If you’ll recall, the border that day was Turtle (of Turtle and the Hare fame) slow. We were one of two cars, the other of which the guard had sent off for a full inspection. We waited as their rig was given the once, twice, thrive over, anticipating our own packed to the brim paddywagon being unpacked item by item.
As the inspected car apparently passed with flying colors, it was now our turn. We pulled up to the window, rolling down ours, pulling our masks over our big smiles, doing our best to look the part of the precise people you want patronizing your Province (a mouthful of P’s!). It’s hard to look friendly when half of your face is covered but I told my smile wrinkles to put on a show. Now, I don’t know about you but when I get pulled over, I become a Chatty Kathy and so does my partner in crime. We did our best to simply stick to the facts and, as one of our friends suggested, “overwhelm with paperwork”. We had papers for the dog (who was looking all things upstanding citizen with his freshly bathed and brushed self), papers for my name change, papers for The Chief’s brief brush with the law, paper for our marriage, papers for our rental down south, papers for our COVID tests…we had what felt like a small tree’s worth of paper with us and we sent it his way. Nailed it, right?! He shooed the papers away. He wanted to talk. Cool, cool, cool…
If you love utter chaos, down-to-the-minute deadlines, and high-stakes, the start to our travels down south was right up your alley. While some form of chaos is inevitable in travel it seems, the past few years, we’ve really dialed in our departures to lessen the stress of leaving. Yet, as fate would have it, this time our well-oiled machine seized.
How? A lot of distraction and a little technology.
You see, if and when you ever change your name, you’ll learn that it is, dare I say, a royal pain in the rear. I dove into the post-marital surname switch to the best that our 16-hour roundtrip from town locale would allow but in the end, I had failed to change my passport in time for our departure from AK to CA. Worried I wouldn’t get through, we phoned the Canadian Border Patrol and inquired: just how big of a deal was it that my passport didn’t match my new last name? Turns out…not that big of a deal. Phew! The other small hiccup that stole our attention was a brief moment The Chief had spent with a small-town cop who had big-time problems with him. We had worried for years if Canada would let him through and our inquiries had been far less fruitful than my passport woes. Indeed they had been inconclusive.
The third distraction was the need for a negative COVID test within 72-hours of reaching the border. Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. You see, Alaska was (and still is) deeply struggling to meet the sudden surge of COVID in a resource-tapped state and there simply weren’t enough tests to go around. I had called everywhere from the nearest clinic to the border (one that would still be a few hours detour) to clinics in Anchorage. No one had the PCR tests required. One clinic had another accepted test but they had been receiving the results in random increments of time. Some people got their results within a day, some within 4 days. We needed them within 72-hours of hitting the border.
I kept trying, to no avail until on one of our umpteen trips to Anchorage, I saw a place offering the testing.
Even though it was a 16-hour detour AND we couldn’t make an appointment (we could only do walk-in which, when you live 8 hours away is a really funny/frustrating idea) it was the best option. We resigned ourselves to adding another 600 miles to our trip.
So, with the aforementioned distractions semi-settled, we looked to our departure date with anticipation and excitement. The Chief hurriedly got the addition in tip-top shape and I spent every weekend working on getting the house ready for us to leave. Three Anchorage trips within the month prior to leaving meant we’d done all of our building supply shopping, dropped off all of our plant babies with their sitters (dear friends of ours who took ALL of our plants for the winter), and seen our doctors and dentists. Things were settled and relatively calm for the miles we’d been clocking and the long weeks we’d been working. There was a calm to the storm.
Until there wasn’t.
So now we know the distraction. Here’s where the little bit of technology comes in: 6 days before we were meant to depart, my phone announced a reminder to me. Now, I don’t know about you but I typically respond to reminders with something to the effect of “Whatever that is, I’ll do it later” (productivity in action!) but for some reason, that day I looked at it immediately and what did I see? Our future plans dissolving. “CC Passport Expires” was all it read. I clicked into it. Surely this must be a reminder for 6 months before the expiration date. Why would I set a reminder for one week before it expired?! Unexplainably, I did. I dug into our family filing cabinet and pounced upon the passport in question. Surely, the reminder had to be wrong.
The reminder was right. All along we’d been so worried about MY passport that we’d forgotten to check on The Chief’s passport. We called the Border again (whose number we’d basically committed to memory at that point) and got one of the most frustrating responses ever: maybe. Maybe? This was the answer to “Can my husband make it across the border?” Maybe. The only illumination they provided to those five letters of frustration was this: It depends who is working. They may decide you have enough time to cross into the US before your passport expires or they may not. Either way, the sooner you get here, the better. This news came at 12 noon. By 12:05 we faced the grim reality: we’d be leaving the next day, 5 days earlier than planned.
This news also came mid-workday for me and so, despite having a mountain to climb, I had to continue on with day, feet planted firmly at the base of the mountain until nightfall (the perfect time to start a climb). I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for both of us and our days of pulling all-nighters are solidly in our past. Staying up all night, working all day the next day, and then hitting the road sounded terrible. So, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. There’s nothing quite like a deadline to light a fire under you, eh? There’s also nothing quite like saying “Well, I did the best I could”. Case and point: garden shutdown:
In addition to packing our life away for the next however many months, there was also the issue of the added day of going to the clinic in Anchorage that suddenly posed an even bigger issue than simply having to drive 16 hours for a test. Now it added to the gamble of our crossing. I called every single clinic again in the hopes of a mini-miracle and…we were able to get an appointment with the nearest clinic to the border AND they guaranteed results in 15-minutes! After which we could make the drive to the border, where we’d learn if our next step of the path would unfold in our favor.
Somehow, come 7 pm, we were in a place where we felt good enough to break for dinner at a friend’s house so we could say goodbye to everyone that night instead of the Adieu BBQ we’d planned (and shopped) for that coming weekend. We went home at a reasonable hour, did nothing further, and hit the hay with relative calm. The weeks of mayhem and planning prior had set us up surprisingly well. Still, when you’re leaving for months on end there are endless things to remember and as we hadn’t left for that long in the last few years, we were a little rusty. “Can this freeze?” I’d ask, holding up balsamic vinegar. “No! It’ll explode!” “Oh, yeah…”
The next day, we were up with the stars still out. The hustle was on. I still had to work but thankfully was able to swing a half-day. I stopped work at noon and got to packing. By 5 pm that evening, the car was packed, the house was stocked and secured, and somehow, 5 days earlier than planned, we were about to hit the road. We hadn’t even so much as bickered in the stress of it all. We were damn cool cucumbers considering we didn’t know if we’d even make it across the border. The stress of it hung in the air above us. What would we do if we didn’t make it across? I’d make the journey solo. I hadn’t been feeling so hot as we’d approached the journey and the idea of a 3,000-mile trip solo (plus the added 16-hour round trip to and from Anchorage to drop off The Chief) was less than appetizing. Still, somehow we were cool, man.
5 pm isn’t what I would call my ideal start to a 3,000 + mile journey but…start it we did. Night quickly fell, as did a snow flurry. We ate dinner from a gas station and plodded on into…construction? By 10 pm I was calling our hotel to let them know that we’d be later than expected. “That’s OK honey, I’ll stay up for you. You just drive safely” said the sweet front desk agent. By midnight, we rolled into the lodge, exhausted. “Let me show you to your room, get in your car, and follow me. People always get lost.” Off we went following our guardian angel for the night and into bed, we fell. Our books laughed at us as we pretended to read a few sentences before falling fast asleep.
The next morning I was up early to get as much work done as I could before we hit the road. For a brief moment in time, I had found that I could suddenly work and read from the car without getting carsick. Apparently, that spell had worn off. Barf city, here we come! I shivered as I took Leto for a quick prance about the neighborhood. It was 15 degrees, icy and biting. By 9 am we were packed up and off to the clinic for our tests. When we arrived, they mentioned that we would be paying the fee, despite having insurance, since they were billing it differently as it was for travel. Mmmmmmsccuse me? $240 and 30-minutes later, we were off, COVID free, thankfully. So far, we’d made it through all of the hurdles we’d faced. We’d packed our house in 24 hours We’d gotten the dog his health certificate We’d filed the paperwork We’d registered with Canada We’d come back negative And now? The moment of truth.
A few miles before the border, dressed in our finest warm weather gear, showered and shorn, we stopped on the side of the road to let the Leto out and shake our worries off.
It was now or never. Would they let us in? The Chief now had two strikes against him. It wasn’t looking good but we’d come this far. We had to try.
As we approached the border, my heart rate quickened. The border was slow that day, only one car lay ahead of us, which could either mean a guard who was grateful for light-duty or one who was bored and wanted to make their day more interesting by interrogating crossers (certainly, there was a multitude of options in-between but my black and white brain warned otherwise). The car in front of us was waved to the side for a full inspection. Gulp. I feared we’d reached the Day of the Bored Guard and as the Border had told us in our many, many calls “It’s all up to the guard who is working that day”.
So it was.
How did it go?
Tune in next time to find out.
See you in two weeks.
P.S. A huge thank you to you, sweet reader for coming along on this journey. If you love reading BTB please make sure to sign up at the top right of this page (see the picture below for details). You’ll never receive spam and your email will never be shared but you will always know when the latest entry drops and soon…that will be the only way to find out. More info to come but if you haven’t signed up yet, do so now (please). And…if you have, please feel free to share with friends.
Last weekend, we went on a family hike, Leto, The Chief and I. It went a little something like this:
While the fall colors were in full effect, there was still a feel like summer was looking over our shoulder, guiding us gently into the next season. The (sometimes) sunny days didn’t feel so far away. The next morning, I headed to Anchorage and when I returned, a mere two days later, summer’s gaze was no more. Instead, winter beckoned us in. The mountains, bare when I left, were now covered in a determined Termination Dust (what Alaskans have dubbed the first snowfall signaling the end of summer).
These wintry days of freezing mornings and oh so sultry highs of 50 degree afternoons have had me looking foward towards winter. This past winter was epic. It snowed more than any year I’ve ever experienced, more than a lot of people had seen in decades.
Snow is normally a welcome gift but it snowed so much that looking back in my journal, I found this gem of an entry:
“Monday, March 29th, 2021 5:55 am Still fucking snowing!”
So, yeah, needless to say, it was epic but not always favorably so. This past winter was also memorable because it was the first time in a year that I had felt total hope we’d found our way out of (or at least a way to barely skirt around) this whole pandemic mess.
Because in mid-March, a local clinic (and by local, I mean a clinic 4 hours away) drove all the way out our unmaintained, Do Not Drive Without Survival Gear road to our little hamlet and provided second shots and first and only shots of the vaccine for Covid-19 to anyone who wanted them. Did every single resident come? No, but did the majority of the town? You betcha. Mind you, getting to the vaccine wasn’t an easy task. This wasn’t a “drive in your warm car to the local CVS” vaccine type o’ day. Just as the vaccine team had to work to get to us, our entire town had to work to get to them.
My vaccine day? It started with preparations.
I would be alone afterwards if The Chief was unable to make it back from his snowmachine trip and I was determined to be self-sufficient. I spent the morning chopping firewood, cleaning the house, charging the batteries, pumping gas, warming the generator, cooking food for the next few days and gassing up the snowmachines.
I was prepared. The day was a gorgeous but COLD March but boy oh boy was I dressed for it.
From Mukluks to triple and quadruple layers top to bottom, I was prepared. Finally, after the house was warm and my life was ready for me to fall apart if need be, Leto and I started our journey towards vaccination day. We drove the 3.5 miles to Town, me on the snowmachine, Leto setting the slow pace ahead.
I flirted with snowbanks but didn’t make any move too fancy for fear of getting my machine stuck and missing my date. 30 minutes later, we arrived at my girlfriend’s house where our pod was waiting.
Were we all a little nervous? Yep! Had we all done copious research and, more importantly, spoken to doctors galore? Yep! We were ready.
We gathered our belongings and walked down to the Town gathering spot: Tony Zak’s (a house donated to the community for gatherings). We blasted “Break my Stride” to pump us up. Go ahead, give it a listen, you know you want to…
Just then, we got a phone call. “Are y’all on your way? We just opened the first vial and it needs to be administered in the next 30 minutes.” We’d had an appointment time scheduled for an hour later but thankfully, we were running early. We picked it up to double time and soon, we arrived. One by one we were welcomed in, administered the shot and waited our 15 minutes for any adverse effects. The feeling afterwards?
All the buildup, all the research, all the wondering and then…done. In two weeks time, life as we had known it would finally, finally return. We hooted and hollered and danced about and then, we all went home to prepare to nurse ourselves back to health if need be.
Need freaking be.
I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t fun. I was coooooolllllllddddd and achy. My teeth hurt. I felt like total crapola. Our pod gave one another text updates as the night wore on (the night which, thankfully, The Chief had returned on). I seemed to have it the worst of the bunch but, overall, after a night of No Thanks, I Don’t Want to Experience That Again, it was over. The next day I rested, ate nurturing foods and ticked one more day off of the 14 until the vaccine was in full-effect. The day after? I was back to skiing, back to life as normal.
Unfortunately, life as normal hasn’t fully returned, has it? The word Delta took on a new meaning and as we look towards winter again, which seems to be coming as soon as tomorrow here in Alaska, it feels as if we’ve gone backwards a bit. But…what can we do?
We can get vaccinated.
Listen, I’m not vaccine-happy and I’m not suggesting you have to be either. Getting this vaccine doesn’t mean you’re pro-every single vaccine forever from here on out. Personally, if I can heal any ailment with plants first, I will. I harvest local medicine and keep it for our family. I believe in the power of the mind to heal ourselves too and the power of a healthy immune system. But…I also deeply believe in science and y’all, one thing I know is this thing is not going away any time soon unless we come together to fight it via the vaccine. If you think you’re healthy and are not worried you’ll contract it (which, I’m sorry to tell you, my friends who work in ERs have seen plenty of healthy, young people die within days) OK. But, instead maybe think of the people who aren’t so certain they’d make it, like the woman I saw in Home Depot the other day with a sign on her orange employee vest that read “Please stay back if you are unvaccinated. I have a deeply compromised immune system and I will not live through Covid.” At the end of the day, do you want to be the reason for someone’s end of days? Of course not, and thankfully, it’s an easy fix.
Julia, I’m not getting the vaccine.
OK. I hear you.
Will you, please, then do this instead? Please take it seriously. If you simply can’t stomach the vaccine, all I ask is that you take this situation, this global pandemic, as seriously as it deserves to be taken. Wash your hands, wear masks and social distance like your life depends on it, because even if you don’t think your life depends on it, someone else’s does. Please, don’t go out unnecessarily (sorry, brunch doesn’t count as a necessary outing these days #RIPchampagnesunday). I know it sucks. I don’t like any of it. I mean, I never used hand sanitizer in my life before this. I let my immune system do its thing but this? This is different. None of us are happy about any of it but…
That day in March when I felt hope? Utter joy? Elation? That can return for all of us. We can do this. Please, be a part of it.
With love and hope,
P.S. I am not above bribery, no I’m not (and neither is the state of Alaska)! For every person who is currently unvaccinated but GETS vaccinated by the time I post the next BTB blog, you will be the receiving BTB goodies when our first swag EVER comes out this winter and a personalized thank you card from Leto (his penmanship is questionable but his heart is in the right place). Send me proof of your vaccination and an address for your gifts by Monday, October 4th to win. Everyone likes winning, right?! Email me your details at: firstname.lastname@example.org
P.P.S. If this post makes you say “Ewwww, Julia! I don’t want to read this blog anymore, even though I’ve loved it up until now.” Well, then…so be it. Lots of love your way and happy trails to you (hopefully to a vaccination site 😎 Yea…I couldn’t help myself).
P.P.P.S If you’re thinking “Shit, this post was heavy!”, think again. This was way heavier and this was a ringer too. As Glennon Doyle says, we can do hard things. We can. We have. We will again. They will only make us stronger.
P.P.P.P.S Just kidding. We all know there’s no PPPPS! 😜
**Still here and want to support Beneath the Borealis? Please like and share this post! Send it to a friend, post it on Facebook (follow BTB on Facebook too, here!), tell a neighbor. Any way you can share, I appreciate.
Free cake, food and champagne aside, I love weddings because they make me feel. They give me “All the feels” as the kids says. They bring out the optimist in me and dang if she hasn’t been a little bit dormant lately. After an intense weekend saying goodbye to a dear friend, facing an ending, it was beautiful to find ourselves swinging full circle back into a new beginning. With the dark, comes the light and last weekend, when our dear friends tied the knot, a little extra light returned to this valley.
The wedding was a three-day-long affair and, in true Alaskan style, a total community effort. From the food being prepared by a dear friend (who also happens to be stellar chef), to the gathering of every tent, table, and chair to be found, to the harvesting of gardens far and wide, everyone had a hand in helping. And after having so many hands involved in our wedding, it felt good to get mine dirty.
Weddings around here truly are an all-hands-on-deck event and this one was no different. I love watching an idea come to life. One that’s sparked in first glances and grown in first winters together. An idea that became a reality shared and grew to live in the lives of others. An idea that turned into calls and emails and the blending of friends and family until everyone is together and the idea takes on a life of its own. From decorating the bachelorette party to building out the bride’s bouquet, every hand aimed to hold them up, every step was one we all took in tandem towards their marriage.
On the big day, a Friday the 13th proceeded by a week of rain, the sun came out. Superstitions, stand down. We spent the morning decorating, watching the clouds break and the sun peak through to light the way for a gorgeous backyard ceremony.
True to form, Alaska weather had to make a bit of an entrance. As their first dance came to a close, the sky shed its tears. Cake(!) and dancing followed the rainstorm, and the bride and groom slipped away into the night and into the close of their first day of marriage.
On day three of marriage, they parted ways. The groom and The Chief and their friends (now my friends too) of over 20 years and I all headed into the backcountry while the bride enjoyed a trip with family in their last days in Alaska.
That’s one reason I love this couple. They are always surprising me. Just when I think I know what they’ll do next, they do something I’d never considered. Don’t worry, they have honeymoons aplenty planned but for those three days, their first honeymoons were with the roots that built them and made them who they would become when they found one another.
Our party spent our days hiking between glaciers, trundling boulders, snacking on blueberries and following tracks.
We found a six-toed bear print which not a single person took a picture of so you’ll just have to believe me, grizzlies aplenty, and wolverine prints. One member of our party was even lucky enough to see the elusive beast in person.
We spent the days in sun until it came time to fly back and the skies darkened with rain. Still, somehow all 8 of us, plus 3 dogs, made it out of the backcountry and back to home sweet home.
As we all return to our the day to day, the remnants of the wedding trickle on by. The cake was finally finished, shared with the town, the flowers set to vases and the bouquet hung to dry. Their arbor beckons a sweet “hello” to any passerby who glances her way and last night the bride and I shared a bottle of wedding wine while listening to the playlist her brother made for the event.
The glow of the day continues to shed its light.
Oh how I love weddings.
Cheers to you two,
Cheers to you.
P.S. I want to know…what do you want to read about? Please feel free to leave a comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
Do you ever look back on your younger self and think “Oh, honey…what were you thinking?!” This past winter, as The Chief pulled out of our driveway on his now annual January trip to Town for supplies, I had a sudden feeling of panic.
Was it because I was all alone in the wilderness with nary a neighbor nearby? Nope.
Was it because the winter before the temps had dropped to 50 below the second he left? Nope.
Was it because I suddenly felt the paralyzing reality of our distance from help, if need be? Yep. And as I watched our only vehicle roar away, I realized our one ticket out had just been cashed.
Out here, cars are a different breed. There are Town Cars and Beaters and the two don’t travel the same trail. A Town Car is one that is reliable enough to get you to Town (aka Anchorage). A Beater is a car that often is not even road-worthy. Registration? Naw. All lights working? Maybe. It’s a car that you hope will get you to work each day. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. Breakdowns are constant, repairs as well and we all shift and shimmy our ways through the various modes of transportation we have, ranging from cars to four-wheelers, bikes, our feet and beyond.
When I moved here, the mode of transportation I employed the most was hitching a ride or walking. The Chief was always driving the fire truck, as the State had hired our VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) to Firewise and patrol the area so I thought little about our reality: we had no car. No Town Car, not even a Beater.
Growing up in Sonoma County, a car was the ultimate freedom. We always lived outside of town, miles and miles away from the nearest friend, leaving me locked into home. By the time I was 14, I was working near full-time in order to save for my freedom ticket: my first car. I absolutely adored driving. I’d head out to the beach for sunrise and sunset every day, just to feel that expansive feeling of independence.
Still, when I moved here, I thought little of leaving. Getting around our town was an adventure, a constant shifting of moving parts. Logistics, logistics, logistics. It wasn’t until we got home that first winter that it hit me: I was stuck. We had arrived home in a fire truck that had been in Town for some engine work but once it was safely back at the VFD, I took stock of our inventory at home:
Two snowmachines One non-road-worthy car that wasn’t currently in operation.
As The Chief took his snowmachine for a test run and I watched him disappear down the driveway I felt panic rush over me. I started crying. What in the hell did I just do?! The only mode of transportation I had was something I didn’t even know how to start and if I didn’t like the incredibly huge life change I had just made (moving to Alaska), I was going to what? Ride a snowmachine to Anchorage? Suddenly, catching a ride everywhere didn’t feel so footloose and fancy free. While The Chief promised me that if I ever wanted to leave, he would always find me a way, I still felt myself in a precarious situation.
Thankfully, I didn’t want to leave and we did finally get the one Beater working. I learned to drive a stick and when that broke down on my way to work one morning, we realized the obvious: we needed a car. That endeavor was interesting, to say the least and is still one of the most Alaskan things I’ve ever been a part of (other than this). We bought a truck and within a few months, the transmission went out. Thankfully, we were able to finally find our Golden Girl and things seemed to settle.
We had transportation, freedom. All was well. Until…
This last winter, watching The Chief drive away.
Living here, this far out has its joys and its curses. Being so far from medical care is one of the less amazing parts and as I watched The Chief leave this year, I realized that I couldn’t push the worry out of my mind any longer. With him gone, I was stranded. Normally, there’s a neighbor nearby who I know would help me in any situation but this year, the nearest neighbor was 30 minutes away. Something in me just broke. I felt trapped and, in all reality, I was. I needed freedom.
This past weekend, in our true Road Warrior style, The Chief and I found freedom in the shape of a brand new car. A new car?! What are you crazy or sumthin’, Juju? Well, not in this scenario, no. It turns out that due to, you know that thing that shall not be mentioned that happened last year, buying a new car and a used car is about the same price. We looked for months and after tons of research, I realized that our best option might actually be a new car. It was and it is. This past Friday, after a long week at work, The Chief came home at 7 pm and by 8:30 we were fed, packed and on the road to Anchorage. Thoroughly no longer in our 20’s we agreed to camp halfway. As the sun did her dance of short slumber, we pulled into our home for the night.
It’s amazing how even a gravel pit in Alaska can have stunning views, and it did, but at 1 am, we were almost too tired to appreciate them. Almost. What we appreciated even more was our little snuggle bug, Leto, who promptly placed himself between the two of us, got into my sleeping bed and conked out. The road sounds nearby were putting him in a panic but it was nothing a Leto Sandwich couldn’t cure.
The next morning we were up at 6:30, shivering as we packed up camp and made coffee. By 7:30 we were on the road again and three hours later, we were swinging into Anchorage for a quick change of clothes and a “hello” to our gracious hosts. Then it was straight to the car dealer where we stayed until 5 pm that evening. Leto was a true champ, charming all of the car buyers as he sauntered about the showroom (a showroom completely devoid of cars as there are almost zero to be had). After a hefty amount of paperwork and coffee, it was done. We were car owners, again! Freedom! I smiled ear to ear as I drove our little babe home.
Even an 8-hour drive, again on very little sleep, couldn’t dampen my spirits. We were headed home, caravan style with two vehicles! We wouldn’t have to constantly do the transportation shuffle. If our truck wasn’t working, we wouldn’t be stranded. We had options. I felt an ease come over me as we pulled into our driveway at 8:30 pm. Full circle.
So, am I extremely grateful for our new rig?! You betcha.
Do I wish we would have done this years ago? Uh huh! Yet the reality is, we weren’t in a place financially to make that happen. I’ve long enjoyed the comfort of a friend’s fancy car but never thought we’d be able to pull it off (and take it as no small blessing that we are finally able to). So…we lived in uncertainty and did our best to handle all that life threw our way, as we all do.
And finally, freedom.
P.S. What are your car conundrums? Do you live footloose and fancy free or prefer a rig that will get you from A to B? Let me know
This year’s garden may have been put together with more Scotch tape than a kiddo wrapping her first Christmas present but it is finally done.
While I know you’re probably thinking “Julia, a garden is never done” I would agree but…to me, I’ve reached the finish line and from here on out it’s just lemonade and cookies and pats on the back from myself for another marathon complete.
Did I spread all the wildflower seed I’d intended?
Do I have enough soil left for potatoes?
Do I care?
OK, yes, of course but…overall?
Because, it’s done.
How to Garden in Alaska
While it’s a perennial mad dash each and every year (usually over a weekend) for some reason, this year posed instead as a daily dash, extending over weeks on end. The weekends I should have been planting, I was gone and gone again and the weekends prior had been too cold. Finally, the sun and I aligned our schedules. I was home, she was out and it was time to start planting in every nook and cranny of time that I could muster. This meant getting to work early so I could finish early so that after each 10-hour day, I would have 2 hours to plant, do chores and get dinner ready. This being the worst mosquito year I’ve ever had the pleasure of being here for, each two hour dash included a 20 minute block of time for mosquito preparedness. I’d put on my tall socks, rain boots, long sleeves and overalls accompanied by a scarf, a hat and copious “bug dope”, despite the heat. Still, my protection did next to nothing and each night I’d head to bed, bitten to oblivion. It wasn’t until I’d endured a week of this that I finally thought to ask The Chief if we had bug nets. “Yep! There’s one in my pack.” I rolled my eyes at myself and donned the iconic lewk.
A little more secure from the bugs, I jumped back in with new muster. They’d buzz about my net, a viable storm of mosquitoes and White Sox and Noseeums (No See Ums, get it?! Because they are tiny biting jerks you can barely see!) incessantly buzzing in my ears. “We’re gonna get you!” they’d whisper. Yet with my new apparel, they were only right about 50% of the time. I’ll take those odds. Yes, my neck still looked like a junior vampire couldn’t quite find the right place to dig in for dinnertime but there were no more black eyes from eyelid bug bites and that, my friends, was movin’ on up!
Still, despite my new attire and my schedule, I felt like I was wading through quicksand. After my two hours were up each day, I’d look around and feel as if zero progress had been made. Sure, I’d added copious amounts of nutrients and dirt and compost to the beds. Sure, I’d hauled all the bags between stations and felt as if my arms were about to come off of my body. Sure, there was some visible change but still, there were no plants in the ground and caring for my starts had become a full-time job as an aphid infestation took hold. Dish soap to the rescue! Sort of.
It felt futile but despite my frustration, I kept at it, every day and every day The Chief would come home and say “Great work baby. You are killing it. This is a lot.” Some days I’d look at my plants, struggling under the aphid attack or strangling under their root-bound empire and think “It’s too much. I’ll never get this all in. Maybe I should just bail on gardening this year” but then I’d think of my plant babes that I (and a friend, when we went to Hawaii) had been nurturing since they first awoke from their seeded slumber back when the ground was still snow-laden.
I couldn’t let them down now. So, I persisted and after two weeks of a daily dash and two weekends spent solidly soil-bound, it’s done!
A few days ago I my first nasturtium bloomed and two weeks ago, the first zucchini and the necessary accompanying flowers came to being. I pollinated the little green babes by hand and now see traces of the grand squash of summers past. The cabbage, grumpy as could be in their containers have been stretching their leafed limbs, settling into their new, much expanded, soil abode. Every day I look to see if the carrots have come up and each time try not to listen to the voice that says they should have been in ages ago because while it’s true, it doesn’t matter. They’re in now. Do what you can, little ones.
It’s not the family feeding plus overflow to give away production I had anticipated when I sowed those seeds all the way back in April and it’s not comprised of solely things I grew from seed. Still, without those few additions, I wouldn’t have the brilliant begonia or the punk rock black dahlia that reminds me of our wedding who greet me on our porch every day.
And, years ago, I would never even have considered planting an entire garden from seed. It’s wild the standards we start to set for ourselves instead of simply looking back to appreciate how much we’ve grown.
So, no, it’s not the “perfect” garden I imagined, whatever that means, but it’s a garden that, slowly but surely, came to being. This morning, The Chief and I shared the first snap pea from the garden. Even if it was all just for that one pea, it would be worth it.
In our world of constant and instant gratification, it’s easy to forget that some things require slow and steady work to pay off and in a place of scarcity for time and warmth, like Alaska, it’s hard to not just want it all right now. Just like when I’d train in the gym for a day and run to the mirror expecting immediate results, I caught myself walking past seeds I had just sown earlier that day hoping for some light speed germination. It’s a good check for myself, provided by this constant place of checks and balances. Growth, of all kinds, takes time. The second we gets too far ahead of ourselves, we’re brought down to earth but…earth is a lovely place to be.
May your process be slow and steady and ever forward, even if they require a few steps back.
Oops, I Britney Spears-ed the heck out of this weekend. I did it you guys, I did it again. I tried to plan. Looking back, I fell prey to planning long before this weekend began, into the sticky trap she so carefully lays beneath us. How could I have known? Well, I could have thought back to EVERY other time I’ve tried to steer life in a particular direction and done an After Action Review on that outcome. But…that’s no fun. Better to fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, I’m probably going to do it forever. So, I did!
You see, The Chief has been working non-stop for two weeks. We love to exaggerate, don’t we? Non-stop? Whatever, Julia. But this time, it’s pretty dang close to accurate. The Chief started his summer job and it’s pretty much been bangarang, Rufio style, for two weeks. We both wake up at 5:30, he’s out the door by 7:15 and I don’t see him again for another 12 hours. So, when the boss said they’d have a long weekend, we were stoked. I started quietly counting down the days until we’d have time to say more than a “Good morning” and “Goodnight” to one another. Oh, and I started planning.
First, we’d relax. I’ve become a pro, you know. Then, we’d get some stuff done around the house, adventure on the new property, take Leto hiking, eat good food, hang with friends…oh, and discuss alllllllll of the business we don’t get to when he’s working like a maniac. “Shall we review our healthcare, dear?” doesn’t really bring all the boys to the yard when your boy has been doing hard labor all day but it’s a little easier on the ears when those ears haven’t heard jackhammering all day. It was going to be lovely. The perfect mix of work and play and just time to be together. Right?!
Of course not! Instead, we went straight into business mode. You see, we have big mouths in which we’ve broken off a lot to chew on: a new property, looking for a new car and…an addition to our current house. It’s a lot but it’s a lot of all good things and so, not having gotten to plan as a team for a while, we sat down and brainstormed. Reality set in: this summer is an insane one for contractors and if we were really going to get this addition done, we’d need help. So, after mapping out the plans over far too much coffee, we made the call to a contractor friend to see if he could fit us in at all.
Just kidding, he was far more effusive than that but basically, the answer was “Are you guys crazy?”. Buuuuuuttttt, since he loves us so much he made an offer: if we had all the materials on site, he would fit us in on days where his crew ran out of materials on their other jobs. It was good news, better than we had hoped in a year of busy beavers and then it dawned on us what it meant: a Town trip. A Town trip, in the morning.
The four day weekend o’ fun melted away as we realized that this was our only shot, our only open slot of time enough, to travel together to get it done. So, we did. The Chief made the lumber lists, I found cars and materials and we packed up the truck with trash and recycling. We left the next morning, waking up at 4:30 to hit out 6 am departure (we made it out before 7 am so…I’m calling that a “win”). We had to make it to Town to pick up our lumber order before they closed for the long weekend plus any chores we needed to complete by closing time so we could head back the next day. Thankfully, it was raining, scratch that, SNOWING in some stretches of the drive. Welcome to September, folks. And thankfully, loading lumber in the rain is SUPER fun.
OK, sarcasm aside, it all worked out. We were able to put in a lumber order and collect it all within 24 hours, all while driving 300 miles in between.
Despite the rain and snow and wintery vibes, we warmed up that evening with a dinner out with friends, filled with delicious food, craft cocktails and dessert. It was amazing and even felt a little “normal”, whatever the heck that means these days. The next morning, we took off at the breakneck speed of a noon departure and after shopping for odds and ends we were on the road by 3:30 and home by 10:30, where we were welcomed by neighbors and pups and pizza!
So, was it the perfect weekend I had planned?! Nope. Not even close. Did I know better? Yep. Did I plan anyways? Yep. Still, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have anything to compare to because, despite it not being what I had hoped for, the joy of a trailer full of lumber that will eventually turn our tiny house into a slightly less tiny house rates so, so much higher.
So, how did you fare this weekend?
Cheers to the unexpected, which sometimes ends up better than you ever planned.
After the most epic year of snow I’ve ever seen, Spring has finally sprung. While Spring in Alaska is more of a slog than a sprint, I’ll take it. Onto the next season we go! We’ve had 50 degree days, sunshine and the constant drip drop of melting snow. Every day, slowly but surely, that which slept in a snowy embrace awakens. Usually, everything that’s uncovered is welcome. Sure, there may be a stray tool that didn’t make it in the shop or an errant piece of cardboard that missed the fire. Sure, you have to wait as it melts, freezes, and melts again until you can finally get these items out but hey, playing lost and found is what Spring is all about.
That is, until Leto decided to up the ante.
A little over a week ago, I went outside to check on Leto before a meeting for work. There he was, under the house, soaking up the sun rays. He looked relaxed. A little too relaxed. Mid-double take I noticed that he was rocking ever so slightly. I slip-slid my way along the icy underbelly of the house (aka Leto’s Lair) and immediately knew something was off. His tongue was sticking out of his mouth and the rocking was constant. He could barely open his eyes in greeting. I offered him a treat to get his attention but…nothing. If you know Leto, you know he’s perhaps the most food motivated dog in the world. My Momtuition kicked into high gear. Finally, I got him to stand up and head indoors where I could better assess the situation. He stumbled to his feet and weeble-wobbled his way up the Ramp of Doom as I stood over him, guiding his way.
My mind was racing. I’d heard him and his friend yelp while playing earlier that day. Had he hurt himself? He didn’t seem to be in pain. I ran my hands over his body, checking for any signs of injury. I found none. As I took my hands away from him, he fell to the ground, unable to support his own weight. I looked at the clock. My meeting was about to start. I let them know I wouldn’t be coming to that or anything else until I knew what was going on. Something was wrong.
I called The Chief and asked him to come home. Tears welled up in my eyes as panic set in but then, something else took over. After so many years of so many emergencies, my brain went into autopilot. Make the calls, pack the bags, handle the situation.
1 pm is apparently the worst possible time to have a vet emergency in Alaska. Every vet I called was out on lunch or busy with a patient. Thankfully, there was a vet 5 hours away (our closest option nowadays. Dr. Kimi, come back!) with an emergency number. I called and she texted back. I explained Leto’s symptoms and she said “Sounds like he’s high. Give him lots of water and text me if anything changes.” The only problem was, I couldn’t get him to drink a drop and I couldn’t think of where he would have gotten it. I scoured the outside for anything that could have gotten him in such a “groovy” mood. Nothing. To add to the mystery, the compost was undisturbed, the mechanical fluids were intact…zero clues. Plus, he’d been with me all day, in the house, under the house on a line or out with me when we took a short walk.
I tried another vet and eventually got through. They recommended coming in. 7 hours away. After feeling pretty rebuffed by the first vet (she had asked next to zero questions and said it “should be fine”) and told to immediately come in by the second, things were vascillating in my heart between “I’m sure he’s fine” and “He’s about to die.” So, I texted a video of him to a friend who is also a vet. She called me right away and started running me through all the questions.
How are his pupils? Are they dilating?
How are his gums? Pink? Responsive to pressure?
Is he eating or drinking?
Can he walk?
We talked through the possibilities and they ranged from mild to terrifying. Given our distance from the nearest medical care, if it did end up being something serious and we waited, chances were we wouldn’t make it in time. That made the choice for us (a choice I’d pretty much already made the second I saw him). We were headed in. Time to get the show on the road. I started packing us up as The Chief headed out to get the truck ready. One problem: we were out of fuel. So, he gathered our cans and sped off on the snowmachine to borrow some. I moved through the house in a calculated daze. I’d done this so many times that it was almost second nature. Hope for a night, pack for a week. By the time I had us all situated, The Chief was back and our neighbor was over wishing us good luck. 20 minutes and a change of clothes later (diesel isn’t the best smelling perfume) I watched as The Chief carried our fur baby down the Ramp of Doom.
I lost it.
I’d watched him do the same thing with our Lou the entire week before she passed and it broke my heart to see it again. I went into the freezer shed to grab last minute items and to pull myself together. I sent out a little prayer to the Universe, dried my eyes, took a deep breath and steadied myself. Time to go.
7 hours, dozens of glaciers (one that had turned into a foot-wide, foot-deep running river) and endless check-ins to make sure our little man was still breathing later, we arrived. The entire drive Leto had barely moved. He wouldn’t get out to pee or drink and his über expressive ears barely twitched when we said his name. Our vet friend had changed her plans that night in order to meet us and didn’t even flinch at the fact that we wouldn’t be getting in until 10 pm. The Chief gently picked up our babe from the back seat and slowly, steadily made his way across the skating rink-esque parking spot to the house.
Leto loves new places and upon being set on the examination mat, he started to come to and then…he started to pee. Everywhere. Quick lady she is, our friend grabbed a cup and gathered a sample as he stumbled outside. It was time to start the detective work. 5 minutes later, the truth came out: stoned. Our little Malamute was stoned out of his mind. He rang true for THC in his pee test. No government jobs for this kiddo.
Relief poured over all of us. For the first time in 10 hours, I could breathe easy. My babe would be OK, he was just totally and completely blitzed.
The epic pee time seemed to wake him up a little more and though he walked like a drunk, he was walking again, wagging his tail and drinking water. We spent the rest of the night catching up and learning a few vet tricks, like how to take his femoral pulse. In addition to seeing us at 10 pm, our friend continued her awesomeness and offered us to stay with her. As we made the bed, Leto came running into the room and jumped onto it. His first feat of near normal mobility. The boy loves a good sleepover. The next morning Leto crawled into bed with us, tail wagging, like nothing had even happened. As the Chief, Leto and I all cuddled in bed I felt myself relax into the reality that our babe was actually OK.
A few days later, home again, I peeked at him under the house and what did I see? Rocking Leto, eyes closed, tongue out.
I went inside and told The Chief and his Uncle Dan that we had a repeat offender on our hands. I brought him inside and we all gave him love and pets, hoping to make his trip an easy one. Even though it still was hard to see him that way, we were able to make jokes this time. That is until he suddenly started drooling profusely, then dry heaving. My mind flashed to fear. What if it wasn’t a repeat offense. What if he’d actually eaten something poisonous this time and we’d just been sitting there watching him, wasting precious time?
Thankfully, the drooling and dry heaving stopped and it was clear that he had simply raided his stash again.
Over a week later and two days of StonerMute in the books, we still have no idea where he found the goodies. All we can hope is that he finished them off for good. Oh Spring, how you uncover the most wondrous of things. In the end, the nearer vet was right, he was stoned but I’d take a trip to Town any day of the year to know our little man was OK. Living this far out has its advantages but moments like these highlight the disadvantages. It’s a true life of living lock step with faith that everything will work out while simultaneously knowing that life is full of the unexpected. Thankfully, the unexpected left us unscathed this time and I can’t explain how grateful I am for that. Thank you.
P.S. Any stoners on your watch? Share your story in the comments!
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A few weeks back, as The Iditarod began, I looked at The Chief and asked “Didn’t that just happen?”
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome (although this year, conditions necessitated an altered route). Mushers and a team of 14 dogs cover the distance, enduring everything Alaska has to give, in one to two weeks or more. The origin of the race lies in the amazing journey to get the Diptheria serum to Nome (try not crying while you read this article). It’s an Alaskan tradition, a huge event every year and I had genuinely forgotten that a year had already gone by since it last occurred.
Can you relate?
For me, it feels like this whole year has blended into the last, like it’s been winter for 365 days and counting. A global pandemic, stay at home orders and just the general upheaval of our societal norms as a whole aside, another huge part of why it feels like I’ve been living on The Wall (Game of Thrones, anyone?) has been this: sunshine, or rather, lack thereof.
People always ask me: “Do you ever see the sun?!” to which I reply with a chuckle, “Of course!”. Truth be told, in winters past this place was lit up like a Christmas tree. While our days were short, the sun still did her best to break up the dark and it was stunningly beautiful. Plus, even when the sun wasn’t shining, the moon would light up the night. The snow would look as if it were littered with diamonds, as if Sara Shakeel herself had designed it. This whole last year, however, it’s been pretty darn overcast. Last winter, as COVID hit, the days were often as gloomy as our attitudes. It was as if the sun would consider coming out and then deem it a little too risky.
Never fear, summer was coming.
Summer, with her hot days and ice cream cones and swimming hole days promised relief. I couldn’t wait.
It turns out I had to, we all did. I barely broke into my summer tote of clothes by the time the leaves started to turn. Sure, there were some sunny days but it wasn’t exactly tank top weather as we were used to. Still, winter, with her ever-reflecting light would provide our salvation, right? The northern lights would do their dances and brighten up the long winter’s night. The sunrises with their cotton candy skies would greet us each morning. It would be glorious and fully make up for all the gloom. I couldn’t wait.
Wrong again! This winter has been the gloomiest to date (for me). While overcast skies meant LOTS of snow, which is awesome, for the first time ever, I heard people say they were over winter long before she has ended. When it snowed two more feet last month, the late season storm was exciting but also…overwhelming. More shoveling, more schlepping, more whiteout days where, if you didn’t know the mountains were surrounding you, you’d never be wiser to their existence. Until, finally…
While it hasn’t been the sunniest March I’ve ever seen, I’ll take it. Nothing has been as it once was this last year. Seeing the sun beam each day has brought me out of a year long winter’s rest and I couldn’t be happier. Clear nights mean cold temperatures as -25 rears her head again but this clarity also brings with it the northern lights. Finally, both the night and the day greet us with gusto. I’m taking it for the beacon of hope that it seems to be. Brighter days are ahead.
Let the sunshine in.
P.S. Are you enjoying Beneath the Borealis? If so, would you share it with a few of your friends? Thank you! P.P.S How are things in your neck of the woods? Has the sun decided to shine?
Last fall, when I went to Town, The Chief painted our living room. Prior to leaving, I boxed up as much as I could to help him prep but on the day of, there were inevitably things to move and if you’ve ever moved things in a rush, you know what happened.
“Babe, have you seen my notebook?” I asked a week or so after I had returned and the dust had settled. “The black one?” “Yep.” “The one you draw in every day?” “Yep.” “The one that’s always sitting right here?” Director’s Note: The Chief points to the side table in The Chester Family living room. All eyes are drawn to the location, hope and anticipation on their faces. “Yep!” “No, I haven’t seen that.”
The hunt began. I can’t tell you how many times I looked for that damn book but my art stopped then and there until I found it. “Start in a new book!” you might be thinking to yourself and I agree, but my doggedly insistent side disagreed. That book or bust. I looked in every nook and cranny our house has and at 200 odd square feet (maybe), there aren’t that many places it could be. Still, I could not find it.
Until this weekend when I looked up and there it was.
Truth be told, I am certain to the center of my being that I scoured over that bookshelf time and time again but somehow, my Elf on the Shelf of a book found its way back and there she was. It felt a little witchy, like the time I had a dream in college that my rings were gone. I’d gotten them from a man in Berkeley who, upon meeting me, somehow knew I was wearing men’s socks even though my socks (indeed, men’s socks) were completely covered. He told me the rings were powerful. After the dream, I woke up and they were indeed gone. I tore my apartment apart. I’d been wearing them when I went to bed. No luck. The following weekend, I went to my boyfriend’s house. Freshly out of the shower, I lotioned up but the product was almost gone. I put my finger into the bottle to search for every last bit and what came out? My rings. Spooky.
So, spells, witchery or the truth that I am a terrible looker of things aside, the book was back. Oh, the simple joy of finding something once lost. I sat down with my old friend and stumbled upon an entry from exactly one year ago to the day:
“We went to Long Lake to look at property and we fell in love. The Chief looked at me as we approached the Lake and said ‘You just feel better out here, don’t you?’ I do. Once we’d snowshoed our way to the top of our favorite lot, a Bald Eagle flew overhead. The Chief took my hands in his and said ‘This is it.’ It was. It is.”
Six weeks after that entry, after endless phone calls, emails, forms and signatures, hiccups and happenstance and help from our family, we closed on our property. Over 20 acres of raw land in the Alaskan wilderness were ours. We couldn’t believe it. After growing up in California where a small house on a tiny plot could cost upwards of $500k, my dreams of owning a house felt more like pipe dreams. Yet, it had happened. We were landowners, The Chief and I.
The daydreaming began. The first goal? Access. Oh, you thought the property came with a road on it? One can dream, but this dream of a deal didn’t include any of the niceties I’d always assumed property would (when I let myself have those wild pipe dreams). As the snow melted and the summer came full force, we started making trails. Machetes come in super handy for such tasks and whack away we did. By the fall, we’d had our first fire, a true Alaskan milestone.
We celebrated! We were getting closer to our goal. Still, after all that work, there was no way even a 4-wheeler was getting up there, much less our behemoth of a truck. So, we continued to work and this winter, we got our first vehicle up: the snowmachine. After building a ramp, cutting brush, stomping trail and crossing our fingers, The Chief made it up onto the land. As the winter wore on, The Chief would steal away in between work days to work on the property and finally, he got the trail all the way up to the ridge. Success! Access granted.
Still, true access, at this rate, would be years and years off and if we wanted to build a road, due to permafrost, it would have to be in winter and if we didn’t do it this winter that meant another year of hacking and sawing our way, little by little. Which is fine (and definitely the norm) but if we could, we wanted to speed things up. Thankfully (thanks, Pops!) my Pops was able to expand on his loan and thus, we were able to expand on our loan and so, we planned the fast track: a driveway. Like all things in Alaska, a decision didn’t necessarily mean action. We made the necessary calls, The Chief walked the land with the builders and then, we set a date.
And another date.
And another date.
Time and time again I forget: Mother Nature makes no promises. The first few setbacks were due to weather as the builder had a cutoff of 0 degrees (mainly for his machines. I’m sure he would have been out there at -20 if it wouldn’t have affected the equipment). Then, the equipment had a hiccup, needed a trip to town for the doc and then an inspection. Finally, months after our first call, all lights were green.
And then the weather took a turn again. -20 to -30 for a week straight. Hello late winter wonders!
Finally, the cold spell broke and it began. Breaking ground.
For the first few days, The Chief was at the property to help and trouble shoot but a few days in, they were cruising and he could leave to come grab me in Anchorage. On our way home we got the call: “You can drive up your road tonight, if you want.”
The moonlit drive became that much more magical, the snow all lit up and sparkling mimicked our excitement. As we pulled up, we let out hoots and hollers. I couldn’t believe it. It was a real driveway. We ran to the top and hugged and kissed. It was in.
The next day, after a few finishing touches, the road was completely done and despite feeling absolutely terrible from his second shot, The Chief rallied. “We have to go see it in the daylight.” Snow was forecast for the next day and we’d already gotten a foot or more in the past week. After that, we probably wouldn’t be able to drive it for the rest of the Winter. So, off we went.
It was glorious.
This weekend, we headed out again, this time to put in a snowshoe trail up to the second ridge from the top of the driveway, the place we think we will eventually build. Why didn’t we get the road all the way up to it? Right now, even though we are in a long-term relationship, we are still getting to know the land. We want to spend time there, feel the breeze, watch the earth as it shifts in seasons to be sure before we build. We assumed we’d never make it up the driveway with the fresh snow we’d gotten on it but I knew once I saw that look in The Chief’s eyes that we were going to try. Some expert driving and a few attempts and there we were again, up on top, greeted by this:
Leto was certain this being was an intruder, one not to trust. He growled his face off until we finally got him out of the truck at which point he promptly peed on the welcome guest (thanks, Long Lakers! We love you!).
After a few hours of snowshoeing, we were both beat and ready to call it a day and what did we do? We drove off of our property. Drove! We are both still getting used to that reality, still in shock that this is truly starting to happen. Long Lake.
So, what’s next?
Phase I: Find a property and go through the rigamarole of buying it: DONE Phase II: Gain Access: DONE Phase III: Build
Building will be a ways off at this point so our Phase IIIa will be to buy an Airstream and setup shop on the land. It’s always easier to work on a property you don’t have to commute to and this way, we can truly watch the land go through the seasons. So, we are in the market, looking for new digs for our new drive.
What a difference a year makes.
Cheers to you and yours and to new ventures, big and small.
P.S. Have you started a new project lately? What’s next on your list? P.P.S. If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog (at the top of the page) and if you have friends you think would enjoy it, please do share it! P.P.P.S Thanks to the wonderful welcome bonfire, friends! On Sunday the skies were bright blue and we decided we needed one more trip up this weekend. I cut down my first tree on the property and we were greeted by all of our friends, our first visitors on the land. It felt amazing.