I’m a water baby. If there’s a body of water nearby, my body wants to be in or around it. Label it the siren’s call to the substance we are mostly made of. Blame it on the zodiac (I am a water sign) or rule it without reason completely. Either way, there’s something in me that craves to be near the element. Growing up and until moving to Alaska, water was my north star. Wherever I was, I oriented against it using the ocean. I always knew west, I always knew home.
Upon moving to Alaska, all of that changed. I did a lot of looking at water, rather than leaping into it. Glacially fed rivers and swimming holes were my watery haunts yet I rarely dove in (at least, not on purpose). I oriented myself by the river that roughly traveled North + South to decipher East + West and again my home fell into that orientation but it wasn’t quite the same. It took me a while to get my bearings, hell, I still am. Alaska is enormous, the landscape constantly changing, and gathering perspective is like looking at a painting close up (read: you rarely can see the big picture).
Before moving to Alaska, my favorite way to start my day was with a nice hot shower. I’d come out bright as a beet from the heat and lavish on lotions and potions aplenty in my steamy bathroom. Little did I know that this daily ritual would turn into a true treat in an instant. Upon arriving in Alaska, I was greeted with endless water. Unlike the near-drought (now drought) California I was leaving, there was water everywhere yet somehow, showers, my church, my moment for rejuvenation, were suddenly a luxury.
I did not sign up for this.
I remember going to The Bar one of those first nights in Alaska and someone saying “Wow, did you just shower? Smell her! She smells great.” Granted, I had just showered and my girlfriend’s shampoo was delicious but this noticing of what I deemed a natural daily occurrence had flipped my world. Everyone commented on how lucky I was to stay where I was staying, a shower every day, if I dared. I didn’t. Luxurious as it was by comparison, it was still an outdoor shower and despite summer’s march to the neverending beat of the sun, mornings were chilly. On the colder mornings, I opted for birdbaths in the comfort of the cabin some days. Always, on the days I didn’t, on the days I braved the chill for the comfort of a hot shower with a view, someone always commented. “Did you just shower?” It cracked me up. What was this place?
Within a month I had adopted the local vernacular. “You smell great! Did you just shower?” I’d find myself saying. What had I turned into? A woman of the woods, it seemed. When I moved (read: suddenly realized I was living with a man I’d just met) into The Chief’s house, he had a shower as well…and a well. I had fallen in with a bougie bunch, it seemed. Having a well meant water every day if I wanted it. All I had to do was gas up the generator, carry the 50-pound sucker to the well, fire it up, inevitably troubleshoot it when it wouldn’t start, and fill the 50-gallon drum that was our shower reservoir. Easy peasy. Sort of. While I did find myself in the shower more days than not, it wasn’t quite the same as the steamy showers of merely a month before in California. My life had done a solid one-eighty. Everything had changed and…for the most part, I accepted those changes with open-ish arms. I adapted. It turns out we are more pliant than we think, especially when we are in love.
But then, come winter, the adaptations began again and this time, they were a little more drastic.
Shower? Sure! All you have to do is:
Step 1: Think ahead (this step was often forgotten and another day would fly by without a shower). Make sure to have filled all the water in the house, defrosted the bathing bin and get the house nice and toasty. For those three things, there’s about 15 steps total and a whole lot of forethought. Needless to say, this step was thwarted often.
Step 2: If everything in Step 1 was satisfied, move on to Step 2: Find the step stool, balance upon it as you lift the stairs, and secure them over your head.
Step 3: Use the aforementioned stool to hang the shower curtain and protective black plastic sheeting so your house and pantry aren’t drenched by your endeavor.
Step 4: Realize you forgot something upstairs. Undo Step 2. Gather your goodies. Repeat Steps 2-3.
Step 5: Kick up the heat! The fire has somehow died down in what feels like the 5 minutes you’ve been prepping your shower (probably more like an hour). Go outside, chop wood, bring it in and stoke the fire.
Step 6: Recalibrate. What the hell was I doing? Oh yea, showering.
Step 7: Prep your space: get all your shower goodies and put them nearby (don’t forget your towel).
Step 8: Shower military-style (I don’t know when we adopted this term but I’m not sure it really applies): water on, water off. Suds up. Water on. Water off. Shampoo. Water on. Water off…you get the drill.
Step 9: Dry off and dump the water. Hopefully, you were judicious in your use of agua or you’re about to be hauling a hefty load, my friend (or, in my case, co-hauling with The Chief).
Step 10: Wait for the shower curtains and bathing bin (read: a Rubbermaid storage tote) to dry. Put them away.
These Steps 1-10 can span days and so, sometimes, can your bathing routine. Showering once a week in the winter out here is heroic and despite how this cadence failed to meet my CA expectations, I was always brought down to AK earth when someone would mention and point “She has a shower” and everyone would oooohhhh and ahhhhh. It’s all about perspective, I guess.
And still, sometimes that perspective shifts. When we decided to start our addition, we didn’t realize that we had also started a whole new project (read: baby on board) and so our focus was on one thing: amenities. Yes, it had come time, time for a year-round shower. No outdoor shower for half of the year, spanning from frozen showers in the spring to frozen feet in the fall. No more hoping the system wouldn’t break (and being disappointed multiple years when it did due to an unanticipated freeze). No more set-up and takedown from inside to outside. No more hours or days-long winter Steps 1-10. Nope. Permanence, my friends.
The project started last fall and just this week I am happy to report I took my first ever on-demand shower in our house.
To say that it felt amazing is an understatement. I cried tears of joy the whole time as I laid down in the tub (the tub!) and let the water cascade down upon me. Did we come by the shower easily? Heck no. Did The Chief have to do endless research, make countless calls, and search for parts near and far? Did it work and then need tweaking and surprise us with hurdles unanticipated?
Of course it did! It was construction (in remote Alaska nonetheless), there are never any certainties. But one thing is certain now: we have a shower, shoot, we have a bathtub, and I am in heaven. And for the first time ever, we left Anchorage with excitement in our hearts to return to our shower instead of savoring every last second in the shower in Town. Our shower.
While our human addition grows within me, our house addition grows before my eyes and I have become ever more in awe of the man I married. From the ground up, he’s created for us a whole new reality. One of brightness and ease and luxuries large and small. It hasn’t always been easy but it certainly has been worth it. Together, we’ve divided and conquered, taking on the tasks most in our wheelhouse, both adding on to our family as we go, I with our babe in my belly, he with hammer in hand.
It’s wild how life can change, how perspective can shift, and how the things we took most for granted can become pure opulence. I am still a water baby, always will be, but I have a different appreciation for that water than ever before and I’m grateful for that shift. Despite growing up with it, I hope our little nugget will appreciate it too. If he forgets, I know our town will remind him how lucky he is every time he wanders into Town freshly showered.
With love (and running water),
P.S. Today mark’s a special day, The Chief’s birthday. Happiest of birthdays to you, my love. We are so lucky you were born.