually forward. I tried to censor my feelings during the first hard frost morning and out they came anyway and so, if I want to continue writing, there she will be, as she always was. I can’t censor her out.

 

 

 

First Hard Frost Fall My Love My Lou

 

 

 

And today, I miss her, more than usual and it won’t let me go. It’s what’s on my mind, it’s what I’m circling around. It’s the idea that won’t let up until I release it.

And trust me, I know I have it good. I know that, in fact, I have it great. I have a beautiful house in the middle of the woods in which I awake daily to a wonderful, handsome man who loves me deeply. We have loving friends and family and all that we need. I know we have it great. But just like I told my girlfriend who is going through her own feelings of loss now, it doesn’t matter what you have, you can still be sad.

It’s hard to take one’s own advice.

A death or a loss doesn’t just occur and end in that same instant. It is the shape that keeps shifting and just when you feel a grip, it slithers through.

And so today, I allowed myself to write about her because I want to move through remembering the pain and to remembering my baby, as she was, fuzzy eared and smiling, watching over me, ready to set me straight, ready to love me in even my worst moments. She was my starting point, my anchor and she’s gone.

And so, I will take a walk without her as I have done more times than I ever hope for in this past month and despite my personal procrastination recipe, I will go out and pick berries. I will harvest the fruits of my anticipation. The fruits that were only brought on by conditions too harsh for delicate life. The harshness that makes them sweet.

I hope that in turn, that this harshness too makes me sweeter.

 

 

 

First Hard Frost Fall Backyard Cranberries

 

 

 

Thank you to the seasons for your abrupt displays, for your jarring leaps into the next step, whatever that may be. Alaska, you shake me, you tumble and break me but thank you for extending a hand to help me back up again.

Goodbye Summer, The Summer of the Dogs, you were a tenacious beat I couldn’t always dance to.

Onward, towards Fall.

Onward towards Winter.

But right now, onward towards berries.

 

**Update: I did, in fact, harvest berries and I did, in fact, take a very much-needed walk. But I didn’t walk alone. Our neighbors’ dog Benny joined along and even warned me off of a seemingly impending bear encounter and by the end of our walk, we had two more pups in tow and a hat full of berries to share (processing to come. Probably).

Thank you to the dogs and people of our town. Your company means more to me than you can know.

 

So…what are your favorite canning, preserving, pickling, etc. recipes?

Please, do tell…

 

First Hard Frost Fall Highbush Cranberries

 

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - On the Kindness of Strangers View of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Kennicott, Reflections

On the Kindness of Strangers

About one month ago, I opened my computer to find an email I would never have expected.

Before I knew it, the writing had me in tears.

The email was from a man in Texas who was hoping to fulfill his Mother’s last wish: to send a care package to a family in The Bush. After having stumbled upon my writing in his search, he had deemed us that deserving family.

The combination of loss and generosity moved me. I read the email aloud to The Chief, choking through the kind words.

We responded with our condolences and that of course, we would love a care package (please check my pulse if I ever turn one down), and sent him our address.

And then, it was out in the world. Whether or not the package ever arrived didn’t really matter, it was the thought that meant so much.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Until two weeks ago when we returned home without our Cinda for the first time, ever. The house felt lonely and solemn and I couldn’t decide whether waking up or going to sleep was worse because both served as brutal ambassadors to the change we had never wanted. But then, amongst the melancholy, the house filled with love, as well.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis On the Kindness of Strangers Kennicott River, McCarthy Alaska

The splits. One side is silent, the other raging.

 

 

 

The first night after we returned we were surrounded in it. One of our dear friends asked if he could come by and so started the flow of healing. Soon after he arrived, another friend, having heard what had happened showed up out of nowhere. We hadn’t seen him since last year. A little later another sweet friend came over with ice cream and dinner in tow and later another wonderful friend came by. They fed us and held us as we cried. They told stories of our babe that made us laugh, breaking if only for a minute the unending downward spiral in our minds of the traumatic week behind us.

And then, the first friend reminded us that he had brought our mail. Amongst the bills and advertisements sat a huge package with a return address we didn’t recognize.

Until we did.

It was the care package.

I couldn’t believe the happy happenstance. In the time we needed care most, here we were surrounded by our loved ones but also by the kindness of strangers.

Every time I pass by the box it makes me smile. It’s filled to the brim with all different sorts of goodies, packed in a seriously impressive tetris that I am never able to reproduce every time I disturb it. We have barely been able to make a dent yet.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis On the Kindness of Strangers Care Package, Cereal Boxes

 

 

In an effort to continue the cycle of kindness, we’ve promised to share the booty, especially with one of our favorite bachelors who is more likely to buy a round for us at the bar than food for himself. Now we just have to get him to accept it and make the journey to drop it off…

 

Thank you world for your strange serendipity, for your reminder of the shine in this world even when it feels dark. Thank you for the love of friends and family and the power of a hug and thank you, thank you for the kindness of strangers.

And specifically, thank you to C&C of TX, you truly were a ray of light on a dark time.

Here’s to the kindness of strangers, and to them no longer being strangers in our lives. Let the goodness continue.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - On the Kindness of Strangers  View of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Kennicott, Reflections

 

 

 

DOGTOWN, U.S.A Part II: Full Circle

I felt Death knocking.

I felt Death knocking and I bolted the door against her advances. I covered the cracks in the door frame, piled the furniture high and steadied myself against her pounding.

And all the while holding vigilant against her overtures, I scolded myself for my loss of optimism. I deemed myself cynical and paranoid and told myself to ignore my gut.

I felt Death knocking.

I hoped I was wrong.

And then she came in.

She pushed away our barricades as if they were nothing and in one fell swoop confirmed my worst fears in a swell of sadness that swept me away.

 

I lost my best friend.

 

thumb_IMG_7132_1024

 

 

On Wednesday after the worst week of all three of our lives, we made the hardest decision we have yet to make together:

We bid farewell to our Cinda.

Together we held her as she took her last breaths and together we wrapped her body in a blanket. Together we secured her onto the backboard her Dad had made for her. Together we said our goodbyes to those whom had kindly housed us in Town in our worst time.

Together the three of us went home.

It felt like a cruel joke.

The last time we had gone to Town, I had brought Cinda with me because I was concerned about her health. She and my Mom and I had piled into the truck that too was having issues. The ride there was quiet as a feeling of panic spread over me. I was paranoid about her health. Our town had already lost two dogs this Summer, I couldn’t handle her being next. And so I said a prayer over and over in my mind:

“If something has to fail, make it be the truck. Anything but my girl.”

And my prayers were answered.

Two days later Cinda and I had made it home with the help of a girlfriend and her trusty steed. Our truck hadn’t made it back but Lou? She was fine. The picture of health. It had been superstition after all. I had been paranoid and I had been wrong. I shook off the feeling of Death. We were together and she was healthy.

And that was all that mattered.

 

 

thumb_IMG_0700_1024

Cinda Bones scaling the glacial walls like it’s nothing. 

 

 

There would be more trucks.

 

And then there was a new truck and The Chief went into Town to get it.

A few hours later Lou and I followed, catching a ride with a friend when I realized that her condition was worsening.

The whole way I again prayed to anyone and anything that would listen. I told myself Death was just taunting us, knocking louder now but that she could be quelled like the last time. She would stop. Cinda was at the top of her game. Svelte and happy and healthy. The Vet had told me so only weeks before.

Still I prayed over and over along the drive and in the week that followed. I offered up my own health, our home, money. Anything. Everything. “Please, take what you want. Anything but my baby. Please let her make it through.”

 

 

thumb_IMG_8335_1024

 

 

One week later, The Chief and I drove home together hand in hand in a new truck with our baby’s body in the bed.

We returned home to an oppressive feeling of emptiness and to the most painful full circle experience I’ve ever had.

When we walked in the door we were greeted by a dinner left for us by our neighbors and to a beautiful note of condolence. Those were the same kindnesses and love we had bestowed upon them only a few months before when they had to make the transition of walking through their doorway for the first time without their baby.

Full circle.

Life is cruel and beautiful all in one.

In the morning we awoke for the first time in our house without our baby.

 

You never realize the quiet until it comes.

It’s deafening.

 

We spent the day digging her grave. The spot where she and her Dad had slept together in a tent the first Summer they had lived on the property was where we laid her to rest. As we walked the property earlier that morning to find where she would rest, the spot had called us in and put its arms around us the way only the Earth can.

We dug until we were up to our shoulders in an earthen grave, until we had to help one another out, until we were sure she would be safe from the wilds of the woods.

All the while, her Brother watched over us. He had come over from next door and had greeted us with his head down and without so much as the twitch of his tail. He was solemn and stoic as he let us bury our faces in his fur. We sobbed into him. He slept beside the ever-growing hole that would be her grave and as I dug my heart was broken again and again as I would look up and catch a glimpse of his tail and think that it was hers.

But it wasn’t.

And then as we left to prepare her body, her Brother left too.

We cleaned her and dried her and cried into her fur and then wrapped her again in one of her Dad’s blankets from their early days. Slowly we lowered her into the grave and said our final goodbyes. In the hours that followed we filled her grave with dirt and covered the top in moss and rocks and flowers.

Our baby.

 

 

thumb_DSC_0431_1024

Our first Christmas.

 

 

thumb_IMG_9837_1024

Our last family ski

 

 

Cinda was our first baby.

And she was my very best friend.

She was the reason I made it through my first Winter when The Chief worked all the dark day long and I was left in an unfamiliar place all alone. In the cold and the vast darkness she was my light and I was no longer alone. I talked to her more than anyone else. She waited patiently as I learned to ski and made me feel safe in the big white world I had found myself in.

 

 

 

thumb_IMG_9582_1024

Keeping me company while I organized totes.

 

She showed me around and taught me to navigate the place I called home. At every turn she would wait for me to make sure I wouldn’t miss it.

 

thumb_IMG_4784_1024

This way, Mommy.

 

 

She was my best friend and I lost her.

I lost her and still, she is everywhere.

I hear her though she’s not there. I smell the way her paws smelled in fleeting moments and it taunts me. I find her fur at every turn. I see her footprints in the soft landings of the river’s shore.

I still look for her in her bed under the house every time I walk up the stairs and I wait for her to peek up at me over the table in our living room. My heart breaks in expectant surprise when I turn around in the kitchen and she isn’t there to sample what I’m making. I feel as if I’m just waiting to turn the corner and see her again, as though I’ve simply lost her and not that she’s lost her life.

 

 

thumb_IMG_5975_1024

Sneaky, peaky T.

 

 

She visits us in our dreams and in the memories of our Friend Family who have been there every step of the way to kneel at her grave and cry, to wrap us in their arms, to feed us and to tell stories that make us able to laugh again.

It’s a constant up and down whirlybird of a rollercoaster on a ride I never wanted to go on that I never paid admittance for. It feels as if we are here by accident, by a terrible joke.

But we aren’t.

This is our new life. Just us and the quiet.

 

Despite the despair and the pain that feel infinite it was worth it. I wouldn’t take back getting to love her in order to avoid this but I would do anything for more time together.

I love you, Cinda, dog of unflinching personality and infinite nicknames and lessons and love. There will never be another like you. Thank you for letting me be your Mom, for as one of your Grandmas said with a laugh: you didn’t have to let me be your Mom but you did.

Thank you. We will see you on the other side.

We miss you. So much.

 

thumb_IMG_4608_1024

 

Dogtown, U.S.A

Two weeks ago our town lost a dear friend. She was spirited and kind and quirky and one hell of a runner and…

she was a dog.

 

 

thumb_IMG_8688_1024

Io in the background at the beach in California

 

 

Her passing made me realize that for a year and a half I’ve written about so many reasons why I love where we live but that I’ve neglected to explain one of the biggest reasons: our dogs.

When I first thought of Alaska, I thought of glaciers and grizzlies, not dogs but I arrived to a very different reality. At the first party I went to here I was sitting on the grass and before I knew it, there was a dog on my lap, a dog on each side and endless others coming up for kisses. And those were just a small contingency of the partygoers. For the 100 some odd people there, there were probably half that amount in dogs (and if everyone at the party had lived locally, the number of dogs would have probably matched humans).

I had landed in doggie heaven.

Which to me, pretty much meant people heaven too. I couldn’t believe my luck to be surrounded by pups.

We live in a dog town, a place where people greet each dog with the same love and admiration that they give their humans (sometimes even more). Dogs out here aren’t just protection or entertainment, they are family. We trust them more than I’ve ever seen dogs trusted before. They run off leash (we didn’t even have a leash for Cinda until we first went to California) and if they leave for some reason, I trust them to come back. If I’m lost, I trust them to guide me home and if they don’t like someone, I trust their intuition (and have seen the proof in their judgements come through).

Dogs are the special ingredient, the umami of taste. Their essence is what makes this place the unusual concoction that it is. They make it our home.

Each and every one of them.

And I forget how very rare this is until I leave this place and see how free our pups here are.

Some days I’ll walk with Cinda to Town and when the time comes to turn off for my work she’ll take a different route, looking back as if to say “See you later, Ma. I’m going to the bar.” And off she’ll go for a few hours, doing her rounds, seeing her friends, checking in on her Town. She’ll hit the local grocery store where they have treats waiting, she’ll see if the local bar owner will let her in to the restaurant…

 

 

thumb_IMG_3183_1024

C’mon. Let us in.

 

 

…she’ll go up to work and check on Dad and then at some point, she’ll come back down to me where she plops herself right in front of the doorway of The Restaurant acting as a sort of bouncer.

Every dog has their own routine and habits and scratch spots and we all know them because they are every bit a part of the community as we are.

 

 

thumb_IMG_6498_1024.jpg

And they always get the best seat.

 

Talking on the phone the other day to a girlfriend I mentioned that we were watching a neighbor’s dog for a couple weeks.

“A couple of weeks? Geez! That’s crazy!”

And I get that it sounds that way but it never feels like we are put out because here there’s a constant symbiosis of care. If you see a thirsty pup, you water her. If you’re going on a walk and a dog dad or mom aren’t home, you bring their dog with you so they get out enough. It takes a village.

My favorite dog time is when I spend the day at home and inevitably all of the neighborhood dogs come by at some point in the day to get some love and maybe a treat or to just keep tabs on the place. They make their rounds, dropping in for a few minutes or a few hours.  And if a few days go by without seeing each of them, it feels as if something is amiss.

And then something was.

Because our town lost one of our dear dogs. She was a German Shorthaired Pointer by the name of Io. She and her parents are our family, our next door neighbors. In my few years here, her Mom and Cinda and I spent countless hours on walks together. Those walks are how we built our friendship, walking a path worn between our two properties, created by years of footsteps and paw prints back and forth, to greet one another and head deeper into the woods.

One of my fondest memories of Io was on such a walk. It was Spring, last year and though the chill of Winter had faded and the rivers had broken from a warm sun, the water was as cold as ever, just above freezing. Io was running circles around us, lapping us over and over, as per usual, but at an even faster rate. She had spotted something she liked and had taken off after it barking, running at full speed, tearing through the woods. She raced past us again as we all neared the river’s edge and before we knew it she was belly down, plopped into the freezing cold waters of the river. She looked at us smiling, cooling herself from her output and we laughed and marveled at what an amazing animal she was. Afterwards I wondered allowed what she had been after and her Mom said: “A squirrel. That was her squirrel bark”.

 

 

thumb_IMG_6355_1024.jpg

Outnumbered again.

 

 

That’s how well they knew one another, just by the tone of her bark her parents could know. And Io knew them in return.

Before her Mom would have even gotten her garden tools out, Io would be digging away in the garden. If she went upstairs to get into workout clothes for a run, Io knew it before she’d even gotten up the ladder. Oh, and the ladder: Io could climb the ladder to the loft where she would sleep as the little spoon with her Mom and Dad every night.

They knew one another inside and out, backwards and forwards.

She’s family.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never written about the dogs here, because they are so inextricably of us and in our souls that in every piece I wrote, there they were. Already.

I still feel her here. We still take our walks, the walks that built our friendship and I feel her still running circles around us. I picture her raging through the brush or peeking out from beneath a blanket on the couch. She is everywhere. But still, she is deeply missed.

There is a saying around here: “When I die, please let me come back as a dog in this town” and I have to say that if the dogs had a vote, I bet they would all wish for that too.

Here’s to our dogs, to the ones we’ve loved and the ones we’ve lost. Here’s to embarking upon the journey of having a dog, knowing full and well that it will end in pain, yet going whole-heartedly into it nonetheless because it is so worth it.

And here’s to you, sweet Io. We love you.

 

thumb_IMG_8071_1024.jpg