Friday, August 9, 2013

Two wild dreams; one common goal - to live life, wild.

"Long before recorded history, the human experience was conceived in and born of wilderness. In the deepest recesses of our hearts resonates a longing to reach out and once again grasp those primal roots. It is reassuring to know that the experience is available in those places of truly majestic wilderness- places like Wrangell-St. Elias." - George F. Mobley.  

We are in the latter stages of orchestrating a move ‘into the wild’. Because, you know...Anchorage isn't wild enough, by our standards.  Though ‘Big Wild Life’ is the city motto.  Just last week, over the course of two days we saw 8 moose in 5 separate incidents. A black bear. And a run in with a “wild bee nest” (hornets to anyone who cares to be accurate) =)  Wild bees, like the bees in Winnie the Pooh when Pooh says to Christopher Robin “these are the wrong sorts of bees!”.  Somehow we decided that this life wasn’t wild enough, so we set out to find something.....wilder.  

The idea to ‘Go Wild’ began when we first met, and on our first few dates. Our quest for something different begun back in 2006 when we were first dating.  We attended some Bioneers movies and discussion events and came to the conclusion that our current way of life was completely unsustainable - we had bold, lofty ideas - live off the grid, build everything using hand tools and only hand tools, grow and raise all of our own food, no interior plumbing, just a well with a hand pump. We spent a lot of time thinking about how we wanted to live and then how to go about making it happen, on our own terms - naturally.  

Over time our dream was temporarily shelved (having two children under the age of 3 will do that), this allowed time for our dream to age and mature.  Like many dreams it evolved, was nearly abandoned and then on June 8 of this year it was reborn.  

Our quest was reborn three times, for sure - and countless other times I am sure we are not aware of, but have made our journey what it is as a result. We knew some of our original ideas were - crazy, and when we started to get serious about the idea of living wild we had to make some decisions.  What did we “need” and what did we “want”? What would contribute to our connection to nature and the reconnecting of our souls to nature.  What would take away from the experience? (cable tv, internet, phone - where does one draw the line?).  
Sometime in the spring of 2013 we started feeling stir crazy, we thought it might be a case of spring fever which cropped up unseasonably early - around Christmas, on vacation to the west coast filled with runs on the beach, sandcastles, picnics, and playgrounds.  We began to question our sanity - I mean who wants to life in the frigid north climate southcentral has to offer, when other places - warm places where we’d obtain a steady stream of vitamin d and fresh air.  So we started looking at Oregon. Moving. To. Oregon.  

Then we had to do another reality check....because we are really good at those (HA!)!!!   

We started searching in a big circle - (Anchorage) Hillside, Chugiak, Palmer, Hatchers Pass, Wasilla, Houston, Talkeetna, Cantwell, Paxson, Glenallen, and as the search reached its boarders: Tok, and Slana.  Homer had already been eliminated due to higher real estate costs, outlying areas to Homer were also eliminated for various reasons.  A cabin rental operation we’d stayed at on our first “road trip” together back in January 2007 and again for spring break in 2012 in Seward was entertained, numbers crunched and late night discussions ensued.  I lived in Seward for a  year and really enjoyed it, living there again, this time as a family was an easy idea to fall in love with.  Ultimately, we decided we could not “make it” on the rental cabin business alone, given the limitations of the property size, structures and ability to house our family, animals, garden, etc..  We would need supplemental income, to the tune of at least one full-time job, plus running the cabin rental business.  We abandoned that trail and continued our search. 

Ultimately we began to explore the interior known as one of the more extreme climates in the country.  With winter temperatures dipping well below anything Southcentral has ever experienced, and “warm” temperatures in the Interior could be summed up as a “cold snap” in Southcentral.  The daylight would be more extreme in the summer and the darkness - heavier, unrelenting - like a thick blanket, in the winter.  Basically, the opposite climate Oregon has to offer in January.  

One night while browsing for real estate on his iPad, Parke came across an interesting piece of real estate he had seen before, only now it was down in price and fit close to our “budget”, allowing for renovations, establishing gardens, and fencing for animals.  We knew it was something we had to see.  So we went on a trip to Tok, on a whim - we made reservations at a cabin in Tok and the very next morning, and after doing the Run for Women, we set out on our journey to Tok.  The drive was stunning, sunshine filled, 77 degree temperatures, and large marshmallow-like clouds filled the sky, pure fluffy white against crisp blue bliss.  

About an hour outside of Tok sat the first property on our list, just past the Nabesna Road at the north entrance to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (13,175,799 acres in all between the combined park and preserve).  We had an appointment with the real estate agent, Wanda, in the morning, but since the property was on our way to Tok, we stopped by the biggest national park in our fine country.  We pulled in the driveway and something felt undecidedly familiar about the place. Was it the rustic log structure? The arctic entry? The barn? The panoramic uninhibited views into Wrangell-St. Elias and Mt. Sanford (16,237 ft) and Mt. Drum (12,021 ft) standing tall on the horizon.  Sitting at the edge of the wild, perched atop a high riverbank with a trail leading down to the rivers edge, boat launch in place and ready for use.  We were home!

We quickly put our plan into motion and immediately upon returning from our trip to Tok and home showings with Wanda, our real estate agent - we called an agent in town to begin the process for listing our home in Anchorage, the home we moved into at the end of October (2012).  You know, the one we spent all last summer searching for, yeah that one.  The packing started as soon as the phone calls were made.  We then set out to find buyers for our recreational property and cabin we lovingly call “The Shack”.  

Selling The Shack is no easy thing, we quite literally fell in love at the shack.  In fact, one might argue we fell in love because of the shack.  It was during that early time in our courtship when we were both still strangers to one another, that realized we made a good team.  We worked on projects at The Shack, improving it in small ways, but never really altering it in any significant way.  I grew up in Alaska spending time at two family cabins one in Kasistna Bay across from Homer, and the other in Denali State Park - both cabins were built by my grandfather in the 1960s - 1970s. Parke grew up in Wisconsin, spending time at the log cabin his grandfather built on 160 acres.  In both cases, our grandfathers came across their plots of land at somewhat of a bargain.  Which makes our find of the property in Slana even more appealing - it may not be easy, but the reduced cost of the land and structures free us up to live the kind of life we want to live, even if it is nestled deep in the interior, off the beaten path.  

On a cold day in January 2007, while pushing a very large generator up hill at temperatures hovering at daytime highs in the teens, in the snow - along a barely packed trail as darkness fell.  We were not certain we could get the generator back to the truck, which was parked at the road - we laughed, hard, and smiled and kept on truckin’.  Eventually the generator made it to the truck, where we had to lift it into the bed.  Had we not already hauled it down and back up the hill, we might have had a slightly easier time getting it into the bed.  It was a challenge to say the least and marked one of many occasions where we would find ourselves in way over our heads, coming up against our physical limitations and finding a way to break through.  Memories like those remind me of what our marriage is made of - hard work, determination, teamwork, humor, and lets face it, out right stubbornness. 

Upon our return home from our trip, I started packing up the excess clutter, personal effects and other excess to “stage” our home. Then we had a professional stager come in and give me some lessons on interior design.  Bless her heart, she never made me feel like the derelict interior designer that I am.  She was kind.  Italian. A very proud grandmother of a half-Yupik, half-Italian two year old girl.  She fell in love with Maya instantly and George’s charm won her heart too.  When she left after having spent over two hours with me, we hugged, twice and she wished us well.  She was one of many angels that have presented themselves to us during this chaotic, faith-filled mission.  

A few days later when the photographer showed up to take the listing photos of the house he was a bit surprised when I answered the door.  “Are you the homeowner?” Me: “Yes, come in!” (flashing a silvery braces-filled smile, framed by braided pigtails, flared out yoga capris (olive green) and a rusty colored yoga tank).  Photographer “I’m sorry, you just look really, really young”.  I replied “I’m not as young as I look - I’m almost 30!”.  He still didn’t buy it.  After an hour or so of taking photos he asked me “So, what does your husband do for a living?”.  Clearly he was wondering about our situation.  Finally he asked what we were doing once the house sold - this random photographer, a total stranger was one of the first people I told “the plan” to.  Needless to say he was again totally surprised.  It was a good introduction to the reception that would follow.  Generally the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, supportive and encouraging.  Occasionally there has been worry and concern to which I generally reply “You should be!  Somebody should be, I’m not - but I am glad you are! I can’t worry about it, I am going it with it, it feels right.”.  This may be the response given by a full-blown delusional lunatic, or it could be the response given by a faith-filled individual guided by some deep, intuitive sense - responding to a call from home. 

We submitted our initial offer on The Moose Lodge and waited (as patiently as possible, which is to say we were checking our phone and email on an hourly, if not more frequent basis) to hear something.  In the meantime I kept myself occupied by conjuring up feelings of dread and fear over turning 30. I've always been younger than most of my friends, and thought (mistakenly) that 30 wouldn't be a big deal.  I am here to tell you, that was in fact a delusional mindset.  For whatever reason, the closer 30 got, the more I pushed it away.  I went so far as to correct close friends and family who called to wish me "Happy Birthday" on my birthday, reminding them I was born at 10:53 PM, and technically speaking I was still "29".  I think my resistance to my 30's surprised no one, except me.  Midway through my birthday, as I was clawing tightly to 29, I got a phone call from Parke.  Our offer was accepted, we were "under contract", we were buying The Moose Lodge.  It was the best birthday present I could have ever received, but was ultimately in denial about reality: our lives were about to change, and I was 30.   Friends who are well into their 30's and 40's kept swearing "it just gets better" saying things like "My 30's were the best years of my life".  To which I thought (silently) "Of course you're saying that, what else are you supposed to say - it sucks?!".  I took it as a sign that my friends has accepted their fate and were making the best of it.  

Parke resigned from his job and Friday, July 26 was his last day.  This was another necessary, but difficult decision.  The company he worked for took us as part of their "family" and made it possible for me to be a stay-at-home mom to our children, from day one.  At the going away party they held, one of Parke's bosses said "I figure Parke either has it all figured out or he's crazy!".  The jury is still out on that one. 

One night over dinner we were partaking in one of our weekly rituals: reading the horoscopes in The Anchorage Press.  In my opinion, Rob Brezsny is channeling some wisdom deeply held within The Universe.  I say this based on experience of his horoscope predictions, guidance, and suggested activities and their congruence to the playing out of my average, everyday life.  Sitting at Table 6, sipping some snazzy cocktail, I start to read Parke's horoscope (I always read all four of ours)  The horoscope says:

"It is kind of fun to do the impossible." said Walt Disney, a pioneer animator whose cartoon innovations were remarkable.  Judging from your current astrological omens, i think you Scorpios have every right to adopt his battle cry as your mantra.  You've got an appointment with the frontier. You're primed to preform experiments at the edge of your understanding. Great mysteries will be tempting you to come closer and lost secrets will be teasing you with juicy clues.  As you explore and tinker with the unknown, you might also want to meditate on the graffiti I saw scrawled on a mirror in a public restroom: "Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible."

As I started to read it, I instantly teared up and was given the validation and daily dose of faith I needed. Our wildly absurd idea may lead us to achieving the impossible.  The fruition of our wild dream, otherwise known as "The Impossible".  I believe.  

The movers arrived on the following Tuesday.  A rag-tag crew of guys who were like a flock of angels, swooping in to help us pull of this ambitious move.  Their leader, a kind hearted man shared parts of his life story with us, as the move went on.  As it would turn out, spending time with him left both of us quoting that Joan Osborne song "What if God was one of us?".  Someone who at first glance appeared rough around the edges and the opposite of what would imagine Jesus Christ to be, in human form.  He was in fact a savior to those he took under his wing.  He had a knack for knowing what others needed and used his life experiences and struggle with alcoholism as both a cautionary tale and beacon of hope for those who were lucky enough to meet him, and take time to listen and share.  A long-time member of AA, and sponsor - he has made it his lifes mission to help others in a multitude of ways.  With his presence and the assistance of his crew we were able to face the absurd (moving our excess quantities of unnecessary "stuff", which for various reasons we have deemed "necessary") and achieve the impossible - an important step on this lesser traveled road.  

At that time our house close had been delayed, from  July 23 to August 9.  The Shack closing was an “any day now” sort of arrangement, which meant we would be able to close on the Slana home well before we closed on our house.  Our plan was working - we were like Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars “Its Working!”, flying high on our collective joy and exuberance   Then two days, became two more, sometime “next week”, then another week went by, and another.  Yesterday (August 7) we were told “three days”, two days before that it was “two days”.  On August 6, we were told it would be “sometime next week” for the close on our home, which means another amendment to the contract, another round of signing and very reluctantly agreeing to a later date.  As if we have any choice.  Faith shaken, but not stirred - we kept at it, filling all 45 feet of the moving truck up with the combined contents of our Labrador House and The Shack.  Knowing at any moment the floor could crumble beneath us and we would be left, hanging, if we were lucky.  Faith. Attempt the absurd. Achieve the impossible.  

On Tuesday (August 6) morning we watched the 45 foot moving truck pull out of Labrador Circle with all the "stuff" that camping in our house has proved we really don't need.  Packing up, loading, and watching a truck drive off with all your worldly 'treasures" with no certainty as to where our next stop on the journey of life will be.  All I know is that we have a wild plan. In the meantime, the truck would drive to an undetermined location in a what we are told is a somewhat secure area, and wait for us to call and say "bring it home!".  I cannot wait to make that phone call.  


If this whole process has taught us anything at all it is patience.  Well, patience, and trust, and faith, and optimism, and the power of positive intentions.  Strange really, as this path has revealed itself and we have taken a vow to explore this path thoroughly - part of the deal was to learn to have patience and trust that it will all be alright, and faith that anything is possible.  So, here we sit - August 9, having faith and trust, and the utmost amount of patience imaginable.  Waiting for the path to present itself, we’ve planned, we’ve packed, we are “this close” to planting our dream.  

         As we were celebrating the departure of our "stuff" over fajitas and margaritas we got a call from the lead teacher at the local school.  She was calling to let us know their student enrollment for this school year was down unexpectedly, and without Maya there would be only 9 children enrolled in school.  In order to receive funding, rural schools must have at least 10 students.  It is possible, at least from other schools who have had lower enrollment, that they could stay viable, but it becomes an uphill battle.  Suddenly the suspense, the waiting, the faith and patience it has taken to get us here, is now impacting a community.  It is one of those things, we won't know until we know - basically, once we sign the closing paperwork.  Conversations like this one have made us realize the level of commitment we have to our move, to our new community - and have made us realize the desire we have to be part of a place, to call a place home in a true sense.  Los Anchorage is where so many people find themselves with their dreams tucked away in a backpack.  Waiting.  Stagnating.  The highways are filled with abandoned homes, roadhouses, and other dead dreams.  Going after a wild dream is risky, and scary, and enlightening.  Doing it with children, may be just plain crazy.  

We are trying to make the best out of unforeseen delays and keeping the faith.  Reminding ourselves that this downtime is just what we need, in order to be able to slip into rural life.  A transition period where we are quiet, stripped to our bare essentials - living in a state of perpetual campout.  Transitioning from city life to a very rural, remote place far from the life we know.  If we were suddenly transplanted to The Moose Lodge from here, going full-tilt, there is no telling how shocking that could be to the system.  The reality. Us. Living there from here, with zero time in between to process, or even fully recognize the plan we have put into motion in what has, in all honesty, been a relatively short period of time.  

      Time to process is good. Time to sit and wonder.  Sit and think.  In our 3000 square foot home - a gorgeous home, 7 years old, full of perfection and luxurious bliss, The Labrador House, or The Taj, for short.   Paved sidewalks, street lights, the safety of the city.  This would be the house for us, if this were the life for us.  But it is not, and so we go off into the wild in search of home. We sit in folding camp chairs, sprawled out on floor mats, nestled in sleeping bags, passing the kleenex, sipping soup from camping bowls and cutting food with plastic knives that snap as soon as you apply any real pressure.  We are holding our own private vigil, waiting to reconnect with our primal roots, exploring the “deepest recesses of our hearts”.