self-love

Love in the Woods: Year Five

Five years ago, I met my person.

All I had to do was:

turn my life upside down

travel 3,000 miles on a whim

and

go to a Friday evening softball game.

There he was. Apparently, whims can work.

On the way to the game, I had felt so incredibly out of my element. I didn’t even know what to pack for an evening out, as evenings out for me in my oh so recent past had consisted of packing a wallet and chapstick and at the last minute leaving my jacket at home due to its cumbersome nature. In Alaska, my girlfriend guided me through stuffing my pack (not purse) to the brim with layers on layers upon layers, bug spray, a knife, water bottle, drinks, snacks, etc. All for an evening out.

Like I said: out of my element.

Until I met The Chief.

Woods, man.

It may sound cheesy (but cheese is delicious so, whatever) but the moment I felt his hand in mine, sealing our introduction, I felt like I was home. That knowing touch was all I needed to dive head first into what would be the adventure my heart had yearned for: deep, lasting love. And so I dove, full of fear of the unknown, diving anyway. Just because a love is right, doesn’t mean it’s not scary.

A few weeks ago, I was going through some old posts and found this one: Love in the Woods: Year One. Our first anniversary. I’m a sap for anniversaries (clearly) and celebrate every chance I get and here we were, approaching five years. Year one beckoned me in. Who were we back then? I read along:

Blonder, for sure.

“I feel a foundation, now one year old, that has been strong enough to hold us together through all we have seen already.”

Reading this, I felt the heavy weight of a soothsayer, of a future known, already written, unchangeable. I simultaneously felt scorn for my naïveté and wanted to shield my unknowing self from what was to come.

At the time, I thought we had been through so much together. And for the time, at the time, we had. Joining our worlds, traveling, moving, parenting our pup, surgeries and sickness, all of it posed challenges, to our newborn love, yet forward still we went.

Thank goodness. Lucky we were for those small victories that at the time felt so large to prepare us, for we had no idea what was coming:

Six Funerals and a Wedding.

In half a decade, so much has changed from those early, easy days of love at first sight. We’ve lost more than I would have ever believed, had my soothsayer self tried to warn me. That base we developed early on served us well to weather the blows but cracks still found their way into our foundation. Grief has a way of encircling its victims, pulling them away from their pack, isolating them. Despite our strength, grief still tugged us into our own quiet worlds, away from one another, and we’ve had to fight hard to come back together. Fight to remember the ease of the beginning, to focus on the good, to love our base and nurture its cracks.

Such is life, such is love.

Right before our life flip flopped upside down, I was taking a pottery class. In it I heard about Kintsugi, an ancient Japanese technique where broken pottery is mended, not by using a clear adhesive but by way of a golden seal. Kintsugi translates to “golden journey” and is meant to celebrate an artifact’s past by illuminating its fractures, rather than hiding them.

Five years ago, our pottery was fresh from the kiln, the warmth of our creation made us feel safety we’d never known. Five years later, we’re a storied piece, alight with gold. Our golden journey hasn’t always been easy. At times, I’ve wished to simply cover our cracks, to go back to how we were when life was light and easy, but instead we must honor our cracks. We must nurture our simultaneously fierce and delicate love.

Ice fractures

Five years.

Five years ago, we celebrated all day. We at pancakes, went hiking with our Lou and toasted that night with champagne (the cork from which I still have) to our accomplishment: one year. Five years later, the day was far more utilitarian. We spent our anniversary day in a training together and came straight home to prep for a long work weekend ahead. Our celebration was quieter, smaller, a little less bubbles, a little more depth.

In this year, year five, we’ve seen loss but we’ve also finally felt the light return. The separate corners grief iced us into have melted and the ease we felt when we met, the inner calm has only grown. In this year, so much good has come:

We found our Leto

We had a magnificent garden.

Our marriage was blessed by an overwhelming showering of love that continues still to this day.

Wild in Love Photo by Kate Lamb

We stayed put all Winter and nourished our souls in the beauty that is this place that we live.

Another year, unique as can be.

Five years.

Five years ago I met my person. The person who drives me to be my absolute best and who loves me at my absolute worst. The person who knows me so well he can tell I’m upset just by the cadence of my breath. The person who smiles ear to ear at every concert, who cheers me on even when I’m sure I can’t do it. The person who dove with me, headfirst into our love and swam with me, hand in hand.

Our beginning was something out of a storybook and thank goodness for that because it convinced me to pay attention to the gift that life was giving. It gave me the undying understanding that this is where I’m meant to be.

Bloom where you are planted.

Diving into love isn’t the scariest part, it’s navigating the waters afterwards. It’s keeping your head above water, it’s holding your love up when it’s too tired to carry you. Yet, it’s worth it. Even when it’s hard, even when it’s messy, finding The Chief has set my heart at ease, it has brought me home, to our golden journey.

Cheers to love, always,

from Alaska.

My favorite.
Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Women of Alaska

The Pendulum

“Should I bring a hairdryer, or do you have one there I could use?”

This was the first of many faux pauxs I made in preparing for my initial endeavor into the woods of Alaska. It was met with a laugh from my girlfriend and an “I’m not so sure my inverter could even handle a hairdryer.”

So, that’s a “no”?

Don’t bring one?

And you’re sure you don’t have one?

No dryer.

I had no frame of reference for how silly of a question that was at the time. Despite the fact that my hairdryer-less girlfriend had told me multiple times that her only power source was a generator, the off-grid reality just hadn’t hit me yet. It seems I simply saw the on-grid amenities my life in California afforded me coming along on my adventure into Alaska.

My hair would be dry.

Cocktails would have ice.

Showers would be long and luxurious.

Right?

Nope.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Alaskan cocktail ice

Harvest your cocktail ice here, friends!

 

I knew some things would be different. I knew it was more laid back, more casual. I knew my girlfriend told me to only pack hiking clothes, a stark change to my normal heeled getup. I also knew, no matter how formal or informal the town was itself, I myself had the opportunity to show up as whatever me I wanted to be. I looked forward to the opportunity while simultaneously was a bit terrified to showcase my new makeup-less look.

Did I still pack makeup? Yep.

Did I get my hair done before going?

Yesiree!

Hmmm…

Still, in all honestly, before unexpectedly moving to the woods I thought that I was relatively low-maintenance. I actually hated blow-drying my hair but since living in Italy where one of my classmates informed me that I was called Lei Con I Capelli Sempre Tutti Bagnati (essentially, that chick who always has wet hair) I felt that I needed to try a little harder. In perennially put-together Italy, it was an indicator of poor self-care and sloppy timing (I also was often sick in my early 20’s too…coincidence?). It resonated with me.

And so, twice a week I would try to stay cool while I sweated under the obnoxious blowing heat of a hairdryer. Because I was not a fan but did it anyway (despite the fact that I rarely brushed my hair in between), because I wore some but not a ton of makeup every day, I still thought that I was low-maintenance.

Enter: Alaska.

Come as you are.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Women of Alaska

No makeup mornings. Trying it out, with trepidation.

 

If Italy is the overbearing parent who cares just a little too much what you look like, Alaska is the fun aunt or uncle who just lets you play in the mud. So, for the most part, I’ve spent the last 5 years getting dirty instead of gussying up, wearing overalls and work clothes and jeans and sweatshirts with ponytails or braids instead of heels with fashionable versus functional fabrics with my hair in curls.

In California, despite the fact that I didn’t brush my hair much, I rarely stepped out without it at least looking “done”.

Every

Freakin’

Day.

Going to the gym?

Hair was done.

Grocery?

Done.

Lazing around the house?

Pretty much done (ish).

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, California

My daily driver.

 

So, when I moved to Alaska, where turning on a hairdryer could have blown up our inverter, my hair became a lot more un-done and I didn’t miss it one bit. Sometimes I brushed it, most days I didn’t, and away I went with 15-60 minutes more in my day than I would have had in California. Sometimes I’d twist it back into a bun to dry to give myself some beachy waves or pull it back into a ‘do of sorts but mostly, it roamed free or in a ponytail.

It took me two years and a little more familiarity with (and upgrades to) our power system to realize that, while a blowdryer was probably out of the question (and even if not, having dropped the habit, I had zero interest in picking it up again), a curling iron which drew little power could still take a few tussles with my tresses, if I wanted.

I used it once before it broke and I didn’t think about it again until this last year when I realized that since I was doing my hair for our wedding I would probably need to replace it. It took me 10 minutes and held through to the next day. I loved it. It was bouncy and celebratory. Then this Winter when we took our 6-month celebration photos in the snow, I pulled it out again. Another 10-minutes and voila! Fancy tresses.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Alaskan Wedding

Move over, Mom.

 

It planted a seed, it seems because recently I’ve started thinking: I miss having a ‘do to do.

Throughout my 20’s I had countless variations on cuts and colors and suddenly, mid-quarantine (hmm…connection?) I started to feel like my long style-less locks were a little lackluster. Maybe I’d start dyeing my hair black again?

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Patrick Dempsey

Black ‘do and Dempsey.

 

Hmm…that’s a commitment. Maybe brown? At a minimum I needed some layers, right?

Out came the scissors (insert extremely sinister background music).

I was tired of my nearly down to my buns one length hair. It had been with me through so much in the past few years and like The Chief (who asked me to chop off his shoulder-length locks this Winter), I felt the need for a shift.

Chop to it, little lady!

The first home haircut round went well but I ended up with a slight mullet.

So, I did what every good quarantiner did these past months and consulted YouTube (sinister music gets louder).

I settled on a couple videos on the same variation: the unicorn approach (hint: approach this mystical beast with caution. She’s not all sparkles and magic). Should I have settled on one video and one technique?

Yes!

Did I?

Nope. Two different techniques to one approach.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Quarantine haircut

Watch the horn!

 

It seems this is how I approach most things. When searching for recipes I lookup about 5 variations and make one of my own combination depending on what we have available. This haircut would be no different. Unfortunately, I forgot that while most of my recipes come out “mmm mmm good”, everyone once in a while they’re a little more “meh”. Maybe I didn’t forget but I certainly ignored this fact.

One might say this is where the trouble started. One would be right.

You know when you go to the salon and your hair looks dope-tastic-fabuloso-put-me-in-a-magazine-straighaway right out the gate?! You and your new ‘do float out of the salon, Tresemme reps at your heels.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Quarantine Haircut Alaska

I thought it went well…at first.

 

Then a day or so later the glow of the salon is gone and you’re stuck with a ‘do you actually have to do yourself that looks a little less stellar and more stale? It’s like buyer’s remorse…on your head.

In combining the two unicorn styles (double unicorn?! That’s even better than a double rainbow!) something went awry.

Surprised?

The shortcut that was supposed to cut off length while simultaneously making perfect layers. I came out the rainbow’s end with some serious layers and pretty much zero relief in length (think layers like steps in a large staircase or even better, multiple bowl cuts in succession). It was glorious.

Actually, it looked pretty darn good at first, I had that salon de Julia glow going.

Then, I washed it.

Huge mistake.

The “layers” were unveiled and out came the truth: another mullet! This time, uneven to boot! Kind of like multiple mullets…

Now, I will say that when I lived in Italy nearly 15 years ago, the long mullet (which I am currently rocking) was in fashion and in fashion years, it seems about time that it would have finally made it’s way to Alaska (if we were a phone, we’d be a flip phone in terms of what gets here when) so…maybe I was just in time?

Nah.

I’ve spent the past month with a ding dong ‘do and some days it’s really bothered me. Some days I could care less. Some days, most days, it’s somewhere in between. I’ve gone through every iteration of change from how to fix it to absolutely hating it to liking it. I’ve decided on fixes (Should I just chop it all off? Should I attempt another go? Perhaps just some length this time. Maybe I should get bangs again?) and decided to wait. I’ve felt everything from remorse at my hasty chop job to total apathy about anything hair related.

I’ve gone from one extreme to the other, not only in the last month but in my lifetime. I’ve aimed to love the inside and care less about the outside and then watched myself struggle to maintain that as the outside changed. In the ups and downs and backs and forth, however, I did realize something: my self-love pendulum has finally started to swing a little more consistently closer to the middle than ever before, I just needed the extremes to find out. Before I moved here, I felt trapped by keeping up an image, I was far to one extreme. When I moved to Alaska, I felt like I shouldn’t care at all and sometimes faced ridicule if it seemed like I did (“why are you wearing lipstick?! Is that seriously mascara?!”. Yaaas boo, it is.) that made me second guess myself. The other extreme.

Spiffed up in CA, spiffed up in AK:

 

Now?

I’m somewhere in the middle, somewhere it seems a lot of us might live.

I’ve had women in Alaska ask if they could borrow my lipstick upon seeing me wearing it out one night or comment things like “I sometimes want to wear mascara too but don’t want to catch guff for it”. I hear ya, sister. I’ve also had friends in “the real world” who wished that they didn’t feel (as I did) like they had to put on a “face” every day. It’s ok to want to glam up or glam down. Your beauty throttle is up to you, boo.

I do care what I look like but I care less and I love myself more than I used to, and that’s something. I’m accepting that I do like a little spiff up now and then but I don’t weigh my worth by it anymore. I’m low maintenance to a degree, to my degree. My degree, that will pounce in a mud puddle all day long, but maybe have nail polish on while doing it. That’s me.

We can get purty, we can get dirty, we can find ourselves somewhere in between. It’s all just an outer shell to the inner you, but there’s no need to apologize if you want to revamp that shell from time to time, nor are you required to do so.

So, perhaps I’ll keep trying at the spiff up and pick up the scissors to try my hand again someday soon. Better yet, maybe I’ll finally get to see a professional (and to any stylist reading this, I offer you my sincerest apologies. To my California stylist, my hair and I miss you dearly) to help undo what I’ve done. Or…maybe I’ll just wait it out. Let the sun kiss my locks, let time grow them out, let the pendulum swing.

 

Winter pendulum, Summer pendulum.

 

 

It all depends on which wild hairs I get and which I listen to…the ones who chant “chop, chop, chop” sure have gotten louder while writing this post. The most important voice though, always, is the one that says “I love you, just as you are”. Slowly but steadily, I’m learning to listen.

With love (and currently, no makeup and a mullet),

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Alaskan Malamute

Even Leto likes a new ‘do occasionally. He calls this one Grass Stripes.

 

What about you? Where does your pendulum fall? Got a quarantine cut or story to share? Share on, hair sisters and brothers, in the comments below 👇

Like the blog? Like us on Facebook.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska

40 Below (Alone)

40 Below (Alone)

A week in Alaska, alone, at 40 below zero.

 

I awoke to the morning of January 3rd in this new decade to a very distinct quiet: I was alone. The Chief and our Third Amigo had ventured off to Anchorage for a supply run and so alone I lay, hearing only the breaths that were my own. It’s a strange feeling, that sensation, that moment of realizing the space someone warms and fills by their simply just being. That tinge of loneliness was enough to motivate me to get out of bed. As I rose, a new level of morning cold nipped at me. The temperature must have dropped.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Skijoring in Alaska

The two days before: warm sunshine and skijoring! Happy New Year!

 

Dropped it had to a brisk 25 below zero. Our Winter thus far had been a mild one at best, filled with more icy than snowy roads and a Christmas warm enough to don merely a dress with leggings and a jacket. We’d had quick cold snaps where the temps had dropped to 13 below but that was it. Winter light. Yet snap it did that morning into truly cold territory and with it came flooding back all that “cold” means.

First of all, don’t get me wrong, I am not suddenly immune to normal cold. The temps we’d had before were not warm by human standards, they were simply warm by Winter’s standards. Secondly, our cold out here is a dry cold with the rare windy day (though yes, there certainly is wind) which makes the cold a bit more bearable (and personally, I love the cold, which makes it a lot more bearable, for me).

Living in California for most of my life, the temperature never varied in a way that affected me all that much. Sure, we’d prep for storms and power outages but all in all, it was a mild fluctuation of predictable seasonal shifts. Certainly, some days I’d find myself ill-prepared on an unseasonably cold Spring day and have to rummage around in my car (read: my second closet) for another layer but all in all, there was always a newspaper to cover my head in a random rainstorm or flip flops to greet a sunny day. With relative ease and a modicum of preparation, I was typically able to meet the challenges of the elements.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, California Dillon Beach

A Dillon Beach storm a-brewin’!

 

Enter: Alaska. A whole new set of elements where flip flops and newspapers were unlikely problem solvers. For me, it’s been a beast to learn. Yet learn I have and learning I still am. However, just as I’ve learned, I’ve also forgotten as the tricks for one season don’t always blend into the next. It had been nearly a year since I’d seen temperatures of -25. I’d forgotten how it felt, what it meant. As I sat in front of our fireplace that morning, warming myself and our 40-degree house, the little things about life at 25 below started coming back to me. Like the quiet. It wasn’t just the absence of my husband that made the morning quiet, it was the cold. 25 below seems to be the threshold at which things start to get very calm, very quiet. A seriousness settles in.

It was Go Time.

Day One:

For the first time ever since we’ve lived here, I was alone, in Winter, in Go Time temperatures. The cold temp quirks started coming back to me as I reached for my toothpaste, only to find it near frozen, the icy water with which I rinsed stunning my teeth, flushing the drain with boiling water so it wouldn’t freeze. Leto’s water bowl threatened to ice over as the floor sent up glacial tentacles that grasped me through my slippered feet. I made my first step outside onto The Ramp of Doom which let out a piercing pop as the frozen wood responded to my pressure, the crack all that much louder in the blanket of silence around me. Surprised, I drew in a quick breath, and my throat caught slightly as the freezing air hit it. The snow further announced my outside arrival, squeaking loudly with each step. All familiar signs of 25 below. In just one night’s sleep, everything had changed, the game was on.

The game? Stay warm, stay safe, keep your ship running smoothly.

Easy, right?

I was the sole player and it wasn’t just The Chief who was absent. I was also officially more alone in the woods than I had ever been, in any season. All of our neighbors were gone and the closest help was miles away.  Still, it was “only” 25 below. I’d done 25 below with The Chief, I could do 25 below solo. So, I spent the day running through mental checklists and chores to prepare for what I assumed would be a few days at 25, maybe 30 below. I chopped as much wood as my arms would allow (since we had zero chopped at the moment), pumped fuel, checked our systems and looked gratefully at the remaining three full buckets of water The Chief and I had filled before his departure.

As I checked chores off the list, I thought forward. The next day was a friend’s birthday and if I could get the house warm and my snowmachine going I figured I’d head out for an hour or two to toast her trip around the sun.

Mother Nature had other plans.

To keep my one mode of transportation in good working order, I’d been starting my snowmachine every day since The Chief had left.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Snowmachining in Alaska

Sunset ride with the puppers.

 

Yet as the temps dropped, my battery, already on its last leg, couldn’t produce power enough to start the machine with the electric start (read: what dreams are made of). Plan B was the pull start but with such a large engine it was no easy feat. I pulled slowly to start, like stretching before a run (and to avoid ripping my arm out of its socket), then eventually full fast pulls. I pulled until I was nearly sweating (at 25 below!) but the engine wouldn’t budge. Knowing that a warm battery had a better chance than a cold one, I set out to pull it inside and charge it.

If only it were that easy.

Try as I might, I couldn’t pry it, bang it or will it free. It was frozen into place. My fingers cursed the cold as I cursed myself for having sent The Chief to Town with the only pair of heavy-duty gloves I had (in fairness, they were originally his and mine were nowhere to be found). Frozen from sweating and then standing at 25 below for an hour, I needed a break. I brought my aching hands inside to warm up and realized my next problem: warmth.

It was already midday and all-day-long I had kept the insatiable woodstove full to the brim but as I entered from outside, the temperature inside didn’t wrap warmth around me as it should have. I checked the temperature. The house was still at a stubborn 59 degrees. I looked at the wood I’d brought inside and realized my problem: wet wood. I did my best to remedy the situation by removing the frozen bark from all the warmed pieces but the water went deeper. In normal temperatures, I’d barely noticed the lack of heat this wood produced but as the temperature neared 30 below a feeling of doom settled in. Still, the house was cold but it wasn’t like it was freezing, right? I could manage. The dogs (we were dogsitting our beloved Kvichak), having made full use (read: a full mess) of the discarded bark told me it was time for a walk to take our minds off the cold (seems contradictory, right?) so off we went. We came back an hour later and before I knew it, the day had passed. I bundled up for bed, knowing the inside temp would further drop as I slept. In I crept to a hardened mattress (another thing I forgot happens in these temps: frozen mattresses!) in head to toe wool long johns, a sweatshirt, a hat and wool socks (exactly the opposite of how I normally sleep). I’d stoked the fire as much as safety allowed, hoping to buy myself a couple hours of sleep.

Day Two:

Come the ringing of my 4 A.M. fire tending alarm, not an ember remained in the woodstove and the house was down to 35 degrees. I was shocked. This wasn’t right. Our stove isn’t the largest but I felt like we’d been able to maintain a warm house and at least a 4-hour fire in the past without losing this much heat. I built another fire and sat brushing Leto (who had decided that right then, along with his best pal Kvichak, was a good time to start his bi-annual shedding) as I waited for enough coals to build up that I could again stuff the stove and get a little more sleep.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Malamutes Shedding

About a minute in. The ever-expanding fluff pile.

 

Sleep I finally did around 5 A.M., waking at 9 A.M., yet awake to a warm house I did not. Despite building a raging fire at the crack of dawn, I still woke to the bitter cold of our near-frozen home and again, not one ember in the fireplace. Something was different, a shift had occurred. I looked to every Alaskan’s Oracle: the thermometer.

It was 37 degrees below zero outside and 37 degrees in our house.

I needed to get on my feet and moving fast or this house would freeze, soon.

I think we call all agree that the difference between 25 below and 37 below is 12 degrees but the physical difference with each added degree below zero is exponential. Past 30 below, your breath doesn’t simply catch, it nearly chokes you with each inhale. Your woodstove isn’t just a resource, it is a lifeline and…things and systems start to breakdown, fast. Even the smallest hiccup can put the wheels of mayhem in motion. My first Winter, I grabbed a tote that had been left out in the Fall and it shattered in my hands and it’s contents spilled out, ruining half of them. The temperature had been a “mere” 28 below. We were way past that territory now.

Reality started to set in: this was no joke. I had found a rhythm in drying my woodpile but I had yet to find warmth. Try as I might, the temperature inside had not topped 60 degrees and had hovered for most of the day in the high 40s to low 50s. I texted the birthday girl to report that I most definitely would not be able to visit. Snowmachine aside, my 60-degree plight made leaving a no go. Even those who actually had a warmed house couldn’t make the birthday for fear of their house freezing while they were gone. Our house was already halfway to freezing. My girlfriend told me not to promise to reach out if I started losing the battle and things started going upside down on me.

I knew I was in a bit of a bind but having someone else say it shocked me further into action. This was serious.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Malamute Puppy

Mom…you got this?

 

I cherry-picked my way through my inside woodpile and the driest logs I could. The fire kicked up for the first time in two days. Things were looking up! Yet there was no time to celebrate. It was chore time.

I bundled up in my warmest clothes, protecting every inch of skin minus the very top of my cheeks and my eyes and went outside to get water. I lugged the generator over to our well. I was all set and ready to go. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t get the water hose to thread onto the well. The threads had frozen. I pulled out my lighter to melt the ice but it barely budged as the flame kept failing in the cold. I wrapped my hand around the threads but nearly ripped off the skin as it instantly froze. Next, I trudged into our makeshift workshop to find our propane lighter. Genius! 10 minutes later I finally gave in. It was too cold to flow enough to ignite. Finally, after 30 minutes of problem-solving and failing, I was starting to get cold and the running generator was about to run out of gas. I decided to go for it without the hose. Who needs a hose anyways?

I do.

I need a hose.

Without a hose, the water shot straight from the pipe about four feet in the air. I held the bucket above my shoulders trying to catch as much as I could (and prevent Leto from catching the stream he loves to chase), using one bucket to fill the other three. Within seconds I was encased in a frozen cocoon of ice from head to toe. After two rounds of running up and down the Ramp of Doom with 80 pounds of water at a time, the dogs constantly in my way, tripping me as I rallied myself upward, water was done.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska

Back to lash-sicle territory

 

Next, I needed to charge the house batteries. Easy. I’d just had the generator running. It was warm and ready to go…but, it was out of gas so I filled it up, started it up, plugged the house in and…our outside lights didn’t come on.

Strange.

Still, before I could check if it was charging inside, I needed more wood. Especially in cold temps I always try to apply the waitressing technique my friend taught me early on: Don’t move empty-handed. Make every trip in and out count. I chopped a quick armload of wood to bring inside but on the last swing of the ax, I felt something pop in my shoulder. Pain radiated up and down my arm. I felt panic well up inside me. If I couldn’t chop wood, I really was screwed. Still, there was no time to wallow. I loaded up my other arm with wood and headed inside.

Inside, the fire near dead after an hour of chores, I stoked it with new wood as I felt my cheeks start to melt from the comparative warmth of the house. The splatter from the well water had hardened where my eyelashes and my upper cheeks were exposed and immediately my skin started to burn. Still, there was no time to worry about that either as I looked to the batteries and saw that the house was not in fact charging. Just then, the generator started to angrily rev up and down.

After two days of failing to heat our house, struggling with water, countless near falls up and down the Ramp of Doom from dogs underfoot, an aching shoulder, a burning face and now a generator not producing power, I was starting to lose it. I checked everything I had learned about malfunctioning generators and found no culprit. It felt like my little world was starting to, to quote my girlfriend “go upside down on me”. Was I losing the battle? I called The Chief for a pep talk and just hearing his voice made my eyes well up with tears.

“You’re doing great. It’s hard, babe. Really hard.”

The tears threatened to spill over when at just the right moment he followed up with:

“Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.”

Deep breathe I did and I was back. I did have this. I could do this and with a little persuasion, I finally picked the easy route. There wasn’t time to troubleshoot the generator right now. I grabbed our backup and brought it inside to warm. Then, I headed to the woodshed and cherry-picked the best, most checked pieces of wood I could find (a check in a round of wood suggests it’s drier than one without it) and painfully chopped my way through it. Finally, hours after I had bundled up to start chores, they were finally winding down. The new wood fed the fire with gusto and an audible difference in the flames let me know this fire would warm us, which was good because, in the time I’d been outside, the inside temps had sunk again to the ’30s and the outside was near -40.

An hour later, the replacement generator hopefully warm enough, I suited up again for the outdoors, now in the early dark of dusk. In all the frustration earlier, I had forgotten I would need more fuel so off I went to fill another 5-gallon jug. In the cold, the fuel hose had frozen into a kinked position through which no fuel would flow. Again I de-gloved and warmed it as best I could with my bare hands. Finally, the fuel started to flow. I filled the generator and finally after about 20 pulls it started.

Success!

I went inside and saw it was producing power (the generator was the problem, not our inverter or batteries, as I had feared) and all was well.

Then, the lights went out.

The generator had died.

I quite nearly lost it (again) but (again) outside I trudged. Luckily, the generator had simply stopped because it was cold. I finally got it started again and this time it took. Cautiously, I went inside. Consistently it hummed.

A few hours later it was nearly 7 pm and the house was finally above 60! I was simultaneously exhausted and elated. At that moment, a next-door girlfriend newly returned from Town (I finally had neighbors again!) texted.

“Champagne? It was for the birthday but I think we should celebrate from afar.”

Yes, please.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska with Champagne

I love bubbles.

 

By the time she came over the house was still a bit chilly but my cheeks were on fire. The frozen water from the well had burnt the top layer of skin, like a sunburn only from cold: frostnip. Thankfully, good conversation and bubbles distract from welted cheeks. The healing powers of girlfriends, eh? I felt rejuvenated and accomplished. I had made it! As she left, I realized what I hadn’t made was dinner (or lunch). I settled on the dinner of champions (or maybe just this momentary bachelorette): pasta with butter (sorry, arteries).

Chalking the day up to a success, I finally fell into bed again after midnight. The house was near 70 degrees and with a stuffed woodstove and belly, I fell asleep.

Day Three:

The 4 A.M. wakeup call felt extra early the next morning. Groggy, I remembered that in our conversation the day before The Chief had asked if the bricks in the top of the stove had ash on them (meaning that perhaps that buildup, in addition to wet wood was adding to our heating issue). Since the fire had been going steadily since he’d asked I hadn’t been able to check. Yet, despite a full stove 4 hours earlier, there was no trace of heat. Now was my chance. I cleaned out the wood stove that was dense with ash and checked the bricks. Soot fell from atop them as I tugged them out, simultaneously realizing I had no idea how to get them back in. A few tense minutes later, everything thankfully was back in place and again. I started yet another fire and headed out into the -39 morning to dump the ashes.

By 4:30 I was doing dishes waiting for the fire to catch. The reservoir of water we use to fuel our faucet had frozen so I did my dishes in a basin, careful not to let any water trickle into our homemade plumbing and ice up. At those temperatures, water freezes almost instantly so even small amounts can take us out of commission fast and the last thing I wanted was to add slop buckets back into our life. Finally, the fire established its coals. I stuffed it full and opted for a few more hours of sleep.

I awoke to yet another morning of a near-frozen house, a woodstove without coals and completely dead batteries but it was ok. I may not have had it totally dialed but this situation wasn’t going upside down on me. Finally, caught up enough on chores and the house warm enough to be able to step away for an hour, the dogs told me how we would fill our time: a walk, at 39 below.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska Stircrazy Puppies

Driving each other stir cray cray.

 

Despite being constantly in my way, they had been very good sports through it all but the stir craziness was starting to hit. Even though they are both Northern breeds, even they can’t stay outside long in those temps if not running and so had opted to be inside, in the way. Thus, we all needed some outside time. I covered my frost nipped cheeks as they amazingly pranced unphased by the cold, minus a lifted paw here and there.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Husky, Malamute, Alaska

Moonlit walk.

 

The Chief phoned to tell me that they were delayed and wouldn’t be home that night but would return the following day. Two days before I might have panicked at his extended absence but I didn’t. I had done it. I had made it through 40 below, alone.

Day Four:

The next morning, the cold snap lifted. The thermometer read a mere -12 outside and I finally got the house to near 80 degrees. I love when it’s cold and the house is warm at the difference reaches nearly 100 degrees between the inside and outside. At the coldest of 40 below and the house in the ’70s, the day before the difference had been over 110 degrees, something that still just makes me laugh in awe.

In true Alaskan fashion, things didn’t quite go as The Chief had planned for departure but he was determined to make it home. By 3 A.M., I finally heard our truck roaring up the driveway. After hugs and hellos and unloading the truck of perishables and making and tending a new fire, we were finally both back to bed, cozied up at 5 A.M. An hour or so later I felt The Chief rise from our bed and heard the familiar sound of him stoking the fire. An hour after that, groggily preparing for work, I went downstairs to find that despite the again dropping temperature, the woodstove was alive with glowing coals.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 35 Below Zero in Alaska

And the temperature finally above 40 in the morning!

 

My brain did a joyful backflip while my ego simultaneously sighed. A strange juxtaposition. I was overjoyed for The Chief to be home yet at the same time, it meant I was no longer the lone soldier protecting our castle. After 15 years of living alone in the woods, The Chief’s internal alarm clock awakes him immediately when temperatures drop. Having lived 4 years in the woods with The Chief, I think my internal clock would let me sleep through icicles forming in the house. The Chief has (almost) always beaten me to stoking the fire in the night. The sighing part of me was the part that wanted to continue to better hone my instincts. Yet other parts of me, like my shoulder, celebrated the help.

I’ll always be 11 years shy of The Chief’s Alaskan experience but come the opportunity to have my own, I did and I survived. Looking back on the week alone, I realized how far I had come in 4 years. I’d probably never even have noticed the wood was wet my first year. I certainly wouldn’t have known how to troubleshoot the well or the generator or even how to dress for the elements. Sure, there were hiccups, there were things I could have done better (and will do better next time) but the most important is that looking back, I can see how much I’ve learned. I’ve learned how to care for myself in the middle of nowhere Alaska, in the middle of Winter, alone.

The Chief’s help doesn’t negate my learning. Divvying up labor doesn’t mean both people aren’t capable of either task or that one is more or less important. Resting my shoulder so it can heal doesn’t mean I’m giving in, it means The Chief is stepping in to help and just as The Chief helps me, I help him. His presence doesn’t mean the learning stops and just in case I forget what I’ve learned, I’m sure Alaska has many more trials and tribulations up her sleeve to remind me.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 50 Below Zero in Alaska

Plus, when he’s home and the temperature drops to almost 50 below, I have a partner with which to capture this…playing with boiling water!

 

With love,

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 50 Below Zero in Alaska Frozen Water

Steam halos.

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

Cabin Confessions: Putting Up

I’m not sure what was in the air or the water or the stars this October but for some reason, the month brought with it many confessions. From candid to long-hidden, confessions came from dear friends and new friends alike, as if the month held a sort of truth serum that all of us had unknowingly drunk (for, of course, I had confessions of my own).

In this growing age of online versus in-person, of creating personas based on snapshots and moments in time, it’s easy to assume that another’s life is just how he or she portrays it: downright near perfect. That’s not to say that across the board, we all simply share the good times and hide the bad. I’ve seen plenty of Instagram feeds with hilariously relatable “fails” or beautifully honest posts. Yet overall, the online personas we often see showcase the best of the best of the very best sides of all of us and sometimes, I think that too flows into our in-person lives.

Enter: October

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Leto the Alaskan Malamute

Leto and the new ice.

 

I think the truth is catching and it caught like wildfire. The truth serum must have been drunk at a gathering of gals early on in the month and from there it spread. That night I learned “dirty secrets” (that were neither dirty nor did they need to be secrets) that made me feel…

Normal.

Since that night, I’ve aimed to honor that honesty and spread the good word: we all have things we think are odd, weird, ugly, bad or boring when it comes to ourselves but unearthing those hidden weirdos, bringing to light what you consider bad might just make you feel a little bit of good.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Best Friends

Let’s hear it for the weirdos in our lives! Love you girls.

 

 

And so, in that honest vein, I bring to you: Cabin Confessions, a sort of mini-series within BTB to keep the truth moving through us all, self-included. May it spread your way and help you to feel a little better, brighter and lighter. Or, just a little more normal.

Here goes:

Cabin Confession: Putting Up

Sometimes it feels that upon moving to Alaska, you’re supposed to have already learned all of the “Alaska Skills”.

Chop wood? Of course I can!

Fish? Sure, old hat for me!

Garden? Duh, easy peasy.

Sew? Yep!

Knit? Mmmmhmmm!

Survive in the woods? Yesireebob!

The list goes on and on. The truth is, when I moved here my first Winter I scored about a wobbly, uncertain 1.5 out of 6 on the list above and the above just breaks the surface. Heck, I didn’t even know how to dress myself (and in truth, when the weather changes these days, I still find myself wondering how I did it last season). So, when it came to Putting Up (a term I had never even heard before) I felt my familiar “friend” creep over my shoulder. Hello, Overwhelm.

Four years later, I still feel that sense when it comes to Putting Up food.

What is Putting Up?

Canning fish, pickling cucumbers, drying herbs, making sauerkraut, freezing bulk garden goods, etc.

Basically, to Put something Up means to harvest and preserve something you’ve bought or for more Alaska gold stars, something you’ve grown or harvested (typically in the warmer months), so that you can enjoy it for the colder months to come.

Easy, right?

Confession: Nope. Not for me.

Certainly, some Putting Up I fell in naturally with. I love harvesting, though sometimes I have trouble with the follow-through if the follow-through involves more than drying. Thank goodness for tea!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, harvesting wild alaskan plants

Goldenrod, Spruce Tips, Labrador Tea, Yarrow, Lupine & River Beauty

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, harvesting spruce tips

Spruce tips (and Leto0

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, foraging for morels

Morels, found by Leto (and Leto)

 

Yet, for some reason, putting up fermented foods has always made me feel more put down, by myself. The phobia I had discovered in California didn’t suddenly melt away upon moving to Alaska (I must have missed the Alaska Newbie Handbook), it froze solid. I can’t tell you how many cabbages I’ve bought at the store to make sauerkraut or kimchi that ended up moldy in the compost. Wasting food out here, where the nearest grocery store is 4 hours away is a serious no-no. Sure, food going to waste happens, but it’s often more of an accident; someone gifted you something you couldn’t quite finish or you had to leave for a few days unexpectedly and your refrigeration failed in some way. It’s not often because you have been staring down your food, too scared to fail and thus too paralyzed to do anything with it, that it goes bad. This year, to ensure I’d really learn the kraut craft, I grew my own cabbages.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, starts from seed

April starts

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan garden starts

Brand new garden bed

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbages

Gigantic cabbages!

 

The pressure was on but it was ok because this year I was making sauerkraut, no matter what.

Yep!

Sure was.

Right?

Nope.

Wrong.

A few days ago, I peeked at my last harvest of cabbages, 5 beautiful cabbages I had been lovingly caring for since starting them from seed in April. Watering, feeding, guarding, admiring every day, watching grow bigger and bigger…

They were rotten.

I’ll give myself a slight out to say that food storage in a tiny cabin where the temperature fluctuates between 90 and 40 degrees almost daily is a challenge but…I had also procrastinated for almost a month since their harvest. Sure, there had been an unexpected Town trip and well, I definitely needed to deep clean the oven…twice. I had procrastinated them into oblivion.

* I did, however, eat these first babies up!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages

First harvest

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages green

Cowabunga, dude! Enormo!

 

My last harvest of beautiful cabbage babies met their end in the compost, joining the many before them.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

The second harvest as the frost came tumbling in. Leto helped a lot.

 

Not only was it disappointing in the sense that all this time and energy had gone into this food that now lay spoiled before me, not only was it disappointing to have lost 5 good cabbages which could have made endless meals if not kraut, but the disappointment that again I had failed after 6 months of preparation was almost too much to bear. I was so disappointed…in me and I didn’t want anyone to know that I had, yet again, failed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute puppy

I felt a little bit like this.

 

Thankfully, The Chief was in the next room, a few feet away to hear the sigh.

“It’s OK, we just won’t let this happen next year. It’s OK, Julia. Plus, we still have one cabbage left!”

Oh great, one more cabbage to stare me down as it degrades.

Yet, instead of going down that path, I remembered honesty. I told everyone about my ruined cabbages and as I listened to others lament about kraut cold feet or pickling paranoia I suddenly felt better. Not in the misery loves company way because they were no longer miserable as I was, in the way that I felt I could (finally) get over this, as they all had.

The last cabbage left was a behemoth of a babe that my girlfriend had grown this year. She is an epic gardener (you can read all about it here) and after a dinner date at her house this Fall (read: 2 hours out, 2 hours back. That’s an Alaskan dinner party, if I’ve ever heard of one!) she gifted me one of her gargantuan gals.

I may ruin storebought cabbages and I may ruin my own, but I wasn’t going to ruin hers.

Right?

Finally, the answer was “Right”.

Three weeks later.

Meh, better late than never, right? I had been battling this fear for years, three lousy weeks weren’t going to take me under this time (plus, I had some gentle nudging from a friend, moving me slowly but surely along).

So, three weeks later than I had planned on doing something with her cabbage, I finally did.

1 Quart for experimenting

1 Big Bowl of Potluck Coleslaw for Poker Night

1 Big Crock

later and the enormous cabbage was finally gone and…

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest making Sauerkraut

Half-way through

 

Kraut is on the way.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, Malamute puppy in Alaska

Finally, I felt like this!

 

I’ve psyched myself up time and time again to do the Putting Up I dream to do here but time and time again, I’ve found myself talking myself down, stressing the details, deciding I’ve failed before I’ve even started and thus, never begun. Perfectionism sure is a sneaky beast that robs you of entering new experiences with lightness or confidence, if you enter into them at all. Yet step by step, uncertainty by uncertainty, I moved forward this time and I owe it all to honesty (and certainly to some truly non-judgemental love from The Chief and friends and to my furry Leto, who sat on my toes or watched me squish cabbage the whole way through).

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute 9 months old

Ice dance.

 

Opening up about my own shortcomings, or things I just see as such, has helped me to see how normal they are. Certainly, mine may not be yours. You might be scoffing at this little backwoods cabbage waster but I’m certain there is something for you too. Some half-finished project, some goal yet unmet, some hidden habit that you feel guilty or sad or embarrassed about. The good news is: you don’t have to! Who knew?! Feeling bad provides little impetus for change. Feeling bad leaves the cabbages rotting and the sauerkraut supply still empty. So go and tell your tale of your closeted self, whoever that may be. Chances are, the person you tell might really, truly need to hear it and I guarantee you’ll feel better.

Best wishes to you and to all of your quirks and flaws and beauty that make you who you are. You are doing just fine.

Cheers to you.

Cheers to honesty.

May it spread to you and yours and beyond.

With love (and sauerkraut),

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alpenglow Alaska

Alpenglow time of year.

 

P.S. Do you too have a fermenting phobia? My friends pointed me towards Nourished Kitchen, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and searching Facebook for helpful groups. There are many salt to cabbage ratios but one tried and true method I’ve heard (and tried) is to make it as salty as the sea. If that’s too vague for you, I totally understand. Let the professionals guide your way, it’s not as scary as I thought. I promise.

P.P.S Beneath the Borealis has been featured on Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2019. Thank you, Feedspot! I’m honored. Check the good company we keep here: Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs

This post is dedicated to Danielle. I love you. Thank you for always encouraging me to keep trying new things in the kitchen and beyond.

 

 

 

 

Everything Changes (Even Your Face)

After the last two loss-filled years we’ve experienced, one lesson has climbed above the rest: everything changes.

Everything.

However, despite its claim to #1 spot fame for me in the Top 100 Lessons of Grief, I have tried to ignore it, despite its shouts.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Intuition

Shout it loud, but we ain’t listenin’.

 

Everything changes.

The impermanence of it all has not left me in some zen-like state of acceptance. Quite the opposite. Rather, the worry that the potential for change has brought for me has left me in a sort of Henny Penny “The Sky is Falling” frantic permanence. Towards The Chief, towards our family, our friends, our little Leto. I considered all of the potentials for loss and tried to make every interaction left on good terms. Live each moment like it’s your last, etc., etc. you know the drill. I thought that perhaps my worry would safeguard us from more loss. Yet this had always been measured outwards, away from myself.

And so in all my worry, I had forgotten to fret about one thing: me, specifically, my face.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a great deal of worrying about my face, I did, after all, attend middle school and high school in which I’d say more often than not, that people were unfortunately judged first on the constructs of their face rather than the content of their character. I did my best to dodge the disses and watched as beauty unfairly bargained the way for those she bestowed herself upon to the front of the line. Yet, as the years went on, I felt a flip of the switch.

In my 20’s, the first thing one of my boyfriend’s mother said about me when she met me was “She’s so smart.” It made me cry. I realized the tables had turned and I was in a phase of my life where the content of one’s character actually did come into play. It made me want to be a better person, smarter and kinder.

After moving to Alaska and Falling in Love Naked with Cauliflower Armpits I found a further reprieve from the standards of beauty I still (despite smarts or kindness) felt confined by. Although I enjoyed the routine of putting on makeup, I no longer felt required to do it. The choice became mine.

And so, these last few years I’ve worried less about my face. I’ve aimed to embrace my “sparkle lines” as my girlfriend calls my smile lines that ring my eyes and watch the changes that take place as marks of memories rather than the marring of time.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Alaskan Couples

Smiles lines, for good reason.

 

I guess I didn’t worry quite enough.

Early this Summer, after a lovely night planning our wedding menu with friends over probably a little too much champagne, I decided to impress my husband-to-be with a little acrobatics. We were headed home and after crossing The River, we approached The Gate.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Kennicott River

My last picture of the night. On The Bridge, leading to The Gate.

 

The Gate.

This gate is one I’ve opened and closed countless times. We all have. Early in the morning, late at night, multiple times a day. It was high time I spiced it up. “Riding The Gate” is a term my fellow friends are quite familiar with. It refers to when one is opening The Gate and jumps on for a ride. The arm swings open and once it hits its full extension, the gate post sends you back as the car drives through.

Yet I had something different in mind. Something reminiscent of elementary school and flips on the parallel bars.

I took a running start at The Gate and by the time I hit The Gate’s full extension, my speed was such that I didn’t do a flip as planned but rather catapulted myself forward…

Straight down some feet below into a boulder below.

My body went limp and I came to as I felt the reactionary force dragging me and my open mouth backwards through the gravel. I stood up long enough to feel my mouth fill with a metallic taste and the sides of my face grow warm and then cool and decided that I should probably lay down.

I said out loud, to no one in particular: “I’ll just lay down for a moment.”

Needless to say, I hadn’t stuck the landing.

The Chief rushed to my side as I tried to comfort him.

“It’s fine” I promised. “I just needed to lay down for a moment.”

He went into full WFR (Wilderness First Responder) mode, checking my vitals and my comprehension. I went into full bravado.

“It’s no big deal. I just need to spit these rocks out and I’ll be fine” I said as I started to get up.

“Julia, stay where you are. You are not OK. There is blood everywhere.”

At that moment, looking at him looking down at me, eyes wide with fear, I started sobbing. The bravado melted away. It was bad. I knew it was bad.

Other friends and acquaintances crossing the bridge pulled up behind us and ran in shock to our side. From the stifled gasps I could hear as they approached the scene I knew it wasn’t good. The Chief called the head Ranger of our park for backup and once he cleared me for a spine injury we decided to go back to our house to reassess. The entire group followed, all helping, all concerned, all planning our next steps.

We got home and I was determined to clean the wounds to see how bad it really was. The head bleeds a lot and I was still certain that a few bandaids later, I’d be on my way to bed. Our friends helped me warm water for rags. I wetted them and started to try to clear the embedded gravel from my face. The pain was excruciating. I kept trying but within seconds I started to feel like I was going to pass out. I was sick to my stomach from the pain. The Ranger offered to try as well and I sat on my hands on our couch so as not to bat him away in automated self-defense. He kept apologizing as silent tears rolled down my face. It was all we could do. We had reached the limit. We were done for the night.

Or so I thought.

“I’m calling the 24-hour hospital, I’ll let them know you’re on your way.”

The Chief nodded.

Huh?

Before I knew it, someone was making tea for me, another making coffee for The Chief as he fired up the truck and off we headed for a 5 hour trip into the wee hours of the night. Off to the hospital.

Well, this was certainly unexpected.

I waded in and out of sleep, the pain increasing with each opening of my eyes.

We arrived around 5 am to a team readied for our arrival. After trying for over an hour to numb the area (I am apparently one of those people who doesn’t respond to topical pain medication) I submitted to feeling more than planned for. Again, I planted my hands firmly under me as the doctor picked and scrubbed and irrigated everything from rocks all the way down to the glacial silt out of my face. Tears streamed, my stomach seized but a few hours later it was done.

The Chief took a 30-minute catnap as the doc finished the liquid stitches, leaning over me to spread the “good word” as he held the two halves of my face together while the glue dried.

5 more hours later, we were home. The Chief helped me into the shower and gently washed the blood and rock from my matted hair. He tucked me into bed and when I awoke, I thought for just a moment that perhaps none of it had actually happened.

My reflection proved otherwise.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Facial scarring

Good morning, sunshine! The morning we got home. Pre-shower.

 

A split second had changed everything. The face I had come to know and embrace would forever be changed though how it would be changed, I didn’t know.

Everything changes, even your face.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Facial scars in Alaska.jpg

The next morning. Swelling ensued.

 

About five weeks after the accident, the final stitches melted away, the final scab fell and I stood face to face with my new reflection.

Well, hello new me.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Injuries

My first look. Not so worried about those sparkles now, eh?

 

When I first saw the scars I thought “That’s pretty badass” and that has been the overwhelming response from the crowd as well (another is that I look like the ultimate Harry Potter/David Bowie fan). It looks pretty tough and while Alaska isn’t a bad place to look like you can handle yourself, it’s not always the me I want to present. What if I want to look gentle or kind? My blank slate had been slashed. Or has it?

I’ll be honest, my road to acceptance has taken some turns and I don’t think I’ve arrived yet. In truth, it’s been a lot like the road of grief. Apparently, the universe wasn’t fond of my Henny Penny self and felt I still hadn’t learned the Everything Changes lesson, the lesson of impermanence and gratefulness and grace. I’m trying. Some days I love my scars. Some days I forget that they’re there. Others, I’m bombarded with Yikes! What Happened to You’s and it makes me remember.

Sometimes, they fill me with regret, with frustration and self-punishment. Sometimes, I wish I could just wake up and I would be the same old me. Sometimes.

Mostly, the scars make me remember to be gentle with myself. To remember how fast everything can change in an instant. To be grateful that more damage wasn’t done, that my eyes and nose and teeth are safe, that my brain wasn’t too terribly shaken. Mostly, appreciate my scars for what they remind, what they warn, what they promise. Mostly.

Always, my scars remind me that this too will change, as does everything.

The other day, my first Icelandic Poppy bloomed. It was brilliantly, joyously red. It unfurled, beaming with brightness, hope, youth. By the next morning, the colors of the petals had ever so slightly faded. A few days later, the last petal, still beautiful but more muted in her brilliance, fell.

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Gardening Poppies in Alaska

 

All good and bad come to an end. What is to follow, we won’t know until we get there but chances are, you will be better off for it. And, if you don’t listen and learn the first time, the lesson won’t fade but will instead find new ways to tell you:

Everything changes (even your face).

 

With love,

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis 07-22-19 Everything Changes (Even Your Face) Families in Alaska II Malamute

 

// May you be gentle with yourself and not require too extreme of reminders. May you be gentle with those you love and those you encounter. May your last words to those you lose be words bred in kindness because it all can change and it will, in a moment. Let us aim not to let the fear of the future freeze our present. //

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.

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car Alaskans in Summer

Baby, You Can Drive My Car (…And My Snowmachine…and Use My Generator…)

Nearly four years ago now, I arrived in Alaska and within a few weeks, I found myself dropped into a whole new house, a new partner, a new life. It was like a ready-made, one-stop shop and I had scored quite the bargain.

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car Alaskans in Summer

One of our first pictures together.

 

Most people who have settled in our wee hamlet have had to build from the ground up, while I on the other hand simply had to move in and put a good old-fashioned scrubbing into it.

I arrived into the arms of the man I love and into his home, already fully built. Most start with a plot of land, uncleared and camp on their property as they slowly and steadily begin the building process or leave to gain the funds to build it in chunks. In truth, I wish  I could have been there for all of this but had I shown up in our town ten years earlier, our life wouldn’t be what it is now. The camping and clearing and building on our plot had begun 10 years earlier and while it might still not be totally finished, the house I arrived into was indeed on its way to becoming a home.

 

 

 

 

The Chief had amassed everything he needed and in I walked, welcome to it all. From generators, gas barrels to snowmachines and chainsaws, a whole world of things I’d never known use for opened in front of me. And so I used his things and they soon became ours, with little more than a shift in words from “mine” to “ours”. The Chief, despite his many solo years, quite gracefully shifted his verbiage to double and opened his arsenal of things for my use.

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car Alaskan Homestead

Like the outdoors laundry machine…bathing suit required.

 

As time wore on and things broke down, as they often do out here, I would contribute to replace them and as the years have gone on, that which was solely his to begin with truly has melted into ours via the road of shared dollars and labor.

The thing is, his things that are now our things, weren’t originally bought with me in mind (since to him, I didn’t exist). The chainsaw that his Popeye forearms can navigate with ease left me barely able to lift my arms for a day after using it and the fancy snowmachine he bought was, for me, a few sizes too big.

Still, my chainsawing days were infrequent and we had another snowmachine, a quirkier one (read: relatively brakeless), but a machine nonetheless that I could use.

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car Stihl in Love with You

My forearm yelps just looking at the beast!

 

I could make do.

Which was fine.

Or so I thought.

Until I got my own.

My own snowmachine.

The Chief and I have spent the last almost four years in and out of the good graces of the snowmachine gods. Our first Winter together, we started with two machines. By midway through the second Winter, the pace of my skis was as fast as I was going anywhere. Both machines were down. Last year, on a good day we had about 1.5 machines running.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car Backcountry Snowmachine

When a machine was down, we rocked the human backpack look.

 

This year was going to be different. We still had a quirky machine for me, though it was now a different iteration in the many generations of quirky machines, and The Chief had finally been able to get his new machine up and running. Two people, two running machines.

Sort of.

Within a month, my quirky machine went down.

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car German Shortaired Pointer

Thankfully, not before I got this shot (last year)

 

The Chief set in to fix it for the millionth time and it dawned on me: I’ve been working. A lot. I can buy my own machine.

And so I did.

After announcing my plans, which is rarely a good idea, they came to fruition. It turned out that a girlfriend of mine was selling her machine. It was just what I needed and just my size and suddenly, it was all mine.

Scratch that, we can’t fast forward that quickly.

The Chief had (much to my working girl’s stuck in the office chagrin) gone up to look at the machine during the week for me and to shovel it out while I was working. He retrieved the battery and brought it home to charge. Come the weekend, we took the hour-long drive up to the Historic Town to retrieve it home for a test drive.

We finished unsticking her from her snowy resting place and tucked in her partner in crime under their original shared tarp. We placed the now charged battery back in its home and…she fired right up.

It was time to go. I donned my parka and hat and goggles and gloves and watched The Chief navigate the quite lightly packed 90 degrees turn uphill.

I followed him with gusto.

I didn’t make it.

Within the first three seconds of riding my potential new machine, I got stuck.

Yay!

I hadn’t even gotten up to the road yet.

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car Husies of Alaska

Relaxed, goofy, happy. Exactly the opposite of how I was feeling.

 

The trail going up from her storage location was steep and unpacked snow and I slid off track without enough gas and crashed into hip deep snow.

It was so buried that we could see soil beneath the track as I tried, to no avail to get myself unstuck. Within seconds of meeting my potential new machine, my own independence, I was asking The Chief for help.

The thing is, it’s not so much that I was always using his things that bothered me, but that all of those things were part of an experience in which he was well seasoned and I was just coming out of the thaw. We were at different phases and despite my being four years in, I’m still very much a newbie in most cases. I felt that my know-how would never catch up to his 10-year head start and thus I’d always be asking for help. If you know me, you know that this is one of my least favorite asks to ask. “May I have a cookie?” Easy. “Can you help me do this thing I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t do alone?” A little harder (read: scaling a mountain of ice). This is definitely a mental hiccup that I need to work on but, one that gives me pause nonetheless. Even this new machine I had just bought, he knew more about than me, simply by having ridden other machines for a decade longer than me.

Together, we worked the machine out of its snowy entrapment, packing the snow down around its skis and me tugging on them with all my might as The Chief gunned it and gained traction as I jumped out of the way.

The rest of the ride home was, thankfully, uneventful but the rocky start had made me less than certain.

Making big purchases has never been my thing. I had the money, I could spare the change but I hemmed and hawed my way all through the transaction. The Chief had to talk and walk me through why again I needed such an “extravagance”. An extravagance that is our main mode of transportation, one that can help us haul logs and goods, one that opens up a world of travel for me into this vast country. I was right, I could forego the machine, we could continue fixing the whack-a-mole of a problem snowmachine we currently had and I could continually be limited by the machine’s engine…

Or, I could buy the machine.

Finally, I conceded to myself.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car Polaris Snowmachine

My baby’s on the left. Working on our Primary colors. Action shots to come.

 

I’m so glad I did.

It was my first large-scale purchase of something just for me, just in Alaska.

A month later I’m unsure how I kept this from you for so long! I grin from ear to ear every time I ride it. Sometimes I’ll fire it up just because I can. It has an electric start, people! No more pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling to turn the engine over. The pop of a button and the turn of a key and whoooom. Purr goes the engine (and a world of stinky 2-stroke smoke). Pitter patter goes my heart.

It even has reverse.

It’s a game changer.

The not so perfect start that day up the hill to take my potential new baby home was, in the end, a perfect start because it helped me start to accept our reality. The Chief has lived here longer and he lived here alone, which meant that when something went wrong, it was up to him to figure out how to fix it. I, living in the lap of luxury that I do (where’s a winking emoji when you need one?!) have not had that experience. When something breaks or goes wrong, I often have The Chief nearby to help and more often than not, he knows how to.

This life is not full of things I immediately excelled in. The learning curve was steep and I’m pretty sure it’s unending. Yet we all have to start somewhere if that’s the curve we want to climb, and I do. From where I stand in the journey, I can see below me. I can see when I didn’t know what a generator or an inverter was. I can see how little I grasped how much water I used daily. I can see how I problem solved less and called others for help more.

I’m still calling for help and still often ungraciously accepting it but we must remember from where we’ve come.

Four years ago I didn’t know how to ride a snowmachine and four years later, I’ve purchased one of my own. The Chief, from his experience, may know better how to operate her, but I will be her owner. I will know her ticks and purrs and with a little practice, I too will know her just as well.

This ready-made life is something I’ll always consider myself lucky to have walked into. Life here would have been a very different story or perhaps not happened at all had I had to start on my own from scratch. And just like our house has become a reflection of us, so too is our arsenal, slowly but surely, as I take the agency to make it my own. Sharing is beautiful and all, but sometimes, a walk in another person’s shoes just makes you realize you need to get your own pair.

Thank you, Alaska, for plopping me here where most of my skills aren’t applicable, where necessity made me gain new ones. Thank you to The Chief for so graciously welcoming me to this new world and for reminding me constantly that I can do it by myself, but I don’t have to.

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car Ecuador

LIke scaling these slippery, mountain high bridges…together, please.

 

And thank you, to The Musher who, strangely enough, as I wrote this post, came over with an early wedding gift: a chainsaw, in just my size.

The tides they are turning.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis POST Baby You Can Drive My Car With Love from Alaska

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California making jam

The Good (in the Bad and the Ugly)

How are you?

If your current state is anything like most of the people I know, your honest answer is probably something along the lines of “good, mixed with some bad and some ugly”.

I hope this isn’t true for you, but for me, it seems every person I know has been touched by the tougher realities of life as of late. From health to happiness, a lot of basic standards of living for those I love have been put to the test lately and it seems we have found ourselves in a sort of communal hardship.

The fires that broke out early last week in both Northern and Southern California have truly brought that hardship to the forefront. Our skies have been smokey enough to obscure the sun. We’ve been relegated to the indoors, to our own locales, to hunker down and hermit our ways through this. And in those times, when the sky shines its ominous, apocalyptic orange light, it’s easy to feel alone.

But we aren’t.

In all this bad and ugly, we can still find the good.

Today, I found myself wanting just that: good. Just wanting a moment of reprieve. I found myself hoping to write to you about something uplifting, to take a break from the heartache and feelings of doom around us.

I tried.

I took myself on a walk, despite the smoky skies to get myself into my writing rhythm. Since the beginning of this blog, each post has been born while walking. Like a dog circling to find the perfect spot to lay down, I too circle around the ideas circling me and this little dance always sorts itself in my strides. Once I return home, the ideas have settled and I too can settle into my perfect spot.

So, today, I took myself on a walk to sort out what I should say. However, unlike my normal walks, I spent the time trying to dream up other things to write about instead of acknowledging what was actually happening. I tried to block out what was there, ready to be said. I wanted to write something happy but my mind had already made her mind up.

And so, we made a compromise: yes, we could acknowledge the bad and the ugly and we also would lump on a little good.

Because the good is always there.

So, since I think we’ve sufficiently acknowledged the bad and the ugly, here’s a little good. Even they are a little silly, a little surface, here are some things, happenings, and reminders that have brought me joy this week. I hope they bring some to you too. Here we go, happiness train, okay? All aboard!

This look on our friend’s dog Atari’s face as he finally gets to get into The Chief’s lap:

 

 

 

 

Feeling absolutely loved by a kiddo you’ve known their whole life when she makes your coming to her house a calendar event (in hot pink, no less):

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Friends

 

 

Seeing a little hint of blue for the first time in days:

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California Fires

 

Spending a night with life-long girlfriends that ranged from feeling very satisfyingly adult (we had an olive tray, you guys) to very satisfyingly juvenile (pop music sing along), to very happy and very sad. We ran the gamut and it was beyond healing to be around you loves (fun times/sad times not pictured as we were too busy eating olives, crying, laughing and singing. Oh how I love women).

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California Pt. Reyes National Seashore

 

Coming up with the best band name ever, and then having it immediately embodied in whiteboard drawing form by our young eavesdroppers:

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Fart Cactus

 

Remembering full blue skies and full, deep breaths:

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California

 

Cactus ears from your sister-in-law. ‘Nuff said:

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California Cactus

 

Nature, in all her glory:

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California Olive Ranch

 

These ridiculous and adorable slippers my brother gave me:

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California Kitty Slippers

 

Learning to make jam for the first time:

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California making jam

 

Laughing at the awkwardness of this toilet brand name (First Impression):

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California Toilet

 

Laughing too hard to be able to take the photo:

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Alaskan Women color

 

Those kind eyes.

Beneath the Borealis The Good in the Bad and the Ugly Northern California Hiking

 

 

I had to acknowledge the hard, the bad, the ugly today because it’s what’s real for me and so many others right now and I’ve always tried to be real with you. As for you, I hope you are in the good but if not, I hope this brought a little sparkle to your day. Let’s try to spread it around. There is always good to be found.

 

Wishing safety and so much love to you and yours,

 

From Alaska by way of California.

P.S. Want to help? California and Californians would so appreciate your support. Please donate if you can. There are so many wonderful organizations out there but one quick way is to text “Red Cross” to the number 9099. When you agree to the transaction, your phone company will add $10.00 extra dollars to your phone bill this month. It’s easy (it took me a total of 10 seconds) and every donation, no matter the amount is important. Thank you.

P.P.S. Thank you, a million times over for those with boots on the ground. Firefighters, volunteers, citizens. You all are amazing and we so appreciate you.

Surf Thirty (One)

As a California grown lady of the sun, I’ve spent my whole life around surfing. I grew up at the beach, I spent my summers by any body of water I could find and I loved a good beach blonde suntan combo. I had all the components of surfing: I lived near a beach, there were surf shops galore with boards and wetsuits for rent (and sweatshirts I desperately wanted but would allow myself, lest I be discovered a poser) and I knew of people who were surfers. Yet what I lacked was the confidence to try.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up Beetle Bug.jpg

Surf’s up, buttercup. Hangin’ ten, beetle style.

 

 

The times I came closest to learning, I realized that the people wanting to “take me out” actually had more interest in taking me out for a date than really teaching me to surf and so, frustrated, I had bailed (surfer lingo, brah).

A few bails in, I stopped trying. Certainly, without question, I could have gone on my own or grabbed a girlfriend to go with but in my awkward earlier years I was less Grab The Bull By The Horns and more Oh Shoot, I Just Watched That Bull Go By.

And so it went.

Suddenly, I was 31, still wanting to learn to surf and realizing that the only thing about surfing that I’d learned was that saying you want to surf and actually surfing are a world apart.

Enter: Ecuador, or as I’ve started to call it: Alascuador.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea. Could this be heaven?

 

 

This place, I swear is a cousin to our State of Brr. Everything from the reservation at first interaction to the utter triumph one feels getting a pint of ice cream home (one of our friends paid a taxi driver 50% extra just to get him home as fast as possible with a quart of ice cream he was bringing home for a celebration) to the timing (Alaska time, Ecuador time, Hawaiian time, same, same), to the dogs running about being a celebrated part of the town, to the what to do with toilet paper has made this southern spot seem like a flip side family member to the Alaskan way.

Which makes it no surprise that upon landing here, Ecuador has kindly kicked my behind. Just like in Alaska, if you’re not on the right path, Ecuador seems to either firmly correct your trajectory or high-five congratulate you for your ability to go with the flow. From our first escapades in getting to know one another in travel (firm corrections) to gliding through bus connections with uncanny luck (high-five congratulations) to finding our home for these last few weeks and me struggling to learn to relax (firm corrections as far as the eye can see) this place has been full of the ups and downs that I cherish about Alaska. The things that make life in Alaska feel, well, alive.

All the while, firm corrections and congratulations popping about, in the back of my head an anxiety started to rise. Was I going to continue to talk about surfing or actually learn? We had come to Ecuador to learn to surf and it was day 10 with no waves in sight. Don’t get me wrong, there were waves all about but we certainly weren’t on them. It had been years since I’d been fully immersed in an ocean, something I didn’t realize until we got here and the last beach I had been on had been unfriendly, to say the least.

Yet, when we arrived, I figured I’d jump on in like I had for years as a kid and start off right away with some epic bodysurfing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Sunset

Canoa sunset.

 

 

Wrong.

It turns out I wasn’t as comfortable in the waves as I had planned. While The Chief seemed to glide out past the break into calm waters, I was left in a whitewash whirlwind. I had forgotten all the tricks my Mom had taught me.

 

Diving under waves

Timing

Decision-making

Confidence.

 

I realized it would be a few days until I was comfortable alone in the water, much less to attach something to me and bring it into the water.

Enter: the boogie board, the perfect transition between body surfing and surfing.

We broke it within 20 minutes.

Still, getting tumbled about in waves far bigger than me was good for my morale.

Until it wore off. Finally, on day ten, panicked that we would never learn to surf (I love to pop in nevers, even when I have control of them) we went to Town to find June and his week-long surfboard rentals. Four hours later, after waiting for 2 hours for the shop owner to return, we had our boards. It was late in the day and we were set to be picked up for our traveling trivia team (apparently, The Chief and I make a sought-after trivia duo) and so, we said “goodnight” to the boards which had taken so long just to find and hours to rent and waited until tomorrow. Mañana, mañana.

I was sick of mañana.

Today was the day.

Unfortunately, Ecuador didn’t agree (or in actuality, she did agree, but she was testing my will. Do you really want to learn or do you want to talk about learning? Sound familiar, Alaska? Alascuador). A storm set-up, the sky was pregnant with rain and right as we went in for my first set ever, the waters came down upon us. The sea responded. The waves were all over the place, coming in diagonally, double crashing and the current was so strong that within minutes we were out of sight of our hotel. Gone were the parallel sets of beautifully set-up, semi-consistent waves of the morning only an hour prior. If I hadn’t been in a bathing suit in warm water, I would have sworn I was back in Alaska. The timing was just too much. The Chief and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. Decades of build-up and we couldn’t have picked a worse time.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Stormcloud

Ominous, eh?

 

 

It was perfect.

By the time we were out of the water, my hips and knees looked like I had dyed them blue. Bruises welled up before my eyes and I plopped down in the sand, exhausted.

I’d been in for 20 minutes.

And…I’d gotten up. Sure, we may have just been chasing whitewash but after 20 years of hoping, wanting, giving up and hoping again, I had gotten up on a surfboard and rode that whitewash all the way to shore.

A few hours later, still storming but not as bad, we went in again. A couple we met from Canada was sharing the boards with us and had impeccable timing so the next time they went, we went after.

Still, it was storming.

Still, there we were, up again, riding the whitewash.

I feel like my body had been planning and scheming and approximating just how it would do this task for me for years, I just hadn’t unleashed it.

I looked at The Chief and we were both beaming, smiles from ear to ear.

Those three seconds of the joy of floating above the water were worth the ten minutes of push and pull to get to them. I couldn’t believe how it felt. Better than I had imagined. Maybe like flying.

Needless to say, I was hooked.

That night I went to bed, completely physically exhausted for the first time in a long time. In Alaska, I often fall into bed, absolutely fatigued from the day’s duties. That day, the duties were purely pleasure-based but they were as challenging as any other chore I’ve performed.

Finally, finally, I had tried. The years of wanting washed over me. How simply such a buildup could just go away. How unnecessary the buildup to begin with.

Lesson learned?

I hope so.

One week later, I’ve caught even more than the whitewash. I’ve caught my first real wave, from crest to finish, I’ve even turned (a little). I’ve fallen more times than I can count, my body is more bruised than unbruised, I’ve caught a fin twice in the thigh, I’ve been hit in the back, had the board land on my head, done a somersault into the ocean floor and broken a fin and I can’t think of anything right now I’d rather be doing.

It may have taken me until 31 to try, but now that I have, I’m a sucker for it.

It’s time to start checking off the list of the long overdue wants and wishes.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up The Chief

A log, a love, two boards, two books. Bueno.

 

 

 

Thank you, Alaska for starting the teaching. For forcing me to test myself and trust myself. Thank you Ecuador for testing that teaching by forcing me to get out in a bathing suit day after day even on the days I’d feel more comfortable in, say, a parka. Thank you for pushing me to make new friends, get out of my comfort zones, to get a little scared but to try anyway and in the end to get to the base of it: to enjoy oneself. I’m listening. I’m trying.

Thank you. You are beautiful.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bananas in Ecuador

Bananas, y’all.

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California Beach

Joni & Julia: California

For the past month, Joni Mitchell’s “California” has been going through my head. If you’ve never had the pleasure of the fluting vocals of Miss Mitchell, please do, as the Millennials say “Treat yo-self.” Who am I kidding, I say that too. It’s fun, no? Totes.

Anyways, pop culture colloquialisms aside, Miss Mitchell had been dancing in my ears for days on end. I’m the type of person who constantly has a song going through my head (I used to even be superstitious during my soccer games that if a sad song came into my head, we were going to lose, which of course, as the odds would have it, proved true) so there have been many other companions to “California” but she has, overall, been the main show.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni and Julia - November 13th 2017 Joni Mitchell

La Joni

 

 

 

The song holds a sweetness to me as I first discovered it on my own (I’m sure I grew up hearing it but never purposefully interacted with it solo) during my first year of college. I was 17 years old, living in Washington, D.C. Back then, Sebastopol, the little town I grew up in, was still holding on to its hippie roots. Tie-dye and incense were the accessories of my youth and I had just started to dig into who I was to become as an adult (tie-dye not so much, incense yes) when this country girl landed herself smack dab in the middle of a metropolis. Not just any capital, it was the Nation’s Capital: D.C.

I was completely overwhelmed.

Upon meeting my “floor” and cohort in college I was introduced to the business handshake…

by teenagers.

These kids were ready to succeed. They had a drive I’d never seen and a lingo I didn’t speak and an overall sense of entitlement I had only caught glimpses of at my Grandparents’ Country Club, a place where I would say I was about as comfortable as a lobster at a hot spring. It just didn’t fit.

So, I did what every teenager does at one point or another and I split in two, trying on a new side of me: the professional. I put on the business suits and I shook the hands of my friends instead of hugging them as I’d grown up doing. I updated my resume and printed it on a hard fancy stock. I spoke the vernacular, I did the dance.

I hated it.

D.C. in and of itself is amazing. Free museums? Yes, please. Cherry blossom wonderland? Sign me up.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Cherry Blossoms

 

 

The constant hustle and bustle of grey, black, and khaki? The colorless wheel of all day business? The inevitable “Who do you work for/who do you know” self-elevation quandries. Thank you and no, thank you.

I spent most of my time amongst art and artifacts realizing all the while that this, indeed was not the place for me. Upon discovering Joni’s “California”, I felt more and more sure that I had been given a peek into a different world, one which I appreciated and admired in many ways but about which I could wholeheartedly say was not for me.

Joni sang me through the months in an almost mantra-like fashion.

Almost home.

Almost home.

Almost home.

California, I’m coming home.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California

 

 

And come home I did where my lurking decision on whether or not to return to D.C. became wildly clear. I was not going back. I had left to try something on and found out from the first leg in that it was not my size. I very much believe in leaving what doesn’t suit you to allow the space for the person it does fit to find it. Don’t take it simply because it’s there. Leave it for someone else to wear.

I settled into my home again at a new college with a little better idea of who I was and was not and continued to find me, often by finding what didn’t fit first.

Joni Mitchell marked a time where this all started.

The next time Joni became a focal point and “California” started again to be the title track playing through my head was three years later. I had recently turned 20 years old and I had been living in Italy for the previous nine months in an unplanned journey away from heartbreak right into the loving arms of Italy (this was pre-Eat Pray Love but I’m O.K. with Elizabeth Gilbert and I sharing a shockingly similar narrative and love of eating). I fell absolutely head over insanely fashionable heels for the place and I found new sides of myself, this time by finding what I loved. Good food, walking, history, art, a slower pace and a deeper purpose.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Capri

 

 

I thought I would never leave and part of me never did but slowly, as my European classmates left to go back to their respective countries and the weather started to cool, the song turned up and all I could hear was her singing:

“Oh, it gets so lonely when you’re walking and the streets are full of strangers.”

I was lonely. The beautiful Italian families surrounding me made me miss the sense of home I had felt in Italy only a few short weeks before and so, I followed the whispering welcomes of California.

“California, I’m coming home.”

I arrived, and that time, unlike the relief I had felt upon my recovery from D.C. something felt different. California suddenly didn’t fit quite as well as it had before. It wasn’t a non-fit like the squeeze of trying to wear post-break-up jeans two years into a cozy loving new relationship, but something wasn’t quite right. My favorite old pair of blue jeans had started to wear thin but still, my love for California and all that it held kept me close for the years to come.

The years until Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Alaska

 

 

Just the opposite of Italy (in so very many ways), I landed in Alaska and did not feel like I’d arrived at a forever home. I was scared, truly and uncomfortable to say the least but I felt a stirring in me I hadn’t felt since landing in the land of pasta. Something again had shifted.

Almost three years in, I’m in love with Alaska not just because of her beauty but because she is both comfort and discomfort all in one. She is constantly pushing me to find new parts of myself I would have rather left undiscovered, dust them off and love them into a new shine. She’s challenging and I’m challenged into becoming a better me just by being in her presence and also constantly reminded that I’m not “there” yet. But I am there, in Alaska, most of the year in the almost three years which have suddenly flown by.

Yet this time, it’s not only me who has changed, it’s California as well. Since my journeys away often ended before a year had passed, I’ve never returned to her being as different as I felt after my time away. Yet now, as I am more able to let go of her as my main home, and as the years continue to pass, I see the change.

And so I ask: “Will you take me as I am? Strung out on another man (Alaska, don’t worry Chief)?”

I will do my best to accept you as you are.

California I’m coming home.

And then, we arrived.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Joni & Julia - November 13th 2017 Northern California Beach

Da beach.

 

To be continued…

 

P.S. Missing updates? Make sure to sign-up for email updates on the blog. No spam, just goodness. Also, follow along with pictures not featured on the blog via Instagram: @beneaththeborealis.