California

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Anchorage Museum AK

Small Commitments

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

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments City Museum St. Louis MO

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

 

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

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

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Wedding AK

The perfect squash blossom boquet.

 

The first of many small commitments posing grandly before me.

“How do you mean?” you ask.

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

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

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

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

Was there a theme?

A color scheme?

A flower?

A bridal shower?

How tall would my heels be?

Would there be a signature cocktail or three?

Would I shrink or expand and ruin any alterations?

What to wear.

How to do hair.

The makeup.

The things.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Anchorage Museum AK

Choices, choices, choices.

 

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

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

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

Utter mayhem.

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

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

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments The Chief

My moon, my man.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Every day I say “yes” to you.

 

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

Yes, please.

 

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

Alaska: Spring Cleaning // Spring Fever

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

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

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

 

It all started with a desk.

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

I adored that desk.

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

That was three years ago.

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

Spring Cleaning.

Like I said, it all started with a desk.

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

“Let’s fix the desk.”

Yes, please.

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

How’s the air up there, dear?

 

 

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

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

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

I found out.

 

 

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

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

 

 

Like I said: utter badassery mixed with potential insanity.

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

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

 

 

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

Whackin’ action shot.

 

 

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

 

 

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

Olympics, here we come.

 

 

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

Let’s do it.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Hiding behind the shower door…

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

It was daunting.

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Eww.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Yet, now we have prettier bones.

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

 

 

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

The 60-armed octopus only now has 8 legs.

 

 

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

It all started with a desk.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Polar Bear Alpaca

A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home

We’ve arrived.

After two weeks of shuffling and switching between sleeping spots, packing and unpacking and repacking again, we’ve arrived home.

Home.

From the moment we left California, everything was different (other than shipping a case of wine for free, that was the same. Thank you STS + Alaska Airlines).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home CA view to AK.jpg

The goodbye glow.

 

 

 

For the first time, we returned to Alaska saying “Yes”.

For the first time, we returned with clear work plans for the Spring and Summer months.

For the first time, we traveled in our own truck with a working heater.

For the first time, we returned in late Winter.

For the first time, we returned just us two.

 

Once on the Alaska side of things, we were smoothly skating along.

Pre-Alaska wasn’t as easy. Our last day went a little like this: high stress, filled with rain, a broken car defroster + windows that won’t roll down = no visibility, locked out of our storage unit where ALL of The Chief’s new tools that he needs for the season were stored, soaked in rain trying to get in and then running my face into my car window in an effort to jump quickly inside, resulting in a sweet little shiner.

There were a few too many last-minute chores and odds and ends but, in the end, the skies cleared and we sat at the kitchen table, my Brother, my Nephew (the fearless, toothless wonder), my Mom, The Chief and I eating tuna salad and laughing it off. It was good and hard to leave. My heart straddles the states with neither part taking or leaving more. It’s good to arrive and hard to leave each time, each place.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Fresh Squeezed Lemonade

The simple joys of California living: making fresh squeezed blood orange lemonade in March.

 

 

But leave we did in the smoothest of fashions and arrived just the same. We were back to our well-oiled machine Alaskan selves.

I wait for luggage, you pick up the car (already running and warm inside. Pure luxury).

You drive the icy streets, I navigate.

We arrived at The Musher & Hula’s Anchorage abode around 2 am, you know, the normal hour for guests and immediately, I felt Alaska sinking in. After being gone for so long, I was missing that connection.

The smooth continued on into the next day when we gazed upon the two lists I’d made:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Blood Orange Lemonade

List magic. The Chief is in the background pondering my superhuman abilities…

 

 

One listing everything we had at home.

Another, listing everything we needed.

The Chief congratulated himself on being genius enough to have caught such a genius fiancée.

Arriving at 2 am and leaving one day later sounded ambitious, but as we floated through our chores 12 hours later, we became giddy with the reality that we were indeed heading home tomorrow.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Costco.jpg

Just one basket!

 

 

 

After dinner at R&J’s with even more Alaskan friends, we were getting more and more excited to head home.

And, an early rise and a blood draw later (we had to at least throw in some medical issues) and we were off.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Alaskan Men.jpg

My moon, my man.

 

 

We’d heard tales of The Road, 60 miles of ice covered in slush and so we steadied ourselves for a tough journey but 6 hours later, as we laid our first tracks, it still felt easy, breezy.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home McCarthy Road

Easy, breezy because I wasn’t driving, that is.

 

 

After a few quick inhale moments (on my part, The Chief was relaxed, as always while driving in insane conditions) crossing through some tougher road glaciers, we were home. We arrived at our snowmachine, with the sled attached, at the end of our driveway, ready to haul our goods to an already heated house with working lights.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Snowman.jpg

Snow aliens.

 

 

It has never been easier.

Lordy, I love our friend family.

The hard part came in heart form when we awoke from our warm bed the morning after to the quiet. I quickly awoke, worried that I’d slept too long and Lou would be hungry. But, of course, Lou wasn’t there.

 

Just the quiet.

Just the two of us.

 

Through all of the beautiful, growing up life changes we’ve welcomed since we’ve left from and returned to Alaska, that jarring sadness still remains. It followed us through California to Ecuador and back, all in different forms, despite the thought that I might escape it. It’s smaller but it’s there.

Thankfully, so are our friends.

After a cry and a realization that we needed the house to fill up with more than just our own sounds, we heard a call. Just like that, our needs were met, as our neighbor (who had set our house up so cherry for us – which was no quite feet given the inch of solid ice under all the snow. That’s a lot of Ramp of Doom chipping…) hollered as he walked over. An hour later, another neighbor followed with his pooch and after him more and more of our family (canine and human) arrived until we found ourselves amongst half of the valley, at a bonfire in our backyard.

We’ve arrived.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Polar Bear Alpaca

My favorite spot. Patterns, much?

 

 

 

 

 

Home again, home again, different as it may be and same as it always was, joys and sadnesses set in balance by those we share this place with and are lucky enough to call our friend family. Thank you for making it easy, physically and emotionally, to snuggle in so sweetly again.

Welcome home.

Love,

Winter & Friends

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home True Romance.jpg

With love, The Scribe & The Chief

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Sonoma Coast

In the 30’s

The last time I traveled, really traveled, the kind of travel where you look at your departure date on your calendar with Mr. January posing coyly amongst snowflakes and have to switch all the way to Mr. March (sorry Mr. February, you know I love you too) in his springtime garb in order to find your return date was a long time ago.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Viva Italia Siena Italy

Viva Italia. 19 years old.

 

 

Growing up, I was a lucky little toehead and travel was a normal part of my life. My Grandma Gam took me to Ireland, I vacationed with friends in Hawaii, every year my Mom and I went to Mexico for a week to beat the Winter blues and in between I found myself exploring the sweet states of our country. Like I said, I was a lucky little beast. I ate up travel with as much gusto as I ate up my daily pancakes. I loved seeing new sights, smelling new smells, meeting new people and (obviously) tasting new foods. Travel, to me, was glorious.

It was also the norm.

So, when I flew the coop at 17 all the way to our Nation’s capital, I thought it would simply continue.

It turns out, travel is expensive and colleges, unlike high schools, look down upon a 10-day Mexican hurrah mid-Spring Semester. Who knew?

I had an inkling, but it quickly became a solid reality. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate travel or money, I had worked almost full-time since the age of 14 but I hadn’t booked and paid for my own travel until then.

Jules, are you coming home for Turkey day?

Maybe, if I can afford it.

Travel had changed.

And so, suddenly, here I am in my 30’s and it’s been almost ten years since I’ve traveled, really traveled, skipping Calendar Boys style traveling. It felt like it was yesterday but suddenly, a decade has slipped past.

Well, hello Mr. March, here we come because…

In the past two and a half years, I have settled.

Not in the “I guess he’s good enough way” (see last week’s post if you’re worried, he’s full stack of pancakes amazing). No, in the “Oh sweet heavens, I uprooted my entire life, changed residencies, changed professions and fell deeply in love soon to be married” kind of way. You know, life. So, after that upheaval, the Scorpio in me needed to nestle down and settle.

And…done!

One day last year, it was like a timer had gone off. The bachelor pad was suddenly a home. We’d built it together. We even had a living room rug and a couch with throw pillows to boot. The table had a tablecloth and the house glittered with fresh flowers in vases. Vases, people!

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's McCarthy AK Home Decor

I guess I’ve allowed color into my life.

 

 

Any more domesticity and we’d never leave again. The travel bell had gone off.

Now, we answer it’s call.

The Chief and The Scribe are taking off.

Hola, Ecuador.

For the next 6-weeks, we will be navigating the sunny south in search of…everything. It will be the first time The Chief and I have traveled together outside the States and the first time I’ve traveled (really traveled) in ten years since my seriously unexpected Italian escapade.

And let me tell you…things have changed.

 

Me packing 10 years ago, day of departure: I have 25 pairs of underwear, tanning oil and a bathing suit. Done!

My Mom, watching me pack 10 years ago, day of departure: Please, please tell me you at least have your passport.

Me: Ummmmm…

My Mom: all of her nails are now bitten off (not really, she would never bite her nails, but you get the point).

Me: Oh yeah, here it is. Not even expired!

 

Success?!

 

The Chief & I packing 10 years later: 

Me: Ok, I’ve called in all of our prescriptions for refills for the next 90 days because you never know and I’ve spent the last 6 hours researching how to do this on the cheap.

The Chief: Perfect. I’ve set-up our immunization appointments and put together a med kit (unveils med kit the size of a small child).

Things have changed. My toiletries 10 years ago consisted of a bar of soap and lotion. Now, that lotion has delineations: Night Cream, Day Cream, Body Lotion, After-Sun Lotion…the list goes on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Packing for Ecuador

All the things…and by all the things I mean a fraction of all the things.

 

 

 

We could rough it again, travel on the fly like the times of our 20’s past but there’s something about the 30’s that makes you say…no, gracias.

Let’s just put it this way: I love me some Earl Grey (have you seen the double bergamot edition? Be still my heart) tea and you better believe I’m packing a two month supply, right next to my daily multiple vitamins.

I don’t think I even took monthly vitamins at twenty-something and I certainly didn’t know my coffee or tea order (London fog, anyone? Try it.)

And so we embark, a little older than the last time we both traveled, maybe a little wiser but equally, completely excited.

And you, sweet reader, are invited.

Let’s dip our toes in some sand, shall we? It’s been far too long.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Sonoma Coast

Flipping Coasts.

 

 

Cheers to the 20’s, the 30’s, the 40’s the 50’s the 50’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and 100’s and beyond. Cheers to knowing ourselves better as each year passes, to settling and to finding the new within and wherever we may go.

 

// Lovely readers: have you been to Ecuador? What should we not miss? Please, do tell and leave a comment below. //

 

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