The Chief and I have been lucky in love. Vacation, on the other hand, has been a beast.
From arguing our way through Ecuador to falling prey to a flu (oh, and also to arguing) in Mexico, our last two vacations have left a lot to be desired. So, after two years of being cooped up in a cabin in the woods (we jumped the gun on 2020 and deemed 2019 our Year to Stay at Home. Little did we know…), we found ourselves planning vacation number three. Third time is a charm, no?
Now, right off the bat, let me address the elephant quietly plodding about the room: Julia, you’re complaining about vacation?! No, no, no. Bear with me a moment.
After the most epic year of snow I’ve ever seen, Spring has finally sprung. While Spring in Alaska is more of a slog than a sprint, I’ll take it. Onto the next season we go! We’ve had 50 degree days, sunshine and the constant drip drop of melting snow. Every day, slowly but surely, that which slept in a snowy embrace awakens. Usually, everything that’s uncovered is welcome. Sure, there may be a stray tool that didn’t make it in the shop or an errant piece of cardboard that missed the fire. Sure, you have to wait as it melts, freezes, and melts again until you can finally get these items out but hey, playing lost and found is what Spring is all about.
That is, until Leto decided to up the ante.
A little over a week ago, I went outside to check on Leto before a meeting for work. There he was, under the house, soaking up the sun rays. He looked relaxed. A little too relaxed. Mid-double take I noticed that he was rocking ever so slightly. I slip-slid my way along the icy underbelly of the house (aka Leto’s Lair) and immediately knew something was off. His tongue was sticking out of his mouth and the rocking was constant. He could barely open his eyes in greeting. I offered him a treat to get his attention but…nothing. If you know Leto, you know he’s perhaps the most food motivated dog in the world. My Momtuition kicked into high gear. Finally, I got him to stand up and head indoors where I could better assess the situation. He stumbled to his feet and weeble-wobbled his way up the Ramp of Doom as I stood over him, guiding his way.
My mind was racing. I’d heard him and his friend yelp while playing earlier that day. Had he hurt himself? He didn’t seem to be in pain. I ran my hands over his body, checking for any signs of injury. I found none. As I took my hands away from him, he fell to the ground, unable to support his own weight. I looked at the clock. My meeting was about to start. I let them know I wouldn’t be coming to that or anything else until I knew what was going on. Something was wrong.
I called The Chief and asked him to come home. Tears welled up in my eyes as panic set in but then, something else took over. After so many years of so many emergencies, my brain went into autopilot. Make the calls, pack the bags, handle the situation.
1 pm is apparently the worst possible time to have a vet emergency in Alaska. Every vet I called was out on lunch or busy with a patient. Thankfully, there was a vet 5 hours away (our closest option nowadays. Dr. Kimi, come back!) with an emergency number. I called and she texted back. I explained Leto’s symptoms and she said “Sounds like he’s high. Give him lots of water and text me if anything changes.” The only problem was, I couldn’t get him to drink a drop and I couldn’t think of where he would have gotten it. I scoured the outside for anything that could have gotten him in such a “groovy” mood. Nothing. To add to the mystery, the compost was undisturbed, the mechanical fluids were intact…zero clues. Plus, he’d been with me all day, in the house, under the house on a line or out with me when we took a short walk.
I tried another vet and eventually got through. They recommended coming in. 7 hours away. After feeling pretty rebuffed by the first vet (she had asked next to zero questions and said it “should be fine”) and told to immediately come in by the second, things were vascillating in my heart between “I’m sure he’s fine” and “He’s about to die.” So, I texted a video of him to a friend who is also a vet. She called me right away and started running me through all the questions.
How are his pupils? Are they dilating?
How are his gums? Pink? Responsive to pressure?
Is he eating or drinking?
Can he walk?
We talked through the possibilities and they ranged from mild to terrifying. Given our distance from the nearest medical care, if it did end up being something serious and we waited, chances were we wouldn’t make it in time. That made the choice for us (a choice I’d pretty much already made the second I saw him). We were headed in. Time to get the show on the road. I started packing us up as The Chief headed out to get the truck ready. One problem: we were out of fuel. So, he gathered our cans and sped off on the snowmachine to borrow some. I moved through the house in a calculated daze. I’d done this so many times that it was almost second nature. Hope for a night, pack for a week. By the time I had us all situated, The Chief was back and our neighbor was over wishing us good luck. 20 minutes and a change of clothes later (diesel isn’t the best smelling perfume) I watched as The Chief carried our fur baby down the Ramp of Doom.
I lost it.
I’d watched him do the same thing with our Lou the entire week before she passed and it broke my heart to see it again. I went into the freezer shed to grab last minute items and to pull myself together. I sent out a little prayer to the Universe, dried my eyes, took a deep breath and steadied myself. Time to go.
7 hours, dozens of glaciers (one that had turned into a foot-wide, foot-deep running river) and endless check-ins to make sure our little man was still breathing later, we arrived. The entire drive Leto had barely moved. He wouldn’t get out to pee or drink and his über expressive ears barely twitched when we said his name. Our vet friend had changed her plans that night in order to meet us and didn’t even flinch at the fact that we wouldn’t be getting in until 10 pm. The Chief gently picked up our babe from the back seat and slowly, steadily made his way across the skating rink-esque parking spot to the house.
Leto loves new places and upon being set on the examination mat, he started to come to and then…he started to pee. Everywhere. Quick lady she is, our friend grabbed a cup and gathered a sample as he stumbled outside. It was time to start the detective work. 5 minutes later, the truth came out: stoned. Our little Malamute was stoned out of his mind. He rang true for THC in his pee test. No government jobs for this kiddo.
Relief poured over all of us. For the first time in 10 hours, I could breathe easy. My babe would be OK, he was just totally and completely blitzed.
The epic pee time seemed to wake him up a little more and though he walked like a drunk, he was walking again, wagging his tail and drinking water. We spent the rest of the night catching up and learning a few vet tricks, like how to take his femoral pulse. In addition to seeing us at 10 pm, our friend continued her awesomeness and offered us to stay with her. As we made the bed, Leto came running into the room and jumped onto it. His first feat of near normal mobility. The boy loves a good sleepover. The next morning Leto crawled into bed with us, tail wagging, like nothing had even happened. As the Chief, Leto and I all cuddled in bed I felt myself relax into the reality that our babe was actually OK.
A few days later, home again, I peeked at him under the house and what did I see? Rocking Leto, eyes closed, tongue out.
I went inside and told The Chief and his Uncle Dan that we had a repeat offender on our hands. I brought him inside and we all gave him love and pets, hoping to make his trip an easy one. Even though it still was hard to see him that way, we were able to make jokes this time. That is until he suddenly started drooling profusely, then dry heaving. My mind flashed to fear. What if it wasn’t a repeat offense. What if he’d actually eaten something poisonous this time and we’d just been sitting there watching him, wasting precious time?
Thankfully, the drooling and dry heaving stopped and it was clear that he had simply raided his stash again.
Over a week later and two days of StonerMute in the books, we still have no idea where he found the goodies. All we can hope is that he finished them off for good. Oh Spring, how you uncover the most wondrous of things. In the end, the nearer vet was right, he was stoned but I’d take a trip to Town any day of the year to know our little man was OK. Living this far out has its advantages but moments like these highlight the disadvantages. It’s a true life of living lock step with faith that everything will work out while simultaneously knowing that life is full of the unexpected. Thankfully, the unexpected left us unscathed this time and I can’t explain how grateful I am for that. Thank you.
P.S. Any stoners on your watch? Share your story in the comments!
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I love the allure of DIY, don’t you? Do It Yourself. Hell yea! I’m going to…probably.
In my life in California, my DIY consisted sometimes of actually DIYing and most often of scrolling through countless projects on Pinterest until I felt like I had actually accomplished something. Similar to scrolling through to select an exercise video and then feeling so accomplished having just looked at others exercising that you head to the kitchen for a snack. What a workout! DIY was something novel to me. Something I would (occasionally) choose to do. I’d research my project of choice, head to the craft or hardware store, and come evening, I’d have something somewhat resembling the project I’d endeavored to complete.
Fast forward to Alaska and DIY has taken on a whole new meaning. I realized the shift immediately from the moment I wanted to camp out at a friend’s house and spent the day pick-axing through rocks to make a level area.
Nothing here is hand-delivered unless it’s delivered by your hands. For this little lady, who was used to small-scale projects being completed in one day, I didn’t quite understand bigger projects or why they took so damn long.
Proximity to supplies Timing Weather Money Supplies Time Resources Did I say the weather?
All of this and more impact our lives out here far more than I ever could realize immediately. I looked at projects to be done, planned with The Chief and couldn’t understand why we were still in the gathering of materials stage months later. Still, even as I came to understand that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, that things would simply take more time, I didn’t want to click my heels to leave. So, I started with what we had and settled into where I was.
I liked the hard life, I knew that for sure, but damned if it didn’t drive me crazy sometimes. Slow and steady is less my speed. I prefer one and done and move onto the next.
So, when we started our living room project LAST fall…
I was impatient for it to be done. But guess what? It finally (almost) is!
Yes, we need to clean up the battery box and yes we need to re-hang our art and yes, we need to build the shelves we’ve been talking about for a year but I’d be a liar if I said I couldn’t see the finish line for the first time ever. It’s there.
The truth is, as I sat back and admired our hard work, I realized that this wasn’t just the end of a 6-month long project, it was the end of a 6-year project. We had started our living room project 6 years ago when I first arrived. We started here, with dueling couches, an OSB (read: similar to plywood) floor covered in a rug permanently covered in dog hair. Here, with single-pane windows that sometimes opened, a cloth ceiling, and more guns than I’d ever seen in my life (but at least now we were off the floor). We started here, with a place we both felt immediately at home in, with a person we both felt we’d found our soul in, with a ready canvas and slowly, the picture began to come to life.
Since then, we’ve made constant upgrades, changes, arrangements, and re-arrangements, trying to finally settle into our space.
Like this Christmas edition:
and this Summer edition:
and this Fall corner:
and this Winter coziness:
And you know what? We are finally there. Well, near there, but let’s call it good. The end is truly in sight.
Sure, there’s much more to do the moment you step out of the living room but for the first time ever, two-thirds of our house is complete. Our bedroom feels like a little sanctuary and our living room finally feels complete and it brings me a deep sense of satisfaction. Yes, it took forever. Yes, it meant individual trips over months on end to finally get all of the materials here. Yes, it meant working in the cold, working on the weekends and countless hours checking the fire in the shop to make sure the temp hadn’t dropped and our stain wouldn’t freeze on the boards. Yes, it meant arguments and resolutions and the constant moving of things in and out, back and forth, up and down the Ramp of Doom in the slick Spring days and cold Winter nights.
Yes, it was a long endeavor but despite all of it, looking at the boards, each of which I bought, hauled, cut, stained, and installed with my husband brings me an immense sense of joy.
This morning as I sit in our cozy home, there’s a deep feeling of contentment. Not from DIYing but from DITing. Doing It Together. I didn’t always feel motivated to do the work, sometimes The Chief didn’t either, yet together, we made it happen. I think more than anything, what I wanted most in life (even more than nailing a Pinterest-worthy creation) was a partner to do things with. I certainly didn’t anticipate finding this partnership in the Alaskan wilderness, off-the-grid and far away from everything I’d ever known but I am so glad to have stumbled upon it.
It’s not always easy, but it’s exactly what I needed.
P.S. What are you DIY/DIT-ing these days? How are your projects slowed or sped up based on your lifestyle?
A few weeks back, as The Iditarod began, I looked at The Chief and asked “Didn’t that just happen?”
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome (although this year, conditions necessitated an altered route). Mushers and a team of 14 dogs cover the distance, enduring everything Alaska has to give, in one to two weeks or more. The origin of the race lies in the amazing journey to get the Diptheria serum to Nome (try not crying while you read this article). It’s an Alaskan tradition, a huge event every year and I had genuinely forgotten that a year had already gone by since it last occurred.
Can you relate?
For me, it feels like this whole year has blended into the last, like it’s been winter for 365 days and counting. A global pandemic, stay at home orders and just the general upheaval of our societal norms as a whole aside, another huge part of why it feels like I’ve been living on The Wall (Game of Thrones, anyone?) has been this: sunshine, or rather, lack thereof.
People always ask me: “Do you ever see the sun?!” to which I reply with a chuckle, “Of course!”. Truth be told, in winters past this place was lit up like a Christmas tree. While our days were short, the sun still did her best to break up the dark and it was stunningly beautiful. Plus, even when the sun wasn’t shining, the moon would light up the night. The snow would look as if it were littered with diamonds, as if Sara Shakeel herself had designed it. This whole last year, however, it’s been pretty darn overcast. Last winter, as COVID hit, the days were often as gloomy as our attitudes. It was as if the sun would consider coming out and then deem it a little too risky.
Never fear, summer was coming.
Summer, with her hot days and ice cream cones and swimming hole days promised relief. I couldn’t wait.
It turns out I had to, we all did. I barely broke into my summer tote of clothes by the time the leaves started to turn. Sure, there were some sunny days but it wasn’t exactly tank top weather as we were used to. Still, winter, with her ever-reflecting light would provide our salvation, right? The northern lights would do their dances and brighten up the long winter’s night. The sunrises with their cotton candy skies would greet us each morning. It would be glorious and fully make up for all the gloom. I couldn’t wait.
Wrong again! This winter has been the gloomiest to date (for me). While overcast skies meant LOTS of snow, which is awesome, for the first time ever, I heard people say they were over winter long before she has ended. When it snowed two more feet last month, the late season storm was exciting but also…overwhelming. More shoveling, more schlepping, more whiteout days where, if you didn’t know the mountains were surrounding you, you’d never be wiser to their existence. Until, finally…
While it hasn’t been the sunniest March I’ve ever seen, I’ll take it. Nothing has been as it once was this last year. Seeing the sun beam each day has brought me out of a year long winter’s rest and I couldn’t be happier. Clear nights mean cold temperatures as -25 rears her head again but this clarity also brings with it the northern lights. Finally, both the night and the day greet us with gusto. I’m taking it for the beacon of hope that it seems to be. Brighter days are ahead.
Let the sunshine in.
P.S. Are you enjoying Beneath the Borealis? If so, would you share it with a few of your friends? Thank you! P.P.S How are things in your neck of the woods? Has the sun decided to shine?
Last fall, when I went to Town, The Chief painted our living room. Prior to leaving, I boxed up as much as I could to help him prep but on the day of, there were inevitably things to move and if you’ve ever moved things in a rush, you know what happened.
“Babe, have you seen my notebook?” I asked a week or so after I had returned and the dust had settled. “The black one?” “Yep.” “The one you draw in every day?” “Yep.” “The one that’s always sitting right here?” Director’s Note: The Chief points to the side table in The Chester Family living room. All eyes are drawn to the location, hope and anticipation on their faces. “Yep!” “No, I haven’t seen that.”
The hunt began. I can’t tell you how many times I looked for that damn book but my art stopped then and there until I found it. “Start in a new book!” you might be thinking to yourself and I agree, but my doggedly insistent side disagreed. That book or bust. I looked in every nook and cranny our house has and at 200 odd square feet (maybe), there aren’t that many places it could be. Still, I could not find it.
Until this weekend when I looked up and there it was.
Truth be told, I am certain to the center of my being that I scoured over that bookshelf time and time again but somehow, my Elf on the Shelf of a book found its way back and there she was. It felt a little witchy, like the time I had a dream in college that my rings were gone. I’d gotten them from a man in Berkeley who, upon meeting me, somehow knew I was wearing men’s socks even though my socks (indeed, men’s socks) were completely covered. He told me the rings were powerful. After the dream, I woke up and they were indeed gone. I tore my apartment apart. I’d been wearing them when I went to bed. No luck. The following weekend, I went to my boyfriend’s house. Freshly out of the shower, I lotioned up but the product was almost gone. I put my finger into the bottle to search for every last bit and what came out? My rings. Spooky.
So, spells, witchery or the truth that I am a terrible looker of things aside, the book was back. Oh, the simple joy of finding something once lost. I sat down with my old friend and stumbled upon an entry from exactly one year ago to the day:
“We went to Long Lake to look at property and we fell in love. The Chief looked at me as we approached the Lake and said ‘You just feel better out here, don’t you?’ I do. Once we’d snowshoed our way to the top of our favorite lot, a Bald Eagle flew overhead. The Chief took my hands in his and said ‘This is it.’ It was. It is.”
Six weeks after that entry, after endless phone calls, emails, forms and signatures, hiccups and happenstance and help from our family, we closed on our property. Over 20 acres of raw land in the Alaskan wilderness were ours. We couldn’t believe it. After growing up in California where a small house on a tiny plot could cost upwards of $500k, my dreams of owning a house felt more like pipe dreams. Yet, it had happened. We were landowners, The Chief and I.
The daydreaming began. The first goal? Access. Oh, you thought the property came with a road on it? One can dream, but this dream of a deal didn’t include any of the niceties I’d always assumed property would (when I let myself have those wild pipe dreams). As the snow melted and the summer came full force, we started making trails. Machetes come in super handy for such tasks and whack away we did. By the fall, we’d had our first fire, a true Alaskan milestone.
We celebrated! We were getting closer to our goal. Still, after all that work, there was no way even a 4-wheeler was getting up there, much less our behemoth of a truck. So, we continued to work and this winter, we got our first vehicle up: the snowmachine. After building a ramp, cutting brush, stomping trail and crossing our fingers, The Chief made it up onto the land. As the winter wore on, The Chief would steal away in between work days to work on the property and finally, he got the trail all the way up to the ridge. Success! Access granted.
Still, true access, at this rate, would be years and years off and if we wanted to build a road, due to permafrost, it would have to be in winter and if we didn’t do it this winter that meant another year of hacking and sawing our way, little by little. Which is fine (and definitely the norm) but if we could, we wanted to speed things up. Thankfully (thanks, Pops!) my Pops was able to expand on his loan and thus, we were able to expand on our loan and so, we planned the fast track: a driveway. Like all things in Alaska, a decision didn’t necessarily mean action. We made the necessary calls, The Chief walked the land with the builders and then, we set a date.
And another date.
And another date.
Time and time again I forget: Mother Nature makes no promises. The first few setbacks were due to weather as the builder had a cutoff of 0 degrees (mainly for his machines. I’m sure he would have been out there at -20 if it wouldn’t have affected the equipment). Then, the equipment had a hiccup, needed a trip to town for the doc and then an inspection. Finally, months after our first call, all lights were green.
And then the weather took a turn again. -20 to -30 for a week straight. Hello late winter wonders!
Finally, the cold spell broke and it began. Breaking ground.
For the first few days, The Chief was at the property to help and trouble shoot but a few days in, they were cruising and he could leave to come grab me in Anchorage. On our way home we got the call: “You can drive up your road tonight, if you want.”
The moonlit drive became that much more magical, the snow all lit up and sparkling mimicked our excitement. As we pulled up, we let out hoots and hollers. I couldn’t believe it. It was a real driveway. We ran to the top and hugged and kissed. It was in.
The next day, after a few finishing touches, the road was completely done and despite feeling absolutely terrible from his second shot, The Chief rallied. “We have to go see it in the daylight.” Snow was forecast for the next day and we’d already gotten a foot or more in the past week. After that, we probably wouldn’t be able to drive it for the rest of the Winter. So, off we went.
It was glorious.
This weekend, we headed out again, this time to put in a snowshoe trail up to the second ridge from the top of the driveway, the place we think we will eventually build. Why didn’t we get the road all the way up to it? Right now, even though we are in a long-term relationship, we are still getting to know the land. We want to spend time there, feel the breeze, watch the earth as it shifts in seasons to be sure before we build. We assumed we’d never make it up the driveway with the fresh snow we’d gotten on it but I knew once I saw that look in The Chief’s eyes that we were going to try. Some expert driving and a few attempts and there we were again, up on top, greeted by this:
Leto was certain this being was an intruder, one not to trust. He growled his face off until we finally got him out of the truck at which point he promptly peed on the welcome guest (thanks, Long Lakers! We love you!).
After a few hours of snowshoeing, we were both beat and ready to call it a day and what did we do? We drove off of our property. Drove! We are both still getting used to that reality, still in shock that this is truly starting to happen. Long Lake.
So, what’s next?
Phase I: Find a property and go through the rigamarole of buying it: DONE Phase II: Gain Access: DONE Phase III: Build
Building will be a ways off at this point so our Phase IIIa will be to buy an Airstream and setup shop on the land. It’s always easier to work on a property you don’t have to commute to and this way, we can truly watch the land go through the seasons. So, we are in the market, looking for new digs for our new drive.
What a difference a year makes.
Cheers to you and yours and to new ventures, big and small.
P.S. Have you started a new project lately? What’s next on your list? P.P.S. If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog (at the top of the page) and if you have friends you think would enjoy it, please do share it! P.P.P.S Thanks to the wonderful welcome bonfire, friends! On Sunday the skies were bright blue and we decided we needed one more trip up this weekend. I cut down my first tree on the property and we were greeted by all of our friends, our first visitors on the land. It felt amazing.
This morning, as I sat down to write, The Chief handed me my morning lemon water in a different vessel. This one:
I picked it up without recognizing it and was about to take a sip when I noticed the dust. Dust it held from hanging, waiting, undisturbed for a year. My grandmother Gam’s cup. I had avoided the cup since her death, memorialized it, for if I was drinking from it, certainly she was not and if that was the case, she truly was gone. She is gone. That simple action of handing me her cup brought that reality forward.
Sometimes, it takes someone shaking you up to see what’s right in front of you. That seems to be the theme lately. So, as I sip from my Grandmother’s now clean cup, I’ll tell you another tale of a shakeup.
A few weeks ago, I went to Town to see my new niece.
After our lovely long weekend together, The Chief swooped me up and we switched gears towards the reason he had driven in: our first prenatal appointment. We had found out we were pregnant the day after our first wedding anniversary. This was a gift no money could buy, the best we had ever received (no offense, paper) and we were excitedly jumping into our new roles of Mom and Dad. It was finally happening.
We were going to be parents. On the way to the hospital, you could feel the excitement. Even Leto was charged by it. We arrived and bid him adieu, telling him we were off to meet his baby (I’ve never met a dog more into kids than him so, from the get go, the baby was “Leto’s Baby”. Even our friends call their kids “Leto’s baby. It’s amazing). The excitement continued as we entered the OB’s office. Everyone was smiling, congratulating us, laughing with us as I answered their questions.
“Nausea?” “Constant” “Tender milk jugs (OK, they called them “breasts”, obviously, but milk jugs is far funnier)?” “Like balloons ready to pop!” “Any other changes?” “Well, I pee 4 times a night and can’t sleep in between. ‘Mom-somnia’ I’ve dubbed it. The other night I woke up at 3 am and organized our medical supplies then ate 7 packets of fruit snacks, which I’ve never liked and I can’t suck in my belly to save my life. So, no, nothing’s changed.”
We all laughed. Pregnancy had turned my world upside down. The day I found out I was pregnant, I laughed when I saw the test. Pregnant?! Couldn’t be. It took me 7 more tests (What if they had frozen last winter? What if they were faulty? What if I was hallucinating?) to be convinced and one walk by myself to know for sure. As I strolled along the river we were married next to that bright Fall morning, I suddenly felt as if my belly had sun rays coming straight out of it. There was a glow inside of me, a little light to let me know that I was finally a mother. My whole heart smiled. It was a tranquility I’d never known.
Every night after that, I slept my with my hand on my belly, feeling the warmth of that little light and the deep peace I felt for the first time in my life. Now, almost 10 weeks into our pregnancy, after months of bonding with our little beam, we were set to meet them.
The nurse began the not-so-fun-but-who-cares-we-are-having-a-baby-so-poke-and-prod-as-you-will process, all of our excitement building. We had all talked so much that The Chief was about to be late for a dental appointment so we did the ultrasound first. The whooshs and whirs whisked about until finally, the image became clear. The Chief excitedly said “Is that it?! Is that our baby?”. The nurse and I were silent. I squeezed his hand and hoped I was wrong. I prayed I was wrong. When next the nurse spoke, she confirmed I wasn’t. There was no heartbeat, just a sweet little being floating within me. Tears erupted but I kept my pain quiet, turning only to The Chief to tell him I needed him to skip his appointment. “Of course, baby.”
I’ve read about miscarriage, heard stories and lore. None of it prepares you for your own or for the added insult to injury you’ll endure.
“I’m sorry but I need to take some measurements now, if that’s OK?” the nurse said, the ultrasound probe still inside of me. “OK” I whispered. And so I lay there, The Chief and I squeezing one another’s hands, holding one another’s gaze, tears steadily streaming, until she was done and we could be alone for a moment. The door latched behind her and I broke. The Chief went into savior mode, a role we’ve traded countless times in the last three years. He told me it would be OK, we would have a baby, just not this time. I was numb. I cleaned myself up and dressed, my actions mechanical. The nurse returned, telling us she thought our babe had been 8 weeks but wanted to verify. I’d need another ultrasound. Could I go right now? I agreed, not knowing I’d agreed to spending another hour looking at our babe with its perfect arms and legs and fingers so tiny. Our dead child, embryo to be exact, if that matters to you. It doesn’t to me.
On our way out, I handed the nurse the New Mom Gift Bag they’d given me as I’d walked in. So much happened in that small gesture. Motherhood, stripped away.
We spent the rest of the day in appointments amongst pregnant mothers, pregnant phlebotomists (she was on her 3rd but her husband wants 5), everyone, pregnant. At the second ultrasound, they confirmed the baby had been dead for almost two weeks. My body, once a place of light and love, a growing garden, had become a graveyard.
At the second OB appointment that day, they explained I’d experienced a Missed Miscarriage. This is where the growing babe is no longer alive but your body fails to miscarry. Fails. I felt my body had failed me. That I had failed me. That I had failed our baby. Without me saying a word to hint of my feelings, they immediately assured me there was nothing I could have done differently, that this happens, that it’s very common for first pregnancies. That it happens to a lot of women. None of that matters. It truly doesn’t. Not to me at least. I don’t want anyone to feel what I felt and to know so many do only broke my heart more.
I felt as if I’d been playing a brutal game of Chutes and Ladders and suddenly, I found myself back at the start. All I had focused on was making it through the first trimester, making it safe, getting to home base and here we were, struck out. The worst part?
A few weeks before our appointment, the day of the baby shower we threw for my girlfriend, in fact, I started spotting.
I panicked. I rushed inside and asked my girlfriends if they had experienced that. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. It was gone in a flash: fear. It was probably the same look on my face. They immediately assured me it was probably fine but something to keep an eye on. The next morning, I awoke, hand on belly, ready to greet my babe and I felt…nothing. The light had gone out. I rolled over to The Chief and told him and thus the mindfuck began.
Excuse my language, but pregnancy is a mindfuck. I have seriously good intuition, like intuition so good that I’ve been called a witch (thank you) on many occasions. Premonitions, gut instincts, call it what you will, I knew the light had gone out. Yet pregnancy, even the getting pregnant part of pregnancy is all about positive thought. Even the straightest arrow, least woo woo type of woman will tell you that. You have to just move forward, assuming things are fine. It never stops, or so I’ve heard. Not when you pass the first trimester, not when your baby is born, not when you baby becomes a toddler, teen or adult. I once heard someone say that having children is like having your heart living outside of your body. So, despite knowing that something was wrong, and after a day long uphill attempt to get medical care to check if I was right, I finally gave in and gave myself up to positive thought. I’d wait for the appointment and hope I was wrong, despite what I deep down knew to be true. See, pregnancy is a mindfuck.
Next on the list of Terrible Things To Do was to decide how we would have our miscarriage. Oh joy! Would we like to take a little pill? Go under the knife? Wait it out? The third option was mentioned and then immediately taken away, given our proximity to medical care were we to go home. So, two options. The pill which causes cramping so severe that you expel the baby, or surgery.
As with most choices, it wasn’t that cut and dry. The pill cost somewhere around $5. It promised pain and a 48-hour long window in which the miscarriage would occur, who knows exactly when, like a sniper laying in wait. I’d be up close and personal with the blood and byproducts of our child. The surgery was the polar opposite. So sterile, so…surgical. I’d go to sleep as a walking grave for our babe and wake up hollow. Both sounded terrible but when the quote came in for the surgery at over $2,000 (this is with insurance, mind you), the choice for me was made. Plus, I think I wanted to feel pain.
The Chief kept asking about the surgery, in fact, he was the only one asking questions. I was in a haze, a daze of disbelief. The nurse suggested ice cream. OK. Ice cream, for being such a good girl. We got ice cream and went to the dog park, two surefire fixes for a bad mood (for me). I cried the whole time.
I went home with the pill that night and took the dose. The bottle warned of horror stories, of the slight chance of irreparable damage. I swallowed bitterly.
The cramps started 15 minutes later. I put on my game face and prepared for the worst and all through the night, I writhed in pain but still, nothing. 20 hours later, I realized they had never given me pain meds for the true pain that was set to arrive any minute. 5 hours later, after countless phone calls, The Chief was finally able to pick them up. I waited at home, a shadow of myself. Unable to read or write or watch TV, fielding phone calls like a secretary for my body. I just stared into nothingness. The following day, back at the doctor again to discuss next steps, I decided I wanted the surgery. My body was holding onto this baby and I knew it would never let go unless it was ripped from its grasp. We scheduled my COVID test and pre-op appointment and put down the down payment of $1000 with the warning that our quoted price of $2000 didn’t include anesthesia and they had no ballpark figure to give us. “It just depends on the person.”
That night, after two days of cramping and anticipation and fear for what was to transpire, I prayed for my body to wait until the surgery. I was beaten down and exhausted from lack of sleep, from building myself up to handle the pain each time I thought the time had come. I couldn’t summon the strength to miscarry. I slept for the first time in a long time, through the night. The next day, as I signed the forms stating I knew the risks and to whom to distribute my assets should the risks become reality, I held back tears. The staff were all so kind, so gentle. They wrapped me in a blanket that pumped warm air and slowly I counted back from 10. It felt like I had just been on 7 when I woke up again.
The tears I had held back before came pouring out as the nurse asked me how I was. Her next question was a saving grace. “Would you like a hug?” Despite COVID, despite what might be considered appropriate, that woman saw my pain and offered all she could to help me. I’ll always be grateful for her. She told me later, after The Chief had arrived that the first thing I had said after coming out of surgery had been that “At least the place we are staying has a bed on the ground floor so our dog can cuddle with us. He really loves that. So that’s good.”
So, that’s good.
The next day, in pain and exhausted again, I had my post-op appointment. We had scheduled it in person the day before at our pre-op but the computers had been down and it got lost in the technological swap between the handwritten analog and the digital brain. We waited. Finally, a nurse came up to me and asked if I really wanted a vaginal ultrasound because she didn’t think it necessary, in front of the entire room, full again with happy couples ready to burst and babes newly born into this world. Want? Hell no. I’m here because I have to be. It only got worse from there as she escorted us into the farthest room in the office, the room I dubbed The Crying Room because it seemed to be the room bad new was dealt. Safely within the privacy of The Crying Room she told me point blank she was “Sorry that our appointment had gotten confused. You see, the appointment was marked as a prenatal appointment, but you aren’t pregnant anymore, so we canceled it.” I broke again the moment she left the room. Our doctor came in soon after and we wrapped up the story of our short time together. She promised me again it was nothing I did that caused this and that, contrary to what I’d always heard, we “could start trying again as soon as I felt ready”. Those words have floated around my head ever since. So have these.
Ruin. Failure. Breakdown. Miscarriage.
Mis-carriage. I was the carriage for my baby, the safe vessel. Adding mis-, meaning “mistakenly, wrongly or badly” to this word, how do we not somehow, even subconsciously assign blame? I think it’s time to call it something different.
The day of and after surgery, we shopped like mad, gathering supplies for months on end, since we would no longer be coming in for monthly doctor’s visits as we had planned. In between aisles I would rest on the cart, faint, bleeding into a pad the size of an adult diaper, cramping and dizzy. Despite my need for rest, I didn’t want to be alone and so I slowly followed The Chief through our chores.
Since we’d been gone for a week longer than planned, our friends had to keep our house from freezing in the deepening cold of October. The drive home was lonely and solemn, minus the time where somehow Leto’s window started to open, nearly catapulting him out of the car into oncoming traffic as we careened down a deep decline.
The Chief pulled over and I wailed. Everything felt so precarious, like all things I loved were in danger. I felt I was losing my grasp on sanity and a part of me felt like just letting go, surrendering.
We returned to a house in disarray, quiet and austere. The Chief had installed flooring and painted the living room while I was away, since we hadn’t wanted me around the fumes (something we didn’t have to worry about now) and thus, the house was in boxes. My plants, a pure luxury in Winter and now over a year old, were holding on by a thread, despite a neighbor’s attempt to rescue them.
Everything felt dead. Nothing on the walls, no books, television for distraction, no comfy setup and all of the reminders of what was. Prenatals. The foods I had been craving. The pregnancy test I kept in my underwear drawer to pull out and smile at from time to time. The names we had brainstormed, the plans we had made. Everywhere, everything reminded me of what wasn’t.
And so, we set to distract. From the moment we landed, it was work. Work to put the home back together, work to unload and assemble and organize all the newness we had brought home. Work to ignore what had just happened.
And that was that.
After all we’d already been through, losing our Cinda, The Chief’s Mother, Grandmother and Father, my Godmother, and Grandmother and our friend, Jason (less than a week after our wedding), I wasn’t going to let this take me down. I wouldn’t be “that” woman who couldn’t get past it. Oh the disdain we have for her. So, after all the housework was done, fully unrested, back to work I went. Case closed. Start again.
“You can start trying as soon as you feel ready.”
We started right away. I was fine. We were fine. Everything was fine. I ran through the stages of grief, collecting badges along the way. Denial? Check! Anger? Check! Acceptance? Fuck yes! I gave myself an A+ in grief and a gold star to boot. Done. After two weeks of prescribed abstinence due to the risk of infection, we were back in the game. Square one. Home base and up to bat.
So far, our stats are 0 for 4. We aren’t exactly getting called up to the Big Leagues and for once in my life, at least in retrospect, I’m glad to have failed because a few weeks ago, I broke. For real this time. Like I said in the beginning of this entry, sometimes, it takes someone shaking you up to see what’s right in front of you. That clarity came by way of a trip to meet my new niece.
Leona is her name, born exactly one month to the day after my surgery (we’ve had a lot of painful parallels like that) and she’s perfect.
The last night I visited her, we held a ceremony for my girlfriend to honor the journey she’d been through.
After describing the massage we’d give her to recalibrate her body my friends turned to me and offered to do the same. Honor what my body had been through and help to recalibrate. Me? I said, as if we didn’t all know why they were offering. I accepted, hoping this would be the saving grace to make the creeping up sadness vanish. The moment they started, I let out a wail I could no longer contain. I wanted so badly to just fall apart. I promptly stopped myself.
The reality is, rather than put me back together again, that massage, that sitting in the house we both had been pregnant in together, holding my sweet neice who was to be my babe’s buddy, that focus on my body, my womb that never came to be, broke me instead of mended me. I needed that.
I couldn’t be put back together until I had fully fallen apart and finally, I fell the hell apart. Fully. Awkwardly. It was messy and bitter and angry and it’s not over but I am so grateful for it. That visit made me realize I was not OK and the only way to get closer to OK again was to go through it. The girlfriend I had traveled to Town with saw right through my veneer and before we knew it, we were both sobbing over Pop Rocks Jell-o shots (because we are amazing like that). “I see your pain. It’s right there, Julia. Ready to bubble over. You have to let it out.”
For the first time in months, I could breathe. I didn’t have to pretend I was OK. I wasn’t. I’m not. I will be.
That night we purchased an armload each of candles and went home, lit them and laid on the floor melting along with them to music. The next day, we both bought flowers on our way out of Town. Homeward bound. When we reached home, after driving 300 miles and braving road glaciers, we parted ways with a promise.
A release, we would help me find a release. As I walked in the house, The Chief could tell all was not right and I confessed it was true. I couldn’t pretend I was alright anymore. I spent the next few days comatose, unable to make the simplest decisions. Tea or coffee? I don’t know. I don’t care. Grief makes you numb, dumb to your needs.
A week ago today, as I write this, my girlfriend and I had the release. A ceremony. In preparation, I had reached out to all the women (plus my Pops) in my life who knew about the miscarriage and asked them to light a candle between during our ceremony and then, to blow it out afterwards, a letting go. As the clock struck two we packed up our witchy goodness, candles, sage, crystals, the flowers we had purchased, into a sled and made our way down to The River. The river that has held so much happiness and so much pain for me here. I wore a flower crown my girlfriend had made me and a flower jumpsuit under my winter bibs. She wore a flowered dress over her warm clothes. We were bringing rebirth to the darkness.
For the first time ever, Leto didn’t follow his Dad when he left that day on the snowmachine. He instead stayed right with us. He knew where he was needed.
We found the perfect spot, out in the middle of The River and set to it, our brains working in tandem without words, laying the flower petals in a huge circle, facing the West.
As the sun set that night, we bid farewell to the little being. The babe who had kept me up all night partying in the womb, who had surprised the hell out of us by arriving just when we had decided to stop trying so hard for a baby, who had been such a bright light and then, so dark.
“Goodbye, sweet soul.” I whispered and then, as we looked up, the sky broke into light. Beams shone through in a dance only the Earth knows how to perform. Leto snuggled into both of us as a single bird flew overhead and chirped a goodbye.
That night, we made a necklace and looked at beautiful pictures friends from all over had sent of their candles, their love. When my friend was preparing to give birth, she had asked everyone to bring a bead and from it, she had strung her birth necklace. This was my miscarriage necklace, to honor the journey. It was built of healing stones. Quartz for the heart, a piece she had tried to use many times before and always felt that the person who needed it hadn’t yet come into her life. Serpentine to ground me and Tiger’s Eye to release fear and anxiety. The moment I put it on, I felt a warmth in the coolness of the stones. A comfort.
Since that day, I hear that sweet soul in the whispers of the trees, the songs of the birds and the dances in the skies.
As I write this, one week later, I’m fully healed. Call it a wrap.
No. Not this time. One week later, I am moving through grief, a grief nearing four months old that I’ve only just admitted to myself exists, that I’ve only just now let myself feel. I tell you this story, not so you’ll feel pity or sadness for me. I tell you this not as a rulebook to follow, some universal truth explaining what all women feel. No, it is my own, individual experience. Instead, I tell you this in case you need to hear it, in case someone in your life needs you to hear it. I tell you this to bring to light a bit of the secrecy, guilt and shame around miscarriage and to help us, together, recognize that they are not helpful.
I should be over this by now. It was only two months. Maybe it was my fault. Don’t be hysteric. Don’t be jealous. Don’t be an asshole. Will I ever be a mother?
We have all heard about miscarriage. I had steeled myself against it, hoping we’d skip past its grasp. I didn’t make it and so many before me didn’t either. So many more will follow. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard every single time.
We know about miscarriage, but we don’t know the depths and the shallows of it, not until we’ve swum its waters. We don’t think of the small injustices that pull you back to your grief when you’re fighting so hard to stay ahead of it.
We don’t talk about how you’ll need to update your pregnancy app to say “No longer pregnant” and how because of that, you’ll be bombarded with miscarriage articles, despite your letters to the app developer.
Or how your next shipment of prenatals will arrive a few days after you get home, reminding you that you don’t need them in the same way anymore.
We don’t talk about how you’ll have to explain over and over and over again, phone call, after phone call to medical providers you don’t know, what happened and still, despite your grief, summon the strength to advocate for yourself to get the doctor on the line to get the help you need.
We don’t talk about how your social media will still be all baby ads, all the time or that your body will still think you are pregnant for weeks afterwards. How your boobs will still be swollen but now, without reason. That you’ll have the weight gain, the symptoms and none of the reward. How you’ll still be nauseous. How you’ll feel hollow and full, all at once, like a coffin.
We don’t talk about how unbelievably expensive a miscarriage can be. How the bills will roll in for months, coming in on just the days you were starting to feel solid. All said and done, our miscarriage cost $4000 and we have insurance. How is it that one must have privilege, be it on one’s own or with the generous offer of a parent as in our situation, in order to be able to have surgery when the other options don’t work?
We don’t talk about how convoluted sex becomes, from something that brought life to something that could again bring death.
We don’t talk about how, suddenly, you’re able to eat anything, drink anything and if you’re anything like me, you drank because you could, and you got drunk because you didn’t want this paltry consolation prize in the first place.
We don’t talk about how some days, all you want to do is talk about what you went through and other days, you can’t even admit it happened.
We don’t talk about how being around children, no matter how much you love them, can make you feel like you’re dying inside, falling behind and how at the same time, you want to prove to everyone that you’re OK with kids for fear of being outcast or avoided. How you’re simultaneously so genuinely happy for them and so sad for yourself and how that’s hard to manage at times.
We don’t always talk about these things, and like I said, not everyone experiences these things the way I have, but I did and I think we should talk about them.
I hope as you read this it’s your first time being so close to miscarriage but chances are, it’s not. I hope that wherever you are in life, you can take a moment to pause and realize that we never truly know where someone is in life which is why we should do our damndest to be kind. I hope you never have to go through something like this but that if you do, you know that I see you and I’m here for you, always, whoever you are. And I promise you, you will smile again.
To everyone who has been there for me, reminding me it’s OK to not be OK, thank you. Thank you from the deepest part of me. I will always be grateful. To my husband, my moon, thank you. It has not been easy, I have not been easy. Thank you for your steadfast love and support. I love you.
For those of you who are reading this, learning of it for the first time, know that I didn’t hold it from you because I don’t trust or need you, rather that for the time we talked, I got to just be me. The old me.
Not Julia who has had a miscarriage. Just me. Thank you for that, always.
And so, after all that, I leave you with this: be kind to one another. You never know where someone is in life, what they are struggling against. Hell, as in my case, they may not even know. Sometimes that kindness will break someone open, sometimes it will help them heal their wounded heart. Either way, we are all a part of one another’s process. May you have peace in yours.
P.S. If you want to share your thoughts, experiences, anything, please do so. Leave a comment or send me an email (email@example.com). I’m an open door, an open book. That being said, please be gentle. If reading this was hard or uncomfortable, I get it. Writing it was hard. I hope that in doing so, in sharing this, I can help shed a little light on this historically hidden, uncomfortable subject. Like her.And her. And I’m sure countless others I’ve yet to stumble upon. I’d love suggestions.
P.P.S I’ve written this post dozens of times in my head before taking pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. There are things I’ve missed, resources I haven’t used, groups I’ve not yet joined. I’m at the beginning. I’m sure there are things I’ll come back and add but if you take away one thing, take this: your pain is your own. You don’t have to justify it, rush through it, bury it. It’s incomparable to someone else’s. Be gentle with yourself in your pain, be gentle with others in theirs. I’m learning this, slowly. I think we’d all be better for it.
P.P.P.S Here’s a playlist I made on Spotify, same title, Carriage Ride, because this miscarriage has been just that. A ride. It’s filled with everything from serious to silly, all the songs that have helped me through, held me down and brought me back up again. Enjoy.
Well, it turns out I was right, I’m terrible at relaxation. Well, terrible at relaxation with one, rather large, caveat: I’m terrible at relaxation as I thought it was meant to be. You know, lazing about, not a care in the world about what day or time it is. Napping at will. Leisurely meals throughout the day with cocktails poolside.
Yea…that’s not me.
Now, while some aspects of the aforementioned relaxation style aren’t even available to me (hint: the nearest pool is 8 hours away. The nearest poolside cocktails?! Who even knows), even if they were, that’s the type of relaxing I can do for a day or two. Any more spells A-N-X-I-E-T-Y. But that’s vacation, right? No rules, no worries, no restraints! A smorgasbord of decadence and overindulgence.
Again, not for me.
I’ve tried it before only to come to the conclusion that I’m terrible at relaxing. The reality? I’m terrible at relaxing as I think others do (and as I “should”). The reality? I had to find my own swing of things. One of the best parts of my vacation? Learning this about myself (and even, eventually, finding this swing) and were it not for cues from you, amazing readers, I don’t know that I would have.
Relaxation to me has often been this sort of unattainable nirvana. I’d see other people doing it or hear their different ways and think “I’m doing this all wrong!”. I’d go back to the relaxation drawing board, setting different relaxation parameters for myself (sounds relaxing, right?). Now, if you’re thinking, “Julia! You were doing it wrong!”, I’d wholeheartedly agree. Not because I wasn’t doing one person’s form of relaxation or another correctly but because I wasn’t relaxing in the way that worked for me. I was doing it wrong because (spoiler alert!) it turns out the art of relaxation lies within each of us.
Looking back, my girlfriends and I like to laugh at our 5th grade selves who all wore the exact same jeans, socks and shoes to school (I love how socks were included in this list of lemming-like fashion).
Similarity meant safety. We fit in with one another. As I’ve grown, however, I’ve become my own self, as have they. I have no idea what socks they are wearing today but I’m certain they are perfectly perfect for them.
Still, my relaxing self hadn’t quite caught up. I live off-grid in Alaska, a life more wild and more independent than I’d ever dreamed, and still I was looking around for someone, anyone to tell me how to relax. Thankfully, you, the readers, came to the rescue with your tales of relaxation.
So, I started copying all the forms of relaxation mentioned above, right?!
Not this time!
Finally, it sunk in: the art of relaxation is uniquely your own.
So I tried my hand where I felt most drawn. Mostly, for me, it meant being out in nature and watching the comings and goings of the day. I took morning walks to greet the rising sun and bundled as could be, laid down in the snow to watch it rise. I took moonlit strolls, watching that glowing orb come up over the mountains. I skied long stretches and even hooked up the little Leto beast for skijoring.
Sometimes being outside just meant chores but with all the time in the world to do them, it was more pleasure than pain. I chopped wood outside till my fingers froze and smiled with delight at the stockpile I’d provided us. I got back in tune with the chores The Chief had so kindly taken over when I was at work and it made me feel reconnected to our life.
I won’t lie, some days I felt the panic of inactivity or lack of production come over me. I had nowhere to be, no time to keep. What would I do next?! And then, if I got quiet, my heart (or sometimes my stomach) would tell me where to go next. I’d pick up a book or unearth a craft, find a snack, tidy a corner of the house or meet a girlfriend for an epically long impromptu ski. Time marched on, as it does, some planned, some filled with random tasks.One day I talked for almost two hours on the phone with a girlfriend, the entirety of which I spent scrubbing our tea kettle back to life. Some days went so fast, I could barely recount the day before it fell dark.
Some days lingered ever so slightly as the light started to come back. Once, I spent the entire day in jammies watching TV and once we took an epic nap after both falling asleep reading. And speaking of sleeping, I actually let myself sleep in for the first time in Winter since my first Winter in 2015.
As I write this, my vacation comes to a close. The morning greeted us with a twenty below “hello” and a long list of to-dos for an impromptu trip to Town for The Chief. A flurry of activity will fill our day as we cross off the list and work our way through the cold. In some ways, it’s the perfect ending, revving up to help me ease back into the world of virtual places to be and people to see. Moving forward, the clock will decide my comings and goings again and my phone, mostly shut off during my time away, will become more of a presence. Routine will return and appointments will be kept and in some ways, that’s relaxing too.
Plus, I am extremely grateful to be employed, especially over this last year, but we all need breaks, even from the best of jobs.
So, the art of relaxation? Turns out, it’s yours to decipher, yours to learn. For me, to feel relaxed, I need a combo of time alone, time outside and time getting things done. Even if I found myself poolside with cocktails, I’d still want to wake up in the morning to journal and do yoga. I’d still want a semblance of routine and continuity. A little bit of planning mixed with a little bit of spontaneity. To me, that’s relaxation. Finding a feeling of calm in one’s soul, whatever that looks like. Perhaps it’s not yet my forte but thanks to you, I’m learning my way.
May you find yours.
P.S. Anyone else finding their way towards their own version of relaxation? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
The day started off like any other unassuming Sunday: sipping tea in bed while journaling away through the dark morning dawn. A breakfast brunch as the day finally broke through the darkness and then…plans. What would the day hold? While there were chores like hauling water and running the generator, it was Sunday. The day of rest, right?
The Chief had, unfortunately, forgotten his phone at the Lake where we put in our first trail to our property(!) the day before.
So…his day’s agenda was set. Mine, on the other hand? Free as a slightly chore-laden bird. Still, I knew what was coming next.
“You should take The Beast out for a couple laps when I go out to the Lake. Pack down this new snow, you know?”
The night before had laid down a beautiful layer of fat, fluffy flakes. Six inches of snow graced our valley. Suddenly, all of the well-trodden trails we’d grown accustomed to in the last month were covered. Every trek a tromp through calf-deep goodness. The trail to the generator, the outhouse, the sheds, all now a bit of a slog, overnight. Not only were our personal trails changed but all of the exterior trails were too. Without a quick pat down by the snowmachine it would be post-holing for Leto and I on our afternoon walk. The best plan, the pre-emptive plan, would be to take a few laps, prepping the trail for the oncoming week so it could setup. The best plan, however, was normally The Chief’s job.
In secret, I’d always wanted to be the one who laid first tracks upon the trails here and often I would but solely with my skis. Not once had I been first to set tracks with my machine. Even if our household was first out, we’d be riding in tandem and I always found myself riding in second place. Scratch that: I always positioned myself in second place and with Leto aiming to lead the way, I’d find myself a solid third.
While it would be easy to blame The Chief for taking on these duties so as not to have to look at myself and by providing excuses like “He’s typically free when it snows and I’m typically working” or “He enjoys it more”, I finally let my guard down and came face to face with with the truth: I’m scared to get stuck.
The truth is, yes, sometimes The Chief is home and I’m working when the trails need to be put in. Sometimes not. And yes, The Chief does enjoy it but what’s also true: I love it too. There’s nothing like breaking first trail (even if it’s merely 6 inches atop an old trail), or so I’ve been told. Growing up, I used to love to drive my Grandpa’s riding lawnmower, back and forth in the summer heat, until the lawn was perfectly flat and uniform. Setting trail is the winter version of this (also somehow sweaty). So why all the hubbub?
I’ve done it before. Stuck, stranded, using every bit of I Don’t Want to Have to Call My (at the time) Boyfriend Strength up. Sweating. Panicking. Losing then regaining my senses.
Getting stuck. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
The reality? Getting stuck actually is a truly important lesson out here. You wouldn’t drive a car without knowing how to operate it and getting stuck is just a part of operating a snowmachine. Still, there’s one issue: I’m a perfectionist. Perfectionist. The title seems harmless enough, unassuming, almost…dare I say, cute? In reality, it’s anything but. Being a perfectionist, for me, means doing things right the first time or…doing nothing at all. You’ll notice by my lovely array of dust-laden instruments in our cabin that I fall prey most often to the latter (doing nothing at all), than the often impossible former (doing it right the first time). Did even young Mozart have to plunk about on his piano for a bit prior to conducting his masterpieces? Me thinks not.
Truly, deep down, me knows so. I know there’s plenty of plunking about we don’t see behind the Insta-worthy lives we show. So, as The Chief gently challenged me to dust off my piano, per se, I met his gaze and said “OK, but I’m a little scared I’ll get stuck.”
“You might! That’s all part of it.”
Ugh, sage advisor that he is, I wasn’t having it. Again, I’ve gotten stuck but only twice have I been completely alone and they were relatively easy fixes (thanks to the I Don’t Want to Have to Call My Boyfriend adrenaline). The other times, when I’ve gotten really stuck (I mean REALLY stuck), I’ve luckily been in the company of friends. What if I got REALLY stuck?!
The Chief would be 45 minutes away. What if I needed him? Our neighbors were all gone. The closest call for help would be a long way away. I’d be a burden. Perhaps that’s the greatest fear: not just doing it imperfectly, but having an audience.
So, dear audience, here’s my confession: get stuck I did. I got stuck “damn good”, as my Mother would say. See?
After two hours of miles-long loops around the local trails, racing back and forth and off into sub-trails, I arrived back at home sweet home. In my laps, I’d veered off into our yard and flattened out our home trails quite well but I thought to myself: “Why don’t I do one more lap to the fire pit?” I’d had a little trouble paving my way through the terrain with a turning radius that just wouldn’t take hold and I wanted a third run at it. It had been the only part of the last few hours that had given me pause, wondering if this would be the place I’d get stuck. Still, I had made my way through it twice already and today was about facing fears! Another voice sheepishly tapped me on the shoulder: “Excuse me, umm, I think maybe you’re pretty tired? Maybe, umm, maybe you should call it quits?” Even Leto, The Meandering Malamute, had thrown in the towel a few laps before. It would be totally honorable to do the same.
Instead, I went full-bore. I was going to make the turnaround in one fell swoop instead of employing my wussy reverse again! Straight ahead or nothing!
I drew the nothing card.
In the last moment of the turn (which I was, in fact, totally nailing), my track caught on a previously unseen mini-boulder and…over she went!
I heaved and ho-ed like no other. Just when I would get some momentum, my feet would slip out from under me, towards the machine. While I wanted it upright, I didn’t want it upright on top of me. I slid the back end away from the rock as best I could but the going was tough. I flattened the snow all around the machine in the direction I wanted to move it but still, I’d only get it an inch or less at a time. Until I purchased my latest machine, I’d always had lighter ones, ones I could lift. This one, weighing in at over 500 pounds, I couldn’t (which plays a great deal into a fear of getting stuck). No matter of momentum was proving to help. I was…
So, I did what I aimed not to: I called my husband. Somehow, despite being in the middle of chainsawing his way through our new property, he felt the phone buzz. He answered. The spotty service only swelled my frustration.
“I got stuck!” I finally yelled, angelically, of course. What I wanted him to say in return was: “Don’t worry! The machine will be totally fine on its side for the next hour until I can get home.” What he said instead was: “Well, no, babe, the machine shouldn’t just sit like that. You need to figure it out.” “This is all your fault” my less than adorable side thought (thankfully not aloud). “Maybe look up come alongs on YouTube? Or create a pulley system?”
I thought back to my 7th grade science classes. Pulley systems…yep, I had definitely been class clowning my way through that lesson. Nice work, Jules! But, he did have a point. I had the internet and a ton of tools (I didn’t know how to use) at my disposal. Perhaps I could cook up my own rescue. I said a grumpy “Thank you. Be safe.” and got off the phone. Time to brainstorm. To the back of the truck, Batman!
The thing about “packed down” snow (aka the snow I had been riding back and forth across for the past few hours) is that it needs to set up, meaning it needs time to settle and ideally, cold temperatures to turn it into a little mini-highway. This snow had not done that in the last 30 minutes of my trying to right the wronged machine. The audacity! So, back and forth I trekked, slipping calf-deep to the icy surface below, shedding layers as I went. Gloves on. Gloves off. Fingers frozen to metal. Gloves on. Repeat. After an embarassing and inaccurate first attempt (“I’ll use a tie down!” aka a ratchet strap) I finally agreed with myself to consult the YouTube oracle. “How to use a come along” I queried. The first video I saw had snow on the ground and a big truck. It looked like home so I clicked on it. Actually, the first video I saw said “Finger Pincher”. Rude. So I clicked on the aforementioned second one. The gist was the same: Do NOT use this if you don’t understand it. You will snap your fingers off. Fear mongers!
So, I watched the video over and over until I knew the subject back and forth, right?
Nah. I skimmed through it and looked for the main cues (i.e. which side is “Up” and which end gets attached where). A few more trip-laden tromps back and forth to the truck and I had everything I needed. I thought. And…it turns out I was right.
After some fenagling the pieces over the most secure junctions and a wish of good luck for my fearful fingers, I started cranking back and forth, back and forth until…I saw movement. The snowmachine was finally coming upright.
I gave a few more cranks and gently tipped it the rest of the way down to the snowy surface.
“Hell yes!” I shrieked to myself. “I did it!”. I was in shock. I’d done something that gave me paused (riding alone in fresh powder), met my fear (getting stuck) and found my way out (upright).
Now, trust me, I know that to an experienced rider, this whole conundrum likely seems trivial. Well, trivial at best, perhaps closer to pathetic. To which I would say, “I get it.” Yet, I would also venture a guess that there might be things that make a brap bro pause that might be easy peasy to others. I can write an essay in my sleep but driving a stick shift makes me feel as if I should have a Caution, Teen Driver sticker on my bumper. Maybe you’re amazing with a chainsaw but can’t imagine a moment onstage. Perhaps you can draw life-like portraits but tremble at the thought of swimming in the ocean. Who knows? The point is, hopefully, small or large, insignificant or essential, we find a way to stride past our fears and get to the joy of just trying…and maybe getting stuck.
So, get stuck I did and unstuck to boot and now, my machine, was upright again.
Sweating and thoroughly exhausted, I put my coat and gloves back on, fingers crossed, in anticipation of a ride. She started right up, purring away loudly. “Yes!” I yelled again. I took her for a final lap through the local trails and she hummed away, happy to be back on track. I thanked my lucky stars.
By the time I returned home, it was almost 5. The Chief arrived soonafter, whooping and hollering for me as well. “This is what I mean! It really is good for us to get stuck, even if it is scary! I’m so proud of you, baby.” He then proceeded to tell me about a time he too had gotten stuck in our own backyard, years ago, during his first winter. He heaved and ho-ed and stomped down the snow around him for hours, all the while watching the lights go out at the friend’s house he had been on his way to visit (there weren’t cell phones here back then. Kind of amazing, right?!). Finally, hours later, sweating and exhausted, he had made it the couple hundred feet home.
So, a restful Sunday, it was not, yet, it was exactly what I needed and I’m grateful for it.
In the end, getting stuck was the best part of my day. OK, getting unstuck was the best part of my day but it wouldn’t have come without first getting…stuck. I think in this time of online perfection, it’s important to show the less elegant, less photo-worthy moments. Maybe, just maybe, it will help us all see that perfection is limiting, at best, and that we all struggle and thrive in different ways. Moving here has forced me to face my fears, fears I didn’t even know I had, head on and while, in the sweating, exhausted moments of meeting them, it’s not always fun, in the aftermath, I’m always grateful. And so, I share those moments with you. The nitty, gritty, not always so pretty version of life (off-grid or otherwise) that force us to face ourselves, head on. It’s not always the shiny parts that need the most light.
Cheers to you in your triumphs and in your moments of defeat. May they both bring you closer to who you want to be.
P.S. Can you relate? What are your hangups others might find easy?
This summer, we met our match in our little ball of fluff: puberty. Because of COVID and the world, including our vet, being pretty much closed for business, our little man went from sweet little pup to full blown pubescent pooch and our ears and sanity paid for it. He howled the summer away, lamenting our locking him up to prevent an unplanned puppy pregnancy with one of his many girlfriends.
Yet finally, after weeks on end, the howling stopped. All was quiet. The window had passed for the two star-crossed pups and Leto seemed to forget all about his girlfriend. Phew! Back to a quiet, peaceful life, right? Little did we know, there was a new temptress in town: freedom.
You see, we live in a leash-less, fence-less, wide open world here where dogs wander to their heart’s content. Yet, Leto had never taken to wandering. Don’t get me wrong, he’d do his rounds checking the neighborhood, as his sister Cinda had done, for treats and attention but he always came home. Always.
Until he didn’t.
He had tasted freedom and it tasted good. Specifically, it tasted like beef jerky, french fries and who knows what else (ice cream, probably ice cream). He had found freedom and with that, he’d found tourists and with them he’d found a smorgasbord of treats even Templeton couldn’t dream up. And so, the calls started coming in:
“Oh hello, is this Leto’s Mom? I found your dog, well, he found us, and he looked so hungry so we gave him some of our breakfast. He’s walking us to Town now if you want to meet us.”
Thank goodness I made him wear a collar this summer (something Cinda had never done unless we were in Town. We called it her “Town Clothes”).
Call upon call kept coming in like a phone bank for a funds drive and every day I’d spend my lunch break finding out where our Malamute had meandered off to next (thank goodness for work from home, eh?). There were calls from friends, calls from the bar, calls from strangers, calls galore.
Yet one call in particular is a story we tell time and time again. Sneaky Leto hadn’t come home the night before and The Chief and I worried through the whole of the dusk lit summer hours, wondering if he’d found a moose to terrorize, worrying he’d misstep and meet his end.
Instead, he’d taken himself 3 miles away to a local campground and posted up for the night, terrorizing, instead of a moose, tourists. The ladies inside the tent heard him outside, hoping to get in to snuggle, and thought him a bear. “He sounded much bigger than he is! We didn’t open the tent until daybreak but when we did, boy were we surprised! We gave him a little beef jerky and he got right into the tent with us.” Wander as he may, at least he wanders to good people. Time and time again, I’ve gotten to meet sweet travelers who fall in love with Leto and help him find his way home (thank you!).
Since he started his wandering ways, I’ve seen him in pictures online, received countless texts and calls and heard tales of him leading people on hikes or bringing them on tours, welcoming them to our valley like he’s the Malamute Mayor.
Yet as summer wound down and the tourists merely trickled in, we figured so too would his wanderings wind down.
A month ago, we were yet again proven wrong. As The Chief worked away doing construction, he saw a group pass by on the road below up to the historic mining town. They had two dogs with them, happily trotting along and one looked awfully familiar. Far enough away that he wasn’t sure, The Chief shouted “Oy! Leto?!” and sure enough, our ball of fluff looked over his shoulder at his Dad like a teen just trying to sneak out of the house with his friends. “Ugh, Dad! Don’t embarrass me!” he seemed to whine. The Chief scooped him up and put him in our truck where we pouted the day away until it was time to come home and tell Mom of his traveling tales.
Yet that was a month ago. In the ensuing weeks since, the ground went from covered in paths of golden Apsen debris to snow-laden. The temps have followed in suit just as dramatically, plummeting to 25 below zero over night.
While there were now new neighbors in town to greet (he even showed up one morning with a note attached to his candy corn bandana reading “Leto came by for breakfast. I cooked him an egg”), it was significantly quieter in these parts. Certainly, with the tourists gone, all tucked into their winters elsewhere, his wandering days were over.
Not so fast.
Now that I know what to look for, I can spot the signs he’s about to slink off. We’d been busy unpacking from our Town trip and our daily outings (which were suddenly on skis!) had been pushed later and later into the day. I could see him getting more and more impatient but still, every night I’d tuck him in and every morning I would awake to him downstairs or under the house. Until one evening when it was just a little too quiet around these parts. I hadn’t seen Leto in about an hour when the texts started coming in:
Next: “Leto came by for a warm up. Should I keep him?” said one friend.
Then: “Can I give him something to eat? He seems hungry” said another an hour later.
It was 25 below zero, yet out he was, greeting his friends both dog and human, making his rounds. After three Leto sightings the latest friend he visited asked if I would like him to bring him a little closer to home. He was going to another friend’s house for dinner and could bring Leto with. I agreed. At least he would be closer. The Chief had just returned from an hour-long looking for Leto snowmachine ride and was chilled to the bone. Heading back out again simply wasn’t in the cards.
Our friend arrived at his dinner and Leto settled himself in quite comfortably. I agreed he could have dinner and spend the night. Leto also agreed and it was settled. Right?
Of course not. The moment his host stepped out to answer nature’s call, Leto stepped out behind him and he was off!
The next friend to call was miles away and sure enough, there he was.
They were having a dance party and, like a moth to the flame, my little social butterfly of a Malamute was ready to boogie. He jumped on in and finally, settled in for the night. Right?
Nope! Leto again snuck out the door post-party and he was off! His signature move struck again. After that, late in the night, the texts stopped coming in. Everyone except for the meandering pup was fast asleep. Who knew where he was now?
Eventually, we did. Come afternoon the following day, we got another text: “Leto made an appearance. I’ll keep him until you get here”. Again, The Chief suited up to battle the elements and finally, an hour later, he was home with our sneaky beast who spent the rest of the day sleeping off his adventures.
So, I guess his wanderings aren’t seasonal and his puberty is still full bore. Somehow, we ended up with the most social pup I’ve ever known and despite the occasional worries, I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Thank goodness for this goof who has given us so many ups when life has presented downs. You, little man, light up our lives. Thank you.
May your journeys be plenty, may you always stay safe and may you always find your way home, eventually.
Projects. This word strikes both glee and fear into me simultaneously. Glee for the change, the new, the progress. Fear for the time, the mess and the inevitable “oh shit” moments. This year, we’ve been in project go-mode. Having stayed home for the entire year for the first time ever, we truly had a moment to see what needed doing and oh boy, it’s a lot. Like any good project, each one began with hope and progressed like an unending nesting doll. Projects within projects (within projects, within projects) have an uncanny way of popping up.
Still, cross them off the list we did. There was trim to cut and paint and a ceiling to stain, tongue and groove to mill and paint for interior siding, a trillion tiny projects and umpteen garden projects and somehow we had the lumber for them all, lucky us.
The funny thing about living 8 hours from the nearest lumber yard (well, 4 if you want to pay double but that’s not often a ride I aim admittance to) is that when you buy lumber, you often buy a little extra. Mistakes happen and a buffer is key. The other “funny” thing about living so far out is said lumber must find somewhere to stay dry and cozy until it proves time for its project to commence. So, with a little extra and a lot to store, we set aside our lumber to side our house.
One year ago.
Last Summer we had hoped to have it up and done before the wedding. Did that happen? It sure didn’t.
With The Chief working 12-14 hour days for 42 days with one day off and me working full-time while planning a wedding and tagging in as his co-pilot firefighter a few times a week, we didn’t exactly have a lot of milling hours in us.
Two years ago this Fall, I wrote about our naked house and how, despite loving what it holds inside, I am embarrassed for its lackluster outside. Now, one year after buying the lumber to do it and umpteen Winter, Spring and Summer projects that required completion in between, siding our house had still found itself on the projects back burner (or on an understandable but equally frustrating seasonal delay). Our house still remains naked. So, we set to clothe it.
The siding project (in our heads) went something like this:
1. Order and pick up lumber – Done! We’d done this last Summer. Ahead of the game already! 2. Grab the boards 3. Mill the boards 4. Sand the boards 5. Stain the boards 6. Put the boards up Done!
Had I looked at that list when we hatched this siding plan, I might have let The Chief twist my arm to pre-built siding just to take a few of those steps out because…in addition to the above steps, our process, thus far, just to get to the third step (Mill the boards) has been:
1. Move an old couch that somehow got place in the way of the boards (Day O) 2. Organize the work tent so there is room to work in it (Day 1) 3. Uncover the boards (start of Day 2)
4. Set up sawhorses for the boards to stage them for milling 5. Discover that after a long Winter’s rest, some boards (which are 12 feet long) have gained a little weight (water weight, that is) and are wet 6. Set up another set of sawhorses for wet vs. dry boards 7. Sort the boards into wet and dry and move them into corresponding sawhorse piles 8. Set up another set of sawhorses for milled lumber 9. Get two generators from their two different sides of the property 10. Get the gas can and filter 11. Fill them with gas 12. Bring out the saw 13. Level the saw 14. Set up the guides on the saw to create the tongue and groove 15. Get another set of sawhorses to help hold the boards as they are milled 16. Try the first board 17. Realize that the sawhorse system isn’t working 18. Try another board Success. 19. Mill each board through twice (to get both sides) 20. Get through 14 boards before it starts to get dark 21. Set up two more sets of sawhorses inside the work tent 22. Start a fire in the work tent to dry all boards, milled and wet 23. Move milled and wet lumber inside the tent, stacking and stickering (essentially placing another piece of wood perpendicular to each row so as to create airflow) them to cure (dry) overnight 24. Move both generators back to their respective places on the property 25. Move saw back inside 26. Re-cover remaining lumber 27. Count remaining lumber while covering Realize that it will take you another day to finish all the milling Go inside (it’s now 7 pm) Haul water Run the generator Shower Run the air hose through the shower to make sure it doesn’t freeze and break in the sub-30 nights 28. Check on fire in the work tent (it’s now 9 pm) Make dinner Do dishes 29. Check on fire in the work again (it’s now 10:30 pm) End of Day 2
So, yes, it ended up being a little longer of a process than my 6 step process had anticipated and while I didn’t count the steps like hauling water or running the generator for the house, it’s all a part of the process too. It’s all part of why things take as long as they do, because there’s always another Russian Doll popping up.
In between finishing up and counting our progress on Day 2 towards the overall product, we also realized (or rather, re-realized) another “funny” thing about living in the woods? When you buy a little extra for your project, sometimes you forget just how much extra. Saturday, we found out. Through the variety of necessary projects we’d completed in the last three seasons, we’d managed to go burn through everything “extra” and straight on into our required materials. In fact, we have less than half of what we need.
I vaguely remember The Chief and I discussing this while shivering in 20 below zero weather. “We can just replace it when we are ready!” I can hear us saying. A statement we promptly forgot while we finished the ensuing projects: the trim, the tongue and groove interior siding, the planters, etc.
Still, whether starting with everything or just a less than half our necessary materials, start we did and while it took far longer than either of us had anticipated (surprised?) we came out ahead because we came out at all.
Sunday, we found our groove.
We were outside bright and early in the below 40 degree weather and had milled and re-stacked half of the remaining pile by 10:30 am. The work tent was warm and after a brief intermission for a volunteer day at the VFD, The Chief returned and we finished the non-wet pile. 63 boards, all 12 feet, a total of 126 passes through the mill, all finally finished.
So, what remains? 8 boards to mill once they are dry. A Town trip to grab 80 more boards. Milling said boards (160 more passes through the mill) and then, just those few simple steps:
Sand the boards Stain the boards Put the boards up Done!
I’m sure it will go just as easily as the first 63 boards went and by that I mean, not easily at all but deeply, deeply satisfying to see to completion. Perhaps our weather gambles will pay off and we will be able to stain in the late Fall sunshine or perhaps (fingers and toes crossed, no!), we will have to finish the project next year when we can again paint outside (you know, toxic fumes inside a tent heated by a flaming stove, not a great idea). Only time (on the weekends) will tell. Here’s hoping!
To you and your projects, I wish you good luck! May your process be speedy, your materials be plenty and your clothes smell of sawdust and congratulate you of progress.