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Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Sprouts for Breakfast, Dolly Parton, Alaska

Apocatips

Apocatips

Tools & Tips to Weather the COVID-19 Storm from Off-Grid Alaska

 

The other day my girlfriend, who lives in California, said to me: “If anyone is ready for this, it’s you guys.”

“This” being the COVID-19 pandemic. “This” being hunkering down in our days of social distancing. “This” being living off of and making do with what we have for an unknown amount of time. Normally, I would have thought to myself with pride “Yes! We are so prepared!”. However, as fate would have it, the past few months we have flip-flopped our tendencies as we have significantly tightened our belts around here. With that tightening went away any non-essential purchases and the well-worn habit of always buying a little extra. We weren’t preppers by any means but for the last five years, we’ve always had enough stocked to last us a few months at a time.

Not anymore.

New reality versus old reality:

 

 

 

 

The past few months we’ve whittled down our freezer stores and eaten all the things we tend to forget (read: aren’t interested in eating) are in there (hello random fish filet. You weren’t exactly delicious but you got the job done). For the first time ever, we’ve run out of things and not immediately ordered them again without having a family discussion about it. Do we need this? Really? Or do we just want it? Chocolate didn’t even make the list you guys. Chocolate. Serious budgeting (and serious regrets).

You see, normally, we actually have it pretty darn good out here, despite being 4 hours to the nearest and 8 hours to a variety of grocery stores. Friends and family are constantly surprised to hear about all the fresh veggies we are lucky enough to have during the Winter, often due to the kindness of neighbors. Yet even that we have pared down. Wasting nothing has been our goal and so we’ve pared down all around. For the past five years, I’ve shopped to satisfy our needs for months at a time and so we’ve rarely run out of things. Yet in the last few months, vowing not to go to Town unless we needed to, we’ve let ourselves run out. We’ve been diligent in paring down just in time for…

The Apocalypse

Okay, okay, it’s the not the Apocalypse (It’s not, right?) but it certainly feels a bit doomsday-ish right now. Just in time for everyone to have cleared the shelves, we too have cleared out our freezer and pantry and now find ourselves at a bit of a loss in replacing our stores. Our first Town trip in months was scheduled for last week but was canceled indefinitely due to the virus. So, I ventured onto Amazon to try to replenish some basics. I found a 12-pack of pasta in the totally “normal” price range of $56.72-$326.69.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, COVID-19 Price Gouging

Oh no, you don’t.

 

 

Being gluten-free, I’m used to higher prices but pasta over three hundred dollars? It had better be made with gold dust (it wasn’t). So, yes, price gouging is real. As I sat on my computer, trying to purchase the basics I hadn’t planned on needing to replenish via the web (beans, pasta, polenta, shelf-stable almond milk), panic started to crawl over me. Everything was either out of stock, exorbitantly priced or wouldn’t ship to Alaska.

Oh, joy!

I looked at our less than packed pantry, our dwindling freezer bounty, our single large package of toilet paper (a 48 pack we had started on February 13th. Yep, we have been budgeting that hard that we wrote it down on our family whiteboard to track how much toilet paper we actually use and try to pair it down, pre-COVID-19. FYI, over a month later we still have PLENTY) and our fresh food nearly fresh out and realized it was time to take action. No, we were not going into this prepared as we normally would. In food alone, it was not true that if anyone was ready for this it was us. However, we did have a trick up our sleeve: we live in rural Alaska.

While our stockpile may be lackluster at just the wrong time, our tricks and tips for making do with less are tools we use year-round. They are seasoned and ready. While we live with more than people typically assume, we are also well versed in living with less and making do with what we have. So, without further ado, here are some Apocalypse Tips (aka Apocatips) for weathering the COVID-19 s-storm we all find ourselves in:

  1. Get Used to Living With Less, Going Without and Substituting (Spoiler Alert: It’s Actually Fun): In these past few months of paring down, living with less has actually been more enjoyable than living with more. Certainly, when I found that I wasn’t able to get what I “needed” the other day, I panicked. However, this is where substitutions shine. It’s a real cup half full moment to step out of focusing on what you don’t have and instead look at what you do. Dig deep into your pantry and freezer and you might be surprised at what you do have versus what you don’t. Plus, the surprise is great an all but the pride I feel when I make something from improvised ingredients is the real cherry on top.

    Some examples:

    We ran out of almond milk for tea and coffee, baking, cooking, etc. so for my tea, I blended some coconut cream I had in our pantry with some water and voila! It was delicious. For baking, I substituted some powdered buttermilk I rarely use (and didn’t know existed until the grocery store didn’t have liquid and they gave me the powdered for free. Thanks, Freddy’s!) for some cornbread and again, delicious! Once the coconut cream is running low, we will make almond milk in the blender and save the almond meal produced from it for flour. While I know fresh is best, think of things that can replace what you might normally consume fresh (i.e. powdered buttermilk, milk, etc.). Step out of your usual tendencies and switch it up when you run out. Use maple syrup for sugar or make your own red sauce from scratch versus the can. The possibilities are endless. Also, if you have too much of something and it might go bad, share it. If that’s not an option preserve it! Pickling, fermenting, etc. scared the heck out of me but guess what? It’s so, so, so fun. You got this. Waste not, want not.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Ombre Sauerkraut, Alaska

    Ombre sauerkraut. The new Starbucks unicorn latte or…whatever.

  2. Find Yourself a Handkerchief: Toilet paper a little low? No, no, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting hankies for your heinies but for your schnoz, it’s a different story. Here, we often use toilet paper to blow our noses (and in Winter in Alaska there is a lot of nose-blowing going on) but what we did recently (and what we should have been doing all along) was switch to handkerchiefs. They are durable, less wasteful and a fun little snotty accessory to brighten up your daytime jammies, er, outfit. No handkerchiefs laying about? Perhaps make one out of old shirts or other clothing you’ve been meaning to donate. The same can be said for paper towels. We haven’t bought paper towels in years (I’ll be honest, I missed them dearly at first) and use rags and cloth napkins instead. It works, I promise (plus, it makes me feel oh so fancy when I use a cloth napkin).
  3. Let it Grow: Winter is certainly a time we all help one another around here and right now is no different. Most often, anytime someone has come in these days they’ve checked to see if others could use some fresh vegetable or fruit supplies. However, even with people willing to bring things in, empty stores mean we have way fewer freshies than usual. Thankfully, I put up a ton of greens from our garden this year but frozen isn’t the same as fresh so…let it grow.

    Some examples:

    If you are able to get green onions you can put them in water and they will continue to grow as you cut them for use. You can also do this with ends of other vegetables by submerging the base in water (here’s one site about it but there are tons. Just search for “growing vegetables from kitchen scraps”). I’ve had great luck with lettuce.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Growing Vegetables from Kitchen Scraps, Alaska

    Green onions and celery.

    Another option is to start some sprouts (you know, those things your hippie parents always had growing in the window? Yea, they were geniuses)! Lately, I’ve been super into sunflower sprouts. They are hearty and a bit sweet. Currently, I have lentils and alfalfa sprouts going.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Sprouts for Breakfast, Dolly Parton, Alaska

    Thanks, Dolly. Will do. Sprouts on scrambled eggs with tomatoes.

    Start your garden. While in Alaska it’s a bit early to start the entire garden (though I did spend a few hours yesterday shoveling our garden out so the ground would thaw faster. “Faster”, however, was not my personal speed as our snow shovel was at the fire department and I aimed to concur the few feet of snow with an avalanche shovel. I wouldn’t recommend it), microgreens are the way to go. Yesterday I brought my soil inside to start defrosting and I plan to start as many seeds as I have space for and then transfer them into containers to grow. If you live where you can garden outside this time of year, go for it! Even if your space is limited you can make do with windows (read: hanging plants) or windowsills or do some container gardening even in the smallest of outdoor spaces. Think vertically when space is limited (a true Alaskan tip).

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Swiss Chard, Gardening in Alaska

    Swiss Chard kissing Marigold.

  4. Being Sequestered: Ok, admittedly this is not as much of an issue for us out in the woods. While we are essentially following all shelter in place rules we admittedly have the luxury of a lot more area to roam. Still, y’all remember January? I do. In January this year, I was more or less housebound. I went for very cold walks when I could but overall, I was inside watching the cold crawl through the cracks in my wall. It felt tight and a little claustrophobic. It also made things a whole lot simpler. My options were limited.
    While you may not have to stoke a fire every 30 minutes or haul water, there are certainly ways to fill your time when you can’t go outside. As an ex-personal trainer, I love to exercise (though sometimes you wouldn’t know it by my “I wore yoga pants all day without working out” approach I sometimes take. Ebb and flow and whatnot) and my body and mind love me when I do it. YouTube has a TON of workout videos for anything and everything. I love Yoga with Adrienne (she’s a gem. Even The Chief does her classes and raves about how much better he feels when he does). Classes make me feel like I’m around other people even when I’m not (and in all honesty, it’s what I prefer). Join a 30-day challenge or create a schedule for yourself and stick to it.
    If you miss the camaraderie of your close pals, set up some virtual cocktail hours or start/continue a book club. Come mid-Winter this year, my California girlfriends and I started weekly phone calls and it made my night every time. Being alone can also be a good time for some soul searching. It’s one of my favorite aspects of living here is not being distracted from the work I need to do on myself. Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More is amazing. My guy friend, upon listening to the book said with a chuckle “I wish I had listened to that ten years ago. I could have saved myself from having to go through my last 7 relationships”. It’s a keeper. Worried about money? I get it. I can’t recommend Tosha Silver’s book called It’s Not Your Money. Thank me (and my girlfriend who recommended it to me) later when you find 100 bucks in your pocket.
  5. Iron Chef It Up: Growing up, my brother and I used to watch Iron Chef and then we would aim to make dinner out of our own limited store. We pretended we were competitors on the show. We made egg drop soup one night when all we could find were eggs and broth. We’d scour the pantry and freezer and come up with the most random of meals but guess what? They were amazing. Plus, making the meal together, coming up with ideas from very little was extremely satisfying. Without a nearby grocery store, I often still feel like an Iron Chef. So, in addition to discovering recipe substitutions, step completely out of your dinner rut and create something altogether new. You might love it, you might hate it (we certainly had some kitchen fails) but either way, you’re getting creative in the kitchen and again, focusing on what you have versus what you are lacking. At a loss for ideas? Look at what you have and decipher which thing will go bad first. Plan a meal around that. If you don’t have any inspiration consult the oracle (aka Google) for ideas.

    Some examples:

    Cabbage is a great long-term vegetable to purchase when possible as it stores for a long time but you don’t want it to go bad (trust me, it smells ungodly) so use it up as it nears its end! Make cabbage rolls, sauerkraut or soup. I’ve made peanut chicken using the last bits of peanut butter and coconut milk, green soup using frozen veggies, smoothies using anything and everything. Go for it!

  6. Conserve What You Already Have: When we are used to being able to get whatever we need whenever we want, we waste more. Moving here, I found so many ways in which I was using far more than necessary and not utilizing what I had.

    Some examples:

    The easiest way to have more is to use less. The Chief and I love to eat but sometimes (read: far more often than I’d like to admit) we take an extra serving (or two) that we don’t actually need. Now is the time to decipher between want and need and it actually feels really good to set some boundaries around it. Instead of snacking post-dinner, try some tea. Harvest some wild herbs like mint, yarrow, goldenrod or chamomile, etc. if you can and dry them for your own tea.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Spruce Tips for Tea, Alaska

    Spruce tips for tea and a tired puppy.

    Stretch it. Have you ever been making dinner for two and suddenly friends drop by? You stretch whatever you’re making to accommodate. Do the same here. Add a little extra broth to your soup (broth that perhaps you’ve made from the last time you roasted a chicken…hint, hint), add a filling side like rice or polenta or simply chop everything smaller. The last one may sound ridiculous but we found that we used far less when we chopped everything smaller.

  7. DIY: Just like with the almond milk example above, there are tons of things we buy on the regular that, with a little effort we can simply make. Pickles, sauerkraut, mayonnaise, broth, yogurt (this recipe for coconut yogurt is made by mixing probiotics into coconut milk and letting it do its thing on your counter for two days. It’s so yummers and truly simple), etc. are all things we’ve made versus bought. I’m not saying you have to make everything (nor do we all of the time, trust me), but the more we can self-sustain on what we already have, the better off we all are.
    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Homemade Coconut Yogurt, Alaska

    Coconut milk yogurt doing its thing.

    Next up: DIY what you would normally have done for you (warning: results will vary).

    On our canceled Town trip last week one of the highlights for both my girlfriend and I was the idea of a haircut. Often here I simply go without certain beauty perks for months on end but if I really get a hankering for a change, I simply do it myself. Again, results do vary. I may or may not have (I absolutely did) given myself a haircut that resembles a mullet BUT, I did it myself and it feels pretty darn good to at least get some weight off.

    Next up? Highlights. I’ll keep you posted. Fingers crossed that I won’t be able to win a Joe Dirt lookalike competition.

    More DIY: Used to getting pedicures? Give yourself one! Waxing, dying your brows, facials, etc. You can do all of this from home and in a time of uncertainty such as that which we currently find ourselves in, a little self-soothing is certainly called for. Be nice to yourself, get creative and DIY yourself anew.

 

Overall, despite what a wild time this is, we can find the good in it. We can focus on what we have versus what we don’t have. We can get creative and brainstorm together. We can spend time with our loved ones. We can focus on the positive.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Frittatas

Like frittatas! Frittatas are positive.

The reality is, no one is unaffected. Even here in remote Alaska, we definitely feel the intensity of the situation. People are returning to the valley from travels all over the world. Social distancing is in full effect even for our dogs and most are in agreement that two weeks quarantining upon arrival is a must. All of this reminds me so much of when Leto was shedding Parvo and he and I were quarantined at our house for six weeks. Six weeks! If we can do six weeks with a puppy who thought (read: knew) I was his chew toy, working full-time plus cleaning every surface he touched, not leaving our property and sterilizing everywhere he pooped, we can all stay away from one another for two weeks.

It seems most everyone feels a little on edge as our rural town with very little medical resources braces to protect our inhabitants. Our challenges, throughout the world, are different from one another but the reality is, we are all in this together. My health is your health is all of our health. It is my responsibility not just to keep myself safe but to keep you safe. Every single one of us holds someone dear to them who is at risk. Treat the loved ones of others as you would want your loved ones treated.

Think outside of just yourself.

For goodness sake, do not hoard.

Be kind.

Keep you and your local and global community safe.

 

With love (and lots of handwashing),
From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Malamutes of Alaska

Be cool, wash your hands.

The Sweetness of Saturdays

Since that sweet day last September when The Chief and I were wed, I’ve been honored to be marking time together. At first, I marked every new dawn. I’d exclaim on the daily: “Two days since we got married!” “Three days you’ve been my husband!” I was a veritable marital town crier. It was oh so new, tender as a babe. Each day felt as if it required a moment of recognition for the vows we’d made, the change we’d chosen together. Soon, as the days accumulated, it was our one week anniversary and from there on out, I started marking Saturdays. Every Saturday that passed marked another week I’d spent donning my newly acquired Wife hat. I’d look to The Chief and exclaim “Three weeks since we got married!” and then some weeks later “Seven weeks we’ve been married!”

It always takes me by surprise to think of the contrast: more often than not, our Saturdays these days are spent reading together on the couch, alone, with only a few souls in our vicinity, a far cry from the Saturday in September when we said “I do” surrounded by love, surrounded by community.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 03:09:20, The Sweetness of Saturdays, Wedding in Alaska

And…surrounded by mountains.

 

This last sleepy Saturday, however, was not so sleepy as we bustled about readying ourselves for a Saturday snowshoeing adventure. Side note: Snowshoeing is an absolute workout. My poor aching legs! I could barely lift them by the end. Before I’d ever snowshoed I thought it was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard of. Yet even with a picnic in tow for our outing, the focus of this was not romance but stamina. I found myself grateful to be following in The Chief’s large footsteps to at least gain the benefit of partially patted down hip-deep snow. Yowzers!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 03:09:20, The Sweetness of Saturdays, Snowshoeing in Alaska

Go Chief, Go!

 

As we readied for a far more arduous day than I had planned, something snuck into my consciousness. It wasn’t just any Saturday. This Saturday was a true mark in time.

Six months.

For six months we’ve been married.

Like a new pair of shoes, I worried to scuff our marriage’s perfect sheen at first. The role of Wife felt very new and very ancient all at once, like a strange club I’d suddenly found myself a member of without realizing I’d applied for admittance. This line in the sand of dating to marriage felt small and huge all at once. People would ask me how it felt to be married and I’d reply that it felt simultaneously like nothing and everything had changed all at once.

I soon realized that I’d never been very good at keeping my shoes in pristine condition, nor did I like them to be so. We had our first fight and it strangely settled me. Our marriage wouldn’t be pristine, it would be real and true and deep. One thing that had changed was how I felt about myself. I wanted to be the best Julia I could, not just for me but for us. I had committed in a way I’d never committed before, nor really dreamed I would and it inspired me.

Marriage has softened the edges years of dating had carved into me. It’s comforted my need for fight and flight. It’s calmed me into realizing I’m safe. Certainly, after everything the last few years have brought, I know that heartache is inevitable, as is the change that brings it about, yet I find myself calmer in the unknown, for one thing is known: us.

We decided that this six month Saturday certainly deemed marking. Dressed in our rumpled wedding gear we set off for our wedding site with tired legs, best friends at the ready for a photo shoot on Sunday. Six months and one day.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 03:09:20, The Sweetness of Saturdays, Alaskan Malamute Puppy High Five

High fives all around!

 

As the marking of days turned to the marking of Saturdays turned to my forgetting altogether just how long exactly, to the day, we’d been married, I’m grateful for this Saturday’s announcement of six. Six months of wedded life: good and hard and exciting and boring, stir crazy and calm, ease and anxiousness but overall, a constant: commitment.

If you’ve ever considered whether or not to get married, I can’t tell you what’s right for you but I can say that marriage brought more to us than I had ever dreamed. Planning together, while monotonous and costly and crazy-making at times, was all worth it. We were building together. Watching it all come to a culmination that day and seeing the faces of our friends and family gathered with us and all of the help we received without knowing we needed it was pure magic and we are eternally grateful.

 

 

 

I so look forward to the day, many years from now, when the yearly anniversaries become like the weeklies that turned to monthlies. Another year’s celebration turns into another year, normal and comforting in their accrual. Yet even as I grow more and more used to our ringed fingers, less surprised to hear myself called by the title of “wife”, I hope always to stop and cherish each day that marks that which is right in front of me: a beautiful love built from living through it all together: hope and heartache, jubilation, busy and slow, new and normal, all wrapped into one entity: us.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 03:09:20, The Sweetness of Saturdays, Snowmachine Chariot Alaskan Wedding

Your chariot awaits

 

To those who have supported us along the way, thank you (and a special thanks to our wonderful neighbors and 6-month anniversary wedding photographers and to MT who built an amazing arch to last the seasons). It takes a village to raise all of us. Our village near and far is so beloved, so necessary, so appreciated, always.

With love,

from The Chief, The Scribe, Leto, and Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 03:09:20, The Sweetness of Saturdays, Alaskan Wedding

 

Beneath the Borealis, 03:09:20, The Sweetness of Saturdays, Alaskan Malamute Puppy

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Winter 50 below zero

Cabin Fever

I haven’t left my house in three months.

This reality came tumbling all the way out of my subconscious during a walk the other day and it’s been on my mind ever since.

 

Three months.

In the woods.

Mostly just the two of us.

Sometimes all alone.

For months.

Three months.

Cabin fever anyone?

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Malamute and Alaskan

I have the Fever, Dad. Put what you’re doing down and pet me (Note: The Chief is already using his left hand to draw but that was not good enough).

 

I mean, I’ve physically left my house. I ski or walk daily though mainly the same variations of loops. Yet, the farthest I’ve ventured out in three months has been 15 miles down The Road to two different friends’ houses for a total of three trips “out” since November.

Christmas, New Years Eve and a dinner party.

Aside from that, we’ve done dinners and parties in the neighborhood often enough for all of us introverts to meet our personal levels of social overload. Yet leave our house, shut it fully down and be away overnight somewhere?

Not for three months.

When I quantify it, as in “Oh girrrrrrl…you haven’t left the house in a quarter of a year!” It seems insane or at least a little closer to shut-in status than I ever thought I’d venture. Yet when I think of the time in increments, in weather, in months and happenings, it doesn’t seem that long.

In November, the at-home novelty was fierce. I’d been back and forth to Town more times than I could count. In October, I took my last trip out, or so I thought until a kidney infection had me on a rushed 4-hour trip to the closest clinic. Two doctor visits in two weeks added to all the travel of the Summer made me feel like the calm would never come.  I longed to pull into our driveway for the long haul and finally, we did.

I spent Halloween, my birthday and Thanksgiving here at home for the first time ever in all of the almost five (five?!?!?!) years I’ve spent in Alaska. Through Fall into Winter, we whistled the months away, looking alternately at the ground and the sky, praying for snow and watching as the final trickle of people leaving for Winter came to a close. Those who were staying were here, those who were going were gone.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 December in Alaska

Winter sunsets.

 

December was jovial. We finally got some snow and the holidays were sweet and intimate, unrushed and unscheduled. Seasons greetings filled our little home and cookies and cakes (and tighter pants) were aplenty. Winter had finally arrived and we settled in to enjoy it.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Christmas in Alaska

Our itty bitty backyard tree.

 

January arrived with a little more light and a lot more cold. Almost the entire month was spent heads down trying to stay warm in near 50 below temperatures. We were deep in the thick of it: Deep Winter.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Winter 50 below zero

This pretty much captures January.

 

Then, in danced February, warm and cheery. It felt as if the days have been flying off the shelves like hot, fresh donuts (mmm, donuts). The light has brightened and lengthened and finally, after all this time, my cabin fever has finally arrived.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River in Winter

Skiing in the middle of the river

 

For the past week, it’s been sunny and warm and not just the “Oh yay, I don’t have to bundle up like the kid in A Christmas Story every time I go outside” kind of warm. It’s been the “Oh no, all of the snow has fallen off of the trees, the ground is melting and the rivers, so nicely frozen into highways have been ripped open” kind of warm.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River, Alaska

A river runs through the old river highway.

 

With the warmth and the sun comes a new energy, a different energy, and for the first time in four months, I wanted to leave. Cabin fever, right?

You see, as beautiful as Cabin life is, Cabin Fever is a thing. In the darkest of days and for months on end, I’ve drooled over the idea of a long, hot bath or the simple luxury of ordering an overpriced cocktail in the appropriate barware from someone I don’t know. Other times, the idea of being surrounded by strangers and spending dollar after dollar sounds suffocating. Sometimes I walk or ski our local loops and feel closed in. Other times I feel the expanse of thirteen million acres spread out before me. There are days when either The Chief or I (or god forbid both of us) are in a bad mood and these four walls feel awfully tight while other times we dance in our “spacious” abode.

Sometimes, your woodshed is full, your water is hauled, your batteries are charged and you’ve just gotten a replenishment of freshies from a friend in from Town and life is good. Other times, your batteries are dead, the house is cold, you’re out of water, wood isn’t chopped, you have to pump gas (and of course you’re at the bottom of the barrel) and the generator, which holds the key to most of these problems, is frozen.

There are days when all you need is to see a girlfriend (yes, there are other women here, thankfully) but the only other women around are 15 miles up The Road and at 40 below, going anywhere is out of the question. So, you sit with yourself, your emotions, your needs and tell them they will all simply have to wait until the weather moves out.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Malamute Modelo

Puppy cabin fever. Leto took to the drink.

 

Feeling feverish yet?

The funny thing is, honestly, I wasn’t.

Of course, I can think of a day or two throughout the last three months when it felt like the walls were a little closer to my personal space bubble than I was comfortable with. There were days when I just wanted to be clean with clean clothes for more than twenty-four hours at a time. But the quiet? The calm? No one around for miles? I was OK with that. In fact, I loved it. The other things were just creature comforts I experience less in the Winter but miss year-round. The truth is, I’d never felt cabin fever this Winter in the way I felt it the other day when I realized I’d been here for three months straight. The “fever”, however, wasn’t about being stuck in the cabin, it was about our being “stuck” coming to an end.

The quiet.

The calm.

The solitude.

Gone.

Don’t get me wrong, Winter is hard but I think the hardest part about Winter, for me, is letting it go.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Malamute and Alaskan

We’ve all grown accustomed to it. Even Leto’s paws pray for more Winter.

 

This past week with its temps in the low 40’s (read: everything is melting) it really hit home. For three months, leaving felt like the last thing I wanted to do. Now, it feels like the first. I want to outrun the change. To find another place to cozy down for just a few more months of a good Winter’s rest. I feel like a kiddo sleepily asking for “just a few more minutes” of shuteye every morning as the alarm goes off. I want to hit Snooze on Spring.

I’ve never been good with change. Especially change I didn’t choose (read: you know, most of life). Sure, the weather might shift again. Even as I type this post this morning the boards of the Ramp of Doom let out a crack as The Chief descends them, signifying a drop in temperature to below zero. The paths that are now icy might again be covered in snow, the river might again freeze. Yet the shift woke us all from our Winter slumber and there’s no way to dismiss it: Summer is coming…slowly.

Once the Winter spell is broken, you can’t go back. The reality is there. As snoozing pales in comparison to deep sleep, we too feel the end in sight. You know there’s no going back to the quiet calm you came from.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River, Alaska Crosscountry Skiing

So long middle of the river skis…maybe.

 

Until next Winter.

Until then, I’m grateful for the stretch we’ve had and pray to the skies for a little more snow, just as we did those three months ago in November.

Only time will tell.

Cheers to you and yours wherever you may be. Whether you are ready for Summer or Spring or still clinging to the depths of Winter. Wherever you are, may you be happy.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Malamute in Alaska in Winter

Our pensive pup.

 

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Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska

40 Below (Alone)

40 Below (Alone)

A week in Alaska, alone, at 40 below zero.

 

I awoke to the morning of January 3rd in this new decade to a very distinct quiet: I was alone. The Chief and our Third Amigo had ventured off to Anchorage for a supply run and so alone I lay, hearing only the breaths that were my own. It’s a strange feeling, that sensation, that moment of realizing the space someone warms and fills by their simply just being. That tinge of loneliness was enough to motivate me to get out of bed. As I rose, a new level of morning cold nipped at me. The temperature must have dropped.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Skijoring in Alaska

The two days before: warm sunshine and skijoring! Happy New Year!

 

Dropped it had to a brisk 25 below zero. Our Winter thus far had been a mild one at best, filled with more icy than snowy roads and a Christmas warm enough to don merely a dress with leggings and a jacket. We’d had quick cold snaps where the temps had dropped to 13 below but that was it. Winter light. Yet snap it did that morning into truly cold territory and with it came flooding back all that “cold” means.

First of all, don’t get me wrong, I am not suddenly immune to normal cold. The temps we’d had before were not warm by human standards, they were simply warm by Winter’s standards. Secondly, our cold out here is a dry cold with the rare windy day (though yes, there certainly is wind) which makes the cold a bit more bearable (and personally, I love the cold, which makes it a lot more bearable, for me).

Living in California for most of my life, the temperature never varied in a way that affected me all that much. Sure, we’d prep for storms and power outages but all in all, it was a mild fluctuation of predictable seasonal shifts. Certainly, some days I’d find myself ill-prepared on an unseasonably cold Spring day and have to rummage around in my car (read: my second closet) for another layer but all in all, there was always a newspaper to cover my head in a random rainstorm or flip flops to greet a sunny day. With relative ease and a modicum of preparation, I was typically able to meet the challenges of the elements.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, California Dillon Beach

A Dillon Beach storm a-brewin’!

 

Enter: Alaska. A whole new set of elements where flip flops and newspapers were unlikely problem solvers. For me, it’s been a beast to learn. Yet learn I have and learning I still am. However, just as I’ve learned, I’ve also forgotten as the tricks for one season don’t always blend into the next. It had been nearly a year since I’d seen temperatures of -25. I’d forgotten how it felt, what it meant. As I sat in front of our fireplace that morning, warming myself and our 40-degree house, the little things about life at 25 below started coming back to me. Like the quiet. It wasn’t just the absence of my husband that made the morning quiet, it was the cold. 25 below seems to be the threshold at which things start to get very calm, very quiet. A seriousness settles in.

It was Go Time.

Day One:

For the first time ever since we’ve lived here, I was alone, in Winter, in Go Time temperatures. The cold temp quirks started coming back to me as I reached for my toothpaste, only to find it near frozen, the icy water with which I rinsed stunning my teeth, flushing the drain with boiling water so it wouldn’t freeze. Leto’s water bowl threatened to ice over as the floor sent up glacial tentacles that grasped me through my slippered feet. I made my first step outside onto The Ramp of Doom which let out a piercing pop as the frozen wood responded to my pressure, the crack all that much louder in the blanket of silence around me. Surprised, I drew in a quick breath, and my throat caught slightly as the freezing air hit it. The snow further announced my outside arrival, squeaking loudly with each step. All familiar signs of 25 below. In just one night’s sleep, everything had changed, the game was on.

The game? Stay warm, stay safe, keep your ship running smoothly.

Easy, right?

I was the sole player and it wasn’t just The Chief who was absent. I was also officially more alone in the woods than I had ever been, in any season. All of our neighbors were gone and the closest help was miles away.  Still, it was “only” 25 below. I’d done 25 below with The Chief, I could do 25 below solo. So, I spent the day running through mental checklists and chores to prepare for what I assumed would be a few days at 25, maybe 30 below. I chopped as much wood as my arms would allow (since we had zero chopped at the moment), pumped fuel, checked our systems and looked gratefully at the remaining three full buckets of water The Chief and I had filled before his departure.

As I checked chores off the list, I thought forward. The next day was a friend’s birthday and if I could get the house warm and my snowmachine going I figured I’d head out for an hour or two to toast her trip around the sun.

Mother Nature had other plans.

To keep my one mode of transportation in good working order, I’d been starting my snowmachine every day since The Chief had left.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Snowmachining in Alaska

Sunset ride with the puppers.

 

Yet as the temps dropped, my battery, already on its last leg, couldn’t produce power enough to start the machine with the electric start (read: what dreams are made of). Plan B was the pull start but with such a large engine it was no easy feat. I pulled slowly to start, like stretching before a run (and to avoid ripping my arm out of its socket), then eventually full fast pulls. I pulled until I was nearly sweating (at 25 below!) but the engine wouldn’t budge. Knowing that a warm battery had a better chance than a cold one, I set out to pull it inside and charge it.

If only it were that easy.

Try as I might, I couldn’t pry it, bang it or will it free. It was frozen into place. My fingers cursed the cold as I cursed myself for having sent The Chief to Town with the only pair of heavy-duty gloves I had (in fairness, they were originally his and mine were nowhere to be found). Frozen from sweating and then standing at 25 below for an hour, I needed a break. I brought my aching hands inside to warm up and realized my next problem: warmth.

It was already midday and all-day-long I had kept the insatiable woodstove full to the brim but as I entered from outside, the temperature inside didn’t wrap warmth around me as it should have. I checked the temperature. The house was still at a stubborn 59 degrees. I looked at the wood I’d brought inside and realized my problem: wet wood. I did my best to remedy the situation by removing the frozen bark from all the warmed pieces but the water went deeper. In normal temperatures, I’d barely noticed the lack of heat this wood produced but as the temperature neared 30 below a feeling of doom settled in. Still, the house was cold but it wasn’t like it was freezing, right? I could manage. The dogs (we were dogsitting our beloved Kvichak), having made full use (read: a full mess) of the discarded bark told me it was time for a walk to take our minds off the cold (seems contradictory, right?) so off we went. We came back an hour later and before I knew it, the day had passed. I bundled up for bed, knowing the inside temp would further drop as I slept. In I crept to a hardened mattress (another thing I forgot happens in these temps: frozen mattresses!) in head to toe wool long johns, a sweatshirt, a hat and wool socks (exactly the opposite of how I normally sleep). I’d stoked the fire as much as safety allowed, hoping to buy myself a couple hours of sleep.

Day Two:

Come the ringing of my 4 A.M. fire tending alarm, not an ember remained in the woodstove and the house was down to 35 degrees. I was shocked. This wasn’t right. Our stove isn’t the largest but I felt like we’d been able to maintain a warm house and at least a 4-hour fire in the past without losing this much heat. I built another fire and sat brushing Leto (who had decided that right then, along with his best pal Kvichak, was a good time to start his bi-annual shedding) as I waited for enough coals to build up that I could again stuff the stove and get a little more sleep.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Malamutes Shedding

About a minute in. The ever-expanding fluff pile.

 

Sleep I finally did around 5 A.M., waking at 9 A.M., yet awake to a warm house I did not. Despite building a raging fire at the crack of dawn, I still woke to the bitter cold of our near-frozen home and again, not one ember in the fireplace. Something was different, a shift had occurred. I looked to every Alaskan’s Oracle: the thermometer.

It was 37 degrees below zero outside and 37 degrees in our house.

I needed to get on my feet and moving fast or this house would freeze, soon.

I think we call all agree that the difference between 25 below and 37 below is 12 degrees but the physical difference with each added degree below zero is exponential. Past 30 below, your breath doesn’t simply catch, it nearly chokes you with each inhale. Your woodstove isn’t just a resource, it is a lifeline and…things and systems start to breakdown, fast. Even the smallest hiccup can put the wheels of mayhem in motion. My first Winter, I grabbed a tote that had been left out in the Fall and it shattered in my hands and it’s contents spilled out, ruining half of them. The temperature had been a “mere” 28 below. We were way past that territory now.

Reality started to set in: this was no joke. I had found a rhythm in drying my woodpile but I had yet to find warmth. Try as I might, the temperature inside had not topped 60 degrees and had hovered for most of the day in the high 40s to low 50s. I texted the birthday girl to report that I most definitely would not be able to visit. Snowmachine aside, my 60-degree plight made leaving a no go. Even those who actually had a warmed house couldn’t make the birthday for fear of their house freezing while they were gone. Our house was already halfway to freezing. My girlfriend told me not to promise to reach out if I started losing the battle and things started going upside down on me.

I knew I was in a bit of a bind but having someone else say it shocked me further into action. This was serious.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Malamute Puppy

Mom…you got this?

 

I cherry-picked my way through my inside woodpile and the driest logs I could. The fire kicked up for the first time in two days. Things were looking up! Yet there was no time to celebrate. It was chore time.

I bundled up in my warmest clothes, protecting every inch of skin minus the very top of my cheeks and my eyes and went outside to get water. I lugged the generator over to our well. I was all set and ready to go. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t get the water hose to thread onto the well. The threads had frozen. I pulled out my lighter to melt the ice but it barely budged as the flame kept failing in the cold. I wrapped my hand around the threads but nearly ripped off the skin as it instantly froze. Next, I trudged into our makeshift workshop to find our propane lighter. Genius! 10 minutes later I finally gave in. It was too cold to flow enough to ignite. Finally, after 30 minutes of problem-solving and failing, I was starting to get cold and the running generator was about to run out of gas. I decided to go for it without the hose. Who needs a hose anyways?

I do.

I need a hose.

Without a hose, the water shot straight from the pipe about four feet in the air. I held the bucket above my shoulders trying to catch as much as I could (and prevent Leto from catching the stream he loves to chase), using one bucket to fill the other three. Within seconds I was encased in a frozen cocoon of ice from head to toe. After two rounds of running up and down the Ramp of Doom with 80 pounds of water at a time, the dogs constantly in my way, tripping me as I rallied myself upward, water was done.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska

Back to lash-sicle territory

 

Next, I needed to charge the house batteries. Easy. I’d just had the generator running. It was warm and ready to go…but, it was out of gas so I filled it up, started it up, plugged the house in and…our outside lights didn’t come on.

Strange.

Still, before I could check if it was charging inside, I needed more wood. Especially in cold temps I always try to apply the waitressing technique my friend taught me early on: Don’t move empty-handed. Make every trip in and out count. I chopped a quick armload of wood to bring inside but on the last swing of the ax, I felt something pop in my shoulder. Pain radiated up and down my arm. I felt panic well up inside me. If I couldn’t chop wood, I really was screwed. Still, there was no time to wallow. I loaded up my other arm with wood and headed inside.

Inside, the fire near dead after an hour of chores, I stoked it with new wood as I felt my cheeks start to melt from the comparative warmth of the house. The splatter from the well water had hardened where my eyelashes and my upper cheeks were exposed and immediately my skin started to burn. Still, there was no time to worry about that either as I looked to the batteries and saw that the house was not in fact charging. Just then, the generator started to angrily rev up and down.

After two days of failing to heat our house, struggling with water, countless near falls up and down the Ramp of Doom from dogs underfoot, an aching shoulder, a burning face and now a generator not producing power, I was starting to lose it. I checked everything I had learned about malfunctioning generators and found no culprit. It felt like my little world was starting to, to quote my girlfriend “go upside down on me”. Was I losing the battle? I called The Chief for a pep talk and just hearing his voice made my eyes well up with tears.

“You’re doing great. It’s hard, babe. Really hard.”

The tears threatened to spill over when at just the right moment he followed up with:

“Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.”

Deep breathe I did and I was back. I did have this. I could do this and with a little persuasion, I finally picked the easy route. There wasn’t time to troubleshoot the generator right now. I grabbed our backup and brought it inside to warm. Then, I headed to the woodshed and cherry-picked the best, most checked pieces of wood I could find (a check in a round of wood suggests it’s drier than one without it) and painfully chopped my way through it. Finally, hours after I had bundled up to start chores, they were finally winding down. The new wood fed the fire with gusto and an audible difference in the flames let me know this fire would warm us, which was good because, in the time I’d been outside, the inside temps had sunk again to the ’30s and the outside was near -40.

An hour later, the replacement generator hopefully warm enough, I suited up again for the outdoors, now in the early dark of dusk. In all the frustration earlier, I had forgotten I would need more fuel so off I went to fill another 5-gallon jug. In the cold, the fuel hose had frozen into a kinked position through which no fuel would flow. Again I de-gloved and warmed it as best I could with my bare hands. Finally, the fuel started to flow. I filled the generator and finally after about 20 pulls it started.

Success!

I went inside and saw it was producing power (the generator was the problem, not our inverter or batteries, as I had feared) and all was well.

Then, the lights went out.

The generator had died.

I quite nearly lost it (again) but (again) outside I trudged. Luckily, the generator had simply stopped because it was cold. I finally got it started again and this time it took. Cautiously, I went inside. Consistently it hummed.

A few hours later it was nearly 7 pm and the house was finally above 60! I was simultaneously exhausted and elated. At that moment, a next-door girlfriend newly returned from Town (I finally had neighbors again!) texted.

“Champagne? It was for the birthday but I think we should celebrate from afar.”

Yes, please.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska with Champagne

I love bubbles.

 

By the time she came over the house was still a bit chilly but my cheeks were on fire. The frozen water from the well had burnt the top layer of skin, like a sunburn only from cold: frostnip. Thankfully, good conversation and bubbles distract from welted cheeks. The healing powers of girlfriends, eh? I felt rejuvenated and accomplished. I had made it! As she left, I realized what I hadn’t made was dinner (or lunch). I settled on the dinner of champions (or maybe just this momentary bachelorette): pasta with butter (sorry, arteries).

Chalking the day up to a success, I finally fell into bed again after midnight. The house was near 70 degrees and with a stuffed woodstove and belly, I fell asleep.

Day Three:

The 4 A.M. wakeup call felt extra early the next morning. Groggy, I remembered that in our conversation the day before The Chief had asked if the bricks in the top of the stove had ash on them (meaning that perhaps that buildup, in addition to wet wood was adding to our heating issue). Since the fire had been going steadily since he’d asked I hadn’t been able to check. Yet, despite a full stove 4 hours earlier, there was no trace of heat. Now was my chance. I cleaned out the wood stove that was dense with ash and checked the bricks. Soot fell from atop them as I tugged them out, simultaneously realizing I had no idea how to get them back in. A few tense minutes later, everything thankfully was back in place and again. I started yet another fire and headed out into the -39 morning to dump the ashes.

By 4:30 I was doing dishes waiting for the fire to catch. The reservoir of water we use to fuel our faucet had frozen so I did my dishes in a basin, careful not to let any water trickle into our homemade plumbing and ice up. At those temperatures, water freezes almost instantly so even small amounts can take us out of commission fast and the last thing I wanted was to add slop buckets back into our life. Finally, the fire established its coals. I stuffed it full and opted for a few more hours of sleep.

I awoke to yet another morning of a near-frozen house, a woodstove without coals and completely dead batteries but it was ok. I may not have had it totally dialed but this situation wasn’t going upside down on me. Finally, caught up enough on chores and the house warm enough to be able to step away for an hour, the dogs told me how we would fill our time: a walk, at 39 below.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska Stircrazy Puppies

Driving each other stir cray cray.

 

Despite being constantly in my way, they had been very good sports through it all but the stir craziness was starting to hit. Even though they are both Northern breeds, even they can’t stay outside long in those temps if not running and so had opted to be inside, in the way. Thus, we all needed some outside time. I covered my frost nipped cheeks as they amazingly pranced unphased by the cold, minus a lifted paw here and there.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Husky, Malamute, Alaska

Moonlit walk.

 

The Chief phoned to tell me that they were delayed and wouldn’t be home that night but would return the following day. Two days before I might have panicked at his extended absence but I didn’t. I had done it. I had made it through 40 below, alone.

Day Four:

The next morning, the cold snap lifted. The thermometer read a mere -12 outside and I finally got the house to near 80 degrees. I love when it’s cold and the house is warm at the difference reaches nearly 100 degrees between the inside and outside. At the coldest of 40 below and the house in the ’70s, the day before the difference had been over 110 degrees, something that still just makes me laugh in awe.

In true Alaskan fashion, things didn’t quite go as The Chief had planned for departure but he was determined to make it home. By 3 A.M., I finally heard our truck roaring up the driveway. After hugs and hellos and unloading the truck of perishables and making and tending a new fire, we were finally both back to bed, cozied up at 5 A.M. An hour or so later I felt The Chief rise from our bed and heard the familiar sound of him stoking the fire. An hour after that, groggily preparing for work, I went downstairs to find that despite the again dropping temperature, the woodstove was alive with glowing coals.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 35 Below Zero in Alaska

And the temperature finally above 40 in the morning!

 

My brain did a joyful backflip while my ego simultaneously sighed. A strange juxtaposition. I was overjoyed for The Chief to be home yet at the same time, it meant I was no longer the lone soldier protecting our castle. After 15 years of living alone in the woods, The Chief’s internal alarm clock awakes him immediately when temperatures drop. Having lived 4 years in the woods with The Chief, I think my internal clock would let me sleep through icicles forming in the house. The Chief has (almost) always beaten me to stoking the fire in the night. The sighing part of me was the part that wanted to continue to better hone my instincts. Yet other parts of me, like my shoulder, celebrated the help.

I’ll always be 11 years shy of The Chief’s Alaskan experience but come the opportunity to have my own, I did and I survived. Looking back on the week alone, I realized how far I had come in 4 years. I’d probably never even have noticed the wood was wet my first year. I certainly wouldn’t have known how to troubleshoot the well or the generator or even how to dress for the elements. Sure, there were hiccups, there were things I could have done better (and will do better next time) but the most important is that looking back, I can see how much I’ve learned. I’ve learned how to care for myself in the middle of nowhere Alaska, in the middle of Winter, alone.

The Chief’s help doesn’t negate my learning. Divvying up labor doesn’t mean both people aren’t capable of either task or that one is more or less important. Resting my shoulder so it can heal doesn’t mean I’m giving in, it means The Chief is stepping in to help and just as The Chief helps me, I help him. His presence doesn’t mean the learning stops and just in case I forget what I’ve learned, I’m sure Alaska has many more trials and tribulations up her sleeve to remind me.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 50 Below Zero in Alaska

Plus, when he’s home and the temperature drops to almost 50 below, I have a partner with which to capture this…playing with boiling water!

 

With love,

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 50 Below Zero in Alaska Frozen Water

Steam halos.

Six Funerals and a Wedding

Two years ago, although occasionally mired by a rainstorm or two, our life was pretty much rainbows and puppies, sunshine and ice cream. I’m not going to lie, we had it good.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Couple photo

A Sunday kind of love.

 

I had somehow happened upon the life of my life, despite being tucked in the woods as he was, and we fit together seamlessly. I felt like the knight who had rescued Rapunzel (or however that went) and off we had ridden into the sunset.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher's Kingdom Sunset

Olive grove sunset

 

And then the sun didn’t come up.

Two years ago in August, we lost our dog Cinda Lou in a terrible, and preventable accident.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Cinda Lou's Kingdom

Cinda’s Kingdom

 

Eight months later, the Chief’s mother died suddenly in a car accident the day before his 40th birthday.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Family portrait

Donna, Chris, The Chief & Mychal

 

Less than two weeks later, his grandmother Jane passed.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Grandma Jane

Sweet Jane.

 

A few months later on a cold morning this Winter, I received a call that my godmother Ellen had passed away suddenly. She had gone in for routine surgery and never come out. She was a beautiful jeweler and we were designing the wedding rings she was going to make for us. Suddenly, she was gone. The news hit me so hard it took my breath away. I sat there catatonic as a meeting for work started. I just stared forward, numb.

Times were dark. It felt as if the world had closed itself off to us, as if we’d hit our limit on happiness. We had been so lucky. Maybe too lucky.

We waded through the pain and stumbled as we reached its new depths. We tried to hold one another close but felt alone. We fought endlessly, our anger at the world had nowhere to go in a tiny wintry cabin and so it found its way towards one another. Still, we remembered how it once was.

And then, a ray of sunlight.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, The sun will come out

Sunshine morning on the olive ranch

 

Somehow, almost suddenly, The Chief and I came together again. The anger lifted. We softened. I hadn’t realized how far we’d gotten from one another, how cold our new normal was. Grief has a way of sneaking you away from yourself, away from your loves without your even realizing. It leaves you alone.

Yet we could finally see we weren’t alone. Our sun was back. We cuddled again, sat entwined on the couch again, lingered in one another’s embrace again. The sadness was still there but for the first time it wasn’t blinding, we could see past it. We could find the beauty in what remained and the excitement for what was coming.

 

 

 

 

 

The Chief’s dad, Christopher was part of that beauty. We grew very close in the month and a half we spent together in California after Donna and Jane’s passing. His consistency made me feel so safe in a time where it felt like our world was collapsing and again he was there when Ellen died and it felt ready to collapse again. Despite the immense pain he felt in the losses, he always found a way to be kind. When issues would arise or plans would change he would simply, softly say “Ok, dear” in a way that made my hardening heart melt ever so slightly. He was a steady port in the storm and I clung to him.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher's Kingdom

Christopher’s Kingdom

 

Two months ago, he died of a heart attack.

The anniversaries of Donna and Jane’s passing had hit us hard in the week leading up to his death. One year gone already. Gently, we navigated through the reminders, trying to remember the good instead of fall deeply into the pit of sadness. Two days after Jane’s passing anniversary (which also happened to be her birthday and Cinda’s birthday) the call came.

The man who had become a beacon of hope for our newly blossoming family, who had tied us all together when the seams started to fray was gone.

He was a man full of surprises. As an ex-military man, full of discipline and prestige, I was intimidated by him at first. I would set alarms just to make sure I woke up “early enough” because I feared he’d think me lazy if I slept in. When I did manage to get up, the payoff was wonderful as I’d get to accompany him on his walks. Every day he walked the property to check on his thousands of olive trees and despite his love of solitude, he welcomed my presence to become part of his norm too.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Take a walk

One of many family walks in the orchards.

 

He was methodical and principled and repetitious to a T but just when I’d think I had him pegged, he would surprise me again. He would send me random texts to say “Hi” or “What’s your weather like today?” with a picture of a bluebird morning at the farm. I once received a text from him with a picture of himself, sweaty as can be, in front of a hot yoga business. Since it was pouring rain, he couldn’t be outside and get his exercise and so, he tried something new. I loved that about him. He didn’t care what anyone thought, he didn’t have to stay put in any idea others had about him. He was his own person, through and through and I will forever wish he were with us still.

Despite his ashes in our living room, his death still feels unreal. I still expect a text from him to remind me not to worry, that he will do all the cooking at the wedding and to offer other help I didn’t know I needed. I still wait for a call to randomly check in and tell us he loves us.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher

C.E.K.

 

These days, the simple ringing of a telephone strikes fear in my heart. I feel fear constantly and picture death and destruction in even the safest situation. I fear for the family and friends I have, for our Leto, for The Chief, for myself. I fear for the worst for I know it’s face, I’ve stared right into it’s eyes and still it doesn’t back down.

Yesterday, the phone rang again, this time to tell me that my grandmother Gam had died.

I had just worked up the nerve to tell of the loss of my father-in-law, to write about him here, to tell his story and what he meant to me. I was not prepared to write two obituaries. It feels odd and unseemly to group two of the most important people in my life into one post, yet they are interwoven, all of our losses are.

My Gam is the reason I feel comfortable calling myself a writer at all, and only because she called me one first. She was the person I was most afraid to tell I was moving to Alaska because I was afraid she’d think I failed her. I was so wrong. She beamed at my choice, prized my passion and applauded my leap of faith. She once told me that if I loved The Chief, I had to love all of him. I hadn’t realized that this was how she had loved me, all along. She was smart as a whip, did the crosswords every day and could hold a conversation with anyone. She was an avid reader, a teacher, a lover of art and nature and jazz and a constant help to those in need. She stood up for herself in a time when women were expected to be quiet and continued that strength until she passed. When she had had enough of you, she would tell you “I’m ready for you to go”. She adored The Chief. He was the only man I ever brought to meet her about which she said “I like him”, with a special emphasis only she could put on “like”. I can hear her say it now. That was a very high regard. She gave us her blessing and when she found out The Chief was planning to propose, she immediately offered him her wedding ring. I wear it now and forever.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Grandma Jeanne and us

Giving her blessing. Don’t mind the black eye, apparently it runs in the family.

 

I adored her. She was a force to be reckoned with and I will deeply miss her.

I hope, ever so much that these are the last obituaries I write for a very long time and that instead this place holds happiness in its tales of the Last Frontier. I hope with all my might that a phone ringing won’t always make my heartbeat quicken and that in every way I won’t always fear for the worst. I hope The Chief and I can continue in kindness and gentleness and hold tightly to the even keel we once had and that our wedding in September can move us forward, together in love and lightness. I hope our ancestors gather around us to celebrate in spirit. We love you.

I wish for you that you and yours are safe and sound.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Giant Dandelion Wish

A giant wish.

 

With love,

 

from Alaska and a couple of hand holding, “don’t embarrass me, Mom” pups to make you smile.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Husky and Malamute holding hands

Best friends caught in action.

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

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

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

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

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

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

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

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

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

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

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

Home from Town?

In ’em.

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

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

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

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

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

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

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

Alaska: Spring Cleaning // Spring Fever

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

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

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

 

It all started with a desk.

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

I adored that desk.

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

That was three years ago.

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

Spring Cleaning.

Like I said, it all started with a desk.

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

“Let’s fix the desk.”

Yes, please.

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

How’s the air up there, dear?

 

 

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

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

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

I found out.

 

 

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

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

 

 

Like I said: utter badassery mixed with potential insanity.

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

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

 

 

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

Whackin’ action shot.

 

 

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

 

 

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

Olympics, here we come.

 

 

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

Let’s do it.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Hiding behind the shower door…

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

It was daunting.

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Eww.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Yet, now we have prettier bones.

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

 

 

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

The 60-armed octopus only now has 8 legs.

 

 

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

It all started with a desk.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

// Missing the weekly dose of Beneath the Borealis? Sign-up at the top of the page for weekly BTB straight into your inbox. //

 

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.

Perhaps.

 

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.

Yes.

 

 

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”.

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.

 

Saturn Returns and the Built-In Breaks: Part II

Shall we continue?

 

The Chief was leaving and I was about to be alone in the woods. He and a couple of friends were building another friend’s house 3 hours away. Not exactly a commuting situation and so, away he would stay for…

well, we weren’t sure how long.

If you’ve ever been around construction, you know that it can take longer or shorter than expected at any given time, and so, being the super laid back person that I am, I tried to plan out how long exactly he would be gone.

Which, of course, we didn’t know.

Which drove me crazy.

Finally, after a few days of uncertainty, one thing was certainly clear: The Chief was leaving. Today. It was a cold morning, the sky felt pregnant with snow. We shivered as we unloaded our truck, re-loaded the work trucks and said “goodbye” and “see you soon”. No “See you Saturday”, or Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday or… Just “soon”.

And so it was. All that hustle, all that bustle, all the wrangling of gloves and boots and tools and last-minute wonderings, all that shuffle and then…

the calm.

I returned home to a silent house.

Alone in the woods.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks the woods

 

 

A few years ago, this sentence would have struck fear in my heart but this time, it felt like exactly what I needed.

Time alone has done a full-circle flip through my life a few times over.

Growing up, adults always noticed how I seemingly loved to fly solo. My grandma Gam would comment how she’d “never seen a child play alone for so long”. I’d entertain myself for hours on end, doing what I’m not entirely sure, but seemingly enjoying my solitude. I wasn’t an only child but my brother is eight years my senior which proved to be almost a lifetime in kid years and so our interactions were mainly wrestling (read: injury) based. I adored him but understandably, he wasn’t exactly dying to hang out and so I played alone. To increase the alone time, we’d always lived somewhat in the “boonies” (which, now, by comparison, seem like metropoles). Neighbor kids were far and few between and often an age gap lay between us as well that couldn’t be bridged by sheer proximity alone. And so, again I mostly kept to myself and for the most part, I liked it.

To add even further to alone time factors, I grew up in one town and went to school in another town over an hour away.  So, until 3rd grade I didn’t really engage in the whole after-school playdates brigade, nor did I have many close friends who close by, but my troll dolls were all the posse I needed.

Public school in 3rd grade in my hometown, a mere 30-minute walk from my house, brought on an onslaught of interactions and by 5th grade I actually had some consistent friends again who even, catch this, lived nearby. Suddenly, it was all about talking on the phone and “hanging out” and being alone wasn’t as normal as it had once been. If my phone wasn’t ringing at night and notes weren’t being passed my way through sneaky hands in class, I felt lonely until being alone was no longer a thing I was known for but a thing I chased away. Whether the interactions were vapid or meaningful, I didn’t much care. Either way, I was filling the space.

However, in my twenties (sound familiar?) I found comfort in circling back to my alone time roots. It took me a while to sort out being lonely from being alone but once I had divided the two, I fell back in love with the solo sessions of my youth. Yet, I also found myself in a relationship where trust was about as present as a watermelon in Winter and despite my new love of alone, I didn’t take the time for fear of what would happen when I wasn’t there. In an effort to control what I couldn’t trust, I spent the time I should have afforded for me, to recharge and reconnect, being available for someone else so they wouldn’t go elsewhere, which, of course, they did anyway.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks the path

Choose your own road.

 

 

So, as Saturn struck and I found myself newly single, I promised I would be different. I’d spend the time learning me and creating new habits to bring into my next relationship, which likely wouldn’t be for a long time.

Right?

As we know from last week, Saturn picked me up in a flurry and “returned” me to Alaska and to the furry man we all know as The Chief.

The thing about relationships in Alaska, or at least out in the Bush is that you will likely come together at light speed. The time you have to set patterns for what is to come happens in the snap of a shutter. Dating? What’s that? We met, made eyes and moved in within a week. Thankfully, I felt like I had circled heartily around this old pattern of dropping it all and neglecting myself in the months I had been single, I had been practicing listening to what I needed and I had established a baseline.

And thankfully, Alaska helped fortify that baseline in a strange dichotomy of keeping us closer than I’ve ever been in proximity and also forcing us apart.

Alaska creates the built-in breaks.

From the first day we were together, we already had a built-in break come the end of Summer (I had to go back to California and The Chief couldn’t yet leave). Sure I was worried to part, but it also felt natural and honest. We were solid already, we could handle it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks heart rock

A fated find.

 

 

Plus, almost every Alaskan couple I know spends at least one month apart per year. This for me has never been the norm in a couple but it was a welcome surprise.

The built-in breaks.

Over the last almost three years, we’ve had many of these built-in breaks. I went to visit my Grandma last Summer and to meet my first friend niece this Spring for 5 weeks. Our time apart has built up on average to about two months every year, so why did The Chief leaving this time feel so big?

Well, for the first time, since the first time I set foot in those woods, I was about to spend more time alone, without a partner, than I had for the last decade, anywhere. For the first time, I wasn’t the one leaving, I was staying, in our tiny cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere, alone. Not only was I testing my love for being alone by being in a place where I could go days without seeing anyone, I also was in charge.

Gulp.

And then, it snowed.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks Diesel snow

Sleepy snow Bird

 

 

In the hustle, bustle, shuffle of getting ready for The Chief to leave, we had neglected a few things on the property. The snow took care of that and by “took care of” I mean the snow broke and buried everything. Goodbye mosquito tent.

First day, off to a good start!

I was feeling really rundown from all of our runaround and so, since the weather forecast called for rain to melt away the 6 inches from the night before, I let the snow sit.

Good plan?

Well, if trusting the weather (wo)man in Alaska is part of your good plan, you might want to rethink your trajectory.

The six inches of snow melted slightly and then promptly hardened. Still, I thought, maybe predictions for tomorrow would be right.

Wrong.

More snow.

More destruction.

More work for me.

Whoops!

By the time I finally gave into the tug of war between the weather and the weatherman, things were firmly frozen into the ground. I spent the better part of an afternoon chipping the now ruined mosquito tent out of the ice grave it lay in.

But, one good thing came in terms of work in this world of snow (I mean, in addition to the beautiful snowglobe I found myself in): sleds.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks the work

 

 

If anything makes hauling piles of roofing tin from one side of the property to the other easy, it’s hauling it by machine. In the week prior, since we don’t have a trailer, I had hauled all of it by hand. Carrying sheets more than twice my height in length over and over and over again had wiped me out and seeing them frozen into the ground had visions of shovels and grunting going through my head. Until I remembered the sled. I attached it to the 4-wheeler and hauled the day (and debris) away.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks 4-wheeler

Perfect little parking spot.

 

 

Snow, how I love thee.

So, the first snafus of staying alone had been relatively easily rectified and the test of being alone, really alone, had felt like no test at all. I’d even had invitations to meet up, poker nights to attend and when I really checked in, I realized that really, truly, I wanted to be home, alone.

 

The first week flew by. I had been working online from home and had gotten behind so, I spent most of my days tidying up outside and typing away inside until finally, it was the day before The Chief was to arrive home. I decided to haul water that night so I could do dishes and shower and have the place all tidy and ready to go in order for his arrival the next day.

Out I went to the well, bundled against the cold and started it up.

Nothing.

I waited.

Nothing.

What the…?

I looked down at the feet after feet of hose at my feet from which water wasn’t spewing as it should be and put two and two together: water in a hoseline + freezing temperatures = frozen hoseline = no water.

One might think I would have learned this lesson last year when we returned to the Summer set-up frozen solid but alas, no. I had run the pump, turned it off, and promptly let it freeze.

And so we (I had to check with our other well owner to make sure I was taking the right route) disconnected the Summer set-up and brought in the smaller hose that would be our Winter set-up, to thaw.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks the well

 

 

The next day, ice chunks finally defrosted, I prepared to get water, but on my way to set it up, I brought the already warmed generator outside with me. I always try to multi-task when heading outside and that day was no different. I placed the genie on its stand and the six water buckets from my other hand on the ground while I quickly got the generator started.

Nope.

Ten minutes later I was worried I had flooded the engine. I then spent the next ten minute trying to remember where the spark plug was in order to see if it was wet, indicating that the engine indeed was flooded. No such luck, well, no such wrench, at least not that I could find, anyways. After looking up seemingly endless and unhelpful YouTube videos, I finally gave in and asked for help.

Knock, knock!

Over to the neighbor’s house, I went, for the second day in a row with a problem.

Two hours, disassembly, correct socket wrench, spark plug checked and changed, gas drained, new gas added, oil added, fuel treatment added, ether sprayed, spark arrester removed, ether again sprayed, reassembly and we had troubleshot everything we could think of. It wouldn’t start.

Until, one last pull and…

purr.

Success!

The neighbor and I cheered and then he returned to his project I had stolen him from for the last two hours and I returned to mine: water. I attached the Winter set-up and…tadaa! Water, sweet water, was flowing freely. I took two trips inside to fill the shower and under the sink and the water on the stove and then three more trips to haul all six buckets inside. Finally, I was done. The generator was fixed, the yard was tidied and no more snow accidents would occur and the house was full of water so dishes could be done and showers could be had and…

it was already six o’clock. The day had disappeared like the Winter sun and The Chief was due home within the hour. The choice presented itself:

Dishes or Shower.

I think we all know the route I chose. And just then, as I started the hour-long process that is bringing in the shower curtain and the frozen tote I shower into to defrost and pulling up the stairs and setting everything up, just then, the generator stopped.

I had to laugh.

You see, there’s always something in the woods. Something always breaks, something always stops working right when you need it most and my ten days alone was no different.

And so, I did what I could: nothing. We had exhausted all options. It was a project for another day. I got in the shower and let that hot water laugh me through it.

The Chief came home just as I was finishing and amidst our happiness to see one another the dishes and the generator weren’t such a big deal after all.

I had survived, in the woods, mostly alone for the first time ever and a few things were made very clear:

I realized that yes, I truly do love time alone, with all of my heart.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks the alone work

 

 

I also realized that my system when The Chief is home is not all that different from when he is not here, which means that I am in fact living up to my wish for myself: to do what I need to do for me, whether I’m in a relationship or not.

and…

I realized how grateful I am for the built-in breaks Alaska forces upon us. Of course, I love being around The Chief, Alaska sussed that one out already by putting us through our first Winter together in a tiny cabin with trials and tribulations aplenty but I appreciate the forced time apart. It makes it so you get time alone before you need time alone and so instead, you just miss one another. I adore being with him and I appreciate that we are able to separate and then come together again, even happier to see one another than usual.

This time alone journey I think has finally come full-circle once again and perhaps has found its resting place in the security of a peaceful relationship, with me and with us.

Thank you, Alaska, for forcing change on me even when I am hesitant to move, in shaking me up in conjunction with Saturn to toss me about and land me right where I need to be: in a place that challenges me and changes us and forces me out of my comfort zone time and time again. But please, don’t make the built-in breaks too long, O.K?

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Saturn Returns and the Bulit-In Breaks the fireweed