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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 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

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

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

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

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

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

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

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

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

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

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

Home from Town?

In ’em.

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

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

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

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

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

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Bonfire

Chore Strong

Alaskan Chore Strong

Life in an Alaskan Tiny Home Requires Big Chores

 

I’ve always wanted to be strong. Since I was a little girl, I would flex on command my little tennis ball biceps and burly quads. I grew up a competitive Irish dancer and the amount of control you need quickly brought me into a conversation with my body. What can it do? What can’t it do? How can I get it to do that? I’d watch the older girls and shuffle my feet in mimicry until, one day, I could be taught those dances.

 

At home, my strength was required on the monthly dump run where I would lift and throw with my Dad the things that would then live in the pit below. One time, I myself even ended up in that pit, but that’s another story. Yet overall, my strength was relatively for my own pursuits in leisure and play.

For the most part, it stayed that way. As an adult, I had random chores and days that required strength. I’d marathon garden the heck out of some ivy, battling it until we both swept our brows in fatigue and called a leafy truce. Yet, those days were more of a choice and less of a chore.

Not anymore.

Nowadays, the chores choose.

When we returned this year, our neighbors were over when we realized we needed to haul water. There was not a drop to be found. Not a drop in the tea kettle or under the sink running to our faucet, not a drop in the pot that sat on the stove, not a drop in our glasses. The house was parched and so was I. So, we quickly set about to haul the 55-gallon refill required via 5-gallon buckets through the slippery snow and up the Ramp of Doom.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Spring in Alaska

The ROD with an added pleasure: a frozen in, slick, watering can, right in the path!

 

 

Our friends jumped in.

My girlfriends, total badasses as they are, grabbed two buckets apiece and headed up the old ROD into the house in one effortless motion. Despite the lack of a trail (read: post-holing through the knee-deep snow with 80 lbs. of water hanging from your arms) they made their way up the slippery Ramp of Doom in no time. I, myself grabbed two buckets to follow and quickly realized that, despite their having broken trail for me, even following in their footsteps was not going to be the break that I needed.

I was no longer chore strong.

I dropped the second bucket and hefted the other up and around into a belly bear hug hold at my chest and waddled my way to the house.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Icicles

…and through the second hurdle: two foot long icicles hanging ominously at the Ramp’s beginning.

 

 

It wasn’t pretty but it got the job done and got my wheels turning.

Chore strong.

From chopping and hauling wood, to driving snowmachines, to carrying the generator up and down the ROD to moving and refilling water vessels inside the house, the body simply can’t go a day in a total standstill here. And so, despite how far I had to come (adding a whole 40 extra lbs. to the load, to be exact), I knew I’d get there.

Two weeks later, there I was. Without even realizing it, I easily picked up the two 40lb. buckets and made my way inside. Lifting them over one another to stack in the kitchen, pouring them into the different vessels without spilling a drop, it all came easily whereas weeks earlier, it had felt so far away.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Tiny Home Water Systems

160lb. of water stacked and sandwiched in-between the stove and the refrigerator.

 

 

When I was a personal trainer, if you wanted to get better at something, you kept doing that thing. Sure, you’d do complementary exercises but for the most part, you kept going back to that which you wanted to better yourself at. Yet this wasn’t the same.

The two weeks in-between the one bucket at a time haul and the two bucket haul were dimpled by water runs, but the funny thing was, I wasn’t a part of them. The Chief had hauled water in the interim for us and so, I hadn’t practiced the feat since I had been at bucket one.

Yet in those two weeks, I had used my body in ways I hadn’t in months. I had forgotten the chore soreness. My forearms ached every day from chopping wood and skiing and lifting and moving boxes from the truck, up the ramp, and into the loft. My legs tired from walking through snow and lifting and skiing and climbing our stairs countless times a day. All these little muscles I hadn’t known I hadn’t used conspired together to make sure I knew where I had started but also to get me to where I needed to go.

The body responds.

Through my life, my body has been strong and soft, vigilant and lazy, painful and pain-free and all other iterations in between. I’ve loved it and loathed it, doted on it and ignored it, cursed it and coddled it, pampered and pushed it and still, it shows up for me.

The reckless little bicep flexing youngster still resides in me, I want to feel strong, but thankfully, she’s starting to couple with a different knowledge: I need my body. The times The Chief or I have been downed here, by injuries or illness, I’ve watched the entire house shift. All the chores rotate to one person and while that is the ebb and flow (and the luck) of having two people, it doesn’t feel good to be the one just watching.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Sledding

Like when you accidentally get taken out by a sled…thankfully this produced more laughs than injuries.

 

 

The chores are endless here but in this home where the hard is, I consider myself lucky. Lucky to see the growth and appreciate the starting points. Lucky to challenge and nurture simultaneously. Lucky to get laid-out when I’m not listening, even if it doesn’t feel lucky at the moment. Lucky to have someone to split the chores and the wood with.

Cheers to the chores, whatever yours may be and the bodies that allow them. May they teach us the lessons they hold and may we listen and then, upon their completion, may we celebrate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Bonfire

Dig a fire pit? Celebrate a fire pit. Well done, friends.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Easter 2018 Brunch Quiche

The Great Alaskan Adult Easter Egg Hunt

One of the first things I realized when I realized that I lived in Alaska was this: I miss my kids.

In California, I had kiddos galore.

Now, don’t get ready to call the authorities, I haven’t left a clan of little Julia’s running about stealing people’s pancakes and causing a ruckus. No, they weren’t little Julia’s, they were the littles of my friends and family and together, we ran thick as thieves.

I remember some of the first gatherings I went to with this particular group of friends turned family, over ten years ago now, and everyone laughed as they turned to see me, surrounded solely by children, not an adult in sight.

I was in heaven.

Growing up as the younger sibling of a brother 8 years my senior, things could get a little quiet around our house. I spent a lot of time alone, which I liked, but there had always been a part of me that wanted a big, bustling family.

Well, I got it.

Every week, at least once, we all got together to celebrate anything from Taco Tuesday to Frittata Fridays (actually, we never did Frittata Fridays but that is a genius idea. Jotting it down now). The point is, we were together all the time. From regular days to holidays, we were a great big extended family.

Those kids taught me so much: how to speak “Giggle” (as some of my adult friends now call it), how to make something from nothing, the art of a snack and the ease of pure love.

Upon arriving in Alaska, I missed those interactions, those lessons, those laughs and I spent my first Summer missing them more as I realized I was staying. Holidays were the hardest. Our first Easter here, I let float by with little more than a realization that it was, in fact, Easter. Without the littles running amok, what was the point?

Yet, thankfully, it wasn’t long before the families with kiddos became our friends with kiddos.

Hallelujah!

Since they aren’t always around, the littles I met here couple with missing the littles I’ve known in California for over a decade brewed a new reality: every holiday is cause for celebration, kids or no kids.

And so, along came Easter weekend, and there were kids and also no kids.

On Friday, I got my kiddo fix in the form of a lake party under a very nearly full moon to celebrate the birthday of a little lady of the lake.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Full Moon March 2018

A full moon and alpenglow? Lucky, indeed.

 

 

Although I didn’t know the kids as well, we had yet to establish inside jokes or hand signals, just being around them brought me back to the time of being surrounded by such intimacies. Plus, watching one of them fall asleep while in the middle of gearing up (boots, jackets, gloves, etc.) brought on the belly laugh that only kid foibles can.

Then, came Easter. The plan was a brunch but the day before, inspired by the kiddo time, we decided to add a little play into the brunch-y day.

The Plan: a sort of white elephant meets easter egg hunt, for adults.

Everyone brought a present or two to hide and by 5 pm, the frittatas, quiches and salads (gosh I love brunch) were eaten and the presents were hidden.

The hunt was on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Easter Egg Hunt

And so it begins…

 

 

I was fully impressed. Unearthed were a soldering iron, a movie, a jar of whiskey, a coconut ladle, a leather-bound journal, a backgammon set, a hat and a picture frame. Everyone scored.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Adult Easter Egg Hunt Alaska

Tadaa!

 

 

Before too long, the sun was starting to make its descent, and in following with my family holiday post-meal tradition, I suggested a walk. The boys were already in pyro mode, setting up for a bonfire, and so the ladies and the pups and I took a stroll down to the river.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Snow Spring Diamonds

Snow diamonds.

 

 

An hour later, and the bonfire was roaring and the seats around it filling up.

It was time for the second hunt.

Having fully enjoyed the childhood energy of searching for goodies, we decided this couldn’t just stop at ourselves and so, The Chief and I donned our Bunny tails again and hid a new kind of egg in the shape of a can and the colors of the American flag. That’s right, people: The Great Alaskan PBR Easter Egg Hunt.

The eggs lay in snow-covered trees and in snowmachine nooks, at the top of our library and plopped straight into the snow and one by one, a thirsty bonfire-goer would return victorious with the chilled golden liquid in hand.

Yet, like every Easter I’ve ever been too, one egg remained unfound. I had deemed it the “Golden Egg”, as in my family there is always a Golden Egg. It’s the Cats Pajamas, the Cream of the Crop egg, normally containing a treasure paramount to the other eggs and it is always the hardest to find. My nephew prides himself on his Golden Egg radar and we could have used it because the lone soldier still stands today.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Easter 2018

Can you spot it?

 

 

The night faded and I tucked into dreams…

and awoke to one last wiggle of the Easter Bunny’s tail:

A girlfriend had come by and dropped off a chocolate Easter Bunny, and, in very Alaskan fashion, a scoby to make my own kombucha with.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Chocolate bunnies

What a combo!

 

 

How I love the woods.

Thank you, friends, for coming together for a beautiful meal, for testing and proving that a Himalayan salt candle does, in fact, also serve as a salt lick and for celebrating in kid-like fashion a day which I’ve missed celebrating.

Here’s to the lessons from the littles. I’ll miss you until I see you, but until then, I’ll try to live up to your liveliness.

Thank you.

Happy Easter, happy Equinox and happy Spring to you.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Easter 04-02-18 Easter 2018 Brunch Quiche

Brunch: the best meal…until dinner.

 

 

 

 

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

Alaska: Spring Cleaning // Spring Fever

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

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

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

 

It all started with a desk.

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

I adored that desk.

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

That was three years ago.

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

Spring Cleaning.

Like I said, it all started with a desk.

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

“Let’s fix the desk.”

Yes, please.

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

How’s the air up there, dear?

 

 

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

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

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

I found out.

 

 

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

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

 

 

Like I said: utter badassery mixed with potential insanity.

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

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

 

 

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

Whackin’ action shot.

 

 

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

 

 

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

Olympics, here we come.

 

 

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

Let’s do it.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Hiding behind the shower door…

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

It was daunting.

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Eww.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Yet, now we have prettier bones.

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

 

 

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

The 60-armed octopus only now has 8 legs.

 

 

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

It all started with a desk.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Flowers of Ecuador

The Last Day

It’s belonged to others so far, others I’ve wished to join in the title, others I’ve felt sorry for that they bear its impending exit.

Yet today, it is ours and ours alone.

The last day.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Hotel Canoa Ecuador

Amazing art everywhere you look.

 

 

Tomorrow, we depart from a place once foreign now familiar to a new unknown.

In our time here we’ve found an ever-changing yet ever-present family. We’ve fallen into a schedule and habits never before formed. Sunset surf? A trip into another world. Trivia Tuesday? One must defend one’s title.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Surf Shak Canoa Ecuador

The ominous blank page.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 San Vicente Ecuador Coco Bongo Trivia Champs

Thursdays in Bahia.

 

 

We’ve cycled through schedules from early to bed, early to rise to late nights and lazy mornings and back around again and again. Even I, with my propensity for planning, have learned to let go and just be. A little bit.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Workspace Work from Home

Plus, when the work kicks in, it could be worse. Work from wherever happiness.

 

 

This month in a place once unknown, now like home has been full of the ups and downs of, guess what? Life. Yet life in a very different setting.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 San Vicente Ecuador Coco Bongo Trivia.jpg

Amazing.

 

 

It’s funny how wherever you go, there you are. Pardon the inspirational kitten poster, next to its philosophical counterpart behind my High School Guidance Counselor’s desk but it does ring true, doesn’t it? That kitten sure is cute (“Hang in there” she says, whilst hanging from a branch) and the philosophy? True.

We may live a life on the opposite side of the Equator but just like us, it too arrived in this polar opposite of places. It’s been wonderful to watch a life develop in even the most drastically different of places.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Flowers of Ecuador

Flowers in Winter make my heart sing.

 

 

A place where clothes are a necessity but only for social graces and even then, arriving in a bathing suit and flip-flops is sometimes accessible. In Alaska, clothes are our partners in survival. They serve to spare us in our fight with the cold. Here, clothes create as small a layer as is deemed decent between oneself and the heat. In Alaska we chase the sun all day, here we find moments of respite in shade and prepare for the sun’s might. In Alaska we fight to keep groceries from freezing on the 8-hour drive home, here we fear they’ll spoil or melt in a ten-minute walk. Here, we run to the water to cool off, in Alaska our submersion might kill us.

Yet in all of the opposites, there is a similarity, an Ecualaska or Alascuador or whatever you might come up with of similarities in these drastically different places and within that strange, unexpected similarity we’ve found our rhythm. We’ve found our life in a place so far from where it lies.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador

Sunset in swimsuits? Not advisable in AK…

 

 

Now, we bid it adieu.

Today will be spent soaking up the last rays we can absorb, surfing at sunset (hopefully, since I decided to throw my back out in a triumphant sleeping matching with a too big pillow gone wrong yesterday) and toasting one last time with the family over a shared dinner. Or not. Maybe, it will be spent reading. Either way, I expect a Goodbye Sunburn (check).

Adios, Canoa. You’ve been lovely. You’ve been simultaneously otherworldly and completely the same, drastically different and as familiar as my middle name. We adore you and hope to see you again soon.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador

I love you.

 

 

Alaska, we are one step closer to your embrace.

But until then, onward, to Baños, Ecuador!

Surf Thirty (One)

As a California grown lady of the sun, I’ve spent my whole life around surfing. I grew up at the beach, I spent my summers by any body of water I could find and I loved a good beach blonde suntan combo. I had all the components of surfing: I lived near a beach, there were surf shops galore with boards and wetsuits for rent (and sweatshirts I desperately wanted but would allow myself, lest I be discovered a poser) and I knew of people who were surfers. Yet what I lacked was the confidence to try.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up Beetle Bug.jpg

Surf’s up, buttercup. Hangin’ ten, beetle style.

 

 

The times I came closest to learning, I realized that the people wanting to “take me out” actually had more interest in taking me out for a date than really teaching me to surf and so, frustrated, I had bailed (surfer lingo, brah).

A few bails in, I stopped trying. Certainly, without question, I could have gone on my own or grabbed a girlfriend to go with but in my awkward earlier years I was less Grab The Bull By The Horns and more Oh Shoot, I Just Watched That Bull Go By.

And so it went.

Suddenly, I was 31, still wanting to learn to surf and realizing that the only thing about surfing that I’d learned was that saying you want to surf and actually surfing are a world apart.

Enter: Ecuador, or as I’ve started to call it: Alascuador.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea. Could this be heaven?

 

 

This place, I swear is a cousin to our State of Brr. Everything from the reservation at first interaction to the utter triumph one feels getting a pint of ice cream home (one of our friends paid a taxi driver 50% extra just to get him home as fast as possible with a quart of ice cream he was bringing home for a celebration) to the timing (Alaska time, Ecuador time, Hawaiian time, same, same), to the dogs running about being a celebrated part of the town, to the what to do with toilet paper has made this southern spot seem like a flip side family member to the Alaskan way.

Which makes it no surprise that upon landing here, Ecuador has kindly kicked my behind. Just like in Alaska, if you’re not on the right path, Ecuador seems to either firmly correct your trajectory or high-five congratulate you for your ability to go with the flow. From our first escapades in getting to know one another in travel (firm corrections) to gliding through bus connections with uncanny luck (high-five congratulations) to finding our home for these last few weeks and me struggling to learn to relax (firm corrections as far as the eye can see) this place has been full of the ups and downs that I cherish about Alaska. The things that make life in Alaska feel, well, alive.

All the while, firm corrections and congratulations popping about, in the back of my head an anxiety started to rise. Was I going to continue to talk about surfing or actually learn? We had come to Ecuador to learn to surf and it was day 10 with no waves in sight. Don’t get me wrong, there were waves all about but we certainly weren’t on them. It had been years since I’d been fully immersed in an ocean, something I didn’t realize until we got here and the last beach I had been on had been unfriendly, to say the least.

Yet, when we arrived, I figured I’d jump on in like I had for years as a kid and start off right away with some epic bodysurfing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Sunset

Canoa sunset.

 

 

Wrong.

It turns out I wasn’t as comfortable in the waves as I had planned. While The Chief seemed to glide out past the break into calm waters, I was left in a whitewash whirlwind. I had forgotten all the tricks my Mom had taught me.

 

Diving under waves

Timing

Decision-making

Confidence.

 

I realized it would be a few days until I was comfortable alone in the water, much less to attach something to me and bring it into the water.

Enter: the boogie board, the perfect transition between body surfing and surfing.

We broke it within 20 minutes.

Still, getting tumbled about in waves far bigger than me was good for my morale.

Until it wore off. Finally, on day ten, panicked that we would never learn to surf (I love to pop in nevers, even when I have control of them) we went to Town to find June and his week-long surfboard rentals. Four hours later, after waiting for 2 hours for the shop owner to return, we had our boards. It was late in the day and we were set to be picked up for our traveling trivia team (apparently, The Chief and I make a sought-after trivia duo) and so, we said “goodnight” to the boards which had taken so long just to find and hours to rent and waited until tomorrow. Mañana, mañana.

I was sick of mañana.

Today was the day.

Unfortunately, Ecuador didn’t agree (or in actuality, she did agree, but she was testing my will. Do you really want to learn or do you want to talk about learning? Sound familiar, Alaska? Alascuador). A storm set-up, the sky was pregnant with rain and right as we went in for my first set ever, the waters came down upon us. The sea responded. The waves were all over the place, coming in diagonally, double crashing and the current was so strong that within minutes we were out of sight of our hotel. Gone were the parallel sets of beautifully set-up, semi-consistent waves of the morning only an hour prior. If I hadn’t been in a bathing suit in warm water, I would have sworn I was back in Alaska. The timing was just too much. The Chief and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. Decades of build-up and we couldn’t have picked a worse time.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Stormcloud

Ominous, eh?

 

 

It was perfect.

By the time we were out of the water, my hips and knees looked like I had dyed them blue. Bruises welled up before my eyes and I plopped down in the sand, exhausted.

I’d been in for 20 minutes.

And…I’d gotten up. Sure, we may have just been chasing whitewash but after 20 years of hoping, wanting, giving up and hoping again, I had gotten up on a surfboard and rode that whitewash all the way to shore.

A few hours later, still storming but not as bad, we went in again. A couple we met from Canada was sharing the boards with us and had impeccable timing so the next time they went, we went after.

Still, it was storming.

Still, there we were, up again, riding the whitewash.

I feel like my body had been planning and scheming and approximating just how it would do this task for me for years, I just hadn’t unleashed it.

I looked at The Chief and we were both beaming, smiles from ear to ear.

Those three seconds of the joy of floating above the water were worth the ten minutes of push and pull to get to them. I couldn’t believe how it felt. Better than I had imagined. Maybe like flying.

Needless to say, I was hooked.

That night I went to bed, completely physically exhausted for the first time in a long time. In Alaska, I often fall into bed, absolutely fatigued from the day’s duties. That day, the duties were purely pleasure-based but they were as challenging as any other chore I’ve performed.

Finally, finally, I had tried. The years of wanting washed over me. How simply such a buildup could just go away. How unnecessary the buildup to begin with.

Lesson learned?

I hope so.

One week later, I’ve caught even more than the whitewash. I’ve caught my first real wave, from crest to finish, I’ve even turned (a little). I’ve fallen more times than I can count, my body is more bruised than unbruised, I’ve caught a fin twice in the thigh, I’ve been hit in the back, had the board land on my head, done a somersault into the ocean floor and broken a fin and I can’t think of anything right now I’d rather be doing.

It may have taken me until 31 to try, but now that I have, I’m a sucker for it.

It’s time to start checking off the list of the long overdue wants and wishes.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up The Chief

A log, a love, two boards, two books. Bueno.

 

 

 

Thank you, Alaska for starting the teaching. For forcing me to test myself and trust myself. Thank you Ecuador for testing that teaching by forcing me to get out in a bathing suit day after day even on the days I’d feel more comfortable in, say, a parka. Thank you for pushing me to make new friends, get out of my comfort zones, to get a little scared but to try anyway and in the end to get to the base of it: to enjoy oneself. I’m listening. I’m trying.

Thank you. You are beautiful.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bananas in Ecuador

Bananas, y’all.

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Canoa Brewery/

The Tour Guide

We’ve been through two Winters in a cabin consisting of less than 400 square feet.

We’ve driven countless hours just to grocery shop.

We’ve moved umpteen times in California.

We’ve worked in the heat amongst the bugs together.

We’ve lost together.

We’ve survived without the modern niceties I once thought necessities.

We’ve dealt with the panic of leaving the woods and greeting society again.

We’ve been through days that won’t quit and stresses that seem to multiply without end.

 

And through it all, we always ended up closer.

 

Yet, needless to say, it was time for a vacation.

 

Our first vacation.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Japantown CA Sushi Cat

My ultimate last supper before the flight. Japantown, SF.

 

 

The Chief and I had both traveled a good amount, a good amount of time ago. Suddenly it had been a decade-plus since we’d really traveled. We set off to right this wrong choosing Ecuador out of a Google search for “best place to learn to surf in Central or South America”. Before we knew it, we had tickets and our first two weeks mapped out. The rest of the time, we’d figure out later. We spent our last few days in California in a whirlwind of last-minute store stops and packing pick-ups. We worried about what to bring and how much and the what-ifs abounded but the thought to worry about us never crossed my mind.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Quito Pack Light

Backpack brigade.

 

 

 

We’d been through far harder ordeals than a beachside vacation, right?

Well…

It turns out that travel can be stressful. Who knew?! I for one did, yet in my decade of time away from it, I’d forgotten the overwhelm of plopping down into a place where everything is unknown and chose instead to focus on the idea of us, perfectly tanned, strolling down a beach at sunset.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Quito Pack Light

6 am in Miami. 12-hour layover beach bum style. Sunrise vs. Sunset. Sunburnt vs. Suntanned. First time The Chief’s toes tickled the Atlantic.

 

 

Not quite, at least not at first.

 

At first, it was the overwhelm.

 

A week later, we realized why.

 

In our time together, one of us has always been the tour guide. When I arrived in an unknown land in Alaska, I had the best tour guide anyone could ask for. The Chief knew the land and the people and all of the systems. If I needed to know how to do something, he knew the right answer and could teach me and coach me. I was confident in an unfamiliar place because he was so adept at surviving in it. And then, when the tables turned and we headed to CA, I became the tour guide. I showed him the best beaches and taco trucks and navigated the five lanes of traffic while he watched me in awe of me in my element. And now, we’ve created a life in both of these places together, they have become our places. We are both comfortable in different ways, adept at different things and so we organize our life accordingly. We divvy up the labor based on what each person is adept at.

 

For example:

 

Driving in San Francisco: Julia

Driving in scary (to me) snow conditions: The Chief

Making a healthy dinner from a barren pantry: Julia

Making the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever had: The Chief

 

The list goes on and on.

Walking on the beach the other night, a week after arriving, we realized we’d entered a situation we couldn’t divvy up because we didn’t know up from down and neither of us was a clear choice. The playing field was level but we were both third string players sitting on the bench.

And so, our first few days were a little tense.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Quito Airport Ecuador

So tense that I didn’t even enjoy this here playground in the middle of the Quito airport. I mean, really? 24-hours of travel and landing at midnight shouldn’t get in the way of that. Amazing.

 

 

In all the excitement of saying “Yes” and packing and planning, I’d never assumed we be anything other than in-sync and getting along perfectly. I thought instead of my go-to image: tanned to perfection, hand in hand, sunset. When we landed at 11 pm after 24 hours of travel with a mere intersection for the address of our accommodations, no building name, nothing, that vision started to fade. We were in a busy city, loud and noisy and diesel filled at 9,000+ feet and I was still recovering from a nasty cough. Our Spanish was rusty, to say the least, and the unfamiliar felt more ominous than exciting. Neither one of us was a pro and the awkward You Lead, No I Lead, No Lou Lead back and forth was a dance filled with stepped on toes rather than a graceful flow. We were out of sync.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Quito Highrise

Unlike this kitty, he’s totally in the zone.

 

 

One week later, pieces of my vision of us started to come together. Walking home from a beachfront dinner, hand in hand, mainly burnt but slightly tanned, just after sunset, we laughed as we realized how a new situation had so thrown us for a loop. The “us” who’s consistently been in uncomfortable situations, the “us” that has typically handled them well, the “us” who had traveled, but as it turned out not really traveled together, the “us” who were handed a swift dose of reality. We’ve always been the other person’s tour guide in the unfamiliar, an expert local to share the inside scoop with the one we love. Before an overwhelming unknown to us both was infrequent and in a familiar landscape, it was an opportunity to explore but these opportunities were less often and the valued outside input of a trusted confidant was almost always available. Alone together in another country, our comfort was taken away. For two accustomed to discomfort, it sure made us wiggle.

Thank goodness.

 

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Canoa Ecuador

A little pink, a little tan, a lot of love.

 

 

We can look back and laugh at the tension produced, the opposite ways we travel, the new circumstances of traveling with a love, not alone and the togetherness we’ve again found. I think now, we’ve hit our strolling stride. It may have taken some trip-ups to find it but find it we did.

Cheers to the new, to the levels of uncomfortable we don’t know until they find us and to working through it as best we can to find the joy in the unknown. Cheers to learning your partner and yourself and to sharing the not so perfect but perfectly human moments together.

Cheers, to travel.

Until next week…

 

The Tour Guide Beneath the Borealis 1/29/18 Canoa Brewery/

My favorite.

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Alaskan sunset

Trifecta

You know when you spend an hour looking at a fitness magazine or watching potential YouTube videos to try and by the end of half an hour or so, you already feel kind of accomplished?

Heck with the workout, did you see all that page turning, clicking action I just did?!

Wowee.

Same thing with cooking or shopping or planning. You’ve basically already done it all just by browsing or thinking about it, right? I mean, basically.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Lupine

 

 

It’s a fun little kickflip the mind does into a brand new stroke: been there, done that, may or may not have bought the t-shirt, made the cake or practiced the yoga.

Living in Alaska can kind of feel like that sometimes.

Drunk by Association.

I went to school for my freshman year of college on the East Coast. I was 17 and living away from home in the dorms. The dorms were not a place for drinking, it was forbidden. So, of course, we found sneaky ways to bring in way too much, way too cheap alcohol and imbibe specialty concoctions like Jungle Juice (exotic? I think not) and 7Up shots. Classy, classy drinking. Not always and not everyone but that wasn’t the point because whether everyone was drinking or just a few people were, the floor itself knew the deal and so, we nicknamed it Drunk by Association. If anyone got in trouble, everyone got in trouble and so by sheer association with the floor, you were drunk, by association.

Now, the Drunk of Alaska is a much healthier association (that’s a bizarre statement). The situation is exactly the opposite, while the basis remains exactly the same (keeping in line with the statement strangeness): you feel you are participating just by proximity, yet the difference is that whether or not you are participating is essential.

Every day in the wilds of Alaska, someone is doing something awesome. You hear about it, you think about it and then, just by being in the same proximity, it feels approachable, normal and just like that workout, almost as if you too have done it.

Being surrounded by such utter badassery, however, does not a badass make. Staring at a recipe does not a cake bake. You get my gist.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 birthday cake

Who stole a slice?

 

 

And so, sometimes, the Summer starts flying by and you chase the tail of its kite, giggling all the while, not noticing the cooling of the evenings and the dropping of the sun and suddenly, the kite flies just out of your reach.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Alaskan sunset

 

 

My first Summer, that kite had no chance of getting away. I went ice caving and ice climbing and packrafting and hiking and flying and camping in the backcountry. Yet, by my second Summer, I was no longer in live/vacation mode, I was fully living in Alaska and I let the kite slip through my hands. Don’t get me wrong, I still adventured far more consistently than I ever had before in my life but I didn’t make it out to the glacier until late Summer and I let work take a front seat instead of fun (I mean, they could at least buckle in together, right?) I rectified this just as I saw the kite slipping away and righted myself to orient towards adventure but the bulk of the Summer had gone.

Not again.

This last Summer, I vowed to myself to chase that kite with all my might. I told myself I would at least complete the trifecta: packrafting, ice climbing and a fly out.

 

Be careful what you wish for…especially in Alaska.

 

“Hey Jules, I was wondering if you would want to be in a video we are shooting?”

“It’s for the guide service. You could do packrafting or ice climbing…”

“I’m in.”

There it was, an underhand pitch of an opportunity to get out on the ice or into the water. I wasn’t working and if for some reason I was, I would get it off. I was going. As the date approached, the agenda started to change and shift and morph as it does and soon, the day came and…I was packing a little heavier than planned.

The day started early, I think an 8am curtain call or so in the hill town 45 minutes away. My girlfriend and I “carpooled”, meaning that she and I met half-way before the bridge and then she hopped on my trusty steed of a 4-wheeler and we whizzed up 1,000 feet of dirt road to the guide service of our dear friends and our shooting destination.

We were fitted for crampons for walking on the glacier and grabbed our ice climbing boots and harnesses and helmets and such and after a few test shots, packs packed down with gear, we were off. An hour or so later, we made it to the glacier.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Kennicott, Alaska Root Glacier 2

 

 

The guides skillfully built out a climbing set-up as we snacked and chatted. How one drills into ice and it is somehow secure is beyond me, but that’s what trust is made of, people (it still freaks me out though).

It was climbing time.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Kennicott, Alaska Root Glacier

 

 

It dawned on me, right as I was about to take my turn that I was about to be in a promotional video for my friends and I had ice climbed all of once ever in my life. Well, at least we wouldn’t be acting. The teaching moments were plenty as I hopped across the ice bridge at the base of the waterfall I would be climbing.

Epic?

Yes, I dare say so.

A few ascents by The Talent (that’s us) and we were off to the next adventure.

Next?

That’s right!

Alaska had heard my cry loud and clear.

We were off to go packrafting.

Just then, the skies grew a little darker, threatening rain right after which we heard the offer:

“Do you two want to be the plane Talent?”

Ex-squeeze me?

Before we knew it, my girlfriend and I were headed to the airport and after another snack break we were up, up, up and away and…

about ready to lose that snack.

The pilot was no newbie to the big blue yonder and he had us dipping and diving and turning on dimes enough times to buy an ice cream cone so the videographer could get just the right shots. Yet despite the green of my face, my heart fluttered. Being up in a plane is one of the best ways to fully grasp the grandiosity of where we are so lucky to call home base. Seeing it from the air gives you a whole new perspective.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Kennicott Glacier Root Glacier Alaska

The glaciers. We had just climbed the one on the right.

 

 

We even happened to head up the same route the boys and I had taken the Winter before via snowmachine and seeing it in the Summer gave me a whole new appreciation for where we had gone, a place we could only see by plane in the Summer months or snowmachine in the Winter.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 McCarthy Creek

Looking down at the “creek”.

 

 

We landed an hour later, tummies turned but satiated by the absolute wonder that is our backyard and then, it was time for a break.

Just kidding!

Onward!

Now it was time for packrafting.

The plan: paddle around the glacial lake, play amongst the icebergs, call it a day.

Outcome: Wind.

Just as we had forecast, the skies further darkened and the winds picked up (this happens almost every afternoon). Yet paddling against the wind, though tiring, was how we were keeping warm and so it was a strange symbiosis. We wandered through icebergs, our friend/guide jumped off of one and then we had all of our shots. Call it a wrap?

Wrong.

The winds had blown us in the direction of the Training Grounds, a quick set of rapids before you get to the bigger rapids below. If there was ever anything perfect to describe the Alaskan mentality, this is it: two practice rapids and then, boom! Jump into the game. Why not?

And so, jump or rather, paddle we did.

I hadn’t packrafted more than once in my life so, with a few quick pointers coupled with some good old-fashioned waiting on the camera time, time enough to get pretty darn chilly, added with some enthusiasm (“I saw you paddling, you’ve got great form”) I was a concoction of ready to go.

And, go we went.

I was in a seriously sweet sandwich between three guide friends and my girlfriend, following my band mate in front and off we went. Two practice rapids down and a couple big ones to go and…

we made it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Trifecta 12-18-17 Packrafting Kennicott River

Isn’t she adorable?

 

 

I eddied out of the rushing current and watched as everyone else came in through the silty waves.

We got out (not before I tried to throw my sunglasses to a little girl standing at the water’s edge, whom I thought was an adult. Nice work, Jules. Lure the young’n into the raging river! What am I, a fast water silkie in The Secret of Roan Inish? Geez. The band mate apparently has better vision than I and put the kibosh on that one. Embarrassed? Yes.) and everyone was ready to run again but I felt solid with my day. Up a waterfall, up into the sky and down a river? Yes, thank you. My shaky muscles told me I would call it good there.

We stripped down out of our dry suits and found our third set of clothing (we’d gone from tank tops now to down jackets) and made our way to the meeting point as the film crew finished their last shots of the day.

It was time to celebrate.

And I’m pretty sure we did but I can’t remember anything other than being exhausted.

In one day, I had completed the Trifecta: all of my Summer adventure goals: ice climbing, packrafting and getting up in the air.

Apparently, Alaska had been listening.

She threw a serious curveball to the whole I Read About Exercising So I’ve Basically Run a Marathon, Drunk by Association, Scaled a Mountain Because Others Did Around Me farce. She was out for reality and the granting of three wishes in the package of one amazing day.

The place we call home has this magic to it. It’s a sort of “Be careful what you wish for” because it will come back full force (or in threes) type of land. It’s the kind of place that looks you in the eye and asks, “Are you sure?”

Yes, Alaska.

I am sure.

Cheers to doing not just viewing, to jumping into a new pool, wherever that may be.

Thank you, Alaska for the opportunities you provide and the humbling lessons that go along with them and…

Thank you KWG for such a perfect trifecta. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.

 

And now…for your viewing pleasure: The awesomeness that is our dear friends’ company KWG (Kennicott Wilderness Guides) and “The Talent”: Watch it. It’s awesome.

 

Joni & Julia: California Part II

California.

It took me about a week before I felt that I could breathe again.

The journey from Alaska was a three-day affair, and by that I mean a week-long affair, and by that I mean a month-long affair, filled with cabin prep, shut-down, packing and prioritizing, tidying and un-tidying and then re-tidying again. As someone who needs my space to be relatively uncluttered, the leaving game is basically a vomit inducing tug-of-war with my ability to handle chaos (P.S. it doesn’t always go well. P.P.S. I definitely ran inside after we were all loaded into the truck and gave the floor a quick mop down).

However, this year went better than last. This year, we had our systems figured out. I wasn’t relying on The Chief for my every move, I had My Own agenda, he had His and we had Ours. It was great. I only cried once…maybe twice.

The stress of it all, the magnitude of a simple mistake like leaving a water line slightly filled and coming home to a frozen lake was swimming through my ears after my foray into freezing lines the week before. The sheer potential for a mistake in a three-day all-day hustle hung around me and so, the occasional stress cry was necessary.

The real cry came later.

We left late morning on the 30th of October.

For the first time, The Chief and I left together with snow on the ground and rain in the sky.

For the first time, we left together in a vehicle with a heater.

For the first time, we left together in our own vehicle.

And, for the first time, we left together without our girl.

 

The body remembers what the heart tries to forget and as we rounded the corner that meant we were heading away from home, I turned to see my Lou in the backseat as I had on countless trips before.

Where she was to be sitting lay a mountain of cold weather survival gear but it couldn’t have felt emptier.

I broke.

For the millionth time, I broke and The Chief held my hand as I sobbed my way through our first turn towards California, for the first time, without Lou.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast succulent

Like a sea flower: sassy, gorgeous and salty.

 

 

 

Eight hours and a plant baby drop-off and a lovely visit with our dear friends and we were in Anchorage.

[Insert scary music]

We arrived just in time to grab some food and hit the hay.

The next day was packed to the brim with appointments. Two dentist appointments plus four doctor appointments between the two of us. When you’re in Town, you make the most of it and we crammed every ounce of health we could into that endless day. Yet, end it did, in the company of good friends on a not so spooky Halloween.

The next day was our Travel Day: California.

I felt like we’d already been traveling for days on end (we had), but those had been the easy ones. A slow move into society via miles of highway through beautiful mountains. But the airport? Be Still My Heart and not in a romantic way, but in the Stop Beating Out Of My Chest, Chill, Be Still My Heart way. The bright lights and the constant movement and the utter pace of it all wrapped up into a sterile environment left us both a bit dumbstruck but, we made it through.

All the way to California.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast Bunny

The BunBuns.

 

 

 

 

We arrived in the evening to two tricksters, my Mom and my Girlfriend (both of whom visited this Summer) who scared the living daylights out of us by jumping up from behind a wall to greet us.

I almost lost my lunch.

After we caught our breath and were able to hug them without passing out, we headed downstairs.

Again, my body triumphed and tricked my heart into hoping. I instinctively headed over to the Oversized Baggage Area to collect our girl. Habit trumped heart and again the pain came over me and my eyes welled up with tears. Yet here were these two people I love, here to greet me, here to welcome me Home. I felt ungrateful and so stuck in my inability to meet their enthusiasm but I couldn’t help it. I felt stunned and stunted.

 

 

Re-Immersion is always hard but it took on a new shine this year as my comfort, my steady, my love was no longer with me. I didn’t realize how much I relied on her to make this process easier, to make this culture shock carry a bit less voltage.

But there we were and there she wasn’t and so we set off to bear the brunt of the change on our own, together.

 

 

If you’ve ever come back from abroad to the U.S., especially from a less developed nation, you’ve likely experienced culture shock. Coming back from Italy one of the first of many shocks came in customs. In Italy, every direction in the airport was written in countless languages and although customs agents were still serious, they were kind and conversational. Yet upon arriving in the U.S. I immediately felt as if I had done something wrong. Agents were looking me up and down, scrutinizing my passport, asking me questions…and I was a citizen. I couldn’t imagine the stress of being a non-citizen (until I picked up my Norwegian girlfriend from the airport and had to wait 3 hours for her to make it through customs. A two-week holiday in the U.S. by a thirty-something cherub-faced Norwegian? Verrrrrrrrrrrry suspicious (apparently)). To add to the discomfort was a feeling of unwelcome. The signs were posted solely in English (this may have changed). English is well-known, but to have a single language at an International Airport? Sounds like xenophobic notes playing on your xylophone, sweet S.F.

Point being, if you’ve been there, you know. You emerge from a new point of view into the old and suddenly, you look at everything with new, slightly shifted eyes. You see things you didn’t notice before, you re-evaluate how you lived your life prior to your travels. It changes you. And, in your absence, if you return to the same place you’ve left, it too has changed by the passing of time.

Joni Mitchell has always sung me back to a California where I feel like the changed one and certainly, I am. This year, I felt it most. Leaving Alaska and arriving in California felt like walking through customs again. Me, I’m further and further accustomed to my life in the woods and less and less inclined to be in cities (though more and more grateful for their amenities). And, for now, I’m not the happy-go-lucky person I was before Cinda. I’m a little quieter, a little more reserved, less the life of the party, and though it won’t be forever, it is for now.

Yet, despite all of my differences, I’m not the only one who’s changed. For the first time, I’ve been away long enough, often enough to get outside my bubble and see.

California.

You’ve changed, girl.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast The Problem

The new norm. New cars, new vineyards.

 

 

 

(I can’t account for the whole state, so when I say California, know that I mean Sonoma County.)

I think the reason Alaska fits me so well is because of Sonoma County, the Original Sonoma County. I was raised in the outdoors, taught to nurture nature, encouraged to explore, and things were quiet. I would go whole weekends lost in a land of solo play amongst the redwoods and rhododendrons or the tall wheat colored snake-tail grasses of my birth home. It was simple.

Slowly but surely, things got busier. Wine came in and took out the orchards of apples that made up my youth and soon, I grew accustomed to that shift. It was normal to no longer see singular farmers drive their tractors up and down the street but instead to see crews of workers change a landscape in days. With the changing land, came a new breed of people, wine people, but still the shift was slow and steady and the bones of our community felt the same.

Yet, it wasn’t. This place hasn’t been the same since the first apple tree went down. My ideas of it remained the same, my values garnered from it grew stronger but it continued to change as I continued to hold onto the past.

Maybe because this year has been a year of letting go, I was finally able to see it.

The quiet hippie town I’ve loved is a bustling bourgeoise town. There are still enough remnants of the old to feel utterly familiar but everything has changed. And, since I haven’t been here through the change, I haven’t changed with it.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast Wine Preston Winery

Don’t get me wrong, this girl loves her wine. Jug Sundays at Preston with DCG.

 

 

 

The library where I used to spend hours on end getting lost in books, talking to librarians for recommendations and discovering worlds I’d never dreamed of is still there but everything is automated. You check yourself out. There’s no one looking at your selections, asking if you’ve read this or that book by so and so.

The once industrial part of town is now a bustling uppity center for delicious eats and fancy finds filled to the brim with people I don’t recognize.

The traffic, once non-existent (I once saw a tractor and a horse driving/walking down Main Street) is fully present and the impatience with which people drive is both catching and depressing.

It’s not just me. It’s not just the Alaska factor. Friends around me I’ve grown up with are noticing it too, even those who live here and change with it. It’s different.

Yet, still, it is home. It was the first home I’ve known and now, it is the first home I visit when I have the chance. Our relationship now feels like the first meeting of two old lovers. You see the change, you see the new and different and perhaps, maybe it’s all for the better, but all that you have in common now, is the past. What there is to talk about is the past and it makes you feel perhaps grateful for the time you spent together, a bit melancholy for what once was and realize that you no longer fit the way you once did.

Don’t get me wrong, that lover was gorgeous. It’s absolutely lovely here. The leaves are turning and the Winter light is shining so that everything at least feels quieter. There are Christmas Fairs popping up with wonderful local artisans and holiday concerts with local talent. There are small businesses (even apple businesses!) and tie-dye and hippies. There is so much of what I grew up on, I am just no longer a constant part of it and it doesn’t always fit. I am holding on to a past that has passed.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Beach California Coast Wohler Bridge

 

 

In an unplanned year of letting go, I find myself again being faced with a reality I hadn’t expected. Yet, to see the truth is to truly live. And so, since the first time Joni sang me home to the present, I see the truth. We both, California and I, have been changing all along, becoming who we are.

As the first line state in a speech I wrote and read at our 8th-grade graduation read: “Change is inevitable.”

If only I had listened, it might not have made re-immersion so hard.

For the first week, I could barely breathe. The fast-paced life, the constant sounds, the hustle, and bustle all shook me but what I really think jarred me were the changes on all fronts. We were without our girl, without our comfort and the wool was suddenly pulled from my eyes. The realization came and swept me up: change happens, with or without your acknowledgment.

In self, in state, in life…

Change is inevitable.

Welcome home to us, to a home I’ve always loved and to a place I didn’t realize I was trying so hard to hold on to. As Joni said: “My heart cried out for you” and it always will. You have a piece of me and as I change, you too change.

I adore you, California, new clothes and all.

Cheers, to change.

Cheers, to California,

Cheers, to our Lou. Always and forever, you will be our first.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia Part II Cinda Lou

Sunshine on my shoulder.

 

 

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