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Dogtown, U.S.A

Two weeks ago our town lost a dear friend. She was spirited and kind and quirky and one hell of a runner and…

she was a dog.

 

 

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Io in the background at the beach in California

 

 

Her passing made me realize that for a year and a half I’ve written about so many reasons why I love where we live but that I’ve neglected to explain one of the biggest reasons: our dogs.

When I first thought of Alaska, I thought of glaciers and grizzlies, not dogs but I arrived to a very different reality. At the first party I went to here I was sitting on the grass and before I knew it, there was a dog on my lap, a dog on each side and endless others coming up for kisses. And those were just a small contingency of the partygoers. For the 100 some odd people there, there were probably half that amount in dogs (and if everyone at the party had lived locally, the number of dogs would have probably matched humans).

I had landed in doggie heaven.

Which to me, pretty much meant people heaven too. I couldn’t believe my luck to be surrounded by pups.

We live in a dog town, a place where people greet each dog with the same love and admiration that they give their humans (sometimes even more). Dogs out here aren’t just protection or entertainment, they are family. We trust them more than I’ve ever seen dogs trusted before. They run off leash (we didn’t even have a leash for Cinda until we first went to California) and if they leave for some reason, I trust them to come back. If I’m lost, I trust them to guide me home and if they don’t like someone, I trust their intuition (and have seen the proof in their judgements come through).

Dogs are the special ingredient, the umami of taste. Their essence is what makes this place the unusual concoction that it is. They make it our home.

Each and every one of them.

And I forget how very rare this is until I leave this place and see how free our pups here are.

Some days I’ll walk with Cinda to Town and when the time comes to turn off for my work she’ll take a different route, looking back as if to say “See you later, Ma. I’m going to the bar.” And off she’ll go for a few hours, doing her rounds, seeing her friends, checking in on her Town. She’ll hit the local grocery store where they have treats waiting, she’ll see if the local bar owner will let her in to the restaurant…

 

 

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C’mon. Let us in.

 

 

…she’ll go up to work and check on Dad and then at some point, she’ll come back down to me where she plops herself right in front of the doorway of The Restaurant acting as a sort of bouncer.

Every dog has their own routine and habits and scratch spots and we all know them because they are every bit a part of the community as we are.

 

 

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And they always get the best seat.

 

Talking on the phone the other day to a girlfriend I mentioned that we were watching a neighbor’s dog for a couple weeks.

“A couple of weeks? Geez! That’s crazy!”

And I get that it sounds that way but it never feels like we are put out because here there’s a constant symbiosis of care. If you see a thirsty pup, you water her. If you’re going on a walk and a dog dad or mom aren’t home, you bring their dog with you so they get out enough. It takes a village.

My favorite dog time is when I spend the day at home and inevitably all of the neighborhood dogs come by at some point in the day to get some love and maybe a treat or to just keep tabs on the place. They make their rounds, dropping in for a few minutes or a few hours.  And if a few days go by without seeing each of them, it feels as if something is amiss.

And then something was.

Because our town lost one of our dear dogs. She was a German Shorthaired Pointer by the name of Io. She and her parents are our family, our next door neighbors. In my few years here, her Mom and Cinda and I spent countless hours on walks together. Those walks are how we built our friendship, walking a path worn between our two properties, created by years of footsteps and paw prints back and forth, to greet one another and head deeper into the woods.

One of my fondest memories of Io was on such a walk. It was Spring, last year and though the chill of Winter had faded and the rivers had broken from a warm sun, the water was as cold as ever, just above freezing. Io was running circles around us, lapping us over and over, as per usual, but at an even faster rate. She had spotted something she liked and had taken off after it barking, running at full speed, tearing through the woods. She raced past us again as we all neared the river’s edge and before we knew it she was belly down, plopped into the freezing cold waters of the river. She looked at us smiling, cooling herself from her output and we laughed and marveled at what an amazing animal she was. Afterwards I wondered allowed what she had been after and her Mom said: “A squirrel. That was her squirrel bark”.

 

 

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Outnumbered again.

 

 

That’s how well they knew one another, just by the tone of her bark her parents could know. And Io knew them in return.

Before her Mom would have even gotten her garden tools out, Io would be digging away in the garden. If she went upstairs to get into workout clothes for a run, Io knew it before she’d even gotten up the ladder. Oh, and the ladder: Io could climb the ladder to the loft where she would sleep as the little spoon with her Mom and Dad every night.

They knew one another inside and out, backwards and forwards.

She’s family.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never written about the dogs here, because they are so inextricably of us and in our souls that in every piece I wrote, there they were. Already.

I still feel her here. We still take our walks, the walks that built our friendship and I feel her still running circles around us. I picture her raging through the brush or peeking out from beneath a blanket on the couch. She is everywhere. But still, she is deeply missed.

There is a saying around here: “When I die, please let me come back as a dog in this town” and I have to say that if the dogs had a vote, I bet they would all wish for that too.

Here’s to our dogs, to the ones we’ve loved and the ones we’ve lost. Here’s to embarking upon the journey of having a dog, knowing full and well that it will end in pain, yet going whole-heartedly into it nonetheless because it is so worth it.

And here’s to you, sweet Io. We love you.

 

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Getting into the Spring of Things

Oh my oh my is it getting Spring-y over here.

Not Spring-y in the commercial sense we all have grown up being told is Spring. There are no daffodils out, or lambs being born or lustrous bright green grasses to gallop through.  No, that’s not quite an Alaskan Spring.

Here, it’s more subtle. Your nose recognizes the smell of dirt for the first time in months. Your eyes see colors they’d once held dear and almost forgotten. The landscape shifts hourly before your eyes. The trees start to send out little buds, hopeful and expectant. And the birds come out to sing just a bit louder their songs of Spring.

And, despite their beauty, all of these little joys can easily be overpowered by a rough break-up. No, not the kind where someone ends with “I hope we can still be friends” (ugh, isn’t that the worst?). No, the Breakup of the rivers and the official end of Winter.

 

 

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Last year, Breakup was rough. It was the “I hope we can still be friends” of Breakups that went back and forth, split up, back together, on again off again turmoil one expects in the relationships of our early 20’s. I thought this stage was over. The rivers became impassable and the roads turned to slush as Spring followed the April Showers part of the old phrase but lacked the May Flowers (at least in the beginning) to follow. It was dreary and rainy and cold enough to freeze the puddles every night. Those little ice mounds were my nemeses and I have a scar on my buns to prove it. After falling multiple times on the walk home from Town one night last year, I felt a draft. I returned home to find that I had been sharing my rear view with all unsuspecting onlookers (thankfully they were few and friends at that since the Town hadn’t filled with people yet, plus it was dark) as a huge rip had been torn in my pants (and carved into my bum) from slipping and falling on the rugged ice. It bumped and bruised and teased me after. Last year, I was not a fan of Breakup.

And so, coming back from California this year, I was nervous to once again experience a slip-sliding-bruised-backsiding Breakup. I prepared for the worst.

But thankfully, was surprised by the best.

 

 

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Look familiar?

 

 

I arrived to see what had been a snow-laden Winter wonderland when I left turned into a patchy, muddy but Spring. It was worlds away from the snow haven I had left where travel by snowmachine was the name of the game. Suddenly, one could barely play hopscotch from snow patch to snow patch. The little mounds of snow would melt further every day as our sunny Spring sent rays down to bring on the exposure of the earth beneath. Puddles would change daily as once rain boot required routes would suddenly be slipper accessible in a short 24 hours. The earth was soaking it in.

 

 

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Hello new nature. Nice to see you.

 

 

And so, as the earth has started preparations for Summer, so have we. The skis are put away along with the Winter boots and jackets and the in betweeners have entered. Rain boots and rain gear have replaced bibs and snowboots. Triple layered walks have been replaced by tank tops and hiking boots. And despite my love of Winter, this year I’m finding it easier to let go.

 

 

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Sunday Strolls

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, I deeply miss our silent haven where even the loudest sounds are muffled by the snow on the trees, where I can walk for hours without seeing a face, where The Chief and I spend the day inside next to the fire. But, those days are gone, until Winter comes again.

And before we know it, she’ll be here.

But first, Summer.

As I was returning from California this year, I asked a girlfriend how Town was.

“I can feel the stampede” she replied with trepidation in her voice.

Last year, I felt that too. Spring was simply the waiting game for the hundreds of Summer friends to join us and just like waiting for your friends to arrive at your birthday party, there is always an apprehension. How will it be? How will it go? Last year, I was still holding onto Winter as I asked these questions and so, since I was neither here nor there, the limbo I found myself in was disconcerting. I wasn’t ready for Summer. I was mourning my loss of Winter and disliking Spring. I was living in a world two seasons past.

And so, this year I am trying to be exactly where I am and remember that old Alaskan saying: If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes. It applies to everything here. Each moment is different. Everyday someone new comes in or out and again, our little microcosm is changed, ever so slightly. The introduction of something new, the exit of something old. We are like a “Kitchen Sink” stew here where you put a little bit of everything all at once into a meal. A little of this, a little of that and the outcome is never the same. Everyday the end result is changed. In the Winter, the ingredients are fewer and so each addition is noticeable and each subtraction is as well. In the Summer, there are a plethora of options and the stew becomes nuanced in ways we have forgotten over the snowy months. Both are good, both are unique and each are shared with all who contribute. The dinner table gets longer and longer.

We are going to need a lot more bowls.

 

Happy Spring to you, should it find you in a field of flowers or in a puddle-ridden grey land or like here, somewhere in between. Anywhere you are, I bet it’s changing right as you read this, even ever so slightly. May this time of rebirth bring to you renewed energies and an excitement for the future, stampedes or not I hope it’s delicious.

 

 

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