Monday, February 10, 2014

Home Again

     There was something about January I just couldn’t handle.  It wasn’t even a particularly cold January for this region, unlike the “lower 48” which has been experiencing several bouts with extreme weather, ice storms, and cold snaps.   I had planned to get a lot of writing done in January given the quiet contemplative nature of the month. 

A cup of steaming hot cocoa paired with a cozy couch and deep thinking are the prime ingredients for wintertime introspection.  The unexpected revelations that appear, ideas that manifest, and the slow subtle feeling of life clicking into focus are the rewards for time spent sitting, thinking, being.  I was really looking forward to those moments, but when they came I found I just wasn’t ready to be here for January. Not all of it.  

The moments of writing and deep thinking in January were done in spurts, then a retreat back into a very simple life absent of homework, tests, and academic study.  Settling into life here and envisioning what we want our future to look like now that we have landed and had our boots on the ground nearly six months have passed and we are starting to get the hang of the basics.  And I mean “The Basics”. Simple things like how to keep the house warm and food in the pantry were the primary focus for the past six months. The ideas and ambition we set out with on Our Journey into The Wild was put into perspective when we realized there would be a more prolonged period of “floundering”.  Once we accepted that as a fact, we were able to sit with some of the questions and work through things, “bird by bird”.  
Living here definitely fosters a sense of strong self-reliance and ability to figure out plans b, c, and d at a moments notice if need be.  Everything changes at forty below zero.  Depending on the weather a 15 mile stretch of road can take 15 minutes or 45.  Last week we forgot to cut kindling the night before and woke up to -25 with a breeze and no kindling.  
I spent an hour that afternoon at -10 cutting kindling, by the end I was in my carhart bibs and hoodie, no hat, and an lightly insulated pair of work gloves.  I think it is safe to say I am getting acclimated to the elements.  On Sunday morning I opened the door and let the dogs out and remarked at how “warm” it felt outside, the wind was blowing and it was 5 F.  
This morning we were out of “big wood” in the house, so at -5 with pretty intense gusts, I spent the first half hour of the morning hauling firewood in the house.  By the time I was finished the fire was cracking, the house still cold, but I was HOT.  A while ago a neighbor and friend of ours came over and said “it was 20 at my house this morning”.  Parke asked him “above or below?”, he replied “this time of year we only specify when it’s ABOVE zero”.  

Fog socked in over Glennallen; Sanford and Drum visible at the top. 
Descending into The Fog...
One of my main “Musts” for this move was that our home be accessible by road.  Now that I am here I realized that getting to town isn’t as simple as hopping in the car and hitting the road.  Weather forecasts, temperatures, precipitation, and reports from anyone whose recently drove the stretch of road are taken into consideration.  Typically my dad will check the state of Alaska department of transportation web cameras for some of the points along my drive so I know roughly what to expect as I make my way to town.  

Each drive is a marathon.  The shortest trip took 4 hours and 14 minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to run the Big Wild Life Marathon in Anchorage in 2012.  The longest trip took 6 hours and 42 minutes.  Everything depends on the weather. 

The caribou and moose find their way closer and closer to the wide open spaces near the road munching on willow and frolicking on frozen ponds.  Since moving here I have had the opportunity to observe several groups of caribou and moose along the highway and I am always amazed to see a glint of fun and light in their motions and approach to crossing the highway right in front of traffic, often with a momentary pause ‘ala deer in the headlights’, then another quick dart back into the ditch, just shy of being road kill and the cause of a  serious car accident.  The presence of a vehicle seems to actually draw them right to the source waiting to be plowed into with force and ferocity.  
Caribou crossing the road less than .25 mi from The Moose Lodge
In a 20 mile section we saw 5 pairs of moose, 10 moose total, on the final stretch home.  Before that we saw a group of three caribou and two groups of two caribou, just before Glenallen.  I also saw a pair of moose and a lone bull roaming the edges of the highway, shifty eyed and looking wild.  
The moose and caribou that line the highway seem to almost play with the idea of vehicular suicide, or perhaps its the feelings of fear creating an urgency to escape the force, and in an attempt to evade danger, the mere presences draws them in and they pause, even in the light of day, and stare  as you slow to a stop, giving thanks for all wheel drive and hakapelita studded tires, and the 150 pounds of dog and cat food in the back giving you traction like a small tank rolling across an ice road through the middle of nowhere.  
The contrast of white on white on white….
There is no cell phone reception on much of the road less traveled.  There is no “AAA”.  If you run out of gas, you might be there a while.  If you’re hungry and forgot to pack food, your lunch may consist of popcorn from the gas station in Glennallen.  There is no cell phone reception for much of the drive.  No AAA.  You are largely at the mercy of your fellow man if you find yourself needing assistance through long stretches of the drive.  Two barely audible radio stations within reach for someone with a good car radio antenna are possible all the way to The Moose Lodge, as long as the weather cooperates.  On cloudy days the radio stations become indecipherable and listening to the static-filled voices creates frustration as you begin hour 4 of “The Drive”.  
Poles line stretches of the highway for visibility
 and navigation during blizzards and white outs.
Every time I finish the drive, it doesn’t matter which direction I am going, I feel like a bad ass. A badge of honor, “I Survived The Drive”, I don’t think it is any more dangerous than most of Alaska’s other roads, and far less fatal than the Turnagain Arm stretch of the Seward highway, but it is a long drive with a lot of wide open spaces and wild animals that roam the sides of the roads, semi trucks hauling freight, and enormous state plow trucks are often the only traffic I see for a good portion of the drive. 
Sun through VERY dense fog near Glennallen 
The occasional passenger vehicle, usually a 4x4 truck, are what I anticipate to see up until I hit the Matanuska Glacier, then the vehicle demographic opens up and anything that can roll on four wheels and maintain at least 35 miles per hour on the stretch of road that winds into the matanuska-susistna valley is likely to be seen, people watching is a good activity for passengers to engage in as reckless drivers behind the wheel of mid-80’s vintage two door cars whiz by with the comfort only locals could display on this section of road.  Speed limits? Lanes?  
You have to be prepared every moment on the drive and it takes a toll when the weather sucks.  When the weather is good, you have to be even more careful lest you get complacent and forget where you are the moose and caribou that line the road are happy to leap out and remind you of where you stand in the world.  

     Roaming between these places, my childhood home in "Town" and our family home that is The Moose Lodge. We are in it with all our hearts, living the moments, living the questions, taking it all bird by bird. 

There's a storm across the valley, clouds are rolling in,
the afternoon is heavy on your shoulders.
There's a truck out on the four lane, a mile or more away,
the whining of his wheels just makes it colder.

He's an hour away from riding on your prayers up in the sky
and ten days on the road are barely gone.
There's a fire softly burning, supper's on the stove,
but it's the light in your eyes that makes him warm.

Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.
Yes, and hey, it's good to be back home again.

There's all the news to tell him, how's you spend your time,
and what's the latest thing the neighbors say?
And your mother called last Friday, "Sunshine" made her cry
and you felt the baby move just yesterday.

Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.
Yes, and hey, it's good to be back home again.

Oh, the time that I can lay this tired old body down,
and feel your fingers feather soft upon me.
The kisses that I live for, the love that lights my way,
the happiness that living with you brings me.

It's the sweetest thing I know of, just spending time with you.
It's the little things that make a house a home.
Like a fire softly burning and supper on the stove,
the light in your eyes that makes me warm.

Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.
Yes, and hey, it's good to be back home again.

Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.
Yes, and hey, it's good to be back home again.
I said hey, it's good to be back home again.
Home: The Moose Lodge