DOGTOWN, U.S.A Part II: Full Circle

I felt Death knocking.

I felt Death knocking and I bolted the door against her advances. I covered the cracks in the door frame, piled the furniture high and steadied myself against her pounding.

And all the while holding vigilant against her overtures, I scolded myself for my loss of optimism. I deemed myself cynical and paranoid and told myself to ignore my gut.

I felt Death knocking.

I hoped I was wrong.

And then she came in.

She pushed away our barricades as if they were nothing and in one fell swoop confirmed my worst fears in a swell of sadness that swept me away.


I lost my best friend.





On Wednesday after the worst week of all three of our lives, we made the hardest decision we have yet to make together:

We bid farewell to our Cinda.

Together we held her as she took her last breaths and together we wrapped her body in a blanket. Together we secured her onto the backboard her Dad had made for her. Together we said our goodbyes to those whom had kindly housed us in Town in our worst time.

Together the three of us went home.

It felt like a cruel joke.

The last time we had gone to Town, I had brought Cinda with me because I was concerned about her health. She and my Mom and I had piled into the truck that too was having issues. The ride there was quiet as a feeling of panic spread over me. I was paranoid about her health. Our town had already lost two dogs this Summer, I couldn’t handle her being next. And so I said a prayer over and over in my mind:

“If something has to fail, make it be the truck. Anything but my girl.”

And my prayers were answered.

Two days later Cinda and I had made it home with the help of a girlfriend and her trusty steed. Our truck hadn’t made it back but Lou? She was fine. The picture of health. It had been superstition after all. I had been paranoid and I had been wrong. I shook off the feeling of Death. We were together and she was healthy.

And that was all that mattered.




Cinda Bones scaling the glacial walls like it’s nothing. 



There would be more trucks.


And then there was a new truck and The Chief went into Town to get it.

A few hours later Lou and I followed, catching a ride with a friend when I realized that her condition was worsening.

The whole way I again prayed to anyone and anything that would listen. I told myself Death was just taunting us, knocking louder now but that she could be quelled like the last time. She would stop. Cinda was at the top of her game. Svelte and happy and healthy. The Vet had told me so only weeks before.

Still I prayed over and over along the drive and in the week that followed. I offered up my own health, our home, money. Anything. Everything. “Please, take what you want. Anything but my baby. Please let her make it through.”






One week later, The Chief and I drove home together hand in hand in a new truck with our baby’s body in the bed.

We returned home to an oppressive feeling of emptiness and to the most painful full circle experience I’ve ever had.

When we walked in the door we were greeted by a dinner left for us by our neighbors and to a beautiful note of condolence. Those were the same kindnesses and love we had bestowed upon them only a few months before when they had to make the transition of walking through their doorway for the first time without their baby.

Full circle.

Life is cruel and beautiful all in one.

In the morning we awoke for the first time in our house without our baby.


You never realize the quiet until it comes.

It’s deafening.


We spent the day digging her grave. The spot where she and her Dad had slept together in a tent the first Summer they had lived on the property was where we laid her to rest. As we walked the property earlier that morning to find where she would rest, the spot had called us in and put its arms around us the way only the Earth can.

We dug until we were up to our shoulders in an earthen grave, until we had to help one another out, until we were sure she would be safe from the wilds of the woods.

All the while, her Brother watched over us. He had come over from next door and had greeted us with his head down and without so much as the twitch of his tail. He was solemn and stoic as he let us bury our faces in his fur. We sobbed into him. He slept beside the ever-growing hole that would be her grave and as I dug my heart was broken again and again as I would look up and catch a glimpse of his tail and think that it was hers.

But it wasn’t.

And then as we left to prepare her body, her Brother left too.

We cleaned her and dried her and cried into her fur and then wrapped her again in one of her Dad’s blankets from their early days. Slowly we lowered her into the grave and said our final goodbyes. In the hours that followed we filled her grave with dirt and covered the top in moss and rocks and flowers.

Our baby.




Our first Christmas.




Our last family ski



Cinda was our first baby.

And she was my very best friend.

She was the reason I made it through my first Winter when The Chief worked all the dark day long and I was left in an unfamiliar place all alone. In the cold and the vast darkness she was my light and I was no longer alone. I talked to her more than anyone else. She waited patiently as I learned to ski and made me feel safe in the big white world I had found myself in.





Keeping me company while I organized totes.


She showed me around and taught me to navigate the place I called home. At every turn she would wait for me to make sure I wouldn’t miss it.



This way, Mommy.



She was my best friend and I lost her.

I lost her and still, she is everywhere.

I hear her though she’s not there. I smell the way her paws smelled in fleeting moments and it taunts me. I find her fur at every turn. I see her footprints in the soft landings of the river’s shore.

I still look for her in her bed under the house every time I walk up the stairs and I wait for her to peek up at me over the table in our living room. My heart breaks in expectant surprise when I turn around in the kitchen and she isn’t there to sample what I’m making. I feel as if I’m just waiting to turn the corner and see her again, as though I’ve simply lost her and not that she’s lost her life.




Sneaky, peaky T.



She visits us in our dreams and in the memories of our Friend Family who have been there every step of the way to kneel at her grave and cry, to wrap us in their arms, to feed us and to tell stories that make us able to laugh again.

It’s a constant up and down whirlybird of a rollercoaster on a ride I never wanted to go on that I never paid admittance for. It feels as if we are here by accident, by a terrible joke.

But we aren’t.

This is our new life. Just us and the quiet.


Despite the despair and the pain that feel infinite it was worth it. I wouldn’t take back getting to love her in order to avoid this but I would do anything for more time together.

I love you, Cinda, dog of unflinching personality and infinite nicknames and lessons and love. There will never be another like you. Thank you for letting me be your Mom, for as one of your Grandmas said with a laugh: you didn’t have to let me be your Mom but you did.

Thank you. We will see you on the other side.

We miss you. So much.




Feel the Burn

As an ex-Personal Trainer, the phrase “Feel the Burn” has never been unfamiliar. And in our most recent election I certainly felt the Bern. However, in today’s episode of Life in the Woods we are talking about a different burn.


The Burnout.


Around these parts, The Burnout Burn is in full-effect as we bid adieu to the fresh-faced fountain of Summer’s youth.

People are tired.

People forget and put on their grumpy pants in the morning.

It’s mid-Summer and the constant beat of the midnight sun drum is becoming less of a motivator and more of a task master.

The crowds that were surprising in June and early July are now commonplace and our little home is full-up, full-on, full-time.

The questions have changed from “how was your Winter?” to “what will you do in the Fall?” and in that delicate dialectic seasonal switch it’s obvious that the Solstice has passed as the sun finds her daily retreat a bit sooner everyday.




We are these versions of buildings instead of shiny and new but hey, we have character.




But despite The Burnout, despite the fledgling energy levels and the growing inability to answer without offense when a tourist looks me up and down and says: “Well you certainly don’t live here in the Winter.” (thank you for that very unexpected approximation and judgement. Cheers to you too) I feel it’s been a Burn I can learn from.

You see, I’m an introvert.

I think the true term for my specific brand of Me-ness is called an Extroverted Introvert.

Sounds like an oxymoron, eh?

But it’s a label I’ve found that’s actually helped me to make sense of, well, me (you can read a pretty spot-on account of it here).

Make sense of yes, but in the past I still tried to push through the introversion into the extroversion. It made social situations easier, it made it seem like I was always “up” and it meant I felt less guilty less often because I didn’t indulge the introverted side. I just pushed, pushed, pushed it down.

Go out every night of the week?



Have my phone on all day?

Love to!


Hang out with a new group of people?

Bring it on!


And the thing is, I like to go out, I like to be in contact and I love meeting new people.

Just not all the time.

And so, after years of submerging my introverted side in an ocean of guilt, letting her up only for necessary air and the plunging her back down again, I finally realized it wasn’t working.

The Burnout would show up in all it’s many faces in years before and I would fall apart. I’d be overworked and under-slept and over-socialized and I would just deteriorate, only to put the pieces back together again and into overdrive and…

do it all over again.




Open, close. Open, close. Repeat.



But here, The Burn is different. (I know, I know. Alaska’s always different in my eyes but it’s true! At least for me.) This place is a boiled down version, a high-concentrate of The Burn because everyone is trying to cram everything they can into every hour of every day. There’s a celebration or a training or a party or a natural event that brings people together every night of the week. It’s not the normal 9-5 thank god it’s Fri-Yay, Margarita Monday just to get through the week type of life here.

It’s full-on.

And it’s wonderful.

But if you are susceptible to The Burn (and I have yet to find anyone immune, though there certainly live within this haven some masterful socializers whom seemingly re-charge through social interaction. Super-humans? Or just masters of disguising their need for solitude?) and I certainly am, it’s going to come on full-bore here.

Welcome to the woods.

And you thought it’d be quieter.

So, this year when I started feeling The Burn I decided to try a different route, the road certainly less (if perhaps maybe never) traveled by me, myself and I:

I let myself recharge. I looked my introverted side of myself in the eyes and I gave her a hug, and a night at home.

Lordy did that feel good.

Before I knew it, I was saying “No” to things.

How had I not utilized this power before?

And don’t get me wrong, as the kids say these days, I often have a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out. Please don’t anyone remind me that I just used FOMO in a piece of writing) but it only lasts as long as it takes The Chief to go down the driveway and head into the social circus that I am then left with this ultimate sense of relief and knowing. Knowing that I did the right thing for me.




I’ve never regretted choosing a walk.



It doesn’t mean that I don’t adore being with my friends or making new ones. It doesn’t meant that I don’t like people or that my extroversion is a farce. When I feel “On” it’s a magical sensation, one to cherish and enjoy and let out into the world. But when I’m depleted, I don’t want to bring that out. Not being out in the world doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be social. It means that I can’t. If I’m truly listening, I realize that sometimes I just can’t. Not if I want to avoid The Burn and the inevitable dropping of all of the pieces. Not if I want to take care of myself.

It’s a truly powerful thing (albeit seemingly elementary and one which perhaps most have already grasped before their third decade around the sun, but not me) to listen to oneself. It’s taken me years just to even lend an ear, much less listen, much less act upon what I knew needed to be done. In fact, it’s taken years just to figure out what I actually need.

I had to practice. I had to trick myself into not judging the answer that was hidden behind bravado by asking myself rapid fire questions:

What do you want to eat?

Pancakes! (That was an easy one).

Pilates or a walk down by the river?


Shorts or leggings for the walk?

Shorts! (Gotta give these albino white leggies at least a few rays of sunshine per year).

Go to Town or not?

No town!


Hold the phone…no Town?

That’s right, inner intuition. No Town.

Now, to follow through.

Often a 20 minute cuddle session with Lou (by which I mean me giving her pets and her ignoring me for 15 of the 20 minutes) eases the anxiety inducing decision and before I know it, the window to leave has left the building. I’m full-fledged in my decision to stay home and…

suddenly it feels glorious.







Sometimes The Chief and I both make the decision together which always eases the FOMO (there it is again!) but it’s the times when I’m the lone soldier, bowing out of the Army of Fun when I feel the proudest of my choice.

I’m taking care of me.

And truly, if I don’t, who else will? No one can tell you who you are. We have to listen as we tell ourselves.

Tricking myself for years into being out when I needed to be in wreaked havoc on the trust I had with myself but slowly and surely, it’s coming back. I guess I just needed the intensity of the Summer drumroll here to push me into it. I needed that hyper-extroversion to show me the truth of my introversion and to appreciate it.

I’ve read two books this Summer (more than I’ve read in my first two Summers combined), I’ve spent time alone in our garden, I’ve harvested herbs and taken walks with my Lou and I’ve spent time with me, allowing myself to be just that: me.







Sure, there’s still a lot to learn about how to avoid The Burn and the inevitable singe will happen. It’s mid-July in a full-up tourist town, but in taking the time to restore, The Burn gets a little cooler.

A little.

Cheers to oxymoron personalities and the seemingly opposing sides of their needs.

And cheers to you and your needs. Take a listen, they just might surprise you.


Locals Only

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I was wrong.

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

Then came the grapes.

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


Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 6.15.14 PM.png


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

The key?


Wine grapes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew nothing of living in a small town.

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

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

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

I didn’t get it.

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

Until now.

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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



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


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

You should love your home.

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

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




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

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

That’s not who I want to be.

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



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


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

I did. That’s how we do things here.

“Need a lift?”

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

They looked tired.

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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


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