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Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping The Confluence

In Celebration of Women

Friday before last, I awoke to the day with a sturdy mix of excitement and nervousness.

Today was the day.

What day, you ask?

A day of firsts.

A few weeks ago, about halfway into our puppy sitting the cutest little dude I know (who goes by the name of Kvichak. Pronounced like “Quee-Jack”), a plan started brewing. It all began with crossed fingers and a lot of treats: we were going to skijor. Until a few years ago, I’d never even heard of skijoring and I’ve only tried it once before and that was a year ago. Yet there I was, locking myself into a physical agreement with a pooch I’d only heard knew what he was doing. Apparently, that clout was good enough for me.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Huskies in Alaska

That arm…hardcore chillin’.

 

Skijoring is like dog sledding in the sense that the dog wears a harness and pulls the rider. Yet with skijoring, there’s no sled in between. The skier too wears a harness and a mere bungee rope connects the pooch to the skier, entering them into a serious game of trust (hint: the pooch has the upper hand).

After that first squeals of excitement filled run, I was hooked and on the mission to find a setup of our own (as we had borrowed my girlfriend’s and thus couldn’t both go at the same time). In the lovely land that we live, a message board post I put up had us outfitted in no time, thanks to the kindness of our not so nearby neighbors (thanks again, M & P). And so it was that my girlfriend and I could skijor together and hatch our plan:

An overnight.

In the snow.

At a destination attained via skijor.

The plan hatched quickly and then went through iterations too many to count. There was the issue of houses freezing, as my girlfriend’s husband would be out of town on the chosen date and unable to man the house. There was the issue of location and distance and weather and details too many to count but all of those could be navigated.

In truth, the greatest hurdle for me was that of motivation.

The comfort of home can be hard for me to leave and trying new things, especially things that might prove me less than savvy, is hard for this recovering perfectionist. Yet the discomfort I felt around the adventure, before even its realization, was a familiar feeling that told me I had to go.

Mid-week, the plan still relatively unrealized, our momentum sagged. There was a lot to prep, a lot to plan and being that I had never camped in the snow (honestly, I didn’t realize that was even a thing people would opt to do), a lot to learn. The -20 nights had me shaking in my snowboots and so, any easy out started looking nicer and nicer.

Thankfully, after a few more hems and haws, we voted away the easy out.

We were in.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping

Packing quickly took over the house…

 

It was time to get things in order. The night before the big adventure, The Chief and I made some modifications to my sled via a drill gun, paracord and a lighter. Everything we’d need from firewood to sleeping bags was going on our backs or in our sleds. At the night’s end on the eve of our great adventure, weighted down by a few rounds of logs, the pup and I took the sled for a test run. For the first time I too was pulling weight and the short loop around the neighborhood had me winded.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Skijor Sled

 

Gulp.

The morning came and with it my nerves. The weather had warmed but still, we were sleeping outside! Utter badass that she is, my gal pal, a backcountry ranger, (I mean, how cool of a title is that?!) who has logged days on end backpacking convinced me that we didn’t need tents. We would instead be using the burrito method.

Now, I know my food references but this one I’d never heard. Still, the trust of my dear friend intact, I packed a tarp and did not pack a tent.

Gulp.

The morning nerves were soon accompanied by news. As I logged into work, a headline came up on my computer: today was International Women’s Day.

Today?!

My nerves melted away. I felt blanketed in power. Today was a day to celebrate women and I could think of no better way than adventuring out of my comfort zone in the comfort of my girlfriend’s (and two adorable pups’) presence. As soon as I heard the news Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” was playing through my head (and soon through the speakers). Today was a good day already. The half-day workday flew by and in no time…

It was time.

Despite the sleepover being for merely one night, the multitude of necessities was startling. I stuffed extra layers of all types into a stuff sack and packed a parka, bibs, gloves, scarf, extra socks and a hat for the evening. I donned my ski outfit, composed of much lighter fare due to the suddenly warm weather of 30 odd degrees outside, a swift shift from the day before. After bungy-ing and re-bungy-ing my sled and its contents, we were finally off (only an hour later than our planned departure time)!

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Skijor Alaska

 

No turning back now.

 

 

Kvichak and I breezed along, the weight only seemed to encourage him rather than slow him down. We dropped down out of the woods onto the river trail and promptly…

Threw up.

In his wanderings of the neighborhood, the little dude has earned the nickname Kvichak the Kleptomaniac. He’s returned home with everything from a frozen zucchini to compost filters to an empty milk jug and full on logs, not sticks, from neighboring woodpiles. So, I can only assume he found something that was not quite his but quite delicious nonetheless that perhaps hit back when it hit his tummy.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping Husky

Showing off his compost filter steal…

 

He barfed twice and then looked at me as if I was crazy to be concerned and started to pull again. Apparently, all was well. Less than 10 minutes in, one barf session down and miles more to go. What could go wrong?

Thankfully, not that much. There were some epic falls for us both, on all sort of terrain including flat, up and downhill. Sometimes the dog feels resistance and stops. Sometimes, unfortunately, that’s right at the apex of a hill and you have to fight with all your might to pole yourself up that incline. Or slide down backward and have to try again. Other times, you fall. Hard. Aside from falling, a lot of skijoring when you first are training is spent untangling. While Kvichak has an uncanny propensity for not getting stuck despite stopping often to make puppy snow angels, the eventual snag or two (or twenty) are inevitable and you hobble along trying to untangle the pooch back to his perfect puppy pulling potential.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Skijoring in Alaska

Skijoring into the sunset (plus a rainbow).

 

Snags and snafus aside, we made it to camp in about three hours. Wolf tracks graced the latter half of the trail and the dogs perked up to follow them across the frozen river we skijored upon. The sun was setting and the moon was rising as we found our home for the night. The place which had been our goal.

The Confluence.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping The Confluence

Mid-bunny hop (Icefall behind)

 

Where two rivers meet and an icefall marks the spot, we found an area nestled between the river and a higher bank that we thought might provide cover from the potential wind tunnel we were in. Running water could be heard nearby and icefall looked down on us in all her glory. We packed down the snow in our home sweet home as best we could, using the sled as a flattening tool though still punching through. Walking about camp we looked a bit like toddling babies, doing our best to stay afloat amongst the uneven terrain.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Backcountry Winter Camping

Breaking trail to camp.

 

As soon as we had regrouped via a complete change of clothes (Naked in the middle of a frozen river, eh? Never thought I’d cross that one off the list) it was time to build a fire and make dinner. The warming fire kicked right up in my expert gal pal’s, despite the fact that it was built in snow. The light of the flames warmed the dark new moon night. We got out our heating implements and drank tea to warm ourselves as we warmed our dinners. The setting of the sun had brought on a quick chill but still, the night gave no promise of the 20 below nights we’d been having.

Already cold fingers crossed.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Backcountry Winter Camping Alaska

Hello, moon.

 

The pups too ate their dinner which was accompanied by water in order to get them to drink (a common difficulty in the snow). Kvichak looked at me as if I didn’t know who I was dealing with as he expertly chased down the bits of food, avoiding the water like a bobbing for kibble expert. At first, I was worried he wouldn’t drink. Then, he slurped it down. A purist, I see. He left just enough water to show his rebellion which promptly froze in the bowl.

Finally, it was time to see what this burrito sleeping situation was all about. I heated more snow for drinking water as I watched my girlfriend lay on the snowy surface the tarp we had burrito-wrapped (so many burritos!) around our sleds to keep our goods intact on our journey out. She expertly laid both sleeping pads beneath her two sleeping bags and then cocooned herself and her pooch inside. Then, she wrapped the tarp around them. The burrito. 

My burrito ended up more like a taco. As claustrophobia is one of my less-favorable traits, I couldn’t quite get down with the wrapping action and, with a Husky as my companion, he too needed his space. Husky’s are notoriously independent but this cuddlebug did sleep next to me the whole night through.

My girlfriend and I, perfectly packed into our respective Mexican dishes hooted and hollered “Goodnight! Happy International Women’s Day! I love you!” to one another over the fire. I patted the pup and bid us both a good night and good luck. I fell asleep cozy as could be, though about 60% certain I was about to die of cold in my sleep.

An hour or so later I woke up in an overheated claustrophobic panic. Losing layers in a hurry as if digging myself out from below ground, my temperature and panic dropped. Well, I guess I wasn’t dying of cold. I fell back into a cooler, calmer sleep. An hour or so later, I awoke again, this time cold, as the taco ruffled in the windy night. I zipped down tighter as I gazed at the stars before pulling the tarp overhead. Claustrophobia plays second fiddle to cold.

We awoke in tandem, my girlfriend, the pups and I and I let out a hoot and a holler.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping in AK

Morning, sunshine!

 

We had done it! We had camped in the snow, in tarps! Seasoned as she is at such feats, I had known my gal pal would make it, but me, I wasn’t so sure.

Yet I had.

I had slept overnight in the middle of a river in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness on the shoulders of Winter.

Just a few years ago, I’d never heard of skijoing and certainly hadn’t considered camping in the snow in a tarp. Even if I had, the hurdles I would have had to jump in order to make such a thing happen would have stalled me in my thoughts. That morning, as I looked around at the greatness of nature and the ease with which we could access it, I thanked my lucky stars.

After an exceptional oatmeal breakfast, we slowly packed away the camp. I, upon my girlfriend’s suggestion, had slept with my sweaty clothes from our ski in. Why, oh, why you ask?! Same here. Apparently, this will help them to dry. I’d heard this before and met it with the look of a single cocked eyebrow but trusting her as I do, I tried it and…it worked! Sure, they were still a little wet but nothing like the night before when they had frozen to the tarp within minutes of taking them off. I donned the slightly damp clothes, naked again in the middle of Winter in Alaska, and danced about the still uneven terrain to warm from the self-imposed chill.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Huskies of Alaska

Returning from the expanse, looking very tough.

 

Soon, with nothing left to pack but ourselves, I showed Kvichak his harness and his tail began to wag. We skied from one river to the next watching the stories of the wolf tracks dance out in front of us and listening to the river flow beneath. About halfway home, the tired set in. I hadn’t felt all that worked over by the day before’s activities but suddenly they caught up. My pack somehow felt heavier, my legs felt like logs but home was in sight.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping GSP of Skijoring

Homeways is rightways now.

 

I returned home to water easily accessed, not made via my melting of snow and veggies not frozen from exposure. The comforts of home wrapped their sometimes excessively enveloping arms around me but that day they felt just perfect. I fell into bed that night, grateful for the warmth of a non-burrito blanket though missing the stargazing and whispered goodnight to my girlfriend, grateful as ever for her.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Ladies of Alaska

Sunset snowmachine

 

Without her, I wouldn’t have known about skijoring and I certainly wouldn’t have ventured out snow camping. It’s funny how one person can open your eyes, not just to new ideas but to new realities and expanded views of yourself. I know that to some, snow camping is a no brainer, but to me, it was truly daunting and I thank my friend for her guidance into what turns out to be not so scary.

Here’s to the ladies in all of our lives. The ladies who love us, who awaken us to the unknown and who push us just enough to see that our comfort zone is wider than we think.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping Libations

Cheers to you, boo!

 

Happy belated International Women’s Day to all of us, for we all get to experience the wonder that comes from women.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis In Celebration of Women Winter Camping Women of Alaska

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Potlucky 3-4-19 Alaskan sunset

Potlucky

Last night, in the early evening just as the dinner rumblings began and reminded me we had nothing thawed and nothing planned, the phone chirped an invitation:

West Side dinner party?

There’s few things more magical to me in the Winter than an offering of food cooked communally. Sometimes I forget that for months on end, every meal we eat, every ounce of sustenance we obtain would be purely from our own hands were it not for our friend family. Every dish dirtied and recipe rendered would be by our own doing. The Chief and I break it up so that at times just one of us makes dinner and the other gets to dine without any output. But the restaurant effect doesn’t last long after one peek around the half wall from the living room to the kitchen at the greedily multiplying pile of dishes.

So, when the offer comes, you can’t help but get giddy.

 

Beneath the Borealis Potlucky 3-4-19 Giddy Goldenrod

Giddy as Goldenrod

 

 

For me, our neighborhood feels like an embrace and on this particular night, I longed to be held.

With one question, “What to bring?” the planning began. I found my best produce. My most alert lettuce and least wrinkled peppers sat welcomingly in the baking pan I was using to transport them. In went my tip top tomatoes and a some limes that only had one or less brown spots. Only the best for my neighborhood loves.

Off we went, tromping the 3-minute walk through the crystal clear starlit night. The constellations were out at play and Orion and the dog we are dogsitting put on a show for us to guide the way. We arrived to what I can only describe as dinner heaven.

Potlucky.

 

Beneath the Borealis Potlucky 3-4-19 Alaskan Husky

I felt this happy, to be exact.

 

 

The spread took the entire counter. Taco night. There was brown rice steaming away in the pressure cooker, beans bubbling their earthy goodness into the air and halibut, shrimp and pork all ready to be cooked. I made a design of my freshies and my girlfriends and I grated a mountain of cheese (which we simultaneously began depleting via quick “tastes”. We take quality control pretty seriously).

Dinner was served.

At home that night, minus the invite, we probably would have made something far less regal with far fewer options. Perhaps a chicken veggie stir-fry with meat pulled from a chicken we’d roasted the night before or a pasta something or other. And don’t get me wrong, it would have been great but this was another level altogether. Like going to a restaurant in the middle of the woods. It was as if our reservation day had finally come up. What a feast.

Satiated we sat together, shooting the breeze. My mind had been a flurry of thought that day and it felt good to let it fade into the conversational calm.

After a few deep full belly breaths, the thing that takes me longest to motivate for at home was a breeze. The Chief and I tapped in halfway through and before long, 4 pairs of hands had done away with the mess. Normally, at most restaurants, at least with wallet intact, you don’t end up doing your dishes, and in truth, it was a rarity. Dishes aren’t always something we let others do around here. There’s a know how that’s different for each kitchen here, a different system and perhaps a sense of pride in being able to do them on our own. Yet the intimacy of dishes done together warmed my heart that night.

The embrace tightened.

Eventually, I made my way home but not without a hug and an “I love you” with each goodbye. What a beautiful rarity to find in the middle of nowhere.

To find a family of friends willing to let me in. A hodge podge mix of lovelies for whom I’ll always go to bat and always pick the best produce to share with.

Potlucky.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis Potlucky 3-4-19 Historic Alaska

Sunset preparations

 

 

Dedication

This morning, I awoke with an urge to make something. I started with kombucha (with a scoby from a girlfriend) and made my way to an apple crisp (with a can donated long ago) and hardboiled eggs (brought in by a friend) all before The Chief came down from the loft. Midway through my burst, realizing I’d need to thaw more butter for my next round of food goals, I stopped and felt the embrace again, but this one was older. This one was familiar in a way that made me feel childlike and my eyes welled with tears. This one was my godmother, telling me to feed the ones I love, even from her recent and devastatingly unexpected move to the other side of the living. She was my first introduction to friend family, to pulling together every last person you know who needs a warm plate of food and a kind word around one table. To always being able to squeeze in one more. She rooted me on with unfailing love, she had adoration for me even when I felt I least deserved it. She blessed my gifts and made less scary my shortcomings. She adored me when I didn’t adore myself. She’s the reason I went to Italy and changed my life after my heart was broken, the reason I know what a wishbone is and save them every roasted chicken and the reason I’ve ever even thought to whisper myself an artist.

She was a beautiful soul, artistic as can be with a masterful way of pulling all of the pieces together and last night, on the night of her funeral, I needed to feel those come together more than I knew.

Thank you, Auntie El for your presence, your reminders and for your love. You were and are a driving force in my life and I thank you for visiting through busied baking hands today. I miss you dearly, think of you daily and love you always.

 

Beneath the Borealis Potlucky 3-4-19 Alaskan sunset

Sunset date with a girlfriend, tea toasting to you.

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Shopping in Alaska

Do the Hustle

(The moment this title, “Do the Hustle”, came to me, I’ve been singing the tune of the classic “Do the Hustle”. Wanna sing along? Do it, do the Hustle).

Here, the Hustle (Alaskan name: The Shuffle Hustle) is a dance even those with two left feet know well. In our cabin, from the moment we return home to the next time we leave to resupply, the floor of this cabin looks like a jumble of Arthur Murray dance diagrams. You see, the dance is always changing.

The First Dance: The Big Haul

Shopping.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Shopping in Alaska

Heaven…unless I’m in a hurry.

 

Returning from Town is a trip of endless possibilities and outcomes but in most cases, especially in the Winter, no matter how early our start, we tend to return in the dark and the cold. Headlamps light our way as our sleepy though psyched selves haul in everything that can’t freeze. And what might that be? More than I realized. Everything from bottles of wine to bags of produce and even some sauces (I’ve even had vinegar explode). What can freeze? More than I originally realized as well: bananas, peel on and all, kale (though be prepared for tiny kale pieces and spread about your freezer in a sort of healthy confetti), cheese, tortillas, guacamole even.

If you’re smart, which occasionally we are, your totes (in which you haul your Town booty) is organized by freezables and non-freezables. Yet often, your Town bounty overfloweth and cannot be contained by totes alone. You return home and despite your best Tetris efforts, the back of your truck might look like this:

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska

Let the panic ensue.

 

You open the back door slowly to reveal a crumbling mountain of goodness which, despite your caution, often tumbles out towards you, out of the truck and into the snow.

As you know by now, a Town trip is basically a continual reconfiguration of things, a process of stacking and re-stacking, packing and re-packing. Messes made, messes cleaned, messes eventually just lived with for another hour or two. But now, that you’re home the process can stop, right?

Wrong.

The packing and re-packing of Home though at least comes with a theme song: Do the Hustle.

Finally, endless trips up and down the Ramp of Doom and you have finished. The anticipated (read: idealized, unrealistic) 8-hour trip turned 12-hour (duh) trip due to extra stops and groceries and packing and re-packing and finally unpacking at home is now complete.

 

 

*Year one’s haul on the left (Kitchen: two-burner camp stove, chest freezer, desk, no oven, no room). The evolution on the right (stove, refrigerator, lots and lots of fresh veggies, still not a lot of room but better utilized).

 

The Hustle, however, has just begun. Your first dance steps are tracked upon the floor where countless others will follow.

The Second Dance: The Shuffle Hustle

You’ve brought the first wave in, the non-freezables and you’ve secured them in their respective safety zones…for now.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska Organization DIY

After. Shelves, water buckets, and fridge all full.

 

You see, everything has its place here until it doesn’t.

Since we don’t have a pantry or a fridge large enough to store all of our goods, our house becomes our perma-pantry and perma-refrigerator where the Shuffle Hustle begins (cue the music please). Different corners of the house serve different purposes at different temperatures so the cold corner from one night where the low was 10 degrees Fahrenheit turns to the frozen corner the next night when the temp drops to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means, that if the cold corner had delicates (lettuce especially), it’s time to get those precious dainties on the move. Do the Shuffle Hustle to find a new home…for now.

Our goodies storage, in order to make up for a small pantry and even smaller fridge,  consists of the hodge-podge following:

 

 

4 totes on the floor stuffed underneath a counter’s shelf

1 mini fridge/freezer combo

1 wall pantry measuring about 2 cans deep, 3 ft. wide and 7 ft. tall (shower hardware at the ready)

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska Pantry Organization

Oh, the meals into which you’ll go!

 

3 large totes, 5 mini organizers in the loft upstairs (aka our bedroom)

Multiple cold to potentially frozen corners of the house

1-2 (weather permitting, meaning, it stays below freezing) totes outside.

 

Do the Hustle.

The initial landing places of most things will inevitably change as the goodies get eaten and the rest of the truck gets unloaded. From one day to the next, the fridge can go from chock full to half empty and then right back to filled to the brim again. As one thing moves or proves hearty enough to shift, another, perhaps more delicate flower takes its place.

But this doesn’t just happen with produce. The beans and canned good and frozen fun, they too get in on the dancing.

Let me set the scene of a typical evening:

The dinner of choice: Pasta with Pesto, Shrimp, Peas and Carrot Ribbons

The Dance: Shuffle Hustle (Techno Remix)

As the water comes to a boil, The Chief might ask me: “Babe, do you know where the pasta is?” I might say “Totes!” and point him towards the milk crate in which we store “grab-ables”, AKA, the high touch items like pasta, tuna, canned tomatoes, chocolate (when we have it) and snacks. Needless to say, this is my favorite spot of the house. But alas, The Chief replies the dreaded response: “Nope”.

The dance begins, the music gets louder. Up I head into our Loft where I try to remember the clues I left myself as to where everything was last year. I know both totes are freezable (or at least hope I know that otherwise, I’m likely about to discover a mess). I know one tote is mainly freezable (fingers crossed) condiments and canned goods while the other tote is filled with grain-type goodies: pastas and noodles of all varieties and some coffee to top it off. Which one? Does it really matter? Just open them both, right? Well, the thing is, it’s not just the opening of a tote, it’s the dance, the constant moving of one thing to gain access to another. In this case, it’s the moving of one large tote or five smaller totes off the food totes held captive beneath them. I close the hatch to prevent a spill. I choose the one with the one large (and I’d forgotten, very heavy) tote atop it.

Wrong.

I proceed to move the heavy tote back and unearth the other. With everything finally up and off of the tote, the true tote of my desire is now exposed. Pasta! I grab a couple of bags in order to stave off having to do this particular Shuffle for a while and make a mental note of the contents of both totes to speed my next foray into the “pantry” as I put everything back in order.

Downstairs I head. This dance is almost over, there’s dinner to be had. Until…

We need the shrimp and the peas. Out The Chief goes to dive headfirst into the frosty haven that is our new freezer. Despite our best efforts to catalog just what lies beneath, still, disorder sneaks her swift paws into our frozen bliss. Finally, he finds the shrimpy pals and heads in. Onions and garlic going, I move to toss in the shrimp and ask for the peas for the shrimp’s cooking company.

“Shoot!”

Out again The Chief heads, this time to the frozen totes near the house (which only the week before had to be completely emptied, goodies stored elsewhere, due to a three-day stretch of warm, sorry “warm” weather. 33 degrees Fahrenheit I don’t think should be so nonchalantly labeled as warm. But here, it is as it’s simply too warm to keep a frozen handle on things). The peas smile up at The Chief as he collects them and delivers them to his bride to be. Yet, just as soon as he starts to take off his boots, I toss them back his way, realizing that due to our recent lemon juice ice cube making marathon (due to lemons who wanted to go bad within a week of purchase. What gives?!) our inside mini-freezer can’t spare the room. Again out he goes to put them back into their frozen holdings.

The Chief finally un-boots and prepares a movie for us as I put the finishing touches on dinner. Carrot ribbons spun, it’s finally time. The pasta is twirled into bowls, the shrimp and peas plop atop and the pesto…

The pesto.

I go to the cold northern corner of the house, a wonderfully consistent corner for cold-hearty condiments and champagne alike.

The pesto is not with its chilly friends. The champagne looks up at me with a shrug.

The pesto, we realize, we forgot to replace (by bringing a new one in from the freezer) when we finished it the last time we made our pesto shrimp feast and now, we are about two hours too late.

This time, figuring this evening had tortured The Chief enough,  I head out to the freezer to do the deep dive to find the pesto and find it I do, but not until I’ve dove to the depths. Oh joy! Chickens and vegetables and frozen fruit get tucked back in again and I bring my pesto prize proudly into the house ten minutes later to the presence of now cooling pasta. Back everything goes, into the pot as I fight to scoop the frozen pesto onto the awaiting pesto pasta dinner.  A little warmer and much more of a pesto pasta than before, the meal goes back into the bowls, preparing for their crowning glory: carrot ribbons. They prance atop the highly anticipated twenty step dinner and as I head into the living room/dining room, I reflect on what seems ages ago when I ventured into the loft to start this pesto pasta process.

Dinner, my friends, is served.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Living Alaska Champagne for Everyone

I felt approximately this happy. Champagne for everyone!

 

The final dance of the night is the cleanup step. Thankfully, there’s room in the cold corner next to the champagne for her newest pesto friend and room in the tote under the open cabinets to keep the leftovers. Yet, tonight it is cold, in the near -30 Fahrenheit range and so, in order to prevent the pasta from freezing (the texture of brown rice pasta once frozen is lacking, to say the least) I take one of my puffy jackets and wrap it up like the present it is. A present into which a lot of work and a whole lot of Shuffle Hustle dance steps went.

The music dies down.

And just like that, just as you get comfortable with your jacket wrapped leftovers and your pesto placed just right. Just when everything has its place and your tiny world is contained enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it all, a friend calls…and asks if you need anything from Town.

Let the tumbling crumbling mountain of goodies dance begin again.

The things we do for love (of food).

Do the Hustle.

 

With love,

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Backcountry Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Donkey Mexico Jalisco

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico*

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico*

*If your idea of “perfect” is getting completely sick, fighting with your fiancé (and still having a good time)

A real vacation report

Every vacation report is a “real report”, however, in our world of perfectly posed playbacks of everything from our day-to-day Starbucks pics to our dripping with decadence vacays, I think it’s important to display the not so pretty and the nitty-gritty, the sand in your trunks, sunburn kind of report, along with the good.

A little context:

The last few months in California have been less filled with hiking and friends and sunshine-filled days of relaxation and more crammed with 10-hour stress-filled workdays. Which, honestly, I thought was fine. I could handle this.

And I did, for a while.

Enter: Vacation.

We flew to Mexico right after Thanksgiving (which we had spent in St. Louis seeing a little of my family and a lot of our hotel room as I had gotten sick and ended up working 12 hour days in bed). Flying on or near the holidays, we quickly realized, is never ideal. People travel no matter the state they are in and so, as we flew to Mexico, we found ourselves amongst a cacophony of coughing and sneezing and the like. Still, having just gotten over the flu myself, I figured I was immune to whatever bug was bugging about.

Wrong.

I also assumed that all of the stress of the past few months would instantly melt away the second we walked onto that airplane heading to the land of Mexico.

Wrong again.

We flew into Puerto Vallarta, a spot where I’d only ever visited long enough to drink far too much tequila and leave. I figured it was more of a stopover town but had heard great things so we decided to stay for two nights before heading off and I’m so glad we did.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico - Puerto Vallarta

The view of our room from the pool.

 

Our hotel was nestled in the Romantic District, a cobblestoned beauty that gracefully balanced old and new. The city was booming with the start of tourist season (December is the official start of “open season”) but there wasn’t the crazed clamor you can expect in other cities. People were kind and open and helpful beyond belief. Our taxi driver dropped us off and left us both with a hug and a “welcome to Mexico!” adieu.

I adore Mexico.

That’s the pretty picture.

The not so pretty?

On my first week off (as in, “Honey, I swear, I’m totally turning my computer off and not answering work calls”, off) in two years, I was…

Working.

I spent the entire flight over typing in a manic panic amidst the sneezing chorus. I worked at full-tilt from takeoff straight until my battery died (the plane didn’t have outlets). Thankfully, The Chief slept most of the flight (we had awoken at 3 am after a quick 3-hour snooze) so I didn’t have a witness to my panic or a scornful eye to give me the “I thought we were on vacation” look I knew I fully deserved.

That came later.

After our taxi sweetly dropped us off, we were ready to get into vacation mode!

…I just needed to do a little more work.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico - Hotel Puerto Vallarta Romantic District

Not a bad place to work, if you have too.

 

 

Enter: the scornful eye.

A few hours later, we finally made it out of the hotel and down to the beach. Immediately, I was taken over by the colors. I absolutely love the use of color in Mexico. Lime green? Bring it on! Fuschia? Yes, please. All together with every other color palette, you can imagine? ¿Por Qué No?

Still, the colors couldn’t quite lull me out of responsibility into vacation mode. My mind was still with work and The Chief could feel it. So, as you probably could guess, the night didn’t exactly go as swimmingly as it might have had I actually been present. We ended the evening in a tiff over the very important (to me) specification of adding “County” after “Sonoma” in a sentence (I am from Sonoma County, Sonoma is a town in the County. I am not from Sonoma).

We followed this up with a second tiff the next night regarding Tom Petty (Tom, I had your back, but it might not have been worth it and in reality, The Chief was on your team).

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Graffiti, Mexico

Perhaps, it’s time to listen. Not talk. Two ears, one mouth, they always say…

 

 

Things were off to a great start!

Not quite able to shake the very important arguments of nights past, we grumbled our way through the cobbled streets, The Chief lugging our communal suitcase through the not so suitcase friendly alleys and hailed a boat to the remote town of Yelapa to spend a little more time together in close quarters. That always helps, right?

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa Casita

Bay to the right, iguana to the left

 

By dinner time, we both were through with our tiffs and I was finally relaxing into vacation mode. We were in a jungle paradise, sitting outside in short sleeves in the balmy eve amidst a candle’s glow at an outdoor restaurant. I had even bid an actual “Adios” to my work (even after repeated attempts to convince The Chief that this week “off” might be a great week to actually catch up at work. Thankfully, he nixed that genius plan). We held hands and wondered how Sonoma and Tom Petty had ever found their way between us and vowed to do better as the stress slipped off and we slipped into vacation mode.

Things were looking up.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Tropical Flowers

Jungle blooms about our casita

 

 

Right?

On our walk back from dinner, The Chief mentioned he felt a little funny.

By the next morning, he was wearing a shirt, sweatshirt, pants and socks, all under a load of blankets and still, was shivering.

It was 85 degrees in our little casita.

Then, it started storming.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa Storms

Big warning clouds…

 

 

I headed out to find sickness supplies and made it all the way out of the jungle and to the store before I realized I had forgotten my money. I trudged back, only about 50% certain of my path through the mossy backyards of jungle abodes, collected the coinage and headed back out.

By the time The Chief felt better a few days later, down I went. Our roles of patient and caretaker did a quick 180 as I burrowed down into layers and blankets and The Chief, still quite ill but in better shape than I, busied himself making me tea and warming me up.

Like I said, things were looking up!

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico - Graffiti in Yelapa

Public art makes me happy.

 

 

And, in all honesty, they were. We were back to giggling together, back to feeling lighter, despite feeling absolutely awful. And hey, we still were in Mexico, in the jungle with iguanas as neighbors and a view of the ocean. Things could be worse.

We spent our last day in Yelapa on the beach (you walk through the hand laid paths of cobblestone and then cross the river to the beachside, hoping for low tide) sipping fresh juices and hoping to soon be sipping margaritas. We were on the mend.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa beachview

The view of the beach from the trail above

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa River to Ocean

Wading the river to get to the beach

 

The next morning, The Chief did not look mended. We contacted a local doctor who said that she and most others would be off that day due to the Presidential Election (whoops! Clueless, much?). Thankfully, the woman whose AirBnB we were renting in our next locale of Punta de Mita suggested we visit a pharmacy with a doctor on hand (how convenient is that?!). We found just that and 50 pesos later (about $2.50) we had paid for our visit and found that The Chief had a throat infection. I decided not to get looked at because I was feeling better. The local lady of pharmacy (not a pharmacist but very helpful nevertheless) in Yelapa had given me a tablet of who knows what and I was feeling good.

After the doctor, we were ready to get on our way to Punta de Mita. We unintentionally put on our We Don’t Know How to Get Where The Heck We Are Going faces and within moments, a woman was explaining the bus we actually wanted to take and setting us up with someone who would watch for the bus and explain to the driver our trajectory.

Again, Mexico, you amaze me. Thank you for your kindness.

A few hours later, we made it to Punta de Mita, a town known for the dichotomy of mega-ritzy hotels and great surf (and thus, non-ritzy surfing culture). Our Airbnb host, who had been checking on us and The Chief’s status all day was there to retrieve us when we were given incorrect directions and collected us and our luggage on her scooter.

Despite it being the last weekend night before I was about to start working again (I only was able to take off one of our two weeks there from work) we both were too tired to do anything other than walk down to the beach for a waterfront sunset and tuck in for the night.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Punta de Mita Sunset

Shapes and colors.

 

 

We needed to rest up so we could do what we came here for: Surfing.

Rest up we did. Surf, we didn’t.

When the pills the Yelapan grandma had given me wore off, I too started getting worse and despite a round of antibiotics, The Chief was not improving. He was white as a sheet and I sounded like someone shaking a bag of popcorn and a dog barking combined when I coughed (which was constant). The Chief’s earache kept getting worse. Finally, we both went to the doctor and were granted the reality that we both had throat infections and The Chief had an ear infection as the cherry on top of our sick sundaes.

Still, we were having fun.

Still, we thought we might surf.

We rented boards and carried them all the way to the beach. I’m pretty sure that 6-minute walk qualifies as one of my life triumphs thus far. We arrived and I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I was exhausted. By the time I paddled out, I knew catching a wave was not in the picture and so, I laid on my board and watched the sunset while getting to chat with our Airbnb host who had paddled out to meet us. The Chief did catch some waves. Someone had to represent for the family. After it was dark, we slowly paddled our way in, letting the waves guide us home. We walked the boards home and delivered them back promptly the next day. Surfing would have to wait for next year.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico - Punta de Mita Casita

The hammock view from our Punta de Mita casita.

 

 

Without surfing to occupy our time, I woke early and worked before The Chief was up, sitting on the rooftop to watch the sun come up and then, by midday, we were free for adventuring.

Which, despite still feeling terrible, we did.

We met a long-lost friend of mine in La Cruz, a town South of Punta de Mita and met his potential new roommate (a HUGE iguana that decided to plant itself on his fence).

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Bougainvillea

My favorite.

 

 

The next day, we rented a scooter and scooted our way North to the town of Sayulita (also a surf town) to stroll around for the day. I adore Sayulita, even if it is a tiny Sonoma County in Mexico. It had everything you could want: easy waves, smoothies, music, chocolate covered bananas (not my thing, but apparently, I’m in the minority so I put it here for you all to be enticed by) and I’m sure all of the things that top your list.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Sayulita Mexico

Beach, please.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Sayulita Church

Oh yes, and gorgeous churches, always on the list.

 

On our last day, we snorkeled around the Islas Marietas and even snorkeled into the “Hidden Beach” (which at super high tide, you have to hold your breath and swim through the cave to the beach, we thankfully only had to bob our way through). We saw lots of boobies (Blue Footed ones, you perv) and the bluest of blue waters.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Islas Marietas

Too busy looking at other tourists to smile for our camera

 

On our last night, we bussed about and found ourselves in Bucerias, a town south of Punta de Mita (closer to Puerto Vallarta). We arrived just as the outdoor market was shutting down (apparently an amazing time if you’re a bargain hunter. I’m more of a pushover payer) and I found the perfect wedding cake topper for The Chief and I. We dined on the beach and bussed our way back home and I barely got carsick.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Bucerias

Ponies on the beach, lovers in the water

 

That night, we went to a beach bar with our friends we’d made in Punta de Mita and sat in lounge chairs with our toes in the sand around a bonfire. It was a beautiful goodbye for now, and fully assured us that we were coming back to “do it right”.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Mala Suerte Punta de Mita_1024

Mala Suerte…we know all about that one

 

 

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and off we bussed back to Puerto Vallarta and back to the States.

So, that’s how you do it, folks! 13 days in Mexico filled with so much guacamole I probably shouldn’t be able to zip my pants, very little margaritas, two very petty (pun intended) quarrels and a sickness to bring it all to the front: what’s important?

Working too much, so much so that when you have time off, you can’t actually be off and when you are, you end up sick?

Not important.

Experiencing new things together, meeting new people, speaking new languages?

Important.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa Storms

De colores

 

Although those two weeks didn’t exactly go as planned, I’d give the itinerary to anyone because it did help me filter through whatever I’d been operating on as fact and focus on the reality of what really matters to me:

Watching the sun rise and set on the same day.

Cuddling with The Chief.

Being outside.

Singing.

Stepping outside my comfort zone.

Working, but not killing myself to do it.

Holding The Chief’s hand.

Feeling the warmth of the sun.

Trying new things together.

Eating good food.

Being in love.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico This is the Light

The Love Light.

 

And so, folks, that’s how to plan the perfect Mexico vacation, as long as your idea of “perfect” means getting completely and utterly ill, fighting with the person you love most and still, through it all, having a good time.

Here’s to the honest report. May mine help you to feel less alone in yours, or at least provide you a good laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. May you share your stories with those who need to hear them most.

Here’s to things not going as planned but helping you instead get back to basics.

Here’s to you and yours, may it not get petty.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico RideOn Scooter Rentals Punta de Mita Mexico

Super Scooters!

 

//How have your vacations gone? Feel free to share your stories, as planned or otherwise in the comments below//

Finally, thank you to Mexico, as a whole for being such a beautiful, open, kind place to us. You and your people are truly special. We are honored to spend time on your soils and plan to be back very soon.

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

Under Pressure

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Never fear, Alaska is here.

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Fennel salt?

Sure!

Chive salt?

Bring it on.

 

 

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

Hello, gorgeous.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

I spilled the salt.

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

So is life.

 

 

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

Herb castings.

 

 

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

I needed that fire.

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

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

From Alaska.

 

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

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

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

Mix or layer to your preferred ratios.

Enjoy!

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

 

 

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

The loverly Lavaterra, greeting the day.

 

 

 

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

For the Love of Film

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Still, it was a great trip.

And so, we planned the next one.

Why? You ask.

For the love of film.

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

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

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

 

 

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

Perhaps this will give you a clue…

 

 

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

When?

Next week.

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

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

And so, we made plans.

 

 

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

Finally home. Only to leave again.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

Just missing one Amigo.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Haunting.

 

 

It was amazing.

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

It was also correct.

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

Just in time for more chores.

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

Easy-peasy, right?

Wrong.

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Only one item is ours: the sweatshirt on top.

 

 

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

It wouldn’t.

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Our jaws dropped.

It was 5pm.

We still had Costco to do.

We still had 8 hours in front of us.

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

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

By 8pm we were on the road.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

8 hours later, we returned home.

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Another trip for the books.

Until next time.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

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

Fall is a comin’

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Anchorage Museum AK

Small Commitments

It turns out that the decision to say “Yes” is, in fact, the doorway through which one passes into the Narnia of endless decisions. Did I say Narnia? Perhaps, it depends on the mood. At times it feels more like a battlefield. Cake? Love it. Finding a cake vendor? Bleh. Boring. Tasteless. Never thought of it. Trying cake, on the other hand, sounds amazing. Point being, the first decision to say “I do” is just the beginning (albeit the most important decision of the bunch. The companion decisions pale in comparison, yet I’ve heard and I’ve seen them aim to carry the same amount of weight. Yet they just can’t, no matter how delicious.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments City Museum St. Louis MO

Rows of decisions already made (City Museum, St. Louis, MO)

 

The reasons they start to gain weight and demand presence is somehow lost on me but present for all those I know who have danced the aisle before me. Where does this pressure come from and how does one avoid it?

I say this because I, Julia “Pancake” Page, tried on wedding dresses the other day and I can say with utter honesty: I’ve never given one thought to what I’d wear on the day I married my person. Perhaps it’s because I was weary I’d never find him – and had I known he was hidden 8 hours outside of Anchorage in a small town in Alaska, almost absconded from the world via long dirt roads and Winters of solitude, I might have felt even wearier – but find him I did, and now, lest I appear at the wedding day naked, clothe myself I must.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Wedding AK

The perfect squash blossom bouquet.

 

The first of many small commitments posing grandly before me.

“How do you mean?” you ask.

Well, have you ever seen the show Say Yes to the Dress? Back in the day, when I used to have television, I would occasionally happen upon said show. The premise: person enters with family and friends to find the “perfect” dress. Said person deals with “oohs” and “ahhs” among “no’s” and “yes’s” and eventually often wraps up the episode in a tidy bow of saying “yes” to the dress. Now, reality television, as I have experienced first-hand while living here is often, let’s just say, dramatized. The tense music leading up to a decision, the be all end all of every decision is often fabricated but in the case of the dress show, I’m not sure they had to manufacture anything. It builds itself. Even in my intimate environment that day, with a saleswoman who really didn’t crank up the sales talk all that loudly, I still felt the be all end all feeling. Which now, so far away, sounds silly but in the moment of “Shall we order this?” and thinking of alterations and fittings and all the things I hadn’t factored in…it gets my palms to perspire.

Thankfully, a cocktail hour followed by a late night after-hours stroll with my friends (who have been my friends since before we all hit double digits) complete with ducking and hiding from the park guard and all, a la 5th grade, really brushed off the stress of the day. And don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful day, but it was also eye-opening on how fast the wedding ponies can go and then suddenly, they run away with you.

Yet, this was just one of the many commitments to come. The smalls that feel big.

The smalls started growing as the ever-expanding possibilities of commitments opened up before us:

Was there a theme?

A color scheme?

A flower?

A bridal shower?

How tall would my heels be?

Would there be a signature cocktail or three?

Would I shrink or expand and ruin any alterations?

What to wear.

How to do hair.

The makeup.

The things.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Anchorage Museum AK

Choices, choices, choices.

 

Things that I’d never thought of and wasn’t sure I cared about. Food? Yes. Hair? I’d always just done it myself. Makeup? Same. Food. Yes. Did I say that already? Well, double “yes”.

Suddenly, the things started barging into our little wedding and once they did, it seemed as if they were growing.

The small commitments had found their way in and they were like multiplying monkeys let loose in a museum.

Utter mayhem.

Thankfully, the first commitment brought me back, by way of a late-night call to my one and only. In the humid warmth of a St. Louis summer eve, his words sunk into me, lulling me from the small commitments back into our grand, beautiful treaty: our lives, together, always. Between the warm Midwestern night with its gentle breezes whispering of Fall and the lull of The Chief’s strong, gentle baritone, I felt our love wrap around me, shielding me from the small commitments.

What mattered most was at the other end of that phone line.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments The Chief

My moon, my man.

 

While that realization was true, I still couldn’t sleep that night. Were we to elope and bid “Adieu” to tradition or hold a grand double header wedding? Our already highly untraditional life gave no sort of outline and my somewhat traditional self didn’t know what or where to hold on and what or where to let go.

The thing is, I am those two opposite ends: traditional and non-traditional. My life consists of ends of the spectrum so far from one another they need passports just to meet in the middle. We go from outhouses and cold (sometimes) running water to bathtubs easily filled to the brim with bubbling goodness and endless electricity. I go from wearing clothes that are always dirty to clothes that almost feel too clean. We don’t go over 30 mph for months and suddenly, we are whizzing about 5 lanes of traffic going a “moderate” 75 mph.

The dichotomous nature of our life is so unbelievably representative of my inner natures that I couldn’t have planned it better myself but sometimes, the inconsistency is jarring. Nevertheless, it keeps me on my toes.

And so, barefoot in Alaska, heeled in California, we aim to find the perfect compromise. Something that feels like us, despite our constantly changing nature.

Perhaps we will plan away, perhaps we will simply go with the wind. Either way, the most important commitment rings true:

Every day I say “yes” to you.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Firefighters

Yes, please.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Firefighters

The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive

In my 31 years, I’ve found quite a few ways to bring home the bacon. I started young, as soon as I could, and worked in everything from babysitting to planting (and cutting down) Christmas trees. At the time, I figured the Christmas tree stint was just a blip in time of tight work pants, tough boots, long hours and a perpetual state of dirtiness. It may have just been a hyper-seasonal job I had randomly fallen into but I loved every minute of it, from the mingling smell of pine and dirt and gasoline to the sound and feel of the chainsaw to the meditative state I felt falling into bed dead tired. Yet, when Santa’s sleigh had sled on past and the mistletoe had wilted, the work was done.

And so, I moved on to another job.

Yet, as I retired my boots and settled for slightly less functional footwear, I missed the physicality and the gratification from seeing the work I had done for the day.

Enter: Alaska

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Wilderness Glacier

Pups n’ pals.

 

 

After switching careers most easily expressed via footwear: running shoes (gym), high heels (radio station), Danskos (server) back to running shoes (owning a gym), I found myself in Alaska without a career, donning hiking boots.

Back to function.

And looking for work.

My first two years, I juggled working in restaurants and nanny-ing. Last year, I added online consulting to the mix with the goal that this year, I’d solely work online and by the grace of goodness, it happened: I was working full-ish time, year-round, in the wilds of Alaska, and everywhere else we found ourselves. Ecuador? Still worked. California? Worked. Winter in Alaska? Working. It was and has been amazing and I still send a “thank you” up skyward on the daily. Yet, like all amazing things, it has to have downs for you to appreciate the ups. This month was slightly less stellar. My hours scaled back and suddenly, I found myself with a little more downtime than I was comfortable with.

Enter: Fire.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Fire Department

Our newest addition on the left. Who knew fire had such fashionable colors?

 

 

And just as my amazing job hit a less amazing valley amongst the peaks, the sun came out, both literally and figuratively and the fire engine was hired to patrol.

Well, guess who was on it?

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Women Firefighters

Riding high breaking in the new gear (photo credit: AT).

 

 

Right when my regular work dried up, the engine needed a replacement person.

That person was me.

The luck was sublime.

For the first time ever, The Chief and I worked together for the State patrolling The Road. In two days we worked 22 hours and drove countless miles. We “took weather” together, called into Dispatch, checked on reports of smoke, worked on vehicles and informed the public of the Burn Ban. It was beautiful to step into The Chief’s world in a way I’d never seen it. It gave me a new level of respect for the person he is for our community and how hardworking he is for our family.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Volunteer Firefighters

Big Red.

 

 

Between fire and construction, The Chief has been working for 30 days straight. Construction is a 9 hour day and fire is 11. He’s had little more than a few hours awake at home, the rest reserved for sleep. And all of this I knew before we worked together but without the experience, that knowledge lacked context. After two long days with him, I was tired. Driving about in an engine sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Seeing a day in the life of patrol face to face shed some serious light on the intricacies of the job and they add up quickly. The physicality of the job, even without working a fire line, coupled with the weight of responsibility and the trust of the town and the State add a layer I’ve never quite felt in a job.

I loved it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Firefighters

Red lipstick courtesy of the 4th of July parade, not a workday.

 

 

Falling into bed after taking off my boots and work pants and washing off the day’s dirt, I felt that same feeling I’d had at the tree farm: a tired body from a job I took pride in. Despite the shower, I still smelled of the sweet trifecta of pine, dirt, and gasoline and as I rolled over that night, that beautiful scent was doubled by the man I love.

I’m beyond grateful to work from home, it’s a dream I’ve had most of my working life and one I hope to continue, yet in the times of slow, I feel so lucky to have found myself in a place that put me back in boots, back in the dirt and back to falling into bed dead tired.

Cheers to the conventional coupled with the unconventional, to wearing a new type of shoes or to trying someone else’s.

Cheers to getting your hands dirty.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive National Park.jpg

Hot and Dry(as). Stay safe, all.

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 Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Back in the Saddle

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by horses. I spent hours in the stables chatting away with my beloved friends, sharing stories and carrots and sometimes just a wee bite of their oat mix. They were my world and to answer the burning question I know must be on your mind, yes, my birthday parties were pony themed and I’m so sorry we didn’t know one another then so that I could have invited you.

Riding horses was my life. However, as any lady or gent of the pony parade knows, riding horses isn’t always about riding. Sometimes, it’s about falling.

From the first time I set foot in the arena to the last, emphasis was always placed on preparing to fall. We practiced finding a safe landing to the inevitable via what my instructor called Flying Dismounts, a special surprise situation we would find ourselves in at least once a lesson. There I’d be, focusing on doing a flying change (where the horse, in mid-air, like the magical beasts they are, switches which foot goes forward first in a canter. Try it, I dare you. I’ve never tripped myself harder) when all of a sudden, my teacher would crack a whip while simultaneously yelling “flying dismount”. The whip would hit the horse in just the right way to break his concentration and buck he would and, ideally, off I would fly, totally in control, landing gently and effortlessly on the ground in one, unharmed, piece.

Ideally.

More often than not, the Flying Dismount looked less like a flight and more like I’d been shot from a catapult aimed straight at the ground. I’d flail through the air and meet the arena soil before I even knew what had happened. Dazed, I’d stand up, find my horse, listen to my instructor’s critiques and pop back into the saddle. I was like those clown faced blow up therapy punching bags that just pop right back up at you after you give them your hardest hit. Pop! There I was.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Julia Sings the Blues (Leggings)

The closest picture I can find of me on horseback, at present. Back in the studio saddle.

 

 

Now, this may seem like a rough lesson for a kiddo but the thing is, riding really can be just as much about falling as it is riding because if you ride enough, you’re bound to fall and when you fall, a little grace never hurt. And so, fall I did, gaining a small bit of grace as the years went on. Back then, the ruling was that in order to be a great rider you had to have 7 non-instructor induced falls and I was quickly making my way towards that magic number.

Once, in a moment lacking, perhaps, my best judgement, I decided to ride a horse in a nearby field whose owner I neither knew, nor consulted. Obviously, the room for disaster was minimal. What could go wrong? A nearby bee heard my confidence and decided to sting said unknown pony in the rear. Ah, I forgot to mention too that it wasn’t just myself I entered into this surefire sob induced drama. I was also “babysitting” a neighbor who was a few years my 8-year old self’s junior. She rode in front of me and for the few minutes we trotted about, it apparently didn’t occur to me to mention the old Flying Dismount maneuver.

Bee in play, horse in panic and us bouncing around uncontrollably like a bunch of pre-teens in their first mosh pit, the outlook wasn’t good. The horse was at deadspeed (as fast as it can go), which for a moment was thrilling since I’d never before reached that elusive speed, until I realized I was not exactly in control of the situation. It was time. “Jump!” I yelled.

It didn’t go well. We both ended in rocky thistle patches and walked the mile home with bloodied knees, elbows and faces, crying at the top of our lungs. Truth be told, I was crying mainly out of fear as the repercussions of my not-so-bright idea came to full clarity and the screams of the kiddo that was my responsibility got louder. I competed with her cries, dead-set on not getting in trouble.

It did not work.

Yet, even that fall, I think perhaps it was number 5 or so, didn’t bother me. It was all part of the game. I was racing towards number 7, hell-bent on getting that badge of honor and fearless in my endeavor.

 

 

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Pop up, poppy Page

 

 

Until…

the next fall.

The next fall was unintentional, non-teacher induced. It counted and I was closer to my 7 but I didn’t jump for joy because this time, I was unconscious. I had been riding one of the bigger horses, a departure from my favorite white pony named “Killy”. My Thumbelina stature made me feel look like a mouse on an elephant but the power of the horse made me feel powerful too. I went for it, full-bore.

And so did he.

Spooked by something only he could see, he reared up as we rounded one of the four corners of the arena. Feeling very brave, I aimed to stay on. He, aimed for me to dismount.

He won.

Bucking his hardest, I finally lost my grip and went flying into the air, landing headfirst into one of the 16-inch by 16 foot logs that created a barrier in the arena. The last thing I remember was my helmet cracking and the visor snapping off and then?

Darkness.

When I finally came to, the first thing I did was laugh and the first thing I heard was “Time to get back in the saddle. Every good rider has to get back on”.

“Pop on up, buttercup”, I thought to myself as I nervously laughed my way through the pain, but a therapy doll I was no longer. My body wouldn’t let me.

I was terrified.

Thankfully, Mama to the rescue, the lesson ended early. I promised to get back on as soon as I felt better. I just needed rest, I reasoned. But the aching in my head was not what was holding me back. I’d been stepped on and bounced into the ground more times than I could count from lessons and unintentional lessons of falling but I’d never felt that fear. And I’d never failed to get immediately back in the saddle.

Eventually, shortly after, I made my way back in. I rode the horse that had bucked me and made my peace with the fear, but it didn’t leave. It sat beside me, monitoring my movements and dealing me visions of doom. I was back in the saddle, but I had seen the other side and I was changed.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Goldenrod

 

 

The past few months have dealt The Chief and I more bucks than I thought possible. Every time something else would happen, we’d say “Well, it can’t get any worse than this” and then, it would. Don’t try that tactic, it doesn’t work. And so, we stopped saying it and as thing after thing after thing piled on, we eventually had to laugh our ways back into the saddle. We laughed, not because of the humor in the situations, of which there was none, but because of the sheer shock.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Anchorage Art Museum

The exhibit I unintentionally went to during the ups and downs. Well, that pretty much pins the tail on the donkey, Anchorage Art Museum.

 

 

The Chief and I lost two family members back to back, so fast that we found ourselves in the same funereal attire before it could make it back into the closet. After that, we were continuously kicked while we were down, financially, physically and emotionally. The small things didn’t matter compared to the loss but they made it feel like we would never come up for air. If that horse had trampled me while I had been on the ground, that might have been a close second to how we have felt these past few months that I haven’t written. It’s been a haunting hiatus but also one filled with immense love.

Our little neighborhood has been hit hard this year. A surge of sadness abounds in such a small area and our love for one another links us so that our pain, is theirs and theirs, ours. Yet, we’ve been able to lift one another. While we were gone to California in the familial tailspin, our neighborhood came together to hold us from afar. They tended to our seedlings, watering them and keeping a daily fire in our house to protect them from frost.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bell Pepper Seedlings

Bell pepper from Ali. When a friend brings you a pepper gift, why not try to make her one too?

 

 

They kept our freezer frozen by running our generator. They kept our hearts from splitting from our chests when the struggle to keep them in felt far too great to bear. Those whom we love, from here, from near and from far have found us when floundering and steadied our stride. To our friends and family everywhere, we are forever grateful.

Like that fall off the horse, these blows too tried to force fear and for a while, it worked and sometimes, it still does. Every time the phone would ring, I would panic. Every moment felt like an opportunity for disaster because disaster was all I saw. Yet, that fall wasn’t meant to teach me fear and neither was this, it was to teach me respect. Respect for that which is greater than me, that which I cannot control and perspective on that which I can. Respect for the relationships I value and the beautiful story we all lead.

Respect for life.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Double Yellow Squash

What hides behind? A double yellow squash from the saved seedlings.

 

 

To feel pain is to know we are alive and I don’t want to live at half-mast. I was blinded to the beauty all around me while under the spell of pain but I have awoken. Let’s move through, shall we?

Thank you for your patience in this time off and thank you for joining me again, back in the Beneath the Borealis saddle. Here’s to entries of joy.

 

To you and yours,

to life,

with love,

Julia

 

//This post is in honor of the three females who raised The Chief. To Donna, Jane and Cinda, I am eternally grateful. We miss you dearly and feel you with us daily. Your touch on this world lives on.//

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Grandma’s beauty still blooms.

 

And thank you, M for the push to start again and for the fabulous snow pants I will wear with pride. I appreciate you.