dogs

The Weather Gambler

I’ve never been much of a gambler. Despite going to Las Vegas a handful of times, the most I’ve ever lost was $100 and it was $100 a friend had given me to encourage me to “Get on out there!”. Get on out there I did for about 1 solid hour of Juju gambling time and then…meh. It’s just not me.

Recently, we had the chance to gamble twice. You see, the weather a month ago had been absolutely gorgeous. Bluebird skies. Not a cloud in sight. Warm, sunny days.

Summer in Alaska

So, aiming to finally get “out” before the Fall closed in, we had scheduled a backcountry trip (where you fly in an airplane into even more remote Alaska). We met to match schedules with the flight company, deciding each to take one day off from work, and lo and behold, we found the perfect weekend. It was settled.

Then, The Chief’s boss switched around his work schedule. Suddenly, if we took the trip he would have missed one normal day of work AND one day of overtime instead of just one regular day. Being that his work season is coming to a close, the squirreling of dollars has begun and we couldn’t really swing it. Plus, one of the people who had given us the trip was visiting said weekend and we would have missed getting in some quality time with her.

Best friends
Ain’t she cute? Wine bottle birthday cake.


So, novice gamblers that we are, we risked it: Gamble #1: Rescheduling. We scheduled for the last weekend the flight company was open: last weekend. Labor Day Weekend, which also happened to be our one-year anniversary. The visiting girlfriend who had given us the flight and had worked at the flight company had worried that it might be too cold or that we would get stuck in the backcountry. “Go! Dont’ worry, we will see one another soon! I don’t want you to get stuck or not go!” she cautioned.

Stuck?

Yup.

Mid-Summer, it’s actually pretty fun to fly out to places that have difficult landing strips or are prone to weather delays and experience the maybe we will, maybe we won’t adventure of getting stuck in the backcountry. I mean, who doesn’t want more time in the mountains, right? As the Fall closes in, the chances of weather delays and rough landings increases and…this was the last weekend the flight service was operating. So, if they couldn’t pick us up, we’d have to Winter over in the mountains.

Just kidding! But…it would delay their closing if their ability to pick us up was delayed.

Still, the weather had been beautiful and if it were anything near how the weather had been last year at our wedding, we would be totally fine. So, we scheduled it. Labor Day weekend, goodbye! To the backcountry we go!

Fall in Alaska
Blue skied beauty

Right?

Enter: Gamble #2: Rescheduling…Again

As we cruised through the following weekend, post reschedule, the weekend we would have been in the backcountry originally, the weather showed up in style. It was GORGEOUS. T-shirt weather mixed with the leaves turning made for an epic precursor to Fall. Everyone reveled in the good luck we were having. What weather!

The Monday after that weekend everything changed.

Fall in Alaska
Cold and dreary but…beautiful

We awoke to Fall. The sky was overcast and cold, and the temperature was in the 20’s. As Leto and I took our morning constitutional, we looked into the mountains.

McCarthy, Alaska
Weeks later, still snow

Snow.

A lot of snow.

Oh.

The gloomy week continued and as the trip grew nearer, we had a gamble to make: we could go into the backcountry and risk getting stuck or we could cancel our trip until next year.

Cancelling Pros:
1. Next year, we could go earlier in the summer with (potentially) warmer weather
2. We could harvest our garden which, given the current weather conditions, was unlikely to last through the weekend and greet us upon our return
3. We wouldn’t risk missing extra work (more than we could really budget for)
4. We essentially live in the backcountry, so even without a plane, we could get out into the wilderness on our own. This, however, is more likely in Winter though, which means temperatures far colder than Fall weather. But…I’d done it before!

Cancelling Cons:
1. Not being in the backcountry
2. Waiting an entire year to get into a plane and go in the backcountry
3. Feeling like we “never do anything”
4. Staying home and not getting that backcountry release one can only feel when phones are off and all is quiet

Come Wednesday of the week we were finally set to depart, the forecast gave us nothing. It was dark and cold and the predictions were about 50/50 cold with sun to colder with snow. After a dinner sit down we decided to call it: The backcountry would have to wait until next year. Having worked on our garden since March, and trying to stay true to our aim to live better off the land, we would have been devastated to come home to a spoiled crop. And, although there’s nothing quite like the backcountry, we did have one trick up our sleeve:

Long Lake

You see, this Spring we did something crazy. We bought 21 acres of raw land, 3 seasons sight unseen.

Long Lake, Alaska
Thanks for leading the way!

What does that mean? The Chief and I trudged about the property for a month in the heart of Winter. Snowshoeing in hip deep snow to create trails to discover the property lines of the different lots and choose which would be ours.

Alaskan couple
The day we found our lots

We ended up with two and come this Spring, we saw them for the first time in Spring. Come this Summer, we saw them for the first time in Summer. Come this past weekend, we finally saw our property in Fall. Finally, all four seasons, sight quite seen.

The property sits across The Road from Long Lake, a place that has always held a special place in my heart since I arrived. It was, in fact, the first place I ever stayed in our area and it had me from my first mosquito fleeing boat ride across it. I never dreamed we’d actually be able to live there but The Chief and I had always hoped, deep down, that someday it might work out and then…it did.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto, hanging off the cliff-edge at the back of the property. Chitina River below


So, no, we didn’t go into the backcountry last weekend. On Wednesday we decided to cancel and guess what?! Come Thursday morning, the sun was shining bright as ever, the birds were singing and though crisp, the day was “warm”. The night and day shift in weather continued into the weekend and trust me, I doubted my gambling abilities, even going so far as to try to ruin the first few hours of our first day off together by drowning in self-doubt. Still, every time I looked up to the mountains, with its steady accumulation of snow, and down to our garden that lasted just until Saturday morning, when we harvested the last bits, I knew we had made the right choice.

Gardening in Alaska
Rainbow carrots!

To gather some of the backcountry vibe we were so desperately in need of, we turned off our phones for the weekend for the first time in months (hence the lack of photos). We spent the weekend pickling the vegetables from our garden. Carrots and zucchini and cucumbers found their way into jars and basil was hung to dry and set aside with carrot tops for pesto. The tomato plants with their fruit still green, were cut down and brought into the house to ripen on the vine and the last wild Alaskan medicinal herbs that grace our property found their way into tinctures and oils and onto drying racks.

Calendula oil
Calendula oil

It was a tidying up, a recommitment to our base values.

Pickling
Pickles, baby!

Then, it was adventure time. First, a hike out to The Toe of the glacier and then, a night at the property.

Toe of the Glacier, Alaska
Leto at The Toe a few weeks before, chasing a duck in the glacial lake

Being on the property felt magical. The Chief cut down the first trees ever, we started working on our trail and we had our first fire. We spent the night under the stars (it’s Fall, y’all and stars are back!), listening to howling coyotes and hooting owls. By dawn, it had started to rain and we threw on the tent fly, scooped up our Leto and cuddled into our family nest, cozy, safe and sound.

The next day, our one year wedding anniversary, we packed up and headed homeward. We spent the day unpacking and tidying, reading and napping. Then, as the night closed in, we 4-wheelered down to our somehow still standing wedding arch and toasted to a wonderful year together.

Wedding arch
The arch. Thank you, again MT

Our first year of marriage. As we had done during our wedding ceremony, we made vows to one another and promises born from the lessons we’d learned in the year past. Then, as we had done after our wedding ceremony, we walked down to the river, found a rock along the way and hollered our wishes as we threw the rocks in to the icy waters below.

As I tossed in my rock, I looked up to the snow-covered mountains and felt that, for once in my life, I’d made the right gamble. The biggest gamble of them all. I’d unknowingly gambled on Alaska and in it, I found the love I had never dared to dream of. Just like the weather, there have been moments to test me, to make me question myself but always I come back to here, back to you. With all of my heart, thank you to Alaska and to The Chief for gambling on me and helping me to see I’m right where I need to be.

Wedding in Alaska
Still my favorite photo ever


With love,

from Alaska

Fall in McCarthy, AK



P.S. What has been your favorite gamble?

Living in Rural Alaska: The Library (or Lack Thereof)

As a child, my mother always referred to me as a “voracious reader”.

I relished the title.

Voracious.

It felt energetic, powerful, and important.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Anenome flower

Like the first blooms of Spring. Hello, Anenomes!

 

I consumed books like I consumed pancakes: hungrily and with a happy heart.

As the second child of my family, born nearly a decade after my brother, I often felt more like an only child as I spent a great deal of time alone. Yet alone I never really was, not when in the company of the most steadfast of buddies: my books.

The local library was where all of these buddies lived and thankfully, by the time I was old enough to take myself on outings, we lived a mere 5-minute walk from this literary haven. It was a place of absolute wonder for me. I can still remember the room’s intoxicating symphony of smells all those books created together; pages worn by time, lovingly thumbed through over and over.

Walking into the library felt like a warm embrace, which I needed at the end of each school day. Life at a new school where I was the youngest student in my 3rd, 4th, 5th combination class, was inhospitable, to say the least. I was teased and taunted and spent most of my time in the nurse’s office pretending to be sick in order to be rid of my classmates.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Alaskan Malamute

Leto, you captured the look perfectly! Let’s get this pup an ice cream.

 

The library was my respite, my reprieve, the place where I could be nameless and safe as I jumped into the lives of the characters I read about. I spent most days picking up or dropping off books on the way home from school. My only deviation in between the library and my bedroom was a quick stop for ice cream. It was a routine I loved and figured I’d always have.

Then, we moved.

I realize now, more than ever, that ease of acquisition makes all the difference. Not being able to simply pop-in to check on my book besties as I was beholden to the schedules of others in my very young, very driver’s license-less state was devastating. Over night, the library was no longer a part of my day-to-day. With our move so too came a change of schools (and finally, the addition of friends!) as well as the addition of homework.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Best friends, 5th grade

Don’t be jealous of our outfits. Best friends still today.

 

Suddenly, reading was not solely for fun, it was also for work. As a slower reader, in order to get my homework done on time, the books of my choice were no longer front and center but cast aside, waiting in the wings.

As it does, the increase in schoolwork continued exponentially. By my last stint in college, I was reading (read: skimming in a panic) hundreds of pages every day. My late teens and early twenties found me reading less and less for pleasure and more and more for grades. That is until, schooling Gods sufficiently satisfied for the time being, I found myself a graduate. The passing of that diploma into my hand meant suddenly, I was free to read anything I liked.

The voracity returned.

Bookstores and the library became places I could actually utilize again, not just browse for “when I had time in the future”. The future had come. I made time for reading and my appetite returned, strong as ever. I’d spend whole weekends in bed with my newest book, lost in the tale, entranced by the intrigue of what would happen next. I even found myself a member of a book club, which was a truly sweet full circle: friends and books (and ice cream)?! Oh my!

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, California

Double scoop.

 

All was well.

Then, I moved here, to rural Alaska where the nearest library is 4 hours away, at best.

Luckily, the books here are bountiful. It seems I have found myself amongst a whole town of voracious readers. A book is always being borrowed or recommended or returned. I love thumbing through the pages, knowing a friend has also has sat up at night, unable to sleep for the curiousity of what lies ahead on the next page.

At first, the books seemed endless. The Chief very proudly introduced me to our own neighborhood library, also known as the old outhouse. Yup. You read that right.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Alaskan outhouse

Pretty cute, ain’t it?

 

Yet, after a few years, the pages of books I intended to read have already been turned. Thankfully, yet another resource lay at our fingertips: the local library, The Tony Zak.

A local resident (you guessed it! Tony Zak) left his house to the community upon passing and since then, it has been filled to the brim with community gatherings. We have held events for everything from community yard sales to the annual Naked Lady party (an amazing clothing swap) to Christmas dinner. It also is chockfull of books, floor to ceiling.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Rural Alaskan Christmas

First Christmas at Tony’s (circus games included).

 

Still, I’ll admit, there was a part of me that missed a library like the one of my childhood. The smell of it, the sheer possibility of it, perhaps most of all, the knowing look of a librarian about to unearth in you a world unknown. Here, the selections have already been made by others, like rooting around in a friend’s closet. It’s delightful, but it doesn’t always fit. Sometimes, you need picked especially for you.

Aren’t there libraries in Alaska?

Certainly. Yet every time we go to Town, a leisurely stroll through the library is the last thing on our mind, despite both of our deep love of books (I’ve married a man who consumes books at a rate greater than anyone I’ve ever known. If my voracity is a 5-course meal, his is a non-stop Las Vegas all you can eat buffet. Get after it, babe). Amidst the hustle and bustle of non-stop chores, time to read feels very far away and a stop at the library would expel luxurious time we often simply can’t afford. Plus, then there’s the whole issue of actually returning the books. There was nothing worse to me than the disappointed look accompanying the phrase “Would you like to pay your late fee now?”.

So, I set to rest the idea of libraries for the time being.

Until one day.

“Oh, these? I got them from the library.”

“The outhouse?”

“No, the library.”

“The Tony Zak?”

“No, Julia, the library.”

Say what?!

It seems, my girlfriend had discovered an unknown magic portal to the library!

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Alaskan Buddha

Lead the way, Buddha!

 

As you may well already understand, though I certainly didn’t before moving here, Alaska is massive. Utterly massive. Yet this mass is inhabited by endlessly curious souls, industrious to the bone and so, they deciphered a way to satiate the need for knowledge: the mail.

Duh!

I don’t know why, but I had never thought of it as an option for borrowing before, just buying.

I got online and registered and immediately, it was better than I had hoped.

“Would you like us to curate a collection for your first order or order on your own?”

A curated collection? Yeeesssss, puhhhlease!

While I was able to request certain books, the librarian also handpicked books he thought I might like after personally calling me to discuss my interests. I felt like I was back in my childhood library, looking up into the librarian’s bespectacled eyes with admiration as she inquired to my interests: “Hmm…so you loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, have you read The Diary of Anne Frank?”. How special.

A few weeks later, a beautiful red package arrived with my name on it (for freeeee – insert Oprah’s intonation here – faaaarrrreeeee, people!). It felt like Santa’s giant red gift bag had been flown in by plane versus reindeer and they were all for us.

While the excitement was a little stalled by the Don’t Touch Your Mail for Three Days fun, once I eventually opened it, I was amazed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Library books, Alaska

All dem books, plus a new rug from an oh so special friend! Love you, D!

 

Amongst the goodness was a letter to us from the librarian who had curated our shipment, a Mr. Giant (best name ever).

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Library in Alaska

Greetings, Señor Giant!

 

As fate would have it, I had also just received a shipment of books from my new job and those, like homework of the past, required my attention first (though they are much less like homework and much more like reading I would have picked for myself, luckily). Still, in the nights, I dove in. Building and gardening and fiction, oh my! My 8-year old self beamed with happiness.

I wrote an email thanking Mr. Giant for the bounty of goodness and, star lender that I am, asked for an extension ahead of time, realizing the work/life book balance would need more time.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Rural Alaska

Grandma, Mom, Julia, Frida, the radio, and books? Pretty good combo for this lass.

 

Soon thereafter, the books were mine for a month longer. Oh, happy days.

Who would have thought that in the middle of nowhere I would land, lucky enough to be surrounded by beauty everywhere and…

books.

Yet another return to childhood goodness, in the wilds of Alaska.

Happy reading, all!

With love,

from Alaska

 

P.S. What are you reading these days? Comment below to let me know!

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Life in Rural Alaska

My latest nighttime adventure. Loving it.

 

P.P.S. Follow BTB on Facebook (you’ll see the “Like” button at the top of this page) for weekly goodies and up-to-date details.

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, The Chesters of Alaska

Alaskan Puppy Love

Alaskan Puppy Love

A few years ago, I was talking to my nephew about our beloved dog Cinda. I was telling him how every morning, after her breakfast, she would set off on her neighborhood rounds. Around the ‘hood she would trot, bidding good morning and begging for treats, eventually returning home to stand guard of her kingdom.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Cinda in Alaska

My Lou, my love.

 

He was amazed.

For her persuasive puppy ways? Her treat-seeking ingenuity?

No.

For her ability to get through the fences.

He evaluated her, a regal dog lady in her later years, and remarked:

“Oh wow, Auntie Juju! How does she get through all the fences?!”

Fences?

Of course.

He lives in a sweet little wooded area himself and is no stranger to vast open areas of land but even the largest plots of land still have fences.

In a town where I could probably count on one hand the number of fences I know of, I had completely forgotten about them. Fence-less life had become so normal to me that his sweet surprise brought me back to reality: these dogs have it good.

No fences, no leashes, sometimes without so much as even a collar to hinder their wild spirits, with millions of acres to roam.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Hiking in Alaska

13+ million acres to roam.

 

Cinda had it good and trick or treat her way through the neighborhood she did all the way up until she passed. So, when we found our new ball of fluff and welcomed him home, we assumed he’d have the same fence-less life.

Right?

Well, kind of.

The poor pooch came down with Parvo before I was even able to pick him up. Then, once he puppy powered(!) his way through it, we were sequestered to the house for 6-weeks. Never once did he go outside without me and always attached to a leash. This grated against his punk rock Papa who made Cinda wear a collar, which he dubbed her “City Clothes” only when we went to Town. Eventually, Leto’s quarantine ended, and off from the leash he went, collar-less, mildly leash-trained, and ready to roam.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Leto in Alaska

Leto, when he was just a wee one.

 

Free to be.

Until a few weeks ago.

Among the multitude of COVID complications, I never would have guessed that puppy love would have become a problem. You see, Leto is a lover. He’s one of the most social dogs I’ve ever known. He LOVES people, big and small (though he’s especially fond of babies). Yet in the time of COVID, despite his fence-less life,  physical contact with his neighborhood besties, both furry and fur-less (well, maybe just less furry) has been notably challenging for this playful pooch. No going inside for his good morning rounds, no fun. And despite his fence-free life, he’d never wandered farther than the neighborhood houses he knows. Until…

Puberty.

Oh, what a joy.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Alaskan Malamute Attitude

Whatever, Mom.

 

You see, just as Leto hit the prime time for neutering, COVID-19 swept in. Not only was our trip to the vet on hold due to travel bans, but our banned travels would have been futile, as our vet had gotten stuck out of state and wasn’t allowed back in.

While puberty was a bit, umm, obnoxious (think: newfound possessiveness over his body-length moose bone, constant grumpy face instead of the happy to see me puppy of the year past) it wasn’t any worse than anything we’d already dealt with from our little Leto beast. It turns out, however, that puberty attitudes were nothing compared to the next hurdle his steadfast testicle friends posed:

Puppy love.

A friend’s dog we’d dog-sat last year named Piper, is one of Leto’s favorite girlfriends. She chewed on his face so much that she gave him hotspots and still, he went relentlessly back for more. He was enamored. I would look out the window and there he would be, on his back with her dragging him by the neck through the mud. Leto was the ultimate pushover for her (are you also having flashbacks of your twenties right now? Eek!). The puppy love bug was strong.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Alaskan Malamute I Love You

Love bites.

 

Although they hadn’t seen one another in months, every time The Chief would return from seeing Piper’s Dad he would go crazy. Still, he stayed home. Until one day when he decided that if his girlfriend wouldn’t come to him, he would go to her. It was the farthest he’d ever wandered but I figured the isolation was getting to him and this behavior would be a one time blip on the radar.

Silly Mama.

You see, it turns out he discovered something on that visit, something I wasn’t aware of:

Piper was in heat.

His courting started coyly, with Leto greeting each early morning with a long and lonesome “Hello” howl to her. Unaware of the cause of the howling, I assumed it was just a new phase, he’d found his voice. It was cute and a daily reminder (though 13 hours early for the 8pm Howl) that we were all in this together, this quarantine life.

Apparently, the message wasn’t for us, nor was it getting through.

A few days after his howling Hello’s had begun, I got a call: “Leto is here” Piper’s Mom said. Miles away he had gone, again. I went to retrieve him and Piper’s Mom said: “I think she might be in heat”.

Oh.

No.

Still, to be honest, I didn’t think much of it.

Leto, on the other hand, did.

Transformed by the visit, his morning howls grew in intensity and frequency.

All

day

howling.

All

night

howling.

Our neighbors love us.

So, we brought him inside more often than not and listened for hours on end to his lonesome lullabies.

 

 

 

His once cute and mournful cries were now hoarse from exhaustion. He would howl so hard his voice would give out, howl so hard he would knock himself over.

It was lovely.

Working from home was even more lovely. I’d watch longingly as The Chief would set out for the day. “Bye! Let me know what life without earplugs is like!” I’d think.

Three walks per day still weren’t cutting it. When he wasn’t howling, he was sleeping from the sheer exhaustion the howling caused.

Finally, one night at 2 am, we broke. By 3 am, I had consulted every puppy resource I had and the verdict was out:

Good luck!

This won’t end until her heatwave does.

More good news?

Heats can last from 2-4 weeks.

Oh, joy.

It turns out that in comparison to the horror stories I read online, we actually had a pretty cush situation with our Leto.

So cushy, huh?

About as cushy as sleeping on a pinecone.

Two weeks and 74,000,000 howls later, we’ve discovered a semi-successful Ignore and Reward system but boy oh boy has working from home with a howling 1-year old Malamute been a pleasure. Thank goodness for the mute button in online meetings and noise-canceling earphones. Sometimes, they even work!

And so, in his first year around the sun, we’ve come full circle: quarantined again. Every move he makes is attached to a leash, except for the few times I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt and been sorely reminded that no amount of treats can dissuade nature’s call. Again and again, I’ve made the drive over to Piper’s house to retrieve him, tail wagging.

“Mom! So good to see you. Thank goodness you’re here. Can you let Piper out for me? We have some, uh, business to attend to.”

Two crazed puppies in love.

One night, he stayed under their stairs all night long. A real Romeo, you know.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Peek a Boo

One of his best tricks. Peek a boo!

 

Finally, we are staring down what must be (please, oh please) the last week of her heat. The howling, so loud it rattles the walls, has become ever so slightly less frequent and his manners have improved. He is, however, on a seemingly love induced hunger strike this weekend but, as I’ve been reminded time after time, this too shall pass. Leto has finally accepted his tied up fate (something we vowed he would never do to a dog) for the most part and has even become a bit of a gentleman on the leash.

A few months ago, at a Ladies Night, back when such things weren’t relegated to Zoom, I mentioned that Leto wasn’t as leash trained as I had wished.

Be careful what you wish for.

Despite the fact that we live in a leash-less, fence-less place, my goal had been to train Leto to acceptable standards. What were those standards? The Chief and I had different ideas of what acceptable meant and without an agreed-upon agenda, things got confusing for the young lad. Enter: puberty and things started getting messy.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Shake it Off

“Shake it off, Mom” – Leto, in the lower left.

 

Lucky me, I got my wish, and training became a must, as did a family plan. Forced by the piercing cries of our oh so lovesick pup, we had no choice but to land on the same page and for that, I am grateful. I’m also grateful for understanding neighbors and for trees to somewhat bury his lovesong sounds.

Oh, Alaska, you sneaky beast, always lying in wait to serve us up the lessons we avoid best and need most.

Thank you.

Despite the frustrations of the last few weeks, the family fights and the utterly “I’m going to lose it” inducing cadence of his howls, Leto has provided us with an opportunity to grow as a family. I’m not saying it was pretty but it was worth it. Hopefully, someday soon, to the vet, we will go.

Cheers to you. May your unexpected COVID conundrums be few or if many, may they soon subside. Best wishes in these strangely trying times.

With (puppy) love,

from Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, The Chesters of Alaska

Family portrait, minus the Fluff

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Growing Peas from Seed in Alaska

Sown

The annual seed planting party has started and this year, it’s a two-stage event.

As acquiring fresh food has become more of a logistical marathon than even the “best” Alaskan shopping trips, creating your own something fresh has become more important than ever. For months now, I’ve been sporting a serious rotation of sprouts and have discovered, through scarcity, ways to stretch fresh foods farther than ever before. Yet as Winter seemed to hang on rather than hang her hat, I wasn’t so sure when the real growing season would begin.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Animals of Alaska

Sweet little pawprints in still deep snow.

 

So, I began.

While most seedlings are ready to go outside by about 6-weeks, the longer and longer Alaskan days (the sun is barely set by 10 pm these days) sometimes speed that process. The sun greets the little starts and the starts salute her back, stretching to meet her daily. Start too early and your sweet seeds will have legs for days (in this case, a bad thing). Start too late and your seedlings will still be maturing when the ground is ready, shortening your growing season. Plant now? Plant later? It’s a dance we all do out here, every year.

“Have you planted?”

“Do you think it will be a June 1st kind of year?”

With almost two feet of snow on the ground and April midway through her reign, getting plants into the ground by June 1st, even two weeks ago, didn’t sound all that feasible. Still, I figured, why not start a sort of starter crop? If the season held tight and refused to greet Spring, I could re-pot the most gung-ho of starts into bigger pots and keep them inside, further transforming our house into a greenhouse.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, House plants in Alaska

These babes have been with since last Fall and have brought me more joy than I could have imagined.

 

So, I braved the slippery descent under the house to round up the seeds a girlfriend and I share. A few days earlier I had gone under to grab my remaining half cube of soil, a huge bag I wrestled inside in order to defrost. Trying to keep my footing on our under the house ice rink, I smacked my head in the process hard enough to put a ringing in my ears. Perhaps I need a helmet. So, on my second descent, I proceeded with care, retrieved the seeds and got to work. It seemed as if the little ones had reproduced over winter. The options were endless.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Gardening in Alaska Starting Seeds

Grandma watched over via her decanter. Love you, Gam.

 

Easily overwhelmed, I used a lifeline, phoned a friend, and decided to start with the basics:

Flowers

Herbs

Lettuce

and

Early beginners (those who need a longer season, like tomatoes, peppers, etc.)

 

I divided them by the above delineations and then by their needs:

 

Darkness

A 24-hour soaking period prior to planting

Constant moisture

Light watering

Daily foot rubs (oh wait, that’s my need)

And then, I got to planting!

Nope.

By the end of the prepping, planning and pampering my babes to be, hours had passed and I was pooped.

The Chief looked at me and back at the half cube (think: about 15 pounds) of soil sitting in our “enormous” house (that was sarcastic) and gently said “It’s ok. Just leave it inside for one more day”. The soil, after being moved into and about the house from inconvenient place to inconvenient place for the last few days of planting procrastination certainly wasn’t going outside to freeze again. The nights had been cold and the snow continued to flurry and so we tucked in for the night, Leto, The Chief, the soil and I.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Alaskan Malamutes

Mind meld nap

 

The next day was the day: Planting Day (Round One). I budgeted an hour or so to get all the seeds into their cozy, warm soil homes. I mean, I’d already done the hard part of sorting and debating over and soaking the seeds. It was planting time.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Gardening in Alaska

Round One

 

Time it was. Somehow, it took me three hours to simply plop some seed pups into soil. It’s a process and one I really love to do. I forget every year how lost I get in the process and how the hours smoothly slide on by. The day was sunny but cool and as the sun made her way behind the trees the temps dropped quickly. I got up every few sown rows or so to get more water from inside, as the water I had cooled within a few minutes. My frozen fingers plodded along as I finished up by fashioning darkness for some of the finicky flowers and cilantro. The cold nipped its final warning. Inside time.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Starting Plants from Seed in Alaska

Already rising from their dark sleep.

 

It was done. Round One of the great seed party was complete and as the sky threatened snow I knew I had made the right choice. Winter would hold on, but at least we’d have fresh food inside.

Then came the rain. Winter had ceded her throne. How wrong I was.

The very next morning, Easter morning, I heard the familiar old sound of rain on the roof greeting me from my bed. It had been months since I’d head that sound, since last November, and it brought with it a sweet fondness and familiarity. Change was coming. The lightest of pitter-patter turned into a substantial stream and in it, The Chief, Leto and I took our final true Winter walk. The next day, the trails were an ominous mixture of hard and soft, packed and porous, and I sunk with every few steps up to my knee. Precarious as it was, it announced what I had wondered on for weeks: Spring was on her way.

In the last week, Winter has finally given her final bow and into our lives Spring has sprung with gusto. My garden beds I’d shoveled weeks ago finally melted their last icy layers and for the first time in months on end, I saw the earth below. I dug my fingers into the still nippy soil and looked up to a bright sun in my face.

Spring.

In the last week, all sorts of things have returned to my reality, like old friends returning home.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Weather in Alaska

Hello, butt stump!

 

From pulling out our rainboots to seeing what’s unearthed by the melt, things I’d forgotten were buried beneath the season (and our house) have shown their faces again. Processes and patterns, well-weathered by months on end of repetition, have changed and with them, we find ourselves sometimes awkwardly shifting with the season. Even simply getting water from our well is a different experience and although one might think it would be exactly the same experience for us and our neighbors with whom we share the well, it isn’t.

This time of year onward into Summer is the easiest time for us to get water. We hook up two hoses and thar she blows! Instead of schlepping buckets up and down the Ramp of Doom we simply run the hose to the top of the Ramp and fill buckets quickly and easily. Our neighbors, on the other hand, once the snow has completely melted have to walk over, carrying their 70-pounds of water home because their 3-wheeler isn’t working (though they can borrow ours, of course, but I know that sometimes the exercise is nice. Sometimes not.). In the Winter, walking up the Ramp is treacherous and tiresome while they simply load and unload a snowmachine. Two households with the same opportunity (the well) and two completely different realities. One easier, one harder.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Spring in Alaska

Spring. The Flipped Perspective.

 

As the season shifts, it means different things for different people, even those in relatively similar circumstances, especially for those in different circumstances. For me, I’m praying to be eating a harvest from these seedling babes in a few months. For my girlfriend in Oregon, she’s enjoying the current bounty from her Winter garden while simultaneously prepping her next season’s crops. We all live in different circumstances yet want the same things: food, water, shelter, love (and pancakes. Did I mention pancakes?). The simple shifting of the season makes it oh so clear that while we are all in this shift together, it means different things for different people.

Be gentle.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Growing Peas from Seed in Alaska

Tender new sweet peas. Leaves of little hearts.

 

Shift these times will, and remind us of that which perhaps we had forgotten under the cover of Winter. The other day, after the rains had abated, I visited the wedding arch a dear friend crafted for us on our wedding day and saw the stones he had placed to hold the two willows in place. I had forgotten that beneath the snow lay a base. A base of love, built by hand, stone by stone.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Wedding Arch in Alaska

Thanks, M.T. We love you.

 

It’s funny how we forget that which was familiar only months ago and even that which has been for years, every year. We forget that starts take hours on end to complete. That soil has to be brought inside sometimes days before planting. That you never remember everything you need the first time to get the planting job done. That some things that are hard for you are easy for others and vice versa. That your loved ones will surprise you with little miracles to last the seasons through.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Friendships in Alaska

Throwback to when A.T. brought me a bell pepper (!) in the middle of Winter. Cheers to beautiful friends.

 

I think in this most precarious of times, seeing that which lies beneath by shedding our winter coats, feels a bit like a rebirth. Seeing soil, shifting our chores to reflect the season, starting fresh with life anew through the simplicity of seedlings soothed my soul in ways I didn’t know I needed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Growing Peas from Seed in Alaska.jpeg

Rows on rows on rows. Hello, loves.

 

Perhaps June 1st will welcome these sprouting babes and the planting beds will be filled with warm soil, ready to receive them. Or, perhaps Spring will snap again and whisk herself away from Summer’s grasp and our house will turn further into a jungle. Perhaps some of the seeds will sprout and some won’t. Not everything that’s planted blooms. Either way, I’m grateful for the shift that has already occurred, away from darkness and into the light.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Weddings in Alaska.jpeg

This way, mama.

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Winter 50 below zero

Cabin Fever

I haven’t left my house in three months.

This reality came tumbling all the way out of my subconscious during a walk the other day and it’s been on my mind ever since.

 

Three months.

In the woods.

Mostly just the two of us.

Sometimes all alone.

For months.

Three months.

Cabin fever anyone?

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Malamute and Alaskan

I have the Fever, Dad. Put what you’re doing down and pet me (Note: The Chief is already using his left hand to draw but that was not good enough).

 

I mean, I’ve physically left my house. I ski or walk daily though mainly the same variations of loops. Yet, the farthest I’ve ventured out in three months has been 15 miles down The Road to two different friends’ houses for a total of three trips “out” since November.

Christmas, New Years Eve and a dinner party.

Aside from that, we’ve done dinners and parties in the neighborhood often enough for all of us introverts to meet our personal levels of social overload. Yet leave our house, shut it fully down and be away overnight somewhere?

Not for three months.

When I quantify it, as in “Oh girrrrrrl…you haven’t left the house in a quarter of a year!” It seems insane or at least a little closer to shut-in status than I ever thought I’d venture. Yet when I think of the time in increments, in weather, in months and happenings, it doesn’t seem that long.

In November, the at-home novelty was fierce. I’d been back and forth to Town more times than I could count. In October, I took my last trip out, or so I thought until a kidney infection had me on a rushed 4-hour trip to the closest clinic. Two doctor visits in two weeks added to all the travel of the Summer made me feel like the calm would never come.  I longed to pull into our driveway for the long haul and finally, we did.

I spent Halloween, my birthday and Thanksgiving here at home for the first time ever in all of the almost five (five?!?!?!) years I’ve spent in Alaska. Through Fall into Winter, we whistled the months away, looking alternately at the ground and the sky, praying for snow and watching as the final trickle of people leaving for Winter came to a close. Those who were staying were here, those who were going were gone.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 December in Alaska

Winter sunsets.

 

December was jovial. We finally got some snow and the holidays were sweet and intimate, unrushed and unscheduled. Seasons greetings filled our little home and cookies and cakes (and tighter pants) were aplenty. Winter had finally arrived and we settled in to enjoy it.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Christmas in Alaska

Our itty bitty backyard tree.

 

January arrived with a little more light and a lot more cold. Almost the entire month was spent heads down trying to stay warm in near 50 below temperatures. We were deep in the thick of it: Deep Winter.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Winter 50 below zero

This pretty much captures January.

 

Then, in danced February, warm and cheery. It felt as if the days have been flying off the shelves like hot, fresh donuts (mmm, donuts). The light has brightened and lengthened and finally, after all this time, my cabin fever has finally arrived.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River in Winter

Skiing in the middle of the river

 

For the past week, it’s been sunny and warm and not just the “Oh yay, I don’t have to bundle up like the kid in A Christmas Story every time I go outside” kind of warm. It’s been the “Oh no, all of the snow has fallen off of the trees, the ground is melting and the rivers, so nicely frozen into highways have been ripped open” kind of warm.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River, Alaska

A river runs through the old river highway.

 

With the warmth and the sun comes a new energy, a different energy, and for the first time in four months, I wanted to leave. Cabin fever, right?

You see, as beautiful as Cabin life is, Cabin Fever is a thing. In the darkest of days and for months on end, I’ve drooled over the idea of a long, hot bath or the simple luxury of ordering an overpriced cocktail in the appropriate barware from someone I don’t know. Other times, the idea of being surrounded by strangers and spending dollar after dollar sounds suffocating. Sometimes I walk or ski our local loops and feel closed in. Other times I feel the expanse of thirteen million acres spread out before me. There are days when either The Chief or I (or god forbid both of us) are in a bad mood and these four walls feel awfully tight while other times we dance in our “spacious” abode.

Sometimes, your woodshed is full, your water is hauled, your batteries are charged and you’ve just gotten a replenishment of freshies from a friend in from Town and life is good. Other times, your batteries are dead, the house is cold, you’re out of water, wood isn’t chopped, you have to pump gas (and of course you’re at the bottom of the barrel) and the generator, which holds the key to most of these problems, is frozen.

There are days when all you need is to see a girlfriend (yes, there are other women here, thankfully) but the only other women around are 15 miles up The Road and at 40 below, going anywhere is out of the question. So, you sit with yourself, your emotions, your needs and tell them they will all simply have to wait until the weather moves out.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Malamute Modelo

Puppy cabin fever. Leto took to the drink.

 

Feeling feverish yet?

The funny thing is, honestly, I wasn’t.

Of course, I can think of a day or two throughout the last three months when it felt like the walls were a little closer to my personal space bubble than I was comfortable with. There were days when I just wanted to be clean with clean clothes for more than twenty-four hours at a time. But the quiet? The calm? No one around for miles? I was OK with that. In fact, I loved it. The other things were just creature comforts I experience less in the Winter but miss year-round. The truth is, I’d never felt cabin fever this Winter in the way I felt it the other day when I realized I’d been here for three months straight. The “fever”, however, wasn’t about being stuck in the cabin, it was about our being “stuck” coming to an end.

The quiet.

The calm.

The solitude.

Gone.

Don’t get me wrong, Winter is hard but I think the hardest part about Winter, for me, is letting it go.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Malamute and Alaskan

We’ve all grown accustomed to it. Even Leto’s paws pray for more Winter.

 

This past week with its temps in the low 40’s (read: everything is melting) it really hit home. For three months, leaving felt like the last thing I wanted to do. Now, it feels like the first. I want to outrun the change. To find another place to cozy down for just a few more months of a good Winter’s rest. I feel like a kiddo sleepily asking for “just a few more minutes” of shuteye every morning as the alarm goes off. I want to hit Snooze on Spring.

I’ve never been good with change. Especially change I didn’t choose (read: you know, most of life). Sure, the weather might shift again. Even as I type this post this morning the boards of the Ramp of Doom let out a crack as The Chief descends them, signifying a drop in temperature to below zero. The paths that are now icy might again be covered in snow, the river might again freeze. Yet the shift woke us all from our Winter slumber and there’s no way to dismiss it: Summer is coming…slowly.

Once the Winter spell is broken, you can’t go back. The reality is there. As snoozing pales in comparison to deep sleep, we too feel the end in sight. You know there’s no going back to the quiet calm you came from.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River, Alaska Crosscountry Skiing

So long middle of the river skis…maybe.

 

Until next Winter.

Until then, I’m grateful for the stretch we’ve had and pray to the skies for a little more snow, just as we did those three months ago in November.

Only time will tell.

Cheers to you and yours wherever you may be. Whether you are ready for Summer or Spring or still clinging to the depths of Winter. Wherever you are, may you be happy.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Malamute in Alaska in Winter

Our pensive pup.

 

P.S. Enjoying the blog? Get every issue in your inbox by subscribing. Thank you!

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Elephant

The Fox and the Hound

Our little Leto is one month shy of his first trip around the sun. Recently an old friend came back to visit, reminding me of one of the best highlights of his first year: The Fox and The Hound.

When Leto was just a few months old, his Auntie E brought him his first-ever toy: Lambchop. Leto and Lambchop were an inseparable pair.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Lambchop

Two peas in a pod

 

Every morning I’d come downstairs and greet the pair, often double-taking between the two of them to decipher which was which. Despite being nearly the same size, little Leto carried his friend with him on all of his adventures. Lambchop was by his side more often than not but soon enough his mini-me started to lose her parts. An ear here, an eye there. His little teeth made his way through the toy till there was nary a lamb shank left.

Thus, entered his second-ever toy: Elephant.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Elephant

Love at first sight.

 

Despite her lackluster name, Elephant was the apple of little Leto’s eye. While Lambchop had been by his side more often than not, Elephant might as well have been glued to it. Outside they ventured together into the woods, Leto always bringing her back in, tucking her into the bed they shared each evening. He would lovingly mouth her trunk but not a bite was taken from her, ever.

One day, Leto’s Unclue Ruger (a 2-year old German Shorthaired Pointer) came by to check-in.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and German Shorthaired Pointer

Just a couple pups, out for a drive.

 

The dogs of our neighborhood love to do the morning rounds, greeting each household, checking for treats, marking “their” territory. Only this morning, Ruger had another plan in mind. In he came for some morning snuggles and no sooner had I bid him “Hello” did he lunge for Elephant and abscond with the prized possession. Leto was in hot pursuit but his 3-month old legs were no match for the long-legs of his thieving friend. Defeated, he sat on the front porch and howled, a long and mournful howl, for the first time ever.

He sat out on the porch that day, bewildered and tucked into bed that night for the first time, alone.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute puppy toys

He did, however, stay entertained with a duck he was “gifted” from Uncle Ruger, much to Ruger’s chagrin. The gift we think started it all.

 

As the months wore on, the captive Elephant would make random appearances with her captor. Through the yard he would prance, head held high with his prize daintily held between his teeth. Leto would try to catch him, as would we, but none of us came close. It seemed he moved Elephant every day or so, always staying one step ahead, guarding Elephant like the treasure she was.

And so, Leto found other ways to amuse himself.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy with Morel mushrooms, Alaska

Like hunting for Morels (he pointed me to all of these! I just had to get to them before he devoured them all).

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy yawn

And ignoring his replacement toy.

 

Until one day this August when Leto and I returned from a walk by the river to come home to…

Elephant.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and toy

No bumps, no bruises and only a little worse for wear.

 

Gently placed in a cluster of willow branches lay his prized friend. He grabbed her and yipped and threw her into the air and then brought her inside to safety.

Months went by and as our little pup seemed to grow overnight, outgrowing his elephant by leaps and bounds, his fondness seemed to hold steadfast. We’d bring her with us on road trips and he’d cuddle her along the bumpy roads and each night he’d tuck her in. All was right with the world again.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and firefighter

Little tiny, not so tiny.

 

Yet our little one, who suddenly was not so little, grew up and suddenly, grew a little careless. One night this Fall, he left his Elephant outside in the early November snow. I saw as he attempted to bring her inside but she’d frozen into the ground and so, cavalier pup that he is, he left her to weather the night solo. The next morning as we warmed ourselves by the fire, I saw a shuffling figure outside. I went to the window and watched as a fox came up the driveway and sniffed about. Loving finally seeing the animal that whose tiny prints painted our yard, I grabbed my phone to tape the sighting and no sooner had I turned it on did The Fox discover Elephant and…

After a few tugs to pull her from the ice, off he went with her (see the video here)! I barely realized what was happening before he had snatched her. I hurried outside and he stopped and turned to face me. I was having a hard time holding in my laughter as I asked:

“Are you certain? Do you really want Elephant?”

If he took it, surely we’d never see Elephant again. After such a long journey back home, I didn’t want a howling Leto to twice lose his Elephant. Yet lose her he did, for a second time.

The Fox stared at me as I questioned him and then seemed to think to himself, “Yes, I really, really do want Elephant!” and off he went with her in tow.

Leto ran outside behind me, sniffing in seeming disbelief. He paused where his Elephant had been and sat down in the spot, dumbfounded. Then, he took off after The Fox. An hour or so later, he returned, empty-pawed.

Elephant was gone.

Again.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute 9 months old

Pouting on the couch

 

The Fox returned almost every day that week, sometimes more than once a day, seemingly to taunt Leto as his Uncle had in the Summer. They would have a staredown, The Fox in the driveway and Leto in his pup cave under the house and then, one of them would make a move and the chase would be on.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Cross Fox

So much cuteness.

 

It went on like this for weeks until we dog sat another dog and suddenly, three was a crowd. The Fox didn’t return again.

Until…

One day, in the last days of December I walked out into the driveway and there was Elephant, completely encased in slobber made ice. The Fox had returned her. It seemed the whole neighborhood was in on the game now, The Fox and the Hounds (well, Pointer and Malamute but you know what I mean). Who would make the next move? Only time will tell.

These days, she’s still the apple of Leto’s (outside only, it seems) eye. Outside Elephant sits with nary more than a torn ear. She’s weathered many a storm and gathered many a tale…if only she would tell.

With love,

From The Fox, The Hounds, and Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy

What’s in a Name?

Two years ago this Winter Solstice, The Chief and I got engaged. We’d talked about marriage since the week we first met and cheesy as it may sound, the moment I saw him, I knew we would marry. I knew, but I certainly didn’t know how. The odds seemed stacked against us. I lived in California, he in off-grid Alaska in a lifestyle completely foreign to me. I was looking for a change but hadn’t anticipated a change that great. I wanted a career and living in the woods seemed like the last place one might bubble up. Yet, that feeling, that knowing I felt when I first saw him, that was all I needed to know. I threw my cautions to the wind, gave fate up to the universe and dove into a life together.

Thank goodness.

Having discussed marriage right off the bat, we had always had an open dialogue surrounding it. How would we do it? Where? Would we change our names? Did we care if we were married before we had kids? Just like any hatchling of an idea, we brainstormed about where and when and how it would all go down, what we valued (food, food, more food) and what was less important but one thing was missing: our engagement.

I figured it was just a formality, a simple change in status from girlfriend or boyfriend to fiance. Yet, once we were engaged, things actually did change.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters

Post-engagement photo courtesy of LB

 

After getting engaged, our dual daydreaming we’d nestled in together for the two years prior suddenly became public and the questions and comments started pouring in.

“Where will you get married?”

“When?”

“Alaska? Alaska is too far.”

“Whose name will you take?”

Suddenly, our private dreams turned public were instantly open for opinions, suggestions, and scrutiny. As with any public decision, that’s the norm. We all do it. I’d seen it happen and I’d done it myself despite friends lamenting to me about it. Yet even familiarity with this switch didn’t prepare us.

Alaska is a long way off from a lot of the people we love but it’s also our home. Yet, within weeks of getting engaged, we were suddenly somehow planning for a California wedding. Things moved so fast. At first, I was just looking at dresses, then suddenly I was being asked to sign on the dotted dress line, all while discussing our venue options, all while in California.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Dillon Beach, CA

She’s beautiful, isn’t she?

 

Returning home to Alaska made us realize that, just as always, despite the hard, despite the sacrifices, Alaska is our home and home is where we needed to be married. And so, we planned together for our marriage in Alaska.

One of our plans was that I would change my name. This was something we had gone back and forth about since the very beginning and it was a decision made after much debate and a little magic. You see, The Chief and I both have some interesting familial twists and turns and as we followed each potential family name, we often found ourselves at dead-ends. There were adoptive names, step-family names, names we could have created together and family names. After trying all of the above and more on for size for years, we had finally settled on choosing a family name of which there were two contenders: Page & Chester. However, other than occasionally (and jokingly) being called The Chief in town, The Chief has been known as his last name since moving here: Chester.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters of Alaska

Chief Chester

 

In deciding for whom it would be more difficult to change, I decided that it should be me to switch. Changing my last name was less of a hassle than essentially changing The Chief’s first name. My change would consist mainly of paper while his change would require a complete social shift. While The Chief agreed that perhaps it might be easier, we both wanted to be thoughtful in the process and all the history it carries with it.

We sat with the idea. It grew familiar and warm and sweet. I cherished it.

The Chesters.

Still, despite the sweetness, I wondered if it really mattered? Why do we need to share a last name when we are already sharing a life? I ran through my reasoning in my head. Some reasons were small like the simplicity of just writing: The Chesters versus both of our last names and the idea of our kids not having to enter epically long hyphenated names on a scantron test. Some were larger, deeper like the fact that growing up, almost everyone in both of our households had different last names. Everyone was a step or a half and I wanted us all to be a whole, the same. For me, it always boiled down to having kids. To me, this was our chance for a new start together as our own family unit.

Still, I waffled. What would it mean publicly? Would I be considered less of a feminist? Looked down upon by those who had held fast to their names? Would I miss my own last name?

Despite the waffles (and the pancakes), the true, most basic reasoning I wanted to change my name was that my gut told me that “Turning the Page to Chester” (a phrase coined in an Anchorage bridal shop by a spunky lass from Ireland) was an important move for me, one that I needed to make in order to transition from just me to us.

Still, logical or better doesn’t always compute to easy. Change has always been uncomfortable for me, even when it’s in my benefit. I’ve ducked many a change just to avoid transitional discomfort. This change I was hurling my own direction.

So, like any big decision, I put it up to the Universe. I’d ask, the Universe would respond and that would be the end of that.

Right?

Sort of.

The first time, which I swore would be the one and only time, to help me decide I asked:

“Universe, what do you think? Should I be Chester or Page?”

I was driving the backroads of my childhood hometown, roads I’d frequented for almost 30 years at the time. I knew every stretch, every turn. No sooner had I finished my query did I look up and, on a road I’d driven umpteen times, there was a sign, literally: Chester Lane. The sign was old, not some newbie staking their new territory. It had always been there.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester, CA

Chester Lane

 

Convinced, I drove on, feeling warm and light and calm. It was decided.

A few days and a few “Oh, you’re changing your name, huh?” conversations later, I was feeling a little less warm, light and calm. Should I not change my name? Our private decision, which had once felt so right was being publicly challenged. Perhaps I had misheard the Universe. So, again, I asked:

“Wait, did I hear you wrong? Seriously, what do you think? Should I be Chester or Page?”

I said this in an antique shop as I thumbed through vintage postcards. They were divided by state. I was sending cards to people based on where they were from in the country. Missouri for my Grandma. California for Chris and my family, etc. I was halfway through California when I posed the question to the Universe and the next card I thumbed past was a postcard of a snowy scene…in Chester, California.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters, Chester, California

My little reminder, on my desk still today

 

I’d never even heard of Chester, California and I’d lived in the Golden State most of my life.

The second time was the charm. I was tired of debating, tired of going back and forth and tired of not listening to myself. I wanted to be Chester. I would be. It was decided.

Our wedding day grew closer and closer and with it came public formalities: registering for a wedding license with the state, filling out paperwork, making financial decisions. Our once private decision-making was now not just public, it was about to be set in stone in the public record. While weddings are, at their base level very romantic, they come with a lot of red tape and planning and learning the hard way. They may not be for everyone, but for us, it was an important transition that I cherish (though certainly, I didn’t always at the moment).

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Marriage License, Anchorage, Alaska

Cuteness.

 

After two years of waiting, the real deal wheels were set in motion and in early September this year, I became Julia Chester.

Sort of.

Talking about a life change and making that change, as I had learned already with talking about marriage versus actually doing it, are two different things. Talking about becoming Chester was easy, changing was less so.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019,The Chesters of MXY

September 2019

 

A month after our wedding, sitting solo in the Social Security office on a rainy Fall day in Anchorage, it didn’t feel so easy. Writing my old name next to my new name made me well up and not with joy. I felt a sadness I didn’t quite understand. Still, forward I went. The Universe had answered, twice. I need not ask again.

A week later, back at home, I received my new Social Security card. Julia Chester. The Chief beamed. My stomach hurt.

“I’m having second thoughts about changing my name,” I told him. He responded with kindness and comfort, telling me to do whatever I needed. He encouraged me to take a pause, a breath, a moment. Besides, it would be a while before I would be headed back into Town for phase two of my name change (my license). I would take this pause, slow things down and see where it lead me.

For a few weeks, I decided not to think about it. I’ve always been someone who needs a lot of space to think and a lack of self-judgment to connect with what is true for me. It’s not easy. I gave it some breathing room. After a few weeks had passed, the planted seed started to sprout. I started to think about it again, to research. I reached out to friends I trusted, who were married and who had or planned to have children to ask how they had decided on their last name. I researched the topic on the internet. I researched within.

Then, I put it up to the Universe one final time.

“Should I be Chester or Page?”

Silence.

Nothing.

Everything.

At that moment, the moment I waited for a sign, I heard nothing from outside but from within, I heard myself say “Chester”.

Chester.

The sadness I had felt in the weeks proceeding suddenly felt far away, outside myself. The warmth returned. I no longer felt I was losing a part of me, I felt like I was moving into a new part of me and a new part of us. It felt exciting, new and pretty darn adult. Speaking with my therapist (yes, I see a therapist. I highly recommend it and hope that sharing my experience with this tool helps to remove the taboo of seeking help. If you want it, it’s there and I support you finding it) helped me to realize that, for me, letting go of Page was much deeper than a name change. For me, it meant letting go of what Page had always meant for me: being a daughter in my family. My name was given to me by my parents and thus, my attachment to it was my attachment to them, to my family, to what might have been. Moving on meant letting go of that and moving from the role of daughter to wife. My family as a whole was getting larger but my family unit was getting smaller. My unit had shifted from my parents, my brother and I to instead, The Chief and I.

A unit of two.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019,The Chesters of MXY Wedding.jpg

Something old, something new

 

Plus Leto. A unit of three.

I finally felt at peace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, changing one’s name is a royal pain in the patootie. The instructions make it seem simple:
1st: Change your Social Security card

2nd: Your driver’s license

3rd: Your passport

Badabing, badaboom! Easy peasy!

Oh so very wrong.

Aside from the fact that changing all of these means 16-hour round trips (#2 and #3 both requiring #1 to have been completed first, meaning another at least 8 to 16-hour round trips), there are the nitty-gritty changes that I never anticipated. You see, once I’m in, I’m in and having loose strings hanging drives me crazy. Having already completed Step #1, I thought I was close to the finish line. I started in on the other, unmentioned changes I hadn’t quite factored in: changing my bank, my checks, my computer ID, my logins, my email, my work information, etc. etc. and at each junction, I ran into issues. Mailing in copies of our wedding certificate, spending hours on the computer, sending a photo ID and other legalese has proven far more time consuming than I had ever anticipated. To say that changing your name is a breeze is like calling a hurricane a breeze. It’s not. It’s difficult and time-consuming and frustrating, all of which is exacerbated by our remote location.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Sunset in Alaska

3:30 pm sunset.

 

Yet still, despite the annoyances, each juncture has allowed me to continue my commitment, our commitment to the private decisions we made years ago, in our tiny cabin in the woods. For me, it’s been extremely healing, for others it might simply be a non-issue. We are all different. I’ve spoken to many different people and gained countless insights while I hemmed and hawed over my own decision. I’ve learned that even when in public it seems someone is moving effortlessly through life phases, in private, they might not be. Everyone struggles in different ways. We don’t know until we ask. We are all different, yet one thing everyone agreed on was their advice: find what works for you.

While this sounds so simple, for me, it wasn’t. It took years to discover and years to accept but now that I find myself on the other side, it’s the best advice I could give: Find what works for you. You know. Deep down, you do know. Do what works best for you and your family. It’s no one’s decision but your own.

Thank you to everyone who has candidly shared their private decisions turned public with me. Your honesty and openness helped me to be open with myself. Open to a new name, a new unit, a new phase. May your transitions be smooth and may the Universe guide you, if not anywhere, then back to yourself.

With love,

 

From Alaska

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester Christmas

Happy Holidays

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester Christmas Leto

From the three Chesters

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan Malamute

Porcupup

Almost two months ago now, back when Fall colors had fallen and the leaves paved our paths in gold, we were starting to settle in. Time had slowed, Summer had fallen away and with it, hundreds of people were gone. There were no drumbeats for us to keep pace to. The quiet was upon us.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Fall colors Alaska in September

Handsome hubby.

 

With the wedding in the rearview and no looming leaving deadlines ahead of us, without plane tickets requiring chores to be done and the house to be shut down, we were home for the foreseeable future for the first time ever in our four years together. Since our very first year as a couple, the Fall has meant packing up and shipping out to the Lower 48 and spending a great deal of money to do so. It’s been a time of continuing the energy from Summer, rather than a slowing down as the season requests and of spending resources we don’t exactly hold in excess.

This year, we looked forward to the continuity and calm of home and the tightening of our financial belts by living simply.

So, two months ago, on a quiet Sunday, in keeping with a calm home program, Leto and I decided to take a walk with our neighbor and her dog while The Chief read and dinner bubbled away on the stove. The stage for the night was set: a leisurely sunset walk with a friend, sausage soup with greens from the garden and herbs harvested throughout the Summer for dinner and a cozy evening, just us three.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute family photo

Chester Family photo, September 2019

 

Leto has a tendency to be like a horse to stable, barn sour if you will. For most of the duration of our walks, he’s within eyesight, regularly stopping to check in on me, sit and watch for me, circle back for me but there’s a point too when he realizes that “Homeways is rightways now” and home he heads, leaving me in the dust. Our last pup, Cinda, used to do the same thing and we joke that she’s up in Pup Heaven (a.k.a MXY in the Sky) teaching him her wonderful ways. So, I wasn’t surprised when, as we rounded the bend up from the river, indicating the turn back towards home, he started gaining ground ahead of us, taking a shortcut through the woods.

I was surprised, however, when I heard what I can only describe as a scream coming from the direction he’d run (and by surprised, I mean surprised and then terrified). It sounded as if something had been dealt its final blow. The something, I wasn’t sure of. It was a noise I’d never heard Leto make but something told me all was not well with my pup. My heart started pumping faster as I tried to place the scream and run towards it. Bears were still out, moose are always a concern and wolves had been roaming the neighborhoods of the valley and have taken dogs as their prey. There was no knowing what this could have been but the sinking feeling I felt told me the options weren’t great. If I found him, I expected to find him dead.

“Leto!” We yelled as we circled back through the woods he had run through. No, this didn’t feel right, I thought. Homeways, head homeways. Screaming for him and hearing nothing in return, no movement, no yip, no whimper sent my fear into overdrive. I started running home and then, around the corner, running towards me, came Leto.

Leto with a face full of porcupine quills.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute with porcupine quills in Alaska

The Porcupup

 

In my wildest worries, I had never considered that the scream could have come from a porcupine encounter. A wolf, a bear, a moose, yes, but a porcupine? We just don’t see them on our side of the river very often. In fact, I had never seen one in our neighborhood in four years. Lucky Leto, he’d found the mystical West Side porcupine.

Immediately upon seeing me, he came in for a moment of comfort and then ducked into the trees to lay down and assess his situation. I did too and the outlook was grim. I’d seen dogs with quills before but they’d always been few enough to pull ourselves. This was another level. He started thrashing about, trying to pull them out with his paws, each time coming precariously close to the one just centimeters from his eye. In his panic, he threw open his mouth and I saw the roof, littered with quills.

This was bad.

Still, he wasn’t dead. A face full of quills was suddenly the best-case scenario I hadn’t considered and bad as it was, I was glad we were in it as opposed to the other fears that had fetched my mind.

Finally, we convinced him to come home with us but the quills in his paws must have been excruciating as he would duck back into the soft mossy ground of the woods every few paces and lay back down. I needed to get him home to where the pliers were to see if this was something we could even handle on our own. Finally, he just stopped.  He wouldn’t move and I couldn’t get a hold of The Chief as he was fully ascribing to our evening electronics shutdown goal and his phone was off.

Our neighbor offered to go and get him while I stayed with Leto. I didn’t want him running off deeper into the woods like he wanted to. I had a flashback of our Cinda doing the same thing when she got the injury that eventually ended her life and it made me sick to my stomach. Off E went to fetch The Chief and just as I heard our truck rumbling closer, Leto decided he could make the journey home.

Like ships in the night, the missing game began. The Chief came my way, I went back his way. Now we both were panicked. Back at home, Leto tucked himself in under the house. I crawled in after him, still listening to The Chief calling for us but still not wanting to leave Leto. Our neighbor came to check on us and saw that The Chief had missed us and off she went to find him again. Thankfully, this time when ships in the night floated past one another again as he turned back home at the same moment as she arrived to tell him where we were, The Chief was headed back to us. The Laurel and Hardy, Who’s on First routine certainly didn’t help the frustration of an evening already thoroughly thrown off the rails.

Quiet night?
I think not.

After we pulled the first quill, huddled under the house with headlamps, Leto knew the game and was not a willing player. Quills are barbed, like sea urchin spines and so when they go in, they lodge there, making pulling them out extremely painful. He was wild-eyed and after pulling 15 or so, we realized that this was not going to work. There was no way we could get the quills in his mouth, he wouldn’t dare let us near them. Another neighbor came over to check on us and validated what we feared: a trip to the vet was in order.

Tonight.

The emergency vet was four hours away and I didn’t know if she was even on-call these days (I called our regular vet and she was out of town and wouldn’t be back for weeks). Thankfully, she was.

“How soon can you get here?”

“Probably by 11 pm, depending on how good driving through The Pass goes.”

And so, we set out to drive the wintry pass to Valdez. We loaded our quill-faced pup into the car where, after an hour of pain and thrashing and panic, exhaustion started to set in. He sat up, trying to sleep without putting pressure on any of the quills, not being able to rest his head. The drive was dark and tense as we still hadn’t purchased our much needed new headlights (after losing not one but two lightbars to the 60-mile bumpy dirt road) and the view of the night was dim at best. I put on an audiobook to lighten the mood: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. If you know the book, or just even a basic history of our beginnings, you know that it didn’t quite do the trick.

Finally, four hours later, we arrived. Still, despite everything, Leto wagged his tail and joyfully greeted the vet. He’s a big fan of new friends. A few minutes later the sedation came on and the quills started coming out. His face filled with blood as she ripped the quills out of his delicate lips and sweet little nose but it wasn’t enough and he thrashed about, despite all three of us holding him down, screaming and crying as only a Malamute can do. It was awful. Finally, with more sedation, she was able to prop open his mouth to unveil the work to be done inside. It was like a cave with stalactites and stalagmites. Top to bottom was filled with quills: tongue, roof, cheeks, gums. She started pulling. Some were wedged in sideways, going longways through his gums but she worked methodically to get them out and soon he was near finished.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute with porcupine quills

Still smiling (or just very stoned).

 

She checked his body for any stragglers and found them in his back, his neck, his paws and his shoulders. We had a moment of lightness as we joked, “Did he roll on it?!”. I pictured him trying for a tasty bite of the “spikey bunny” and being in such shock at the pain of the taste that he fell and rolled onto the poor creature. Some quills came out quickly after we found them (which is no easy feat since the quills burrowed through three layers of fur) but some had gone in completely and lay flat against his shoulder blade and face. She tried to cut them out but decided they weren’t going to budge. “They will work themselves out”.

Two hours, one very wobbly drugged dog and 400 plus dollars later, we were out the door, in Valdez at 1 am with nowhere to stay. We stopped by every hotel we could find but as the tourist season had just closed shop for the year, our pickings were slim. We took turns running into the hotels and each time came back with a thumbs down: no dogs allowed. Finally, the last hotel allowed dogs for a 20 dollar fee per night.

20 dollars in addition to their nightly rate of almost 200 dollars.

Thankfully, the front desk took pity on our little man and gave us a discount bringing the total to just under 200 dollars.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute after the vet

Still a stoney baloney

Still not able to walk, The Chief carried Leto through the slippery parking lot. He howled and cried every time he moved even an inch, in pain and dysphoric from the drugs. We settled into our very expensive hotel room and I washed the night off of me with a bath. Leto whimpered and panted all through the night. None of us slept well. The next day, my morning started early and with yet another bath (someday, someday I will have a bathtub and I won’t even have to pay 100 dollars per bath) as I prepared for three hours of Monday morning meetings at work. Thankfully, there was a breakfast buffet.

A few hours and a few meetings later and it was checkout time. Leto still could barely put pressure on his paws but he finally peed on his own. It was time to go home. We filled up on fuel and grabbed some road snacks and off we went.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Valdez, AK

At least it was a beautiful drive.

 

What a Sunday. What a start to the week.

Four hours later, we returned home where yesterday felt very far away.

In just 12 hours, we had spent over 800 dollars of unplanned expenses and our quiet, cozy Fall evening had turned into a panicked, hours-long stress fest. We were all completely exhausted, but we were home.

Home sweet home.

Two months later, we are still finding quills in little Leto. They burrow their way out and pierce through the skin. One erupted over a few hours and was heading straight towards his eyeball until The Chief deftly pulled it out. Even last night, I was rubbing his chest and felt one slide sideways through his tissue. Someday, they will all work through.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan Malamute

Hello, handsome dude!

 

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be crouched under a cabin with my husband in the middle of nowhere pulling quills from our Malamute. Four years ago I’d never even thought twice about porcupines. What a difference a few years can make.

The Fall finally fell into place and the quiet settled in again, even more so as the final departees left the valley. We retightened our financial belt that had been busted loose from our porcupup and cozied down, preparing for Winter.

In the two months since Leto’s brush with the pokey bunny, we’ve had two more unexpected trips to Town and the expenses to go with it. One to replace The Chief’s broken snowmachine and one to repair a UTI turned kidney infection of mine. Oh, joy! So much for spending less by staying home but, still at home we are, mostly. Despite missing friends and family, I know it’s exactly where we need to be right now: cozied down, pulling quills and praying for snow.

With love,

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan couple

Knit cap brigade.

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

Cabin Confessions: Putting Up

I’m not sure what was in the air or the water or the stars this October but for some reason, the month brought with it many confessions. From candid to long-hidden, confessions came from dear friends and new friends alike, as if the month held a sort of truth serum that all of us had unknowingly drunk (for, of course, I had confessions of my own).

In this growing age of online versus in-person, of creating personas based on snapshots and moments in time, it’s easy to assume that another’s life is just how he or she portrays it: downright near perfect. That’s not to say that across the board, we all simply share the good times and hide the bad. I’ve seen plenty of Instagram feeds with hilariously relatable “fails” or beautifully honest posts. Yet overall, the online personas we often see showcase the best of the best of the very best sides of all of us and sometimes, I think that too flows into our in-person lives.

Enter: October

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Leto the Alaskan Malamute

Leto and the new ice.

 

I think the truth is catching and it caught like wildfire. The truth serum must have been drunk at a gathering of gals early on in the month and from there it spread. That night I learned “dirty secrets” (that were neither dirty nor did they need to be secrets) that made me feel…

Normal.

Since that night, I’ve aimed to honor that honesty and spread the good word: we all have things we think are odd, weird, ugly, bad or boring when it comes to ourselves but unearthing those hidden weirdos, bringing to light what you consider bad might just make you feel a little bit of good.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Best Friends

Let’s hear it for the weirdos in our lives! Love you girls.

 

 

And so, in that honest vein, I bring to you: Cabin Confessions, a sort of mini-series within BTB to keep the truth moving through us all, self-included. May it spread your way and help you to feel a little better, brighter and lighter. Or, just a little more normal.

Here goes:

Cabin Confession: Putting Up

Sometimes it feels that upon moving to Alaska, you’re supposed to have already learned all of the “Alaska Skills”.

Chop wood? Of course I can!

Fish? Sure, old hat for me!

Garden? Duh, easy peasy.

Sew? Yep!

Knit? Mmmmhmmm!

Survive in the woods? Yesireebob!

The list goes on and on. The truth is, when I moved here my first Winter I scored about a wobbly, uncertain 1.5 out of 6 on the list above and the above just breaks the surface. Heck, I didn’t even know how to dress myself (and in truth, when the weather changes these days, I still find myself wondering how I did it last season). So, when it came to Putting Up (a term I had never even heard before) I felt my familiar “friend” creep over my shoulder. Hello, Overwhelm.

Four years later, I still feel that sense when it comes to Putting Up food.

What is Putting Up?

Canning fish, pickling cucumbers, drying herbs, making sauerkraut, freezing bulk garden goods, etc.

Basically, to Put something Up means to harvest and preserve something you’ve bought or for more Alaska gold stars, something you’ve grown or harvested (typically in the warmer months), so that you can enjoy it for the colder months to come.

Easy, right?

Confession: Nope. Not for me.

Certainly, some Putting Up I fell in naturally with. I love harvesting, though sometimes I have trouble with the follow-through if the follow-through involves more than drying. Thank goodness for tea!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, harvesting wild alaskan plants

Goldenrod, Spruce Tips, Labrador Tea, Yarrow, Lupine & River Beauty

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, harvesting spruce tips

Spruce tips (and Leto0

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, foraging for morels

Morels, found by Leto (and Leto)

 

Yet, for some reason, putting up fermented foods has always made me feel more put down, by myself. The phobia I had discovered in California didn’t suddenly melt away upon moving to Alaska (I must have missed the Alaska Newbie Handbook), it froze solid. I can’t tell you how many cabbages I’ve bought at the store to make sauerkraut or kimchi that ended up moldy in the compost. Wasting food out here, where the nearest grocery store is 4 hours away is a serious no-no. Sure, food going to waste happens, but it’s often more of an accident; someone gifted you something you couldn’t quite finish or you had to leave for a few days unexpectedly and your refrigeration failed in some way. It’s not often because you have been staring down your food, too scared to fail and thus too paralyzed to do anything with it, that it goes bad. This year, to ensure I’d really learn the kraut craft, I grew my own cabbages.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, starts from seed

April starts

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan garden starts

Brand new garden bed

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbages

Gigantic cabbages!

 

The pressure was on but it was ok because this year I was making sauerkraut, no matter what.

Yep!

Sure was.

Right?

Nope.

Wrong.

A few days ago, I peeked at my last harvest of cabbages, 5 beautiful cabbages I had been lovingly caring for since starting them from seed in April. Watering, feeding, guarding, admiring every day, watching grow bigger and bigger…

They were rotten.

I’ll give myself a slight out to say that food storage in a tiny cabin where the temperature fluctuates between 90 and 40 degrees almost daily is a challenge but…I had also procrastinated for almost a month since their harvest. Sure, there had been an unexpected Town trip and well, I definitely needed to deep clean the oven…twice. I had procrastinated them into oblivion.

* I did, however, eat these first babies up!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages

First harvest

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages green

Cowabunga, dude! Enormo!

 

My last harvest of beautiful cabbage babies met their end in the compost, joining the many before them.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

The second harvest as the frost came tumbling in. Leto helped a lot.

 

Not only was it disappointing in the sense that all this time and energy had gone into this food that now lay spoiled before me, not only was it disappointing to have lost 5 good cabbages which could have made endless meals if not kraut, but the disappointment that again I had failed after 6 months of preparation was almost too much to bear. I was so disappointed…in me and I didn’t want anyone to know that I had, yet again, failed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute puppy

I felt a little bit like this.

 

Thankfully, The Chief was in the next room, a few feet away to hear the sigh.

“It’s OK, we just won’t let this happen next year. It’s OK, Julia. Plus, we still have one cabbage left!”

Oh great, one more cabbage to stare me down as it degrades.

Yet, instead of going down that path, I remembered honesty. I told everyone about my ruined cabbages and as I listened to others lament about kraut cold feet or pickling paranoia I suddenly felt better. Not in the misery loves company way because they were no longer miserable as I was, in the way that I felt I could (finally) get over this, as they all had.

The last cabbage left was a behemoth of a babe that my girlfriend had grown this year. She is an epic gardener (you can read all about it here) and after a dinner date at her house this Fall (read: 2 hours out, 2 hours back. That’s an Alaskan dinner party, if I’ve ever heard of one!) she gifted me one of her gargantuan gals.

I may ruin storebought cabbages and I may ruin my own, but I wasn’t going to ruin hers.

Right?

Finally, the answer was “Right”.

Three weeks later.

Meh, better late than never, right? I had been battling this fear for years, three lousy weeks weren’t going to take me under this time (plus, I had some gentle nudging from a friend, moving me slowly but surely along).

So, three weeks later than I had planned on doing something with her cabbage, I finally did.

1 Quart for experimenting

1 Big Bowl of Potluck Coleslaw for Poker Night

1 Big Crock

later and the enormous cabbage was finally gone and…

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest making Sauerkraut

Half-way through

 

Kraut is on the way.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, Malamute puppy in Alaska

Finally, I felt like this!

 

I’ve psyched myself up time and time again to do the Putting Up I dream to do here but time and time again, I’ve found myself talking myself down, stressing the details, deciding I’ve failed before I’ve even started and thus, never begun. Perfectionism sure is a sneaky beast that robs you of entering new experiences with lightness or confidence, if you enter into them at all. Yet step by step, uncertainty by uncertainty, I moved forward this time and I owe it all to honesty (and certainly to some truly non-judgemental love from The Chief and friends and to my furry Leto, who sat on my toes or watched me squish cabbage the whole way through).

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute 9 months old

Ice dance.

 

Opening up about my own shortcomings, or things I just see as such, has helped me to see how normal they are. Certainly, mine may not be yours. You might be scoffing at this little backwoods cabbage waster but I’m certain there is something for you too. Some half-finished project, some goal yet unmet, some hidden habit that you feel guilty or sad or embarrassed about. The good news is: you don’t have to! Who knew?! Feeling bad provides little impetus for change. Feeling bad leaves the cabbages rotting and the sauerkraut supply still empty. So go and tell your tale of your closeted self, whoever that may be. Chances are, the person you tell might really, truly need to hear it and I guarantee you’ll feel better.

Best wishes to you and to all of your quirks and flaws and beauty that make you who you are. You are doing just fine.

Cheers to you.

Cheers to honesty.

May it spread to you and yours and beyond.

With love (and sauerkraut),

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alpenglow Alaska

Alpenglow time of year.

 

P.S. Do you too have a fermenting phobia? My friends pointed me towards Nourished Kitchen, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and searching Facebook for helpful groups. There are many salt to cabbage ratios but one tried and true method I’ve heard (and tried) is to make it as salty as the sea. If that’s too vague for you, I totally understand. Let the professionals guide your way, it’s not as scary as I thought. I promise.

P.P.S Beneath the Borealis has been featured on Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2019. Thank you, Feedspot! I’m honored. Check the good company we keep here: Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs

This post is dedicated to Danielle. I love you. Thank you for always encouraging me to keep trying new things in the kitchen and beyond.

 

 

 

 

A Wedding in Six Acts

ACT I: The Arrival

It wasn’t until the wedding was a few months out that I really realized that we were having a destination wedding. For me, the destination was my backyard. The ceremony would be a 15-minute walk in one direction and the reception 15 minutes in the cardinal opposite, faster even by truck or 4-wheeler. It was as close as it could get. Yet (and feel free to yell “duh” in tandem with me now) for all non-locals the commute was, well, a bit farther.

The week before our wedding, The Chief and I headed back to Anchorage for our third trip in 2 weeks. We had been earning our Road Warrior badges with trips more frequent than we wished but this trip, this was different.

This one was the arrival.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Belly Laughs

The belly laughs had begun.

 

We pulled up to the hotel and out poured my Mom, my Aunt, my two best friends since 5th grade and my friends partner (and my friend) and my niece (not by blood but close enough). It was a cacophony of “hellos” and laughter and hugs and total mayhem. Thus, the logistics began (a favorite Alaskan pastime). No sooner had we packed the umpteen suitcases into the bed of our truck (first bagging each one in a contractor bag to avoid their getting dirty on the deeply dusty drive), buckled up and turned out of the hotel than my neice performed a barfing act not dissimilar to a small cannon. A small cannon that landed right in her lap, soaking her to the bone in her own vomit.

The suitcase with her clothes was positioned perfectly at the bottom of the suitcase pit.

The trip had begun.

Like any good Alaskan road trip, nothing comes easy and smooth is suspicious, yet despite our precarious start, we were on the road a few hours and a few hundred Water Wipes later.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Reunions

The belly laughs continued as one of the KaCaJus kept documenting…Love you C!

 

We arrived that evening, in a caravan of wedding guests, The Chief and his two truckloads of groomsmen and family and us. My girlfriend, badass mother of my beloved puker, upon finally hearing “Yes” to the question “Are we close?” said truthfully, “That was way worse than I thought it would be”. The entire car burst into laughter. Surely she had misspoken? The trip which had started at 11 am and ended 13 plus hours later? Certainly, she couldn’t have thought that was all that bad?

And so, we arrived at our destination wedding, laughing.

ACT II: Preparations 

Our friends and family had all arrived, the wedding week was in full effect and after one day to settle in and get the off the grid crash course we put them to work, as any good Alaskan couple does (it’s a sign of love, truly).

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, Off-Grid Living

Off-Grid techniques like how to clean puke out of a carseat and do laundry at the same time…and spray Leto, his favorite game.

 

Despite our “low-key” wedding, it took two full days with a large and ever-changing group of friends to dust off and dress up our reception site. One friend spent an entire day raking leaves to create paths, while another group of friends (and my Pops, straight from his drive in that day) spent trip after trip hauling wood shavings to fill those paths, creating a sort of Winter Wonderland in September.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Setup Crew

Part of the work crew. Team meeting.

 

It was all coming together.

The couple who hosted our reception spent countless hours nailing down every last detail and sweetly surprising us along the way.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Decor

Huge hearts from a play in Anchorage, salvage and spruced up by B&D

 

There were two circus tents and food tents and eating tents and 10 strings of lights to light the way in the darkening nights. We set the tables and prayed for sun, while fully prepping for rain. It was a wedding in September, a September (and August) which, so far, had only been filled with bluebird skies and sun so hot we all were steaming away in tanktops. Could we really expect a sunny wedding?

ACT III: The Bachlor/ette

As if we hadn’t yet been scooped up by our community and showered in enough love the days prior, we still were both lucky enough to enjoy a true treat: a night with the ladies, a night with the boys. After two days of non-stop prep, my girlfriends gave me a hard “out time” and whisked me off for what? I did not know.

We left our house and passed car upon car heading opposite us towards the Bachelor Pary. Everyone was so jovial and excited.

I arrived to the Footbridge and was greeted by the many smiling faces of the lady loves of our town.

It was incredible.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Alaskan Bachelorette Tunnel of Love

Tunnel of Love

 

We had a champagne toast as the water flowed beneath us and the mountains shone to greet us.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Bachelorette Party Alaska, View

No sooner had a stepped onto that bridge and greeted everyone did I turn around to see the head party planner with her wonderfully mischevious grin. “Turn around Juju” (she calls me Juju. I love her eyeballs). It had begun. Something was on my head and in my hair and her laugh erupted. The penises had entered the scene. I had penises on my head and penises in my hair. I was ready.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Bachelorette Party, Alaska

Claps for all you ladies.

 

We walked into town (handmade boquet from a girlfriend in hand, sweet E), gaggle of gals that we were, laughing all the ways as the two penises on my head (think bunny ears) would randomly clang together, as if clapping for us. We arrived to one of the local restaurants to find that the head party planner (and co-owner of the restaurant) had shut it down for us. A special event.

Special it was. Like any friend of mine knows, food is king and eat we did. We had to keep our stamina up for the many bachelorette activities to follow: penis ring toss, a dollar per mint nibble, a delicious penis cake and some fill in the blank games that made us roar.

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Alaskan Bachelorette Party

Gotta love the attention to detail.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Bachelorette Alaska

One of my favorite photos of the night.

 

The night ended at The Bar with dancing to our favorite guilty pleasure songs.

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Bachelorette Dance

Leto wasn’t so sure about my new friend Fernando.

 

It was perfect. Thank you, ladies.

Act IV: The Rehearsal

After another day of last-minute prep, we had finally arrived: the night before the wedding. Again, our friends closed their restaurant and hosted us for a fabulous Italian dinner.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

You sweet thangs.

 

There were roasts and salads and more deliciousness than I can recall (but enough for two platefuls. Ever the timid eater. Gotta fit in that dress, right?!). Looking around, we felt surrounded in love, The Chief and I. Fifty of our closest friends and relatives were nestled in together, meeting, reconnecting. We toasted (ugh, I love toasts!) and shed a tear or two and before I knew it, it was over.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Toasts

Cheers to you two. Thank you Mom and Dad.

 

The Chief and I kissed goodnight, our last unmarried kiss, and the bridal party and I escaped to the beautiful B&B a few miles outside of town that would be our haven for the night.

Upon arrival, the mood was set. These girls know sure know how to woo me. I was promptly placed into the center of the couch, my feet put in a footbath, and the sweet silliness began. Our resident Yogi and primo planner (who gave me the biggest compliment I could get that week when she told me: “I’m stressing out because you don’t seem to be stressing out at all. You seem very relaxed.” and I was because every step of the way, someone was there to support me) had us all go around the room and recount how we had met and a wish for The Chief and I. Like at Thanksgiving, where you might go around the room and say what you’re thankful for, it at first felt funny and then the belly laughs and tears began. It’s not always easy or natural to start, but it is such a beautiful gift to give someone that love, that care and that attention. I was deeply touched…and deeply tired. We all were exhausted. These girls had been running full steam ahead, one, our resident Fertility Goddess (and Penis Cake maker extraordinaire) was due 10 days after the wedding but still had been there every step of the way. These loves were the ultimate troopers but it was time for bed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Karelian Bear Dog Snuggles

Karelian snuggles documented!

 

ACT V: The Wedding

On the morning of our wedding, I wrote my vows.

Surprised?

Yea, me neither.

I woke up and did a quick workout, took a shower and sat down to paint my nails and write my vows when something else showed up: nerves. The nail polish skidded across my fingers as I tried to calm myself. I ate the beautiful breakfast my girlfriends had prepared and the tea they had brought specially for me (all while sewing the dogs’ outfits) but still my stomach was in knots.

It was really happening. This day we had talked about and planned for, stressed over, laughed over, counted down the days till, this day, our “destination wedding” was about to happen. I jotted down that which could only scratch the surface of how I feel and decided to let my heart lead the rest of the way. It was time to get ready.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Thank you, sweet friends.

 

All the ladies and I donned our wishbone necklaces (wishbones hold a special place in my heart. My Auntie El taught me the wishbone basics and they always make me smile and always make me think of her) as we got ready. A sweet, simple connection to those around me and those we’ve lost. I did my makeup and donned the same lipstick I always wear (even though I’d bought multiple new ones to try. I’m a creature of habit, I guess). I was ready.

Or so I thought.

On a recent trip to Anchorage, I had been talking with an esthetician I knew from going to her salon. Upon hearing that I was getting married and that I didn’t even own concealer in case I wanted to cover my scar (or as she lovingly called it “the copper vein running through your forehead”), she told me she would be there to do our makeup. We didn’t talk much after that and I had assumed that perhaps it would work, perhaps not. When she called that morning and heard we were leaving in an hour, I figured there simply wasn’t enough time (and I’d done my best already). There wasn’t enough time. She didn’t have access to her car, it was just too much.

That didn’t stop her. She somehow found a bicycle and huffed her way towards us when she happened upon our wedding photographer and together, they made the jaunt to us. She is a character. She spiffed up my copper vein a bit and gave us all the special treatment that made it start to feel official.

 

 

Suddenly, my excitement trumped my nerves. I was going to marry The Chief!

Our entourage got in various cars packed with who knows what and made our way back to our house. We arrived to smiling family and friends and two girlfriends who were creating the most unbelievable flower crowns, boutonnieres and hairpieces (all flow in by them from their family’s fly-in lodge. How special can it get?!).

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Floral Arrangements Weddings

Flowers for the peeps, flowers for the pups. Thank you E&L!

 

Inside were more friends, visiting, doing one another’s hair (I even took a turn) and toasting to the day. One of the bridesmaids ran the ties and pocket squares over to the groomsmen. It was happening.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Get Ready

Last-minute prep

 

It was so joyful.

Finally, it was time.

Leto and I were out ahead, leading the way (now that it was happening, I was ready to get moving!). We walked the trails we take on our (ideally) daily walk to The River. Trails I’ve seen change through the seasons, trails that have seen me change in the four years I’ve lived with them.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

The procession.

 

Along the way, we spotted the rocks the groomsmen had painted to mark the trail for the guests. At the end of the trail, my family was waiting for me. It was time. They set out ahead of us, Leto escorting my Mom proudly/trying to get her to run to Dad.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Too much cuteness.

 

My girlfriends and I got into formation (Beyoncé anybody?), a sort of Flying V meant to hide me from The Chief for our long approach and then, we were finally there. My girlfriends walked slowly to the willow arch our friend had made for us that morning and lined up while I was left standing with my first boyfriend in Alaska: Buddha. Buddha is the dog of one of my girlfriends and when I first came here, he escorted me everywhere and so, it seemed only appropriate that he walk me down the aisle. The Chief and Leto were waiting for us both. My family.

 

 

The sea of smiling faces all around us beamed our way. You could feel the love radiating. I’ve never felt anything quite like it. The Chief and I hugged and held hands and then held the hands of our friend who was marrying us. We all took a deep breath and took it all in, all of us too choked up to say anything without taking a moment first.

The vows I had written earlier came together and The Chief spoke his beautifully from the heart, as I knew he would (me with my notepad, him off the cuff. So perfect). We both laughed, we both cried. We both made promises, both lighthearted and serious.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

We laughed a lot.

 

We both vowed to love and be loved as kindly and gently as we can and to continue on, even when it is hard, even as it has been hard, we promised to go forward together.

At the finish of the ceremony, all of the guests found a rock to bestow a wish upon and sent it flying into the river. The joy just kept getting brighter and brighter. There was not a cloud in sight.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

You ladies are so beautiful.

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Rockin’ the pinks and reds. Lookin’ good, gents.

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, The Wedding Party

The whole wedding party

 

We took pictures and then everyone meandered back down the trail to our neighbor’s house (also the wonderful man who married us) where there was a full spread of hors d’oeuvres and a cocktail hour (The Chief and I even got to stroll solo, taking it all in for a moment).

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Our first married kiss.

 

Without asking, people manned the bartending station and had created this beautiful spread (thank you E, C, D & J!). We all lazed on the lawn in the sun until the next leg began.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

 

ACT VI: The Reception

We arrived to a full house, a party fully in swing. The decorations looked beautiful (our friends who hosted had made note of where everything was to go and then had brought it all inside to protect it on account of rain, then set it all back up again on the day of) and the flown in flowers and bouquets graced all of the vases and bottles throughout the garden and the dining tables. It truly looked like a Wonderland.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Us arriving.

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

The beautiful backyard

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Yet another surprise!

 

Again our friends fed us and again it was phenomenal fare. My girlfriend even ran to the line for us (twice) so that The Chief and I could catch our breath (again, these ladies are troopers). We had set up six tables, but in true Alaskan style, most people ate standing and so, the wedding party and all the kids (the kids who mainly spent the night playing in the compost pile. Ha! I love Alaskan children), The Chief and I dined together under the beautiful warm lights.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, La Mama

Con La Mama

 

After dinner, the entertainment started and…my band got to kick off the festivities. I had always wanted to be in a band and here I was, not only in one but singing at my own wedding, looking at the face of my husband in the crowd beaming with joy. It was my favorite show we’ve played.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Love you boys.

 

After that, the bands continued to rock it (two bands from out of town came in just to play the wedding) and we cut the cake that had been made by a few dear friends.

 

 

The night ended for us a few hours later as the last band finished and we finally made our way home, husband and wife.

The Chief carried me over the threshold, though certainly not up the Ramp of Doom (I’m a sucker for tradition but not for a broken leg) and we nestled into our cozy cabin in the woods.

Every bit of the day had the touch of love in it. From the painted rocks to the ball and chain piñata surprise to the candles lit in the garden for our ancestors’ table, to the hand-grated carrot cake, to the frequent flyer mile ready flowers and beyond. Every detail, every bit of the day was seen to in this communal way I’ve never experienced before.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

We love you.

 

Each person raised us up together, beamed with us in happiness and congratulations and in confirmation of our choice. We are meant to be together.

And together we are.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Cheers, Love

Cheers to you, my love.

 

Thank goodness I found you, tucked away in the woods, sweet Chief. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been right. Life has handed us a hefty dose of sour in these last few years but together we have helped to sweeten it and will only continue to do so. Thank you for who you are and who you help me to be. I love you, always.

To our community, near and far, with us and passed on: Words cannot begin to describe how you made us feel but I will say that we felt held in a way that we hadn’t felt in years, safe and happy, beautifully happy. Thank you, all of you, for your contributions great and small. You made our wedding and our start together in this new life a beacon of hope for us. Thank you, always.

 

With love and laughter,

 

from Alaska

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

 

P.S. A special thanks to our wedding photographer, Kate Lamb. She’s awesome. Check her out here: Wild In Love Photography