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Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

Under Pressure

I hate to say it, but I often perform best under pressure.

//Obviously, we all are going to need to listen to Queen’s “Under Pressure” now. Come on, you know you want to.//

Throughout the past ten years or so, I’ve been able to start to curb the maddened procrastinator’s panic and channel it a fraction more usefully by ever so slightly planning ahead. Yet still, that edging towards a deadline, that building of pressure seems to always produce something a little more magical than that which is created without the deafening drumbeats of time.

Or maybe, that’s just the procrastinator’s validation because, really, there’s no true way to test it.

All that I do know for sure is that sometimes I need a little fire beneath my feet in order to jump in.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Ozarks MO

Jump on in, the water is fine. There may be a Water Moccasin or two but…

 

 

Alaska, in and of herself, is a fire underfoot. She pushes you to do things now because later will often look very different. And so, to her, I am grateful for the small procrastinations she’s helped me to shift. To do the little things immediately, before you can’t. The generator is warm? Run it now before it cools down outside and you find yourself having to build a fire to bring it to temperature, all while your computer battery is now suddenly dead and you find yourself suddenly approaching a deadline. Do it. Now.

The other way, perhaps a bit sneakier, that Alaska has set a fire beneath my feet is in the way of a simpler life. I wanted a simpler life. I read about it. I dreamed about it. But my life was so plentiful that I didn’t have scarcity to be my guide.

Never fear, Alaska is here.

I needed the scarcity of Alaska to really learn to take inventory and advantage of what I have. To use everything to the very last drop and savor it, knowing that it may be months before I can replace it. To get inventive in stretching meals when unexpected guests come over without simply going to the store to pick up more. And don’t get me wrong, there are times when I wish we could do just that, but I also love the communal effort that ensues when you’re short just one egg for a recipe and suddenly, the neighborhood search is on.

Scarcity has forced me to repurpose and reinvent that which is no longer available and to use all of that which is abundant.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Conjoined Summer Squash Gardening in Alaska

Conjoined Summer Squash was all this baby wanted to produce. Twinsies for days.

 

So, when our garden had gifted us it’s very last labors of love and was ready to be put to sleep, I turned my attention to our final product: herb salt.

After a girlfriend gave me a heaping jar of this salty goodness, I could not get enough. It’s a finishing salt (something I didn’t even know existed until another girlfriend introduced me to Maldon salt. Try it, thank her later) that goes on, well, everything and I absolutely adore it.

And so, since that first gift, I’ve been taking anything and everything from our garden I can to make herb salt.

Fennel salt?

Sure!

Chive salt?

Bring it on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

Hello, gorgeous.

 

 

My usual suspects, sage and rosemary were only flying at half-mast this year (the rosemary was a no go) and so, the old steadfast oregano came in for the win.

I spent the better part of an afternoon in my gardening overalls, watching the sun make it’s journey as I sliced and diced and salted to my heart’s content. I layered pink and white sea salt and labeled away and as the sun started to make her descent and the chill came on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

 

 

I packed up, using my garden bounty baskets I’d collected the herbs in (which feels very fancy and fun. Funny how one small wicker basket can bring you such delight) and was almost inside when…

I spilled the salt.

Of the dozen or so salts, my favorite, the one I had written birthday wishes upon for my girlfriend crashed to the ground, breaking the delicately crafted layers of pink and white and green into a swirled mess on the ground at my feet.

So is life.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Seeds Gardening in Alaska

Herb castings.

 

 

Thankfully, there were others remaining that I could also dedicate to her and thankfully, a little bit of that good old-fashioned Alaskan fire underfoot had made me take the day to turn our garden’s goodness into something that would last all year.

I needed that fire.

Thank you, Alaska for always providing a little incentive (sometimes a lot) and for always giving a last-minute reminder to not take it too seriously, spilled salt and all.

With love, and a little bit of get ‘er done pressure,

From Alaska.

 

P.S. Want the recipe? It goes a little like this:

Dried or fresh herbs (they say to refrigerate the fresh herbs but I’m not so worried about it – up to you). Mix and match to your heart’s content. My favorite combination has been sage and rosemary. What’s yours?

Your favorite salt or salts. I adore me some pink Himalayan salt if for nothing but the color alone. Everything is good. It’s salt, what could be bad?

Mix or layer to your preferred ratios.

Enjoy!

//I know this recipe is more of a suggestion than hard numbers. If you like those, I totally get it, I’m exactly the same. Dashes of this and pinches of that used to stress me out. But, consider this a little fire under your feet, a little stretch to try out winging it. I know you’ll do great!//

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Lavaterra Gardening in Alaska

The loverly Lavaterra, greeting the day.

 

 

 

I Am an Artist

I am an artist.

I can’t tell you how many other artists just cringed at reading that.

Not because they deem it false or have questions as to my membership in the club. In fact, not because of anything to do with me at all. It is, in my experience, because they are wrestling with their own membership in this club or remembering the first time they announced their arrival.

This may not be true for every artist. I dare not declare it universal, lest the unicorn artists who knew they were just that from birth come and correct my wrong statement. I will say, after spending a weekend with artists that it seemed a nearly universally hard statement to conjure up for the first time for everyone. Some, even those on panels, were still choking on it.

Yet, I’ve said it.

You see, last weekend I attended the Alaska State Council on the Arts biennial conference in Fairbanks.

 

Beneath the Borealis I Am an Artist Fairbanks AK.jpg

Rainbow hills. Rainbow leaves.

 

I first heard about the conference a few months ago when a friend, who’s helped me more in writing this year than I can explain, mentioned that it was coming up. I looked at her and said something along the lines of “Oh, that will be fun!” She looked at me as if to say “Yeah…that’s why I’m telling you about it.”

A few minutes of her explaining it later and I still didn’t get it.

Finally, she put it in terms I could hear:

“Julia, it’s an artist’s conference. You’re an artist. You should sign-up.”

Oh!

Oh?

Oh…

I’m an artist?

 

Beneath the Borealis I Am an Artist Fairbanks AK hunting.jpg

Artists: Enter Here.

 

When I first started this blog, it unleashed in me the well-kept secret from myself that I, in fact, do want to be an artist. Yet I wasn’t ready to call myself one. As a youngster, I knew I was an artist, as kids simply know themselves without ego or fear. I was a singer and a writer and I knew it down to the depths of my little lady being that an artist was what I wanted to be.

How?

Because I felt alive.

Alive when I sang.

Alive when I wrote.

Yet, as I grew and grades and prestige and stability became a focus, I let that knowledge go and I covered it up with the “shoulds” of existence which placed more emphasis on succeeding than feeling alive.

And soon, I felt deadened.

Moving here allowed me to step outside of myself. It allowed me to bring with me not only that which was useful from my old life but to re-invite those aspects of myself I had lost. It felt like I was traveling. I was free to be whomever I deemed myself to be. And without thought, I suddenly found myself in a band, singing again. I had invited art back in and it had entered my life with a warmth I hadn’t felt in decades.

That first Winter, writing invited herself in. She opened the door, kicked off the snow and asked not why she’d been sequestered for so long but if I was, in fact, ready to begin.

I was.

I am.

I am an artist.

It may not be easy to say, but once you do, it’s like walking through the closet door into Narnia. The world feels a little more magical. It’s exciting and important and alive.

You don’t have to be a full-time artist to be called an artist. You don’t have to be in a gallery or be published or be the director of a Broadway hit. Art can lie in the simple act of taking the time to study a flower that strikes you, in letting your mind play. It can be as small as decorating a salad you make or as big as a complex canvas painting you’ve spent hours on end creating. It can be the notes you scribbled on a piece of paper towel 30 years ago that become your book 30 years later. It can be a photo that inspired reflection.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis I Am an Artist Fairbanks AK downtown.jpg

Urban mirrors.

 

There are no entry fees, merely the self-realization that you cannot be anything else.

Do what makes you feel alive.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

 

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 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

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

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

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

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

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

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

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

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

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

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

Home from Town?

In ’em.

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

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

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

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

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

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

5 Things to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Go To Ecuador)

What? What did you think we were expecting?

 

Research we may and research we might but despite a studious approach, it’s near impossible for a person to know a place until, well, you know the place. I do not presume to “know” Ecuador but along the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve picked up a thing or two. This is by no means an exhaustive list but instead, a sneak peek into the perks and pastimes, odds and ends and oddities of a place we called home for a moment in time.

 

ONE: The people

A smile is universal. You may know this from traveling in places where you don’t necessarily communicate well in the language but just in case you were wondering about Ecuador, it’s true there too. The people there are far more willing to smile than our co-patriots in North America (is there a daily smile allotment I haven’t been told about so that people don’t want to waste their smiles?) and if you ask for help (or even if you don’t but obviously look like you need it) they are quick to jump in. Shoot, even when you don’t know that you need help they jump in.

The Chief and I had a rough moment and a Cinda reminder (there are huskies everywhere in Ecuador) in the way of a sweet stray that brought tears to both of our eyes when a stranger approached us and offered The Chief his beer. “I just want you to be happy, amigo (friend)” he said. He didn’t need to reach out, it wasn’t his duty. He was amongst friends on a Friday night, seemingly on vacation himself but reach out he did. A smile is universal. English however, is not. Practica, pratica. We must practice our languages.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Canoa Hostesses Ecuador.jpg

Hostesses with the Most(esses). Thank you!

 

 

TWO: The animals

As you might have surmised, we are dog people and in general, in the U.S. I think we are in good company (the sheer volume of cute kitty/puppy videos should be proof alone that we are pro pet), yet not everyone or everywhere in the world feels the same. In the time I’ve spent in Mexico and Central America, stray dogs weren’t often seen as comrades but rather as nuisances and their often skittish nature protected them from potential affronts. I’d always adopt a dog while in my travels and wish I could bring him or her back with me because the life they lead was rough and it was hard to see. So, I prepared myself to be in a place where dogs might not be regarded as family members.

Wrong, oh so wrong.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Must Love Dogs Ecuador

Must Love Dogs.

 

 

Without placing too great an Alapaca blanket statement over the country, this place loves dogs (yet another reason to call is Alascuador). The dogs in Canoa were well taken care of. People would take turns bringing them to the vet and ridding them of fleas and they, in turn, acted as local security officers, escorting non-locals home on the potentially dangerous late night beach walks, asking for little more than an ear scratch in return, if that. Baños was no different. I’ve actually never seen so many dog grooming and veterinary establishments per square mile anywhere and the local businesses would have consistently full (despite being frequently visited) watering and feeding stations for the local perros. They lived independent, seemingly pretty wonderful lives and were well-regarded members of society. Even trying to adopt a dog here would seem funny because 1. The dog would have to adopt you and 2. They don’t really need you. It would have to be a special match.

 

THREE: The market

Bargaining, to me, had always seemed rude, a sort of “this isn’t worth what you’re asking” insult, but this trip gave me a whole different insight. Bargaining in Ecuador (and I’m sure most places where bargaining is a part of the culture) is like a dance, a push and pull where both parties have to play their role lest one person be dragged about or ignored. Bargaining is participating. If someone gives you a price and you just take it, you’ve told them you’re not interested in the dance and so, you take the item and they take the inflated dollar amount (yes, another Ecuadorian quirk I hadn’t known until we planned the trip: they are on the American dollar).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Artesanal Market in Banos Ecuador

Welcome to the show, people.

 

 

By the end of the trip, after tips from locals on bargaining strategies, we were bargaining fiends (OK maybe not quite fiends, but we were participating). Hear a price, cut it in half and together, find the middle from there. It wasn’t so much the change of the price but rather the smiles and laughs throughout the process that made me adopt it. It was true, it was a dance and although clumsy at times, we broke out a few rusty moves (The Lawnmower, The Shopping Cart, you name it. 90’s move).

FOUR: The bathroom

When traveling, the basic necessities come to the forefront. Food, water, bodily functions, shelter, all coming demanding attention at different times depending on the immediacy with which they need to be satisfied. Thankfully, the bathroom is one necessity that is well thought out in Ecuador. From the moment you realize that you have to pee to the moment that you find a bathroom usually lasts no longer than 3 minutes, at which point you pay the fee (normally about $0.25 cents for TP and the bathroom or $0.10 without. Lucky boys) and tada! Needs satisfied.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Bathrooms Quito Ecuador

 

 

In public restrooms, you may even be able to go in for free, however, don’t forget to get your toilet paper ahead of time. The dispenser sits at the entrance to the stalls. There is no TP in the individual stalls. I repeat: there is no toilet paper (almost never at least) in the individual stalls. This can make for a rough surprise so in case I forgot, I often kept a bit of TP in my pocket (another Alaska similarity). Overall, the necessity of a bathroom was met full-force and reminded me of how easy it can be. I can’t even recall all the times I’ve been in San Francisco or any other large city in the states and nearly peed myself trying to find a public restroom, only to give up 30 minutes in, paying $5.00 for a coffee I don’t want in a bathroom certainly not worth a $5.00 visit.

 

*Ecuadorian quirk: In every place we stayed or paid to use, the bathrooms were perfumed by the use of perfumed toilet paper. The Chief and I even sought out unscented toilet paper at the grocery store and were only able to find it in Quito. Perhaps it’s because of the second quirk which you may already be familiar with: toilet paper does not go into the toilet but rather into a trash basket nearby. Again, none of this matters if you don’t buy/bring the toilet paper to begin with so, either stock your pockets or don’t be a ding-dong and grab paper first. And now that we are back? I am constantly trying to remember the protocol. TP in trash? Toilet? Outhouse? Oh wait, that’s Alaksa but it’s again, another similarity to Ecuador. I basically spend my time these days trying to remember where the TP goes. Glamorous.

 

FIFTH: The bus

This one is last because it’s my favorite. So, first thing’s first: travel in Ecuador is far different from I thought it would be. Surprised? No, me neither. Travel between locations was not something I studiously approached but with a map showing a relatively small country, a plentitude of roadways and buses as the main transport I figured we’d be bussing about quite a bit. Right and wrong. The Right: The buses here are plentiful and you can get seemingly everywhere. The Wrong: Even Ejecutivos (First Class direct buses) make quite a few stops, elongating the trip. A 4-hour journey by car is an 8-10 hour bus ride. So, although you can get everywhere, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get there. Ok, boring semantics out-of-the-way and…onto the best part: Bus Atmosphere (with a focus on food. Surprised?).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Chivas in Banos Ecuador

Chivas! Tour buses that are essentially Saturday Night Fever on wheels. Plus families.

 

 

That’s right, friends, buses here are basically a party on wheels with food as the ever-changing guest of honor. Buses here blast one of two types of entertainment (and sometimes both, simultaneously): movies and music. On one 10-hour bus ride, they were showing a horror movie (a true one too, the scariest kind. Gee, thanks) at full volume. Thankfully, The Chief and I were seated right under the speaker (catch the sarcasm). However, truly thankfully, I think the fright and might of the movie scared the bus sickness out of me. If it’s not a movie, it’s tunes, normally full-blast. On the way back from the grocery store one day, “Despacito” was playing. The bus was comprised mainly of schoolkids and basically turned into a music video with the kiddos singing at the top of their lungs whilst dancing in the aisles and seats. So, needless to say, entertainment is included. Next up: snacks.

Bus food is the syrup to my pancakes. Our first ride from Quito to Canoa was a 12-hour day and after a lackadaisical bag search by a very nonchalant security guard, I was forced to throw away the food we had brought for the ride. Never fear, Ecuadorian hospitality to our rescue. You see, at every stop, the buses are swarmed by vendors offering all sorts of goodies. I had read not to eat fruit or street food for fear of the tummy revenge but I had already caved on day two and had a salad without negative effects so I was up for a risk but still a little shy. What was all this stuff?

Thankfully, Ecuadorian hospitality to the rescue, the woman next to us kept buying extra of every vendor who came on the bus and giving us a taste. Whole mangoes, fruit in a cup, ice cream, bread, honey roasted soybeans, plantain chips (I think The Chief OD’d on these), empanadas, pork in a fanny pack (avoid that one, unless you want to end up like our friends from Boston) and our ultimate favorite: Pan de Yucca ((bread, usually with cheese, made from yucca (picture a sort of potato and a sweet potato baby) flour)). On a queasy but hungry tummy, those rolls (gluten-free even) warm from a cloth napkin-covered basket are like a hug for your stomach.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Pan de Yucca Ecuador

Behold, the glory that is Pan de Yucca. Thank you, lady on the bus.

 

 

Finally, in the food parade, the longest buses often break up the trip with a stop at a restaurant where the food is great, the facilities are clean and the much-needed stretching of the limbs is available. Muchisimas gracias. So, even though it may take a day to get somewhere, at least you’re well fed along the way.

Now that you’ve read the big 5 you’re ready for Ecuador but just in case you needed a few extra intricacies to put in your back pocket, look no further.

 

10 Quick Odds and Ends and Ecuadorian Quirks:

1.) Alpaca is a staple and if you spend any time in cold climates I highly recommend getting some. I had to forcibly stop The Chief from spending our future life savings on everything alpaca (don’t worry, he still made out with head to toe llama).

2.) Try the streetside mango with salt, lime and chili powder. You can thank me later.

3.) Crocs are insanely popular. I’m open to it but I’ll never say I get it. Oh, and taffy. Taffy is everywhere.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Taffy in Banos Ecuador.jpg

That is some serious taffy handling.

 

 

4.) The lunch special anywhere is by far the most economical and filling meal of the day (think soup and popcorn/plantain chip appetizers, a large meal and a drink and potentially a dessert). Plus, here you’ll find the locals and where the locals eat is where you want to be.

 

5.) The bamboo structures here are impressive, to say the least.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Isla Corazon

 

 

6.) Stop and smell the roses. Really. Ecuador produces a huge amount of the roses you see in the U.S. Apparently, Andean conditions are the thorny beauties favorites and so, roses abound.

7.) Fear of heights? Enjoy. From bus rides to hikes to waterfalls to treehouses, Ecuador has seemingly endless options to flex your fear of heights. Flex on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Basilica del Voto Quito Ecuador

We decided to climb to the top of that spire, obviously. Afraid? Me?

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Basilica del Voto Quito Ecuador 2

View from the top. Barf.

 

 

8.) Ecuador + ice cream = every afternoon. I haven’t seen the cold stuff adored like this since Italy. Feels like home.

9.) Small bills and coins are king. If you show up with $100 bills you are either a.) leaving with them or b.) leaving with inaccurate change. $20 is the biggest bill you should bring and always aim to pay in exact coinage (especially on buses, etc.) or if you have a large bill, pay for your co-riders and they can buy you a beer later. Make it easy.

10.) The street art is amazing. The sheer use of color alone had my art heart swooning. Eat it up.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Street Art in Banos Ecuador

My favorite.

 

 

Well, that’s all, folks and by “that’s all” I mean that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the Ecuador that I’ve known thus far. I hope to return soon and report back more findings. In the meantime, have you gone to Ecuador or South America? What are your favorite quirks of living abroad? Do tell.

And now…to Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Flowers of Ecuador

The Last Day

It’s belonged to others so far, others I’ve wished to join in the title, others I’ve felt sorry for that they bear its impending exit.

Yet today, it is ours and ours alone.

The last day.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Hotel Canoa Ecuador

Amazing art everywhere you look.

 

 

Tomorrow, we depart from a place once foreign now familiar to a new unknown.

In our time here we’ve found an ever-changing yet ever-present family. We’ve fallen into a schedule and habits never before formed. Sunset surf? A trip into another world. Trivia Tuesday? One must defend one’s title.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Surf Shak Canoa Ecuador

The ominous blank page.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 San Vicente Ecuador Coco Bongo Trivia Champs

Thursdays in Bahia.

 

 

We’ve cycled through schedules from early to bed, early to rise to late nights and lazy mornings and back around again and again. Even I, with my propensity for planning, have learned to let go and just be. A little bit.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Workspace Work from Home

Plus, when the work kicks in, it could be worse. Work from wherever happiness.

 

 

This month in a place once unknown, now like home has been full of the ups and downs of, guess what? Life. Yet life in a very different setting.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 San Vicente Ecuador Coco Bongo Trivia.jpg

Amazing.

 

 

It’s funny how wherever you go, there you are. Pardon the inspirational kitten poster, next to its philosophical counterpart behind my High School Guidance Counselor’s desk but it does ring true, doesn’t it? That kitten sure is cute (“Hang in there” she says, whilst hanging from a branch) and the philosophy? True.

We may live a life on the opposite side of the Equator but just like us, it too arrived in this polar opposite of places. It’s been wonderful to watch a life develop in even the most drastically different of places.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Flowers of Ecuador

Flowers in Winter make my heart sing.

 

 

A place where clothes are a necessity but only for social graces and even then, arriving in a bathing suit and flip-flops is sometimes accessible. In Alaska, clothes are our partners in survival. They serve to spare us in our fight with the cold. Here, clothes create as small a layer as is deemed decent between oneself and the heat. In Alaska we chase the sun all day, here we find moments of respite in shade and prepare for the sun’s might. In Alaska we fight to keep groceries from freezing on the 8-hour drive home, here we fear they’ll spoil or melt in a ten-minute walk. Here, we run to the water to cool off, in Alaska our submersion might kill us.

Yet in all of the opposites, there is a similarity, an Ecualaska or Alascuador or whatever you might come up with of similarities in these drastically different places and within that strange, unexpected similarity we’ve found our rhythm. We’ve found our life in a place so far from where it lies.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador

Sunset in swimsuits? Not advisable in AK…

 

 

Now, we bid it adieu.

Today will be spent soaking up the last rays we can absorb, surfing at sunset (hopefully, since I decided to throw my back out in a triumphant sleeping matching with a too big pillow gone wrong yesterday) and toasting one last time with the family over a shared dinner. Or not. Maybe, it will be spent reading. Either way, I expect a Goodbye Sunburn (check).

Adios, Canoa. You’ve been lovely. You’ve been simultaneously otherworldly and completely the same, drastically different and as familiar as my middle name. We adore you and hope to see you again soon.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador

I love you.

 

 

Alaska, we are one step closer to your embrace.

But until then, onward, to Baños, Ecuador!

Surf Thirty (One)

As a California grown lady of the sun, I’ve spent my whole life around surfing. I grew up at the beach, I spent my summers by any body of water I could find and I loved a good beach blonde suntan combo. I had all the components of surfing: I lived near a beach, there were surf shops galore with boards and wetsuits for rent (and sweatshirts I desperately wanted but would allow myself, lest I be discovered a poser) and I knew of people who were surfers. Yet what I lacked was the confidence to try.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up Beetle Bug.jpg

Surf’s up, buttercup. Hangin’ ten, beetle style.

 

 

The times I came closest to learning, I realized that the people wanting to “take me out” actually had more interest in taking me out for a date than really teaching me to surf and so, frustrated, I had bailed (surfer lingo, brah).

A few bails in, I stopped trying. Certainly, without question, I could have gone on my own or grabbed a girlfriend to go with but in my awkward earlier years I was less Grab The Bull By The Horns and more Oh Shoot, I Just Watched That Bull Go By.

And so it went.

Suddenly, I was 31, still wanting to learn to surf and realizing that the only thing about surfing that I’d learned was that saying you want to surf and actually surfing are a world apart.

Enter: Ecuador, or as I’ve started to call it: Alascuador.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea. Could this be heaven?

 

 

This place, I swear is a cousin to our State of Brr. Everything from the reservation at first interaction to the utter triumph one feels getting a pint of ice cream home (one of our friends paid a taxi driver 50% extra just to get him home as fast as possible with a quart of ice cream he was bringing home for a celebration) to the timing (Alaska time, Ecuador time, Hawaiian time, same, same), to the dogs running about being a celebrated part of the town, to the what to do with toilet paper has made this southern spot seem like a flip side family member to the Alaskan way.

Which makes it no surprise that upon landing here, Ecuador has kindly kicked my behind. Just like in Alaska, if you’re not on the right path, Ecuador seems to either firmly correct your trajectory or high-five congratulate you for your ability to go with the flow. From our first escapades in getting to know one another in travel (firm corrections) to gliding through bus connections with uncanny luck (high-five congratulations) to finding our home for these last few weeks and me struggling to learn to relax (firm corrections as far as the eye can see) this place has been full of the ups and downs that I cherish about Alaska. The things that make life in Alaska feel, well, alive.

All the while, firm corrections and congratulations popping about, in the back of my head an anxiety started to rise. Was I going to continue to talk about surfing or actually learn? We had come to Ecuador to learn to surf and it was day 10 with no waves in sight. Don’t get me wrong, there were waves all about but we certainly weren’t on them. It had been years since I’d been fully immersed in an ocean, something I didn’t realize until we got here and the last beach I had been on had been unfriendly, to say the least.

Yet, when we arrived, I figured I’d jump on in like I had for years as a kid and start off right away with some epic bodysurfing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Sunset

Canoa sunset.

 

 

Wrong.

It turns out I wasn’t as comfortable in the waves as I had planned. While The Chief seemed to glide out past the break into calm waters, I was left in a whitewash whirlwind. I had forgotten all the tricks my Mom had taught me.

 

Diving under waves

Timing

Decision-making

Confidence.

 

I realized it would be a few days until I was comfortable alone in the water, much less to attach something to me and bring it into the water.

Enter: the boogie board, the perfect transition between body surfing and surfing.

We broke it within 20 minutes.

Still, getting tumbled about in waves far bigger than me was good for my morale.

Until it wore off. Finally, on day ten, panicked that we would never learn to surf (I love to pop in nevers, even when I have control of them) we went to Town to find June and his week-long surfboard rentals. Four hours later, after waiting for 2 hours for the shop owner to return, we had our boards. It was late in the day and we were set to be picked up for our traveling trivia team (apparently, The Chief and I make a sought-after trivia duo) and so, we said “goodnight” to the boards which had taken so long just to find and hours to rent and waited until tomorrow. Mañana, mañana.

I was sick of mañana.

Today was the day.

Unfortunately, Ecuador didn’t agree (or in actuality, she did agree, but she was testing my will. Do you really want to learn or do you want to talk about learning? Sound familiar, Alaska? Alascuador). A storm set-up, the sky was pregnant with rain and right as we went in for my first set ever, the waters came down upon us. The sea responded. The waves were all over the place, coming in diagonally, double crashing and the current was so strong that within minutes we were out of sight of our hotel. Gone were the parallel sets of beautifully set-up, semi-consistent waves of the morning only an hour prior. If I hadn’t been in a bathing suit in warm water, I would have sworn I was back in Alaska. The timing was just too much. The Chief and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. Decades of build-up and we couldn’t have picked a worse time.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Stormcloud

Ominous, eh?

 

 

It was perfect.

By the time we were out of the water, my hips and knees looked like I had dyed them blue. Bruises welled up before my eyes and I plopped down in the sand, exhausted.

I’d been in for 20 minutes.

And…I’d gotten up. Sure, we may have just been chasing whitewash but after 20 years of hoping, wanting, giving up and hoping again, I had gotten up on a surfboard and rode that whitewash all the way to shore.

A few hours later, still storming but not as bad, we went in again. A couple we met from Canada was sharing the boards with us and had impeccable timing so the next time they went, we went after.

Still, it was storming.

Still, there we were, up again, riding the whitewash.

I feel like my body had been planning and scheming and approximating just how it would do this task for me for years, I just hadn’t unleashed it.

I looked at The Chief and we were both beaming, smiles from ear to ear.

Those three seconds of the joy of floating above the water were worth the ten minutes of push and pull to get to them. I couldn’t believe how it felt. Better than I had imagined. Maybe like flying.

Needless to say, I was hooked.

That night I went to bed, completely physically exhausted for the first time in a long time. In Alaska, I often fall into bed, absolutely fatigued from the day’s duties. That day, the duties were purely pleasure-based but they were as challenging as any other chore I’ve performed.

Finally, finally, I had tried. The years of wanting washed over me. How simply such a buildup could just go away. How unnecessary the buildup to begin with.

Lesson learned?

I hope so.

One week later, I’ve caught even more than the whitewash. I’ve caught my first real wave, from crest to finish, I’ve even turned (a little). I’ve fallen more times than I can count, my body is more bruised than unbruised, I’ve caught a fin twice in the thigh, I’ve been hit in the back, had the board land on my head, done a somersault into the ocean floor and broken a fin and I can’t think of anything right now I’d rather be doing.

It may have taken me until 31 to try, but now that I have, I’m a sucker for it.

It’s time to start checking off the list of the long overdue wants and wishes.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up The Chief

A log, a love, two boards, two books. Bueno.

 

 

 

Thank you, Alaska for starting the teaching. For forcing me to test myself and trust myself. Thank you Ecuador for testing that teaching by forcing me to get out in a bathing suit day after day even on the days I’d feel more comfortable in, say, a parka. Thank you for pushing me to make new friends, get out of my comfort zones, to get a little scared but to try anyway and in the end to get to the base of it: to enjoy oneself. I’m listening. I’m trying.

Thank you. You are beautiful.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bananas in Ecuador

Bananas, y’all.

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Sonoma Coast

In the 30’s

The last time I traveled, really traveled, the kind of travel where you look at your departure date on your calendar with Mr. January posing coyly amongst snowflakes and have to switch all the way to Mr. March (sorry Mr. February, you know I love you too) in his springtime garb in order to find your return date was a long time ago.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Viva Italia Siena Italy

Viva Italia. 19 years old.

 

 

Growing up, I was a lucky little toehead and travel was a normal part of my life. My Grandma Gam took me to Ireland, I vacationed with friends in Hawaii, every year my Mom and I went to Mexico for a week to beat the Winter blues and in between I found myself exploring the sweet states of our country. Like I said, I was a lucky little beast. I ate up travel with as much gusto as I ate up my daily pancakes. I loved seeing new sights, smelling new smells, meeting new people and (obviously) tasting new foods. Travel, to me, was glorious.

It was also the norm.

So, when I flew the coop at 17 all the way to our Nation’s capital, I thought it would simply continue.

It turns out, travel is expensive and colleges, unlike high schools, look down upon a 10-day Mexican hurrah mid-Spring Semester. Who knew?

I had an inkling, but it quickly became a solid reality. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate travel or money, I had worked almost full-time since the age of 14 but I hadn’t booked and paid for my own travel until then.

Jules, are you coming home for Turkey day?

Maybe, if I can afford it.

Travel had changed.

And so, suddenly, here I am in my 30’s and it’s been almost ten years since I’ve traveled, really traveled, skipping Calendar Boys style traveling. It felt like it was yesterday but suddenly, a decade has slipped past.

Well, hello Mr. March, here we come because…

In the past two and a half years, I have settled.

Not in the “I guess he’s good enough way” (see last week’s post if you’re worried, he’s full stack of pancakes amazing). No, in the “Oh sweet heavens, I uprooted my entire life, changed residencies, changed professions and fell deeply in love soon to be married” kind of way. You know, life. So, after that upheaval, the Scorpio in me needed to nestle down and settle.

And…done!

One day last year, it was like a timer had gone off. The bachelor pad was suddenly a home. We’d built it together. We even had a living room rug and a couch with throw pillows to boot. The table had a tablecloth and the house glittered with fresh flowers in vases. Vases, people!

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's McCarthy AK Home Decor

I guess I’ve allowed color into my life.

 

 

Any more domesticity and we’d never leave again. The travel bell had gone off.

Now, we answer it’s call.

The Chief and The Scribe are taking off.

Hola, Ecuador.

For the next 6-weeks, we will be navigating the sunny south in search of…everything. It will be the first time The Chief and I have traveled together outside the States and the first time I’ve traveled (really traveled) in ten years since my seriously unexpected Italian escapade.

And let me tell you…things have changed.

 

Me packing 10 years ago, day of departure: I have 25 pairs of underwear, tanning oil and a bathing suit. Done!

My Mom, watching me pack 10 years ago, day of departure: Please, please tell me you at least have your passport.

Me: Ummmmm…

My Mom: all of her nails are now bitten off (not really, she would never bite her nails, but you get the point).

Me: Oh yeah, here it is. Not even expired!

 

Success?!

 

The Chief & I packing 10 years later: 

Me: Ok, I’ve called in all of our prescriptions for refills for the next 90 days because you never know and I’ve spent the last 6 hours researching how to do this on the cheap.

The Chief: Perfect. I’ve set-up our immunization appointments and put together a med kit (unveils med kit the size of a small child).

Things have changed. My toiletries 10 years ago consisted of a bar of soap and lotion. Now, that lotion has delineations: Night Cream, Day Cream, Body Lotion, After-Sun Lotion…the list goes on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Packing for Ecuador

All the things…and by all the things I mean a fraction of all the things.

 

 

 

We could rough it again, travel on the fly like the times of our 20’s past but there’s something about the 30’s that makes you say…no, gracias.

Let’s just put it this way: I love me some Earl Grey (have you seen the double bergamot edition? Be still my heart) tea and you better believe I’m packing a two month supply, right next to my daily multiple vitamins.

I don’t think I even took monthly vitamins at twenty-something and I certainly didn’t know my coffee or tea order (London fog, anyone? Try it.)

And so we embark, a little older than the last time we both traveled, maybe a little wiser but equally, completely excited.

And you, sweet reader, are invited.

Let’s dip our toes in some sand, shall we? It’s been far too long.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Sonoma Coast

Flipping Coasts.

 

 

Cheers to the 20’s, the 30’s, the 40’s the 50’s the 50’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and 100’s and beyond. Cheers to knowing ourselves better as each year passes, to settling and to finding the new within and wherever we may go.

 

// Lovely readers: have you been to Ecuador? What should we not miss? Please, do tell and leave a comment below. //

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Alaskan sunset

Trifecta

You know when you spend an hour looking at a fitness magazine or watching potential YouTube videos to try and by the end of half an hour or so, you already feel kind of accomplished?

Heck with the workout, did you see all that page turning, clicking action I just did?!

Wowee.

Same thing with cooking or shopping or planning. You’ve basically already done it all just by browsing or thinking about it, right? I mean, basically.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Lupine

 

 

It’s a fun little kickflip the mind does into a brand new stroke: been there, done that, may or may not have bought the t-shirt, made the cake or practiced the yoga.

Living in Alaska can kind of feel like that sometimes.

Drunk by Association.

I went to school for my freshman year of college on the East Coast. I was 17 and living away from home in the dorms. The dorms were not a place for drinking, it was forbidden. So, of course, we found sneaky ways to bring in way too much, way too cheap alcohol and imbibe specialty concoctions like Jungle Juice (exotic? I think not) and 7Up shots. Classy, classy drinking. Not always and not everyone but that wasn’t the point because whether everyone was drinking or just a few people were, the floor itself knew the deal and so, we nicknamed it Drunk by Association. If anyone got in trouble, everyone got in trouble and so by sheer association with the floor, you were drunk, by association.

Now, the Drunk of Alaska is a much healthier association (that’s a bizarre statement). The situation is exactly the opposite, while the basis remains exactly the same (keeping in line with the statement strangeness): you feel you are participating just by proximity, yet the difference is that whether or not you are participating is essential.

Every day in the wilds of Alaska, someone is doing something awesome. You hear about it, you think about it and then, just by being in the same proximity, it feels approachable, normal and just like that workout, almost as if you too have done it.

Being surrounded by such utter badassery, however, does not a badass make. Staring at a recipe does not a cake bake. You get my gist.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 birthday cake

Who stole a slice?

 

 

And so, sometimes, the Summer starts flying by and you chase the tail of its kite, giggling all the while, not noticing the cooling of the evenings and the dropping of the sun and suddenly, the kite flies just out of your reach.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Alaskan sunset

 

 

My first Summer, that kite had no chance of getting away. I went ice caving and ice climbing and packrafting and hiking and flying and camping in the backcountry. Yet, by my second Summer, I was no longer in live/vacation mode, I was fully living in Alaska and I let the kite slip through my hands. Don’t get me wrong, I still adventured far more consistently than I ever had before in my life but I didn’t make it out to the glacier until late Summer and I let work take a front seat instead of fun (I mean, they could at least buckle in together, right?) I rectified this just as I saw the kite slipping away and righted myself to orient towards adventure but the bulk of the Summer had gone.

Not again.

This last Summer, I vowed to myself to chase that kite with all my might. I told myself I would at least complete the trifecta: packrafting, ice climbing and a fly out.

 

Be careful what you wish for…especially in Alaska.

 

“Hey Jules, I was wondering if you would want to be in a video we are shooting?”

“It’s for the guide service. You could do packrafting or ice climbing…”

“I’m in.”

There it was, an underhand pitch of an opportunity to get out on the ice or into the water. I wasn’t working and if for some reason I was, I would get it off. I was going. As the date approached, the agenda started to change and shift and morph as it does and soon, the day came and…I was packing a little heavier than planned.

The day started early, I think an 8am curtain call or so in the hill town 45 minutes away. My girlfriend and I “carpooled”, meaning that she and I met half-way before the bridge and then she hopped on my trusty steed of a 4-wheeler and we whizzed up 1,000 feet of dirt road to the guide service of our dear friends and our shooting destination.

We were fitted for crampons for walking on the glacier and grabbed our ice climbing boots and harnesses and helmets and such and after a few test shots, packs packed down with gear, we were off. An hour or so later, we made it to the glacier.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Kennicott, Alaska Root Glacier 2

 

 

The guides skillfully built out a climbing set-up as we snacked and chatted. How one drills into ice and it is somehow secure is beyond me, but that’s what trust is made of, people (it still freaks me out though).

It was climbing time.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Kennicott, Alaska Root Glacier

 

 

It dawned on me, right as I was about to take my turn that I was about to be in a promotional video for my friends and I had ice climbed all of once ever in my life. Well, at least we wouldn’t be acting. The teaching moments were plenty as I hopped across the ice bridge at the base of the waterfall I would be climbing.

Epic?

Yes, I dare say so.

A few ascents by The Talent (that’s us) and we were off to the next adventure.

Next?

That’s right!

Alaska had heard my cry loud and clear.

We were off to go packrafting.

Just then, the skies grew a little darker, threatening rain right after which we heard the offer:

“Do you two want to be the plane Talent?”

Ex-squeeze me?

Before we knew it, my girlfriend and I were headed to the airport and after another snack break we were up, up, up and away and…

about ready to lose that snack.

The pilot was no newbie to the big blue yonder and he had us dipping and diving and turning on dimes enough times to buy an ice cream cone so the videographer could get just the right shots. Yet despite the green of my face, my heart fluttered. Being up in a plane is one of the best ways to fully grasp the grandiosity of where we are so lucky to call home base. Seeing it from the air gives you a whole new perspective.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Kennicott Glacier Root Glacier Alaska

The glaciers. We had just climbed the one on the right.

 

 

We even happened to head up the same route the boys and I had taken the Winter before via snowmachine and seeing it in the Summer gave me a whole new appreciation for where we had gone, a place we could only see by plane in the Summer months or snowmachine in the Winter.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 McCarthy Creek

Looking down at the “creek”.

 

 

We landed an hour later, tummies turned but satiated by the absolute wonder that is our backyard and then, it was time for a break.

Just kidding!

Onward!

Now it was time for packrafting.

The plan: paddle around the glacial lake, play amongst the icebergs, call it a day.

Outcome: Wind.

Just as we had forecast, the skies further darkened and the winds picked up (this happens almost every afternoon). Yet paddling against the wind, though tiring, was how we were keeping warm and so it was a strange symbiosis. We wandered through icebergs, our friend/guide jumped off of one and then we had all of our shots. Call it a wrap?

Wrong.

The winds had blown us in the direction of the Training Grounds, a quick set of rapids before you get to the bigger rapids below. If there was ever anything perfect to describe the Alaskan mentality, this is it: two practice rapids and then, boom! Jump into the game. Why not?

And so, jump or rather, paddle we did.

I hadn’t packrafted more than once in my life so, with a few quick pointers coupled with some good old-fashioned waiting on the camera time, time enough to get pretty darn chilly, added with some enthusiasm (“I saw you paddling, you’ve got great form”) I was a concoction of ready to go.

And, go we went.

I was in a seriously sweet sandwich between three guide friends and my girlfriend, following my band mate in front and off we went. Two practice rapids down and a couple big ones to go and…

we made it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Packrafting Kennicott River

Isn’t she adorable?

 

 

I eddied out of the rushing current and watched as everyone else came in through the silty waves.

We got out (not before I tried to throw my sunglasses to a little girl standing at the water’s edge, whom I thought was an adult. Nice work, Jules. Lure the young’n into the raging river! What am I, a fast water silkie in The Secret of Roan Inish? Geez. The band mate apparently has better vision than I and put the kibosh on that one. Embarrassed? Yes.) and everyone was ready to run again but I felt solid with my day. Up a waterfall, up into the sky and down a river? Yes, thank you. My shaky muscles told me I would call it good there.

We stripped down out of our dry suits and found our third set of clothing (we’d gone from tank tops now to down jackets) and made our way to the meeting point as the film crew finished their last shots of the day.

It was time to celebrate.

And I’m pretty sure we did but I can’t remember anything other than being exhausted.

In one day, I had completed the Trifecta: all of my Summer adventure goals: ice climbing, packrafting and getting up in the air.

Apparently, Alaska had been listening.

She threw a serious curveball to the whole I Read About Exercising So I’ve Basically Run a Marathon, Drunk by Association, Scaled a Mountain Because Others Did Around Me farce. She was out for reality and the granting of three wishes in the package of one amazing day.

The place we call home has this magic to it. It’s a sort of “Be careful what you wish for” because it will come back full force (or in threes) type of land. It’s the kind of place that looks you in the eye and asks, “Are you sure?”

Yes, Alaska.

I am sure.

Cheers to doing not just viewing, to jumping into a new pool, wherever that may be.

Thank you, Alaska for the opportunities you provide and the humbling lessons that go along with them and…

Thank you KWG for such a perfect trifecta. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.

 

And now…for your viewing pleasure: The awesomeness that is our dear friends’ company KWG (Kennicott Wilderness Guides) and “The Talent”: Watch it. It’s awesome.

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Travis Winters

The Cult

The crazy that California seems to outsiders has proven true.

I’ve joined a cult.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Travis Winters

 

 

“What kind of cult?” you say. “There are so many options!” you worry.

True that, pussy cat. Options abound in the strange world of the old West but I’ve gone with a simpler approach: The Cult of Busy.

This cult’s techniques are sly as a fox and crazy as a loon (thanks to John Prine and Iris Dement for the perfect description). I did my best to stay away, my best to avoid it, to not look it in the eye lest it sees me and my self-control be lost forever. Yet, alas, at some point I looked up, into the heart of the beast and I myself was devoured.

 

The Cult of Busy.

 

The moment we left the woods, it felt as if someone had turned the music up. The walls widened and the opportunities shifted as the road took us to the big city and onto California.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach

Out of the Woods. A New Narnia.

 

 

 

The last two years here, we’ve run about like chickens after slaughter, manically trying to soak in the goodness to the last drop and running ourselves ragged in the process. There’s so much to do and so many people I deeply love that I want to see that every second I had, I scheduled.

This year, we were going about it differently. The pace the prior years was too much and I would end up arriving to somewhere I really wanted to be with people I desperately missed and I wouldn’t actually be there, I’d be worn out and show up as the less than best version of me.

So I started opting out early in Summer to save stamina for California, while also deciding to take it more slowly in the big CA. I realized that I am an Introverted Extrovert and gave myself the go-ahead to turn down the bass and slow the pace. Besides, this year we were better set-up. We would have a 2 month-long home base. No moving every other week, no going out to dinner and driving in traffic every night because we had no way to cook. The busy extras which were what truly kept me busy and exhausted be gone, making room for what I really wanted to do.

The plan worked.

Sort of.

I forgot to factor in the whole culture shock thing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult McCarthy Alaska

 

 

Our first week here, culture shock was at its peak. We tried to go to a movie, we drove all the way there saw a huge line and a parking lot teeming with people and…we turned around and took our shocked selves back home into the woods.

It took us a week to try again.

I swear, in the 6 months since I was last here, this place has somehow gotten busier.

The 15 minutes I used to allot myself to get into Town now requires 20-30 and the “quick trips” to the grocery store had The Chief returning to me hours later looking like he’d gone through a war.

And…this is the quiet time of year.

The Winter is seen as a time to slow down, go inward, cuddle up and cozy down for a Winter’s rest, no?

Maybe, but the pace is still daunting at first.

The Cult of Busy.

I’m a card-carrying member these days, paying my dues but the thing is, so is everyone around me. I’m not busy solely because of the scarcity of our time here, it’s just busy.

 

Everyone is busy.

I’m busy.

You’re busy.

My nephew is busy.

My nephew is 6.

 

 

Or so I thought.

 

Enter: old friends to put a little candor in that Kool-aid.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult The Ka-Ca-Jus

Oh weird, where did that rainbow come from?

 

 

 

My girlfriends, nicknamed by my Dad as the Ka-Cas, renamed by me as the Ka-Ca-Ju’s (ALL of their names start with Ka or Ca and then there’s me, Ju) and I were out to brunch (insert snarky bougie comment here) this past weekend. It was the first time all five of us had been together for two years and well, a lot had changed.

For one, we were seven now.

Two of my childhood loves had become mothers, of daughters nonetheless. Our clan is growing and the group is now made of mothers and non-mothers and so, we talked about the differences. The pros, the cons and the reality that they both exist, always and forever in whatever situation you’re in. It made me so grateful to hear all of the possibilities of life broken down and dissected and into their basic form where…they were all, in essence, the same.

Here we were, holding babies and brunching, talking about the ups and downs of life. Twenty years ago we were doing the same thing only different. Talking over cereal, discussing topics like curly vs. straight hair or the pros and cons of divorced versus still married parents.

Twenty years later, everything has changed and at the same time, nothing has changed and it made me realize that we are still who we were as kids, twenty years ago.

It amazing to come home to our number Home 1 of 2 to a brunch of babes, babies and benedicts and…some realizations.

Realization #1: Living in Alaska, I’ve compared and contrasted California and Alaska to no end which has made me appreciate both, but I realize that it’s exactly like that brunch: they are different but the same. Both good, both bad, both life, both busy.

Realization #2: Yup. The Cult of Busy? I’ve been in it the whole time. I was while growing up here (I was an early inductee) and I am in Alaska, it’s just a different type of busy with different options which have taught me to appreciate how things were before I started hibernating in my Winters away from here. People often ask me how I fill up the days in Alaska and I laugh because I honestly don’t know where they travel off to, but they’ve certainly collected some stamps on their passports. And that’s because:

I am a person who is busy.

I have always been busy.

I realize this now.

Nothing like brunch to really pack a reality punch.

It’s not California or Alaska or any state or state of being in-between, it’s a constant. The busy of one looks glamorous from the place of another and vice versa but the grass isn’t greener and the snow isn’t whiter (O.K. but the wine is certainly better in one place. Guess where?!) It’s me. I’m the busy one. Yes, this place has certainly gotten exponentially busier, but me, I’m the same. I’m a busy bee. No wonder my friends nicknamed me The Hummingbird.

While The Chief will carve out time to spend a day reading with the ease of a blade through soft butter, I feel like I’m chiseling a new Mt. Rushmore.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult My Christopher

My Man and His Book.

 

 

I found the Cult of Busy or the Cult found me but either way, we are inextricably intertwined.

For now.

And so, for now, I dive right into this type of busy with a little side of understanding, courtesy of time away, courtesy of Alaska.

My days, for now, are no longer filled with chopping wood and hauling water and hour-long dish debacles and day-long shower set-ups and so, I can work more, chore less and see the place and the people who made me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach 2

Family & Friends at the Beach

 

 

From friends and family to world-class wines and restaurants to the sheer awesomeness of quick store runs and street side garbage service this place is stocked full of so many people I love and all the comforts of life one could hope for and I didn’t appreciate it enough until I didn’t have it. Alaska taught me to savor in scarcity and so while in this place of abundance, I feel like a kid freshly paid an allowance in a candy store. Hot water? Hot showers? Dark chocolate with sea salt anytime I like? Hello, Heaven? I must have been good.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach 3

No Doctoring Needed. Beach Heaven.

 

 

So, yes, the Cult of Busy? I’ve paid my dues and the late fees I incurred while pretending I wasn’t a member. I’ve even tried to recruit others to no avail (The Chief refuses). I’m in it and maybe someday I’ll bow out and bid adieu.

So it goes. I started the week thinking I had unknowingly joined a Cult and it turns out I may have been one of the founding mothers. There’s nothing like a gaggle of girlfriends to put life in perspective, to hold a mirror up and say “Take a peek. You’ve been you all along.”

Hats off to you, life. Sneaky, very sneaky.

 

Cheers to you and yours, wherever, you may be. May the contrast you find bring out the beauty in each place you land.

 

And to you, Alaska, I’ll see you soon. As for now, I carry you with me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Alaskan Winter

Winter Wonder.