California

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California Beach

Joni & Julia: California

For the past month, Joni Mitchell’s “California” has been going through my head. If you’ve never had the pleasure of the fluting vocals of Miss Mitchell, please do, as the Millennials say “Treat yo-self.” Who am I kidding, I say that too. It’s fun, no? Totes.

Anyways, pop culture colloquialisms aside, Miss Mitchell had been dancing in my ears for days on end. I’m the type of person who constantly has a song going through my head (I used to even be superstitious during my soccer games that if a sad song came into my head, we were going to lose, which of course, as the odds would have it, proved true) so there have been many other companions to “California” but she has, overall, been the main show.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni and Julia - November 13th 2017 Joni Mitchell

La Joni

 

 

 

The song holds a sweetness to me as I first discovered it on my own (I’m sure I grew up hearing it but never purposefully interacted with it solo) during my first year of college. I was 17 years old, living in Washington, D.C. Back then, Sebastopol, the little town I grew up in, was still holding on to its hippie roots. Tie-dye and incense were the accessories of my youth and I had just started to dig into who I was to become as an adult (tie-dye not so much, incense yes) when this country girl landed herself smack dab in the middle of a metropolis. Not just any capital, it was the Nation’s Capital: D.C.

I was completely overwhelmed.

Upon meeting my “floor” and cohort in college I was introduced to the business handshake…

by teenagers.

These kids were ready to succeed. They had a drive I’d never seen and a lingo I didn’t speak and an overall sense of entitlement I had only caught glimpses of at my Grandparents’ Country Club, a place where I would say I was about as comfortable as a lobster at a hot spring. It just didn’t fit.

So, I did what every teenager does at one point or another and I split in two, trying on a new side of me: the professional. I put on the business suits and I shook the hands of my friends instead of hugging them as I’d grown up doing. I updated my resume and printed it on a hard fancy stock. I spoke the vernacular, I did the dance.

I hated it.

D.C. in and of itself is amazing. Free museums? Yes, please. Cherry blossom wonderland? Sign me up.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Cherry Blossoms

 

 

The constant hustle and bustle of grey, black, and khaki? The colorless wheel of all day business? The inevitable “Who do you work for/who do you know” self-elevation quandries. Thank you and no, thank you.

I spent most of my time amongst art and artifacts realizing all the while that this, indeed was not the place for me. Upon discovering Joni’s “California”, I felt more and more sure that I had been given a peek into a different world, one which I appreciated and admired in many ways but about which I could wholeheartedly say was not for me.

Joni sang me through the months in an almost mantra-like fashion.

Almost home.

Almost home.

Almost home.

California, I’m coming home.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California

 

 

And come home I did where my lurking decision on whether or not to return to D.C. became wildly clear. I was not going back. I had left to try something on and found out from the first leg in that it was not my size. I very much believe in leaving what doesn’t suit you to allow the space for the person it does fit to find it. Don’t take it simply because it’s there. Leave it for someone else to wear.

I settled into my home again at a new college with a little better idea of who I was and was not and continued to find me, often by finding what didn’t fit first.

Joni Mitchell marked a time where this all started.

The next time Joni became a focal point and “California” started again to be the title track playing through my head was three years later. I had recently turned 20 years old and I had been living in Italy for the previous nine months in an unplanned journey away from heartbreak right into the loving arms of Italy (this was pre-Eat Pray Love but I’m O.K. with Elizabeth Gilbert and I sharing a shockingly similar narrative and love of eating). I fell absolutely head over insanely fashionable heels for the place and I found new sides of myself, this time by finding what I loved. Good food, walking, history, art, a slower pace and a deeper purpose.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Capri

 

 

I thought I would never leave and part of me never did but slowly, as my European classmates left to go back to their respective countries and the weather started to cool, the song turned up and all I could hear was her singing:

“Oh, it gets so lonely when you’re walking and the streets are full of strangers.”

I was lonely. The beautiful Italian families surrounding me made me miss the sense of home I had felt in Italy only a few short weeks before and so, I followed the whispering welcomes of California.

“California, I’m coming home.”

I arrived, and that time, unlike the relief I had felt upon my recovery from D.C. something felt different. California suddenly didn’t fit quite as well as it had before. It wasn’t a non-fit like the squeeze of trying to wear post-break-up jeans two years into a cozy loving new relationship, but something wasn’t quite right. My favorite old pair of blue jeans had started to wear thin but still, my love for California and all that it held kept me close for the years to come.

The years until Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Alaska

 

 

Just the opposite of Italy (in so very many ways), I landed in Alaska and did not feel like I’d arrived at a forever home. I was scared, truly and uncomfortable to say the least but I felt a stirring in me I hadn’t felt since landing in the land of pasta. Something again had shifted.

Almost three years in, I’m in love with Alaska not just because of her beauty but because she is both comfort and discomfort all in one. She is constantly pushing me to find new parts of myself I would have rather left undiscovered, dust them off and love them into a new shine. She’s challenging and I’m challenged into becoming a better me just by being in her presence and also constantly reminded that I’m not “there” yet. But I am there, in Alaska, most of the year in the almost three years which have suddenly flown by.

Yet this time, it’s not only me who has changed, it’s California as well. Since my journeys away often ended before a year had passed, I’ve never returned to her being as different as I felt after my time away. Yet now, as I am more able to let go of her as my main home, and as the years continue to pass, I see the change.

And so I ask: “Will you take me as I am? Strung out on another man (Alaska, don’t worry Chief)?”

I will do my best to accept you as you are.

California I’m coming home.

And then, we arrived.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California Beach

Da beach.

 

To be continued…

 

P.S. Missing updates? Make sure to sign-up for email updates on the blog. No spam, just goodness. Also, follow along with pictures not featured on the blog via Instagram: @beneaththeborealis.

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - The dip

The California Contrast

Living here, I’m used to being on the opposite end of the spectrum from my old haunts and old ways in California.

 

Running hot water used to feel normal, now it feels like liquid gold.

When taking a walk I used to watch out for other humans, now I keep a watch for bears and I’m surprised if I run into another living soul.

Some days, the entirety of my waking hours are taken up by chores that in my old life never even existed.

Chopping wood.

Pumping gas.

Hauling water.

Just keeping a fire going when it’s 30 below can be a full-time job, akin to, I assume,  midnight feedings (and 2am and 5am and…).

It’s a place where for days I forget how different my old life and my new life are, for weeks I forget that it used to be strange to me to haul every bit of water I use by hand. Strange to even know how much water this aquababy has used. And then, when the last bucket runs dry and it’s 8pm and I’m tired and hungry and the last thing I want to do is to suit up to spend 30 minutes walking 40lb. buckets up and down our Ramp of Doom until we are re-supplied, then, I remember.

When it’s 40 degrees here at night in the Summer and 80 at night in California, I remember.

When it’s slush is the Spring without a flower to be found and lush as can be in California, I remember.

I remember my old life and I feel grateful for the contrast because the difference is what makes me grateful.

The contrast was always one I appreciated, until recently.

This last week, the town in which I was born went up in flames. In this frantic Fall of natural disasters, it seemed that there couldn’t possibly be more devastation to come. But, come it did.

Fire after fire tore through even the most industrial of locations and raged in wind-driven fervor through the counties where I spent my first 28 years. My Mom was close to being evacuated and had to sleep in shifts (alternating with her neighbors) in order to make sure she would hear the notice to get out. People I know and love had to run for their lives. People I love lost everything.

And here I sit, in a place where fire is constantly on my mind, a place where I’ve joined the fire department to ensure I know how to help. A place where we all worry about fire, we all watch for smoke and suddenly, it has struck in the place I least expected it and I am nowhere near it to help.

I never expected it.

The contrast.

And so it continued. In the week of the worst fires my area in California has ever seen, in a week where I could barely breathe because of the panic I felt, the first snow of the season fell.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - First Snowfall

The Ramp of Doom Returns…Happy Falling!

 

 

Fire and Ice.

As I walk outside I breathe the fresh air of an area relatively untouched.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - Panorama

 

 

As my friends and family in California go outside, they don masks to protect their sweet lungs from the deep, heavy smoke.

As I look out my window I see a flurry of fat snowflakes.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - First Snowfall Walk

And a Fly-By Neighbor Pup

 

 

As they look out the window they see the falling of ash.

As I build a fire to stay warm, they fight one to stay alive.

 

The contrast has never felt stronger or stranger and being so far away has never made me feel so out of control. But, with two tickets already purchased months ago, I wait.

 

 

 

 

In two weeks, we leave for California. The tidying here has already begun (and failed some too, foiled by the 6 inches of snowfall) and the three-day process of leaving will be here before we know it. And although it will be heartbreaking to witness such devastation, I am eager to get to my first home and become part of the amazing relief efforts that started on the dawn of day 1.

The firefighters and emergency response have been tirelessly working around the clock, taking mere cat-naps to make it through and the outpouring of love and help offered up by the community has been amazing. People have collected blankets, food, found others housing, taken in families, rescued animals, distributed face masks, offered pampering in a time of panic via massage and haircuts and counseling. While it’s been absolutely awful to read story after story of loss, it’s been uplifting to see the love that spills over this pain. I’ve seen countless pictures of a poster that’s been put up all over the county that reads:

The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.

It will be good to be a part of that love.

Stay safe all.

 

California, I’m coming home.

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - Morning Glory

The morning glory blooms in the face of Winter.

 

 

NOTE:

Dear reader,

If you would like to help relief efforts in California the Redwood Credit Union is a wonderful local branch collecting funds for neighboring counties in the Bay Area. I’ve been told it’s the best place to donate to and 100% of the funds go to relief efforts.

Anything and everything helps. Thank you.

https://www.redwoodcu.org/northbayfirerelief

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - RCU Donate

 

 

 

Back to Basics (and Buckets)

One week ago I was returning home from a walk with Lou when I noticed The Chief underneath the house.

Peekaboo?

As I approached him I could tell that this trip below the deck, in particular, was an ominous one at best. I slid down the little hill like a penguin on my bum  to meet him and noticed our tea kettle sitting next to him on the frozen ground. Steam surrounded him. In his hand he was holding a pipe.

A very important pipe.

The pipe that insured that the water inside the house would go outside the house.

You see, until a week ago, we had indoor plumbing.

Well, sort of.

We lived in an only Slightly Dry cabin.

No, I’m not talking about a Slightly Dry Cabin like a meant-to-be-dry-but-there-are-ways-around-it dry county or a Dry Cabin with a slightly leaky roof or even a Dry Cabin with a damp draft dismally descending upon us.

Nope.

Slightly Dry.

Until last week.

Now, we are edging towards a Dry Cabin. Not as dry as some. Not as dry as the desert perhaps, but dryer than before, like we started. Back to basics. Back to buckets.

O.K. what in the world am I talking about? Dry, Slightly Dry? It sounds like a deodorant commercial or a martini order.

Let’s define our terms, shall we? Mind you, these definitions are my own (move over OED), and just like how every house out here is different, every person might have their own idea of what dry means. But for our house and as I see it, my definition of a Dry Cabin goes like so:

No indoor running water. No toilet, no shower, no faucet. No, no, no.

O.K. that’s direct but just too basic. Let’s dig in deeper.

Dry cabins come in all different variations and there is definitely a range of “Dry” but the overarching theme and the starting point is a lack of indoor plumbing. Because we choose to reside in the boonies, we don’t simply call up the city and turn on the waterworks. There is no city to call, no water to be tapped into. That goes for everyone out here.

Our cabin has no indoor to outdoor plumbing (now) to speak of which means that every drop of water that we use or consume we have to haul not only into the house but out of the house, in some fashion or another.

Every drop.

When I lived in California, the state was in a drought. We conserved water. We collected rainwater to flush the toilet and we turned the faucet off in between rinsing dishes. We were conscious but despite this consciousness towards using less I was completely unconscious of how much water I still used.

Now, I know. I can account for every bit of water I use as I can actually see the levels dropping on the water buckets we haul into our house. From brushing my teeth to putting a kettle on, never do I use water without first having to retrieve it, either from its source (our well) or from a reservoir in our house. It’s a strange thing to realize that my whole life, I’ve had water on demand and now, it demands that I come to collect it.

And so, we haul our water into our Slightly Dry cabin that has become a little dryer as of late.

So what is the range? A completely Dry Cabin has absolutely no running water. Water is hauled from a local spring or a well outside (which we are lucky enough to have on our property, saving us hours of hauling time) and stored in buckets inside (outside they would turn to popsicles, but not the delicious kind).

Completely dry cabins may not even have a sink but use wash basins instead in which dishes are done and hands are washed over. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone to a friend’s house that has no running water and we’ve shared the duty of watering one another meaning: My hands are soapy. Would you mind pouring water from that pitcher over them so I can enjoy the luxury of rinsing both hands at once? When solo there’s also the balancing act of tipping your water jug over a basin while holding it in place with your shoulder in order to free your hands to wash both at once.

To build upon this ingenuity and make things a little easier, people come up with adaptations. The foot pump is one of my favorite. It’s a little ball on the ground (like a doctor’s squeeze ball used to inflate the arm band to take your pulse) which you step on to pump a spurt of water out of the faucet. It may sound time-consuming and it is, but it’s pure luxury when you’re used to nothing at all. The next option is a faucet and sink with a pump. The pump gets turned on when the faucet is turned on and sends water from a nearby reservoir (say, under the sink, ours is an 8 gallon Igloo cooler) up and out the faucet head. The water then goes right back down the drain into an attached pipe which drains into what is aptly named The Slop Bucket (paints a pretty picture, huh?) which is also nearby (ours is sidled up next to the cooler under the sink).

 

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Back in the day when I first moved in.

 

The Slop Bucket has to be emptied quite often in order to insure that all your lovely goodness that goes down the drain doesn’t overflow onto your floor. Mmmm toothpaste and dishwater and everything else you put down the drain surprise all over the floor? Yum. This can be tough to remember when you wake up first thing in the morning to brush your teeth. Still groggy and half asleep you slowly come to and hear the pitch of the draining water change (living out here is a lot of listening I’ve learned) and suddenly you come to and realize you’re about to have an overflow. Yippee! Oh, and even if you can congratulate yourself for not overflowing it (this morning) you still have to be careful not to overfill it because, well, you’re still going to have to carry it outside and without a lid, that can be quite the feat.

But not at our house. Nope. The days of The Slop Bucket were over because…(cue the celebratory music. “Eye of the Tiger”, anyone?)

We had a French Drain.

Adding “French” to anything really makes it sound fancy, doesn’t it? And it was.

French toast. (So much better than regular toast)

French fry. (How did I fried potato suddenly sound like its wearing a tuxedo?)

French drain. (How is it even still a drain? It sounds too fancy for the likes of that.)

So what is a French Drain? Well, our version consisted of a 55 gallon drum with the bottom cut off placed into a deep hole in the ground (no small feat. Digging in Alaska is a challenge at best), insulated, covered and connected to the house via piping that attached to the sink inside through a hole in the floor that was then sealed with lots of spray foam to keep the cold out. The water from the sink would then ideally drain into the drum and slowly seep into the ground.

The Fall before The Chief left to meet me in California he had one goal in mind: no more Slop Buckets and so the French Drain idea went into action.

Personally, I didn’t mind the Slop Bucket all that much. Sure, it was a pain. Sure, the Ramp of Doom made it a bit tricky. But hey, I was in the woods now. I could handle it. Right?

In truth, I probably didn’t realize how often the Bucket went out because in my new love haze I was slow to see all the work that surrounded me. I thought I saw it but in reality, The Chief probably chivalrously swept a lot of it away before I noticed. And so, the first time I hauled water up the Ramp of Doom in the Winter I thanked my lucky stars (and The Chief) for making his Drain goal come true. A slop bucket in the middle of winter on the snowy, slippery slope of our Ramp would have been no fun at all and given my propensity for falling down it, wearing the slop would have made it less than no fun at all (anti-fun?). And so we spent the Winter doing dishes and brushing our teeth without having to constantly check The Bucket’s level. The Drain chugged away without incident and we sat in our slightly less dry cabin looking back fondly on (yet with no intent of returning to) the time so long ago when we had to haul The Slop.

That was last Winter. It was “warm”. The coldest temperature we saw was 22 below zero, which to me seemed pretty brrr-brrr cold but alas, I was mistaken.

 

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I was pretty sure this was pretty cold but sunny at 22 below doesn’t hold a candle to grey at 35 below.

 

Enter: this year.

Just a smidge colder.

In the first stint of 35 below this Winter we realized quickly that we would have to baby The Drain a bit more. We came about this realization after awakening to a list of chores that were quickly put on the back-burner when the drain stopped draining. We listened. No movement. This is bad.

We spent the first half of a day under the house, disconnecting the pipes, bringing them in to defrost, cutting away a portion outside that would not defrost, sending boiling water down the drain via our tea kettle, reconnecting the pipes (which thankfully The Chief had made long enough to still be able to trim in this situation without losing the pipe completely) and finally, getting back to our planned chores.

Phew! That was close.

From then on, we babied the Drain. Every morning, before anything else, we boiled hot water to pour down the drain to clear any buildup from the night (we later realized that the sink was leaking, ever so slightly throughout the night, causing potential blockages so we had to unhook the connections for the pump every night and put a bowl under the faucet in case it still leaked from built up pressure). We constantly had an ear to the drain, listening for the specific sound that meant water was flowing. We watched it like new parents but on it continued.

Until that day, one week ago when I came home.

Since we had once before remedied the situation I didn’t panic upon seeing The Chief under the house. That was, until I saw the pipe on the ground and the exasperated look on his face. The blockage wasn’t in the pipe.

 

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Where the pipe came out of the house.

 

 

It was below.

 

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The pipe down into the earth and drum below. All ice.

 

To this day we still don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe the drum wasn’t far enough below the frost line and everything inside the barrel froze during one of the extended cold spells. Maybe we hadn’t been as meticulous as we thought.

Who knows?

All I know is that we are back to basics and back to buckets.

I guess the Spring will tell us all we need to know about what happened now. Until then, I’ll be working on navigating the stairs with a swishing, sloshing bucket of Slop without falling.

 

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The latest shot of the Ramp of Doom…getting doomier with every drop of rain.

 

And you know what? I’ve kind of enjoyed it. Well, now that I’ve gotten back in the game. It didn’t affect me at first since The Chief took over most of the hauling since my neck was still delicate. But since I’ve embarked upon the Slop duty, I’ve been kind of glad to get back to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a bucket that actually had a lid so it didn’t threaten to paint me sloppy every time I transported it outside but we didn’t have one (the two five gallon buckets with lids are for hauling drinking water and we were not giving one of those up). And I’d love to not have to bring it outside twice a day or more on Dish Days. And I’d love it if the color of the Slop was a glittery gold instead of…ewww. And I don’t love it in the moment. But overall, I’m O.K. with it.

The French Drain was a fancy endeavor and one that made me feel very lucky. Yet going back to basics has put me back in touch again with what I’m using and where it’s going. And still, all around me, I see dryer cabins than our Slightly Dryer Now Slightly Dry Cabin. We have running water, an indoor shower (non-permanent and we bathe into a tote, no plumbing there) and an outhouse (two actually, here is the old outhouse, turned library. Seriously).

 

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Our needs are met as long as we meet the demands of our needs. Sure, there are the days when we get home from a big adventure or a dinner at a friend’s house and realize: shoot, we didn’t pump water before we went and well, it kind of stinks because…

When that happens it’s usually the perfect storm. It’s usually 30 below and the well pump won’t start and we have to warm the generator for an hour to get it going when all we really want to do is sit down and eventually after the generator warms and the pump starts and after 5 trips inside each to fill all the reservoirs (shower, under the sink, the pot on the stove and finally the buckets) and a couple spills and a couple close calls on the Ramp…we are done.

And it could have been a lot harder.

Nowadays, when I go to Town, I have to remind myself to turn on the hot water at the sink because I’m so used to always having cold water come out. I have to remember to use the dishwasher because I’m so used to waiting for the water on the stove to heat up so I can do dishes. I have to stop and appreciate the beauty of a shower uninterrupted by scalding hot and freezing cold flashes of a sputtering water heater. And now, when I am home, I stop to appreciate what we had, what we will likely have again and what we still have.

Thank you Alaska for constantly keeping things in perspective, whether we like it or not.

Cheers to the good life, however that looks to you.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

The Golden State

Welcome to the Land O’ Plenty: California.

 

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It’s the land I grew up in, the place I’d called home on and off for almost 30 years and now, it’s a place I come to visit.

 

It’s strange and beautiful how that happens.

 

We’ve been lucky enough to land at an amazing house in Sonoma County (in the next town over from where I grew up) to housesit while some friends are honeymooning.

Running hot water? Electicity on demand? Land for our pup to roam? Super score.

It’s been the ideal situation and we are over the moon to finally be settled in after weeks of traveling and living out of suitcases with our furry child in tow (constantly keeping an eye on her and chasing after her as she unknowingly runs up to cars and towards heavy traffic, country dog that she is). The constant shuffling and remembering and forgetting of things and their places has come to an end. It feels good to just slow down, especially knowing that just a short month and a half from now we will be completely shifting gears as we make the journey back up and into Winter.

That being said, I will be taking a few weeks to connect with family and friends and this first place I ever knew as home; to really sink in during the time we are here and to truly be present.

I so appreciate you reading this blog and learning along with me in this journey and I look forward to reconnecting with you in a few weeks.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog (do that in the near top right hand of the webpage) so you know when things over here at Beneath the Borealis restart (in late November or Early December, pending our departure date).

Cheers to California. To kombucha on draft, yerba mate on on tap, essential oils as perfume and “hella” as a word. Cheers to experiencing both Summer and Fall weather all over again and to walking outside to pick ingredients for every meal. And cheers to soon heading back to a snowy landscape filled with trials and tribulations and a silence I can barely recall.

And cheers to you. Thank you for coming along.

I’ll see you soon.

 

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Two Alaskan pups out for a sunset strut.

Leaving: Part II

It was Leaving Day.

The truck was packed, the house was checked once, twice and three times by this lady (and The Chief). We had gas in the truck, she was running again, our bags were packed and…

our dog was nowhere to be found.

We called for her and called for her.

Nothing.

At times, especially when she is grumpy, it can take a few minutes for her to show up. But this? This was different. The truck was running and time was running away with it. We were on a mission to make it to the DMV before it closed at 4pm and every minute more pushed us farther away from that possibility.

Country DMV vs. City DMV? You choose but for us a one room, one person run DMV in the middle of nowhere is highly preferable to a multi-room, multi-station, many grumpy person situation in Anchorage. We wanted desperately to make it in time.

Cinda, on the other hand, free to operate without license or registration, was not on the same agenda and was proving to us just how serious we were when we had stated: “we won’t leave without you”.

And we wouldn’t. Sure, she’d stayed behind in Alaska for short jaunts while in the care of her Uncle before but today, this trip, this time, that was not the plan.

Finally, after many hoots and hollers and phone calls to her Uncles we heard another neighbor yell:

“She’s over here!”

We took the path between houses and headed in our neighbor’s direction. Her Uncle yelled too:

“Just saw her run by!”

The little stinker was going for it.

Just as I met her Uncle on the path he said what I thought was a joke:

“Little lady’s probably rolling in moose or something.”

Ha! Yea, that would be just like her.

Just then, she came racing around the corner all Who, Me? looks in her eyes. She gave a me a quick “hello” and then started in the direction home. We yelled “thank you” to the neighbor and her Uncle walked back with us (her brother in tow) to our house to say “goodbye” for the next few months.

Cinda trotted ahead, leading the pack.

We said our goodbyes and finally loaded up. I jumped in and The Chief loaded Miss Lou onto the bench seat with me where she swiftly commandeered nearly the entirety of the seating. The Chief and I finagled some room and off we went.

Finally!

 

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Last looks at snowy mountaintops

 

Oh.

My.

Gosh.

 

What is that smell?

I looked down and my sweet little daughter of a dog had a sheen to her like I’d never quite seen. She looked up at me, proud and smiling as I put it all together.

Her Uncle’s comment? Not much of a joke.

It was the end of moose season and dogs had been finding little bits and pieces throughout the week to steal and bury and rub against.

But, this was more than that. My little angel seemed to have found the gut stash.

I relayed her stench to The Chief who was far enough away and out his window not to receive the bounty of her find.

“Oh yeah, I bet she found some guts to roll in.”

Ah, the woods. The sweet smell of Winter approaching and…guts all over my dog and now all my lap (since, in her conquest of space/her rare moments of slightly snuggling, she had her upper half and offending head in my lap).

I almost threw up.

Typically, I’m pretty good with disgusting smells (a trait that’s come in handy out in the woods) but this was a whole mess of gross.

“Well, hey, she’s gotta put on her perfume. We are going to Town.”

Suddenly, my disgust went away as I burst out laughing. I looked down at our proud pup and she looked at both of us as if to say “Yeah, right? I smell damn good.”

The giggles this gave me were such a relief. Sure, we still had a journey to go but now, we were out of the house, out of the snares of leaving. We had left and the giggles had opened the gate to a new path. Sure, the stress of wondering what it was we had forgotten to do still lingered (and still does) but something shifted.

We were on our way.

40 minutes later (and two hello/goodbyes with friends on The Road) and we arrived at our friends’ house where our plants would live. And then, after saying our goodbyes and hellos, we were off (again).

We had just enough time to make it to the DMV and make it we did to receive permanent registration (no smog!) for our vehicle. The day was looking up. All we had ahead of us was trash drop-off and making it to our hotel.

A few hours later, we made it to the trash drop. I backed in and jumped into the bed, handing The Chief the yuck, one bag at a time. Thankfully, we had the foresight to pack the truck accordingly (recycling first, trash second) so that the trash would be accessible and the truck wouldn’t need to be repacked.

Another thing checked off the list. The load was getting lighter along with our moods and the stench of Cinda was becoming slightly less (especially since I was driving and she was propped up on The Chief).

Until, the turns kicked in.

The road was getting windy and Miss Lou shifted positions. She turned around to face me. The stench thickened. She alternated between putting her chin on the Overdrive shifter or in my lap. I said a brief goodbye to my pants until I could wash them. I reeked. We reeked. But I was getting used to it. Occasionally, strong wafts would overcome me but it was less and less puke inducing.

Until, she puked.

The windy roads must have been getting to her because she looked up at me and then looked down at the floor and upchucked all over her fuzzy white paws. The smell was offensive, to say the least and for the first time that smelly day, I thought I might actually follow suit all over myself (I’m not a puker but my stomach started doing gymnastics).

I pulled over as swiftly as possible and we started the clean-up process while trying not to create more of a mess ourselves.

The rest of the four-hour drive was a constant alternation of puke smell, gut smell and giggles. Cinda looked only slightly less impressed with herself, perhaps rethinking moose guts as a treat before a long bumpy ride but certainly not as a perfume and The Chief and I thought up new jokes about Cinda and her new Town attitude.

We stopped at the last little look of nature for a walk before descending into the hustle and bustle just before sunset.

 

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An hour later and finally, we had made it.

Anchorage, the Big City.

We settled in with a pizza (one of the first things people mention when they get excited for Town) and our books and eventually settled into sleep.

The next day was the day of errands.

 

We started early with a check-up for The Chief to see how his sinus surgery was holding up (very well) and then headed for recycling. The recycling in Alaska is like nothing I’ve ever seen (and I’m from California). My hours of separating were only partially triumphant. We arrived and realized that I hadn’t separated plastics. We left those for last and I held fast in the bed of the truck handing The Chief the otherwise organized bags of bottles and cans and aluminum. A girlfriend (also in Town) came to meet us to say “goodbye” and also marveled at the extreme organization of the place. Paper, cardboard, plastics 1s, 2s, 5s etc. and on and on and on. Finally, we found the Holy Grail of recycle town: a 1s and 2s bin! Our plastics were almost all 1s and 2s and so the process gained speed once again.

Another thing off the list!

Finally it was off to Cinda’s vet appointment to get her O.K. to fly. An hour and a few hundred dollars later and we were certified and ready. The day was coming to a close and so we met up with a neighbor in Town and headed to the movies (another major Town excitement).

The next day was a last-minute whirlwind of repacking the now empty (minus the barrels) truck, eating pancakes (oh, how’d that get in there) and…laundry. The Chief actually started the process while I went off for an appointment of my own (eyebrows, oh my!) and a few hours later, after folding and sorting that which we wanted to bring versus that which would stay the next two months in the truck waiting for us, and we were done. We made a few last minute purchases (like a new crate for the Lou and copies of the truck keys since having one was just asking for a lock-out) and then, the wait.

 

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Oh, and the most bedazzled coffee cup I’ve ever seen.

 

 

We were in the homestretch. Our flight was at midnight and we had a few hours left to let the pup run free before putting her on the plane. We headed to another friend’s house where another neighbor met us (we were all flying together) and it was a woods reunion filled with dinner and a family walk to the park. The perfect send-off. And then, just when on any other night we would have said our goodbyes and headed home, we said our goodbyes and instead started a whole new day.

Off to the airport.

We all crammed into the truck (even more of a squeeze with three people and a dog) and made our way to the car drop-off.

From there it was on. We pulled up and hurriedly unloaded two months of goods and gear for three people and a pup, rushed onto the shuttle and headed to the airport. We were in good time but the anxiety of travel started to set in. Cinda’s eyes widened as we stepped into the hustle and bustle of the airport.

30 minutes of checking her in and $110 (2 bottles of water to tape to her kennel and passage on the plane) later and we were forcing our Lou into the kennel. It is never a good feeling, shoving her in there while she splays out in every way possible to avoid it. Major puppy eyes looked out at us as we said our “see you soons”. This time we were leaving without her, but (we hoped) she would be following behind.

Finally, post-security and gate finding, we were all loaded up. Three kids from the woods and a ticket to show that Cinda had made it on too (which we could only hope was true).

 

 

 

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Ah, the red-eye.

Hours later, after maybe 30 minutes collectively of quality sleep, we landed in L.A.

L.A.? Doesn’t make much sense to me either, but the only reasonable flights we could find to our part of Northern California went first down to L.A. and then back North to STS. An hour later, at 6am, after almost missing our flight, we walked the outside stairs into the plane. After a few stressful minutes we received Cinda’s proof of being on the plane and we were off.

No sleep and a few hours later and we were there. The Chief went to meet the friend picking us all up and our neighbor and I waited for luggage and Lou.

I thought she was going to lose her mind, yelping and hollering.

Thankfully, my bags had come off prior to her and thankfully I had packed my knife so we could undo the zip ties keeping her in her cage and set her free. We ran outside to see her Dad as our neighbor laughed and told us to “go ahead” as he handled all 8 pieces of luggage.

 

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She was overjoyed, as were we. We had made it.

We loaded up the little truck meant for three people not four and a dog and drove Alaska style to our destination: breakfast.

Three days of traveling and it was finally time to settle (at least for a few days until we moved again to our house sitting spot).

We ate and enjoyed and marveled at the enormous strawberries on each of our plates that were merely there for garnish.

Garnish.

In Alaska you’d be lucky to get a sprig of parsley. Never a strawberry. In Alaska, strawberries are like gold nuggets. You don’t just throw them on a plate.

We had made it, to the land of plenty, to the bountiful land I’d grown up in.

Strawberries as garnish for breakfast.

It’s good to be back.

 

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Even with the headlights blaring, it’s still an amazing sky here.

 

 

Leaving: Part I

During my 20th year around the sun I moved upwards of 20 times.

I lived with the parents of my friends, I house-sat, I lived with my Brother, I lived with friends. My life was one big traveling suitcase made up of bags and backpacks and boxes filled with essentials and odds and ends. Chances were, if you thought of it, it was in my car. I packed and unpacked and repacked so many times that you would think I would have developed some systems but alas, the mind of my 20-year-old self didn’t prioritize order. I was a bag lady but with paper bags with constantly ripping handles and fall out bottoms. Needless to say, it was a bit of a mess.

And so, once I finally moved into my own house 5 years later I was beyond ready to trade in my bags for drawers and settle. I’ve felt the same nesting sense ever since. I love being home and since moving to Alaska (at the start of which I thought was just a blip on my radar on my new traveling trajectory) I’ve loved making our house in Alaska our home.

But, the seasons have changed and Fall is upon us. For us, Fall means heading South to California. And so, two weeks ago, the process of leaving began.

No big deal, right? Like I said, I’m pretty used to packing up and heading out and now, as more of an adult, I’m much more organized. I can Tetris a trunk like a pro and pack clothes for a month into every nook and crannie of a weekender bag.

But, I’ve never had to leave like this.

Growing up we had a family cabin in the Ozarks in Missouri. Every year we would go down in the Summer for a week. We would arrive in the early afternoon and the opening of the cabin would begin. Hours later and a whirlwind of opening shutters and turning on waterlines and changing sheets and the cabin would be open and off we would go, ready in time for Cocktail Hour by 5pm. A week later we would do it all in reverse: canoes put in the river shed, floors swept, bedding stripped, water off, shutters closed and all in time to make it back to St. Louis in time for…you guessed it: Cocktail Hour.

Between my bag lady days and my cabin plays, one might think shutting down our cabin would be nothing more than a blip on the radar but arriving to and leaving from our house in the woods is not quite the same.

Or at least I assumed it wouldn’t be.

You see, I’ve only arrived, never left.

I’ve opened but never closed.

It’s a whole different world, a world in reverse.

Last year when The Chief was shutting down the cabin to come meet me in Portland I got little snippets from him regarding the happenings of shutting the place down.

In my excitement to see him I realize that I glossed over words like: “non-freezables” and statements like “I don’t want it frozen into the ground” (last Winter I tried to “pick-up” a tote which had frozen into the ground a bit. I pulled and swiftly broke the tote in two: half still in the ground and half in my hand and overall totally unusable) and in my rush to see him I didn’t really understand the massive task that stood between us. Come Winter, I realized a bit of what he was talking about, but again, I saw it in the opening of the cabin mode.

Now it was time for the reverse. The shutdown.

The last week before we left our house I didn’t have to work. The restaurant had shut down for the season (another totally strange thing to me. The only time I’ve ever shut a business down was when it closed its doors for good, not just until the following May. Closing down for the Winter and shutting down forever are only a few hauling loads away from one another. It’s quite the ordeal and in a few months, the reverse will happen again). I felt so lucky to finally have some time off in the beautiful place I call home. There were adventures to be discovered and in the first few days I had off I found them.

 

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Icebergs bigger than two of me tall. Please don’t suddenly shift.

 

 

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The 8 hour lake loop

 

And then…the panic set in.

I stood outside on my third day off and, as if I had seen it for the first time, I was stunned by the amount of work I had to do. The last few days the projects had been far from my mind but suddenly it was Go Time.

Living in the woods, I have come to understand the difficulty of the acquisition of things. I looked around our yard and saw years of acquisitions: lumber which will hopefully become a part of a building project in the future, snow machines since retired which we use for parts if one of ours (or our friend’s machine breaks), and random tools and tie downs and who knows what galore. In the woods, it’s very hard to throw things away for reasons which are twofold:

One: you may one day find a use for it and on that day, if you’ve hauled it out of The Valley to the dump, you are going to kick yourself

and Two: if you do decide to trash it, it is very difficult to throw things away. When you’re heading to Town and have multiple 55 gallon barrels for gas and suitcases for months of travel and recycling and trash from months of discard there isn’t a lot of room for the things you want off of your property and special trips into town to take away items are once in a blue moon. It’s just rare to have the room and so…things pile up.

I spent my first day (blue and white striped Traindriver overalls in action. I meant business) amongst the mayhem: lumber. There were lumber piles everywhere. Some were covered, some weren’t, some were still good, some were bad but all were both visible and taking up room and if I didn’t act now, they would be frozen in by the time we returned and unable to move until Spring.

I’ve never lived to quite an extreme like that, where the urgency a season imposes is both physical and mental and affects not just you but your things. Sure, I’ve cleaned gutters but here, you’d have to remove gutters (we don’t have any, so no worry there). It’s a whole new level. You have to think ahead. What will I need and if I need something, how can I make sure it doesn’t freeze into the ground? It’s a whole new fishbowl for me.

And so, (after three hours spent separating our recycling – we are working on a new system but for now, it all goes in one bag and then someone gets awarded the sloppy mess of sorting it. I won! Remember last Trash Day?) I spent the day unearthing old piles of lumber, separating the good from the bad and carrying it to more discreet lumber stashes on the property which I made with pallets I slowly hauled over to each site (who knew those things were so heavy?!). What I thought would take a few hours took me an entire day. I was dirty from head to toe and my arms were so tired I’d thought they might fall off.

The next day The Chief finally had the day off too and we spent it again moving things: an old snow machine had to be moved onto a pallet but it didn’t drive and so after many heaves and hos and brainstorming problem solving and ratchet strap configurations, we got it onto the pallet and stabilized it via a nearby tree. It’s the (seemingly) little things like that which take forever. Half the day gone just securing and moving things on the property and it was looking much better. I’d been wanting to get my hands on this project for a whole year now and it was finally happening.

Just then, we started talking about what to do with out food when we thought to call a friend who runs a freezer all Winter. We thought we’d check to see if we could put our food in it until we returned (at which point our “freezer” would simply be totes left outside, since it’s so cold they stay frozen). Our actual freezer is great but without having the generator run every few days it will melt. If we were leaving in December it wouldn’t be an option but until it gets cold enough outside to keep it frozen via nature we had to figure something else out. Our friend kindly obliged and the rush was on: we had to get the items to him that day because he was leaving. He also said he could store our non-freezables.

Holy moly! This was a gift from the Gods.

Stop the projects and change gears: food time.

We went inside and in the scurry I immediately lost all of my prior understanding of what happens when things freeze.

“Can canned peaches freeze?”

“Yes. Well, sort of.”

 

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Sort of sorting, sort of losing my mind

 

Huh? Apparently they might get a little mushy and the can might get distorted. Pickles? They might get mushy too but the vinegar content makes the freeze lighter than just straight water. No water could be left in anything in our house or it would break its container.

In our house.

Our house which is going to freeze.

Everything inside it is going to freeze.

Our house is going to be an unattended igloo.

This just doesn’t seem real to me.

And so I spent the next hour confused and confusing, wondering if we could leave dish soap and forgetting that I knew we could. We were rushing to get everything together but still needing to prioritize. We hadn’t planned on doing the food clean-up until the last day and so the sudden rush and flurry brought the stress levels out in the open.

We took everything out of our freezer and I snapped a picture so as to remember when we were shopping this December what we actually will need. The Chief started bagging it all up when it dawned on me: we still needed to eat. We were days away from leaving and here we were throwing all of our food in one (inaccessible) basket.

 

 

 

Duh. We knew that. But these are the things we forget when we rush.

And so I separated a few things, trying not to take out too much lest we waste it but not wanting to take out too little and end up eating trail mix for dinner. That’s the thing as you start to shut the house down: ideally you run out of everything on your very last day. In reality: you run out of things in an awkward kerplunk as the last bit of sugar falls out of the bag and you only have half of what the recipe calls for – hey, you wanted it light anyways, right?

Coffee was the first thing we noticeably ran out of. No biggie, we switched to tea. Then we ran out of milk (both our almond milk and our regular milk). No biggie. We had canned milk that…we had packed up already to give to our friend who was keeping our food. Who knew where it was in the boxes. Ugh.

And so, you go without or get creative but mainly, you just start getting excited for Town where you can go and get whatever you need pretty much whenever you need it (or simply want it).

The Land of Plenty looks pretty good when you’re coming from scarcity.

We finished packing up the foods for the house and The Chief made the limping journey in our not so working truck to pick up our last delivery of mail and drop off the goods. When he returned a few hours later (like I said, everything takes so much longer than you think it will out here) I had picked up more of the yard and moved more lumber. We were beat but so happy to have the food taken care of. We had been scheming the past week over whether we could create enough charge on our batteries to leave it plugged in and running off of them until the snow came but the idea of leaving the batteries unattended and working made both of our stomachs churn. We had thought of other people’s houses we might be able to stash it at or people who might enjoy the goods but nothing was easier and fit better than simply packing it all away in one spot. What a relief (thank you, thank you!).

Next up the following day was the inside shakedown and the outside burn. I took the inside and The Chief took the outside. I detailed every inch of the oven and cleaned the house from head to toe (almost, the living room eluded me) and went through our clothes to find donations and to pack (which sounds easy but since California is basically still in Summer mode, we have to pack for Summer and Fall and Winter in California). The Chief burned the wood we couldn’t use and the burnables that we don’t throw in the trash in order to keep the trash from filling quickly (i.e. tissue paper, unneeded mail, etc.). I swear I could see his smile all the way from the house while he lit the bonfire all the way over in the garden area. There was no worry of fire in the wet wet wet woods and so we were able to burn everything. It was a great feeling to clean up so nicely.

We were on a roll but the days were flying by. Suddenly, it was our last day. The heat was on and tensions were high. We’d never done this together and learning what was a priority for each of us versus a non-priority was a good lesson in compromise both with the other and with the self.

Finally, it was the night before we left. There were just a few things left to do: pick up the fire truck which needed to get worked on in Town, pick up Bluebell and ride her home and load the truck with the last few items we needed to pick up in the valley, unload them and then load the truck so it was ready in the morning. Just a few small things like that.

And then it started to rain.

Well, of course it did.

We picked up the truck, picked up Bluebell and I followed behind on her as we headed for the heavy stuff. It turns out her already weak brakes had gone completely out while she had been sitting and so the ride was more or less a constant gamble. Thank goodness for good boots. We headed to retrieve our 100lb. tank of propane and our little bitty backup. Then we headed to the fuel area and backed into the bay where there was no dolly to be found to move the 55 gallon drum of gasoline that we had gotten filled (note: they are much heavier when full).

 

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A Winter’s worth of propane…we hope.

 

We made our way home and I skid into the driveway. We found a pallet to store my little lady on and covered her with a tarp. The Chief came over and helped me. The way the tarp was, it would have collected snow and either torn or knocked everything over. Oh. You see, I don’t get it. But I’m learning.

Then, it was time to unload the truck. But first, we had to move our other vehicle in order to line up correctly with the drop zone. Easy, right? Except the other vehicle had mysteriously stopped running one day and so we  would have to tow it first, then push it into place. We strapped a tire to the pulling and pushing truck after towing the vehicle forward and then smashed it between the two to push it backwards.

 

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Oh, the ingenuity of living in the woods.

Finally, with big enough rocks found on the property in place in front of the wheels so it would stay, the driveway was clear and we were ready to unload the propane and fuel. The propane was “easy”. Heave, ho and off you go. It was heavy and The Chief had suffered a substantial bruising the night before in a Tiger Trap of sorts and my back was threatening to go out but, by comparison, it was light. The fuel, on the other hand…let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t alone with it. The Chief devised a sort of strong man bounce station with another tire (see why it’s hard to throw things away?) that the barrel could land on. From there we could then maneuver it into place on the pallet with the others. He got it to the edge and we both silently said a little prayer as almost $200 in fuel flew from the back of our truck onto the tire and…

 

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didn’t bust, didn’t break. It fell perfectly and we strong-armed it into place. Success!

Then, we loaded the empty barrels we would bring into Town with us to fill up in December into the truck, followed by months of recycling and last but not the least: months old stinky trash. Oh joy. Me and my overalls probably stunk to high heaven but the day was finally done (minus still making dinner, finishing packing, fussing with last odds and ends, oh and harvesting all of our herbs and sorting all of their soils and laying the herbs out to dry).

 

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Mmmm…extra frozen veggies. The last supper.

 

Finally it was time to rest.

 

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Skis safe inside and ready to ride

 

Until morning.

The morning was a whirlwind and stress levels were high. I’m the type that runs back to the house to see if the burner on the stove is still on. Leaving the house for a long day can be stressful. Leaving the house for two months? A little more. And so we spent the morning buzzing around, drinking less than delicious tea to propel us into our day and being snippy. You could feel the tension in the air, both of us trying to remember what it was we must be forgetting, doing last-minute check-ins with one another (“did you remember your passport? Wait, did I?”), taking every box out from under the bed (this is basically a days work in and of itself) to try to find my sleeping bag and still coming up empty-handed, pouring out last glasses of water, putting possible breaking glass (pickles, etc.) into the sink, draining the reservoir that the sink comes from, making sure the shower was drained and moving it inside, turning off the propane, sweeping, packing last bits and going in and out of the house so many times it would have made an onlooker dizzy.

Needless to say, it was hectic and Cinda was not into it. Dogs know and she knew we were headed out. She started to noticeably panic that we were going to leave her behind. Finally, she simply ran up to the truck and jumped in.

Well, almost. She is one heck of a hiker but her gold medal event has never been the high jump. She jumped…and then landed with a “thud” on her back. She was fine, she had merely wounded her pride. We tried to convey to her that we weren’t leaving without her.

A statement which she apparently heard and wholeheartedly took as fact.

And now I remember those famous last words: “we won’t leave without you.”

Finally the truck was packed up. Our suitcases were in, our Winter gear for the cold and extra heavy-duty gear for in case we got stranded on our way in this December, was in the truck. A dear friend had offered to let me keep my plants at her house since they stay the Winter and so all of my plant babies (it’s amazing how happy the sight of something green in the dead of Winter makes you fell) were tucked into the truck’s many compartments, ready to make the 20 mile drive over a very bumpy dirt road journey (which they would hopefully survive) to their house. We had ratchet strapped down the load and I had packed lunch.

We were ready to go.

Oops, forgot to turn off the propane.

O.K. now we were ready to go.

“Lou-lou!” We called out in unison to our pup.

No sign of her.

“Cinda bones! It’s time to go!” (she has more nicknames than Imelda Marcos had shoes)

Nothing.

Moments earlier (it had actually been an hour but it felt like minutes) she had been dying to get in the truck, so afraid to be left behind and now that she had attempted to jump in.

Now, she was nowhere to be found.

We weren’t leaving without her.

“We won’t leave without you.”

Famous last words.

 

 

…To be continued.

 

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Snow on the mountains on our last walk to The River

Too Much Birthday

These last weeks have been like the story from The Berenstain Bears collection called Too Much Birthday.

Never heard of it?

Well, it goes a little something like this (or at least this is how my memory provides it to me). One of the little bears, probably Sister, is having a birthday and she just wants more and more and more. A bigger cake, more guests, more games. She’s a little glutton (to whom I can relate). But eventually, despite her initial tenacious persuasions, all that she was chasing falls apart and in the end she really just wants to go to bed. All the party guests leave and she’s suddenly with her family celebrating quietly and reflectively, enjoying the simplicity.

The end of Summer here is like planning for a big birthday, except every occasion turns into another birthday and another…and another. It’s Sister gluttony to the extreme.

Everything here shuts down. Everything. The shuttle stops running, the hotels close, the store shuts down, the tour companies leave, the planes stop flying. Everything stops mid September.

And so as each door closes there’s another Last Night to celebrate. The Restaurant shut down for the season and a huge Open Mic Goodbye Party erupted. The Bar closed and The Last Man Standing Party carried on late into the night.

 

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The aftermath of The Last Man Standing. Burnt out bonfires and beer cans.

 

And at each event it became noticeable that there were fewer and fewer faces.

The mass exit had begun.

 

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The hand cart at the Footbridge making its last trips

 

Almost everyone who seasons here is gone and the year-long residents remain. The endless birthday bashes are over and it’s back to “real life”, to life before the Summer started and our sleepy little town became a bustling beehive of activity. Back to simplicity, to eating at home instead of eating out, to getting inventive to stretch what food or supplies you do have when you can’t resupply and no one is coming in to help, everyone is going out. It’s a strange feeling to be standing still and watching others stream around you heading in the opposite direction like a herd of buffalo. It’s unsettling, and feels as if you should be running too. But you stay put.

 

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The suddenly silent Swimming Hole

 

And, suddenly, just like The Bears, it’s just the family once again. People who’ve weathered all of the seasons together for years (and a newbie or two like me). It’s the family time after the big party.

The family of friends has gotten together almost every day this week. We’ve had dinners to celebrate a friend’s first moose kill which he’s generously fed us with every night of the week since his kill. We’ve had moose ribs which we were so big they made me feel like Wilma Flinstone, fried moose, grilled moose, moose over a bonfire, neck of moose, backstrap and more and more and more.

 

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Dinner parties in the dark. Headlamps and bonfires help.

 

We’ve come together to play poker (a true sign that Summer has ended) and to celebrate a dear friend’s actual birthday. We’ve been out a lot but the energy around the celebrations no longer holds the Summer fervor. The intensity is gone along with the constant air of surprise in it all. There’s no longer the chance of meeting new people or running into tourists in our town which has taken on its ghost town feel once again. Familiarity and comfort and rhythm have returned.

Just in time for us to leave as well.

 

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The last hairs of the Little Eintsteins hanging on.

 

Yet, when we return and the ground is covered in snow and the quiet is upon us, the family will still be here or be returning as well. We will reconvene after seeing our loved ones down South and return to the North and to Winter and to our Northern family of friends.

Cheers to the end of the never-ending parties and to the start of the quiet here. I’m sure I’ll miss the Summer in the dark days of Winter but for now, I welcome the calm with open arms.

But first, to the South, to the Golden State.

To California.

 

 

A Reinterpretation of Thumbs

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When I was a child of 6 I had a bunny. Her name was Cinnabun due to her cinnamon color (not because of my affinity for cinnamon buns, though it is strong and not for Cinnabon the company. It was not even around at this point. Gasp! Contain yourself, or at least try to) and because she was a bun (short for bunny, ya know?). My parents had divorced years earlier and so she was a Dad’s House Bunny instead of a Go With Me Everywhere type bunny. And that was o.k., or so I thought.

Cinnabun made my time at my Dad’s house more bearable for me and she had been a breath of fresh, non-murderous air from my previous Dad’s House pets. My previous Dad’s House pets had all seemed to be been living out some sort of Roman Coliseum enactment. I had owned two rats whom had been incorrectly sexed as girls. I came to find out quickly that they were, in fact, boys. Two male rats might as well be two warring tigers, each with meat strapped around his neck to further entice the other into battle.

At night the battles began. Almost as soon as “good-nights” had been said the Battle Royale would begin. There would be squealing and shrieking and tearing about the cage, breaking their little wheel and spilling their food and water. I would turn on the light to find panting rats and blood everywhere. The moment I turned the light off, the battle would start again.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me or dare I say anyone, my Dad decided not to intervene for months and so every night I would pile pillows over my ears, in tears over the viciousness happening right behind my head (they were on a bookshelf behind my bed).

So that was one set of Dad’s House pets.

The next were 7 goldfish. At first, they were delightful; bright orange and gold floating little creatures with big eyes and hungry mouths. I loved them. For some reason the only container I was allotted was a Rubbermaid wash basin to house my new pets and so it was perhaps because of this that the Murderous Goldfish was born from within a potentially good goldfish. The bad seed bloomed.

Every day I would come home from school to find another goldfish dead. I didn’t get it. They were fed and housed and I talked with them non-stop (oh, maybe they were bored?). Sure, their accommodations were small but I was working on that.

Throughout the school week homeward I would come everyday to find one more dead goldfish each one looking suspiciously more roughed up. This was not just failing goldfish. Finally, the end of the week came and one goldfish was left standing. We realized once we looked back on the week (and the states of the goldfish) that he had in fact been killing the other goldfish. My Dad said he had seen him chasing after one, pushing it towards the corners.

How was I supposed to love this monster whom had killed all of the others? He was a jerk of a fish if I’d ever seen one. He even scared me. I would come to the “tank” and he would swim back and forth, jumping at me menacingly. I don’t remember what happened to this guy (he remained unnamed). He lived for a while and then after lamenting again and again to my Dad that all of my pets were murderers I returned one week for Dad’s House Days and the brute was gone. Perhaps the sewer systems of Sonoma County would know his whereabouts.

At his disappearance I was both relieved and disheartened all at once and so when finally came the day that Cinnabun came into our lives, a vegetarian hell-bent on little more than hopping about to find clover I felt I had finally found my pet. We would spend hours together, her hopping about, me following on all fours, wiggling my nose in agreement that indeed the best clover grew in the northern patches of the property. My dad and I built a teepee with sticks and grew sugar snap peas to climb up it, creating a hidden world for Cinnabun and myself to pass the days in.

But Cinnabun was not a Mom’s House and Dad’s House bunny, as I stated before and as I stated before I thought this was fine.

I was wrong.

One day I returned for my Dad’s House Days and Cinnabun was nowhere to be found.

“That’s odd” I thought to myself realizing within seconds that it wasn’t odd. Something was fishy here and now I was all alone again. Where was my friend?

I questioned my Dad mercilessly over The Days together. He didn’t know where she had gone or how.

Hmm..weird.

On one of The Days I was walking along on my stilts, pondering her disappearance when it dawned on me: my Dad had let her go.

Of course! She’s a bunny, not a jewel thief or Houdini. She didn’t crack the code or wiggle her way out of the cage. She was let out.

I angrily came to my Dad with this realization, hoping to be met with opposition but his response fell shorter than short.

“I did. You should have seen the way she looked at me, Julia. She was so miserable just being in her cage all the time.”

Umm…exsqueeze me?

I argued and argued. He could have let her out more, she always stayed near. He could have told me and I would have simply brought her to Mom’s house. He could have done anything other than what he had done but he didn’t see it that way. Plus, he added, his girlfriend thought she stunk.

Oh, well that makes it all the more reasonable.

I sat in the clover patch and cried and cried the rest of the Dad Days away.

A few weeks later on another set of Dad Days I was lonely and lazily walking through the garden. I had always loved digging in the dirt but it had always been a little nerve-racking. The garden was taken seriously and I was always afraid to make a mistake. I always seemed to water “too hard” or push down the seeds “too far” and I just “didn’t quite get it”. I didn’t have the green thumb of the family, that was for my Dad to claim and so I shied away from it. That was until it was time to plant the garden earlier that year. My Dad had told me that bunnies loved Nasturtium and so, setting my gardening insecurities aside, I planted and planted Nasturtium for Cinnabun to enjoy.

Well, the Nasturtium was now in full effect and remembering what my Dad had said about bunnies and Nasturtium flower I sat in the field and waited. He came out and noticed my efforts. “Nice job kid, maybe you’ll spot Cinnabun if you wait there quietly. She probably misses you.”

Ah, a dagger to the heart. Thanks, Dad.

And so I sat and sat and sat and ate and ate and ate Nasturtium, not wanting to leave for a snack and miss my chance at seeing Cinnabun again. I ate so much Nasturtium that Summer that I made myself sick daily and all for nothing. I never saw Cinnabun again.

My Dad on the other hand claims that she came back to visit him often to thank him for freeing her.

I guess she had no words for me, her captor.

I did however see her offspring. It seems she had teemed up with a Jackrabbit (or twenty) and suddenly all of the bunnies in the countryside were a clear mix between Cinnabun and Jackrabbit. My Dad singlehandedly changed the DNA of the bunnies in our area and I lost my friend, but hey, she had been “miserable” and she had stunk, right?

So, that was my intro to gardening (and half of my intro to pet ownership. Thankfully the other half at Mom’s House was a little less traumatizing). Planting and tending to the garden yet always critiquing myself or fearing critique. Planting for a purpose and then having that purpose destroyed. Not the best start.

I shied away from the garden after that. Even though it was truly something I enjoyed, it had lost something for me and carried a weight instead of relief.

As an adult I tried again. I started with cacti and killed them all via overwatering (also known as too much love). I tried orchids (geez, why not try bonsai next? A real recipe for success) and succeeded in promptly killing each and every one, except for the one I gave to a girlfriend who had it blooming within the week. Another deflated Garden Confidence Balloon.

Finally, I had my own house with room for gardening and I was determined to make something of it. The only problem was, I wasn’t the only one gardening and it turns out, my partner in crime was every bit the perfectionist my Dad was. I was “sloppy” and “watered at the wrong times of day” and in general, didn’t do it the way it was “supposed to be done” and so again, I shied away. And all of those critiques were perhaps valid but they weren’t the welcome wagon I needed to garner the confidence to start to garden again.

However, last year, before I left for Alaska, something started to shift (well, many things inside of me seemed to start to shift but this was one with a clear outcome). I decided the garden was going in instead of waiting for the call for “more soil” or “bring that shovel over” from someone else. I started to take a bit more charge. I found the place from which I would purchase my starts and planned out three beautiful raised beds. I was going for it. We even decided to bite the bullet and start raising bees as well.

 

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The wonderful D (whom I would eventually move in with before Alaska) and myself donning the beekeepers uniform.

 

The garden was going to be a success and I was finally including myself in the process. We bought the plants and tilled the soil, built a sun shade/green house and planted all in one day. I planted all of my herbs after we had finished on my own, each time hoping I had placed it correctly or watered it gently enough since because it was my herb garden and I was the only one planting it would be obvious that it was my fault if it failed. In the garden I didn’t know exactly which plants I had planted and so no one could have been to blame for a fruitless start.

 

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Look at those white legs! Maybe I’ve secretly lived in Alaska all along…

 

At the end of a long day I felt accomplished yet still nervous. I wanted to wash myself clean of the stigma I had accepted that I had a black thumb in the garden but I couldn’t quite until I had proven to myself otherwise.

 

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Ah to be able to simply go to the store and buy extra soil. Simple luxuries.

 

Well, I never quite got the chance to prove I was planting proficient (though in retrospect I had been running a beautiful and productive herb garden for the previous three years and had kept alive for three years a wonderful family Jade plant my mother had given me that she had cared for for 20 years prior).

I left.

Maybe a week or so after planting the garden and getting the bees I ended my relationship and moved out of my house, starting the flip of my world which would land me living in Alaska. I left all of my plant children and all of my thousands of bee children after all of the work I had put into them, never to receive any of the fruits of our labor. It didn’t matter because suddenly there was no salad or serving of honey that could have come from that garden that would have tided me over or sweetened the deal enough for me to stay.

Interestingly enough, the person I came to visit in Alaska, the person whom is the whole reason I am here today, came to visit that gardening day, right as I was planting roots in California. She just stopped over to say “hello”. Maybe as I was planting she too unexpectedly planted something in me, a whisper of options and happiness elsewhere. Who knows?

I missed my garden and my bees and checked in on them a few times when I returned to retrieve my belongings prior to leaving for Alaska but it wasn’t the bounty that I needed, it was the confidence I gained seeing the garden grow each time I returned. It was bountiful and I had planned and planted it. I hadn’t pressed the roots in too hard. I hadn’t transplanted them too roughly. I had given them a good start and with a little water and tending to they had grown into an amazing garden.

Once in Alaska, I missed having a garden even more since fresh can be hard to come by at times. But I planned instead of fretted (it was too late by the time that I realized that I was living with The Chief to get a garden growing) and got excited for the next year.

Well, the next year is here and despite its lessening, I have to admit that my self-doubt still whispers in my ear from time to time.

I was certain I wouldn’t be able to grow anything from seed.

I was wrong.

 

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I was certain I would plant incorrectly.

I was wrong.

I was certain that my starts wouldn’t fend as well as my neighbor’s did.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

You see, we have a communal garden between our neighbors and ourselves. There’s four of us and as the other couple is more experienced at gardening, I felt myself shying away again, feeling insecure, sure I would ruin something. But, between their encouragement and The Chief’s I started to have faith in the greenness of my thumb and let old insecurities start to fade away. Why not let them go? A fresh start.

 

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We all spent the day mending the greenhouse and planting seeds together

 

Sure, some things in the garden didn’t fare as well as others and despite even buying starts some of the starts I bought are now as big as my garden was in California within a week of transplant (and we transplanted the starts here a month and a half ago).

 

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Welcome in.

 

The soil needs work and the greenhouse needs further repair. Cilantro bolts overnight it seems and the garden can be soaked to the bones from watering in the morning and bone dry by midday. Gardening in Alaska is a whole other beast and you know what? It’s kind of perfect for me.

In California things grow easily. After the last frost it’s game on. There’s very little covering at night or babying of plants. For the most part, watering is sufficient given the right medium (soil) and the bounty is well, bountiful.

Here in Alaska the growing season is, just like most things in the Summer here, a race. Starts get going early on from seed and remain indoors until the last frost but often what one thinks is the last frost is in fact the second to last frost. I lost a few plants that way (and a shower unit due to freezing pipes). It’s all a gamble. You can have every aspect perfect and still, you might leave a plant out overnight and suddenly months of work are gone.

Oh well.

For a fearful gardener like myself, one might think this Alaska scenario would be defeating but, in fact, it inspires me. I feel like a mother bear protecting her young. The elements can be kind or cruel and its up to us and our neighbors to keep the plants going. Plus, there’s always room for improvement. Plus plus there’s never a critique or a lack of faith sent my way, only encouragement and that is worth more than I ever knew. And besides, even if I couldn’t grow anything myself, Alaska provides a bounty which constantly surprises me.

 

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A harvested Shepard’s Purse and Chamomile cuddle. Two hearts.

 

This year I started Nasturtium from seed. I worried it wouldn’t grow as I didn’t have the appropriate seedling mix. It grew. I watched it sprout as there were still snow patches outside. It grew alongside the celery that I grew from scraps over winter. It grew along with the many other starts that came up with it. Sure, some of them failed, some of them faltered, some of them, well, it is yet to see what they will do. That’s the joy of gardening now for me. It’s become an experiment. I take mental notes about what did what and when and contemplate why. I’ve started to shift from “you killed it” to “why did that not work and what can I do differently”? It’s no longer so personal and I worry less that I’ll be found out as the culprit for failure. Things come and go, ebb and flow. A perfect garden doesn’t exist, but ours will keep getting better through listening to the lessons it teaches.

 

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The Nasturtium hasn’t put out flowers yet and who knows if it ever will but over 20 years after the Cinnabun incident I still look at them daily and smile (and gag a bit). No longer do they have to stand for a Summer of heartache (and stomach-aches) but for a change of heart towards myself. My thumbs are neither green nor black but sometimes they are the color of the Earth in which they dig to create life. Our garden may not be perfect but it’s helped me to realize that nothing is.

It’s my first garden in Alaska, my first time planting Nasturtium as an adult and even better, it’s the year that the bunnies have returned to our valley. They are on a sort of seven-year cycle. They come back, the Lynx come back, the Lynx eat the bunnies, the bunnies die out, the Lynx go hungry and then die out and then, they start back around all over again.

Nasturtium and bunnies again. Oh, Alaska, your serendipity never ceases to amaze me.

Thank you.

Summer Speed & The Solstice Countdown

Solstice has always been a celebration of light for me, a nod to the sun in thanks for her light and energy and a sort of kick off to the festivities of Summer.

Let the fun begin.

Every year it’s been that same feeling of joy for the sun.

 

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Until this year.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a lizard for the sun. I find the place with the most Vitamin D per square inch everyday and put myself right in its light, moving with the sun as it draws across the sky.

But this year, Solstice was different. For one, I was still sick with Tonsillitis (last year I was also afflicted with a malady. Perhaps Solstice is my body’s annual fall apart moment) but being sick didn’t mean I wasn’t happy for the day, it just made me realize that I was happy for a different reason than I ever had been before.

The Winter Solstice this past Winter was a true celebration. We had made it through the darkest hours and from there it could only get lighter. But with the light come the crowds and with the crowds our small town of maybe 20 turns into a bustling tourist town with hundreds of people all wanting their piece, all here for a short time, all needing to get it all in. How we live becomes a sort of experience for others to snap shots of and report home about. Our life becomes this commercialized package for others to buy and record. We’ve had people step in front of the fire truck as we were driving in order to snap a shot of us. Friends have had lost tourists wander into their tucked away cabins. There’s a sense of shattered privacy and protection.

If that’s how you want to look at it or that’s what you want to focus on.

It can also be a great chance to meet new people from all over the world as long as you open yourself up to it.

Either way, either approach, it’s a world changed and light years away from the solitude and silence of Winter and a shift that everyday I have to prepare myself to see the best in.

So in celebration of the light returning this Winter, there was also an apprehension built-in. Thank goodness for the light, the energy, the plants and animals coming out to play and also, a sort of buckling up for the wild ride of the Summer approaching.

Summer Solstice to me has always been a celebration of light but I realized this year that I had been looking at it backwards, or ignoring what I knew: the Summer Solstice means that every day forward, the light is decreasing. It’s a departure from light.

 

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The sun barely sets, she just makes shadows.

 

Winter will soon be here.

The Chief and I were celebrating the Summer Solstice at The Restaurant and among the crowds of people I felt a sudden sense of overwhelm come over us both. But I paused as I realized that our friend was packing her bags in the Southern Hemisphere and I looked to The Chief, smiled and said:

“Winter is on her way. We are heading back to the dark.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him beam like he did that night.

I love Winter. But come last Fall as we bid adieu for 5 weeks, it was in the back of both of our minds that perhaps I wouldn’t like Winter, perhaps I would utterly despise it and then where would we go from there? So when I looked to him that night, a year later and truly happy to feel the approaching shift towards Winter, I swear I saw his heart do a happy dance.

We had so many uncertainties going into the dark together, so many unknowns. I literally walked into it blind with no idea of what I was getting myself into.

But I did not walk in alone.

And so we came out on the other side excited for another turn in the dark. Another Winter together in the woods, this time a little less blind. There will be snow machine trips to take, lessons to learn, time to just breathe, away from the hustle of Summer and away from the Springtime Shoulder Season of her approach. You see, the Summer here is completely opposite from any Summer I’ve spent anywhere else.

Before now, Summer to me meant cookouts and beach days, lazy hours by the pool, popsicles and ice cream, road trips, gardening and an overall sense of play and relaxation. I’ve always worked a lot as well, but there was a milder sense of urgency to earn in the Summer versus the Winter (work time).

Not here.

Summer means Go Time.

Summer is the time to hustle. To work as much as possible to make your money for the Winter months ahead. This week I worked over 50 hours, driving or biking or walking 30-60 minutes each way. It feels as if I haven’t been home in over a week because the only time I am home is to sleep off the day and prepare for another.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not all work and no play. The Summer here is also filled to the brim with things to do. Mondays are Movie Night, Wednesdays are Fire Night, Thursdays are Open Mic Night, Fridays are for Softball, Saturdays there is usually a band playing somewhere and Sundays are for Roast Chicken and Tunes. There’s also Yoga Classes and Craft Nights and Farmer’s Market and Rock Building Party and Events which I’ve never been able to attend. Every day can be filled to the brim with work and play and every night filled with a few hours of sleep to refuel for the next. Even if I don’t go out I still never get home before 11pm. Thankfully, the sun seems to make solar-powered people out of us all because despite little sleep and lots of work, we all seem to power through with energy not felt the other 9 months of the year.

And so it makes sense to miss Winter in ways, to miss the quiet and the calm before the party/work storm.

But for now, it is Summer. I haven’t seen a sky full of stars in quite some time because the sun graces us for what feels like the whole day and I can walk without a headlamp at any hour and place my feet with certainty. Instead of miss the stars I try to remember that it will be Winter before I know it and I’ll miss the gifts the light brings like…

Just Being Outside. No agenda. No rush. No need to do calisthenics to keep warm. Lazily walking the property to see how the sun has changed the earth’s face instead of hustling to beat the cold back inside.

 

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Color. The Winter is beautiful in its pristine white but a pop of color brightens the soul. I swear it took a month for my eyes to adjust to seeing all the different colors again instead of simply shades of white and grey.

Ice Cream. ‘Nuff said. There’s a store and everyday they have ice cream. Every day. Luckily for the integrity of the seams in my pants, I typically get off of work long after the ice cream store is closed but just knowing that it’s there makes my little heart sing.

Playing Outside & Exploring. Being able to just throw on a pair of running shoes and take off into the wild. Hiking on the glacier or along the river and hearing the rush and the movement of water broke the sense of stasis that a valley blanketed in snow created. Having the outside be accessible again without having to pack as if going out to war is so amazing and living in a place that is an outsider’s dreamland doesn’t hurt either. Sure, we may not have as much time as I’d like to go out and enjoy it but at least it’s there for the times when we can sneak away to it.

 

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Hiking on the West Side of The Glacier towards The Archway – an enormous arch of ice that leads deeper into The Glacier

 

Bare Skin. In the Winter I would walk twice daily to see the Sunrise and the Sunset. Every time I went out I would expose as much skin as I could to soak up the sun but often that only meant that I could sneak out my face or my hands and only for a few moments. Bare arms and legs in the hot sunshine makes my day everyday.

Friends. It’s impossible to walk through town without a familiar face and a hug. In the Winter we had to seek out company other than one another and 20 below zero temperatures didn’t make engagements any easier. To be able to just see sweet faces about our world (some that we only get to see for a few days a year) without planning and packing all day for it is a treat I try not to take for granted.

Gardens. In the Winter, the only living things in the house were the vegetables I was trying to grow from scraps (try it. It’s awesome. Even in the dead of Winter in Alaska I had green onions, celery and romaine lettuce growing). I missed seeing blossoms and blooms. The smiling faces of my pansies at the bottom of our stairs makes me smile/giggle every time I pass them. Almost every morning I forgo breakfast or a shower or reading with tea because I get caught up in the garden watering and checking on our plant babies. It’s magic to get to be surrounded by life ever-changing.

 

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I know, I know, it’s too early for a cauliflower to come out and this one may not taste great but this is the cutest dang thing I’ve ever seen and that’s redemption enough. It’s about an inch across. Adorable.

 

A Good Old Fashioned Party. Sometimes, you really just need to let your hair down. With The Restaurant and the local watering hole open every day now there’s always a chance to play. Sure, the bar can get panic attack packed but sometimes the feel is just right, the local to tourist ratio is in the local court and we are all in the mood for a rowdy night. The Winter doesn’t exactly lend itself to dancing to live music or staying up late with 30 friends. Sure, we get together (and often it’s around a big fire, which is pretty awesome) but there’s something about a big group of friends feeling good all at the same time, friends who haven’t seen one another due to busy schedules and sometimes all of the parts of the equation just add up to a night to remember.

Eating Out. I love cooking, but when you cook every meal you eat every single day of the week for months on end (minus the dinner party or potluck here and there) you are chomping at the bit to eat something you haven’t made on dishes you won’t have to clean. It’s pure luxury.

Overall Ease. When people ask me what we did all Winter they always seem to surmise that basically we were just surviving and in the most basic sense, it’s true. In the Summer we may be trying to keep our heads afloat (and on) throughout the never-ending Go Time but everything from driving to getting water to staying warm and fed are so much easier.

Plant Medicine. Last year I came down with my apparently Annual Solstice Malady and I was able to go into the woods with a girlfriend and harvest plants to help to ease the pain. I took medication afterwards (after someone in town thankfully had what I needed, otherwise I would have had to wait for a week for the mail plane to bring it in) but the initial care from the horsetail we harvested was a lifesaver. This land here is filled with remedies for everything from cramps to cuts and all one has to do is walk outside. It’s pretty amazing too the differences in flora between the two towns here: ours on the woodsier side and the higher elevation historic town. If there’s something I can’t find here I can almost always find it there. Nature is an amazing gift giver.

 

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From this…

 

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To this…to chapstick.

 

And the list goes on. Every day I add to it. Painted Toenails, Flip Flops, Not Freezing Every Time I Have To Go Outside To Pee. It really just keeps going and going. The point is not that I am trying to love Summer, it’s that I am recreating what Summer means to me and what Winter means to me. This place has completely turned my 29 years of understanding the “seasons” on its head and its something I have to remind myself of constantly. I like the challenge to see my world suddenly in reverse. Sure it can cause a bit of vertigo sometimes but life is made to stretch us and Alaska, you seem to think I’m a yogi. Maybe someday.

Until then, I’ll keep aiming to stretch with differences and appreciate whatever light there is in the sky, be it shining over snow or creating a double rainbow.

 

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It’s all pretty amazing.

Thank you Alaska.

Love in the Woods: Year One

A year and one week ago I met my person at the Friday softball game. We talked all night after the game at the local watering hole and as I fell asleep that night my girlfriend told me I had whispered to myself that I was going to kiss him.

A year ago today that kiss happened and it took us both into a whole new life.

I resisted at first, tried to tell myself that it wasn’t a part of the plan but it was a resistance like politely refusing the last pour from the bottle of wine. No, no, no. I couldn’t possibly. O.K well, maybe.

I drank from the cup and the potion suited me just fine and I finally relaxed into the reality that I was done for (in the best of ways).

The reality that we were together at last, since once I met him it felt like I had finished a journey I didn’t know I was on, overcame the planner in me. I went with the flow and answered questions about our future with “we will see”.

But eventually, as the Summer started to come to a close and my departure to California rang the leaving bell louder and louder, we needed to plan in order to see one another again.

The Chief had always said he would never leave Alaska for any stretch of time longer than he had to.

I left Alaska in the last week of August to meet a girlfriend visiting from Norway and to attend two weddings of four people I love dearly and, of course, to see my family and friends.

Thank goodness for the draw of loved ones; it would have been tough to pull me from Alaska otherwise. In some ways it was fear that made me want to stay in Alaska, fear that we would change while apart or forget what we had. But after living my life in that way for so long, I knew I needed to stretch and to leap with at least a little faith. I mean, geez, I had been drawn to Alaska like a magnet. Time away from one another could either make that draw stronger or dissolve it completely and that was a reality I couldn’t change. So leap I did, back to California, back to the comfort of my people and the joys of a long shower and electricity.

At times, perhaps fueled by the worries of others, perhaps fueled by my own inner gremlins, I wondered if in fact The Chief would get on that plane on October 5th. Maybe he would have a change of heart. Maybe the uphill battle of leaving would be too much. He would need to winterize the house completely and shut her down for who knows how long. He would need to get the dog approved for flight. He would have to leave paying work that rarely occurred into Winter for pick up or no work at all in California. He was leaving all his comforts to meet me in mine.

But leave he did with a one way ticket and no plan of return.

We both leapt.

California was both wonderful and rough but we made it through together. We moved countless times, packing and repacking ourselves into nooks and crannies of wonderful hosts. We were given an RV and thought we were ready to roll, only to find out that it would take a lot more time and money than we had planned, plus we would have to find a place we could park it. Oh, and the dog got skunked the first night we spent in it. It was pouring down rain and there was no covered area for her. We couldn’t leave her outside so essentially, we all got skunked.

Oh joy.

But oh well.

We love her.

 

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Still to this day I can smell skunk when she gets wet.

 

It was constant logistics and shuffling.

 

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Our toothbrushes in the RV. Looks like one of them and got pushed off the pillow and almost the bed. This is us in toothbrush form. 

 

We spent a few minutes in the morning and a few hours together every night since I was working like a fiend to save enough to get me through Winter while The Chief tried to busy himself during the day finding random work or adventure in order to give our hosts some privacy. We had to pack up my storage unit to the brim, gather last items from my ex and tidy up my life to actually leave for a stint (since last time I had planned to be back in a tic).

We were tired and overworked and underplayed and so in love that it didn’t matter because we would rather be in Choreland all day than be 3,000 miles apart.

 

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You make me smile.

 

Finally, we both felt it. It was time to leave. We had already been through so much together and yet it was time to embark into more unknowns. This time, the unknowns would be for me.

Winter in Alaska.

As we left my parents’ house my Mom and I both went weepy. If I had a choice, we would live down the street from one another but my preference would be my dirt road in Alaska and hers would be her paved road in California and so we bid adieu and an “until we meet again” and hoped that again would be sooner rather than later.

 

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Just a slight family resemblance, eh? Cinda Lou could not care less.

 

 

I felt stripped down and built up all at once as we left. We were starting a new chapter. This was no longer a simple Summer Romance. We were embarking on a life together. We had met one other’s families and friends and now it was time to create our home.

 

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It may be harder to read this way but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. On the plane, headed to Alaska. In Winter.

 

California was a condensed version of hard and easy. Winter in Alaska was exactly the same and at the same time the polar opposite and with a longer life span than our time down south.

I planned our Winter in my head. Me at the oven pulling out perfect loaves of bread while The Chief played guitar for us and we all (The Chief, The Lou and I) sang along. Silly me, planning again.

Some days weren’t so far away from that glittery image and others were miles off. The Winter is something people here congratulate you for surviving, both in body and in spirit. On an extra cold day where all you want to do is cozy up with your person and read books but your person has to work all day in the cold, it can get lonely. A phone call to a friend while taking a walk can be the perfect medicine until your phone dies from the cold and the dog ditches you because she’s smart enough to head home in such weather.

You feel alone.

You miss the convenience and independence of your own car on a city road. You miss meeting a girlfriend for a drink or a walk. Heck, you just miss a walk where you don’t have to batten down the hatches and dress yourself for war with the elements to simply walk outside.

You miss your Mom.

 

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But that is the whole point of the Winter. She brings you back to bare basics and strips away the comforts you expect. She forces you inward. She forces you to truly greet yourself, wherever you’re at and so instead of becoming tri-lingual or a master knitter I ended up spending a lot of time by myself getting to know me and trying to become the person I want to be.

The process wasn’t always pretty and in a 408 square foot home (counting the loft) it wasn’t something either of us could really ever could hide. And thank goodness for that. We weathered the Winter together and our relationship grew because of it. Without much of a separate room to go to in a tiff I would go and sit on our cooler in the kitchen to cool down (I didn’t realize the pun in that until just now) and then we would come back together with more understanding and less fire.

Spring Break came and the Break-Up began. I didn’t realize until later that people were also talking about couples. The sun shines a bit more and the hardness of Winter is over and sometimes as the ice breaks, couples too go their separate ways.

I can see how it happens but I’m so glad it didn’t. In fact, I wished for more Winter because between work and surgeries I never really felt like we got the Winter I had planned on. Whoops, I did it again. But that’s O.K. because we have so many Winters ahead of us. All of them will be different and all of them will probably differ from what I expect but I welcome them.

Now it is Summer again, the time when we met, the time when we fell in love. The leaves are back, colors are everywhere, bees are out and mosquitoes are trying to conquer us all, bite by bite.

 

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Dandelion armies at attention, ready to recreate themselves.

 

There are little reminders everywhere tucked into ourselves and this town and the people within it of how we came to be and how I first saw The Chief. Now, as I know him deeper it’s sweet to look upon the past when he was still such a mystery and I’m sure in another year I’ll feel the same again as we both continue to change.

The other day, I was wiggling my toes as I wrote. I looked up to see The Chief smiling at them. He loves my feet, the one thing I’ve consistently been self-conscious about on my body throughout my entire life. I even tried to hide them from him when we first started dating by way of shoes and socks and covers but he found them. They were the one thing I didn’t want him to see and he loved them instantly and in a sense, this has been our way. The parts of us that we’ve tried to hide have found their ways from under the covers and instead of banishing them, we’ve tried to give love to the parts that the other sees as a flaw.

We’ve softened one other’s edges and brought down our shields because it simply hasn’t been possible to keep them up. For the first time I feel safe in my imperfections and safe in my person’s as well. Sure, there are things we both want to move past or change and we will but I feel a foundation, now one year old that has been strong enough to hold us together through all we have seen already.

 

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Today is our anniversary and I am spending some of it writing because that is what I love to do. The Chief is happily researching fire videos to train the crew on rainy days and reading like a fiend. We will go out as a family (The Chief, The Lou and I) and explore and hike and then eat dinner with our friend family who brought us together and then watch an amazing friend do stand-up comedy at the Rec Hall. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect day. Heck, there might even be pancakes factored in there somewhere (there was).

Thank you Alaska for your hard-handed shoves and soft-fingered flicks to push me to where I am today: imperfect and in love in the middle of the woods. I never saw it coming and I only want to see it growing.

With all my heart, thank you.

 

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A little time at The Toe.