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Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect, Alaskan wilderness

The Disconnect

The relatively recent access this town has gained to the technological pleasures of the “real world” has always been for me a double-edged sword, a sort of high-tech thorn in my side.

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect, Alaskan wilderness

Nature, captured by tech

 

When I first met The Chief he had a “dumb phone”, as they are called these days. I loved it. Instead of vying for his attention over some device, there it was, stable and pure. In all reality, it was he who had to fight for mine at times. He would marvel at my texting dexterity and volume at which I transacted such “conversation”. His phone required each letter’s input until I showed him Predictive Text. You guys remember that one, right? Suddenly, a text merely caused him half the frustration it once had. Still, his texting didn’t increase.

The Chief would question the benefits of such a fancy device as mine (an iPhone). What was the purpose? I would espouse the wonders of having directions to anywhere, anytime and the sheer possibilities of the world of the internet at my fingertips to which he would reply: “That’s what a map, a dictionary, other people and then, last and least, a computer are for.”

In all honesty, I remember defending the phone lightly. I wasn’t sure if I really liked its bells and whistles but I did know that I had grown accustomed to it. When I learned that only a few years earlier, our town had conversed to the world only via one pay phone and to one another via CB radio, I felt like I had missed the boat. I had arrived when technology had fully nestled herself in (again).

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect, Historic Alaska

The historic town which was more technologically advanced then than we are now.

 

Still, I was used to her, simultaneously comforted and duped by her.

I remember pondering the meaning of a word together once our first Summer together and as I reached for my phone, The Chief reached for his dictionary.

This moment struck me and I promised myself that I would be better at reaching for books than reaching for my phone.

That Fall we headed to California for our first annual family visit and The Chief started to understand the supposed benefits of the iPhone. Lost as could be, we would suddenly be found. Wanting to see a movie, we could know the schedule at the typing of a few words. Hungry, we could decipher where to eat with a quick search. Yet, the retrieval of such information didn’t always make things easier or more fun or more quickly expedited. The plethora of information sometimes made it harder. Which route to take? There were so many options. Which movie or restaurant to go to? Everyone had an opinion and an experience and after wading through a few reviews they all melded together.

Still, in the return to our cabin that Winter, the phone stayed and the computer did too and now, a few years later, they’ve started to multiply.

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect Mason Jar

Big mouth, wide mouth, espousing the benefits of smartphones…

 

These devices do bring “us” together. They have made it easier for me to keep in touch with friends and family, they’ve made writing and publishing this blog a possibility and they’ve connected me to people and ideas I perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Yet does it bring us closer? The “us” that is right in front of us, right next to us?

The other day, I was in a conference call in which the attendees joined from all over the Western edge of the US. We were in offices and homes, in business suits and extreme business casual. We were a mix of people, all working together to one goal and I thought to myself how crazy that we can all be in one “place” together despite our distances apart.

Yet, were we? Did the “us” we created by attending actually come together? Technology has this way of bringing together while simultaneously dividing. During the call, I received multiple texts from co-workers about the meeting. We were finishing the last bits of a presentation and I was getting last-minute updates on how to proceed, what to share, what to present. I was there, in those texts, in those directions, not in the meeting and I could tell that I was not alone. Minutes later, another attendee mentioned that he had just acquired some new information. Not meaning before the meeting, meaning during the meeting. He too was off in his own technological bubble, checking email while others spoke and debated and brainstormed. We were all tapping in and out of the meeting. Together or alone we retreated and reappeared, never announcing our coming or going, everyone under the assumption that everyone else was participating. Assuming that we, in our importance, could check out to do something more important, or something far less important. Take a break to check our email, disconnect for a moment.

The meeting was an hour-long.

One hour.

One hour for which I would bet none of us were completely present. My job, which required me to be there, also required me elsewhere, to be simultaneously mentally present in two places at once.

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect, Women

No one’s legs are long enough to be two places at once. Not even Fall time shadow legs

 

As a society, we talk about the pros and cons of technology, about the coexistent togetherness and the isolation we feel from being so “connected”. Yet, steadily we continue. We slowly accept what should be rudeness as commonplace. Accepting that the person you’re speaking to will be scrolling on their phone, half-listening. Accepting that we text someone and two minutes later can’t remember what we said. I saw a meme the other day that said: “If I respond to your text with ‘Oh, cool’, that means I’m over the conversation”. We accept sub-par communication and call it connection because we’ve agreed to those standards. We accept them for one another and for ourselves. We accept when we look up from our screens and realize an hour of “relaxation” has passed after which we feel neither relaxed nor refreshed.

I know, for me, I’m a sensitive little beast. I need structure and continuity, ceremony and rhythm. My body now (and always has, though I neglected it) requires 8 hours of sleep and if I don’t get outside, even for a short moment every day, I feel unsettled. I can’t be too social or I will feel depleted and although certain foods are my heart’s desire, when I abstain, my whole self feels better. Candid conversations with my girlfriends and guy friends are essential to my happiness and I know I need quality time with The Chief, just the two of us, cuddled up on the couch reading or watching a movie.

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect, Friendship in Alaska

The necessary walk n’ talk n’ sunsets with the girls and the pups.

 

All of these things I’ve known and aimed for and missed and tried again and sometimes failed twice, yet I’ve always reached for them. Yet until that conference call, I didn’t realize how badly a break with technology also needs to be on that list of Self-Love Daily To Dos.

Boundaries.

The Chief and I have been taking nights off lately, turning off our devices in tandem and spending the evening together, devoid of personal technology (we will still watch a movie if that’s what we are in the mood for) and it’s funny in a nervous laugh kind of funny how often I feel myself think to reach for my phone. Just to look at it. Just to check. Distract instead of being present. After that call, I realize that these nights can’t just be here or there. The feeling I got when I walked into the living room to ask The Chief a question and didn’t see him looking at a screen is one I didn’t realize I’d needed so badly. One I had missed. A feeling of importance and togetherness and presence.

I’m not saying that we are tossing out our phones (though I have thought about it) nor am I saying that technology is bad. It’s beautiful in so many ways. Yet, just like my inclination to eat chocolate chips every night en masse, I too need to curb the technology addiction that so sneakily wormed its way into my life. We are here, surrounded in beauty, but I know that sometimes I’m missing it.

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect Work from Home Outside

Yes, I have to be on a computer all day…but with layers, I can also be outside.

 

I don’t know exactly what it looks like to not miss what’s in front of me, I’ve gotten farther away from the shore than I thought. Perhaps it’s turning off the phone every evening at 6 pm. Perhaps, it’s buying a real alarm clock so that I don’t wake to the news of “my world”. Perhaps it’s using the phone only as a phone and the computer for everything else. Separation. Perhaps it’s mailing more letters instead of sending more texts. I’m not totally sure yet what it means, but I do know that it’s necessary for me and mine and the little boundaries we’ve set so far have made a world of difference.

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect, Write a Letter

Thank you, Miss O! This gal loves letters.

 

Here’s to you and yours. May you be present and feel important to those you surround yourself with.

How do you deal with technology? I’m all ears.

With love,

From Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-01-19 The Disconnect, Wildlife of Alaska

Don’t forget to look up…up to a high-perched owl.

A Winter Wind Event

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

In Alaska (just to clarify).

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

And still I was cold.

It was the middle of Summer.

 

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

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

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

Ring, ring.

“Hello, Alaska speaking.”

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

“Yes. I think yes.”

 

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

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

“It’s been so warm lately.”

“The ski conditions are perfect.”

 

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

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

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

And then, later came.

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

Huh?

I looked outside.

Nothing too ominous.

I asked The Chief if he had felt anything.

Nothing strange.

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

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

 

 

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Those aren’t clouds up there…

 

 

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

Boom!

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

And so we did.

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

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

 

 

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Blustery mountaintops. Pooh Bear beware.

 

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

We were under siege.

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

 

 

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Don’t lean back, little lady.

 

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

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

And I was in the middle of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

The River looked like it was moving.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

We never have wind.

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

Whoops!

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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