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Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Smile Baby.jpg

The Little Letting-Gos

If there’s anything Alaska has tried and tried to teach me time and time again, it’s been the slow transition.

These past few weeks of Fall have been glorious (a word that often seems a bit over-enthusiastic but suddenly seems a Goldilocks “just right” to describe the colors we’ve seen).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Golden Hour

 

 

Truly beautiful. The Summer seemed to slink away overnight and suddenly we awoke to a world changed. Everything. The leaves did their dance through the wee hours into new colors and the air suddenly broke into crisp and away we went from a smooth Summer and into the quiet…

 

The quiet.

 

The quiet that descends upon this Valley is one I’ve never truly experienced in the Fall. Every year before I’ve either left before it came or left just as it was settling.

Well, it has settled.

It’s a Winter kind of quiet that wraps its arms around you and tells you to dive in. It’s the kind of quiet to feel alone to, like a sad song you need to hear to feel what you need to feel.

But it’s not Winter yet. And suddenly, the Fall is no longer the Fall but the Shoulder Season into Winter because just as quickly as Fall settled in, it faded and so now we welcome the Shoulder Season of the in-betweens and the lesson it carries.

 

 

 

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Fall fades.

 

 

 

The lesson that Alaska keeps hammering, time and time again.

The slow transition.

I outwitted the last slow change.

 

 

 

 

I had my last ski in March, left for California and returned in April to mush (and very little of it).

 

 

 

 

No skiing. Awkward walking. But the bulk of the slow transition has passed before I had come home and we were at the tail end of the Spring Shoulder Season just as the long Spring was just about to jump into Summer.

This time, for this Fall Shoulder Season, I decided to let it come. Let it wash over me. Historically, Fall was always an awkward time for me. I think I noticed the quieting of that which surrounded me and tried my darndest to avoid it. But there’s no escaping it. Even in a bustling city, you can hear it. You can feel it. The slow down. And it sank into my bones and made me ache for the rattling of Summer to take me away from having to dive deeper.

This Fall, I wasn’t running. I was driving. We were supposed to drive South. We were going to watch the colors change on the trees and then change back again as we drove from Fall here back into Summer down South. The “we” was Cinda and I. We had been planning it for almost a year, since before we had even gotten our first truck, round 1. I’ve always been a huge fan of road trips, especially of the solo variety. There’s no way to return unchanged. I was nervous, of course. I’d never taken the route and certainly not solo, but I didn’t feel solo. I had my girl.

We would talk about it and plan about it when we were out for walks. I would envision us with our windows down, Lou’s ears blowing in the wind with that specific smile she had for when things were just so easy, so good.

 

 

 

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Super fuzz face

 

 

 

We would camp together and I’d finally get to cuddle with her (she wasn’t a huge cuddler but she would tolerate a bit) in a tent of our own like her and her Dad had done on the property when they first settled in, a decade before, to our home. It would be our first solo road trip together.

My Mom used to tell me about a road trip she took with one of my childhood dogs, I believe out to see my Grandmother in St. Louis, then all returning together to California. I pictured Lou and I in the same light and it felt like a sort of changing of the guards, a tradition passed on from my Mom and her first baby to me and mine. It felt important.

It, of course, didn’t happen.

We returned home to the end of Summer without our first baby in the Time of Plans.

 

 

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Fall time foliage

 

 

“What are your plans for Winter?” which, of course, means, where are you going in the Fall and Winter and Spring until we see one another back here at Adult Summer Camp.

My plans had been set in stone and then, suddenly, there was nothing.

It took me weeks to speak what I already knew: I didn’t want to leave and at the same time, there was no place I wanted to be farther from. Cinda was everywhere, in everything. She was the bush at the Swimming Hole she loved to tackle after swimming. She was the road into Town that we would walk every Friday night to go see her Dad play Softball. She was in the flowers I had planted that were now shifting to seed, the fireweed sending its last showers of pink upon us. She was everywhere in a landscape that had shifted so much in the torturous week we had been gone. It had been full-fledged Summer when we left and now, it was ending. Everything was different and everything was the same except that she was nowhere to be found and yet everywhere all at once. I couldn’t stand to leave her and I couldn’t stand to be here without her.

And so, against my tradition of running, I decided to stay. I decided to stay in the pain of being here without her and of being here with her, in everything I do. I decided to sit through the long transition and let it wash over me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Little Letting Gos - Fall y'all

Solo shadow.

 

 

Her death has been full of slow transitions, full of little letting-gos.

For the first few weeks I found her Cinda fuzz everywhere, she was notorious for it. Our friend used to joke that we could come over as long as I told Cinda not to shed. We would all laugh aloud as she said it. “Lou-Lou, don’t you shed now, O.K?” I had taken to one fuzz in particular and used it as a bookmark and then put it into a locket a dear friend sent me. And then suddenly, there were no more. No more fuzzes. Suddenly, I was cleaning dog hair from visits from our neighbor dogs, but not from mine.

Little letting-gos.

Last week I finally felt ready to contact a girlfriend whose dog I thought of immediately to give Cinda’s dog food to when she passed. That was two months ago. Being the super-savvy dog mom that I am, I had found a way to get her food out here for free and delivered monthly and since I like to be ultra-prepared, I had two months of dog food in the arsenal, ready for my Lou. We returned to the 55-gallon drum full of food and two months later I was finally ready to empty it. I brought a sample of it to a girlfriend’s birthday where I knew my fellow dog mom friend would be so she could see if her little lady liked it. All the dogs followed me around all night like some Pied Piper and it felt good to feel important to a dog (or 10) even if it was just because of food. Thankfully, that popularity held true for her dog as well and the food was a hit, and just like that, it was time to give it up.

Little letting-gos.

Today, I woke up ready to jump on the train of this day and ride it to the last stop. I had and have a lot of work to do but right as The Chief was leaving this morning, my phone was telling me to check it. On it was a reminder: CJ kennel.

Cinda Jones kennel.

Today was the day to give it up.

A friend had posted on the Mail Shack bulletin board that he and his fur baby were looking for a kennel for travel. It was posted right when we got back without Cinda and The Chief called to let him know he could have ours. Two months ago. Today was the day. I went to load her kennel into our truck for The Chief to drop-off when I realized that the hardware was not with it. Savvy dog mom that I am, I had put it away separately in my suitcase. I crawled under our bed and moved the various totes out of the way and pulled the suitcase out and as I opened it, I broke down. There was my baby’s travel kit. Her no-spill water bowl and her collar that she only ever wore if we were traveling and even little poop bags for the trip out of the wilds and then, the hardware. I ended up giving him everything except the collar (obviously), packing it away with love for the new generation and love for ours we had lost. The Chief and I held one another as tears rolled down our faces. He had just been telling me earlier in the morning of a dream he had about her, alive again and well and here we were, sending off her things. Time to let go.

The little letting-gos.

The little letting-gos in the grand scheme of the large letting-go.

It’s been two months since we lost our little Lou, our Tiny T, Cinda Muffinberry, Fire Marshall Jones and it has been the most poignant lesson from Alaska yet, the slowest slow transition, in the Fall of all times. This year, I welcomed the Fall, I welcomed the quiet and the time to truly take that slow transition and to feel pain. Losing Cinda has made me realize that my whole life, I’ve run from pain. I’ve seen its glimmer and have shielded myself and so, it grew. It compounded and bubbled up and started to ooze out of cracks I hadn’t reinforced until suddenly, it burst. Submitting to the pain of Cinda has opened the floodgates to truly feel pain.

I highly recommend it.

It’s awful, it’s the depths you didn’t know but it’s finally moving through you and what better time to let go than the Fall?

 

 

 

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Sourdough Sunset

 

 

 

The glorious colors of Fall have faded and it would be now, in the past, that the sinking feeling would come in but there’s no need, it’s already been here. The leaves have turned to brown and fallen. The landscape is full of browns and greens again, making color a treat for the eyes instead of a constant. The rain lets up for a day of bluebird skies, only to fade away into a dreary pitter-patter pattern on the roof.

And for the first time, it’s O.K.

These little letting-gos haven’t made me feel farther from her, on the contrary, they’ve made her feel closer. The constant torture of remembering feeling the life leave her as her head grew heavier on my knee that day has stopped being as frequent and instead I tend to remember more her goofy smile when she was sleeping on the couch or her prancing dance she’d do when we got home at night (if she wasn’t already with us).

 

 

 

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Cozy comfy

 

 

 

And I remember her lessons. She not only taught me how to move about the woods, how to find my bearings and my way home she taught me to trust. Cinda is the first being I’ve ever truly, wholeheartedly trusted and it was amazing to know how that felt. And more than that, she taught me to trust myself again. She gave me her utter faith and she made me feel like a good mom and then she taught me to feel the pain.

I could have asked for nothing more, except for more time but I guess that’s just another little letting-go in a land of slow transitions. I think I’m learning, Alaska.

Love to you, my Lou. Thank you for taking me through the seasons of myself and finding the quiet within. It’s not as scary as I thought.

Happy Fall to you, whatever it may look like. Here’s to the little letting-gos and to the big.

 

‘Tis the season.

 

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Beneath the Borealis - On the Kindness of Strangers View of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Kennicott, Reflections

On the Kindness of Strangers

About one month ago, I opened my computer to find an email I would never have expected.

Before I knew it, the writing had me in tears.

The email was from a man in Texas who was hoping to fulfill his Mother’s last wish: to send a care package to a family in The Bush. After having stumbled upon my writing in his search, he had deemed us that deserving family.

The combination of loss and generosity moved me. I read the email aloud to The Chief, choking through the kind words.

We responded with our condolences and that of course, we would love a care package (please check my pulse if I ever turn one down), and sent him our address.

And then, it was out in the world. Whether or not the package ever arrived didn’t really matter, it was the thought that meant so much.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Until two weeks ago when we returned home without our Cinda for the first time, ever. The house felt lonely and solemn and I couldn’t decide whether waking up or going to sleep was worse because both served as brutal ambassadors to the change we had never wanted. But then, amongst the melancholy, the house filled with love, as well.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis On the Kindness of Strangers Kennicott River, McCarthy Alaska

The splits. One side is silent, the other raging.

 

 

 

The first night after we returned we were surrounded in it. One of our dear friends asked if he could come by and so started the flow of healing. Soon after he arrived, another friend, having heard what had happened showed up out of nowhere. We hadn’t seen him since last year. A little later another sweet friend came over with ice cream and dinner in tow and later another wonderful friend came by. They fed us and held us as we cried. They told stories of our babe that made us laugh, breaking if only for a minute the unending downward spiral in our minds of the traumatic week behind us.

And then, the first friend reminded us that he had brought our mail. Amongst the bills and advertisements sat a huge package with a return address we didn’t recognize.

Until we did.

It was the care package.

I couldn’t believe the happy happenstance. In the time we needed care most, here we were surrounded by our loved ones but also by the kindness of strangers.

Every time I pass by the box it makes me smile. It’s filled to the brim with all different sorts of goodies, packed in a seriously impressive tetris that I am never able to reproduce every time I disturb it. We have barely been able to make a dent yet.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis On the Kindness of Strangers Care Package, Cereal Boxes

 

 

In an effort to continue the cycle of kindness, we’ve promised to share the booty, especially with one of our favorite bachelors who is more likely to buy a round for us at the bar than food for himself. Now we just have to get him to accept it and make the journey to drop it off…

 

Thank you world for your strange serendipity, for your reminder of the shine in this world even when it feels dark. Thank you for the love of friends and family and the power of a hug and thank you, thank you for the kindness of strangers.

And specifically, thank you to C&C of TX, you truly were a ray of light on a dark time.

Here’s to the kindness of strangers, and to them no longer being strangers in our lives. Let the goodness continue.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - On the Kindness of Strangers  View of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Kennicott, Reflections

 

 

 

DOGTOWN, U.S.A Part II: Full Circle

I felt Death knocking.

I felt Death knocking and I bolted the door against her advances. I covered the cracks in the door frame, piled the furniture high and steadied myself against her pounding.

And all the while holding vigilant against her overtures, I scolded myself for my loss of optimism. I deemed myself cynical and paranoid and told myself to ignore my gut.

I felt Death knocking.

I hoped I was wrong.

And then she came in.

She pushed away our barricades as if they were nothing and in one fell swoop confirmed my worst fears in a swell of sadness that swept me away.

 

I lost my best friend.

 

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On Wednesday after the worst week of all three of our lives, we made the hardest decision we have yet to make together:

We bid farewell to our Cinda.

Together we held her as she took her last breaths and together we wrapped her body in a blanket. Together we secured her onto the backboard her Dad had made for her. Together we said our goodbyes to those whom had kindly housed us in Town in our worst time.

Together the three of us went home.

It felt like a cruel joke.

The last time we had gone to Town, I had brought Cinda with me because I was concerned about her health. She and my Mom and I had piled into the truck that too was having issues. The ride there was quiet as a feeling of panic spread over me. I was paranoid about her health. Our town had already lost two dogs this Summer, I couldn’t handle her being next. And so I said a prayer over and over in my mind:

“If something has to fail, make it be the truck. Anything but my girl.”

And my prayers were answered.

Two days later Cinda and I had made it home with the help of a girlfriend and her trusty steed. Our truck hadn’t made it back but Lou? She was fine. The picture of health. It had been superstition after all. I had been paranoid and I had been wrong. I shook off the feeling of Death. We were together and she was healthy.

And that was all that mattered.

 

 

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Cinda Bones scaling the glacial walls like it’s nothing. 

 

 

There would be more trucks.

 

And then there was a new truck and The Chief went into Town to get it.

A few hours later Lou and I followed, catching a ride with a friend when I realized that her condition was worsening.

The whole way I again prayed to anyone and anything that would listen. I told myself Death was just taunting us, knocking louder now but that she could be quelled like the last time. She would stop. Cinda was at the top of her game. Svelte and happy and healthy. The Vet had told me so only weeks before.

Still I prayed over and over along the drive and in the week that followed. I offered up my own health, our home, money. Anything. Everything. “Please, take what you want. Anything but my baby. Please let her make it through.”

 

 

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One week later, The Chief and I drove home together hand in hand in a new truck with our baby’s body in the bed.

We returned home to an oppressive feeling of emptiness and to the most painful full circle experience I’ve ever had.

When we walked in the door we were greeted by a dinner left for us by our neighbors and to a beautiful note of condolence. Those were the same kindnesses and love we had bestowed upon them only a few months before when they had to make the transition of walking through their doorway for the first time without their baby.

Full circle.

Life is cruel and beautiful all in one.

In the morning we awoke for the first time in our house without our baby.

 

You never realize the quiet until it comes.

It’s deafening.

 

We spent the day digging her grave. The spot where she and her Dad had slept together in a tent the first Summer they had lived on the property was where we laid her to rest. As we walked the property earlier that morning to find where she would rest, the spot had called us in and put its arms around us the way only the Earth can.

We dug until we were up to our shoulders in an earthen grave, until we had to help one another out, until we were sure she would be safe from the wilds of the woods.

All the while, her Brother watched over us. He had come over from next door and had greeted us with his head down and without so much as the twitch of his tail. He was solemn and stoic as he let us bury our faces in his fur. We sobbed into him. He slept beside the ever-growing hole that would be her grave and as I dug my heart was broken again and again as I would look up and catch a glimpse of his tail and think that it was hers.

But it wasn’t.

And then as we left to prepare her body, her Brother left too.

We cleaned her and dried her and cried into her fur and then wrapped her again in one of her Dad’s blankets from their early days. Slowly we lowered her into the grave and said our final goodbyes. In the hours that followed we filled her grave with dirt and covered the top in moss and rocks and flowers.

Our baby.

 

 

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Our first Christmas.

 

 

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Our last family ski

 

 

Cinda was our first baby.

And she was my very best friend.

She was the reason I made it through my first Winter when The Chief worked all the dark day long and I was left in an unfamiliar place all alone. In the cold and the vast darkness she was my light and I was no longer alone. I talked to her more than anyone else. She waited patiently as I learned to ski and made me feel safe in the big white world I had found myself in.

 

 

 

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Keeping me company while I organized totes.

 

She showed me around and taught me to navigate the place I called home. At every turn she would wait for me to make sure I wouldn’t miss it.

 

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This way, Mommy.

 

 

She was my best friend and I lost her.

I lost her and still, she is everywhere.

I hear her though she’s not there. I smell the way her paws smelled in fleeting moments and it taunts me. I find her fur at every turn. I see her footprints in the soft landings of the river’s shore.

I still look for her in her bed under the house every time I walk up the stairs and I wait for her to peek up at me over the table in our living room. My heart breaks in expectant surprise when I turn around in the kitchen and she isn’t there to sample what I’m making. I feel as if I’m just waiting to turn the corner and see her again, as though I’ve simply lost her and not that she’s lost her life.

 

 

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Sneaky, peaky T.

 

 

She visits us in our dreams and in the memories of our Friend Family who have been there every step of the way to kneel at her grave and cry, to wrap us in their arms, to feed us and to tell stories that make us able to laugh again.

It’s a constant up and down whirlybird of a rollercoaster on a ride I never wanted to go on that I never paid admittance for. It feels as if we are here by accident, by a terrible joke.

But we aren’t.

This is our new life. Just us and the quiet.

 

Despite the despair and the pain that feel infinite it was worth it. I wouldn’t take back getting to love her in order to avoid this but I would do anything for more time together.

I love you, Cinda, dog of unflinching personality and infinite nicknames and lessons and love. There will never be another like you. Thank you for letting me be your Mom, for as one of your Grandmas said with a laugh: you didn’t have to let me be your Mom but you did.

Thank you. We will see you on the other side.

We miss you. So much.

 

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A Winter Wind Event

When I first pictured Winter in Alaska, it was during the heat of Summer and the question of whether I would stay for the Summer had shifted to whether or not I would stay for the Winter.

In Alaska (just to clarify).

I looked at my bearded boyfriend in these times and would laugh it off, hoping the questions would stop. I was terrified of Winter and despite wanting to stay, my California blood was telling me I wouldn’t make it. And I had, what I considered at the time, to be proof of my Winter inability. The Chief and I had taken a trip into the backcountry that Summer and by dusk I was already donning three layers on top, three layers on bottom, two pair of socks and sheepskin slippers.

And still I was cold.

It was the middle of Summer.

 

Winter, as I pictured it, was 20 times worse. I envisioned myself shivering in the cabin, eyelashes frozen and teeth chattering while dressed to the Winter nines a la “A Christmas Story”. I didn’t see how I could ever be warm in Winter if I was barely surviving the Summer. However, needless to say, the bearded boyfriend and I were bonded and as I’d already done a lifestyle 180 since meeting him I figured I should stop now. And so, we set off for Winter together.

It seems my notions of Winter forewent reality. In my imaginings (read: terrifying daydreams), I had altogether forgotten about our workhorse of a woodstove and thus the heated haven that our house would provide from the never-before-known-to-me-cold levels of Alaska in Winter. And so, it comes as little surprise that when asked where I live and how cold it can get here and I reply that 35 below zero is common, the first question usually asks how in the hell I ever get warm? I guess it’s not so uncommon to forget about the woodstove.

In these times I always assure people that we are cozy-toasty-wamer-than-Summer-warm in the Winter. In fact, most nights we heat ourselves out of our comfort zone and end up in our skivvies with the windows cracked to cool the house from the sweltering 90 degrees the woodstove has brought our interior temperature to. The other heat tidbit I throw out is our dry cold. “It’s a dry cold” I say. And it is. That’s why I was colder in the Summer and I’m often colder in California than I am here, even in Winter. And then, I provide the following fated little add-on: “Plus, there’s never wind.”

Ring, ring.

“Hello, Alaska speaking.”

“Did you hear that? She just guaranteed no wind here. Shall we remind her?”

“Yes. I think yes.”

 

I have never lived in a place where I can expect such succinct and exacting karma as I experience here. It’s as if Alaska has a secretary with a notepad leaving memos for each of her inhabitants listing their foibles as they go:

“I haven’t fallen down the ramp in weeks!”

“It’s been so warm lately.”

“The ski conditions are perfect.”

 

For each time I uttered the above sentences, my statements were almost immediately met by evidence to the contrary: my next quick trip down the stairs (with perhaps a bit too much confidence) ended in a swift trip onto my backside. The warm weather would immediately be met by a cold front resulting in a shift of 65 degrees so fast that it gave us the spins. The perfect ski the night before would be a distant memory to an eerily icy endeavor the morning after.

Yet despite this reality, that what I state is so often immediately contradicted by a following shift, I still find the nerve to make such statements because, well, honestly I forget. Or perhaps I think I can get away without the Secretary reporting it.

And so, while quieting fears of cold and mentioning our lack of wind to concerned questioners, Alaska’s secretary must have taken note and filed that one away for later.

And then, later came.

One morning, I awoke to a text from my girlfriend: “I hope you all didn’t get blown away! Hang in there.”

Huh?

I looked outside.

Nothing too ominous.

I asked The Chief if he had felt anything.

Nothing strange.

And so, I went about my morning ski with my dog team of two (at the time we were watching our neighbor’s dog who is Cinda’s brother. We adore him).

Before we had even dropped down onto The River Trail I saw what all the fuss was about.

 

 

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Those aren’t clouds up there…

 

 

From our standpoint I could see the swirling winds on the peaks of the mountains surrounding us and as we dipped down onto the river trail the winds hit.

Boom!

Like a slap in the face, the winds picked up all around us. And just as fast, they died down. Then started again. It was abrupt and jarring and cold to say the least. The dogs gave me the same look I gave them: this isn’t pleasant but I think we should investigate.

And so we did.

The obvious place to go in the middle of a Winter Wind Storm? Well, the least covered place possible!

And so, we headed towards the vehicle bridge and the middle of The River.

 

 

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Blustery mountaintops. Pooh Bear beware.

 

On the ski there we were fighting the wind the whole way. The dogs had their heads down and we all buttoned up for the battle forward. Each stride took forever and I leaned into the gusts as if going uphill. Within minutes my face was utterly frozen and my ears were ringing from cold. The ski which would normally take me 30 minutes had already taken 45 and we weren’t even there yet. The dogs and I had a powwow at the last straight shot before the turn for the bridge and we all decided to trudge on to the destination (What? You don’t have these conversations?). As we continued on the winds picked up again and soon we were dodging huge chunks of snow that were being blown out of the trees down towards us.

We were under siege.

Finally, a few close calls later and we had made it to our destination.

 

 

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Don’t lean back, little lady.

 

I immediately wondered why in the world we had chosen this end.

The winds, which had picked up before, seemed to have rallied all of their wind buddies and they descended upon us in a frenzied attack. As if the other side of The River had the shelter we craved, the dogs ran ahead of me and out of sight. I followed suit but in the middle of my crossing, the winds (which had barely died down) again picked up to their raging selves. The fixtures on the bridge blew rapidly in the storm and made an eery sound. I looked down to see snow rushing about me and as I followed its trajectory downriver I suddenly felt enveloped in a sensation: The River was flowing.

And I was in the middle of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Without turning around, I skied backwards to the slight shelter of the drop down to The River and no sooner had I arrived than a gust of wind came from nowhere and knocked me face flat down in the snow. My already chapped face got an extra burn as the snow beard I now donned set the chill in.

Again I looked at The River. I knew it wasn’t actually open but as I watched the snowflakes move in perfect harmony like a school of fish the sensation came over me again.

The River looked like it was moving.

That coupled with the eery sounds paired with the whipping winds and the sudden lack of my two dog team (dogs out here give you an unjustified sense of safety) made my stomach turn. I hollered for them to come back but they wouldn’t budge. The safe haven of the other side had proven fruitless but they weren’t about to cross the completely unsheltered River again if they didn’t have to. And so, despite my tumbling tummy and the vertigo The River incited in me, I crossed.

The winds again tried to knock me down but I skied leaning upriver at a 45 degree angle and was able to combat them. Being knocked over by wind into the snow? No biggie. Being knocked over onto ice? Ouch.

I met the dogs on the other side and they were hell-bent on heading into Town but I was able to sway them otherwise. We took the bridge this time and were nearly knocked off of it by a swift gust. Heads down, now crouched below the metal rungs we made it across.

Like horses to stable, we were quick on our feet, rushing to the quiet and calm of home. The less windy side of The River on the trip over had become equally as windy as the opposite side and we seemed to constantly be dodging huge chunks of compacted snow with each step (or in my case glide). The dogs kept checking back with me to see if I was still making it through the gauntlet. My face was chapped and burning so I pulled my hair around it to create a mask. We skied the remaining miles in a canter, the dogs running ahead and me following as quickly behind as I could.

 

 

 

 

The snow-covered trees of our side of The River which had been completely unfettered by the windstorm my friend had experienced the night before, were now stark naked from the battering bursts of wind. We raced to their cover as we turned off of the River Trail and into the haven of the Forest Path.

No sooner had we gotten home did the winds follow suit. They whipped through our trees, flinging snow clods about and rustling birds out of their perches. The forest was abuzz with the redecorating Mother Nature had in store for us. The dog team of two and I scaled the icy ramp and burst through the door and into…

a warm and cozy cabin for two (well, four with the pooches). The woodstove was roaring and quickly chipped away the chill the previous two hours had set into my bones. The woodstove: the Winter protector.

It quickly occurred to me that I had been caught in a guarantee:

We never have wind.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I found myself caught in my own trap. It’s as if I had called The Secretary myself to make my proclamation: no wind here. Not ever, not never.

Whoops!

If last Summer had been any indicator of the potential for Wind, I should have known better. Yet, alas, I did not.

I guess the only guarantee out here is that there is no guarantee. Since that day, the Winter has been, well, windy. Not every day, not every minute but I can no longer venture to guarantee that “it’s not so cold because there is never wind”. It’s just not true and it never was. I can guarantee the benefits of a good woodstove and the strange quality of cooking in one’s underwear while the temperature inside is 100 degrees different from the outside. 70 above inside. 30 below outside. It’s as bizarre as it is delightful and makes me grateful for shelter and heat with every stir of the spoon.

Despite the inhospitable outdoors, the indoors was a welcoming haven. Perhaps too welcoming. By the evening we were far from our chilly morning, but one of us got a little too warm…

 

 

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Diesel and his bum burn. Remember: don’t get too close to the woodstove.

 

 

And so we took a walk again to cool off and air out the singed fur smelling cabin we all were now choking on. The winds had died down but the snow was still swirling about, finding where it would settle next and creating a pastel sunset.

 

 

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You never know what you’re going to get but a guarantee will certainly come back to surprise you.

Cheers to you Alaska for always having the upper hand and a surprise in store. Perhaps one day I’ll remember that nothing is for certain. Until then, I’ll try to stay on my toes, leaning uphill.

Leaving: Part II

It was Leaving Day.

The truck was packed, the house was checked once, twice and three times by this lady (and The Chief). We had gas in the truck, she was running again, our bags were packed and…

our dog was nowhere to be found.

We called for her and called for her.

Nothing.

At times, especially when she is grumpy, it can take a few minutes for her to show up. But this? This was different. The truck was running and time was running away with it. We were on a mission to make it to the DMV before it closed at 4pm and every minute more pushed us farther away from that possibility.

Country DMV vs. City DMV? You choose but for us a one room, one person run DMV in the middle of nowhere is highly preferable to a multi-room, multi-station, many grumpy person situation in Anchorage. We wanted desperately to make it in time.

Cinda, on the other hand, free to operate without license or registration, was not on the same agenda and was proving to us just how serious we were when we had stated: “we won’t leave without you”.

And we wouldn’t. Sure, she’d stayed behind in Alaska for short jaunts while in the care of her Uncle before but today, this trip, this time, that was not the plan.

Finally, after many hoots and hollers and phone calls to her Uncles we heard another neighbor yell:

“She’s over here!”

We took the path between houses and headed in our neighbor’s direction. Her Uncle yelled too:

“Just saw her run by!”

The little stinker was going for it.

Just as I met her Uncle on the path he said what I thought was a joke:

“Little lady’s probably rolling in moose or something.”

Ha! Yea, that would be just like her.

Just then, she came racing around the corner all Who, Me? looks in her eyes. She gave a me a quick “hello” and then started in the direction home. We yelled “thank you” to the neighbor and her Uncle walked back with us (her brother in tow) to our house to say “goodbye” for the next few months.

Cinda trotted ahead, leading the pack.

We said our goodbyes and finally loaded up. I jumped in and The Chief loaded Miss Lou onto the bench seat with me where she swiftly commandeered nearly the entirety of the seating. The Chief and I finagled some room and off we went.

Finally!

 

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Last looks at snowy mountaintops

 

Oh.

My.

Gosh.

 

What is that smell?

I looked down and my sweet little daughter of a dog had a sheen to her like I’d never quite seen. She looked up at me, proud and smiling as I put it all together.

Her Uncle’s comment? Not much of a joke.

It was the end of moose season and dogs had been finding little bits and pieces throughout the week to steal and bury and rub against.

But, this was more than that. My little angel seemed to have found the gut stash.

I relayed her stench to The Chief who was far enough away and out his window not to receive the bounty of her find.

“Oh yeah, I bet she found some guts to roll in.”

Ah, the woods. The sweet smell of Winter approaching and…guts all over my dog and now all my lap (since, in her conquest of space/her rare moments of slightly snuggling, she had her upper half and offending head in my lap).

I almost threw up.

Typically, I’m pretty good with disgusting smells (a trait that’s come in handy out in the woods) but this was a whole mess of gross.

“Well, hey, she’s gotta put on her perfume. We are going to Town.”

Suddenly, my disgust went away as I burst out laughing. I looked down at our proud pup and she looked at both of us as if to say “Yeah, right? I smell damn good.”

The giggles this gave me were such a relief. Sure, we still had a journey to go but now, we were out of the house, out of the snares of leaving. We had left and the giggles had opened the gate to a new path. Sure, the stress of wondering what it was we had forgotten to do still lingered (and still does) but something shifted.

We were on our way.

40 minutes later (and two hello/goodbyes with friends on The Road) and we arrived at our friends’ house where our plants would live. And then, after saying our goodbyes and hellos, we were off (again).

We had just enough time to make it to the DMV and make it we did to receive permanent registration (no smog!) for our vehicle. The day was looking up. All we had ahead of us was trash drop-off and making it to our hotel.

A few hours later, we made it to the trash drop. I backed in and jumped into the bed, handing The Chief the yuck, one bag at a time. Thankfully, we had the foresight to pack the truck accordingly (recycling first, trash second) so that the trash would be accessible and the truck wouldn’t need to be repacked.

Another thing checked off the list. The load was getting lighter along with our moods and the stench of Cinda was becoming slightly less (especially since I was driving and she was propped up on The Chief).

Until, the turns kicked in.

The road was getting windy and Miss Lou shifted positions. She turned around to face me. The stench thickened. She alternated between putting her chin on the Overdrive shifter or in my lap. I said a brief goodbye to my pants until I could wash them. I reeked. We reeked. But I was getting used to it. Occasionally, strong wafts would overcome me but it was less and less puke inducing.

Until, she puked.

The windy roads must have been getting to her because she looked up at me and then looked down at the floor and upchucked all over her fuzzy white paws. The smell was offensive, to say the least and for the first time that smelly day, I thought I might actually follow suit all over myself (I’m not a puker but my stomach started doing gymnastics).

I pulled over as swiftly as possible and we started the clean-up process while trying not to create more of a mess ourselves.

The rest of the four-hour drive was a constant alternation of puke smell, gut smell and giggles. Cinda looked only slightly less impressed with herself, perhaps rethinking moose guts as a treat before a long bumpy ride but certainly not as a perfume and The Chief and I thought up new jokes about Cinda and her new Town attitude.

We stopped at the last little look of nature for a walk before descending into the hustle and bustle just before sunset.

 

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An hour later and finally, we had made it.

Anchorage, the Big City.

We settled in with a pizza (one of the first things people mention when they get excited for Town) and our books and eventually settled into sleep.

The next day was the day of errands.

 

We started early with a check-up for The Chief to see how his sinus surgery was holding up (very well) and then headed for recycling. The recycling in Alaska is like nothing I’ve ever seen (and I’m from California). My hours of separating were only partially triumphant. We arrived and realized that I hadn’t separated plastics. We left those for last and I held fast in the bed of the truck handing The Chief the otherwise organized bags of bottles and cans and aluminum. A girlfriend (also in Town) came to meet us to say “goodbye” and also marveled at the extreme organization of the place. Paper, cardboard, plastics 1s, 2s, 5s etc. and on and on and on. Finally, we found the Holy Grail of recycle town: a 1s and 2s bin! Our plastics were almost all 1s and 2s and so the process gained speed once again.

Another thing off the list!

Finally it was off to Cinda’s vet appointment to get her O.K. to fly. An hour and a few hundred dollars later and we were certified and ready. The day was coming to a close and so we met up with a neighbor in Town and headed to the movies (another major Town excitement).

The next day was a last-minute whirlwind of repacking the now empty (minus the barrels) truck, eating pancakes (oh, how’d that get in there) and…laundry. The Chief actually started the process while I went off for an appointment of my own (eyebrows, oh my!) and a few hours later, after folding and sorting that which we wanted to bring versus that which would stay the next two months in the truck waiting for us, and we were done. We made a few last minute purchases (like a new crate for the Lou and copies of the truck keys since having one was just asking for a lock-out) and then, the wait.

 

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Oh, and the most bedazzled coffee cup I’ve ever seen.

 

 

We were in the homestretch. Our flight was at midnight and we had a few hours left to let the pup run free before putting her on the plane. We headed to another friend’s house where another neighbor met us (we were all flying together) and it was a woods reunion filled with dinner and a family walk to the park. The perfect send-off. And then, just when on any other night we would have said our goodbyes and headed home, we said our goodbyes and instead started a whole new day.

Off to the airport.

We all crammed into the truck (even more of a squeeze with three people and a dog) and made our way to the car drop-off.

From there it was on. We pulled up and hurriedly unloaded two months of goods and gear for three people and a pup, rushed onto the shuttle and headed to the airport. We were in good time but the anxiety of travel started to set in. Cinda’s eyes widened as we stepped into the hustle and bustle of the airport.

30 minutes of checking her in and $110 (2 bottles of water to tape to her kennel and passage on the plane) later and we were forcing our Lou into the kennel. It is never a good feeling, shoving her in there while she splays out in every way possible to avoid it. Major puppy eyes looked out at us as we said our “see you soons”. This time we were leaving without her, but (we hoped) she would be following behind.

Finally, post-security and gate finding, we were all loaded up. Three kids from the woods and a ticket to show that Cinda had made it on too (which we could only hope was true).

 

 

 

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Ah, the red-eye.

Hours later, after maybe 30 minutes collectively of quality sleep, we landed in L.A.

L.A.? Doesn’t make much sense to me either, but the only reasonable flights we could find to our part of Northern California went first down to L.A. and then back North to STS. An hour later, at 6am, after almost missing our flight, we walked the outside stairs into the plane. After a few stressful minutes we received Cinda’s proof of being on the plane and we were off.

No sleep and a few hours later and we were there. The Chief went to meet the friend picking us all up and our neighbor and I waited for luggage and Lou.

I thought she was going to lose her mind, yelping and hollering.

Thankfully, my bags had come off prior to her and thankfully I had packed my knife so we could undo the zip ties keeping her in her cage and set her free. We ran outside to see her Dad as our neighbor laughed and told us to “go ahead” as he handled all 8 pieces of luggage.

 

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She was overjoyed, as were we. We had made it.

We loaded up the little truck meant for three people not four and a dog and drove Alaska style to our destination: breakfast.

Three days of traveling and it was finally time to settle (at least for a few days until we moved again to our house sitting spot).

We ate and enjoyed and marveled at the enormous strawberries on each of our plates that were merely there for garnish.

Garnish.

In Alaska you’d be lucky to get a sprig of parsley. Never a strawberry. In Alaska, strawberries are like gold nuggets. You don’t just throw them on a plate.

We had made it, to the land of plenty, to the bountiful land I’d grown up in.

Strawberries as garnish for breakfast.

It’s good to be back.

 

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Even with the headlights blaring, it’s still an amazing sky here.

 

 

Today Was a Good Day

Some days stand out more than others. Some days remind me more than others of where I am, of the majesty of this place and of the refreshing concoction of absolute wilderness and strangely cosmopolitan offerings we enjoy and of the importance of friendship.

It was a Sunday and a somewhat gloomy day in the very first moments of September. Some gloomy days welcome me to the indoors, others make the indoors feel frantic and claustrophobic. This one embodied the latter. Although I typically think of Sundays as a home day for family time (and pancakes. Lots of pancakes), our schedules haven’t really met up to make this shiny Sunday ideal a possibility. And so I sat in our cabin alone, knowing I should be writing or reading or whatnot and enjoying the peace and quiet but I was instead feeling stifled by the four walls around me. I needed to get out.

In these moments I typically suit up and head out alone, walking the River Trail by our house (hoping the dog doesn’t ditch me) and returning refreshed. But that day I needed more than the River Trail. I needed an adventure. Since my post about getting out a few weeks ago I’ve been on a sort of mission to explore more whenever possible. Sunny days make it easy, it’s the gloomy ones that feel a bit like a ball and chain. But once you’re out, and break free of whatever imagined heaviness you felt, you realize you were always free and well, it’s on.

And so I ventured out of my typical approach of solo outings and contacted a girlfriend instead. She is someone I’d enjoyed meeting up with all Summer but we hadn’t made time to have intentionally set girl time, it had always been by a gathering’s happenstance instead. She replied immediately.

“I’ll be ready to go in 30 minutes.”

Oh, snap.

Apparently it was time to get moving. In true Sunday fashion I was still donning PJs, sleepy eyes and a head full of bed.

I started collecting what I’d need. We had decided on a walk to The Toe (the end of one of the local glaciers). I dressed and I packed (snacks, water, a knife, extra socks, jacket, rain jacket) gave the house one final look and set outside to get going. 30 minutes had already passed. She was going to walk and meet me down at the parking spot (literally one spot to the right of the No Passing sign down at The Toe) after 30 minutes. I realized that she didn’t know how far I lived (and I had overestimated my get up and go timing) and told her to hold those horses but that I was on my way.

Right?

I remembered then that I had told our neighbor that I would exercise his pup that day. And so I loaded Cinda up into our new (to us) truck and headed out to gather him.

Nope.

The truck (which had been giving us quite the go around in true wilderness vehicle fashion with an un-diagnosed fuel issue which had already stranded us multiple times) started but the moment I put it into reverse it chugged to a stop. I tried again. This time she fired up with gusto (thattagirl!) and I decided to take a few steps forward before venturing backwards again (there was a hump within the first few feet behind us which required a bit more power than the little lady seemed to have). She roared forward and then started strong backing up and…chugged to a halt. Cinda looked at me like she did while I was learning the stick shift last winter, as if to say “Lady, I could do this with my eyes closed”. Well, close those eyes Cinda Jones because this is about to be a do-si-do dance of frustration. I tried the back and forth a few more times before calling it on account of gas. She needed a fresh pot to brew on (she seems to think she’s empty when she’s not and so sometimes adding 5 gallons of gas does the trick, even if there’s already plenty of fuel to spare).

I topped her off and ta-da! Off we went with Jones rolling her eyes the whole time. We were on our way and, dog-disses aside, were having a pretty good time already. I popped on some tunes and headed to get our second backseat driver: Cinda’s brother Diesel.

After shocking him half to death just by opening the door due to his hearing loss it then took me almost 5 minutes to get him out the door. I pet him and cooed at him and made big gestures, all the while hearing the truck chugging in park (no way was I turning the beast off after all that) and hoping she would continue. Finally, he rose, stretched and gaily skeedadled towards the truck. He knew the drill, even if he’d never seen the truck before. I loaded him up and got in myself as the dogs settled in with their backs to one another, looking out their respective windows without so much as a ruff of acknowledgement. Oh siblings.

Finally we were off.

We decided on a new meeting place: The Restaurant. After all that, this girl needed some stronger coffee. Coffee, some chit-chat and an enormous breakfast burrito later and now all of us were off together.

I realized quickly that I didn’t know where I was going. I had been driven down to The Toe once last year when I had first arrived and once again via the Wagon Road coming from the opposite direction on the back of a 4-wheeler where I was more concerned with spotting the bears leaving the plentiful piles of bright red berry bear poop than I was with remembering directions.

Thankfully, my girlfriend had a solid knowledge versus my inkling and she guided us safely into harbor.

 

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The leaves setting the mountains afire in color.

 

It was beautiful. The day which before had felt gloomy now felt luminous. We started walking to the glacial lake when we spotted what looked like a photo shoot. Three girls were gathered behind a rock. Two were doting on one, bringing her flowers and fixing her locks. Then, I realized that I knew one of them. I waved hello and she shouted back joyfully:

“We’re having a wedding!”

We shouted our congratulations to her friend and looked to the left to see the groom and his men waiting for the lovely bride. It was beautiful and set such a sweet tone to head into nature with.

We walked along the cliff’s edge of the lake as the dogs ran up and down the steep terrain. Eventually it evened out and we descended on an easier slope.

 

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Icebergs ahead!

 

Just then, the dogs went crazy. They had picked up a scent (they were no longer ignoring one another. Once out in the open they run together, trading off leading and deciding together what should and shouldn’t be peed upon by both of them). They followed it with a voracity that is normally reserved for…uh oh.

Bears.

Just as I realized that my girlfriend coincidentally said: “You know, I was going to bring my bear spray (essentially a massive can of pepper spray that is a favorite accessory out here if one is without or not in favor of a gun) but then I realized that I was with you and you’d know how to handle it.”

Funny you should say that. I had packed two dogs as protection but noting further.

Just then, as we neared the water’s edge, I looked down.

There they were.

Bear prints.

Not just any bear prints. These were brand new, and huge and clawed, meaning that they likely belonged to a grizzly bear.

 

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Oh joy.

I alerted my girlfriend and we both looked up to see the dogs running after the scent. The good news was that the tracks were heading in the direction we had come from, and thus away from us, and so we called the dogs off and to us and continued hastily in the opposite direction of the enormous prints.

We walked and we walked and we walked, occasionally looking over our shoulders for a hungry grizzly, until we made it to the far end of The Lake where we dropped in to explore some new caves. The ice of the glacier proved too slippery without cramp-ons (little metal teeth you attach to your shoes) and so we decided to continue on to find more easily accessible caves further into the moraine (basically the dirt and rock on top of the glacier which is sometimes very thick and sometimes so thin that a mere scratch exposes the ice below).

 

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…and then there’s the enormous boulders too.

 

The best part about hiking on the moraine is that you never know what you will find and there is only the trail that you make. Nothing is laid out in front of you. And so we chose our route, sometimes following the dogs, sometimes choosing to scale different approaches more friendly to our two-legged selves when we came upon another body of water. The color was unbelieveably blue. Just across from it was a beautiful cave created by the melting and morphing of the glacier.

 

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The moraine and the glacier are a constantly evolving landscape. Sometimes huge “wormholes” (big holes standing tall above the ice created by the melting of the ice) will suddenly be gone, collapsed and melted. A lake within the glacier can break and flood through the holes and crevices and places we explore. Rocks fall. It is a beautiful place but also a place for vigilance. Look before you leap.

And so as we went into the hollowed out cave we watched for falling rocks and debris, noticing the piles from previous falls. Just as I had finished taking a picture of a little ice bridge formed by melting and had turned my back to walk back to the little lake a shift must have occurred and rocks and debris came spilling onto the area where I had just been standing seconds before.

 

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This cave is made completely from ice and covered in rock and dirt.

 

Time to move on?

We watered the dogs and ourselves and then ventured out and up and took stock of our surroundings.

 

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In all truth we didn’t have any real idea where we were and suddenly it was getting late.

 

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Looking down towards the cave after crawling out. Suddenly neither of the lakes were visible.

 

We had a few hours before we needed to be back still but we had been walking already for hours. We took in the landscape and starting positioning ourselves in a general direction. We didn’t want to take the same route twice and so we went up and over hill upon hill upon hill until we hit a treeline with sandy dirt and easier walking which led up all the way back to the truck.

 

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Icebergs, Lakes, Sand?

 

 

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Cinda Jones in all of her glory.

It was ice cream time. I had been stalking a cone of ice cream from the General Store for two weeks now. Every time I had tried to get ice cream they had been closed or I had been working. It just wasn’t happening. But not today. Today I knew their hours and I was ready.

We loaded the pups and set off for an ice cream sundae Sunday.

Or not.

The truck wouldn’t start.

Thankfully, I had 5 gallons of gas in a can that I had thrown in the back of the truck (I had already pumped the can full twice that day: once before trying to leave, then I had emptied it into the truck in our driveway when she wouldn’t start, then I had gone through the rigmarole to fill it all over again.

Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t gas.

The battery was dead.

Thankfully, I remembered that The Chief had told me he had put jumper cables in the truck.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a soul around except for us. The wedding party had left, no one was there and we wanted to solve this via the ladies, not just by calling our boyfriends for help.

Thankfully, we remembered that our other girlfriend was in the Hill Town that day. I called her. My phone wouldn’t work. It rang and picked up but I couldn’t hear a thing. Thankfully, my girlfriend’s phone did work and she was able to get a hold of her. She said she’d be happy to but that she was almost out of gas and wasn’t sure she could make it home if she also came to get us.

Problem solved. We had 5 gallons of gas for trade.

She was on her way.

A little while and some trail mix later and she arrived to save the day. We all laughed realizing that we three approached the task differently, but too many cooks in the kitchen worked out just fine and a few minutes later the truck was purring again. We filled her tank with a couple of gallons and thanked her.

 

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Notice that the lights are on? Yup, me too. I’m still new to the truck and, well, I forgot they were on.

 

She had to leave then and so we continued on our way back to town with just enough time to make it to yoga class (yoga class in the woods?! I know. Pretty amazing). By now our ice cream dreams were in the past. Another day.

We parked and walked into the old cabin where yoga was being held. We arrived to the welcoming smiles of other girlfriends. A big bellied stove in the middle of the room took the chill off until the motions could warm us on their own. It was beautiful and exactly what I needed and suddenly two hours had flown by.

By the end, the hike and the yoga had started setting in and a serious tiredness was taking hold of me. There was live music in town that night at The Restaurant and as we drove by the glow of the place was as inviting as could be but I was done for the day. I hugged my girlfriend and thanked her for the day, for inviting me to go to yoga with her (something I always mean to do but rarely make it to), for getting lost in the wilderness with me and for brightening my day. We had brightened it for one another and a new closeness was born.

I slowly made my way home. The dogs were pooped and sprawled out in the backseat. I puttered towards the bridge when I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. I stopped the car.

Fireworks.

I drove to the middle of the bridge and put the truck into park and sat watching my own private show of the lights.

It’s a pretty special thing to start a day with a looming gloom only to end it with an impromptu fireworks show and fill it with every sort of soul warming goodness in between. That’s the magic of this place.

I made my way home that night feeling happy and fulfilled. I had nurtured a friendship, cared for myself, adventured and been awed, all in one day. I arrived home (after stopping to give The Chief a kiss and say goodbyes to friends until next year at a BBQ in our neighborhood) tired in the best of ways and happy in the most important of ways and the only thing I could think to myself over and over was:

today was a good day.

 

And it was.

 

 

Here Comes the Sun

Hindsight is supposed to be 20/20 but having astigmatism, I can’t say I truly know what that looks like. I can say, however, that I get the gist; knowing what is now would help us to navigate what was then.

This past week at the Restaurant a group of 30-somethings came in from the backcountry (I had never known what this term meant prior to living in Alaska so if you’re scratching your head right now, fear not, you are not alone. To go into the backcountry essentially means to go into the wilderness. Silly me, I thought we already were there. Out here it often means hopping on a bush plane and hoping for solid weather to enable your pilot to land. If you’re getting picked up a few days, etc. later, you then hope for good weather as well so that you can make it home. Otherwise you walk or you wait. Hope aside, you always pack extra food, just in case the plane can’t make it in to retrieve you due to bad weather). They were tired and hungry and ready for a pint to wash down the backcountry.

Sounds good to me.

IDs please?

I had just clocked in for my 2-10pm shift.

Alaska is beyond strict with drinking laws and being out in the woods is no different. I carded the group and only 2 out of the 6 had their IDs on them.

“We are all in our 30s, it’s fine” they reassured me.

I know. I believe you. I still can’t serve you. I’m sorry.

Being in this position isn’t always fun but people typically shrug it off as “rules are rules” and deal with it.

Instead, the two who had their IDs ordered beers which I poured for them. They then promptly ignored the beer and waited for the rest of their group whom had headed to the foot bridge 0.7 miles away to retrieve their IDs. They sat at the bar and stared at me. I mentioned again that it wasn’t anything personal but that the laws were strict in Alaska.

“We know. We are locals.”

Well, how nice to meet fellow countrymen. And you’re Alaskans, not locals. Otherwise I would know you and your age and we’d all be merry and gay. But I don’t know you and I can’t take the risk. Even in the woods there have been sting operations and it’s just not worth it to me. I’d rather be stared down from across the bar then paying off a fine for the next ten years.

Once the others arrived and the beer started flowing to all they warmed up a bit and I did as well though I was still a bit cautious due to their earlier grump towards me. I’m just at work, trying to enjoy my time, trying to do a good job. The service industry can be tough, so patrons, don’t make it tougher, please.

A little while into their meal (after one had almost fallen while standing up to get a second beer – his legs had turned to Jello while he sat at the table after hiking and paddling for a week in the backcountry and he didn’t realize it until he stood. Recognizing “Backcountry Legs” I hurried the beer over to him so he didn’t have to move) one of the ladies of the group came up for a second beer. I asked her about the trip and she recalled some highlights for me when suddenly, something in her shifted. She stopped talking about their trip and asked me:

“Do you get out much?”

“No, actually. I haven’t been out once this whole season. We’ve been really busy here.”

And that’s true. The restaurant has been busy, I’ve been working for friends doing website work and overall, the entire Summer has mainly boiled down to working. I started realizing this about a month ago when tables at the restaurant would ask me about my favorite spots but they ended up knowing more about the different places to go than I did.

My priorities, since I got here last year have been to work and save for the Winter. It was the Alaskan M.O. I heard uttered most often and I adopted it blindly. This year I’ve had a handful of real days off, the others I’ve spent doing pick-up web work. My true days off are often spent recovering from a busy week, trying to tidy up the house and making meals to bring with me in the coming week at work. Adventure has been lacking.

None of this was on purpose. My plan was to change my lifelong workhorse habit and work only 4 days per week between the food truck and the restaurant and then work from home 1 day per week. Then, the rest would be for play. For summitting mountains and packrafting rivers and even taking backcountry trips. But that’s not how it worked out. And so, I’ve done a little exploring and packrafting but rarely have I felt that I’m living up to the potential of being here and seeing and doing what there is to see and do.

And so, that interaction with that woman at the bar was both a reality check for me and I think for her. I can only assume her pause was in her realizing that she was on vacation and I was working. She was on vacation in the place I call home and she probably saw more of it in a week than I have seen all Summer. Maybe as grumpy as they were at me for not giving them what they wanted when they wanted it, I was also just as grumpy at them for getting to be here so untethered by responsibility. Maybe I was jealous. My reality check was that it doesn’t have to be that way.

I remarked to a friend whom is also my boss at the restaurant later that day after the backcountry-ers had left, happy and satiated, that I was tired of living through tourist experiences. I wanted to only be happy for people (and I almost always feel happy for people’s experiences, unless they are unkind for no reason) because I too was being fulfilled. I wanted to get out. She was on board. She’s the type that says she’s going to do something and then, you know, actually does it.

And so, a few days later I awoke to the following text:

“Get up bizatch. We should bike to town today.”

Direct. I like it.

The plan quickly morphed as kids were added to the picture and we decided on a hike. It was 11am and I had to work at 2pm. Thankfully, she decided that the restaurant was slow enough that we didn’t need overlapping shifts and I could come in late.

We were going up a mountain.

As we drove to the mountain town the kids started getting excited. They were noticing the changing colors of the leaves and the way the ice had melted on the glacier.

“I want to hike to those trees!” said one about a grouping off fall colored beauties way up on the mountainside.

That would be awesome.

We set out just to keep moving. Hiking with kiddos, as you may know, can be tough, a constant redirection of attention and encouragement to keep going even when it starts to get tough.

And it pretty much was tough right off the bat.

Uphill was the only way and we started hoofing it. Pretty soon we were all huffing and puffing. My girlfriend had her youngest on her back and while I wanted to try it I was nervous it would be too hard. But after going straight up for a mile plus and taking a break I asked if I could carry him.

 

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Oh man. Hiking uphill is hard. Hiking uphill with a baby? A bit harder. The good thing is the distraction and the cuddliness of it all. He would play with my hair and coo at butterflies or mushrooms we spotted. He’s pretty adorable. And, he’s obsessed with food, so, needless to say, we get along just fine.

At a second break spot we stopped for snacks when suddenly one of the kids looked up.

“Look! We are actually getting close to that patch of trees!”

 

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He was right, they were no longer just blurry images. We were getting closer.

Maybe we can make it to them. Do you kids think you can keep going?

Emphatic “yes’s” rained upon us.

Alright.

And so, after two hours of straight uphill, we decided to keep going. We were making it to those trees.

We kept hiking and took the turn off towards the old Angle Station where the ore would switch directions back in the copper mining days. All we had to do was cross the creek and we could hike up to the Station and the surrounding trees.

Did I mention its been raining for the past month? This was the first bluebird day in a month and I was so happy we were taking advantage of it and getting out. But, rain for a month will do funny things to a landscape. And so as we headed toward the creek we would have to cross to get up to the trees and we heard gushing water we figured it might be a little bigger than usual.

Wrong.

It was a lot bigger. In the Summer the Creek is often no more than a trickle (I’m told, remember, I didn’t get out much). We approached a raging body of water.

 

 

 

 

With a baby on my back, three kids by our sides, three adults and two old dogs (Cinda flew up that mountain faster than any of us. That old lady’s still got it but she looked at the crossing and promptly decided it was a bust (see above)) the math for crossing was not adding up.

My girlfriend decided to try to cross while the boys emphatically started trying to throw together a “quick bridge” out of sticks. Ingenuity at its best.

 

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As she started to cross it became clear that this was a bad idea. By the end of the crossing the raging water was at the top of her thighs and ready to push her in. As she made the crossing back I was fully prepared to explain that I was not attempting that (even though she made it fine herself) with all of these factors.

I didn’t have to.

“That thing is crazy!”

Even if we didn’t have the kids and the dogs, I would have been wary. I would have done it but I would have been scared.

 

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You’re lucky I like you Baby, because you aren’t light.

 

And so, what was there to do but to turn back?

A bit disappointed but still proud to see how far they had gotten, the kids made their retreat after deciding that in fact they probably couldn’t build us a bridge in time.

On the way down we remarked on how fast we had gotten up and how close we had come to the trees and, of course, how hungry we were.

 

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We finished our descent, taking a different path over another bulging creek (this one already had a bridge in place) and through historic sites.

 

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The old Mill Building.

 

Then we made our way back to The Restaurant for some sustenance.

I was so hungry I couldn’t even explain what I wanted and so I ended up just grabbing the food I had brought from home. Once I had eaten, I felt human again, not just some ravenous beast and I understood (though still hope I wouldn’t do the same) why some people come in so distracted and panicked with hunger that they can’t quite behave. Now, it was time to clock in and serve others whom had adventured that day as well and provide them with food to recover with.

Finally, I was a part of the adventurers. I was both. I had gotten outside and enjoyed the sun and I had worked.

The hindsight this Summer has given me is a perspective shift. I tried to start the Summer working less. It didn’t work out and so I succumbed to working. I would walk to work in order to get exercise, sometimes waking up at 5:45am in order to walk the 3.5 miles to work on time. I have to exercise in some capacity daily to feel good. But what I didn’t realize was that, in living here, my standards have changed. I don’t just want to walk to work, I want to go on a hike. I want to go and see the things people travel from all corners of the Earth to see here. I live here but I haven’t seen all there is to see. It will probably take years and still, it is always changing so what you’ve seen once, will be different some time later.

This Summer has been chalk-full of lessons of what it means to really live here and how to navigate being a local in a tourist town. Some days I’ve dealt with it gracefully and others I’ve had two left feet. But the lesson I keep learning again and again is adaptation. Things change constantly around here and as a creature of habit, that’s been hard for me. The thing is, when working 4 days a week went to 6 or 7 I could have built adventure into my days but honestly, I didn’t realize how badly I needed it.

Good ‘ol hindsight and her 20/20.

And so, I’ve pledged to myself to make the most of the next month before we head to California to see this place in the capacity that I can. Maybe I won’t get into the backcountry, maybe I will but I can build adventure into the pockets of time that I have. The leaves are changing and the fireweed is going to seed. Everything around me reminds me to use my time wisely.

 

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Fireweed fluff means Winter is coming.

 

Maybe next year I will actually work that 5 day work week instead of 6 or 7 and I’ll have to learn how to maximize that, but if not, I’ll take what I’ve learned this year and do my best with what I have.

Cheers to good friends who make us do what we say we will, to second day soreness that reminds us of adventures and to nature who can lift me out of envy in a single afternoon.

Thank you Alaska.

 

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The view of the mountains we climbed (directly in the middle with the shadow over it) as seen from our spot down by the River.