gardening in alaska

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?

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, 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 Reinterpretation of Thumbs

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When I was a child of 6 I had a bunny. Her name was Cinnabun due to her cinnamon color (not because of my affinity for cinnamon buns, though it is strong and not for Cinnabon the company. It was not even around at this point. Gasp! Contain yourself, or at least try to) and because she was a bun (short for bunny, ya know?). My parents had divorced years earlier and so she was a Dad’s House Bunny instead of a Go With Me Everywhere type bunny. And that was o.k., or so I thought.

Cinnabun made my time at my Dad’s house more bearable for me and she had been a breath of fresh, non-murderous air from my previous Dad’s House pets. My previous Dad’s House pets had all seemed to be been living out some sort of Roman Coliseum enactment. I had owned two rats whom had been incorrectly sexed as girls. I came to find out quickly that they were, in fact, boys. Two male rats might as well be two warring tigers, each with meat strapped around his neck to further entice the other into battle.

At night the battles began. Almost as soon as “good-nights” had been said the Battle Royale would begin. There would be squealing and shrieking and tearing about the cage, breaking their little wheel and spilling their food and water. I would turn on the light to find panting rats and blood everywhere. The moment I turned the light off, the battle would start again.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me or dare I say anyone, my Dad decided not to intervene for months and so every night I would pile pillows over my ears, in tears over the viciousness happening right behind my head (they were on a bookshelf behind my bed).

So that was one set of Dad’s House pets.

The next were 7 goldfish. At first, they were delightful; bright orange and gold floating little creatures with big eyes and hungry mouths. I loved them. For some reason the only container I was allotted was a Rubbermaid wash basin to house my new pets and so it was perhaps because of this that the Murderous Goldfish was born from within a potentially good goldfish. The bad seed bloomed.

Every day I would come home from school to find another goldfish dead. I didn’t get it. They were fed and housed and I talked with them non-stop (oh, maybe they were bored?). Sure, their accommodations were small but I was working on that.

Throughout the school week homeward I would come everyday to find one more dead goldfish each one looking suspiciously more roughed up. This was not just failing goldfish. Finally, the end of the week came and one goldfish was left standing. We realized once we looked back on the week (and the states of the goldfish) that he had in fact been killing the other goldfish. My Dad said he had seen him chasing after one, pushing it towards the corners.

How was I supposed to love this monster whom had killed all of the others? He was a jerk of a fish if I’d ever seen one. He even scared me. I would come to the “tank” and he would swim back and forth, jumping at me menacingly. I don’t remember what happened to this guy (he remained unnamed). He lived for a while and then after lamenting again and again to my Dad that all of my pets were murderers I returned one week for Dad’s House Days and the brute was gone. Perhaps the sewer systems of Sonoma County would know his whereabouts.

At his disappearance I was both relieved and disheartened all at once and so when finally came the day that Cinnabun came into our lives, a vegetarian hell-bent on little more than hopping about to find clover I felt I had finally found my pet. We would spend hours together, her hopping about, me following on all fours, wiggling my nose in agreement that indeed the best clover grew in the northern patches of the property. My dad and I built a teepee with sticks and grew sugar snap peas to climb up it, creating a hidden world for Cinnabun and myself to pass the days in.

But Cinnabun was not a Mom’s House and Dad’s House bunny, as I stated before and as I stated before I thought this was fine.

I was wrong.

One day I returned for my Dad’s House Days and Cinnabun was nowhere to be found.

“That’s odd” I thought to myself realizing within seconds that it wasn’t odd. Something was fishy here and now I was all alone again. Where was my friend?

I questioned my Dad mercilessly over The Days together. He didn’t know where she had gone or how.

Hmm..weird.

On one of The Days I was walking along on my stilts, pondering her disappearance when it dawned on me: my Dad had let her go.

Of course! She’s a bunny, not a jewel thief or Houdini. She didn’t crack the code or wiggle her way out of the cage. She was let out.

I angrily came to my Dad with this realization, hoping to be met with opposition but his response fell shorter than short.

“I did. You should have seen the way she looked at me, Julia. She was so miserable just being in her cage all the time.”

Umm…exsqueeze me?

I argued and argued. He could have let her out more, she always stayed near. He could have told me and I would have simply brought her to Mom’s house. He could have done anything other than what he had done but he didn’t see it that way. Plus, he added, his girlfriend thought she stunk.

Oh, well that makes it all the more reasonable.

I sat in the clover patch and cried and cried the rest of the Dad Days away.

A few weeks later on another set of Dad Days I was lonely and lazily walking through the garden. I had always loved digging in the dirt but it had always been a little nerve-racking. The garden was taken seriously and I was always afraid to make a mistake. I always seemed to water “too hard” or push down the seeds “too far” and I just “didn’t quite get it”. I didn’t have the green thumb of the family, that was for my Dad to claim and so I shied away from it. That was until it was time to plant the garden earlier that year. My Dad had told me that bunnies loved Nasturtium and so, setting my gardening insecurities aside, I planted and planted Nasturtium for Cinnabun to enjoy.

Well, the Nasturtium was now in full effect and remembering what my Dad had said about bunnies and Nasturtium flower I sat in the field and waited. He came out and noticed my efforts. “Nice job kid, maybe you’ll spot Cinnabun if you wait there quietly. She probably misses you.”

Ah, a dagger to the heart. Thanks, Dad.

And so I sat and sat and sat and ate and ate and ate Nasturtium, not wanting to leave for a snack and miss my chance at seeing Cinnabun again. I ate so much Nasturtium that Summer that I made myself sick daily and all for nothing. I never saw Cinnabun again.

My Dad on the other hand claims that she came back to visit him often to thank him for freeing her.

I guess she had no words for me, her captor.

I did however see her offspring. It seems she had teemed up with a Jackrabbit (or twenty) and suddenly all of the bunnies in the countryside were a clear mix between Cinnabun and Jackrabbit. My Dad singlehandedly changed the DNA of the bunnies in our area and I lost my friend, but hey, she had been “miserable” and she had stunk, right?

So, that was my intro to gardening (and half of my intro to pet ownership. Thankfully the other half at Mom’s House was a little less traumatizing). Planting and tending to the garden yet always critiquing myself or fearing critique. Planting for a purpose and then having that purpose destroyed. Not the best start.

I shied away from the garden after that. Even though it was truly something I enjoyed, it had lost something for me and carried a weight instead of relief.

As an adult I tried again. I started with cacti and killed them all via overwatering (also known as too much love). I tried orchids (geez, why not try bonsai next? A real recipe for success) and succeeded in promptly killing each and every one, except for the one I gave to a girlfriend who had it blooming within the week. Another deflated Garden Confidence Balloon.

Finally, I had my own house with room for gardening and I was determined to make something of it. The only problem was, I wasn’t the only one gardening and it turns out, my partner in crime was every bit the perfectionist my Dad was. I was “sloppy” and “watered at the wrong times of day” and in general, didn’t do it the way it was “supposed to be done” and so again, I shied away. And all of those critiques were perhaps valid but they weren’t the welcome wagon I needed to garner the confidence to start to garden again.

However, last year, before I left for Alaska, something started to shift (well, many things inside of me seemed to start to shift but this was one with a clear outcome). I decided the garden was going in instead of waiting for the call for “more soil” or “bring that shovel over” from someone else. I started to take a bit more charge. I found the place from which I would purchase my starts and planned out three beautiful raised beds. I was going for it. We even decided to bite the bullet and start raising bees as well.

 

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The wonderful D (whom I would eventually move in with before Alaska) and myself donning the beekeepers uniform.

 

The garden was going to be a success and I was finally including myself in the process. We bought the plants and tilled the soil, built a sun shade/green house and planted all in one day. I planted all of my herbs after we had finished on my own, each time hoping I had placed it correctly or watered it gently enough since because it was my herb garden and I was the only one planting it would be obvious that it was my fault if it failed. In the garden I didn’t know exactly which plants I had planted and so no one could have been to blame for a fruitless start.

 

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Look at those white legs! Maybe I’ve secretly lived in Alaska all along…

 

At the end of a long day I felt accomplished yet still nervous. I wanted to wash myself clean of the stigma I had accepted that I had a black thumb in the garden but I couldn’t quite until I had proven to myself otherwise.

 

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Ah to be able to simply go to the store and buy extra soil. Simple luxuries.

 

Well, I never quite got the chance to prove I was planting proficient (though in retrospect I had been running a beautiful and productive herb garden for the previous three years and had kept alive for three years a wonderful family Jade plant my mother had given me that she had cared for for 20 years prior).

I left.

Maybe a week or so after planting the garden and getting the bees I ended my relationship and moved out of my house, starting the flip of my world which would land me living in Alaska. I left all of my plant children and all of my thousands of bee children after all of the work I had put into them, never to receive any of the fruits of our labor. It didn’t matter because suddenly there was no salad or serving of honey that could have come from that garden that would have tided me over or sweetened the deal enough for me to stay.

Interestingly enough, the person I came to visit in Alaska, the person whom is the whole reason I am here today, came to visit that gardening day, right as I was planting roots in California. She just stopped over to say “hello”. Maybe as I was planting she too unexpectedly planted something in me, a whisper of options and happiness elsewhere. Who knows?

I missed my garden and my bees and checked in on them a few times when I returned to retrieve my belongings prior to leaving for Alaska but it wasn’t the bounty that I needed, it was the confidence I gained seeing the garden grow each time I returned. It was bountiful and I had planned and planted it. I hadn’t pressed the roots in too hard. I hadn’t transplanted them too roughly. I had given them a good start and with a little water and tending to they had grown into an amazing garden.

Once in Alaska, I missed having a garden even more since fresh can be hard to come by at times. But I planned instead of fretted (it was too late by the time that I realized that I was living with The Chief to get a garden growing) and got excited for the next year.

Well, the next year is here and despite its lessening, I have to admit that my self-doubt still whispers in my ear from time to time.

I was certain I wouldn’t be able to grow anything from seed.

I was wrong.

 

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I was certain I would plant incorrectly.

I was wrong.

I was certain that my starts wouldn’t fend as well as my neighbor’s did.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

You see, we have a communal garden between our neighbors and ourselves. There’s four of us and as the other couple is more experienced at gardening, I felt myself shying away again, feeling insecure, sure I would ruin something. But, between their encouragement and The Chief’s I started to have faith in the greenness of my thumb and let old insecurities start to fade away. Why not let them go? A fresh start.

 

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We all spent the day mending the greenhouse and planting seeds together

 

Sure, some things in the garden didn’t fare as well as others and despite even buying starts some of the starts I bought are now as big as my garden was in California within a week of transplant (and we transplanted the starts here a month and a half ago).

 

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Welcome in.

 

The soil needs work and the greenhouse needs further repair. Cilantro bolts overnight it seems and the garden can be soaked to the bones from watering in the morning and bone dry by midday. Gardening in Alaska is a whole other beast and you know what? It’s kind of perfect for me.

In California things grow easily. After the last frost it’s game on. There’s very little covering at night or babying of plants. For the most part, watering is sufficient given the right medium (soil) and the bounty is well, bountiful.

Here in Alaska the growing season is, just like most things in the Summer here, a race. Starts get going early on from seed and remain indoors until the last frost but often what one thinks is the last frost is in fact the second to last frost. I lost a few plants that way (and a shower unit due to freezing pipes). It’s all a gamble. You can have every aspect perfect and still, you might leave a plant out overnight and suddenly months of work are gone.

Oh well.

For a fearful gardener like myself, one might think this Alaska scenario would be defeating but, in fact, it inspires me. I feel like a mother bear protecting her young. The elements can be kind or cruel and its up to us and our neighbors to keep the plants going. Plus, there’s always room for improvement. Plus plus there’s never a critique or a lack of faith sent my way, only encouragement and that is worth more than I ever knew. And besides, even if I couldn’t grow anything myself, Alaska provides a bounty which constantly surprises me.

 

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A harvested Shepard’s Purse and Chamomile cuddle. Two hearts.

 

This year I started Nasturtium from seed. I worried it wouldn’t grow as I didn’t have the appropriate seedling mix. It grew. I watched it sprout as there were still snow patches outside. It grew alongside the celery that I grew from scraps over winter. It grew along with the many other starts that came up with it. Sure, some of them failed, some of them faltered, some of them, well, it is yet to see what they will do. That’s the joy of gardening now for me. It’s become an experiment. I take mental notes about what did what and when and contemplate why. I’ve started to shift from “you killed it” to “why did that not work and what can I do differently”? It’s no longer so personal and I worry less that I’ll be found out as the culprit for failure. Things come and go, ebb and flow. A perfect garden doesn’t exist, but ours will keep getting better through listening to the lessons it teaches.

 

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The Nasturtium hasn’t put out flowers yet and who knows if it ever will but over 20 years after the Cinnabun incident I still look at them daily and smile (and gag a bit). No longer do they have to stand for a Summer of heartache (and stomach-aches) but for a change of heart towards myself. My thumbs are neither green nor black but sometimes they are the color of the Earth in which they dig to create life. Our garden may not be perfect but it’s helped me to realize that nothing is.

It’s my first garden in Alaska, my first time planting Nasturtium as an adult and even better, it’s the year that the bunnies have returned to our valley. They are on a sort of seven-year cycle. They come back, the Lynx come back, the Lynx eat the bunnies, the bunnies die out, the Lynx go hungry and then die out and then, they start back around all over again.

Nasturtium and bunnies again. Oh, Alaska, your serendipity never ceases to amaze me.

Thank you.