Wilderness Living

Everything Changes (Even Your Face)

After the last two loss-filled years we’ve experienced, one lesson has climbed above the rest: everything changes.

Everything.

However, despite its claim to #1 spot fame for me in the Top 100 Lessons of Grief, I have tried to ignore it, despite its shouts.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Intuition

Shout it loud, but we ain’t listenin’.

 

Everything changes.

The impermanence of it all has not left me in some zen-like state of acceptance. Quite the opposite. Rather, the worry that the potential for change has brought for me has left me in a sort of Henny Penny “The Sky is Falling” frantic permanence. Towards The Chief, towards our family, our friends, our little Leto. I considered all of the potentials for loss and tried to make every interaction left on good terms. Live each moment like it’s your last (Less , etc. etc. you know the drill. I thought that perhaps my worry would safeguard us from more loss. Yet this had always been measured outwards, away from myself.

And so in all my worry, I had forgotten to fret about one thing: me, specifically, my face.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a great deal of worrying about my face, I did, after all, attend middle school and high school in which I’d say more often than not, that people were unfortunately judged first on the constructs of their face rather than the content of their character. I did my best to dodge the disses and watched as beauty unfairly bargained the way for those she bestowed herself upon to the front of the line. Yet, as the years went on, I felt a flip of the switch.

In my 20’s, the first thing one of my boyfriend’s mother said about me when she met me was “She’s so smart.” It made me cry. I realized the tables had turned and I was in a phase of my life where the content of one’s character actually did come into play. It made me want to be a better person, smarter and kinder.

After moving to Alaska and Falling in Love Naked with Cauliflower Armpits I found a further reprieve from the standards of beauty I still (despite smarts or kindness) felt confined by. Although I enjoyed the routine of putting on makeup, I no longer felt required to do it. The choice became mine.

And so, these last few years I’ve worried less about my face. I’ve aimed to embrace my “sparkle lines” as my girlfriend calls my smile lines that ring my eyes and watch the changes that take place as marks of memories rather than the marring of time.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Alaskan Couples

Smiles lines, for good reason.

 

I guess I didn’t worry quite enough.

Early this Summer, after a lovely night planning our wedding menu with friends over probably a little too much champagne, I decided to impress my husband-to-be with a little acrobatics. We were headed home and after crossing The River, we approached The Gate.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Kennicott River

My last picture of the night. On The Bridge, leading to The Gate.

 

The Gate.

This gate is one I’ve opened and closed countless times. We all have. Early in the morning, late at night, multiple times a day. It was high time I spiced it up. “Riding The Gate” is a term my fellow friends are quite familiar with. It refers to when one is opening The Gate and jumps on for a ride. The arm swings open and once it hits its full extension, the gate post sends you back as the car drives through.

Yet I had something different in mind. Something reminiscent of elementary school and flips on the parallel bars.

I took a running start at The Gate and by the time I hit The Gate’s full extension, my speed was such that I didn’t do a flip as planned but rather catapulted myself forward…

Straight down some feet below into a boulder below.

My body went limp and I came to as I felt the reactionary force dragging me and my open mouth backwards through the gravel. I stood up long enough to feel my mouth fill with a metallic taste and the sides of my face grow warm and then cool and decided that I should probably lay down.

I said out loud, to no one in particular: “I’ll just lay down for a moment.”

Needless to say, I hadn’t stuck the landing.

The Chief rushed to my side as I tried to comfort him.

“It’s fine” I promised. “I just needed to lay down for a moment.”

He went into full WFR (Wilderness First Responder) mode, checking my vitals and my comprehension. I went into full bravado.

“It’s no big deal. I just need to spit these rocks out and I’ll be fine” I said as I started to get up.

“Julia, stay where you are. You are not OK. There is blood everywhere.”

At that moment, looking at him looking down at me, eyes wide with fear, I started sobbing. The bravado melted away. It was bad. I knew it was bad.

Other friends and acquaintances crossing the bridge pulled up behind us and ran in shock to our side. From the stifled gasps I could hear as they approached the scene I knew it wasn’t good. The Chief called the head Ranger of our park for backup and once he cleared me for a spine injury we decided to go back to our house to reassess. The entire group followed, all helping, all concerned, all planning our next steps.

We got home and I was determined to clean the wounds to see how bad it really was. The head bleeds a lot and I was still certain that a few bandaids later, I’d be on my way to bed. Our friends helped me warm water for rags. I wetted them and started to try to clear the embedded gravel from my face. The pain was excruciating. I kept trying but within seconds I started to feel like I was going to pass out. I was sick to my stomach from the pain. The Ranger offered to try as well and I sat on my hands on our couch so as not to bat him away in automated self-defense. He kept apologizing as silent tears rolled down my face. It was all we could do. We had reached the limit. We were done for the night.

Or so I thought.

“I’m calling the 24-hour hospital, I’ll let them know you’re on your way.”

The Chief nodded.

Huh?

Before I knew it, someone was making tea for me, another making coffee for The Chief as he fired up the truck and off we headed for a 5 hour trip into the wee hours of the night. Off to the hospital.

Well, this was certainly unexpected.

I waded in and out of sleep, the pain increasing with each opening of my eyes.

We arrived around 5 am to a team readied for our arrival. After trying for over an hour to numb the area (I am apparently one of those people who doesn’t respond to topical pain medication) I submitted to feeling more than planned for. Again, I planted my hands firmly under me as the doctor picked and scrubbed and irrigated everything from rocks all the way down to the glacial silt out of my face. Tears streamed, my stomach seized but a few hours later it was done.

The Chief took a 30-minute catnap as the doc finished the liquid stitches, leaning over me to spread the “good word” as he held the two halves of my face together while the glue dried.

5 more hours later, we were home. The Chief helped me into the shower and gently washed the blood and rock from my matted hair. He tucked me into bed and when I awoke, I thought for just a moment that perhaps none of it had actually happened.

My reflection proved otherwise.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Facial scarring

Good morning, sunshine! The morning we got home. Pre-shower.

 

A split second had changed everything. The face I had come to know and embrace would forever be changed though how it would be changed, I didn’t know.

Everything changes, even your face.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Facial scars in Alaska.jpg

The next morning. Swelling ensued.

 

About five weeks after the accident, the final stitches melted away, the final scab fell and I stood face to face with my new reflection.

Well, hello new me.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Injuries

My first look. Not so worried about those sparkles now, eh?

 

When I first saw the scars I thought “That’s pretty badass” and that has been the overwhelming response from the crowd as well (another is that I look like the ultimate Harry Potter/David Bowie fan). It looks pretty tough and while Alaska isn’t a bad place to look like you can handle yourself, it’s not always the me I want to present. What if I want to look gentle or kind? My blank slate had been slashed. Or has it?

I’ll be honest, my road to acceptance has taken some turns and I don’t think I’ve arrived yet. In truth, it’s been a lot like the road of grief. Apparently, the universe wasn’t fond of my Henny Penny self and felt I still hadn’t learned the Everything Changes lesson, the lesson of impermanence and gratefulness and grace. I’m trying. Some days I love my scars. Some days I forget that they’re there. Others, I’m bombarded with Yikes! What Happened to You’s and it makes me remember.

Sometimes, they fill me with regret, with frustration and self-punishment. Sometimes, I wish I could just wake up and I would be the same old me. Sometimes.

Mostly, the scars make me remember to be gentle with myself. To remember how fast everything can change in an instant. To be grateful that more damage wasn’t done, that my eyes and nose and teeth are safe, that my brain wasn’t too terribly shaken. Mostly, appreciate my scars for what they remind, what they warn, what they promise. Mostly.

Always, my scars remind me that this too will change, as does everything.

The other day, my first Icelandic Poppy bloomed. It was brilliantly, joyously red. It unfurled, beaming with brightness, hope, youth. By the next morning, the colors of the petals had ever so slightly faded. A few days later, the last petal, still beautiful but more muted in her brilliance, fell.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Gardening Poppies in Alaska

 

All good and bad come to an end. What is to follow, we won’t know until we get there but chances are, you will be better off for it. And, if you don’t listen and learn the first time, the lesson won’t fade but will instead find new ways to tell you:

Everything changes (even your face).

 

With love,

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Families in Alaska II Malamute

 

// May you be gentle with yourself and not require too extreme of reminders. May you be gentle with those you love and those you encounter. May your last words to those you lose be words bred in kindness because it all can change and it will, in a moment. Let us aim not to let the fear of the future freeze our present. //

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 graduation

Work in the Woods

Long ago, before Alaska, before my life turned topsy-turvy into the wonderful woodsy wilderness it is today, I wanted to work in an office.

Yep, you read that right.

At the time, I was in my early twenties, recently graduated from UC Berkeley and waitressing at a local restaurant and feeling that every day I was falling farther and farther behind my cohort. You see, I had gone into Berkeley thinking I’d come out well on my way to becoming a world-renowned Sociology professor. However, I quickly realized during the first class of my first semester that perhaps the research I’d done around my future job (none) had been lacking, at best. Apparently, one was suggested to budget 10 years for a Ph.D. in Sociology.

“If I’m not able to perform surgery after spending 10 more years in school,” I thought to myself, “then no, gracias.”

I couldn’t believe it. Yet, there I was, knee-deep in my first semester headed towards my “job”, bills to pay stacking up, enmeshed in a subject that  I was interested in yet held no clearly laid out professional path.

Nice work!

Gulp.

I worked my way through the next 3 semesters and graduated with not a clue of what to do for a career.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 graduation

Who knows?!

 

And so, when a dear friend who too had battled her way through Berkeley asked if I wanted a job with her at a local restaurant, I said “Yes”.

Thank goodness.

That job taught me about a sense of urgency, it taught me never to judge a book by its cover and perhaps not even by the first chapter. It brought me into a family of friends who all helped one another and it taught me to multitask and organize my workflow in the face of a restaurant full of patrons, all wanting you. I truly think waiting tables should be a mandatory occupation for everyone. It changes the way you see the world.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 waitressing

Dress up day at work. Love you, dear.

 

Still, I felt the breath of Berkeley hot on my back in the form of my own pressure and, of course, in the form of all too nosy patrons.

“You went to Berkeley? And you’re my waitress?!”

Yes, doll, your first statement is true but I’m not yours.

(*Sidenote: Somehow, in all of this, I seemed to have forgotten the lessons I learned from the year I lived in Italy where waiting tables is a career. Some of my best friends have made it a wonderful career. Days free, cash tips, thinking on your toes, every day a different day, shift drink? Hello! Plus, what could be a more noble profession than bringing nourishment and warmth and happiness to those around you? I have a lot of respect for those who can do that on the daily. Love to you all).

I felt pressure from the world and pressure from myself and as my cohort found their respective posts in the work world, I felt as if I was falling behind.

I needed a new job.

An office job.

Growing up, I had spent hours on end with my Dad in his office building. The cubicles with their padded walls with pins stuck into them holding up pictures of family and drawings from kiddos seemed so cool to me. Even cooler was my Dad’s office. A room all his own, shut off from the bustle and even a printer all his own to boot. He wore suits every day with ties I helped match and pockets that held a wallet with business cards. I thought it was the cat’s meow, the wolf’s howl.

I had applied at countless jobs for years for marketing, research, think tanks, anything! So, when I was offered a job one night from a table I was waiting on I felt that my answer had come. They loved me. They were so excited I was considering their offer. A few weeks later, I left my post and my family of friends at the restaurant and promised to return for Happy Hours and “hellos”.

I was a Happy Hour person now.

9-5? Sign me up.

Weekends off?

Holidays too?

Count me in, boogaloo!

I was a businesswoman, a woman in heels, a woman with a cubicle all her own with business cards and a phone line and a corporate email. I had meetings and off-site visits and goals to meet.

I had arrived.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 - office life

My view, with a little love from Miss E.

 

Right?

A few months in, red-lipped smile fading, heels starting to hurt (despite their absolutely fabulous cheetah print), cubicle closing in on me slowly, my co-worker said to me: “Sweetie, you are a flower, but you are wilting here.”

She was right.

And so, almost as quickly as I had arrived, I found myself departing.

Thankfully, at that time, the women’s gym I had been pulling doubles with teaching classes in the evenings after my 9-5 needed more of me and so I moved into my next career of a personal trainer and eventually the role of a business owner when my partner and I opened our own gym.

 

And then, I gave it all up.

 

My partner bought me out of our gym. I quit the waitressing side job I had needed to supplement the bills and I left a relationship of 7 years.

It’s funny looking back how we slowly align things for ourselves, isn’t it? The whole process of my subconscious slowly freeing me of my responsibilities took close to a year. The untangling of the ties that bound me and the final cutting of the last thread was not something I knew I needed to do, not consciously at least. And in that final cutting of ties, I awoke.

And I was free.

Free enough to go full circle.

Back to waitressing.

My second Summer, I was still working for the Food Truck I’d started at my first Summer and also the Restaurant. Waitressing is a skill I’m beyond grateful for that made my jump to Alaska possible.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 food trucks of alaska

Big Red getting all set-up.

 

Still, as an extroverted introvert, it takes a toll on me. I don’t always recharge by talking to people the way true extroverts do. I found myself rushing home after work just to be alone and I let myself realize for the first time that it was ok if this wasn’t for me. I wasn’t one of those people who could feel replenished by serving. It drained me. But what else was I good at? What was there to do? I started to think about other options. Could I have a career in the woods? Did I want one?

The Chief and I brainstormed about ways to make money year-round instead of seasonally. How could we stay home and still make money when all of the businesses left and it was too cold for construction? I told myself that by the next Summer I’d be working at least part-time out of the restaurant business. But where and how I didn’t know.

Having started the blog I was back to my writing roots. I had helped a few friends with wording on their websites, marketing, editing, etc. So, that second Summer when a local non-profit asked me to donate to their silent auction, I realized that writing was my skill and time was what I could donate.

And so I did, and then I promptly forgot about it.

A few months later, I got a call. It was from the auction winner, a CEO in Seattle who had come to our town for a backpacking trip at the time of the auction. He wanted to set-up a time for me to edit his website for a new business he was launching.

I was in California at the time, transitioning back to AK for my second Winter and I saw the requirement as a mild imposition but something I had agreed to nonetheless.

The three hours I had donated turned into four, then five as I worked my way through the texts, listing my recommended changes. I submitted them and brushed my hands together as if to clap off the dust of computer work well done.

That was the end of that.

Still searching for a career.

Or so I thought.

The edits, apparently, were a hit and the auction winner asked if I had any interest in picking up a few hours a week to help with editing and what not.

Of course!

Right?

At the same time that my heart lurched forward towards the pint-sized pinch of stability this offered, it also jumped back.

Wasn’t this what I was getting away from? I had found happiness in a simple life and now I was going to muck it up by bringing my old life into my new life? Was I to be a wilting flower or a wild rose, surviving through Winter with my Summer stores?

I decided to see where it led.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 digital nomad

All the way to Ecuador.

 

Two years later, after slow times and busy times, I have become the head of Market Research for this company. A company far away with a boss and co-workers I’ve never met face to face yet talk to every day.

It’s a strange dichotomy to live amongst the trees and type away. To conduct business meetings in the dark of a quiet Winter morning, stationed close by the woodstove to fend off the cold with a laptop instead of a book in hand. To have my day planned in advance with meetings and deadlines instead of being open to the whims of what have you.

A strange full circle it is.

It’s taken The Chief and I a moment this Winter to get used to it again. In California, everyone is busy, busy, busy. It’s often the first thing we hear. “How are you?” “Busy.” So my new position faded into the buzzing about.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 work from home sunset

The work from home sunset.

 

Here though, in Alaska, that buzzing is awfully loud. And so, these last few weeks, we’ve begun to adapt to my first full-time working Winter. Mornings start early, sometimes at 5 am (the only downfall to Alaska being far to the left in the timezone scheme of things. 5 am here is 9 am EST. Ouch) and work weeks can far extend the 40-hour average and spill into the weekends. Yet those work weeks are conducted in my own home, definitely not in heels with lunch breaks filled with cross-country skis (sometimes) or at least a home-cooked meal. It’s the oddest compromise I’ve ever been a part of (and I live with someone in less than 400 sq. feet) but it also makes a lot of sense.

I want a career.
I also want to live in the woods.

That’s who I am.

I love order and organization and planning. I can’t help it. I tried my first few years to just go with the flow, to have zero scheduled and to let myself ride on the whims of the weather alone. And I learned a lot about myself. Namely, that while I shouldn’t plan everything, I should plan some things. For me, it makes me value the time off I do have. It gives me structure. I love waking up early to a house to myself. Even if some of those pre-Chief waking hours are spent working, they are also filled with pre-work rituals that I might not do otherwise: stretching, journaling, reading. When time is more scarce, I tend to make better use of it.

Plus, even on the longest of weeks, I’m still working less than the life of constant doubles I worked in California. For almost ten years, I worked doubles most days of the week. Weekends always meant work, holidays too. It felt like it never ended.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 adventure together

Like by going on a snowmachine ride and ski with my love and our neighbors.

 

I went from so much responsibility in California that I felt I couldn’t budge to few responsibilities greater than feeding and warming myself in Alaska. Life went from buzzing busyness to absolute calm and now, to somewhere in between. And this somewhere in between won’t last forever either. For now, it’s another addition to the list of dichotomies this life holds. Another lesson in learning who I am, how I thrive and how to shed the ideas that we and society (both in the woods and out) hold of how we should be.

Cheers to the whispers of the subconscious guiding us and to those whispers turning to shouts when we decide not to listen. Here’s to the utter serendipity of a businessman in small-town Alaska and a girl looking for a career in the woods. Here’s to whatever comes next, but to never again wilting.

May you be blooming.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 follow your own path

Isn’t she beautiful?

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

Under Pressure

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Never fear, Alaska is here.

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Fennel salt?

Sure!

Chive salt?

Bring it on.

 

 

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

Hello, gorgeous.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

I spilled the salt.

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

So is life.

 

 

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

Herb castings.

 

 

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

I needed that fire.

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

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

From Alaska.

 

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

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

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

Mix or layer to your preferred ratios.

Enjoy!

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

 

 

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

The loverly Lavaterra, greeting the day.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-24-18 100 Alaska Winter

100

Well, I doggone done it…two posts ago.

I watched for it.

Waited for it.

Planned for it.

And then…

I plumb forgot.

100 posts.

Celebrated at 102.

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-24-18 100 Cocktails.jpg

Icicle cocktail, anyone?

 

As someone who is always ready to celebrate a milestone, even those that aren’t my own (Happy anniversary to you! Happy birthday to your dog! It’s Tuesday! Let’s celebrate!) it would be truly out of character to let this one go by (any further) without at least a virtual toast and a little reminiscing.

Shall we?

The first post was born with me cuddled up on the couch in a cabin belonging to a love I barely knew in a season like nothing I’d never experienced. It was born from a place where the best things grow: intuition. Intuition told me I was missing something, something that had been a part of me, something I had lost. And so, I sat down to write, and in the process, I found what I had forgotten.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-24-18 100 CindaLou Huskies of Alaska

My intuition incarnate. I’ve never been set as straight by anyone as I was by my Lou.

 

 

As we all grew to know one another and this cabin became our home, I also found a home in myself. Writing this blog has brought me back to my basics and forward into who I want to be.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-24-18 100 Self-Portrait

Self-portrait.

 

I never dreamed that day, sitting on the couch that I sit upon now to celebrate 100 postings, that I would reach this milestone. I never really gave it any thought back then. I only followed what my body asked and that was to write.

Within this 102, I’ve found myself, my person and my home. We’ve met utter despair and undeniable elation together and through this medium, I’ve recanted our stories. It has been a way to move through pain, relish in joy and discover a life anew. As life goes, so this story will read, the beautiful, the beastly, the sometimes buried beneath waiting for the light, telling of a life in the woods.

And so, I thank you, with all the warmth of sweet sunshine on a biting Winter’s day for coming along with me.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for participating. Thank you.

 

A toast to you.

A toast to 100 (and two).

 

Cheers!

With love,

from Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-24-18 100 Winter in Alaska

Winter…it’s coming.

 

P.S. Did you miss the 100th post? Me too! Here it is: Follow me, I’ll take you there

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Make a Wish

For the Love of Film

The last time the Three Amigos hit Anchorage, Anchorage hit back. What was supposed to be a quick trip in to see a doctor about a pesky sinus infection turned into a week-long endeavor, sinus surgery included. So, when The Chief mentioned a trip for the motley three of us again, I figured “Count me in! What could go wrong?”

The last trip was during my first Winter and was less motivated (for The Chief at least) by his sinuses and more about Fur Rondy (Fur Rendezvous) a 10-day festival in the height of Winter to celebrate the start of the Iditarod and to showcase well, fur. Being from California, this sort of thing was a bit foreign at first but in a place where the temperature can quickly shift to 40 below zero, there really is nothing like fur to keep you warm. That being said, I haven’t exactly been converted into a collector, but I do cherish my vintage white as snow Arctic Fox stole my girlfriend gifted me before I joined The Chief for my first Wintry adventure.

Fur Rondy was an adventure all in its own. There were Reindeer Races a la Running with the Bulls in Spain and furs I’d never even dreamed of and a general feeling of happiness in the dead of Winter.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Fur Rondy.jpg

 

 

However, as I mentioned, it wasn’t all hunky-dorey after The Chief’s doctors appointment turned into a scheduling session for emergency surgery. We left a week later, The Chief swollen and bruised, and all of us cranky from the amount of money we had had to spend in order to survive for far longer than planned in the concrete jungle.

Still, it was a great trip.

And so, we planned the next one.

Why? You ask.

For the love of film.

The Chief adores movies. When I picture his perfect evening, it’s Winter outside, the fireplace is going inside, and we are donning jammies while watching movies. And so, when we go to town, my little movie buff goes bananas. Catching a flick is his top non-chore priority. It’s one of the added bonuses of what can be a very rushed and tough few days during a Town Run.

But this time, it wasn’t the bonus, it was the reason.

You see, apparently “one of the best movies ever” was being re-released for its 50th anniversary for one week across the nation.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Hal

Perhaps this will give you a clue…

 

 

Since it came out in the 60’s, it was the first opportunity The Chief had ever had to see the film on the big screen. The movie? “2001: A Space Odyssey” co-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick (the other co-writer was Arthur C. Clark whose short story “The Sentinel” inspired 2001). The first I heard of the film was while we were in Anchorage. The Chief had just picked me up from a two-week family visit and as we sat and sipped our caffeinated beverages the next morning, The Chief told me about this amazing happening: re-released! One week! IMAX!

When?

Next week.

We were in Anchorage. We still had errands to run and an 8-hour drive home. I hadn’t been home in almost three weeks at this time due to travel on both ends and now The Chief was suggesting we do it all again 5 days after getting home.

I couldn’t have said anything other than an emphatic “Yes!” The sheer excitement in The Chief’s eyes made the choice easy. He was adorably elated.

And so, we made plans.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Alaska

Finally home. Only to leave again.

 

 

We packed up the truck with my barely unpacked suitcase and hitched up the trailer The Chief’s Dad had made for him years earlier. We were locked and loaded and ready to go.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Alaska National Parks

Just missing one Amigo.

 

 

8-hours later, we arrived at our Airbnb. It was…interesting. The homeowner was extremely kind. The house was…in transition mode and the set-up was a little differently than I had thought. Our third Amigo was to sleep in the basement in a bed with barely enough clearance to turn over. Still, as they themselves proclaim, those boys can sleep anywhere and so we made it work and by “we” I mean “he” because he really took one for the team by taking that “bedroom”. I was scared just to walk down there, much less sleep.

We settled in and showered up and I got to go to dinner with a dear girlfriend and eat sushi. Be still my heart. The night finished up as the 8-hour drive caught up with us and we settled into dreams of the big screen.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Monolith

Haunting.

 

 

It was amazing.

Hype is a sure-fire way to make me skeptical and this movie couldn’t have had more hype. Anyone I mentioned the movie to was over the top excited about it. My co-worker about lost his mind when I told him of our plans and he realized he had almost missed an event (the re-release) he’d been waiting decades for. So, yes, needless to say, the hype was hyper-present.

It was also correct.

Even if you hated everything about the film, you’d still have to appreciate it. The sheer ingenuity of Kubrick to create those scenes without the use of today’s special effects was and is monumental. The film is a sensory experience. It just gets to you. Here I go, hyping it up now to you but really, if you haven’t seen it, do. Big screen or not, the film computes (and, I think it’s still in some select theaters. Go!)

After the three-hour film (oh yeah, did I not mention that? It even had an intermission. Amazing) we were amped and off we went to celebrate. We had even picked up another Amigo from our town and to add to the celebration, it was her birthday weekend. We joined into the downtown Anchorage weekend mayhem like Anthropologists watching a newly discovered people.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Anchorage AK.jpg

I didn’t realize someone had painted a portrait of The Chief in Town!

 

 

 

We ended the night with a walk home and fell into bed. The whirlwind of our trip had caught up with me and I was exhausted.

Just in time for more chores.

We awoke the next day, tidied the house and were off to errand our way out of town. There were just a few things to finish up since we had done most of our errands the day before in a mad rush of constantly checking our phones to make sure we had enough time to get to the movie. We had zig-zagged across town enough times to make me dizzy gathering up random necessities and helping friends with some last-minute pick-ups. Yet, at the end of the day, the lumber was ordered, the pick-ups were picked-up and we were all set for an easy out. Out of town. Back to home to finally settle in after what now felt like a month away.

Easy-peasy, right?

Wrong.

The first clue to our day of fun (that was sarcastic) was the lumber yard. The great thing about going to the building supply store we did was that they pick and pull the lumber for you (and actually pick the good pieces versus some other big box stores), wrap it and have it ready to load onto your rig. Well, our rig was ready but the lumber was not. As it turned out, not one pound of the near 4,000 pounds of lumber we were picking up had been picked out.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Anchorage AK Spenard Builders Supply.jpg

 

 

And so, we helped to load each and every piece and pound until we were face to face with the next bit of fun: our trailer was not going to be able to carry this load. So, into the bed of the truck I climbed. I crouched under the truck topper and pulled out every single thing from the right side of the truck bed. It was the first of many reorganizations of that day, another little hint of what was to come.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Remote Life Alaska.jpg

Only one item is ours: the sweatshirt on top.

 

 

Once the bed was clear, it was time to offload and reload the lumber that we had just loaded onto the trailer. 80 2x4s later, the truck was loaded and the trailer was lighter but there was still no way it was hauling that load. For around our valley, that thing is a beast but it was never meant for a trip like this, we had just hoped it would work.

It wouldn’t.

An hour later, after a teeth-clenching 20 mph drive along the freeway, the reality was unavoidable: we would have to buy a trailer. Suddenly, our 8-ft. trailer was traded up to a car trailer. This was a whole new driving situation. I’d never pulled a trailer until half-way through our 8-hour drive out and that had been without a load. This was a whole new ballgame. Thankfully, The Chief was up for the task.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Hauling Lumber Contractor.jpg

 

 

After learning all of the new things to know about this behemoth, then came the next task: loading the lumber. Again. Thankfully, this time we had another set of hands as a friend (whom we’d just said “goodbye” to hours ago after picking up some things for friends at his house earlier that day) came to retrieve the other trailer and haul it out later that week. Another hour later, the lumber was again loaded and secured with burly tie-downs. The situation felt umpteen times safer. Finally, we were situated. Finally, we could get on the road. We bid adieu to our friend for the second time that day and consulted our timepieces.

Our jaws dropped.

It was 5pm.

We still had Costco to do.

We still had 8 hours in front of us.

The idea to stay the night and try again for tomorrow came upon us like an angel’s kiss. Sweet relief! Until we collectively realized that the items we had collected for our friends that morning and the day before from multiple places were needed back at home ASAP. No relief.

Our bellies grumbled as we realized that no one had eaten that day (well, I had eaten almost all of our leftover pizza but it was a small pizza!) but time was of the essence so, we decided to run our last two errands and then head to Costco, the land of food. An hour plus later, shopping carts full, we found our treats to eat and took a moment to breathe. It was nearing 7pm. We packed the truck again, carefully re-organizing so that when we returned home, the things we needed most would be accessible.

By 8pm we were on the road.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Alaska Off the Grid Living

The drive may be long but it’s gorgeous through and through.

 

 

We still had shopping to do in the town an hour outside of town but at least we were on the road.

An hour later, we revved our carts like they were racecars and headed in for the last push. That momentum faltered as we tried to remember just what it was we needed here. It’s a funny thing in those moments, time either stands still and you walk around like a zombie, completely oblivious, comparing just which non-dairy creamer looks the best OR you panic, decide you need nothing and end up with a cart containing little more than random items you didn’t need and nothing you actually did need.

Finally, we re-packed for the last time that night and headed off into the night, The Chief at the helm with a caffeine co-pilot and myself up front, our third Amigo in the back in the somehow completely full backseat. The truck was packed to the gills, mainly with other people’s things but packed it was and ready we were.

8 hours later, we returned home.

As the clock struck 5am and I bobbed in and out of sleep, grateful for our third’s ability to stay up and entertain The Chief since I had failed at my copilot’s duties to do so, we pulled into our newly spiffed up driveway. The sweet smell of chamomile welcomed me back as we all let out a sigh of relief. As good as it sounded to not drive all night and to stay in Anchorage, being home felt so much better.

We layered our friend up for his cold ride home as he still had a 40 minute 4-wheeler ride across a river and a “creek” (read: river) and congratulated ourselves on another Amigo adventure. It hadn’t turned out the way we had planned, which meant it had turned out exactly as planned.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Make a Wish

Wish you may, but you still might not get home until 5am “tonight”.

 

 

Almost 20 hours of driving, countless hours packing and re-packing thousands of pounds and all of it for the love of film. I can’t say I’ve ever worked that hard to see a movie in my life but I can say it was worth it.

Every pound, every mile was worth seeing those two Amigos smiling from ear to ear for three hours straight.

Another trip for the books.

Until next time.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis For the Love of Film 2001 A Space Odyssey Alaskan Highways.jpg

Fall is a comin’

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Kennicott River

Swimming

In Alaska, I’ve had to learn a new language. It’s one I didn’t know I didn’t speak and certainly didn’t know existed until I stumbled into it. The focus of my learning has been less on dialect or accent and more on meaning. Take, for example, the word “hike”. To me, coming from California, I considered myself a pretty good hiker. I’d go off on my own for a few hours, traversing the mountain lion, rattlesnake filled fields and feeling very brave along the way. That was a hike. In Alaska, or at least in my neck of the woods, a hike may mean something very different. My first “hike” in Alaska turned into an 8-hour day, for which I was neither in shape nor mentally prepared. I came back feeling like I had gone through a battle. I had gone through an Alaskan “hike”.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Kennicott glacier Alaska

A “hike”. Ice climbing was just a quick add-on.

 

 

Another example is the word “cold”. California cold is anything colder than 50 degrees. Freezing is just insane. “Cold” in Alaska? Let’s just say, during my first winter, when I first experienced a week-long stretch of the negatives (25 degrees below zero, to be precise) that was considered “warm”. When I used the word “cold” to describe how I felt (like someone was sandwiching my fingers and toes and nose between ice cubes) people would downright laugh.

Laugh!

At 25 below zero.

So, needless to say, there’s a lot of play in what means what and to whom and Alaskans just have a different threshold of what’s normal to me.

“Hike”: Anywhere from 4-10 hours

“Cold”: 60 below zero

“Hot”: Anything above 70 degrees

And so, I’ve learned this language as I go along, oftentimes by finding myself in the midst of a situation I thoroughly thought I understood only to realize I was sorely mistaken and highly under-packed in snacks. So, to avoid said misunderstandings, I try to avoid assumptions and never leave the house without at least three other layers, a change of socks, a rain jacket and snacks enough for a half-day endeavor. Therefore, even if I don’t fluently speak the language, at least I might have the tools to survive whatever I’ve gotten myself into.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Hiking Alaska

Another “hike” before I got the terminology down. It was 6 hours long and included a barefoot river crossing and ice climbing through caves.

 

 

The most common area of the Alaskan language that I still find myself tripping over is scale. “Hills” here are what I would consider “mountains” and “creeks” are often what I would deem “river” material. Just the other day, scale popped up again when my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to take a stroll.

Stroll (my definition): a lackadaisical walk, perhaps with ice cream in hand – no, scratch that, definitely with ice cream in hand, in footwear ranging from flip-flops to none at all across even terrain, preferably covered in soft grass, or sand.

Stroll (her definition): a 4-6 hour hike (hiking shoes most definitely required) through a forest, followed by scaling a rocky hillside to a bolder-laden steep peak surrounding a glacial lake far below and eventually ending at another lake requiring sidehilling (read: trying to emulate mountain goats, or in my case, falling with style – or not) and then doing it all in reverse. Call me crazy but this, I would call an “adventure”.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Trundling Alaska.jpg

This is where she wanted to go. My first time to The Toe, with the boys who became brothers.

 

 

So, yeah…a clarification of terms and scale is helpful.

But it’s not always the obvious trip-ups like scale either, sometimes the Alaskan language is a little sneakier.

The other day, when I decided to sign-up for the 3rd annual Women’s Packrafting Clinic, I felt very secure in my decision because I knew what I was going into. There were no unknown Alaskan terms and the conditions of the day were understood. We’d practice some skills, self-rescue techniques and then have an awesome ride down the “creek”, which I knew to be more of what I would consider a “river”. The “creek” was raging from our hot days we’ve finally been having (hallelujah! Welcome, Summer weather. We missed you) but I knew that already. The day would be long but beautiful and I had just enough snacks. No surprises here.

However, I felt a little tingle as my spidey sense alerted me to something that suddenly felt closer to me than I was comfortable with: swimming.

“Swimming” was a verb I felt competent I knew the definition of until moving here. When I first heard it used, no one was smiling, but there I was with a big grin. Swimming! Fun! No, no, silly.  “Swimming” to me conjures up images of pool floaties or Ethel Merman-esque swimming caps. It has a lightness to it, an easy, breezy, “these are the days of our lives” feel to it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Poolside Santa Cruz

Like this. Poolside cocktails with my favorite cookie.

 

 

That definition also exists here but there’s a second “swimming”, the “swimming” I heard where I was smiling solo, a “swimming” which would perhaps be more aptly named “falling out of a boat into a freezing river”. It doesn’t have quite the same ring though, does it? And so, “swimming”, I came to find out, means two things here: fun swimming (smiles included), and potentially scary swimming (less smiley). I opted to stay on the smiley side.

I’ve been packrafting (an awesome sport, check out Alpacka Raft for a look into the wonderful world of bringing your boat wherever you go) a couple of times each Summer here since my first three years ago and it’s a sport with an instantly addictive quality. The Women’s Packrafting Clinic is one of the highlights of the year and since I missed it last year, I was stoked to join in. 35-ish women teaching and learning from one another, packing up boats and hiking a few miles upriver and then boating down? Amazing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Packrafting

First clinic.

 

 

Still though, that spidey sense was kicking. Swimming. I’d never “swum” before and for some reason, it felt like it was knocking on my door. During the freestyle practice time in the local swimming (fun swimming) hole, I did something I normally don’t and I practiced falling out of the boat and self-rescuing. I practiced three times and on the third flip, something tweaked in my neck, sending it immediately into spasm. Oh joy!

A few ibuprofen, some lunch and an hour or so later, the spasming had lessened and I figured my spidey sense would too but there it was. “Careful, Miss Pancakes!” it warned, “You’re going to swim”.

Always listen to your spidey sense.

Perhaps I swam because of that voice in my head. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps, it was simply time. Three years without a spill was starting to get to me. I kept wondering when it would be my time to “swim” and how would it go? The anxiety of its looming inevitability had crept up and so, by my own doing or by pure chance, inevitability finally showed her face.

One moment I was up, the next I was caught on a rock and the next? I was coming up for air, facing the wrong way, flipped to the wrong side, heading face first into Class III rapids.

I was swimming.

Thankfully, instinct and training kicked in and I flipped onto my back and turned myself around, feet first as I rode the next set of rapids while trying desperately to grab my boat. I had managed to hold onto my paddle and used it to the best of my ability to steady myself as I aimed to keep my head above water. It wasn’t going well. Each time the water would go over my head, I’d come up just in time to hit the peak of the next wave and take on more water. I started to panic. I wasn’t getting enough air. I couldn’t see. I was hitting my feet and seat on rocks as I sped through the mid 30’s-degree water. Then, I heard the voices of the women that day.

“If you find yourself swimming, stay calm. Keep your feet up, hold onto your paddle and don’t worry about your boat, worry about your life.”

In that moment, I realized that my attempts to catch the boat were going to be fruitless. As I gave up on rescuing the boat and focused on rescuing myself, I slammed into a rock, coming to a stop as I watched the boat speed away. Slowly, I assessed my surroundings. I was sandwiched between the rock that had caught me and the current that was pushing me into it. Thankfully, it wasn’t so strong that I couldn’t move and so, ever so carefully, I steadied myself to find my way to shore. Foot entrapment was also something we had gone over that morning and as I felt the shifting rocks below me, I again heard the women’s words:

“Slow and steady. People have drowned in even the shallowest water from getting themselves trapped in a mad dash for the shore. Slow down.”

Slowly, steadily, I made it to the shore.

Just then, the rest of the group showed up, saw my predicament and eddied out to help. After they checked in with me with the double “Are you ok” (the first happens immediately, the second comes a few minutes to make sure you’re telling the truth when you reply “yes”) we devised a plan where two of them would scout for the boat and the other would stay with me. Upon their sighting of my craft, I then hiked downriver and they all rafted down. Finally, after bushwhacking along the moose track laden shore for 10 minutes, I caught up.

There they were, my group, waiting with smiles, and my boat (which had beached itself – see, don’t worry about the boat, worry about your life) to greet and congratulate me.

“That was a long swim! Nice work!”

I love those ladies.

The rest of the ride home, I talked myself through the rapids as I always do, pumping myself up as I go and congratulating myself on doing it…

I had finally gone swimming…

and I was exhausted.

Staying afloat in those icy cold waters is no ice cream-toting stroll in the park and the fear that kicks in could tire a horse. Yet thankfully, this pony was headed back to stable.

As I came into town, sleepy and sopping wet, I made my way to our truck to change and regroup. There, under the center console was a cookie, just for me. The Chief had bought me the little treasure earlier that day and I sniffed it out like a kid finding hidden Christmas presents. It was glorious, like a hug from within.

Learning to speak Alaskan has pushed me into situations I might have otherwise wiggled out of. It has coaxed me out of my comfort zone and into the unknown. It has given new meaning to words I thought I knew and still new meaning as I learn what they mean for me. “Swimming” was a word I lived in fear of. When would I swim? How would it go? Learning the word and living the word are two different things and here, there are still so many words I only know the definition of. Yet, despite the bumps and bruises that sometimes come with learning them, I’m excited to add my own stories to my Alaskan dictionary. Cheers to learning a new language, even in the place you call home and to learning a new side of you along the way.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Packrafting Kennicott River

The fabulous K. I always feel good when she’s on the water with me. Plus, she’s got the best drysuit I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Cheers to our very varied definitions of terms and to learning to speak the language of the locals.

Cheers to swimming, in all it’s forms.

 

With love, from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Glacial lake.jpg

I think we can all agree on “beautiful” for this one, eh?

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 10/30 Saturn Returns Wormhole

Saturn Returns and the Built-In Breaks: Part I

Alaska has a way of empowering those who need it most.

When I (accidentally) moved here, I was freshly free from a 7 year me. Seven and one half, to be precise. It was a relationship me. A relationship I’d spent my entire 20’s in and out of and now, here I was, permanently out of it and suddenly in bush Alaska. I knew a whopping total of three people in a state twice the size of Texas, two of whom I had just met. But in a town of a few hundred, that wasn’t a bad start. Yet the person I so desperately needed to meet was me, again.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 10/30 Saturn Returns Succulent

 

 

Thankfully, we were introduced.

If you know of Saturn Returns, you know of the gasp-inducing, eye-opening excitement he creates when mentioned. If you don’t, you should be intrigued (and find out about yours in a quick and dirty and slightly surface version here and wherever else your search leads you). Trust me.

Growing up in sweet Sonoma County, I was well-versed in what to outsiders may have seemed like hippie language but to me was simply the vernacular of my people. Upon first meeting someone, it was not uncommon to ask them their sign after asking their name and that was just the beginning. Off we might go on a get-to-know you astrological escapade. I wasn’t extremely well-versed in the intricacies and I may not have been as “far-out” as some, but I dabbled. And so, in the year prior to dropping everything and accidentally moving to Alaska, I had heard a lot about my entrance into my Saturn Returns.

Saturn Returns is like a beast that lifts you up by the feet and turns you upside down, shaking you until the last piece of lint falls out of your jeans pocket and your mind is sufficiently swirled so that you can’t decipher up from down or peanut from potato. Everything is seen with new eyes.

Or so I was told.

In all honesty, I was both excited for my Saturn Returns and fearful that it wouldn’t happen.

I was never, however, fearful of what it would bring if it did indeed arrive in the life-altering legendary way I’d heard of. I egged it on, asking for direction, praying for change.

Apparently, it heard me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 10:30 Saturn Kuskulana

A river divides, a barrier collides.

 

 

Looking back, what felt like a suddenly bursting balloon of change, I realized, had actually been filling for some time. I had been slowly departing from my life and my relationship. I had sold my business, quit my job and had just a handful of personal clients that were winding down in their need of me. I had gone back to school to try a new trade, creating independence and space in a too-close relationship. I was slowly finding me again.

And then, the balloon popped and slow was no longer good enough. I awoke one morning from a dream with a certainty I’d never felt. I waited a week to let that feeling pass by. It only got worse. Every day I became more and more nauseous on the fumes of my idling life. It wouldn’t let up and so, I finally listened.

I left my ex.

I left my home.

I parted ways with my clients and…

I bought my ticket to Alaska.

 

Saturn had certainly returned.

 

My world had suspended itself in mid backflip and though I didn’t know why my trajectory had me heading for Alaska, I followed the flip through and dove in.

For the first time in almost ten years, I was completely on my own. I had no responsibilities to others, no house to care for nor people to feed nor events to go to. And slowly but surely, amongst all that freedom, I started to re-introduce myself to me.

Nice to meet you.

The closest thing to my comfort zone was a cozy sweatshirt I had brought.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 10/30 Saturn Returns Julia Page

New times. No makeup.

 

 

Otherwise, everything was different. From showering (and not showering) to making food I’d hauled in from 8 hours up the road, life was a new puzzle and so, within it, I found myself piecing me back together again, recreating myself as I went.

I re-met me.

And then I met someone else.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 10/30 Saturn Returns First Picture

Our first picture. Lou is on my lap.

 

 

The Chief and his girl (to become our girl, Cinda Lou).

And well, we all know how that went: rainbows and kittens and gumdrops (read: dark chocolate), oh my! Of course, there were some rainy days and worries and normal stuff interspersed in between but overall, it’s been pretty Sound of Music-esque

“But wait!” I panicked. I had just met the new me, she was still forming. Alaska had tugged the bravery out of me I hadn’t had to use in a while and had given it a new shine. She had empowered me to step so far outside my comfort zone as to only view it again with binoculars.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 10/30 Saturn Returns Self-portrait

 

 

 

How was I to leave all this new only to fall into Couple Me again?

I was terrified to lose my independence but at the same time, I knew I couldn’t pass this up.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to choose between the two.

It turns out, as you might already know, that it is, in fact, quite possible to grow within a relationship, even a brand new one. Blossoming as I may have been on my own, The Chief was added sunshine. He didn’t fear my empowerment, he was often a major source of it, sometimes trumping my own fears with his gusto, pushing me to try when I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to (which he thankfully decoded as meaning that I desperately wanted to try, but was scared to fail and thus, needed to be pushed just a bit harder (with love, of course)).

And so, together we embarked on a new road, while I simultaneously traversed the path of getting to know me, again.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 10/30 Saturn Returns Kiss the Officiant

 

 

Thankfully, Alaska, never one to allow the same old routine for long, kept us on our toes and kept us learning, about us as a couple and about us as our individual selves. The challenges that left me in frustrated tears, from my first adventures in splitting wood to crashing the snowmachine without a soul in sight helped me find me. She’s a tricky teacher, that one.

Alaska felt like a constant Saturn Returns, a constant flipping me upside down and shaking the last cent out of me until I was righted and ready to start again.

Until, without notice, Saturn didn’t Return.

As quickly as he had entered, he left and his blindingly bright, blaring return had ended.

It was calmer. Quieter. Life took on a normalcy.

The very not normal life of living in the woods started to feel as if I’d lived it all my life. The things that had scared me, didn’t seem so fierce. I had grown used to the set-backs common in the woods and I had even learned some of my own ways to deal with them. I felt relatively confident. I had gotten comfortable.

Whoops.

Alaska was listening and apparently, she thought I was ready for a little shake-up, shake-down.

You see, I was getting comfortable but what I didn’t tease apart from that comfort, what I hadn’t had to factor in was one of the biggest parts of my comfort here: The Chief.

And then, The Chief left, with no certainty of when exactly he would return.

Leaving me, for the first time,

in the woods.

 

Alone.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 10/30 Saturn Returns Wormhole

 

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Sunset McCarthy Alaska

A Very Bear-y Summer

It was a very bear-y summer.

Supposedly.

All around me, I heard tell of bears galore. Bears in the road, bears in the yard, bears blocking the trails.

But me?

No bears.

Perhaps because of the prayer. You see, I do a little silent prayer as I walk about these woods:

“Please let me see something…safely.”

And so, perhaps my timing was off or perhaps the prayer was working because I hadn’t had hardly any run-ins, safe or otherwise.

Where were all these bears everyone was talking about?

Our two friends, a brother and sister duo by way of CA, came to visit late July. They came bearing a full Costco/Freddy haul I was almost embarrassed to ask for and they shopped for our entire Summer re-supply like pros. They navigated the unfamiliar Alaskan terrain in a swift 1-2 punch and made it out with barely a layer of dirt. They were stocked and stoked and ready to…

See a bear.

Every day my girlfriend’s wish was the same:

“I want to see a bear.”

“Safely.” I would add, either under my breath or aloud in a sort of micro-managing OCD attempt to put a little gold safety light around her. It’s a funny sort of strange to live in a place where an invitation to visit comes with a quick and dirty death by bear or moose disclaimer. You know, just FYI.

But she was hell-bent and so I wished we may and wished we might see a bear tonight, or today or anytime before their week-long woodsy retreat, well, retreated, melting back into the California sunshine.

And then, we went for a hike.

Not just any hike.

The day before, we had gone for a hike.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09/25/17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Kennicott Glacier

First steps on The Glacier

 

 

We had hiked out to the glacier and stood amongst that frozen fantasy in awe and then hiked home.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Kennicott Glacier Danielle

Tiny Yellie.

 

 

The next day, we ramped it up a notch. Without ever having ridden a 4-wheeler, we made our friends brave driving up to our next hike: the mine.

Driving a 4-wheeler, not such a big deal. Driving a 4-wheeler for the first time up a muddy, rutted, sometimes split in half with deep ditches running through the already narrow road up a couple thousand feet of rocky terrain? Well, that’s quite another thing. So, in typical Alaskan fashion, we geared them up and pushed them out of the nest and…

they flew.

Up, up and up for an hour until we finally reached our destination point: the beginning of our hike.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09- 25-17 A Very Bear- Y Summer 4-Wheeling Bonanza Mine

Not a bad parking place.

 

 

Apparently, I had forgotten to mention that a hike would follow the harried path we had already tread but, again, they jumped right in.

Up, up, up we climbed. It’s the kind of hiking where you (unless you happen to be far more fit than us) take about 30 steps and then take a break. 30, break. 30, break. Repeat, repeat.

An hour in and we’d identified endless plants and flowers, already found copper rocks, found fresh water and snacked and rested on a mossy knoll.

Beneath the Borealis 09:25:17 A Very Bear-Y Summer McCarthy Alaska

Laid back.

 

 

And then it set in.

A pain my girlfriend had been experiencing on our hike the day before suddenly turned into a searing pain. Going up was not an option, but going down? That felt pretty good. And so, she decided to head back down. We would finish the hike up and circle back to pick her up on the way down.

Easy-peasy.

We were pretty close to the top at that point, it would be a quick turn-around and then we’d come to her rescue and swoop her up in our 4-wheeler chariots.

Right?

Wrong.

Apparently, laws of physics and all, going up is a lot slower than going down, especially when the grade is such that in going up you feel like one with the ground because of the angle. It looks like you’re in a fun-house mirror.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Bonanza Mine Kennicott Alaska

Fun-House Baby

 

 

An hour up and we had finally made it.

The mine.

And soon, the top.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Bonanza Peak

Ominous, eh?

 

 

I’d been to this mine the year before but I had been terrified to reach the top. My knees got wobbly just looking at it but this year, it was my goal. I was to see the other side.

And we did.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Kennicott Glacier 2

The same family of white ice we had been on the day before.

 

 

It was an amazing view of the glacier I’d never seen though the wobble in my knees returned and I had to immediately sit down once we’d gotten up. The Chief bounced around like the gazelle that he is while I tried to take it in, turning tummy and all.

Soon, we decided to putter around the mine and made the journey down from our perch.

Inquiries and a few sketchy maneuvers later and we had seen all that we had come to see.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Bonanaza Mine

Two mountain goats I ran into.

 

 

It was snack time (obviously).

And then, the clouds started to roll in and it was time to leave.

What time was it anyway?

We hustled back down the mountain to our rain gear and fired up the machines, picking up a wet walker along the way, keeping an eye out for Sis.

Just then, I got a text:

“Holy shit saw bear”

The sheer lack of punctuation made my stomach turn.

I tried to call.

 

No answer.

 

I texted back:

“Where? How close?”

 

No answer.

 

The invitation disclaimer rang through my head. I kicked myself for not having gone with her for fear the boys would turn back too and miss the mine. I thought it would be a good esteem builder, a mini vision quest of sorts.

I was an idiot.

Now, my friend was out there, by herself in this very bear-y Summer that she had suddenly tapped into.

We put the hiking into high-gear and made it to the 4-wheelers in time to put rain gear over our already wet clothes.

Finally she got back to me. She was O.K.

We hustled down the mountain, picking up a very wet walker along the way and finally made it back to her.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Kennicott Valley Virga

Incoming! Rain time.

 

 

She had beat us to town, a fact that seems obvious now (again with the physics and all) and had made her way to some well-deserved wine at the local lodge.

Finally, we were able to get eyes on her and know she was O.K. She described her encounter with the bear in the bushes, gorging on berries and how she had done the very right thing of making herself known as she skeedadled around it. All four back together again, we saddled up for a rainy ride to the restaurant and then home. We were pooped. An unexpected double-day unexpected hiking, rain and heights with a very bear-y topping had worn us out.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09/25/17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Kennicott Valley

 

 

A Summer without bears for me and suddenly, my guest of all people had a solo run-in. I was both proud of her and mortified of my lack of hospitality all at once. While I was conquering (read toying with) my fear of heights, she was face-to-face with a berry-lovin’ bear.

And it wouldn’t be the last time. It turns out she had opened up the waterway. Finally, the very bear-y Summer came our way. In fact, all the wildlife did. The next few days were chock full of the wilds. Swans and moose appeared as if they had finally gotten their invitation to the party, bear poop appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

They had arrived and the next bear we saw was right in our “backyard”.

“Jules, that’s awful close to your house, isn’t it?”

It was. It was on the River Trail that Lou and I walked on the daily. But hey, we live in bear country, that’s the deal, right?

Gulp.

We watched it devour a bush of Soapberries in minutes, thrashing the poor thing about with its powerful swings. It unearthed small boulders in the blink of an eye looking for goodies and we all just sat there watching. Cinda, looked on from the back window of the truck unconcerned. This was no bear run-in, this was a day at the zoo and she was content with our safety enough to let us explore without so much as a yip.

Welcome to the neighborhood, bears.

And so, the very bear-y Summer made its way to our neck of the woods. A few days later, our friends left and soon after I followed with Cinda and the loss of our Lou began the journey we are still on.

But the bears stayed and now, home without my girl, I was on my own.

A couple of weeks after she had passed, I was forcing myself to take a walk. Walks these days without Lou have taken on a sort of double-edged sword because walks are one of the few things that can lift a hard mood or ease a sadness but when I’m walking, I miss her the most. Our walks were a comfort only she could provide and her presence is irreplaceable. But still, I went. This particular day was extra bear-y, I could just feel their presence but I was crying so hard that I set it out of my mind. On my way down to The River, I stopped in to borrow Cinda’s brother, which made me howl even louder, missing those two peas in their odd pod together. There’s nothing quite like walking while crying to make you feel reduced down to your inner toddler and that was where I needed to be.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Cinda + Diesel

Bat dogs, back in the day. Pups in the snow.

 

 

Until it wasn’t.

Because suddenly, as I rounded the corner to drop down onto the River Trail…

I was face to face with a bear.

The same bear, most likely, that we had seen unearthing small boulders with the swing of a paw. The same bear that decimated the bushes in one fell swoop. And there I was, less than 12 feet away without my sense of security, false or otherwise. Her Brother had gone on ahead but as I whistled back he came, charging around the bushes, catching sight of the bear and quickly leading the way home. Although I’m not fluent in his language as I was hers, it was easy to decipher:

“Let’s get out of here!”

And so we did.

Tears were replaced by adrenaline and my pumping heart got me home in a jiffy. Her Brother followed me home to drop me off and then went to his own abode to tell his Dad the day’s tale.

And often since then, her Brother or the rest of the neighborhood dogs will watch over us. They patrol our yard, chasing moose or bear through the night. For we live in the woods, amongst the wilds…

and it’s been a very bear-y season.

 

Thank you to our friends for coming to share this amazing place with us, disclaimer in full-effect and all. I can’t explain how much it means to us that you made the journey, jumped right in and swam.

Cheers to the end of a very bear-y season, and to facing your fears, even when you don’t mean to. And cheers to our safety nets that at some point set us free to see if we fly without them.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Sunset McCarthy Alaska

And the sun sets on another Summer.

 

Love to them.

Love to you.

Love to Lou.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 09-25-17 A Very Bear-Y Summer Sunset Skip to My Sunset Lou

Waiting for me. Leading the way.

 

 

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

On the Kindness of Strangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Or so I thought.

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

Until we did.

It was the care package.

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

My Mama is Coming to Town

This here Summer will be my 3rd in our little hamlet in Alaska. As my 3rd time around the never-setting sun I’m realizing the obvious: no Summer is the same. Every year, the faces change just as fast as the scenery. You expect to see the familiarity of last year, and just like that…it’s started anew. The glacier changes, the wormholes collapse or are created, the trees leaf out and a whole new slew of faces come into your world, a world that in turn becomes theirs as well.

 

 

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This must be the place.

 

 

And this year, a new face will be joining them: my Mama’s.

From the time I flew the coop out into the big unknown at 17, I’ve lived all over the place. Yet, in every place, my Mom had either moved me in or immediately come to visit. New apartment in Berkeley? She’d help me give the place a good scrub a dub dub. Living in Italy? Well, she’ll just have to come by for Thanksgiving.

There’s never been a time in my life where my Mom hasn’t seen where I live for longer than a month.

And now it’s verging on a 3rd year.

But fret not because…

My Mama’s coming to Town.

 

 

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As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this place isn’t just some sort of pop on in location. No, the journey North requires some preparation and logistics and in the heat and hectic mess of Summer planning this hasn’t been my a strong suit and so, we sat down this Winter to plan away. And now, my Mama doesn’t have to live my life through pictures and stories. She can experience it on her own.

My Mama arrives in less than 3 weeks. Since I’ve never had a visitor out here, I didn’t know what goes along with the anticipation of a guest’s arrival but now I feel it. Every walk I take, or adventure I have, I am thinking of her.

Will she be comfortable?

Will this incline be O.K?

Will these flowers still be blooming?

Will she see a bear?

Will she think an outdoor shower is awesome or atrocious?

Will the Weather Gods smile upon us?

Will she love this place like I do?

 

 

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All of these questions swim around me constantly as I wonder what I’ve forgotten to wonder about and worry that there’s a detail I’ve left out. But the last question wrestles with my mind the most. It’s a question I’d never asked myself before.

Before it didn’t matter if she liked where I lived because I only stayed for a year or two in the far away places and the closer by places were automatically approved due to distance alone. But this place? Well it’s not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away now is it and it’s clearly not a life that everyone leads.

And so in all honesty, I was nervous that she might not like it.

This place is not for everyone and I’m fine with that (except for when it comes to my Mom). It’s why the local businesses over-hire and why we aren’t surprised when we hear of someone leaving in the night without even a note to explain why. We know why. It’s a hard life but the hard is what makes it good (“A League of their Own” reference, anyone?). Well, it’s what makes it good to me at least.

But the hard is also what makes it messy. The hard is what causes a pile of Freely Acquired Just In Case tires to sit on our property, out of use for years until the day comes when someone needs them for a garden project. The hard is what makes it so that our house doesn’t have siding but does keep us cozy and warm. The hard is what makes each challenge more challenging and thus, each success that much more rewarding.

But it isn’t always pretty.

As a tidy-upper, not quite clean-freak but definitely clean and orderly appreciating lady, the disarray of life in the woods can be overwhelming at times. I can’t tell you how many times The Chief and I have walked outside to do some tidying up and have both let out simultaneous sighs at the plethora of projects to be done.

And when I was just visiting, before living here, I didn’t totally get why all of those projects weren’t already done.

Now, I do.

But still sometimes, my tidying tendencies get the best of me. I want to just tie everything up in a pretty bow and you know where I get that from?

My Mama.

And now she’s coming to visit. To see the sometimes un-tidy life we live in the woods. The life that’s not for everyone. The life that some take one look at and run in the other direction. The life that I almost didn’t live because I too was tempted to run at first.

 

 

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It’s a big place, constantly changing, constantly surprising

 

 

Perhaps her experience will be that of love at first sight. Perhaps just the opposite. Either way, it’s her experience to have and no degree of my wanting her to love it here can effect that.

And that scared the hell out of me.

At first.

And so I called her and told her my worries. I want my Mom to love where I live, not simply because of a tendency to seek for her approval but also because I want her to want to come visit me. I want her to want to visit this place and me. It makes the very long journey fly by if the end location is somewhere you actually love to be. And to all these fears she, in her perfect Mama rationale stated this:

“I’ll love it because you are there.”

If that’s not the most quintessential Mommy-Mom-Sentence I’ve ever heard then I don’t know what is. And you know what? It worked perfectly (I’m a sucker for Mommy-Mom-Sentences).

And so, since then (and especially since she bought her ticket) I’ve stopped the worry. Sure, I’m doing a faster shuffle these days trying to tidy, trying to make sure things are in order and that the hard life is as easy as it can be but I also know that she’ll love it purely because of the fact that we will be together. And so will I. Yes, there will be bug bites and slop buckets and outhouse and all the other discomforts that go along with a non-modern life but they will pale in comparison to the awesomeness that is my Mom being in our home.

Finally, I’ll be able to truly share my life with her, instead of bits and snippets and stories and my interpretations. She’ll have her own take on it all, she’ll know my friends, my work, my walks I take every time I call her and she’ll see our life as it is here, instead of our patched together life in California where we move every week and live out of suitcases.

It’s been a bizarre thing to have her not know who or where I am talking about and I can’t wait to bridge the gap.

She’ll finally know our life.

She’ll finally know and I can’t wait.

 

 

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That’s my Mama!