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Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

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

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

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

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

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

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

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

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

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

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

Home from Town?

In ’em.

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

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

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

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

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

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

A Wind Event

Of all the elements, I have to say that the wind is my least favorite, especially to be exposed to. Indoors, watching the wind blow through the trees, listening to the creaks and bends of trees in a storm, that’s one thing.  It feels chaotic but inside I’m relatively protected. But being outside in the middle of a windstorm? No, thank you.

Wind has always made me feel hectic and off kilter, as if my body and mind can’t quite seem to make the handshake on how to interact. I feel discombobulated, irritated and overall just “a little off”.

The winds started a week from last Saturday. It was “Prom” in town, a yearly event with a theme and a King and a Queen and a whole mess of mainly locals boisterously celebrating the nearing close of the Summer. As we walked into the mayhem the wind picked up. It was a warm wind, a “Witches Wind” and it laid way for a strange feel to the night.

In the morning the winds hadn’t ceased but their warmth had retreated and their ferocity increased. The day was blustery and ominous.

The next day they were at their peak. From inside our cabin I could hear trees being pushed past their creaking point. They were being overpowered by the wind. Almost every time I walked outside I would hear a tree fall, crashing through its comrades and eventually down to the ground.

That day I was working a 3pm-close shift at the restaurant. I walked there in record slowness as I stayed bent forward at a 45 degree angle in order to not be blown backwards. As I rounded the first corner out of our driveway a cracking sound began and within seconds a huge aspen tree fell right in front of me. They were dropping like flies. Everywhere I looked bundles of trees had fallen together, tripping over one another like a bumbling group of drunks. The forest was tumbling over. I continued on into the normally protected woods but the wind still found her way in, whipping through the usually quiet spaces. I had to climb over fallen trees and jagged stumps that had fallen in the path just to make my way.

 

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The stump itself stretched feet above me. Land of the Tall Trees.

 

I stumbled upon a pile of very fresh bear excrement and looked around me. The wind was so strong and the noises it produced from blowing brush and breaking trees were so loud that even if the bear had been feet away, neither one of us would have been able to hear the other and there’s nothing quite like spooking a bear. It felt truly eerie and truly out of my hands. Cinda and I hurried along to the opening at the river trail, glad to be out of the thick woods but unfortunately back into the brunt of the wind. We steadied ourselves and trudged forward.

Over an hour later I finally made it to work (a little late). The last few minutes of the walk were the dustiest and a miniature tornado spiraled into me, leaving my freshly showered self filthy and my mouth full of dirt. At work I walked into an obvious mood. The wind wasn’t pleasing anyone. After weeks and weeks of rain people had been overjoyed by the few days of sunshine we had been experiencing. But now, the blue skies weren’t so welcoming when your face got a wind rash after being out in the elements for an hour or so. And, as the days of wind continued more and more damage was done.

Two friends sidled up to the bar and told me of their wind carnage. One friend’s entire living situation had been ruined. He had spent the Summer already chasing off bears each morning, clearing trails and setting up his wall tent to live in until he could put up a more permanent structure. It hadn’t been easy living but he was making it work the best he could. When the winds came on they picked up his entire structure and threw everything about. It looked like a tornado had come through. It was time to build (and time to move out until he could build). Another friend had a huge tree fall and crush his Summer storage tent. A few feet one way or the other and it would have taken out his shower or his permanent shed. Two other friends completely lost their sheds. Another friend’s trailer had a tree woven in between it and three other trees but hadn’t been damaged. Another friend’s driveway looked like a game of pick-up-stix. Trees were strewn about and entangled so completely that it took hours and hours to clear. If there had been an emergency, he would have been completely stranded.

Flights were grounded, planes were stuck, people were stranded, missing their trips home, mail couldn’t come in or go out. It was chaos.

Yet instead of panic, the community came together and got to work. Vans were put together to get people to where the planes would have taken them (unless they were going to the backcountry or trying to come in from the backcountry. If that was the case they unfortunately remained grounded or stranded). The Chief had thought to put a chainsaw in our truck and was prepared to clear his way to work. Groups of residents went out to the main road and cut trees for the entire day to clear the road so people would have a way in or out.

In California there are road crews. Trees fall down, power lines go down. Tree companies come to clear the trees, PG&E comes to restore power. It’s not always fast and it’s not always easy, we too have been stranded at our house due to downed trees, but it was always a waiting game. We didn’t have a chainsaw and even if we did I wouldn’t have been confident enough to take down a redwood (and rightly so). The problem is yours but it’s the responsibility of someone else. Here, the responsibility is all of ours. See a tree? Have a chainsaw? Take it down and out of the road. Not “your” road? It’s all of our road. If you’re on it, it’s your responsibility, just as much as anyone else.

People spent all day clearing roads that they themselves rarely use because that’s how it goes out here and I love it for that.

After work The Chief came into town to visit me at The Restaurant. He left around 9:30pm, mentioning that he and our neighbor would be clearing their way home. I had walked the road only a few hours prior and they had driven it an hour before. It wasn’t too bad both of us thought and so we planned to see one another in an hour after I finished up work and headed home to meet him.

It was the shift that wouldn’t end and so despite “closing” at 10pm we finally got ourselves closed up by midnight. I bundled up and went out to the car with a flashlight to light my way, trying to see in the dark despite the wind whipping dirt into my eyes. I jumped into our truck, closed the door and took a deep breath, happy to be out of the mayhem. And then I went to start the truck.

And then I went to start the truck again.

The truck wouldn’t start.

Everyone was gone. Town was deserted and here I was. Stuck in a windstorm in the dark.

I called The Chief.

No answer.

I called our neighbor he had said he was going to clear with.

Answer.

“Hey lady, we are still out here clearing, what’s up?”

It was almost three hours after they had left and they were still clearing the road just to be able to get home.

He handed me over to The Chief who hadn’t heard his phone in all the noise of the saws. I had originally called to see if he could come get me but now that he was still working I had already decided on a second potential. One of the chefs at the restaurant was my neighbor, maybe he could jump me if I got a hold of him quickly. I explained my idea to The Chief and got off the phone in time to call the chef’s girlfriend for his number (thankfully she responded) and get him before he crossed the bridge. Catching someone before they pull up, park, get out, unlock the bridge, drive through, park, get out, lock the bridge, drive away, turn around and do it all over again just so they can come get you at midnight thirty is ideal. I caught him right as he was unlocking it. He came back to get me but we both ended up being jumper cable-less and so I caught a ride home.

As we approached the bridge I looked to the right towards the ice fall and told him to stop.

The Northern Lights were out.

They were bundled up behind a cloud, creating a glow that lit up its dark edges. Then they would dance from behind it in streaks of green light that disappeared just as quickly as they came.

We sat parked on that bridge for a good while, admiring nature and science and the majesty of the place we call home. In the middle of all the mayhem and destruction the last few days had brought, this moment of respite and silence was beyond welcome. The winds had even stopped for those moments we watched from the bridge which is almost always windy. But not that moment in that night. For a few minutes it was peaceful again.

We rode the rest of the way home, noticing all of the fallen trees and uprooted soil. The soil in Alaska is shallow and so root systems are already challenged by the terrain. Add to that a month of rain followed by a few days of sunshine and then whipping winds and you have yourself the perfect combination for a forest dropping like dominoes. As we drove closer to our common driveway I saw all the work they had done. Trees upon trees upon trees cut down and cleared from the road. It would be an enormous clean up.

 

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Piles and piles high up from the ground

 

We parked at the turnaround in my driveway when we looked ahead to my neighbor’s road and saw that it was completely blocked by a huge Spruce tree. It was a task for tomorrow, he said. We said goodnight just as The Chief rolled in. He too was done for the day, I was done for the day, we all were. It was time to hunker down and listen to the wind and the falling trees and pray that none fell upon our little cabin in the woods.

We went inside and built a fire to take off the chill of the no longer warm winds and put on music to unwind and distract from the tumultuous outside. We traded stories we had heard throughout the day and sat in a sort of stunned stupor of what had transpired from the powerful element. And then, we cozied up and dozed off.

 

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Io came to inspect with me the next day. This is the road after the boys cleaned made it passable.

 

Never before have I felt so at the mercy of the Earth and never before have I felt so close to it. In California, if a storm was raging I could simply drive home on paved roads and head inside. If there were trees in the roadway and a road crew was taking care of them I would grumble as I rerouted myself home. I would walk in the door and flip on the heat and the lights and none of it would really be my issue to handle.

Here it is all of our issue to handle. The next morning, wind still whipping, we drove into town with our neighbor to jump our truck. On the way in we answered calls from fellow neighbors with him, looking at what it would take to repair ripped off shingles and tin roofs and checking in on an out-of-towner’s home. I love that sense of community and the common sense of responsibility. Our neighbor’s wellbeing is our own. We all need one another out here and we all have different strengths to share.

The beauty within the destruction we all saw was the continual coming together that this community shares. We are here for one another. Passing someone on the road? You always stop to see if they need a ride. Have a lot of greens in your garden? You see if anyone wants some. In cities we can find community but the sense of need for one another is different. If I need something I can go to the store. Out here, if you need something you call your neighbors. You put the word out and people come around full-bore. It’s a beautiful and continual circle of giving and receiving and despite the unfortunate conditions which can create need, like a massive windstorm, what one receives is often an improvement. A tent destroyed turns into a structure made from a friend’s old shed. A road blocked with trees turns into a night of bonding for two friends. A dead battery leads to a shared ride and a friend to watch the Northern Lights with. Out here we are not alone, we are a community and I’m so proud to be finding my place within it.

Thank you, Alaska.

 

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Cinda Lou enjoying a finally cleared road filled with Fall colors.