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

Joni & Julia: California

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

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

 

 

 

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

La Joni

 

 

 

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

I was completely overwhelmed.

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

by teenagers.

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

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

I hated it.

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Almost home.

Almost home.

Almost home.

California, I’m coming home.

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

Joni Mitchell marked a time where this all started.

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

“California, I’m coming home.”

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

The years until Alaska.

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

California I’m coming home.

And then, we arrived.

 

 

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

Da beach.

 

To be continued…

 

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A New Start(s)

Aside from one unyielding patch of ice (which funny enough is home to our Swimming Hole…brr), Spring has sprung.

And it’s sprung right into Summer.

Break-up seems like an event with no end, it feels like the ground won’t be able to lap up the rest of the standing water and just when it seems like it might, it rains. But puddles aside, all other signs are pointing right past Spring and into Summer.

I saw my first flower a week ago, a delicate little white beauty with a purple underneath called an Anenome.

Three days ago I found again the patch of wild orchids I happened upon last year with their first blooms.

The Dryas from last year is out and uncovered and being adorable as always, making shadows with their Einstein-esque hair.

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And my seeds have turned into seedlings. There’s not much better than seeing baby plants grow up.

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Tis the season for new growth and so, this past week, we planted the garden. We turned the dirt and amended the soil and placed hopeful seeds into the ground and once we’ve hardened off the starts they too will go in.

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The drudgery of Break-Up (and in all honesty, it was pretty mild compared to last year) has been replaced by the optimism of Spring and it feels really good. Despite the joy of seeing friends from my first Summer last year, my clinging to Winter made it hard to enjoy. This year, I feel able to dive in and its as if one big family has come home.

And so, I’m taking a note from all the new life I’ve seen and trying to emulate its rejuvenation and with Summer staring me in the face with her crazy long days and lack of sleep and constant go-go-go I’m at least feeling a little more prepared. That’s all we can hope for, right?

Progress and new starts.

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Happy Summer.

The Mail Plane

I love getting mail.

Don’t you?

Real mail.

Not bills.

Not solicitations.

Not catalogs that look like they’ve logged an entire forest for each shipment.

Real mail. Something you see and it immediately draws you elsewhere, to the place and the person whence it came.

Certainly, in our digital age where I can find out what a friend had for breakfast and what her day looks like without even talking to her, the handwritten letter has become outpaced.

Yet there isn’t a single person with whom I’ve exchanged addresses that upon the end of our transaction doesn’t immediately say (insert slight squealing inflection) “Oh, I love receiving mail!”.

And, to add a cherry (Amarena, please) to that sundae let’s talk about the best kind of mail there is (besides, perhaps, a love letter): care packages.

The first time I ever went away to Summer Camp my Mom brought up the now never-ending wormhole of the world of Care Packages (she had no idea what she was getting herself into).

What is this I hear? Special packages? Just for me? It’s not my birthday or Christmas or any other present day. So what is this magical package you speak of and how do I get my hands on one?

My mind did a backflip as I tried to steady myself long enough to answer emphatically that yes, of course I wanted a care package. Care packages would be best, if you get my drift.

I had never heard of such a thing.

But sure enough it was real and apparently a secret everyone else had heard as well. I arrived at camp and not a day later kids were receiving care packages. One day? This seemed excessive. Most of us lived a mere 15 minute drive away from the camp. Big whoop. Get a hold of yourselves. One day. Sheesh!

Yet by day 7, when I received my care package, my tune had changed. I nearly ripped the wrapping open with my teeth I was so excited to see what was inside. And within the box there was (cue the angels singing in the background)…

A Mama Note (always read the note first. Always).

Trinkets that I can’t exactly remember but for which I am grateful, nonetheless.

and…

Brownies!!!

???

Wait, did my Mom just send me brownies? My Mom? The Mom of mine whom offers me dessert in the form of grapes or strawberries (both of which I would accept quite gratefully at the moment), if I am lucky? Sure there was the occasional ice cream treat or dessert birthday or random bag of Milano cookies that I didn’t love but would eat nonetheless. Yet for the most part, we rarely had sweets in the house. Friends would always mention it when they came over. Where are your sweets?

Heck if I know but…we aren’t at home anymore and some sweets just showed up…in my care package.

To my 9-year old self this wasn’t just about the chocolatey goodness, it was about the freedom for my sugar craving self to ration these brownies however I liked. And how did that go? Well straight to Stomach Ache City, of course.

Despite my tumbling tummy, since then, the idea of a care package was the ultimate in extended stays away from home. My Mom once sent me a cake in Washington, D.C. where I was going to school, for my 18th birthday. It was an Almond Torte, the official cake of our birthdays ((we are one week (and I guess also some years) apart and so our birthdays were often a communal celebration)). She shipped it 3,000 miles so that I would have a little piece of home with me.

That’s really what it is…it’s a piece from somewhere else. A piece of you that you send to someone else or perhaps a pieces of them they didn’t know they were missing.

And out here, scarcity makes those pieces even more special.

You see, out here our mail comes in via plane. There’s no mail man or mail woman roaming the backwoods in search of our mailbox because we don’t have one. The mail goes to the nearest Post Office about 4 hours away where we all “have” P.O. Boxes. This creates quite the fuss. Even the Post Office will tell you that our address doesn’t exist. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to coax people into just sending something anyway. I know the address doesn’t come up as real. It’s not. There are no P.O. Boxes in the Post Office for us. Instead, there is our Mail Shack, 4 hours away with our boxes inside.

 

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Weather permitting, mail comes in twice a week.

Twice.

Weather permitting.

In the Winter, those three words mean quite a lot.

This last week we were pummeled by rain and the planes couldn’t fly. Last month snowstorms made flying impossible as well. Now before you judge away, know that these aren’t newbie pilots; these pilots will fly when I will barely even step outside. Yet sometimes even they meet their weather match and find themselves grounded by intuition or regulations or both. And so, we wait. For each day following a non-delivery, they attempt to come in. Sometimes the next day’s skies are Bluebird (I love this expression and I’d never heard it until here. Bright blue skies as far as the eye can see), sometimes they follow suit with the day before. Either way they keep trying until eventually, the next mail day comes.

 

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A panoramic which flips the buildings but still, the airstrip is the big gap in the middle.

And when it does, it’s quite the site to be seen. Sure, The Chief has seen it a million times and so has everyone else and I’m the only one sitting out there, mouth gaping wide in amazement at how this tiny little plane can land in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter in the middle of a snowfield. I look like the newbie and that’s O.K. because I don’t know if it will ever cease to amaze me.

 

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The runway. Not exactly flat, eh?

 

Down the plane touches and the group of mail-goers gather around the little plane, shouting greetings to the Pilot. Mail Day is quite the social event around here. If you need a familiar face, or just a face other than your own (I’m always surprised by how many people I still don’t know at Mail), Mail is the place to go. Twice a week (ideally) there you are, amongst what feels like a bustling town (let’s use bustling lightly, shall we). The most people I’ve ever seen at mail was the coldest day we’ve had here: 10 people at 30 plus below zero. That was a crowd! Mail was sorted in no time.

Sorted?

Yep.

Remember how there’s no one roaming the woods to deliver the mail? Well there certainly isn’t someone to sort it either

 

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Ooooo! We got one!

 

And so, after the mail is hauled off the plane and everyone grabs a pile to sort and plays bundled up bumper cars with one another as they try to get the mail to its rightful destination and people admire the different packages coming in and call out “Which box is Garrity?” and someone (or a few someones) answer(s) “#62B” and the piles get smaller and the boxes get fuller…well then, mail is done.

Someone watches everyone shuffle out and calls last call for the heater before they switch it off and shut the door. There’s no lock, no key. It’s the people’s place. Soon, everyone starts to pack up their packages and mail into whatever receptacle they carry them home in. Some people haul their treasures behind them as they ski all the way home (I’m always impressed by one woman in particular, she lives out past our house and does the long slog back and forth). Some ride bikes. Some walk. Some drive snow machines with boxes and sleds for goodies and still others drive from farther out. And just like that, it’s over

 

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The mountains behind Mail

 

It’s like a big birthday party, everyone is there and then…no cake. Party’s over.

Or is it?

Because despite the dwindling crowd, you still get to go home with your bounty. Our bounty usually includes bills, Costco magazines and lots of mail for the Fire Department.

Yippee!

But sometimes, that yippee drops its sarcastic undertones (those weren’t serving it anyways, right?) and becomes its true yelping self.

Real mail!

Now, on occasion, the package is from none other than yours truly. Oh, you shouldn’t have! With the advent of Amazon, ordering a self-addressed care package is a little easier but there are still so many things that won’t even ship to Alaska and still fewer that will ship to our little P.O. box so the world-wide web of wonder really can still be quite limited. And besides, since we find ourselves in the middle of Winter on a middle of Winter budget, ordering treats just doesn’t really happen very often.

Which makes real mail that much more special.

Chocolate?! Homemade cookies?! Special doggie treats for Lou-Lou?! A card just to say “hello”?!

This is what mail magic is made of. The scarcity of the woods makes even the littlest thing unbelievably special. When I think of the journey a simple note had to make to get to us, I’m humbled. It brings those whom I love closer. They enter my home with their letters even if their feet have never set foot on Alaskan tundra. They make our home truly ours as their drawings are hung to see and their chocolate is consumed slowly – savoring each piece (this is a big change for me). It keeps my far away family close and keeps traditions going.

 

Back in California, my Mom and I do the local paper’s crossword together every morning.

Actually, let me rephrase that:

Every morning, my Mom makes a copy of the crossword for me. Then does the crossword herself, waiting for me to wake up and follow suit. It’s a tradition that I love, that we started a long time ago but only recently perfected before my first Winter in Alaska.

Now, since she can’t leave a copy for me on the dining room table, she sends me installations. Sometimes I get behind and then do a week’s worth in one sitting and sometimes I do them every morning. I have a backlog for long flights and lazy days but I keep doing the new ones when I get them because each time I open one, I feel the time she put into it. I can see her going to the copier and folding the paper just so. I can see her driving to the Post Office and talking about her daughter in Alaska to whom she has to get a special package. I love these thoughts and images and the memories they bring up with them.

When I first decided to come to Alaska, I didn’t realize just how far out I was going. I never even thought about the mail situation because despite never seeing a mailbox, it didn’t occur to me that mail flew in. Plus, I wasn’t staying, right?

It’s almost two years later and it seems that, in fact, I am staying. I’m staying in a place at the end of 60 miles of dirt road which is now 60 miles of ice (thanks, rainstorm). I live in a place where there’s no running water or guaranteed electricity, where washing my clothes takes two days and where we send in blank checks or clearly too much money to the Postmaster because there’s no Post Office to tell us how much a package will cost to send (the Postmaster then fills out the check or sends us our change in the form of stamps). I live in this place and it still tickles me to realize that this very non-normal place has become my new norm.

 

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It’s a place that has brought me back to simple pleasures and childhood excitements. When I look at the clouds, I see animals and faces again instead of simply puffs of white. I enjoy the special treat of a chocolate bar and… I write and receive letters (and some super stellar care packages) again. People always say this place is like adult summer camp and it’s times like this when I couldn’t agree more.

So if you’re so inclined, I encourage you to send someone a letter or a package. It doesn’t have to be much. A little goes a long way. I can guarantee they won’t be disappointed and I bet you’ll feel pretty darn good about it too.

May your mail be speedy and full of real mail.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

 

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P.S. Thank you to those steady soldiers who show up to Mail every Mail Day and sort for the town. I appreciate you.

 

 

 

A Little (Mozzarella) Cheesy, But A Lotta True

You know when a friend is coming home from a long stint away and you go over to their house to make sure it’s warm for them before they return?

Nope, me neither. Not before now, at least.

Before moving to the snowy cold of The North I’d certainly helped with the houses of friends but that normally meant giving it a good scrub down, putting a few extras in the fridge and bringing in the mail. And that was if I was house sitting for them. I’d always leave a note and if I had time I’d put some flowers from their garden into a vase. It made me feel good to welcome someone home to a cozy house with a few extra creature comforts to come back to but in sunny California, heat was typically the last perk on my mind.

But not here. Here, flowers would be the magic trick to trump all magic tricks (one time a bouquet of a dozen pink roses flew in on the mail plane and I swear, every person there just stopped, jaws open, staring at the 12 little miracles. Thankfully, someone snapped us all out of it in time to get the roses into a warm car before they starting to freeze). In California, flowers were the icing on the unexpected cake. But here, I didn’t even know the recipe. How does one welcome a friend home in the middle of Winter in the middle of nowhere Alaska?

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, chances are you’ve encountered the Walk-In, a large refrigerator big enough to house you and a gaggle of friends for a cocktail party. In the middle of service, especially during a crazed rush, it was the perfect place to cool down for a minute, gather some thoughts (and some celery or whatnot for the chefs) and head back into the mayhem feeling a bit more refreshed. Too long and it would get chilly. A few minutes was plenty.

If you’ve ever lived in Alaska, chances are you know exactly the feeling I’m talking about, even if you’ve never worked in a restaurant because I’d bet that you have walked into a frozen house at some point. You know the cold that doesn’t seem that bad at first and then…it starts biting into you, nibble by nibble until your fingers feel hot because they are instead so cold? A frozen house is like a Walk In but of the freezer variety instead of a refrigerator.

You see, when we leave our houses (those of us who leave, that is) the houses, like the whole rest of the landscape around them, freeze.

Completely.

They become little iceboxes of a life preserved, like a house coated in amber but instead, everything is ice. Upon returning from your travels or visits, this little frozen life is awaiting you and it takes hours and hours to defrost. Hours during which you wait in full-winter gear from Parka to 50 below boots and busy yourself moving things inside from your vehicle outside in an attempt to stay warm.

That is, unless you have a good friend and good timing and oh buddy, are you glad when you have both.

We were lucky enough to have both on our way in this year and our chilly selves (from our non-functioning car heater) were beyond grateful to walk into a house that was warmer than the great frosty outdoors.

And so, when the call comes, you return the favor. It may not be returned directly to those who first helped you but it is returned to the great cycle of favors that revolves and evolves around here. A little cosmic karma, if you will.

Well, that call came twofold and right, as fate would have it, in the middle of weeks of 30 to 35 below zero temperatures.

 

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I hadn’t even made it past our driveway and already, everything went white.

 

My girlfriend who had been out-of-town for work (much to my chagrin) called the whole week prior, and together we watched as her departure date approached and the temps dropped and dropped and dropped. In the middle of the cold spell we’d had a “warm” snap and she’d just missed the window. In an effort to get her home as soon as possible (ex-squeeze me but I live in the woods where boys abound and women are hard to find. I need all the ladies I can get) I told her that no matter the temps, I’d be there to heat her house if it meant she’d come home sooner.

My offer helped soften the blow of driving in 30 below temps and the day finally arrived when she was (thankfully) headed home. The Chief and I had planned ahead and brought the generator inside the night before. We awoke to the thermometer reading 33 below zero and so we immediately headed outside to warm the snowmachine by powering a heater with the generator. It would need an hour minimum (if we were being nice to it) to warm before we could leave.

Two hours later, last stops stopped and all loose ends tidied up, my girlfriend gave us the green light. She was headed our way and with a four plus hour drive ahead of her it was time for us to drive her way and warm the house. Thankfully, she lived in a valley on the other side of The River and her temperatures often read warmer than ours. Maybe we’d even hit the 20 belows.

Just as we were starting to suit up to depart, my phone rang. We’d been expecting another friend to be coming into the area soon but hadn’t heard from him about his exact dates. People had been driving through his property to break trail (another thing I never even fathomed before living here: duh, of course. When you arrive home after being absent for months, no one has been on your property. There isn’t a trail in sight. Every time you want to walk or drive somewhere you end up hip-deep in snow. So when someone offers to buzz by your place and put in a few trails so you can wade in more freely, you say “yes, thank you”) for a few weeks so we knew he was close but we still didn’t know when he’d arrive.

Well, as circumstance would have it, he was calling from about 250 miles away. He was heading home.

Tomorrow.

Hmm…my little wheels got to turning. Today would be a full-day of heating, which was great. It felt important and honest and good. Two days of heating houses on the other side of the river? Still important and honest and good, but not as good, right? Let’s multi-task this house heating. And so, without thinking I blurted: “Wanna come in tonight?”

Being the badass that he is, he took little more than a look at his old plan and said: “Yes. Of course. I mean we’ve driven this far, what’s a bit of a haul for the last leg?”

Perfect.

And so, with that, The Chief and Julia’s Heating Service was started. Business was booming.

Just kidding.

Both of our friends’ excitement and gratitude had me fired up. It feels so good to do something for someone else and any time you can make life a little easier for your fellow woods dweller out here, you do it.

And so, we were on our way.

We finished suiting up as we talked out our game plan.

Her house first, then his house, then back and forth for the rest of the day until they arrived. Pack a lot of food for a potentially really long day (even if they were leaving, things happen and fingers crossed everything went smoothly but with one of their cars already acting squirrely, anything could happen). Layers upon layers upon layers and extra clothes for a ski.

Yea, we planned on a ski. Pretty cute, huh?

 

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My skis, your skis and a groomer for making trails. We were outfitted, finally.

 

We got to the first house and the thermometer  inside was so cold that all it said was LO. In computer talk I’m pretty sure that means “Geeeeez! What, are you trying to kill me??”

 

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At least it was only -23 outside though! We set to making a fire. Almost. There was wood a plenty and burnables nearby but since my girlfriend had left at the start of the cold-snap she hadn’t been able to clean out the stove before leaving (it had been too cold to let a fire die, even for a few hours and embers take forever to cool). The stove had ash to be removed first (The Chief is a meticulous fire maker, me on the other hand? I’m more of a cowgirl, fly by the seat of your pants type approach) and so we set to find a receptacle. 20 minutes later, cleaned and ready, The Chief had the stove blazing. We dusted ourselves off and…we were off!

At the next house, we broke trail in from the back entrance, paralleling the air field along the way. We arrived again to a ready bin full of wood and burnables (it’s always smart to leave a good set-up if someone is coming to build a fire. You wouldn’t want them to mistakenly burn say, your tax returns. These two were seasoned pros) and The Chief set to work. Since this friend had left in the Fall, the stove was all ready to go and pretty soon the tanker of a stove was chugging along.

It’s a funny thing going into someone’s house in the dead of Winter, especially when it hasn’t been opened back up since the season before. It’s just been sitting and freezing. Everything has a sheen of ice crystals and immediately, you’re scanning for accidents: was there water in any glass that perhaps exploded? Is everything which can’t heat quickly (think kerosene lamp) far enough away from the fire so it won’t break from the temperature shift? And then you start admiring their shut-down techniques. Boards on the windows or coverings over the bed or how their woodpile is organized. One can’t help but pick up tips along the way.

With both houses chugging along, the most important part now was to keep them going. Oh and to not burn their houses down. Yes, this seems like an obvious one and an easy one but out here fire is both something we absolutely need and something we undoubtedly must have respect for. A stove that gets too hot can set fire to itself and with that, the cabin. Plus, every stove is different. Sure, the overarching idea of “shutting it down” (dampening the fire once it’s gotten going to make it burn hot and steady) is the same but every stove has its own little tricks and quirks and when you’re trying to get from frozen to comfortable in hours, you don’t have the luxury of courting time with each stove.

Heat needs to happen now and so you make sure to watch the stove for as long as possible before heading off to the next house.

And so we did, all day long. Back and forth and forth and back we went. Vigilant to lock all the hatches and triple check the stove doors. A few hours in, both stoves cranking away and the temperatures of the houses slowly thawing, we thought about water. Water is essential to every life and out here, it’s especially hard to come by. Both of the friends get water from the same nearby creek and so once we found their water buckets, we headed down to the creek to fill them.

 

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Fill ‘er up, buttercup.

 

Water in your house here is like flowers in your house in the lower 48, except functional. Having water to get you through the night and the following day, to make your long list of chores just a little bit shorter is huge and since none of us have running water, I could appreciate how much this little act would ease their transitions home.

 

 

 

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All buckled up and ready to go

 

Finally, a few trips more and the first bird to return to the coop called. We met my girlfriend at the airstrip with her sled and after shrieky, bouncy, elated “Hellos”, we started unloading her truck. Three sled loads later, each time with us packed like three little ducks riding in a row on the snowmachine, and her truck was unloaded. One last trip to park the truck (since no vehicle can make it down her driveway with any hope of making it back up again) and back to her house and she had finally “arrived” an hour after she had first pulled up. Home again.

She was over the moon to walk into a warm house that even had, wait for it, water! 5 gallons of My Day Just Got Easier. We celebrated and caught up while The Chief made one last trip to our other friend’s house. They had called to say they were at the last stretch of The Road, they’d be home in an hour. 30 minutes later, The Chief returned we all three celebrated. What a day! We’d been back and forth so many times it would make my head spin to recount it, wearing our heaviest gear to stave off the cold of the day’s 20 to 30 plus below weather. We’d successfully heated and watered two houses (and I had successfully realigned my back after falling straight onto my knee with a huge armload of wood. Oh joy. I swear I heard every vertebrae snap, crackle and pop. Owwwwwww) and our friends were home. So despite any bumps and bruises the reunion trumped all.

Every time someone comes home, our little family here is shifted and changed. A new infusion, new life to our day-to-day and it changes everyone, even if just a little bit.

An hour later, I got a text from our other friend saying that they’d stopped on The Road to visit with one of our friends farther out. It’s a funny thing, the coming and going along the 60 miles of road. There rarely is a time when we haven’t stopped, at least for a bit, to see a good friend we don’t normally see. When it takes 30 minutes just to go 3 miles across the river for a visit, it’s even more unlikely to travel 20 miles for one and so, on the way in or out when you can, you stop to see those you won’t see until the rivers break and the fireweed returns and we all convene back in Town. With that being said, we knew he would no longer be home within the hour and so The Chief headed out again to stoke the fire one last time.

He returned to my girlfriend’s house where we had already broken into her stash. This is the best conundrum of every return: what to eat first? It’s always random and never what you’d think and this time was no different: mozzarella cheese.

When you live in the middle of nowhere and new infusions of food are far and few between, it’s funny the things that sound mouth-wateringly delightful and that night, we all agreed on the cheese. Before long, half the block was gone (along with a solid dent in some tortilla chips and warming whiskey) and it was clear that our other friends would be out past our bedtime. After spending a day almost completely outside (since their houses didn’t start to warm up until early evening and even at that, they were still only 50 degrees, though still a complete respite from the biting cold outside) our bodies were ready to rest.

 

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A little cloud of exhale while eating a snack

 

And so, we headed home and what did we return to?

Well, a warm house.

The house wasn’t warm because we had built a fire that would outlast the day. Even the most amazing fire wouldn’t have been able to hold tight through 8 hours of cold knocking on the door. No, we returned to a warm house because while we were away, our neighbors had been coming by every few hours to throw a log on (or two, and to pet or let in or out our Miss Cinda Lou).

The karma loop continues.

It wasn’t just us that day that heated those houses. It was all of us. Our neighbors and us and every neighbor before them that checked on their house while they were away for the day. When life breaks down to food, shelter and warmth it becoming obvious what is important. Sure, our friends could have returned to cold houses, people have done it forever and still do it all the time. Or we could have spent the day away and returned to a 30 degree house. It’s happened, it happens. But none of us did. We all kept warm because of one another and not to be too (mozzarella) cheesy, but that’s the kind of thing that is the answer to the question I so often get: “Why in the world would you want to live all the way out there?”

Why? Because in a place where you have to be able to rely upon yourself, it’s that much better when you get a little help from your friends.

Cheers to flowers and fires for friends. Sure, we can all do it on our own but what’s the point? Be a friend in need of a warm house or a warm hug, this is what we are here for.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

If You Give This Girl a Snack…

 

…she’s still going to want a meal to go with it.

Remember that book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? My grandmother used to read it to me when I was a child and I remember feeling quite the kinship with that little mouse. He had his priorities straight. If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk. And why shouldn’t he? The simple harmony of that age-old combo makes it almost insulting not to. He was a little mouse with big food priorities and I identified with that.

As a kid, the first thing I would ask when sitting down to the dinner table, seeing my portion and assessing its size in comparison to the adults was: “Is there more?”

Little has changed. And so, as perhaps you could already tell, I am a lady who loves to eat. Hunger strikes often and I jump to action. From pancakes to pupusas, I’m a craver of all things edible and when it comes to hunger, few things can top that inner beast. She wins over most other necessities. And that’s my normal hunger level.

Winter hunger on the other hand is a whole new level.

Let the beast be unleashed.

 

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My skiing companion stopping for a frozen bunny leg snack.

 

You see, the thing is, I don’t let much stand in my way when it comes to eating. You think the kitchen is bare with only potatoes, beef and cabbage? I’ll find a way to make a Shepard’s pie with coleslaw to accompany it (we wouldn’t want the pie to get lonely now, would we?). I’ll do my best to make something out of nothing and given a plethora of materials, I might just go ahead and make a feast. Once, my brother and I, well adept in the art of imagining something from random availability, made an egg drop soup from scratch with the three things we had in our house. It was ridiculous and also delicious. Another time, neither of us had the energy to follow through on our plans to go on a hike or whatnot. The obvious solution? We went to the store and bought everything under the sun to make a complete Thanksgiving dinner.

It was the middle of Summer.

So yes, needless to say, when hunger comes my way I open the door with a grand gesture and welcome the beast to the table.

Winter hunger is a whole different kind of beast. She comes on strong and sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Your whole body is propelling you towards satisfying your most basic needs. You need heat, shelter, water and food. Simply being outside burns calories, so if you’re working outside its magnified tenfold and working can be as simple as hauling water. But, despite how basic it is, in the Winter, there always seems to be a hang-up.

The other morning, I awoke starving. The beast was knocking. I hurried downstairs, determined to make swift time with my chores in order to get to the good stuff: steel-cut oats with peaches and cream on top. Boom! All I had to do was build a fire since the house was now 40 degrees due to the weather outside producing a chilly 30 below (yes, that’s 30 degrees under zero. I still shake my head and open my eyes really wide when looking at the thermometer showing such a sight. It just doesn’t seem possible, but alas…). Well, that was all I had planned on, at least. I carefully descended the stairs, each step getting me closer as I headed to the wood stove to create a roaring fire and then a bountiful breakfast.

I arrived to a big empty spot where the firewood should have been.

O.K. no biggie.

I put a jacket on over my magenta robe and headed into the frosty morning.

“Hiyah!” the cold said as it slapped me in the face. “Take that!” it said, insulted that I would dare to venture outside so poorly clothed. I hurried to the shed and arrived coughing. That kind of cold can literally take your breath away. You inhale too fast and (*enter scientific explanation here) voila! You choke on your own breath. Pretty rude if you asked me.

I continued along and crouched down next to the pile of chopped logs, gloveless, stacking the frozen pieces in my arm which was held in a stiff 90 degree angle to support the weight.

One log, two log, three log, four

five log, six log, seven log…floor (or ground, to be more precise).

The pile tumbled out as I sloppily placed the last log. My hands were freezing and I didn’t perform the motions with the care I needed to. I was being lazy and because of that, I had to start all over again. This time I was more methodical, stacking with care instead of with a rush despite my popsicle hands. At this point the cold was seeping in and my eyelashes were freezing. Blinking my eyes was a devil’s dare as each time I opened them they would do their best to remain together, top and bottom lashes in a frosty embrace. Finally, vision impaired by the lash love and arm stacked high with frozen logs (other hand placed firmly in my jacket pocket to try to warm off some of the burning cold) I headed towards the house and was faced, as I am daily, by the Ramp of Doom (you might remember her from last year).

Last year I was learning to ski and I fell. A lot. Sometimes, the bulk of my ski was simply getting back up.

This year, I’ve gotten better. The other day, I realized that I had fallen down our ramp more times than I had fallen on my skis. Isn’t that wonderful? And so I stood at the bottom of the stairs, log arm starting to fatigue, and leaned forward, hoping my bodily trajectory and some forward momentum would see my safely through the gauntlet.

At the very top, my foot slipped on the last board and I jolted forward (propelling myself far enough to miss the gap (of course there had to be a gap at the top of the ramp between the ramp and the landing) yet not so far as to overshoot the landing. It had been a close one but I had made it. I hurried inside, dropped and then organized the logs and finally, finally, got to building our fire.

The cold was seeping in.

 

 

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When your window trinkets turn into ice bridges it’s pretty darn cold.

 

One last problem: the ashes in the fireplace needed to be emptied. Thankfully, I hadn’t taken off my (still inadequate) outdoor gear yet and so I set to emptying the ashes. Ten minutes later the stove was clean and I was exactly the opposite. My face and hands looked the likes of a smudged orphan straight out of Oliver Twist. Ah, how refreshing this morning was coming to be. Good thing we have a shower to just jump into. Oh…wait. That’s a whole other hour-long endeavor that my belly was not agreeing to. It would be a dusty breakfast. Not wanting to miss the moment of a cool and clean stove, I decided to go the extra mile and clean the glass with a homemade orange peel cleaner I had recently concocted. What a difference.

I took the ashes out into the woods and tried to throw them as far away from me as possible.

That did not happen.

My arc was off and the ashes came back at me like a little mini tornado.

Success!(?)

Now, fully ashed-up from my head to my toes, I headed back up the ramp (without fall) and into the house. I was in need of some serious face washing and a new set of clothes but not before I took the chill off the house (what are you crazy? It was too cold to take any layers off at this point. The temperature inside was still almost 70 degrees warmer than outside but our house was slowly turning into a freezer. Inside it was 38 degrees and dropping by the minute). By the time the flames were devouring the fresh wood and I had washed and (quickly) changed, an hour had passed since my ravenous self had first looked forward to breakfast. What an adventure the day had already been just to whip up a bowl of oats.

The Hour Long Oats.

That seemed excessive.

Enter: The Five Hour Pizza.

You know when you have a craving for something? I do. It’s on my mind until it’s in my belly. So, when The Chief had a hankering for some homemade pizza the other night, I wanted to support his inclination. Let’s get this guy a pizza. I was already hungry at this point and so my efforts went towards making us a snack in order to tide us over for the highly anticipated pizza while The Chief worked away at the dough.

Pizza!

The Chief loves pizza like I love my pancakes. Translation: that’s a lot.

We knew we were in for a little wait since we were making pizza from scratch and so the snack came in handy to stave off hunger for the hour ahead of us until pizza time. The Chief finished the dough and let it set to rise while we snacked away. Before long, we realized that we would need the generator. The inverter could have handled the load of the oven with the rest of the operations in the house but unfortunately, the charge in the batteries was low and therefore, needed to be charged by the generator and…

the generator was outside.

And as it would be, the weather on this night, like the day of The Hour Long Oats, was quite cold though only in the negative 20’s. Basically swimsuit weather, right?

Needless to say, it was going to take a moment for the generator to heat up enough to do its thing.

I guess the dough would reallllly get a chance to rise now.

We brought in the generator and unscrewed its cover to reveal the mechanical underbelly in need of warming, propped it up on my Make Me Taller block of wood and put it next to the wood stove.

For the next two hours, The Chief prepped the pizza bits in patient excitement. The snacks were wearing off and I was already headed towards a different dinner plan. Anything that could happen soon sounded better to me at that point but when I saw the care with which The Chief was concocting the perfect tomato base and shredding his cheese combo and selecting toppings I couldn’t concede to a little simple hunger. I was in support of this mission. Pizza Night was back on track despite edging less toward fashionably late and progressing to rude in my book.

The hunger beast knocked a little louder.

Finally, the generator was warm. We took it outside to run it and of course, the gas tank was empty. We went to refuel it and eventually returned to fill the generator. A few expert pulls from The Chief and she was whirring away.

On the way back in we realized we had forgotten the pepperoni in the “cooler” outside (see: tote placed outside in the frozen wilderness that serves as one of our freezers. Watch out Kenmore, there’s a new cool in town). Shoot! Now we would have to wait for these to defrost too.

Thankfully, the fire had been raging in order to defrost the genie (generator) and within 20 minutes the pepps were looking peppy. The pizza had been assembled, the oven pre-heated. It was time to make some kitchen magic happen. Cravings satisfied in 3, 2, 1…

Lights out.

Just as the oven had come to temp and we were readying the pizza for bake-off, the genie died.

“Hmmm…that’s strange” we both thought aloud optimistically. “Should be fine” we both reassured.

The Chief headed out to assess. Within a few minutes it was whirring again, the kitchen light came back on and we waited as the oven again rose to temperature. A momentary set-back.

The oven rose right up and…

Again. Lights out.

“Bad gas?” The Chief and I thought again aloud simultaneously. It was a hopeful solution. This time, we wouldn’t turn on the eco-throttle (basically it saves energy and burns less gas). We would let the genie run full-bore to burn through whatever water had gotten into the gas. We would blow the bad gas out, fix the machine and cook a pizza in the meantime. All set.

The Chief headed out again, ramped the machine up and came back in hopeful. “That should do it”.

A minute or so later, it stopped again.

By now, we were three hours into the pizza. The snacks had definitely worn off. The genie was dead, again.

We decided to bring it inside again. Without a warm shed to work in (ours isn’t enclosed and doesn’t have room for a stove in it to keep warm while working), a lot of work ends up happening inside. Our house took on the smell of gasoline and oil instead of pizza as The Chief slowly removed each part, checking for ice in the lines or some other mishap. I looked on with fingers crossed. Finally, diagnosing all he could see, The Chief put it all back together again.

We would try one more time.

You guessed it. Our last attempt was to no avail, despite the oven kicking on and almost coming to temp, the genie again died before we could high-five and we were left again staring at a pile of dough who so wanted to grow up to be a pizza.

What would we tell this dough? Sorry, we just couldn’t figure it out?

No! This man loved pizza. Darned if we wouldn’t try (again).

And so, we decided that although the batteries were in fact low, they were not so low that solely running the oven off of the inverter would be detrimental. We switched over the power and turned on the inverter. The oven clicked on and again the heating process started. The dough looked on with hope in its eyes. Pizza time.

Nope.

Within minutes, the inverter, without explanation suddenly quit. Our brand new inverter (O.K. 6 month old inverter) suddenly shut off out of nowhere. This had happened before during the Summer. I had turned it on to put music on for The Chief’s arrival home after a long day at work and instead of returning to tunes, he returned to me with my hands in the air, staring at the equipment that had suddenly quit. We had sent it in and they couldn’t recreate the problem. It had simply worked for them. $60 later in shipping fees and with no real response other than “That’s weird” from the company (they are extremely helpful but simply could not tell us what had transpired) we had our working inverter back.

Had it struck again? We tried turning it off, holding down the power button, talking to it, doing a dance, everything. Nothing worked. The pizza dough looked on in dismay. Finally, after tinkering away, The Chief decided to call it quits. I started thinking of the fastest solution to our hunger that I could muster and just when I was ready to start executing said meal The Chief said: “Well, I guess I’ll go get the old inverter.”

What? We are still doing this? The look in his eyes told me that he would cook this pizza if he had to go to Anchorage and back to buy a new inverter. He was not giving up. I love this about him. I wouldn’t say I’m some sort of deserter but my dedication to the project paled in comparison to his. I buckled down and got my supportive pants on. Let’s do this.

The Chief went out to grab the old inverter and I went to find the tool bag we would need. We came back together and he went to work, disassembling the existing set-up for the new inverter and connecting the old inverter instead. Through the mess of black and red wires, The Chief held steady and after stripping the wires and reconnecting them and adjusting and rearranging and overall doing things I still have no idea how to do, the old inverter was in place. It was now 4 hours since we had started our pizza project and edging towards 10pm. My overly dramatic hunger beast threw her hand up and “woe is me”‘d me many times but now, I was in it. I couldn’t be swayed. It was Pizza Night.

Thankfully, the old inverter (trusty steed that she is, fingers crossed) set right to business. The oven kicked back on, the dough rose with a smile and thirty minutes later, in it went. The house, once filled with the smell of gasoline and oil shifted palates as the dough turned to crust and the cheese bubbled up.

Finally, finally, it was pizza time.

By the time we sat down to eat, it was 11pm. I was past hungry (the beast had given up on the prospect of food and had instead taken to my insides like a punching bag), ready for bed and exhausted from the in and outs and highs and lows of the evening. We had a non-working generator, a non-functional but new inverter, an old inverter being pushed to her limits and a battery bank that was near dead with no way to charge it (since the genie was caput).

But, we did have pizza.

Honestly, that dough could have turned into bubble wrap in the oven that night and I still would have eaten it. To have simply gone to sleep after that journey would have been a slap in the face to the battle we had been through. Pizza Night Combat. We had made it.

And it was delicious.

Never before did I think I could live a life where the things that I want aren’t immediately available. A recipe calls for capers? Run to the store and get them. Well, no sireebob. That’s not how it goes in these here woods. But when the hunger beast calls, especially with a special hankering, you answer. The outcome might be different from what you expected, capers might have to be olives borrowed from a neighbor, ice cream might have to be blended snow and cream but when it’s all said and done, the journey makes it taste just as good as the real thing.

Cheers to the feast and to feeding the beast…eventually.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

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Leaving: Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or at least I assumed it wouldn’t be.

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

I’ve opened but never closed.

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

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

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

Now it was time for the reverse. The shutdown.

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

 

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

 

 

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The 8 hour lake loop

 

And then…the panic set in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy moly! This was a gift from the Gods.

Stop the projects and change gears: food time.

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

“Can canned peaches freeze?”

“Yes. Well, sort of.”

 

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Sort of sorting, sort of losing my mind

 

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

In our house.

Our house which is going to freeze.

Everything inside it is going to freeze.

Our house is going to be an unattended igloo.

This just doesn’t seem real to me.

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it started to rain.

Well, of course it did.

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

 

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A Winter’s worth of propane…we hope.

 

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

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

 

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Oh, the ingenuity of living in the woods.

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

 

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

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

 

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Mmmm…extra frozen veggies. The last supper.

 

Finally it was time to rest.

 

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Skis safe inside and ready to ride

 

Until morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were ready to go.

Oops, forgot to turn off the propane.

O.K. now we were ready to go.

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

No sign of her.

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

Nothing.

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

Now, she was nowhere to be found.

We weren’t leaving without her.

“We won’t leave without you.”

Famous last words.

 

 

…To be continued.

 

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Snow on the mountains on our last walk to The River