Settling In

Beneath the Borealis Say Yes Coarsegold sunset

Say “Yes”

Years ago now, Elliott Smith wrote a song called “Say Yes”.

I remember the first time I heard it.

It struck me.


“I’m in love with the world, through the eyes of a girl, who’s still around the morning after.”



Beneath the Borealis Say Yes Coarsegold sunset



The sheer simplicity of that quest for a constant.

It broke my heart because it made me admit that I wanted it too.

A love you know won’t leave.

It was so human.

His hope sounded grandiose and sad all at once because his surprise is so universal and his fear so familiar. It resonates through art everywhere. The hope of a love that won’t leave you guessing. “Will you still love me tomorrow?


“They want you or they don’t.

Say yes ”



Beneath the Borealis Say Yes Engagement New Years Moon



Say “Yes”.


Over two years ago now, after a dreamy Summer in the arms of love in Alaska, The Chief and I asked ourselves these same questions as we parted ways for our first time.

For five weeks we found ourselves stolen from one another, torn from the grasp of new love and placed back into our lives we led before love struck.

In those five weeks and even in the double rainbow fairytale months preceding them, we wondered…

Would the overwhelm of new love fade? Would the cover she gently places over a less shiny reality be stolen away, leaving us with a change of heart? Would our Summer love become simply a Summer fling that didn’t fit as the Fall fell upon us?



Beneath the Borealis Say Yes Heart Shaped Rock

It wasn’t a geode but when I turned it over… Love signs. Say “Yes”.



We both walked away that Summer knowing very well that this could be the case. Perhaps the Summer Camp simplicity of the endless days and the endless new would, in fact, end with the changing of the guards at the shifting of the seasons.



Yet deeply rooted in both of us was a knowing.

A knowing that it might get hard.

A knowing that everything might not line up perfectly.

And even so, a knowing that we had to try anyway.


There was something there, something different, something we’d never felt before nor allowed ourselves to dream up lest it never arrive. We weren’t going to force it to fit but I know both of our fingers were crossed that it would.

Our reunion solidified what we already knew: together, we had found home.




Beneath the Borealis Say Yes MXY Wedding



We were in an entirely different state, moving from place to place, yet my constant had returned. I felt rooted. Uncertainties abounded around us but the one constant held true: we were saying “Yes”.


The shifting seas of life swelled up around us and rocked us through high and low tides.


Becoming a family, Lou, The Chief and I

Making our house into our home

Learning to live in a tiny cabin together

My first Winter

Dealing with illness

Shifting our careers

Dealing with baggage that just didn’t want to be lost

Losing our Lou.

Becoming a unit of two.



Beneath the Borealis Say Yes Engagement New Years Day Sunset



For the last almost three years, we’ve been saying “Yes”.

Through the ups and downs, the answer has been known.

Which is why, when The Chief asked me a very specific question recently, I without hesitation (but with plenty of tears of joy) knew what my answer would be.




Beneath the Borealis Say Yes Engagement


The Chief and The Scribe are getting hitched.


Cheers to leaping even though you’re scared.

To moving forward when you want to turn back.

To putting your heart out there, knowing it is meant to be loved.

To the constant.

Cheers to the people who truly see us and help us to shine.


Cheers to saying “Yes”.


Happy Solstice, Happy New Year, all. Thank you for coming along on this wild ride.



Beneath the Borealis Say Yes Engagement New Years

Love you, I do. I do love you.


Say “Yes”.

Locals Only

I remember the first time someone called me a Local here. To me it was a badge of honor, something I didn’t take lightly and in fact, barely took at all.


“Yea, you live here. Didn’t you realize that yet?”

I guess I hadn’t and I certainly hadn’t thought to give myself the title. Just like becoming part of any team or group I think belonging is gained by earning it in time, not by trying to take it by force and it’s not something you should expect.

Of course you have to feel that you belong too but that doesn’t mean that you should expect others to feel the same way immediately.

In a town built on hard work and old school values there is a certain feeling of a gentleman’s agreement: show you’re meant to be here, feel you’re meant to be here and maybe others will feel the same. It’s a show of respect and a nod to tradition. There are old timers here that will barely acknowledge a newbie, waiting until they’ve earned some stripes and you know what? I like it. We are often so self-congratulatory that a hesitation from someone who has already earned their time here is a good reminder to bring the self pats on the back down a little.

And so, although I do live here, I am still reticent to shout from the mountaintops that I am a Local, to lay stake to that claim. As you live here you realize that there’s still so much to learn and so much you don’t even know that you have to learn. Yet as you start to feel a bit more comfortable claiming the place as home, as you softly tread towards the place of belonging, suddenly a shift starts to happen. You are edging towards the other side and suddenly, newcomers seem foreign, even though you were a newcomer just one short year ago.

Now, I grew up in what I thought was a small town.

I was wrong.

I was a Local there from birth. I could walk through town and see familiar faces and it was quiet enough that a horse or a tractor could be among the “traffic” of Main Street. It was safe and cozy and creative. There were hippies and farmers alike in the sleepy little spot and it was peaceful.

Then came the grapes.

The town had been known for its apples, always apples. Since I can remember the fields were covered with apple trees. The area is even known for its Gravenstein apple. There’s an Apple Blossom Festival in the Spring meant to welcome the new and to bless the harvest in the Fall. We would run and play through all the farmers’ apple orchards, picking a less wormy snack off the ground if we got hungry. No one cared about fencing or property lines. It was small and quaint and kind and communal. The town was all apples.


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But one year and for every year after that, people started to decide that apples were no longer the key.

The key?


Wine grapes.

And so it went that every apple orchard suddenly was ripped up and planted with grapes and every spot of undeveloped land which could be used for grapes was purchased and sold and turned for profit. It felt like it happened overnight. The farmers I had watched going down the dirt roads on their old tractors were replaced with hired hands on fancy new equipment and the old timers seemed to disappear into thin air.

The grapes had taken over and thus the town was forever changed. With the grapes came an influx of money and with that an influx of people with money. Small Town Simple Life turned to Small Town Chic as visitors flowed in from all around the world to taste the crop and sample the quaint town of ours that was, in fact, no longer ours.

It was the first time I had ever felt a sense of ownership or protective pride over the town and it came as it was slowly sifting through my fingers like sand. It was impossible to gather up and put back together again. It was forever changed.

The town had always been a melting pot but with a common undercurrent of a simple back to basics life. In came those who could buy that idea and aim to emulate their version of it. Those who had lived in the town for decades could no longer afford their houses. Children who had grown up there could no longer afford to stay. New school hippies came in with money that they used to try to be like the old school hippies whose houses they had purchased. But money couldn’t buy what the old timers simply were.

The new school hippies felt contrived, as if they had read A Hippie Life for Dummies book; as if they could simply buy the lifestyle, wear the t-shirt and become accepted as the same. And then there were also completely different types added to the mix, good and bad or bad and good depending on who is asking and who is telling. It’s all in your perspective. Either way the town had suddenly been taken over, the new population outweighed the old and the ways of old were deemed unimportant or falsely duplicated in a way that made it feel cheap. My town was changed.

And so upon coming here, I thought I knew something about living in a small town. I didn’t want to impose, I wanted others to feel respected by me and positively affected by my presence, if affected at all.

I knew nothing of living in a small town.

My old “small town” meant I knew maybe half of the people in my graduating class. This Winter, on a good week, one where there’s a poker night or Christmas, I might see 12 people. For New Year’s Eve we had a party  and there were 5 of us. That was a good showing. Every person counts and the night is changed simply by one addition or subtraction.

But now it’s Summer and the influx has started and now instead of one or two people, it feels the whole world has RSVP’d “yes”.

Locals had told me about the anxiety that comes with the Summer. Last year I had seen friends simply stop in the middle of the street looking at the packed bar. They would have to walk away (or at least have me order their drink and bring it out to the safe(r) zone of the porch.

I didn’t get it.

I had arrived in the busy time. Busy was normal to me. I’ve always been a bit of a social butterfly (or hummingbird as one girlfriend used to call me) able to roll with a thundering crowd and meet new faces until the wee hours of the night.

Until now.

The other night The Chief and I decided to stop for a drink at the local watering hole on our way home from work. We planned to head home afterwards and put some starts into larger pots, transplant and replant but we wanted to catch up with friends whom had just returned to town.

We showed up to a huge crowd that exponentially increased by the minute. Pretty soon there were over 100 people there. Going from 12 in the Winter to 100 overnight could give even the biggest social hummingbird anxiety.

I’ve been in that bar in the dead of winter, the only one there, waiting for work to start (work that only existed because of a film crew in town, otherwise it would have been closed and silent until late May). I’ve listened to the creak of the old wood beneath my footsteps. Suddenly, I’m shoulder to shoulder with a mass of people and I know less than 1/4 of the crowd and I can’t hear anything except the beating of my own racing heart.

What happened?

The tourist season is underway and as it turns out, so is my crowd anxiety.

The Chief and I looked at one another wide-eyed and found a place outside the porch even to gain some distance and to be able to actually connect with our friends whom we did know there. The great divide between Tourists and Locals had begun.

Luckily for me, even though I was one of those tourists last year, I was a tourist because of a Local and so I was given access and entrance to a different world. Otherwise, who knows if I would have met any of them, much less the shy Chief.

Now I’m on the other side of things. I am fielding the questions about living here (“You actually live here in Winter?”) and giving constant directions to places I know of but often haven’t ever had the time to visit. I’m trying to help people not commit faux pas and to gently correct them when they do let their dogs swim in the drinking creeks or leave their trash for someone else to haul out.



This was all snow not so long ago…all to ourselves.


I hate the idea of ownership over a town but I hate it just as much as I love it.

You should love your home.

You should feel pride in where you rest your head and maybe one day your bones.

But sharing it with outsiders? Unfortunately, that can feel hard, even harder when outside of 50 people (seasonals and year round) everyone is an outsider. The thing is, not even a year ago I was an outsider. But in a town when the addition of even five people is noticeable the addition of 50 or 100 is overwhelming and it can be difficult to remember the ultimate truth: these newcomers are here because they want to be a part of the beauty of this place. The way they interact with it may be different, you may never be friends, you may never even meet but that doesn’t mean that what I so loved about this place should lose practice or not be shared.




I love that people always wave when they pass one another here, that they say “hello” or give a nod and pull over to catch up.

The other day, I found myself not recognizing a vehicle and not making a move to wave because of that.

That’s not who I want to be.

I don’t want to protect my newfound membership in a club by making others feel like outsiders. I want to be a refuge from city life for others and to facilitate a place where everyone waves and shares the feeling of the beauty around them.



The once frozen river, crossable by snow machine. Now only traveled by boat


The other day I was driving down the hill from the glacier to town. Tourists are constantly walking the road, and at this time in the season the tourist vans aren’t running because it’s too early in the season or too late in the day. This couple had hit both options. They jokingly threw out upwards pointed thumbs to me, seemingly more going through the motions than seriously expecting me to stop.

I did. That’s how we do things here.

“Need a lift?”

It’s four miles back to town and even farther to the campsites if someone isn’t staying at the hotel. After a day out on the glacier or ice climbing or packrafting, an added four mile walk can be just the opposite of what the doctor ordered.

They looked tired.

“Really? Oh, my gosh. Yes, please. That would be so fantastic. Thank you.”

I had been in the car plenty of times when this same situation arose but I had never gotten to be the driver, never gotten to be the one deciding to pick someone up, to do a good deed and to show some hospitality. You always pick people up if you can, that’s how the town goes.



We will totally pick you up as long as you can handle the fuzz…


In the weeks prior, as Spring had shifted to Summer, my protectiveness over the area had turned closer to un-hospitable than I’d like to admit. It isn’t how I actually feel, but it was how I started to act and I’m not proud of that.

The thing is, we’ve all been tourists at some point. We’ve all walked on someone else’s turf only to realize we’ve mistakenly poked holes in it. I think my living in a town forever changed by outside forces has made me sensitive and cautious of newcomers, just like people here might have been cautious of me. I’ve seen the town change just by the few people who’ve been added in a year (myself included). The television show certainly has left its mark. But it’s impossible to live if we are constantly afraid of change, even if that fear is somewhat staked in reality. We fear the town changing for the worse, but my worse isn’t yours and so we all influence what happens and have to compromise accordingly.

Picking up this couple and having a great conversation with them during the ten minutes of the bumpy drive refilled my tank and inspired a shift in perspective.

I can spend the entire Summer months here guarding my territory. I can complain about tourism, feel the intensity of the influx of people. Or, I can share. I can let each person’s experience here be their own, it doesn’t change mine. I can even learn about the area from them, since they are here to tour and I am here to live and sometimes I miss the newest cave that’s opened up. I can welcome them and hope for the best or I can be my smaller self and try to keep all the cookies for me. But really, that just makes me sick.

Sure, the crowds are still overwhelming but I can instead feel that increase in energy as fuel to my fire instead of letting it dampen me. I can see the pros and accept the cons and realize that I’ve been those tourists and I could have been them last year, had I not had an “In” and because of that, be reminded to treat everyone with kindness instead of becoming a curmudgeon. I’ve already moved to the middle of the woods, if I close myself off from newcomers, I’ll really be out here and if the town had closed off to newcomers, I wouldn’t be here at all. And so, I aim to change my disposition, divert my anxiety towards more useful emotions and see the beauty in what is before me.




My hometown changed and still is changing but the biggest uproar is in the past (and I’m sure again in the future). Anytime we face a full 180 degree turn it’s hard to adapt but as the years go by the edges soften. Now, in my town, the apple is gaining a sort of resurgence. Cider has become a huge industry. The kids of families that I grew up with have started businesses around this. We are paying homage to the past but in a newly defined way. Change comes no matter what we decide about it but change can loop back around and find its base again too.

The Summer is intense, but there is so much that is good about it. Adventures and colors and rainbows fill the day where before the cold and the lack of light decided our actions. Besides, soon enough, it will be Winter again. The quiet will return and the constant party will cease. Summer Camp will end. Books will open, fires will be made and tended to. Eyelashes will freeze and the dog’s toes will turn furry again. And then I’m sure I’ll wish for a girl’s night out on the town that won’t exist until Summer again. The ebb and flow.

And so every day I look at the river and wonder how it was ever frozen enough to let us cross it but instead of missing the snow I try to remember that it will return, but for now, she flows.


Let Grown-Up Summer Camp begin and remember to call in sick (hiking) when your patience is fading. Cheers to the highs, cheers to the lows and welcome to Summer.

The Annual Summertime Shower Day Kickoff

In the woods, a working shower is king. It’s like having a four burner stove and an oven. People stop and congratulate you when they hear of your good fortune. No longer will your woodsy world contain the bucket shower or the river dash.

When I first arrived, I took my good fortune for granted. I figured everyone had a shower, running water, a laundry machine. My reality check came quickly in the form of a new friend whom upon my entering the bar (freshly showered, hair washed and all) remarked that “Someone near me has taken a shower and smells wonderful”. Sniffing about he came to me and buried his face in my hair and called others to do the same. “You smell like flowers”.

This town really knows how to roll out the welcome mat. I was in.

Still, it didn’t totally sink in just how exciting  and rare having a real shower was until I saw another new friend running off to take a cleansing dip in the glacial waters of the swimming hole. That must be brisk, to say the best. People trade for showers here: veggies from my garden for a shower and laundry one day. A shower for an hour of tree work. The barter system is alive and well and often water based because really, is there much better after a long dusty day than a shower? I’d be hard pressed to answer “yes”.

“You look radiant! Did you shower today?”

“A few days ago, yes. Thank you”.

This is such a common exchange that not until writing about it did I realize that it ever seemed foreign to me. Year round it is difficult to shower here, even if you have a shower on site. It’s not that people are disinterested, it’s that it’s difficult and time-consuming and so the compliments aren’t just to say “Wow, you smell delicious” but rather a sort of unsaid “Congratulations for making it through the whole process”. A congratulatory compliment for showering? My gosh, my old showering self (at least once daily, or twice if it was a big gym day, which seems so foreign now) would have been to the moon with congratulations.

In Winter, congratulations are even more enthusiastic because it is that much harder to get everything done. It simply is difficult. Correction: in the Summer, it can be difficult (time-consuming to fill up, get systems running, etc.), in the Winter it is basically entering into a long-term relationship with each shower.

A shower this Winter? Well sure, I’d love one! I don’t have anything planned for the next 24 hours so I should be able to get one in. Ideally I’ll be able to as long as all the systems are in place and functioning and all the chores it takes to have a shower don’t take longer than a day.

Let’s see…


1st: Start a fire to warm the house (if you haven’t enough wood then start first by gearing up and chopping wood for a while. If you haven’t the logs to chop well, then you are out for a day of logging dead trees. Your shower will have to wait and your planning ahead will have to get in the game).

2nd: Bring the generator inside to warm up.

3rd: Find other chores to fill the next few hours until the generator is cozy and ready to purr, such as pumping gas to later fill the generator with. Afterwards, change your clothes once you come back inside because you’ve inevitably spilled copious amounts of gasoline on them while pumping fuel in your overzealous fashion.

4th: Gear up, buttercup. Gloves and snow pants and parkas, oh my! All to walk 20 feet outside. Bring the generator and watch your step as you carefully navigate the Ramp of Doom. Do Not Fall.

5th: Pull and pull and pull until the pullcord starts the generator. Plug in the well and start filling buckets. Take the buckets (now two at a time since you’ve gotten stronger since you first started this game) 40 lbs. each, one per hand and navigate once again the epic Ramp of Doom no-handed. Ideally some of the gravel your girlfriend spread the other night for fear of face planting on the icy surface still remains and you can find a little grip. Or you can just hightail it and hope for the best. Note: swinging the buckets forward at the last gap between the steps greatly reduces one’s chances of falling.

6th: Fill the reservoir for the shower. It’s around 15 gallons so that means repeating steps 5 & 6 a few times because after three buckets to fill the reservoir and 2 to fill the reservoir under the sink for our “running” water faucet and 1 more to fill the water on the stove and the tea kettle and the water pitcher and your water bottle you still need to fill up the 5 gallon buckets each once more in order to have reserve water for drinking inside.

7th: So, now, nose and eyelashes frozen,  you are all watered up. The house is like a fishbowl. You’re swimming in it. In fact, you look like you actually have been swimming in it because you are soaked. Time for another outfit change. Your fire has dwindled a bit so give her a little extra gusto and start getting the house cooking for your shower time. The water in the shower reservoir needs to warm up a bit too because pumping from the well is nearly frozen water which means, at best, a pretty cold shower even with the water heater working. It’s now around 4pm so you will prep dinner while you wait for the heat to nip at the chill.

8th: It’s 6pm and The Chief comes home. You’ve prepped dinner, chopped wood, done dishes, hauled water, pumped gas, taken a morning walk so as to get at least a little Vitamin D and you are pooped. By the time you’ve finished dinner (and dessert, duh) you’re finally ready to take that shower but boy does it take some serious inspiration. Sleep is calling. It’s been dark since 4pm and your internal clock is ready to snooze. But a few listenings to “Eye of the Tiger”-esque songs and you are ready! You can do this!

You go upstairs and don your robe, get your towel, grab anything and everything you will need for during and post shower and bring down the water catch 10 gallon bucket in which you stand in during your shower to collect water. You then find your stool made from old timber (yea, you’re short) and lift the stairs to their resting place above the middle of the kitchen. You aim not to fall as you secure them into place and weeble wobble on your stool. You then close the pantry door you and The Chief fashioned to protect the goods under the stairs during showers. You hook the shower curtain up around the appropriate nails on the back of the stairs and tuck it into your bucket. Just then you realize that you forgot your washcloth upstairs. It’s too late for that fallen soldier, you decide, because otherwise you’d have to tempt fate again on your wobbly stool, undo all of the hooks, move the shower catch, undo the stairs and then redo it all over again upon retrieving your washcloth. You’ll make do without it, eh?



Water catch, propane and…showertime!


9th: It’s time. Alert the chorus, or at least iTunes. It’s shower time people. You hook up the shower to the battery in the living room, check that the hose in the reservoir is submerged, turn on the water heater, turn on the shower head and pray to hear a flow. You do, the heater kicks on, the water goes from freezing to scalding hot and finally evens itself out. This is it, your time to shine. You tag in like the finisher of a relay. Let’s do this.



Not much elbow room but it’s cozy and it works.


10th: Just as you’ve suds-ed up your locks and are ready to turn the shower head back on (we do military style showers. Get wet. Turn off shower. Suds up. Turn on shower to rinse. Turn off shower. Repeat repeat with shampoo and conditioner. Water only flows when necessary. Now you know why I love a hotel shower. On demand water? Count me in). You turn it on, avoid both the freezing and the scalding shifts and settle in to de-suds when you hear it.

The entire time you are showering, inside, outside, at a friend’s house, wherever, you are listening. Listening to the pump, listening for correct suction. Listening and waiting for any sound to tell you that something is “off”. Showers are a sort of hyper vigilant auditory escapade. And now, you’ve heard it. A sound to tell you that something is wrong. The water isn’t pulling correctly. Suddenly, it stops. Oh joy. You aim to clear the shampoo in your eyes enough to get out of the shower into a thankfully warm (this time) house to inspect what is happening and unplug the pump before you blow it up (no need to do that more than once in a lifetime, right J?).

11th: You realize that the pesky hose that you so dotingly checked on not 5 minutes before has wound itself into a whirlwind and is now gallantly facing upwards like a gymnast flipping their head back after sticking a landing. You are no longer taking in water. Funny thing about a shower, it requires water. You do your best to submerge it again, even placing a rock from your collection on top of it and eyes burning, head back into your bucket, once again avoiding the cold and the hot in order to take in the joy of the just right.

12th: A few more On and Offs later and you are finally done. You dry off in front of the stove to keep the chill away (the shower rests in between the woodstove and the door and at 20 below, even our big door can’t keep out a draft that would kill a plant placed in front of it in hours. It’s cold.

13th: Post The Chief’s shower, both dry-ish and tired galore it’s time to disassemble the shower until the next one. You get your stool, unhook the curtain and go to start the slow move of the shower catch towards the sink only to realize that a small portion of the curtain was out of the bucket and the floor is sopping wet. Thank goodness it’s currently unfinished. Everything is wet but nothing is ruined and hey, character is added. You clean it up and then together, you lift the bucket over the sink and do a slow pour of human soup into the sink so as not to overwhelm the French Drain. You place the bucket near the fire (though not too close) to dry, unhook the shower from the batteries and are ready to put down the stairs and call it a night when you realize that the shower curtain is still wet and shouldn’t be put away as such and so you leave up the stairs and stare at the dishes that call to you (though not enticingly enough) while you wait for a slightly drier curtain to allow passage up to the sleepy upstairs where your bed rests.

14th: Everything is put away and passage upstairs is granted.

Shower Day complete.

You’re safe upstairs in bed with your wet hair until, of course, nature calls for the last time today and you hurriedly dress and find your boots and socks, run outside and scurry back in afterwards just as quickly. There’s nothing like a crisp night and chilled hair to knock you out of sleep but still the goings on of your day bring you back to slumber. You’re worn out. It was a Shower Day.


With Summer here (at least it is on most days, except on the ones where it is freezing at night and dumps rain all day) we were beyond excited to get to shower once again outside. The water drains, there’s no bucket to haul around, the shower is roomier and it is outside so the view is beautiful and the reservoir outside is 55 gallons. It might as well be a hotel shower.

I put up the stairs for the last shower related time until Winter and took out the screws for the door shielding our pantry from shower splatter.



Putting it up originally in December after almost of month of bucket baths. We were stoked.


We took down the shower curtain and set it to dry in the sun to be put away later. The shower buckets were both scrubbed and then filled with Winter clothes to bid adieu to until it’s time again to bundle ourselves.


And then, we took the shower unit outside. The Chief screwed it into place, we connected the hoses, filled the 55 gallon drum, checked that it was working and then just as it was set-up, had to run off to something or another before we could try it.

No worries, there’s always tomorrow.


Tomorrow followed that night in which the temperatures dropped to below freezing. No big deal, right?

Wrong again.

You see, when we tested the shower that meant that water ran through all of the lines. Lines that when left full on a night below freezing will burst.

Who woulda thunk it? We hadn’t had a freezing night in well over a week.

I did not get the memo.

The next morning (totally unaware) I was pumped, I didn’t even need an “Eye of the Tiger”-esque song. I put on my magenta robe and hightailed it to the shower house. Today was the first of many Summertime Shower Days, the Annual Start. I was walking on air.

And then the winds changed and suddenly I was back to walking in the mud puddles beneath my feet because when I turned on the shower, water started bursting out of the water heater.

That doesn’t seem quite right.

The Chief came and verified that indeed, we were screwed.

I, having very much looked forward to Annual Summertime Shower Day Kickoff, was not giving up. The shower, on the other hand, was. Thankfully, our neighbors’ lines hadn’t burst and they graciously allowed me to come over. When you’re set for a shower, you’re getting a shower. I would have visited every house in the ‘hood until someone let me in, thankfully this robed lady didn’t have to go far. Thank goodness for great neighbors.

That day we ordered a replacement.

I went to Mail Days (Mondays and Thursdays, delivered by plane) stalking the package for the week, knowing full and well that it was unlikely to even arrive within the week.



But it’s not a bad place to wait. Check out that runway.


It did! It came on a Thursday (a friend called to tell us we had a large package and see if we needed them to bring it home for us if we were on foot or if we had a car that day to carry it ourselves) and we raced from work to pick it up and then raced home to set it up. After days of painting I was so excited to get in. Just as we finished assembling the last bits we got a call that dinner was waiting on us at a friends’ house. We had been so lost in the set-up that we hadn’t realized that it was almost 10pm.

The shower would have to wait for another day.

Finally Annual Summertime Shower Day Kickoff came. Covered in a week’s worth of paint and dust (the roads here are dirt and thus dust is the coating on everything. My hair spends the Summer feeling like crunchy cereal, except for on…Shower Day!) we were both excited to kick off the Summer Shower Season.

We robed up, toweled up, got our shower supplies and headed out. It was beautiful outside with the Summer light still bright at 10pm by the time we got in. Finally, the first shower of the season. Outside, no buckets, no spilling in the house, no freezing temperatures to crisp up our hair as we went back in. It was perfect.




So, when I went for my second shower of the season some days later I figured it would come about without a hiccup.

Wrong again (third time’s the charm, right?).

It was cold that night but I was a dusty mess and needed to recharge in a warm shower before hitting the sack. I went outside, gassed up the generator, started it, hooked up the batteries for the shower to the generator, hooked up the shower to the batteries, turned on the propane, turned on the shower and the water heater and boom! A beautiful shower…

for about 30 seconds.

Then, the sounds we all listen for and fear started up. Chugging and glugging and…then, nothing. No water.

It turns out that the hose wasn’t topsy-turvy, nor was the pump malfunctioning much. Nope, the problem really was no water. I had forgotten to refill the barrel. So, I got my boots on and shivered in my robe to go off and run the other generator to run the hose to the 55 gallon drum to fill it with water. About ten minutes later the drum was full and everything was working.




I had solicited The Chief’s help on this one and he warned that the water would likely be pretty cold since it had just come out of the barely above freezing well. Oh, a cold shower in the cold outside. This was just what I had ordered.

Well, lucky for me, the order got changed in the kitchen and the water came out hot enough to barely notice the cold temperatures outside.

Until it stopped again.

I knocked on the house to summon The Chief (again).

“What was the sound it was making?” See, I told you we all listen for sounds around here. I told him that the pump was making a fizzing almost bubbling sucking noise.

Time to unhook everything. I’m still learning to troubleshoot this puppy.

“You probably should get back in your robe, babe. This could take a while” he said, looking at me shivering.

There is nothing more dissatisfying after a semi-cold shower than putting on a semi-wet robe. Actually, standing in the cold, shivering and naked with wet hair is worse. Wet robe it is.

After finding a plugged up part of the line and having two false starts the shower was again up and running in ten minutes.

About an hour after robe-ing up and heading outside (and after maybe 15 minutes of actual showering time, which is luxurious, don’t get me wrong) I was done. The Chief took his run at it and came out successful with little to no interruptions (I guess I had worked out all of the kinks, the benefits of being a second showerer in the Summer versus standing in someone else’s water in the Winter if you don’t dump it first).

A year ago, I was taking showers and baths where the hardest thing that might happen was that the water heater would go out and have to be re-lit, which at the time felt like a serious setback. Now, taking a shower here feels like back in California. I essentially just get in and turn it on. Sure, there may be malfunctions but we have a well, we have a 55 gallon drum. Many people haul their water from up to 30 minutes away, some even walk the 30 minutes with 40 lb. buckets in backpacks. That seems near impossible to me. Then again, my showering situation would have seemed near impossible to me a year ago. I guess it’s all in the perspective. And in the necessity.

A year ago, this all would have seemed so foreign. A year ago it did seem so foreign. I basked in my showers not realizing how lucky I was. Now I see it. My perspective has shifted and I hope I never forget how amazing it is to have what we have.

Upon entering someone’s home here, it’s really common to check out their “systems”. How does their water situation work? Is it a dry cabin? Where do they haul water from? A well? How far down did they have to drill? What is their battery or solar situation like? Do they have a slop bucket or a drain? Everywhere we go everyone looks for tips and tricks of the trade. The other night we dropped off friends and admired their new shower system and French Drain in the kitchen. When we got home The Chief said “I hope I never forget how amazing it is to have our own running water in our house”. Luckily for him, he won’t have to. I’ll never forget how scary taking a slop bucket down the Ramp of Doom was in Summer and how happy I was that he installed a French Drain last Fall so that I didn’t have to tempt my fate on the Ramp of Doom with a slop bucket in Winter.

Our simple life may change. We may move on from a two burner so high up on the counter that I had to stand on my tippy toes to be able to cook to a full four burner with an oven.



Our old two burner, recently sent off to a new home at a friend’s house.


We may move from bucket showers to pump showers, heck someday we might even have a root cellar but I don’t plan on forgetting where we started: with coolers and specific placement of items at varying distances from a Winter entrance to keep them the right amount of cool. I won’t forget that we are lucky. Lucky to live the simple life that isn’t so simple at first and at second, is more than I could have hoped for.

And, I’m sure if we do forget this simple fact, Alaska will have a swift kick in the rear for us both as a reminder.


When is Trash Day?

It took me a while after I first arrived here to realize that Trash Day doesn’t exist here. There isn’t one night a week that you’ll run into your neighbors as you line up your cans or watch them in the morning cursing their forgetfulness as they hurriedly place them in a row. There are trash cans everywhere. Trash and recycling duties are performed by the Park Service but they are not for local use. Of course you may occasionally use the cans for typical use (that ice cream wrapper has to go somewhere) but bringing your household trash to the garbage cans? That’s a No-No.

So, then what?

By the time I realized I was living with The Chief (the plans of a building a platform finally put to rest and my boots settled comfortably in what was now Our house) I realized I had a lot to learn about how the house actually worked. As a visitor you (or at least I) kind of gloss over certain details. You toss something in the recycling at someone’s house and then for you the process is done. Until suddenly you live there.

And so I set in to learn just how everything magically went Poof! and disappeared.

Well, I’ll tell you right now it is not magic.

It is, on the other hand, a lot of odoriferous work.

But that’s fine with me. I grew up amongst pungent projects. My favorite household chore as a kid was going to the dump. I loved the sounds and the big machines, wearing “dump clothes” and tough leather gloves. I loved the seagulls and the utter vastness of the pit. It was powerful to me in some way, like looking out on the ocean from a clifftop. Back then you got to drive straight up to the actual garbage pit.

For some reason they stopped allowing people to do that. Sometimes I wonder if it had anything to do with this little girl who fell down into the pit one day because her father threw the rotten 2x4s they were heave-ho-ing into the pit on the count of “3” instead of “Throw” (you know “1, 2, 3, Throw!” vs. “1,2,3!”. It’s the ultimate debate) and she flew into the pit along with the boards. Down, down, down into the vast array of who knows what just as one of the big garbage chewing machines (this may not actually be their technical name) was coming by. The driver couldn’t see her and he was approaching fast. Scared and a bit discombobulated, the little girl started to try to move but she only sunk into the mounds of garbage around her. Thankfully, just then a random dump-goer ran in and carried her out and both escaped unscathed.

Oh yeah, that little girl was me. I spent the rest of the day showering the stink of adventure off of me.

So, needless to say, I’m familiar with taking care of my own garbage and used to the odors it can produce. Or so I thought.

The thing is, I’d grown soft. After years of Tuesday Trash Days and Monday night meet and greets with the neighbors over the lining up of our refuse, where the trash went and how it got there weighed less heavily on my mind and depended on very little more than a short walk from me.

So, fast forward to moving to the woods which obviously (obvious now, not so much at first) does not have Trash Day. What does one do?

One of the biggest issues with trash here is storage until it reaches the next step of transferring it to town or if it’s burnable, burning it. It makes sense, of course, but if I had been without The Chief, I can see myself piling trash outside and coming home one night to a bear dinner party that I was not invited to join or disrupt. Trash needs to be secured. So we have 55 gallon drums that we’ve purchased to store trash until we can take it into Town.

For now.

In the Summer, it may be another story. You see, the bears can undo the drum latch. I can barely undo the latch with two hands and two thumbs and a pair of work gloves. It’s a challenge every time but a bear? He can pop that thing open like Popeye and his spinach. So, we will have to test it and see how it fares.

Hopefully it will fare better than the freezer last summer. Which brings us to the next issue: getting rid of bigger items. It’s been said many times around here that this is often the final resting place for the things that find their way to the woods. From cars to tank tops to snow machine seats and 4-wheeler tires, things are used and re-used and re-purposed till the end. But when something no longer works and cannot be fixed, then what? Start a junkyard?

It feels strange to see “junk” in the middle of the woods but getting items out is always harder than getting them in (and getting them in is often darn hard. Need building supplies for your house? Unless you want to/have time to do 50 truck loads 8 hours each way yourself, you’re going to need some help from freighters). So last year when a hungry bear came to our house every night and made meat popsicle out of our stored food and broke the freezer, what was there to do? The freezer no longer worked, the food was ruined. Ah, clean up, you can be such a disgusting charade. And now we had a freezer on our hands that didn’t work and was broken past repair. The plan? Haul it out. Someday.

The next issue of life in the woods is recycling. Alaska has a pretty detailed recycling system. All items must be clean and sorted appropriately (there’s seemingly one billion different plastics classifications), bottle caps removed and non-recyclable items not included (even if they say they are – Costco apple cases? They seem to be recyclable. They aren’t accepted in Alaska. Surprise!). We have a recycling bin inside the house that then gets bagged up, taken outside and then eventually sorted into many different bags. However, the sorting process doesn’t always/can’t always happen immediately (sorting recycling at 20 below zero just doesn’t always appeal to the senses) and sometimes on the way into town there just isn’t room enough to take loads of recycling. So, it starts to pile up. Since we are heading into town again, I decided to tackle the recycling. It’s contents range from Fall until now so needless to say, the job was sizeable. Thankfully, it being Spring and all, a lot of the ground had melted around the bags but some were still frozen in and had to be shoveled out.

About 20 bags and countless amounts of old beer spilled on me later, we were sorted.



Seeing dirt for the first time in months


We started to debate how much we would actually be able to bring with us. With a barrel for fuel and all that recycling plus 4 bags of trash, things were getting a little crowded, and we still had that old freezer plus countless other random items that needed to be retired for good. We settled on putting in as much as we could and leaving a day early in order to complete all the dump and recycling runs. But, we ran into a much better option. A friend had started a trash and recycling business last year and was taking a trip out, his first big run of the season.



Way to load it, Mr. E. By the end of our drop-off and few other neighbors, this thing (plus the attached flatbed plus a horse trailer) will be chock full of recycling and trash



It’s not just for ponies anymore.

Residential services were available and so we called to see what he could take. We hustled all day to get as much gone as possible which meant cleaning out another freezer that had stored the rotten meat from the bear encounters with the other freezer last year. A lot of gagging and bagging up meat turned unrecognizable and we would finally put to rest the bear debacle that started 8 months ago.



Don’t puke, my love.


That’s how things go out here, in stages and never as fast as one would hope. But now we could see the end in sight. We piled the truck high with our first load and then our second and slowly but surely improvements to the property were becoming noticeable.

The Chief had done a day of falling trees for our friend who was running the trash business and so the beauty of the barter and trade system that flourishes out here was put into play. Just for us to haul the freezer to the dump would have been $100, plus gas and time, plus it would have taken space away from hauling in other items. Our friend was able to do it for much less and all in all, credit from a day of work from The Chief paid for a day of hauling trash and recycling from our friend. Any time something out here is made just that much easier, it means the world. Saving a day at the dump (even though I still do love going) means that we can spend that getting the property even more ready for Spring before we leave, for as the snow melts it’s amazing the treasures (and trash) I’ve found.

The dog we are dog-sitting (he’s our nephew) came in one night biting at his paw. He allowed me to look at it and I yanked out the molar below.




The next day, as the snow had melted exponentially more, he came up with the whole half bear jaw and some claws.




Thankfully now there’s a way to get rid of the trash we find amongst the treasures on a regular basis and a way to avoid potentially creating bear amusement parks in our backyards. It makes the “hard” life we live just that much easier so we can focus on other Spring things like getting the garden ready and switching out Winter boots for Summer boots.

Cheers to Spring time (I’ve finally given in) and all that it unearths.



Ah, and a brief sidenote: The Chief is named The Chief over here at Beneath the Borealis not because we are ensnared in some hierarchical patriarchical relationship where he reigns supreme but because of his profession. He is the Fire Chief of the town and thus, The Chief seemed a sweet moniker for the man I spend my days with. So no, don’t worry, I’m not bowing before him or asking for permission to sneeze. We are partners. Different in our talents and equal in our value.

Shouldering the Seasons


Not my strongest suit.

Once as a kid I came home to my Mom’s house after a weekend away at my Dad’s only to find that she had changed my bed sheets. It was full-bore – new fitted and flat and fancy pillows at that. It was beautiful.

I hated it.

Instead of snuggling up to the newness, I shunned it. I refused to sleep. Literally. For a week my poor Mom had to deal with me staying up all night yelling about my old sheets and refusing the new. She had to tell parents of friend’s houses I visited that week to make sure I didn’t sleep while I was there, in the hopes that I might exhaust myself and fall asleep at night (you know, like a normal little human).


I’d find my way into tiny closets and hidden nooks and crannies in order to catch a few Z’s, enough to keep myself awake for the night ahead.

A simple stand-off, right?

This will put it into perspective (and perhaps remind you of a moment in time when animal movies were all the rage. Think “Free Willy”, “Fly Away Home” and “Homeward Bound”. Nostalgic yet?):

I loved animals (still do) and I wanted nothing more than to see the one, the only “Operation Dumbo Drop”! This was a movie after my own heart: basically an elephant was in danger and had to be moved to a safe location via air (which poses a challenge when you’re crating an elephant). And then some shenanigans ensue and laughs are had, cue the lonely teardrop from your eye as the music picks up and he is saved! Right?

I don’t know because I never got to see the movie because I wouldn’t just go to bed. The deal was: If I would just go to sleep for one night I could see the movie. One night.

I couldn’t. The sheets weren’t right. Change was upon me without invitation and I would fight it tooth and nail. Eventually, exhausted by my night-time tirades my Mom replaced my old sheets. All was good in my world again and the fact that I didn’t get to see the movie that I had pined for paled in comparison to the cozy reality that we (my sheets an I) were reunited and it felt so good.

Looking back on this now I’m a little embarrassed for the panic towards change and at the same time proud of the stubborn little lady I was. The stubbornness remains but that inability to accept change? I mean, that’s so different from how I am now. Right?

I like to think that I am a Roll with the Punches, Quick-Footed, Easy Going Gal.

That’s what I like to think.

I mean, change is inevitable, right so why not take it smoothly? Like water off a duck’s back. That’s how I deal with change. I give myself real-life examples to back it up:

Hey, you moved to Alaska in the middle of winter and rode it out pretty well.

You can generally find a smile in the situation (like the time you had to walk three miles home in the pouring rain because you had woken up to blue skies and packed your bag (a.k.a no rain jacket, a rookie mistake in AK)) accordingly.

Overall you tend to see the positive in things.

So when the seasons started to shift here from Winter to Spring, I wondered why that stubborn, panicked little lady showed back up again.

I am not ready for Spring.

I grew up hearing from my Grandma that California doesn’t have seasons. I didn’t understand. I mean, Grandma, the leaves in the fall create a magnificent trifecta of gold, orange and red. The trees (some) lose their leaves. It rains for a little bit. Then some flowers pop up. Then it’s sunny again for about eight months. We totally have seasons.


Here, in Alaska (or in Missouri, where my much wiser than I Grandma Gam lives) there are seasons and thus, I was introduced to the term “Shoulder Season”.


The in-between.

The transition.

The change.

It turns out, I’m not as great with change as I thought (cue in the “no duh”). Change that I induce (i.e. moving to Alaska. Scary? Yes. But voluntary, nonetheless. Getting caught in the rain? Romantic at worst. If you can’t laugh at that, well it’s time for a hug followed by some good belly laughs to come your way) is not such a big deal. I can roll with those punches. But the sneaky knockout of a seasonal shift? Yowzers. It came without warning.

As a true Californian, I thought nothing of the impending Spring. Fall back, Spring forward. I did it. No biggie, right?

Except, no, Spring is more than just a time shift, more than just a nod to the Equinox (which is somewhat irrelevant this far North, since we had been gaining daylight past an equal day and night much faster than farther South **Correction: after a ski with a girlfriend we got to talking and this is not entirely correct. Through talks and research with friends and The Chief we discovered that although our location in Alaska had over equal day and night at the Equinox (around 12 hours and 17+ minutes of daylight versus night) this is not specific to our Northern location. New York was slightly over equal parts day and night and my home in California was about 9 minutes behind us in AK. The shift from Daylight Savings to Equinox felt exaggerated because we had been used to so much dark but it did not mean that we actually had more light, just that it felt as if we did. However, at this point, we will be gaining daylight at a faster rate and head towards the Summer of all day sun. Phew! That got confusing…and fascinating)). It’s a shift in everything and none of it has shifted to what I’m used to or to what Spring typically means to me (i.e. blue skies, bright green fields of grass, tulips, rainbows, puppies, kitties, gumdrops…o.k. maybe that’s a little overly fantastic view but it is pretty fantastic. Bright, light and colorful). It usually means this:


Photo courtesy Mr. Mike Sloat (Rock God and apparently a California Tourism Bureau Photographer, or at least he should be)

and this:


Oh what I would give for fresh-cut flowers to light the room

Just when I got the hang of Winter, enough to feel confident and to see the bigger picture, Spring has sprung, the picture has changed and a whole new set of how-to’s and to-do’s arise, as do the surprises.

Like, tourists. In March? Apparently so. Suddenly, our quiet little town was taken over (and by taken over I mean probably 20 people arrived, but when your population is around 30, it feels like an invasion of sorts). The term “Spring Break” became a two-pronged meaning, both ominous in description, signifying either time off from school and thus family vacations venturing out here or “Spring Break-Up”, meaning the time when the rivers start to break open and everything melts. It looms in the future.

Spring Break came and continues (apparently the schools are staggered in their time off and so the influx is more of a constant wave). Everyday I see more and more cars and people and the pitter patter in my heart never ceases to surprise me. I love people! But when you’ve spent the winter hunkered down knowing everyone around you, outsiders feel even more foreign and the whole place just feels (and is) louder.

And then, the weather, another change I never anticipated disliking. More sun? Yes, please.


Kind of.

In our departure from California I wondered how the lack of sun would affect me. When late December came and the day was nearly over come 3pm it did affect me until I learned ways to deal with it (mainly, get outside for as long as you can before you lose sun). But this sudden overhaul of daylight? Being able to walk by a still lit sky at 9pm? That too is making me wiggle in my (now too hot for the weather) snow boots. It’s just a little too much too fast.

The sun is a welcome presence but with it comes the anxiety of Spring Fever. There is so much to do before Summer and so much to see before the wild gets overrun with people. Spring having sprung makes it feel like Summer is breathing down our backs. I found myself yelling at the sky on my walk home from work to ask for snow, begging for the melting to slow and the snow to return and then realizing it’s totally out of my control.

This happened within a few days. I panicked.

And then, the sunny days turned to grey. The sky is no longer singing the song of Spring, it is singing the song of rain while you’re hoping for snow. Things started melting, now they are sloshing about. Personally, I love Slurpees. I don’t love walking in Slurpees. It’s the in between before the ground reappears and you know what, it’s awkward. Footing is awkward and driving is an exercise in recently unearthed rock and new puddle (yellow puddle) avoidance.

Roll with the punches, huh?

Sheesh, Spring even means a new approach to dressing myself. Bibs are too hot, boots are too hot, snow turns to slush and rain gear comes out (oh, wait, I don’t have any rain gear). Shoulder Season Wardrobes are a thing I never even considered (again, just as I was actually learning to dress myself for Winter, this little wrench jumps in). Everything is a little different and even the things that you thought you’d never miss, well, suddenly you feel the loss of their presence. You miss things like:

Frozen eyelashes and mustaches.thumb_IMG_4592_1024


The sound of a log splitting at twenty below.


Catching the sunrise and sunset thanks to late sunrises and early sunsets (luckily there’s still enough snow for doggie snow angels).



The crunch of your footsteps in snow.


Snow laden trees (aka Snow Globe Fairytale Trees).



Going to a party a being so surprised that 8 whole people are there.


…and the fuzziest toes you ever seen.



Heck, you even miss the snowy Ramp of Doom (still dangerous but now less so without the added ice feature).

People tell you: Sit in the uncomfortable and enjoy the impermanence. Mmmmmk? Well, I may have gotten a little winter belly, but I am no Buddha. Doing these two things is harder than I ever imagined.

And so, I’m trying to embrace the change. To realize that Winter too will come again. To enjoy seeing and smelling the exposed patches of dirt (from which snow melt is exponentially increased because of heat absorption, but no, it’s totally great), to be amazed by the blooms rising straight from the snow



Woah, Willow You Wow Me.



to meet new animals like this little feller:


A Sneaky Ptarmigan (they say not to pronounce the “P” but I encourage it) **Correction: when I asked The Chief what kind of bird this was he replied “A Ptarmigan, or a Spruce Grouse” meaning: “Oh, wait, not a Ptarmigan, a Spruce Grouse.” I took them as interchangeable, either/or. I was wrong. This is a Spruce Grouse but you know what? I might just call it a Ptarmigan anyways until I actually see a real one because that name is way more fun to say.

and overall to just enjoy that which is currently happening, rather than wishing for something else. Instead of expecting a sunny day and being disappointed by a gloomier one, taking to the cabin and finding inside jobs or having a movie day (that feels pretty excessively luxurious but I’m forcing myself to try). Letting off the gas, heck even off the wheel and accepting that which will come. It’s all so much easier said than done, but nonetheless, I’m still trying.

I guess I can’t say that I’m as far from my “Operation Dumbo Drop” days as I thought I could but I can say that I haven’t caused anyone else to lose sleep over this newly revisited aversion to change, so that’s gotta count as some progress, right? Sorry again, Mom. Thanks for not putting me up for adoption, that was very cool of you.

And although I’m not as enlightened by the joys of impermanence as I thought, although I cling to comfort like a baby to a breast and a monkey to your back, I know that some part of myself put me here to learn this and to re-evaluate how well I actually rock with the tides or see if instead I try to struggle against them. Alaska life certainly does keep you constantly reinventing your disposition. Challenging and changing how you see things and how you react to shifts great and small. She likes to get you comfortable in the uncomfortable and that, well it’s just not comfortable. But hey, she keeps you on your toes (and when you refuse to learn, she throws you on your back gently but sternly like you would a puppy in training).

So here’s to this new season and the uncertainty it brings. Cheers to Spring both light and dark. For Spring has sprung, whether we ourselves turned the handle of the Jack-in-the-Box of seasons or it sprang itself. Surprise!

Cheers to the change.


Home is Where the Hard is

My girlfriend in Norway texted me this morning. “Help” was the first text. “Help me choose a kitchen” with a link to a website was the second.

You see, she is remodeling.

And I guess we are too.

Two kitchens. Two continents. Worlds apart.

Since moving into The Chief’s house it has become our house. Our home. It felt like home the first time I arrived and has ever since. But, as I mentioned in this post, it was a bachelor pad, like a perma-bachelor pad. And so we have slowly been making it ours.

The thing is, projects in the woods can get a bit tricky. It’s not like we can hop in the car and take a quick trip to Home Depot and stop for lunch on the way home (oh to eat a meal and simply walk away from the mess, that is luxury). We can’t just pop into town.

Town is Anchorage.

Town is 8-10 hours away, depending on the weather.

It’s a three day minimum commitment. Your house will freeze along with everything in it and if you’re lucky enough to have work, you’ll have to take time off. You’ll have to brave glacier riddled roads and icy highways and you must be able to carry all the supplies on your vehicle because strangely enough, stores don’t deliver out here.

So, the best alternative is to do it yourself. Source your own materials and make it work.

The Project: kitchen shelving

The Plan: build them from scratch

The Materials List: it all started a few years back…

In essence, our kitchen project started years ago. Before we even found one another. Our neighbor cut down the trees that would then be taken to another resident’s property to be milled into the biggest size possible. The now beams were eventually brought back over to our joint property by another neighbor where they sat…and sat…

Fast forward to present day and a stretch of time off from work for The Chief due to…you guessed it…a need for more supplies. So, as the job site was restocking we made use of the time off and started a “simple” kitchen project. We figured it would take a day or two. That was cute of us.

Day one: After suiting up for the cold, The Chief headed  out to the beam site. Shovel and axe in hand he chopped and chopped through ice and feet of snow until he wrestled two free.


Wolf patrol. So many things to pee on.


Sniff it out, dig it out.

I suited up myself and helped him to lift the beams onto the sawhorse.

I’m a pretty strong little bundle of a 5′ 3 (and 3/4)” lady but this 12-foot hunk of future shelving was a serious workout. At least I wasn’t cold anymore.

The beams on the other hand, they were cold. Frozen to be exact and at ten degrees outside, they weren’t thawing out any time soon. This seemed like a serious threat to our shelf building escapade. Out came the hammers. We hammered away the large chunks of ice and used the other side (the Claw, I’m told) to scrape. It was slow going. We found angled metal that worked as a scraper too but still, a great deal of ice remained and there was no way we could get those beams inside the house to thaw. The Chief smiled. He had a little trick up his parka: a weed burner. It’s exactly what it sounds like (unless you’re from California, then see the following explanation): basically it’s a torch used to burn down weeds but hey, I’m all about multi-purpose tools.


So we spent the next hour or so burning off the freeze and the rest of the afternoon logging for the next project.


Logging means brush…which means bonfire time

The next day was colder and it was harder to motivate to head out into it. But, of course, in true Alaska fashion, once we did motivate and had just finished defrosting the second log friends from across the river announced their arrival via snow machine. Our work was done for the day.


The next day was full of bright blue skies and recently refrozen rivers. We couldn’t just burn weeds all day, we had to greet the blue and so the project was pushed off again.

Sidenote: this whole “go with the flow” attitude isn’t natural for me. I’m learning it. It feels irresponsible because it sometimes chooses fun over work but isn’t it just as bad to choose work over play simply because you “should”? I’m still figuring that one out. Dang Puritan work ethic. But I do know that it seems criminal to live in a 13 million acre national park and not explore it when you have the perfect day to do so…so we did.


The Chief testing the thickness of the ice off to the right


If it can hold this little guy it can hold us, right?

Finally, on the fourth day, things started coming together. The weather had turned (this always seems to happen. Good thing we took advantage of the day before) to grey skies and snow. The Chief and I suited up and got to milling. The wood was actually in pretty good shape considering its snowy grave and we were able to get three boards milled.


We made shelves until five o’clock when we realized we were going to be late for the dinner plans we had made at a friend’s house up the hill. Time for a pause.

Sidenote: By “We made shelves” I mean The Chief mainly measured, cut and screwed in the boards. I learned (relearned) how to calculate a hypotenuse (and just now how to spell it again), how the miller and saw worked and how to brace shelving. I was in charge of aesthetic and placement and that’s great but it’s one thing to tell someone where to place something and another to place it oneself. I wish I could say we were both out there at the same time doing the same work but the truth is, I just didn’t know enough and when you only have so many materials, it’s pretty essential not to mess up. And while there’s nothing wrong with being the one who runs to get the materials or reminds you both to eat an apple, I can’t wait for the day when I lead the work. Luckily, The Chief is happy to share the position. Outside of my mom, no one has ever had so much faith in me to be able to do anything I set my mind to. From teaching me to run a chainsaw to encouraging me to lead us home at night on snow machines, he’s the best cheerleader (and the hairiest) anyone could ask for.

Before. During. After.

A few hours later, too full from dinner and too excited to sleep, we started finding new homes for things and brainstorming the next steps. I love these moments together. Just the two of us, making plans, trying out ideas and laughing together if they fail, knowing full and well that we will make it work. There’s nothing like living in a little cabin to get your creative organizing skills flowing and there’s nothing better than a partner in crime to dream with.

The next day it was snowing again so we waited until it abated and then started on the corner shelves. It took up until the dinner bell at the neighbor’s house was ringing (two homemade dinners that we didn’t have to home make in one week?! Hallelujah!) to finish. Two shelving projects down and an infinite number left to complete but a serious pat on the back is in order.


For the last two days, every time we would walk into the kitchen (which means every time you come in the house or walk from the living room. Tiny house, remember?) we would marvel at our completed project.

And then this morning I got the Norwegian text and it made me realize how different my world has become. Never in my life did I think I would help mill the tree a friend cut down and make my own shelving (shoot, I’d never even met someone who’d cut down a tree for lumber before). Never did I think I would work in the snow and the cold in the middle of winter in Alaska. Never did I think I’d meet my person in the middle of the woods. Never did I think it would happen, but I did hope for this life.

I was looking for a “hard” life, even if I didn’t know it. And it is hard, in the best ways. Things take three times longer. Each project becomes a town effort as you run out of screws or borrow tools but the “hard” is what makes it feel so good to hammer in that final nail. The “hard” shows you how hard things could actually be and how lucky we are. The “hard” is what makes it home. Our home.



Swallow Your Pride (A Lesson from the Sorest Hands I’ve Ever Had)

Swallow your pride. Better yet, be rid of it.

Pride has no place here. There simply isn’t room for it. When things need to get done, you either do or don’t know how to do it and depending on how fast it needs to get done you’ll either learn now or get out of the way.

Easier said than done.

Personally, I hate not knowing how to do things, especially when I’m the only one who doesn’t know and especially when it involves my survival (I’m guessing that’s a universal dislike).

We arrived at night and by the morning I realized that there were more things than I could have imagined that

1. Everyone knew how to do

2. I didn’t


3. They all involved my being able to survive out here.


Alaska has a way of taking the things you’re most afraid of (and most likely to avoid) and shoving them back at you. This quick slap in the face was repeated with every new task:

Running a generator at below zero

Pumping water (wear waterproof clothing)

Building and maintaining a good fire (our only source of heat)

Chopping wood (our only fuel for heat)

Lack of light

Driving a snow machine

Running a chainsaw

Cutting down a tree for firewood

Learning the trails (which were all suddenly brand new to me as the winter paths differed from the summer)

Driving in snow (again, I’m from California)

The battery bank (how, seriously, how does that work?)

Dressing for winter (too hot, too cold – it’s a daily Goldilocks routine)

Driving a stick-shift (in snow/ice)

Learning to ski

Not breaking things (things apparently break in the cold. I tried to lift a plastic bucket and it shattered. I know, it seems obvious now to me too)


The list went on and on and as it did I felt smaller and smaller. What the hell was I thinking moving out here? I was grounded 60 miles down an ice road and even if I wanted to leave, I couldn’t even do that on my own.

The learning curve was overwhelming and the lack of independence was stifling.

Not only did I not know how to do all the above things but I also had to create new systems for things I’ve always known how to do. You know, the basics…bathing, dressing, laundry, cooking, even making coffee was a whole new experience with a hand grinder. It was like being at step one. I felt totally out of my league without any of the comforts or competence I had known. And then, the sink stopped working.

Everything in my world was turned on its head and all that I had learned to do in summer was suddenly different because now, it was  winter. I couldn’t just walk outside and start the generator to pump water because the generator was frozen. I needed a fire to thaw it.

I needed to get better at building fires. I needed to get better at everything.

It didn’t take long to realize that what I really needed to do was to swallow my pride, slow down, learn, practice and accept help.

Ugh. Not my favorite medicine but I took it.

I started to check off the list of “dont’ know hows” with learning to chop wood.

When we arrived, the woodpile looked like this:


After my first time chopping wood in 20+ years, it looked like this:



This stack of Paul Bunyan toothpicks took me hours.

The Chief came out (after hearing me cursing a particularly knotty log) to remind me that chopping logs was a stress reliever, not a stress inducer (a.k.a, maybe you need a break, tiger). I was sweaty and out of breath, a real fine sight, but I was determined. Once it started to get dark, I came inside.

All done, babe?

Nope (grabbing my headlamp – thank you Spenard Builders Supply for the freebie!)

Finally, when I could no longer see and had become a pink-nosed popsicle I bid adieu to the pile for the night.

I was exhausted.

The next day was poker night. My forearms and shoulders were a little sore during the day but it wasn’t until I went to shuffle that…

I couldn’t.

My hands were so sore that I couldn’t even squeeze them together enough to shuffle cards. I grew up playing cards. I can shuffle in my sleep.

Not that day.

A little triumph: my little wood pile, coupled with a little reminder: you still have a long way to go.

Every time I start to get ahead of myself, Alaska throws a banana peel in the road and for that I actually feel lucky. Sometimes you fall and other times you see it and slow down.

The next time I chopped wood I did a little better:




Yea, I took a close-up.

And the next time after that I started finding that elusive stress-reducing zen The Chief so casually mentioned. Feeling my swing improve. Seeing my target and hitting it and then…sometimes not. Getting cocky, talking back to the log, hitting it with the axe handle and feeling it jostle you from your arms to your feet. The triumphs and the reminders.

Now, a month in, I’m more comfortable with a lot of things. I’ve been in 20 below and I didn’t die (I wasn’t so sure how that would go). I can run a generator, I feel comfortable to hold down the fort when The Chief is away and I can chop up wood for a few days without disabling myself for days. And, the second I feel I have it all under control, a new challenge comes up.

Like harvesting the wood to be chopped…



FYI: He’s not short. The tree is tall.

Next goal: to be the lead instead of the assistant (no offense to the assistant, I hear she’s awesome).

Such is life in the Alaskan wilderness. The work is never done and neither are the lessons. And the chores will leave you sorer than you realize.

Thank you Alaska, you sly fox, you.



Welcome Home. Love, Winter


I’m from California.

In California winter is more of a suggestion than a statement. Winter to me means jeans and boots (oh wait, I wear those year-round). Winter means it will (hopefully) rain. Winter is less of an imposing force and more of a reminder. Time to spend more time at home, clean gutters,  bring a tree inside to bedazzle it and wipe your paws at the door. California winter isn’t a tyrant. She mostly lets you go about your day.

So, the logical response?

Try a new kind of winter.

In Alaska.

Why not head there in December in the days of the least amount of light and some of the lowest temperatures?

Sound like a plan?


Oh, and to keep it interesting, head to the Alaskan wilderness. Yes to outhouses, no to electricity. The only boots you’ll be wearing here are rated to 60 below zero (because in this new reality, that is a possibility). The weather will decide your day for you so give up your planner mind and learn to roll with the punches because Alaska comes with a left hook when you least expect it. Still game?

Apparently so because this is the tale of my time in the woods. The woods in Alaska. In winter. How I ended up here and why is all to come. For now though, let’s enjoy the view. Welcome to my new home, sweet home.