cabinlife

When is Trash Day?

It took me a while after I first arrived here to realize that Trash Day doesn’t exist here. There isn’t one night a week that you’ll run into your neighbors as you line up your cans or watch them in the morning cursing their forgetfulness as they hurriedly place them in a row. There are trash cans everywhere. Trash and recycling duties are performed by the Park Service but they are not for local use. Of course you may occasionally use the cans for typical use (that ice cream wrapper has to go somewhere) but bringing your household trash to the garbage cans? That’s a No-No.

So, then what?

By the time I realized I was living with The Chief (the plans of a building a platform finally put to rest and my boots settled comfortably in what was now Our house) I realized I had a lot to learn about how the house actually worked. As a visitor you (or at least I) kind of gloss over certain details. You toss something in the recycling at someone’s house and then for you the process is done. Until suddenly you live there.

And so I set in to learn just how everything magically went Poof! and disappeared.

Well, I’ll tell you right now it is not magic.

It is, on the other hand, a lot of odoriferous work.

But that’s fine with me. I grew up amongst pungent projects. My favorite household chore as a kid was going to the dump. I loved the sounds and the big machines, wearing “dump clothes” and tough leather gloves. I loved the seagulls and the utter vastness of the pit. It was powerful to me in some way, like looking out on the ocean from a clifftop. Back then you got to drive straight up to the actual garbage pit.

For some reason they stopped allowing people to do that. Sometimes I wonder if it had anything to do with this little girl who fell down into the pit one day because her father threw the rotten 2x4s they were heave-ho-ing into the pit on the count of “3” instead of “Throw” (you know “1, 2, 3, Throw!” vs. “1,2,3!”. It’s the ultimate debate) and she flew into the pit along with the boards. Down, down, down into the vast array of who knows what just as one of the big garbage chewing machines (this may not actually be their technical name) was coming by. The driver couldn’t see her and he was approaching fast. Scared and a bit discombobulated, the little girl started to try to move but she only sunk into the mounds of garbage around her. Thankfully, just then a random dump-goer ran in and carried her out and both escaped unscathed.

Oh yeah, that little girl was me. I spent the rest of the day showering the stink of adventure off of me.

So, needless to say, I’m familiar with taking care of my own garbage and used to the odors it can produce. Or so I thought.

The thing is, I’d grown soft. After years of Tuesday Trash Days and Monday night meet and greets with the neighbors over the lining up of our refuse, where the trash went and how it got there weighed less heavily on my mind and depended on very little more than a short walk from me.

So, fast forward to moving to the woods which obviously (obvious now, not so much at first) does not have Trash Day. What does one do?

One of the biggest issues with trash here is storage until it reaches the next step of transferring it to town or if it’s burnable, burning it. It makes sense, of course, but if I had been without The Chief, I can see myself piling trash outside and coming home one night to a bear dinner party that I was not invited to join or disrupt. Trash needs to be secured. So we have 55 gallon drums that we’ve purchased to store trash until we can take it into Town.

For now.

In the Summer, it may be another story. You see, the bears can undo the drum latch. I can barely undo the latch with two hands and two thumbs and a pair of work gloves. It’s a challenge every time but a bear? He can pop that thing open like Popeye and his spinach. So, we will have to test it and see how it fares.

Hopefully it will fare better than the freezer last summer. Which brings us to the next issue: getting rid of bigger items. It’s been said many times around here that this is often the final resting place for the things that find their way to the woods. From cars to tank tops to snow machine seats and 4-wheeler tires, things are used and re-used and re-purposed till the end. But when something no longer works and cannot be fixed, then what? Start a junkyard?

It feels strange to see “junk” in the middle of the woods but getting items out is always harder than getting them in (and getting them in is often darn hard. Need building supplies for your house? Unless you want to/have time to do 50 truck loads 8 hours each way yourself, you’re going to need some help from freighters). So last year when a hungry bear came to our house every night and made meat popsicle out of our stored food and broke the freezer, what was there to do? The freezer no longer worked, the food was ruined. Ah, clean up, you can be such a disgusting charade. And now we had a freezer on our hands that didn’t work and was broken past repair. The plan? Haul it out. Someday.

The next issue of life in the woods is recycling. Alaska has a pretty detailed recycling system. All items must be clean and sorted appropriately (there’s seemingly one billion different plastics classifications), bottle caps removed and non-recyclable items not included (even if they say they are – Costco apple cases? They seem to be recyclable. They aren’t accepted in Alaska. Surprise!). We have a recycling bin inside the house that then gets bagged up, taken outside and then eventually sorted into many different bags. However, the sorting process doesn’t always/can’t always happen immediately (sorting recycling at 20 below zero just doesn’t always appeal to the senses) and sometimes on the way into town there just isn’t room enough to take loads of recycling. So, it starts to pile up. Since we are heading into town again, I decided to tackle the recycling. It’s contents range from Fall until now so needless to say, the job was sizeable. Thankfully, it being Spring and all, a lot of the ground had melted around the bags but some were still frozen in and had to be shoveled out.

About 20 bags and countless amounts of old beer spilled on me later, we were sorted.

 

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Seeing dirt for the first time in months

 

We started to debate how much we would actually be able to bring with us. With a barrel for fuel and all that recycling plus 4 bags of trash, things were getting a little crowded, and we still had that old freezer plus countless other random items that needed to be retired for good. We settled on putting in as much as we could and leaving a day early in order to complete all the dump and recycling runs. But, we ran into a much better option. A friend had started a trash and recycling business last year and was taking a trip out, his first big run of the season.

 

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Way to load it, Mr. E. By the end of our drop-off and few other neighbors, this thing (plus the attached flatbed plus a horse trailer) will be chock full of recycling and trash

 

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It’s not just for ponies anymore.

Residential services were available and so we called to see what he could take. We hustled all day to get as much gone as possible which meant cleaning out another freezer that had stored the rotten meat from the bear encounters with the other freezer last year. A lot of gagging and bagging up meat turned unrecognizable and we would finally put to rest the bear debacle that started 8 months ago.

 

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Don’t puke, my love.

 

That’s how things go out here, in stages and never as fast as one would hope. But now we could see the end in sight. We piled the truck high with our first load and then our second and slowly but surely improvements to the property were becoming noticeable.

The Chief had done a day of falling trees for our friend who was running the trash business and so the beauty of the barter and trade system that flourishes out here was put into play. Just for us to haul the freezer to the dump would have been $100, plus gas and time, plus it would have taken space away from hauling in other items. Our friend was able to do it for much less and all in all, credit from a day of work from The Chief paid for a day of hauling trash and recycling from our friend. Any time something out here is made just that much easier, it means the world. Saving a day at the dump (even though I still do love going) means that we can spend that getting the property even more ready for Spring before we leave, for as the snow melts it’s amazing the treasures (and trash) I’ve found.

The dog we are dog-sitting (he’s our nephew) came in one night biting at his paw. He allowed me to look at it and I yanked out the molar below.

 

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The next day, as the snow had melted exponentially more, he came up with the whole half bear jaw and some claws.

 

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Thankfully now there’s a way to get rid of the trash we find amongst the treasures on a regular basis and a way to avoid potentially creating bear amusement parks in our backyards. It makes the “hard” life we live just that much easier so we can focus on other Spring things like getting the garden ready and switching out Winter boots for Summer boots.

Cheers to Spring time (I’ve finally given in) and all that it unearths.

 

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Ah, and a brief sidenote: The Chief is named The Chief over here at Beneath the Borealis not because we are ensnared in some hierarchical patriarchical relationship where he reigns supreme but because of his profession. He is the Fire Chief of the town and thus, The Chief seemed a sweet moniker for the man I spend my days with. So no, don’t worry, I’m not bowing before him or asking for permission to sneeze. We are partners. Different in our talents and equal in our value.

Shouldering the Seasons

Change?

Not my strongest suit.

Once as a kid I came home to my Mom’s house after a weekend away at my Dad’s only to find that she had changed my bed sheets. It was full-bore – new fitted and flat and fancy pillows at that. It was beautiful.

I hated it.

Instead of snuggling up to the newness, I shunned it. I refused to sleep. Literally. For a week my poor Mom had to deal with me staying up all night yelling about my old sheets and refusing the new. She had to tell parents of friend’s houses I visited that week to make sure I didn’t sleep while I was there, in the hopes that I might exhaust myself and fall asleep at night (you know, like a normal little human).

Nope.

I’d find my way into tiny closets and hidden nooks and crannies in order to catch a few Z’s, enough to keep myself awake for the night ahead.

A simple stand-off, right?

This will put it into perspective (and perhaps remind you of a moment in time when animal movies were all the rage. Think “Free Willy”, “Fly Away Home” and “Homeward Bound”. Nostalgic yet?):

I loved animals (still do) and I wanted nothing more than to see the one, the only “Operation Dumbo Drop”! This was a movie after my own heart: basically an elephant was in danger and had to be moved to a safe location via air (which poses a challenge when you’re crating an elephant). And then some shenanigans ensue and laughs are had, cue the lonely teardrop from your eye as the music picks up and he is saved! Right?

I don’t know because I never got to see the movie because I wouldn’t just go to bed. The deal was: If I would just go to sleep for one night I could see the movie. One night.

I couldn’t. The sheets weren’t right. Change was upon me without invitation and I would fight it tooth and nail. Eventually, exhausted by my night-time tirades my Mom replaced my old sheets. All was good in my world again and the fact that I didn’t get to see the movie that I had pined for paled in comparison to the cozy reality that we (my sheets an I) were reunited and it felt so good.

Looking back on this now I’m a little embarrassed for the panic towards change and at the same time proud of the stubborn little lady I was. The stubbornness remains but that inability to accept change? I mean, that’s so different from how I am now. Right?

I like to think that I am a Roll with the Punches, Quick-Footed, Easy Going Gal.

That’s what I like to think.

I mean, change is inevitable, right so why not take it smoothly? Like water off a duck’s back. That’s how I deal with change. I give myself real-life examples to back it up:

Hey, you moved to Alaska in the middle of winter and rode it out pretty well.

You can generally find a smile in the situation (like the time you had to walk three miles home in the pouring rain because you had woken up to blue skies and packed your bag (a.k.a no rain jacket, a rookie mistake in AK)) accordingly.

Overall you tend to see the positive in things.

So when the seasons started to shift here from Winter to Spring, I wondered why that stubborn, panicked little lady showed back up again.

I am not ready for Spring.

I grew up hearing from my Grandma that California doesn’t have seasons. I didn’t understand. I mean, Grandma, the leaves in the fall create a magnificent trifecta of gold, orange and red. The trees (some) lose their leaves. It rains for a little bit. Then some flowers pop up. Then it’s sunny again for about eight months. We totally have seasons.

Wrong.

Here, in Alaska (or in Missouri, where my much wiser than I Grandma Gam lives) there are seasons and thus, I was introduced to the term “Shoulder Season”.

Huh?

The in-between.

The transition.

The change.

It turns out, I’m not as great with change as I thought (cue in the “no duh”). Change that I induce (i.e. moving to Alaska. Scary? Yes. But voluntary, nonetheless. Getting caught in the rain? Romantic at worst. If you can’t laugh at that, well it’s time for a hug followed by some good belly laughs to come your way) is not such a big deal. I can roll with those punches. But the sneaky knockout of a seasonal shift? Yowzers. It came without warning.

As a true Californian, I thought nothing of the impending Spring. Fall back, Spring forward. I did it. No biggie, right?

Except, no, Spring is more than just a time shift, more than just a nod to the Equinox (which is somewhat irrelevant this far North, since we had been gaining daylight past an equal day and night much faster than farther South **Correction: after a ski with a girlfriend we got to talking and this is not entirely correct. Through talks and research with friends and The Chief we discovered that although our location in Alaska had over equal day and night at the Equinox (around 12 hours and 17+ minutes of daylight versus night) this is not specific to our Northern location. New York was slightly over equal parts day and night and my home in California was about 9 minutes behind us in AK. The shift from Daylight Savings to Equinox felt exaggerated because we had been used to so much dark but it did not mean that we actually had more light, just that it felt as if we did. However, at this point, we will be gaining daylight at a faster rate and head towards the Summer of all day sun. Phew! That got confusing…and fascinating)). It’s a shift in everything and none of it has shifted to what I’m used to or to what Spring typically means to me (i.e. blue skies, bright green fields of grass, tulips, rainbows, puppies, kitties, gumdrops…o.k. maybe that’s a little overly fantastic view but it is pretty fantastic. Bright, light and colorful). It usually means this:

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Photo courtesy Mr. Mike Sloat (Rock God and apparently a California Tourism Bureau Photographer, or at least he should be)

and this:

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Oh what I would give for fresh-cut flowers to light the room

Just when I got the hang of Winter, enough to feel confident and to see the bigger picture, Spring has sprung, the picture has changed and a whole new set of how-to’s and to-do’s arise, as do the surprises.

Like, tourists. In March? Apparently so. Suddenly, our quiet little town was taken over (and by taken over I mean probably 20 people arrived, but when your population is around 30, it feels like an invasion of sorts). The term “Spring Break” became a two-pronged meaning, both ominous in description, signifying either time off from school and thus family vacations venturing out here or “Spring Break-Up”, meaning the time when the rivers start to break open and everything melts. It looms in the future.

Spring Break came and continues (apparently the schools are staggered in their time off and so the influx is more of a constant wave). Everyday I see more and more cars and people and the pitter patter in my heart never ceases to surprise me. I love people! But when you’ve spent the winter hunkered down knowing everyone around you, outsiders feel even more foreign and the whole place just feels (and is) louder.

And then, the weather, another change I never anticipated disliking. More sun? Yes, please.

Right?

Kind of.

In our departure from California I wondered how the lack of sun would affect me. When late December came and the day was nearly over come 3pm it did affect me until I learned ways to deal with it (mainly, get outside for as long as you can before you lose sun). But this sudden overhaul of daylight? Being able to walk by a still lit sky at 9pm? That too is making me wiggle in my (now too hot for the weather) snow boots. It’s just a little too much too fast.

The sun is a welcome presence but with it comes the anxiety of Spring Fever. There is so much to do before Summer and so much to see before the wild gets overrun with people. Spring having sprung makes it feel like Summer is breathing down our backs. I found myself yelling at the sky on my walk home from work to ask for snow, begging for the melting to slow and the snow to return and then realizing it’s totally out of my control.

This happened within a few days. I panicked.

And then, the sunny days turned to grey. The sky is no longer singing the song of Spring, it is singing the song of rain while you’re hoping for snow. Things started melting, now they are sloshing about. Personally, I love Slurpees. I don’t love walking in Slurpees. It’s the in between before the ground reappears and you know what, it’s awkward. Footing is awkward and driving is an exercise in recently unearthed rock and new puddle (yellow puddle) avoidance.

Roll with the punches, huh?

Sheesh, Spring even means a new approach to dressing myself. Bibs are too hot, boots are too hot, snow turns to slush and rain gear comes out (oh, wait, I don’t have any rain gear). Shoulder Season Wardrobes are a thing I never even considered (again, just as I was actually learning to dress myself for Winter, this little wrench jumps in). Everything is a little different and even the things that you thought you’d never miss, well, suddenly you feel the loss of their presence. You miss things like:

Frozen eyelashes and mustaches.thumb_IMG_4592_1024

 

The sound of a log splitting at twenty below.

 

Catching the sunrise and sunset thanks to late sunrises and early sunsets (luckily there’s still enough snow for doggie snow angels).

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The crunch of your footsteps in snow.

 

Snow laden trees (aka Snow Globe Fairytale Trees).

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Going to a party a being so surprised that 8 whole people are there.

 

…and the fuzziest toes you ever seen.

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Heck, you even miss the snowy Ramp of Doom (still dangerous but now less so without the added ice feature).

People tell you: Sit in the uncomfortable and enjoy the impermanence. Mmmmmk? Well, I may have gotten a little winter belly, but I am no Buddha. Doing these two things is harder than I ever imagined.

And so, I’m trying to embrace the change. To realize that Winter too will come again. To enjoy seeing and smelling the exposed patches of dirt (from which snow melt is exponentially increased because of heat absorption, but no, it’s totally great), to be amazed by the blooms rising straight from the snow

 

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Woah, Willow You Wow Me.

 

 

to meet new animals like this little feller:

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A Sneaky Ptarmigan (they say not to pronounce the “P” but I encourage it) **Correction: when I asked The Chief what kind of bird this was he replied “A Ptarmigan, or a Spruce Grouse” meaning: “Oh, wait, not a Ptarmigan, a Spruce Grouse.” I took them as interchangeable, either/or. I was wrong. This is a Spruce Grouse but you know what? I might just call it a Ptarmigan anyways until I actually see a real one because that name is way more fun to say.

and overall to just enjoy that which is currently happening, rather than wishing for something else. Instead of expecting a sunny day and being disappointed by a gloomier one, taking to the cabin and finding inside jobs or having a movie day (that feels pretty excessively luxurious but I’m forcing myself to try). Letting off the gas, heck even off the wheel and accepting that which will come. It’s all so much easier said than done, but nonetheless, I’m still trying.

I guess I can’t say that I’m as far from my “Operation Dumbo Drop” days as I thought I could but I can say that I haven’t caused anyone else to lose sleep over this newly revisited aversion to change, so that’s gotta count as some progress, right? Sorry again, Mom. Thanks for not putting me up for adoption, that was very cool of you.

And although I’m not as enlightened by the joys of impermanence as I thought, although I cling to comfort like a baby to a breast and a monkey to your back, I know that some part of myself put me here to learn this and to re-evaluate how well I actually rock with the tides or see if instead I try to struggle against them. Alaska life certainly does keep you constantly reinventing your disposition. Challenging and changing how you see things and how you react to shifts great and small. She likes to get you comfortable in the uncomfortable and that, well it’s just not comfortable. But hey, she keeps you on your toes (and when you refuse to learn, she throws you on your back gently but sternly like you would a puppy in training).

So here’s to this new season and the uncertainty it brings. Cheers to Spring both light and dark. For Spring has sprung, whether we ourselves turned the handle of the Jack-in-the-Box of seasons or it sprang itself. Surprise!

Cheers to the change.

 

Hi Ho, Hi-Ho, It’s Off to Work I Go…

Where I’m from in California, it’s pretty much essential to have a car. Public transportation is lacking (to say the least) and even if it was better it still would be near impossible to get to a friend’s house in the boonies without some other added mode of transportation. Why not walk? Walking the roads is like tip-toeing on railroad tracks. Often there’s little to no shoulder and blind curves are plentiful. And so, although I’d prefer to walk or bike it’s often much more efficient to drive to work. Almost everyone I know has their own convenient individual machines and…Hi Ho Hi Ho, off to work we go. It goes a little like this:

Going to Work (Anytime) in California:

Steps 1-5 to get out the door: Wake up early enough to go for a walk or run. Take a shower (you have hot water that pours straight from the wall!). Eat breakfast. Caffeinate. Make lunch.

Step 6: Head outside to your car (likely already warmed a bit by the morning sunshine). Insert key and search for some music to play through your phone while the car warms up (while sipping coffee).

Step 7: You’re off! Ugh, it’s so hot in here. Put back the sunroof and get your summer highlights and your vitamin D intake started.

Step 8: Stop for snacks. What’s a workday without a little chocolate? Stop at your favorite local hippie mart (today Andy’s market is on the way) and grab some goodies and hey, while you’re there why not a specialty coffee drink? You could really go for a Dirty Chai today (if you haven’t had one, try one. You can trust me on this).

Step 9: Arrive at work, cozy and caffeinated.

Step 10: Work. Maybe go grocery shopping on your lunch break (you have a hankering for a good Bolognese tonight. Maybe some zoodles? I think I was banned in California from saying that word too much. Zoodles too are delicious. Try them. I am living my culinary fantasies through you).

Step 11: You’re done! Get back into your cozy car, run an errand or two and head to your warm house. Hey, maybe even meet a friend for Happy Hour or go to the gym. The world is at your fingertips, my friend.

 

Going to Work in the Winter in Alaska:

Steps 1-around 50: In Order to Get Out the Door…

You wake up (seemingly) early enough to get all of your chores done so you can leave the house (and know that you’ll never wake up early enough to do them all…so you immediately start prioritizing once you’ve risen). Put on water to boil. Make a fire. The dog will tell you if she’s ready for breakfast or not (she likely will be if you’re running late, she likely won’t be if you’re on time. She’s good at testing you like that). Brush them bucks and wash your face after the water has warmed on the stove. Do a little bird bath action (oh, to have an on-demand shower). Pour the water into the coffee pot and while it’s circulating through the grounds go outside to check the machine. You glance at the thermometer: last night it got down to -13 but now it’s 15 above.

You assess: how many layers will I need this morning? Big gloves or light gloves? Parka or double lighter jackets? Check the gas and the oil on the machine. Low and low.

Head to the gas drum and loosen the air escape, unhook the hose and pump the arm until you fill the gas tank (and likely overfill. Ah, the smell of gasoline all over your clothes first thing in the morning. At least you already built the fire). Tighten the air escape and replace the hose. There’s a bit of water in the gas from melted snow so pour the gas through a water filter so the machine will run more evenly (apparently water in gas is a bad thing…makes sense). Find a can of oil and add it to the machine, careful not to overfill this too (a funnel would be helpful but…naw).

By now your coffee is ready but you only have enough time to find all of your layers and get dressed before it’s time to leave (you didn’t realize the gas can was empty so you are now minus ten minutes, no coffee interlude this morning). This is when the pup decides she’s hungry but she’s so cute you can’t help but concede.

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She sleeps with her tongue out. Enough said.

O.k., now it’s really time to hustle. As you’ve been doing chores throughout the morning you’ve been planning your layers so you can be quick to dress. You find all the components and start dressing just as you look and see that you forgot to take the liners out of your boots last night (I have never had to do this before this winter. I didn’t even know liners came out, probably because I’ve never had a boot with liners since I’ve never lived in snow so needless to say, I’m out of habit). Oh well, things could be much worse than cold feet for the day.

You dress and tie your hair back, pack the coffee into a to-go mug, put extra layers in your backpack and head outside.

Step 51: Driving

The machine (snow machine) got cold along witht the weather last night and so it is a little sleepy to start but after a few extra pulls you get her going. You rev the engine lightly and listen for the drop in pitch to let you know you can take the choke completely off (even when you’re rushing, you still have to make sure to treat your equipment like a queen, lest she decide to cast you out the Realm of the Riding). You rev a few more times, listening for her to tell you she’s ready to rumble. You give it one last big rev and she jolts forward. She’s ready! Get on the rest of your gear (goggles and ear protectors (these machines are loud)) and you’re off!

You decide to take a different route this morning so as not to disturb your neighbors (it is 7:30 in the morning, after all) and head out to the road just in time to see the deep blue as the sun makes her ascent over the mountains.

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It’s a great big snow globe world out here

You also already hit a good enough speed on your short route so far to realize that you have indeed under-dressed. You’re still still learning. Some days 15 above feels like 40 and other days it feels like 15 below zero. Moisture, wind and other scientific stuffs all affect how we feel at the same temperature and today, well, you underestimated. Now, you can decide one of two things:

Drive as fast as you can to get there as quickly as you can so as to minimize time in the cold

or

Drive slowly to keep the wind down and stay warmer but endure a longer trip

You decide to compromise: you’ll stand up while driving as fast as you can (safely, Mom, don’t worry). Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But because your windshield is busted it is actually less windy above the windshield. Tadaa! Plus, since you didn’t get to go for a walk or exercise this morning this will be your stand-in for a workout (it takes muscles I didn’t even know existed to be able to drive this thing). You bounce around following the river and trying to learn different limits of the machine (and your driving ability) until…

Step 52: The River Crossing

In order to get to work you need to cross a (mostly) frozen river (mostly being the most operative word here). Two months ago, the crossing was impossible due to the breaking of a glacial lake in the mountains which, subsequently, opened up the river.

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Open water along the river path commute

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Time to cross over the bridge, I guess

But, now it often is possible. The bridge is an alternative, but a unpreferable one at best since, due to the warm weather (up to 45 degrees above zero!) we’ve been having lately, all of the snow has melted from the bridge. This makes it a spark-filled adventure to cross on the metal skis of a snow machine. Therefore, if possible, it’s best to take the river.

 

The first time I crossed the river by myself I was pretty sure I would fall in the whole time.

This had been my preparation:

“How do I know if it’s cross-able?” I asked everyone I ran into.

“You’ll know.”

Oh, I’ll know? That seems unlikely. I mean, I’ve been here for one winter. I don’t think that makes me any sort of ice expert. I’m more of an ice cream expert.

But, yes, if I approach the river and see it gushing, sure, I’ll know not to cross. Yet aside from the an obvious flow, how do I know if the ice I see is ice to cross?

The Chief and I had talked about dark ice being precarious and to watch for overflow (essentially when there is water out on the ice) because this indicates that water has broken through somewhere and is flowing, making the ice very slippery and less stable (though not necessarily impossible to cross).

As far as I had surmised, it seemed the key ingredients to crossing a river were:

Inspection (looking at the river, maybe even turning off the machine and listening to the river – the only problem with that is that even a crossable river may have an audible flow of water beneath it)

and

Intuition/Decisions (see: going for it). Once you’ve decided to cross, you’re crossing and if you start to fall in, the only option is more speed. Great!

On my first solo crossing I already had concluded on one ingredient: I was going across. Probably, it would have been best to decide that after inspection but, hey, I’ll admit I’m stubborn. I was ready and I was going. I did pause at the top of the hill that leads down to the river and although it was jagged and craggy with icebergs as speed bumps, what I could see looked doable and so, I went.

As I started out, the ice quickly changed pitch below me. At first the skis made a deep rolling sound on the ice but it quickly changed to a hollow growl.

Eek!

Time for a second helping of the ingredient of speed.

I hurried across the remaining crossing and once on the other side stopped to see my path.

I had made my first crossing.

By myself.

I let out a holler a wolf would be proud of and then promptly texted The Chief that I was alive (he apparently was not as surprised as I was, you know, that whole undying faith in me thing and all. I don’t know where he gets it, but I’m sure glad he seems to have it in bulk).

Ok, let’s return to the Journey to Work (Step 52 continued):

Since by now (two weeks into work) crossing the river is old hat (see: you still get nervous every time because every hour on the river is potential for change. You could be able to cross in the morning and by mid-day the river could be flowing) you approach the river with healthy inquiry. It’s like being a kid at a crosswalk. Stop, look both directions. Grab your mommy’s hand (oh, darn. Mom, can you visit now?) and go.

You cross without incident and now you are more than halfway to work (a little celebration dance follows). Your legs are starting to get tired from essentially performing a twenty minute long squat but, hey, you’re not exactly hitting the gym out here so why not? Plus, it’s helping to warm you up. Well, most of you.

Step 53: Arrival at Work

You arrive at work with frozen fingers (you had to stop once just to blow on them because they started hurting so much) and remind yourself to keep heavier gloves in your ever-expanding backpack (it’s filled with an every-growing array of potentially needed items). You arrive early because you always try to leave early in case something comes up (everything from running into a friend to running out of gas becomes a possible time swap and so I always try to build in a buffer) but today you’re using this extra time to warm up before you start your shift. Plus, you need time to disrobe.

It’s funny to arrive at work and the first thing you do is start undressing and re-dressing. Your pile of outerwear takes up half of the back table (the other half is for the chef, you’re working at the local saloon/restaurant that’s just opened again for a quick blip in the pre-season for the film crew in town) and that ever-growing backpack comes in handy as you swap out for a new shirt (turns out that 30 minute squat really got your blood pumping). Finally your fingers have defrosted and now, it’s time to start work. It feels like a whole workday has gone by just getting here, but really it’s just the beginning.

Three hours later, coffee and breakfast served and dishes done and your shift is over (youwork split shifts of three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening). It’s 11am and you’re free until 5:30. What to do?

Step 54: Getting Home

You figure you could use a little walk so you leave the machine (and most of your outerwear gear) in town and head home, walking the hidden paths the machine can’t power through and crossing the frozen river on foot.

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Crossing a footbridge…look to the left…

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and look to the right.

Step 55: Making Use of Home Time

And so, a little over an hour later, you return home. The fire needs to be stoked but at least it’s taken away the morning chill. You survey the scene: what needs to be done? Haul water, do laundry, do the dishes, finish outside projects…etc. and then decide what’s feasible in four hours (since now, having left the machine in town, you’ll need at least an hour to get yourself back to work). You spin the chore wheel in your head and then the fun wheel for your post-chore reward (I think today it might be a nap) and set out to get things done. Or not. Some days, you’re tired and you go straight to the fun wheel (read: nap time).

Step 56: The Journey Back

Alright, it’s 4pm and time to head out again. Since you left most of your outerwear gear at the restaurant (it’s too hot to walk that far in) you suit up with lighter snow pants and layers that can go under your bulkier outerlayers or into your backpack for the ride home on the snow machine tonight. You decide why not go for the whole trifecta and ski to work? Plus, the pup could use some exercise. She’s ten so she can’t run with the snow machine anymore, but she can lap you even on skis and so you interrupt her from her afternoon snooze-sesh to go on an adventure. You call her “Uncle” who’s working construction in town to make sure he can give her a ride home in his truck. It’s settled. You’re off.

Well, almost. You forgot an extra pair of shoes (since ski boots probably would be a bit slippery for work). The ever-expanding backpack is getting ever-heavier now.

Ok, now you’re off. Packed like a mule and ready to glide like Tanya Harding (oh wait, we liked Nancy Kerrigan, right?).

Thirty minutes in and you’re to the river crossing.

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Little Lou inspecting the grounds

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Perked ears listening to the water below

It’s eerie to look down into the craggy ice and see and hear water below, knowing that only hours earlier you took hundreds of pounds over the same spot. But at the same time, seeing the thickness of the outcroppings of ice and testing it with jumps and prods with  poles overpowers any fears, at least for now.

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18″ thick ain’t bad

Plus, when your dog runs ahead of you, you immediately feel safer (and even if it’s an unjust sense of security, it’s security nonetheless).

And so, you cross again.

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Oh Turtlebackapack, how I love thee

Once on the other side, past the swimming hole

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(better suited as an ice skating rink nowadays), you run into three friends at one of the creeks people stop at to fills jugs for drinking water (pretty amazing, huh? Fresh, pure water flowing year-round. Yes please). Ten minutes later, updated on everyone’s latest happenings, you’re off again. Lou has already ditched you. She knows that where she’s going there’s a potential for french fries and if you’re around she’s less likely to get as many (yea, mom put her Little Lou on a little diet. “Husky” can’t serve as both her breed and her physical description).

Step 57: Lose the Layers

You get to work and start the undressing/dressing game again, clean up all the snow you’ve tracked into the bathroom, grab a makeshift water bowl for your thirsty pup, attach your skis and poles to the machine (better now than later in the dark) and clock in.

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Bungee cord jamboree

Step 58: The Hand-Off

Thirty minutes later, you’re outside again, handing Lou off to her Uncles (three came to collect her post work). It feels like you’re dropping her off at daycare. Puppy eyes and all, but in a few hours you’ll be home with her again.

Step 59: The Last Journey Home

And before you know it, you’re suiting up again, ready to hit the road and head home. You approach the river crossing but by now, near 9pm, it’s dark. You have sound and intuition to go on because your lights cast more of a shadow from up on the hill than provide information.

You decide to go for it.

In the few hours since you skied over you notice a chunk has collapsed in and so you pick up speed and evaluate the route ahead as quickly as you can as you race towards solid ground.

You make it.

Success!

A few more twists and turns and slips (since you packed your running shoes for work because a. your backpack couldn’t fit boots and b. it sounded fun to wear something other than boots for the first time in months, but it turns out they aren’t the best snow machining shoes. Grip is key. Duly noted) and slalom-esque tree avoidance and you’re home, sweet home.

Step 60: The Wind-Down & Reboot

The house is cold since the afternoon fire burnt out (The Chief is away for his post-op appointment, not just home letting fires burn out at home) and the has temperature dropped but you’re warm from the ride (you tried a different squat maneuver this time that was a real workout). Thankfully, you chopped wood during your break so that you wouldn’t have to chop it upon returning home and you build a fire in no time. Doubly thankfully, you’ve been fed at work because the idea of making a meal from scratch right now sounds like building the Wall o’ China (or something else equally difficult). You settle in with a good flick and cuddle with the pup and congratulate yourself on having taken care of the house solo and gotten to work twice without incident and settle in to do it all over again tomorrow.

Phew!

The End.

So yes, going to work in the winter in Alaska is a little different from what I’m used to. It feels like three days wrapped into one by the end of it and the steps are far more involved and plentiful than I could have ever imagined (geez, I used to balk at having to stop for gas once a week where the pump pumps for you and the trucks deliver the fuel to your fingertips). But although I do miss the luxury of stopping for chocolate at a health food store or meeting a girlfriend for a glass of wine, I’m grateful to return to our little house in the woods, warm or cold, where the wine is often in a box (all the better for transporting to share with neighbors) and the chocolate is shipped in via care package (thank you Katinka). It’s funny to think of the parallels this life has provided, for every reality we are used to is what we come to expect and now, in this new life, I never really know what to expect. I guess that is my new reality.

Cheers to the unknown and to that which will become known.

The Quickest Way To Hear (Your) God Laugh (How Did I Get Here PART II)

I had plans.

With my newly created single life I was going places (literally). First on the list was Alaska and then, after 17 days, I’d go back to CA, regroup and head to Thailand and just keep going from there. I was free and it was time to make use of it.

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The last load to storage before departure. Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin.

Alaska because I felt as if a rope in my gut was pulling me there.

Thailand because I wanted to learn to surf, brah.

As I stocked up on items for Alaska I also acquired items for the other leg of the trip (even though I hadn’t bought a ticket or made any real plans). Sundresses and sandals would wind up in my haul of long underwear and bear spray (ya know, to avoid a “https://www.youtube.com/embed/YOlkeDrqozw“>The Revenant” situation, please).

I came home one day and my girlfriend giggled as I shuffled in two pairs of heeled sandals.

“Those will be super useful in Alaska, huh?” she wink-winked me, almost as if she knew I wouldn’t be back for them.

My intention was to be on my own merry way. Do my own thing on my own schedule. I never even began to think that those heels would gather dust in my storage unit.

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A whole life (sandals included) in one little box

 

Plan: I’d get to Alaska and out of my comfort zone and then find some killer waves, dude.

Every time I think back to that trajectory I planned for myself I think of a quote I recently learned:

“Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh” (David Milch)

And I was shouting these plans from the rooftop. I should have heard the thunderous laughing from above that must have followed my announcements but stubborn ears are deaf to opposition and I just kept on planning and meeting with friends and asking for tips on places to go post AK (thanks DW).

Once in Alaska (see last week’s post here describing the journey in) I was still convinced my future held beaches but succumbed to the reality that something was telling me to stay (shouting it actually). I was in for a quick summer stop-over, Alaska style. So I started to look into staying. First thing’s first: money. Leaving for Alaska had meant buying a lot of items I just didn’t have in my arsenal (see: bear spray, a headlamp, hiking shoes…I had thought I was way more outdoorsy than my existing equipment suggested) so I hadn’t exactly been flush to begin with and I didn’t plan on bleeding myself dry in the funds department.

And just like that a job offer came.

My girlfriend introduced me to a friend who was starting a food truck. He needed help. I needed a job.

Boom! Employment (Thank you, MacChina).

We were fast friends, I mean sheesh, I’m a girl who likes to eat and he’s a chef. What could be better? Friend match made in heaven.

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Not a bad view to whistle while you work

Ok, so money problem taken care of but now where to stay?

My girlfriend said I could build a platform on her property and camp there for the summer. I’d need to find or have lumber hauled in from Anchorage and find a tent and bear wire (WHAT?! Who even knew that existed and thank you to whomever created it). Since all of that was a lot to acquire we also decided to keep an ear out for places for rent.

And so it was settled.

Until it wasn’t.

Because this is where The Chief enters the story and my exit plans disappear without my realizing it.

I met him my first night in “town” at the local (see: only) watering hole. We had talked for 30 minutes (unbeknownst to us) before my girlfriend came to check on me. Was this furry mountain man bothering me? I hadn’t even felt the time pass. I was a goner.

But I’m a stubborn one and clung to my singledom like a kid to a cupcake. Ain’t happenin’, Captain. I’ve got plans.

And then the thunderous laughing from the sky began again. I told my boss at the food truck (one of his best friends) that it was no biggie. It was just a fling. It had to be, right? I should have felt bad lying so blatantly but I thought I was telling the truth. He would just smile and say “Ok, see you in the morning, neighbor” since when I was at The Chief’s house we lived a quick walk through the woods away from one another. He knew. Everyone knew.

People I didn’t know would come up to me in town and say how happy they were for us.

Us?

I’m in an Us?

No way Jose. Not this little Senorita. I’m a solo artist. I mean, that’s the plan.

 

But…work on the platform was at a standstill.

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The Proposed Platform Site (aka a pile of somewhat flattened rocks)

I spent the better portion of a day trying to flatten the site but I still didn’t have building supplies.

I asked my boss to order the materials.

I asked The Chief.

I asked in the way that you ask for a fruit cup in place of dessert at a restaurant.

Everyone knows what’s happening. Everyone knows the deal except for you because you’re trying to convince yourself that you want the fruit cup.

It’s smarter.

Healthier.

Right?

(Not to call living on her property a fruit cup, it would have been a big time dessert just not the one I was meant to have)

And so I eventually let go…

and ordered dessert.

 

I was basically living with The Chief (though still in denial about it, I mean just because all of my stuff is there and we were grocery shopping together doesn’t mean I live there, right?) but one Taco Tuesday night we made it official.

Living with someone you’ve just met is insane.

Living with someone who’s never lived with a girlfriend is a recipe for disaster.

Living with someone after just getting out of a 7 year relationship is a rebound.

Right?

All of these judgements circled my head but the laughter from above was finally gone. I had stopped making plans and jumped into the flow and it had carried me straight to him.

Now, don’t get me wrong, moving into a perma-bachelor den was interesting (to say the least) but it immediately felt like home.

Pretty soon the question put to me by locals switched from:

“So, are you staying the summer?”

To

“So, are you staying the winter?”

Ha! Winter! That’s cute.

Nope. No way.

 

And before I knew it I was planning for winter.

 

A friend in CA that had watched me go through the breakup said that it seemed like I had changed my plans all for some guy and he was worried I would lose my trajectory (and never get to Thailand).

Fair enough. And thank goodness for friends who shoot it straight (Thank you N).

But I hadn’t lost my trajectory. I had ended up exactly where I was supposed to be. This was scary to accept and hard to defend when oppositions from myself and others started coming in but all I could counter with was that it just felt right. I felt at peace.

I realized that Thailand had been a sort of safety net. A “planned” next move to let me feel safe in the uncertainty of Alaska and open me up to it’s possibilities. Leaving Alaska simply because that was the plan I had announced would have been the biggest mistake I’d ever made, The laughter from above would have been deafening, even to these stubborn ears.

Trying to preserve my pride just to avoid judgement that I was jumping in too fast or giving up my plans for “some guy” would have led me away from where I’m supposed to be. And there’s a difference between standing up to oppositions because you don’t want to be wrong and standing up because you know you’re right, even if all you have for proof is a feeling.

Plus, staying in AK didn’t mean I wouldn’t go elsewhere, it just meant I didn’t want to go now.

Now was for seeing if when the fireweed flowers disappeared and the rocky ground became snow and the town went from hundreds to (maybe) 30 people if this was still where I was supposed to be.

Lucky for me, it was and it is.

That doesn’t mean everything is unicorns and puppies and dessert every meal. We are real. We are human. We disagree and get fussy just like anyone else, that’s just life.

And even though at times being out here is a challenge and a constant departure from the creature comforts I wouldn’t trade a nearby grocery store or electricity for anywhere or anyone else.

But I wouldn’t complain if a chocolate shop happened to open next door.

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Summertime. Home sweet home in the woods.

 

// All credit for our coming together goes to the town as a whole, our next-door neighbors and a Subaru get away vehicle powered by Marvin Gaye. Were it not for them, we wouldn’t have been forced into seeing what was right in front of us. Thank you. //