Friday, March 18, 2016

Pantless Keggers and Top-hatted Aarmadillos

  Confessions. Ugly confessions.  Heartfelt and true.  I lend you my wounds, both healing, and new.
  I am hopeful that while meandering through these obstacles, I might find a path, to lead me toward something bigger, boulder, and perhaps toward the sweet solace of clarity.  I know we find clarity for fleeting moments, but as we stumble through life we may find them more often, if we practice the craft of acknowledgement.
  At this moment I sit in my backyard, basking in the healing nature of the sun, hopeful that its rays will lend me strength and wash away this sickness that has taken over my body the last few days.  I have time on my hands today, and hope in my heart.  I see this as a time to grow.
  My life right now is good, and I am thankful for what I have, but I am once again searching for more, waiting for a muse to catch me, like Peter Pan's shadow, persistently taunting me into wonderful adventures.  Some people are born knowing exactly what they want to do, they work hard at it, and acquire it, and I am hopeful in some space within, they find a sense of belonging once they have acquired it.  My sister is one of those people.
  She is such an impressive person.  Even when we were tiny children she was fascinated by rocks. Not just the shiny ones. The grey, the brown, the broken and jagged, the white, the crystaled, the green. I never understood, until much advanced into adulthood, that she was actually fascinated by their stories, rather than their structure.  Now, I feel as if I finally see through the lens she was using all those years.  I no longer roll my eyes at yet another rock.  I no longer dismiss her enthusiasm at that plane grey slate, because that plane grey slate has been here longer than I, and it will continue to tell it's story long after mine has been forgotten.
  Over the past few years I have moved around, quite a bit! I have loved every single moment of adventure and all the new possibilities it has placed in my path.  Possibilities wrapped in skin, and sauntering into my life like a cowboy into a saloon after a long hard ride.  Meeting the right person, at the right time, in the most random of places.  This happens daily in our normal routine lives, we just might not pay it any mind, nor lend it the thought or time, because it seems less exotic and therefor falls away dismissed and unnoticed.
  I have been re-awakened this week.  I say re-awakended, because it is often the case in life that we must learn lessons more than once, to be reminded of their importance.  I had put my heart away many months ago, (perhaps a few years ago), and for whatever reason, refused to get it back out.  I can only assume it was some sort of self inflicted punishment driven by guilt, because I have been gifted the hearts of others and while in my possession I have left deep bruises upon them.  Never intentionally, mind you, but these sorts of casualties happen when we are not open and honest.  
  Honesty is brutal.  Like all the rocks my sister loved and I could not find the beauty in, honesty is a plane grey slate.
  I have been very self deprecating.  We are all our own worst critics.
  I work with a lot of incredible, talented, kind and giving people for a company which I take a great deal of pride in, because they are ethically aware of their impact on their community and environment and they understand that what we do, on any scale, matters.  The fine people I work with, have the same mind-set in their personal lives and I feel very impressed with all of them.  One man whom I work with, comes to work every day and says positive wonderful things to me, and everyone else around him every day.  I love his read on people and situations.  It's very accurate.  John shocked me one day when he said "You would be a very hard woman to date.  I can see that."  I laughed, agreed, and asked why he thought so.  He replied "It's because you seem to expect a lot of people."  So honest.  So straight.  I said, "I do.  I expect the most of people because they have so much to give."
  I hold myself to the same expectations, and probably more so.  And at this point, I have impressed myself with what I am capable of, which has then raised the stakes, and every time I reach one of those stakes, I pull it out, put it as far from reach as I can muster, and drive it in again.  One goal after the next after the next after the next.
  I feel I have recently pulled the last stake out, but have yet to find a place to drive it.  I'm just standing here stupidly spinning in circles looking for direction.  I'm stuck in a dream playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but I realize I'm having a nightmare, where I showed up to the wrong party, tail in hand, and I look down to realize I am not wearing any pants.  And why doesn't anyone seem to be alarmed at the human sized armadillo, wearing a top hat, holding a cane, standing by the keg over there?  Does nobody else think that's weird!?  Where are my pants!?
  I had a bout of honesty come to me in the form of three phone calls.  What, am I Ebenezer Scrooge!?
  Yesterday my friend, and one of my climbing partners called me out of the blue, just to say hello and  mention that he misses seeing me around.  Our schedules haven't been lining up the last few weeks. 
  I am not an avid phone talker.  I actually get anxiety on the phone.  I much prefer in-person talks, but sometimes you must resort to the phone. We talked for about 15 magical minutes, and in the midst of being so sick, I felt wonderful and loved.  Thanks Eric, my magical unicorn man!
  Immediately after getting off the phone with him, literally about 30 seconds later, my friend Adam called.  He was driving to Mt Hood for some skiing and much needed relaxation.  Adam is the chef whom I worked with in Alaska last summer, forming bonds and friendships which can never be explained with words, as they often can't.  We caught up.  We talked for about 20 minutes.  I needed that.
  I got two very coveted texts from old friends in the last 2 days just saying they were thinking about me.  They will never know how much I needed that.  Dallas and Jodi.
  Then today, I was scheduled to work, but as I have mentioned I am quite sick.  I would be more than willing to work through it, but it's not like I am pushing papers in an office.    Unfortunately I couldn't find anyone to cover my shift so I headed into work.  As I was walking to work, an old friend who no longer lives in town called me and he happened to be in a coffee shop right across the street from where I work.  So I warned him of my illness, which he didn't seem to mind, found him on the way to work and got a glorious hug.  I walked into the work meeting, and everyone looked at me strangely asking why I was there, even though I was given the permission to stay home. My wonderful managers found a way to cover my shift and told me to stay home, but alas I did not receive the message, so I showed up for our work meeting at 10,  and was thankfully dismissed.  I work in the food industry and no one wants a germ factory handling their food.  After I was relieved of my work duties I found Ben again, he gave me a ride home, and we had a brief but glorious talk in the sunshine of my backyard.
  Its funny to feel so cruddy and so happy at the same time.
  All this time I have been so hard on myself, because I expect so much, and I have been struggling with what to do next, I have been shutting myself off to all the wonderful gifts I have met along the way.  And I just want to say thank you.
  Thank you to anyone who has ever written me a letter, or typed me an email, just because.  Thank you to anyone who has ever loved or hated my work, and invested their time into telling me why.  Thank you to my friends and family for watching my neurosis take me to the far corners of the earth, searching for connection and adventure even though we find it on the daily. Thank YOU, for reading this silly blog.
  I don't know where to drive my next stake, just like I don't know why no one is concerned about that armadillo in a top-hat standing next to the keg in my dream of pantless embarrassment.  What baffles me most, and is one of those lessons I must relearn and relearn because it is of the utmost importance,  is why I have forgotten to appreciate all those connections and all those ties I have made along the way.  If you are reading this, you should know, in some way you have been important to me.  I thank you for that.
  And to Adam, Eric, and Ben, thank you for the reminders.

And to the glorious praying mantises who laid two conjoined nests on the fence in my back yard, I thank you for your presence, and am blessed to have your company.  See you soon little hatchlings!
Don't forget the little things.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Alaska. Fish, Fools, Follies and Foils.

  I have been having a hard time writing this blog about how my summer was in Alaska.  I know people have a lot of questions about how it went and what exactly I was doing, and mostly they want to know how fun it was and to hear my crazy stories.  Trust me, I will get to that, and there are plenty of hilarious stories to share, but there are a few truths about this summer that are unpleasant to say and unpleasant to hear, but who are we if we don't speak truths?  So bare with me as I explain a few things, and clear the air before I break open the hilarity jar...or just skip toward the "Summer Fun" portion of this post and let the silly stories take you away, or just look at the photos and videos I have to share, because who doesn't want to see pictures of Alaska?

  First off, I am a bit on the defensive because I have received several comments as of late about how I always seem to be on vacation.  One in particular really shook me up saying that I was too busy "living a thoroughly vacuous life of bourgeois royalty...You have clearly gone wrong in several ways, starting with confusing the decadent exploitation of white American privilege with winning...By all means have fun and enjoy the perks of the middle class capitalist lifestyle.  It's why we bomb little brown babies, suppress labor unions, and undermine education.  Just don't confuse it with winning."  He went on to scold me for traipsing around the world, pole to pole, and only visiting "the safest places on the planet."

   This reflection of me comes from a man whom I met once, (on one singular occasion), over a year ago, and was delivered through Facebook messenger.  This series of comments have thrown me for a loop and gotten my mind whirling on overdrive, and to say the very least hurt my feelings.  To think that anyone might see me as this terrible image painted is disgusting to me.  All this being said, this is not a pity post and please don't feel the urge to try and talk me up, because lessons can be learned in every situation, and I have already had much time to think this through.  What I'm getting at here, by confessing this blemish on my heart, is to clear the air, not because I owe anyone an explanation, but because there are curiosities which should be scratched.

#1.  I am not independently wealthy.  I work my ass off for everything I have.  I worked 3 jobs for well over a year to get to go to NZ on the terms I was looking for.  I wanted something, and I put a lot of effort into it.  I wouldn't be fast to claim backpacking is bourgeois.  There is nothing sexy about digging your own hole to shit in, filtering your drinking water out of streams and puddles, or walking 20 miles carrying a 30 pound pack which leads to bruises, rashes, acne, and an extremely potent "all natural" smell.

#2.  As a tiny woman who travels solo, you bet your ass I am careful about where I go.  As a red-head I know I stick out as a foreigner everywhere but Scotland or Ireland which exposes me even more as an easy target.  Regardless of that, a girlfriend and I were disguising, just this week,  that even living in a safe city such as Boise, you have to be hyper aware of your surroundings.  She admitted that no matter where she is, be it a restaurant, walking down a street, or even entering a room, that she is always looking for a "way out."  Looking for an escape route, should anything unwanted happen.  She does this, not out of PTSD from past encounters, but because we have been trained, and hard-wired to know the consequences and possibilities of what could happen if we, as women, let our guard down for just a moment, in the wrong company.  I also have been alive 33 years, I have only been keeping this blog for the last couple, there are several countries and places I have visited that have not been mentioned, perhaps some day I'll write about those as well.

#3.  My time spent in Alaska this summer wasn't a vacation.  It was a job.  12-15 hour days, 6 days a week, for 17 weeks.  Everyone keeps saying that my photos looked amazing and they want to know if Alaska was amazing.  They keep saying the word amazing, because that's what they want to hear.  I try very hard, and for the most part succeed, in staying positive.  I go out of my way to only post things on Facebook that could possibly, in any way, bring a little light out into the world.  Everyone looks great on Facebook.  It's the glamour shot of social media platforms.  Blur the rough edges enough and everyone looks like a rodeo queen, with mysteriously buoyant fountain bangs and a distant dreamy look in their eyes.

#4.  You know what? Alaska was amazing.  It was amazingly rough.  It was amazing that I lost and found myself as many times as I did in such a short time.  It was the Alaskan version of Groundhog's Day and I was Bill Murray.  Every day blurred into the next, so we resorted to making them as strange as possible, just to differentiate one from the other.  Costumes abounded.  I did get to see so many wonderfully amazing things as well as meeting amazing new friends, and we all got through the strangeness together.  So there you go, Alaska was amazing!

#6.  I love being positive and have zero intentions of quitting.  This life is beautiful.  I get to eat every day, I get to drink clean water, and have shelter.  On top of that I do have countless bourgeois accouterment.  I am a very lucky woman.  A very hard working, and grateful, appreciative, lucky woman.

  Now that those little bits have been exposed, and I feel exonerated from someone's misplaced guilt trip, lets set the scene and tell the stories that made up my summer in Alaska, shall we?

Summer Fun

  I worked on a very tiny island in Halibut Cove, which was an hour boat ride across the bay from Homer.  Island residents number about 100 people during the summer season and dwindles down to 15-20 who are brave enough to winter over.  Upon the island are two fine art galleries, one small coffee shop, and a fine dining restaurant called The Saltry.  This restaurant is where I worked, along with 6 other very talented people, and eventually one of them had to leave to start his semester at college, leaving only 6 of us total.  This means 6-7 people played the rolls of head chef, pastry chef, server, bartender, busser, dishwasher, prep cook, cleaning crew...everything.  We each took turns having a day off, and we each had a day to make breakfast for everyone.  Breakfast was the only part of the day when we all got to take a moment and sit down together.  It may have been the only 20 minutes we got to sit down at all.

 A typical day for me at work, not including extra chores which varied and added a few more hours to the week:
 - Stock firewood
 - Clean outhouses (sounds pretty glamorous so far, eh? Haha!)
 - Water and dead-head the nasturtiums
 - Wash dishes for roughly 12+ hours while also running the cold food station (yes my pictures are great, but my main view was the corner of a banana-yellow painted kitchen)
 - Shuck roughly 6 dozen oysters knowing this will not be enough, and more will have to be shucked as the day continues, but a nice head start is a good idea, and who doesn't like a constant fear of slicing their hands open?
 - Break down and clean the restaurant at the end of the night.
 - Sing to myself, tell terrible jokes and puns to anyone within vicinity, and form a love and hatred for that damn banana-yellow wall I had to stare at for 12 hours :)

 - Smoke endless amounts of cod and salmon. Always smoking. 

All the fish was caught locally and fabricated on site.
The looming creepers in the background were included, whether you wanted them or not :) 

You know you've become a master shucker when you give tutorials to the locals.
 Master Shucker status achieved!!

The fireplace where we would often sit after long days. Whale bones.

  As I mentioned, we each took turns having a day off.  Luckily for me I actually got to share a day off with Chance.  He's the best thing ever.  I mean look at him!

The adventures of Batman and Lazyboy, a day off.

  This particular day I had a game plan for not leaving my cabin and buckling down, very responsibly to write.  Chance had other plans.  He usually appeared at my cabin with a load of un-ignorable enthusiasm, a grand idea of adventuring, and some sort of spiked beverage.  He was also obnoxiously persistent.  I absolutely adore him for it, and for getting me outside.

Wildcrafted blueberries!!!!

Batman Returns

The lighthouse to welcome you safely to the island.

My favorite view from the boardwalk.

So many crows. So many murders.

Tiny Charlie the Sparrow, and Oh-So Tired Saratops.  We both have dramatically baggy eyes.

Once on our day off, we got to go to a beautiful waterfall.

Fish wasn't the only seafood fabricated at the fish cleaning station. High tide.

Rise and Shine Tentacles

One morning as I stepped into the kitchen to begin my day, Chance and Sita asked me excitedly, "Are you in or are you out?"
  "Am I in or out of what?"
  They repeated even more anxiously, "Are you IN, or are you OUT?"
  "What does that mean?"
  Slowly, and with raised eyebrows they sounded off again, "Just tell us if you're in or you're out."
  Confused and not yet awake I said, "I'm in, I guess."
  This was the day I truly began to understand how fun Groundhog's Day can be.  Lets get weird. 
  The instigators had gone their rounds with everyone at work, asking them if they were in or out, refusing to divulge the rules of the game we were about to play.  The rules went as follows:
 - Write your name on a piece of paper and put it in the hat
 - Once all names are in, each participant pulls a paper out of the hat, revealing a name
 - The name of the person you drew from the hat, is the person whose bellybutton you will suck an octopus tentacle out of, and eat it.

  I hadn't even had a cup of coffee yet, but I can attest, this was a far more effective and hilarious way to start the day.  And so began the game of "In or Out," which helped us laugh through the summer.

  Jellyfish arrived early for the season.  They ranged from huge, to just barely as big as a fingernail.

My one glorious night as a deck hand.
  Toward the  end of the season several people had left to resume expanding their minds in college.  It left everyone a bit short handed.  So one crazy night the ferry we use to transport the passengers to and from the island, was short a deck hand.  I volunteered.  I gladly threw my kitchen apron down, grabbed a coat, got a quick lesson from the captain, and away we went across the bay under the watch of a slivered moon.

The small brown shed on the right is actually the post office.  Halibut Cove hosts one of the only floating post offices in the United Sates.
Spot 99 was rescued by Marion Beck as a small pup.  She bottle fed him and he sticks around the island, stubbornly forming a blockade on the post office dock and barking at the passer bys.

The owner of the Stormbird, (which is often used for the postal delivery), was upset that once this shed was built, he couldn't see his boat from his home.  So local artist Tara Alverson fixed the problem.

  One evening, that just happened to be my day off, the community gathered on the isthmus for a shwenker grill party.  Everyone brought what they wanted to throw on the grill and it became the best seafood potluck I have ever seen.  Mussels, sausage, corn, and the evening was never complete without salmon.  Check out the king salmon fillet in the middle of the grill.
  At one point a potato gun was brought out onto the beach.  Everyone was so surprised that I seemed so familiar with it, until I reminded them that I am from Idaho, and it was not my first experience launching potatoes.  It was however my first time launching them into the ocean.  I can't help but laugh at what the tourists thought of us as they kayaked past and through the target practice.

  For the first time, in The Saltry's 31 years of business, the doors were closed for the evening, and all reservations cancelled due to inclement weather and violent ocean swells.  The crew was ecstatic, reacting as if they were small children who had just been told we were going to go to Disneyland.  We cleaned the kitchen faster than we ever had, and made our way to the top of the island to play Crobocce (a mixture of croquet and bocce).  Above pictured was the view of the mainland.  So powerful.

  With so much to tell it's hard to narrow things down, but I cannot fail to mention the end of the year Pirate Party.  The Saltry was the epicenter of fun for the island, and the Saltry crew were the instigators.  We decided we wanted to host a party toward the end of the season in order to spend at least one night of quality time with the community, all together.   In having to take turns with a day off, and spending the summer getting to know so many wonderful locals, it was time to have an evening of play, when we could all attend.  Also to mention that its was approaching the time of year when people were leaving the island because school was starting, the weather was cooling, and the window for a gathering was narrowing.

  We called the reservations kiosk and found an evening with no bookings, and blacked it out for reservations.  We spent weeks preparing costumes and making flags, and correlating anything pirate into our vocabulary and surroundings.  We made it quite clear that anyone who attended the party not in costume would be forced to walk the plank, meaning that we would literally walk you off the end of the dock.  Impressively, every single person who came, showed up dressed in full attire.

Pirating, with Scurvy the crow.

Dramatic Pirating with Barnacle Bill.

  So, I mentioned before our breakfast duties, and therein lie several hilarious stories.  Every time it was Chance's turn to make breakfast something weird happened.  Pictured below was one example.
Popcorn and scrambled eggs look exactly the same. They were served in a pile so you were never quite sure what you were about to put in your mouth and every bite was a surprise, paired with, yes, red vines and gummy bears.

 There was once a breakfast featuring oreo cookies as a side dish.  And one of the most interesting was the morning we woke to find corn dogs and pickled eggs.  The last day of breakfast duty happened to fall on Chance's breakfast day, and he had been plotting for a while.

Our last crew breakfast

  Mimosas, coffee, a PBR and four neon colors of mashed potatoes.  If you haven't seen the movie Hook, featuring Robbin Williams as Peter Pan, you have homework to do.  It's a great movie and there is one hell of a food fight scene featuring brilliantly colored food, the likes of which would make Dr Suess proud.  We had our own Never Never Land.

  With one last day on the island before we made our way to Homer and caught flights home, Dave and Marian took us on a boat ride to Seldovia.

From left to right: Adam, Myself, Sita, Jessie, Jasmine (who came up to visit a few of the crew), Chance, Greg, Dave and Marian beck (the owners of The Saltry), and Piko...wonder dog.

The things I find in towns...
  While riding around in the boat we go to see some incredible things.

The tow

Fog on the water, birds in the sky.

  There are way too many stories to tell, this is just the skeleton of the fun.  I work hard, but I also am smart enough to find fun and adventure wherever I go.  Wonder is everywhere, you just have to keep your mind and eyes open to see it.

  If you want to check out what the NY Times has to say about the Saltry:

Or for what Coastal Living had to say:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tearing Down My Writer's Blockade.

 I have been avoiding this.  This screen.  This writing.  I am scared and feeling defeated even before I begin putting all these jumbled thoughts down on paper (or screen in this case).  While traveling through New Zealand I met a kind soul who took me in for a short period of time and nursed my psyche back to health with incredible conversations and an insatiable intrigue for nature and science.  We were quite the interesting pair of un-likely friends, which is the very reason I still hold him so dear in my heart.

  Grant found me through a publication in NZ's Wilderness Magazine, which featured my idea of hiking the Te Araroa as an art project, (and for those of you who are still waiting, I am still working on the book. It turns out they take a great deal to write, but yes, it is in progress).  Through the course of my trek he was what you might refer to as a bit of trail magic, appearing here and there with bits of insight on the culture and tramping.  He really became a permanent facet of my life when he opened his house up to me for 5 days and let me recouporate.   A small pause from the ridiculous chaos, and the haven where I finally resolved that my injuries were severe enough, to set my massive ego aside and admit that I wasn't capable of finishing the trail.

  For 5 days, Grant would go to work in the science department of Massey University and I would have plenty of time to catch up on my blog and focus on making alternative plans now that I wouldn't be hiking.  Also I did not have to wear shoes, or stand, or walk.  It was an incredible reprieve from tramping.  Meanwhile the battle inside raged, and I was feeling lost.

  Grant would come home from work, and I would cook us dinner.  I was grateful to have a kitchen to cook in.  Grateful for fresh food.  Grateful for any and all kitchen appliances.  Don't even get me started on my appreciation for refrigerators.  It was the only way I could really say thank you for being so kind, on such a whim, to a complete and total stranger.  From the time he got home it was a conversational explosion.  I leant the view of the world through the eyes of an optimistic artist, and he leant the intelligence of a hilariously dry humored scientist.  We were a living Monty Python skit. 

Grant.  To whom I we much thanks and gratitude.

  His apartment had shrunk over his 20 year residence, as each wall became lined with bookshelves.  He apologized that his television didn't work.  It had broken several years ago, and he just never got around to fixing it.   There it sat, abandoned, and collecting dust the way an old woman may collect spoons, or small bells.  Collecting at first with a purpose, and eventually just out of habit.  Bookshelves on every wall in the living room, in the hallways, in the bedrooms, in the computer room.  Such a beauty, to literally surround yourself with words and ideas.  At the same time he was diminishing the physical space of his apartment, he was expanding the intellectual space through surrounding himself with ideas and possibilities.  If there was a flat surface, it either housed a stack of books, or a stack of maps.  Stacks on chairs.  Stacks on the floor.  Stacks on the living room table you could no longer find, except to understand that something had to be holding those piles of knowledge several feet off the floor.   They were not simply hovering there themselves.  Maps and tramping guides occupied the remaining few inches of space just above the line-up of paralleled books and ceiling of the next shelf rung above it.  A literal cocoon of thoughts.  I wrapped myself tightly within that cocoon, and when my time came to finally emerge from the chrysalis I found myself anew. 

  I asked Grant a very personal question.  For someone who loves reading as much as he, did he himself write?  There was a slight pause.  He wasn't pausing because he didn't know the answer, but because he was deciding whether or not he wanted to fall down the rabbit hole of telling me about it.  Surely more questions would follow.  He eventually admitted that he use to write, but that he had been suffering a bad case of writers block, for the last FIVE YEARS!  That's not writer's block, that's a writers barricade.

  I was so curious.  What had he been writing about?  What was his writing style?  I wanted so badly to know what this man, with such an appreciation and love for words and thoughts, would himself, have an urge to express.

  I am not the most graceful person at times.  I am often pushy and much too blunt for most people's palates.  So it was with great restraint that I attempted to keep myself from seeming intrusive, when I requested, that if ever he felt like he wanted to share some of his writings with me, no matter their stage of completion, that I would be honored to read some of them.  Much to my surprise, not long after we parted ways, and I relinquished him back to his apartment, having felt like I took over his life for a week, he emailed me one of his writings, and has been actively writing ever since.

  I would love to share his thoughts and ideas because the amount of heart he pours onto page is absolutely stunning, but that isn't for me to share.  I can only hope, at the very least, that he continues his writings, but I hope for more than that.  At the very most I hope he publishes some of them because the world needs more art.  It needs more beauty, and it certainly needs more heart and he disguises all of those facets within his intellect and love for nature.

  So, last night, it was of course Grant who I turned to when facing this stupid blank page.  My frustration mounting as weeks have gone by and I have been trying to put together thoughts that I actually feel are worth sharing, and write this damn blog.  His advice, was to just write, without thinking too much of the outcome.  Just put the thoughts down, the rest will come in time.

  My intention was to tell more tails of my summer spent in Alaska, but as it turns out, even though I have a lot of stories, I'm just not sure quite yet, what I have to say about them.  It was a long hard summer and perhaps a few degrees of separation will bring me the clarity to sort out my thoughts.  In the meantime, I'm just thankful to finally have gotten some words down on paper.

  Thanks Grant.

  Now, prepare yourselves for some hilarious stories in the next blog posts, because my summer in Alaska was weird.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

POOP, Bears, and a Sleepwalking Blind Woman

  Last night was my Friday night.  I get one day off a week with which I must decide, "Do I cram it full of events, or use it as a day of relaxation and rejuvenation?"  Today is still up in the air as to what will come to pass, but last night I opted for immediate relaxation.  I took a shower, I locked myself away in my tiny cabin, and I refused an invitation to play POOP.  That is correct, you read it right.   Recently the game of choice on the island has become POOP.  It's very similar to the basketball game you probably played as a child called HORSE, but in this case the ball has been replaced with a BB gun, the court replaced with a hillside obstacle course, the hoop replaced with beer cans, and the stationary free-throw position was replaced with a lot of downhill log-rolls, somersaults, standing spins, and fast action firing.  Calamity and hilarity run amok, hand-in-hand on this crazy island.
  The perfumery of my room was mystical, smelling of home-mixed essential oils, and a recently lit stick of incense.  I decided, against every Aries trait I possess, to brush aside my "to-do" list.  I placed it on a shelf full of writings, letters, and art projects, right next to my "to-write" list.  I began to listen to a lecture series by Alan Watts.  Sitting in thermal leggings and a tank top, I huddled on the floor next to Eden, my space heater, (her brand name is Eden Pure, but I recognize her as a life-giving force, so she has reached the nomenclature of an animate being).  I strapped on my headlamp, and began to take notes in my sketchbook, reminiscing of those old college lecture hall days.  Only this time my professor was Allen freaking Watts!!!

 Sneaking off into the night like a meagerly tip-toeing bank robber, masked, superbly cautious, slow-going, and heavy laden with a bag full of light, the sun had finally set and the night was dark.  Picture a mole in their cavern trying to read a bedtime story.  This is me.  With contacts removed I would say I am as blind as a bat, but this is still too sensorily equipped.  I, unlike those beautiful winged mammalian creatures, don't have sonar.  Therefor,  I would more accurately say, I can't see shit if it's farther than 20 inches away from my face.  Even then the edges blur, leaving me like a small newborn child, seeing the world defined only by colors.  A basket full of curiosities.  Hidden away in the dark places are where the monsters live.

  In Allen Watts' lecture Out of Your Mind he begins, "When one speaks of awakening it means de-hypnotization.  Coming to your senses. But of course to do that, you have to go out of your mind."  Little did I know, I was in for quite an awakening.

  I listened to the first 4 sounds bits of Watts' lecture, with my sketchbook mere inches from my face while I scribbled down barely legible notes.  As if the act of writing down Watts' key points would scribe them deeper into my psyche, and perhaps at the end of his series I would mirror the knowledge of the philosophical sage himself.  Unlikely, but no matter, I enjoy learning, and although I wouldn't say I "enjoy" being humbled, I would say it is necessary toward growth.  To become smarter, we must challenge ourselves, and surround ourselves with challenging people.  Knowledge is power...thus ends my educational plug for this post, and the story goes on.

  A blind bat in a dark cave.  I moved on from philosophical lectures to the mad metaphorical wanderings of Tom Robbins, one of my favorite authors.  I had recently acquired his book Villa Incognito.  Based on all the previous Robbins novels I have I was not caught off guard when this story began with Tanuki, a shape-shifting, other worldly, transcending, East Asian dog, often mistaken for a badger, with an incredibly shockingly sized scrotum.  If you want to know more about Tanuki's far fetched story I suggest you read the book yourself.  In the meantime, lets get back to the point of this story, shall we?

  I read for about half an hour, then went to sleep.  Well, I tried to go to sleep, but wouldn't you know it, just as I decided to finally retire for the evening that persistently timed urge to have to urinate right before slumbering struck a chord, and the debate began.

  In a typical household setting this is already annoying enough.  Having to decide if the urge to pee outweighs the confused tiredness and need for sleep, or if it can wait and be dealt with in the morning.  You know there is a slim chance you will go to sleep, comfortably dream the night away, and wake revitalized, before getting up to use the restroom.  Very seldom in our lives does there exist the phantom pee.  Presenting itself, then quietly disappearing, only to reappear hours later, patiently tapping you gently on the shoulder politely reminding you it is ready for your attention, please, now that the timing is more convenient for you.

  It's best to just get up, take care of the issue, and return to bed, fully equipped for slumber.   Generally the need to pee is cruelly unrelenting.  Similar to a small child whose parent is stuck in the vortex of an adult conversation.  Tugging frantically at their mother's arm, trying to save her from the clutches of boredom she doesn't seem to know she has even fallen into.  All the while concerned she has suddenly gone deaf because she doesn't seem to hear their cries at all.  The tugging becomes more frantic, and the pleas become loud beckoning panicked shouts. "Mom can we go? Mom I'm!?"  Stupid impatient pee.

  The biggest problem in this situation is that I don't reside in a typical housing arrangement.  I don't have lights in my cabin, and although some of the other employee cabins are equipped with fanciful features, like a cold water sink, none of them have toiletries.  In my particular case, I have to walk down a hill and two flights of stairs, to get to the bathroom.  Or down a hill, down the boardwalk, past the woodpile, and to the outhouses.  It's not a quick fix situation.  The debate between my brain, and my bladder raged.  Tiredness won, I laid down, knowing I would have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the restroom, but I was too tired now.  Judge me all you want but in moments such as this we all become zen masters of mindfulness, where the "now" is all that matters, and what will be, will be,...etc, etc...whatever it takes to convince yourself its okay to go to sleep.  That moment our pillows become gods, and our comforters, their arms.  Embrace me, sweet bed, for I am tired and in need of rest.

  I was dancing beneath the moonlit window pane which stands between the world of sleep, and the world of wakefulness.  That place where rules exist, but become bent and mangled.  Where gravity is a choice and sometimes we can fly.  I was in the state of dreaming, where you are still aware of the outside world and suddenly THUMP!  What was that?  I shot straight up in bed, senses heightened and called to the front lines of war in a millisecond.  My blindness shifting the focus of my senses toward sound and touch.  My brain firing thoughts off so fast, none of them were formed in words, but rather ideas in instants.

  Multiple happenings from earlier this week played out, as my brain became the Sherlock Holmes of Halibut Cove, and I was going to get to the bottom of that noise!

A list of considerations, and the thoughts of a sleepwalking, panicked, person, with a strong urge to pee go as follows:
  • What could make a noise that big?  Movement from something large....a bear!
  • Bears don't live on the island, but they do swim across from the mainland on occasion. 
*** It should be noted there, that my immediate direction of thoughts traveling toward the idea of a bear come from the washed up bear on the shore of the island earlier in the week as well as the fact that a mystery poop was found near my house on one of the water lines.  We couldn't identify it based on any of the animals here and it became a lunchtime game called "Name that scat," where we passed a photo of it around and hypothesized its origin.

Harvesting the paws of the washed up bear for the claws.  Don't be mad guys, he was long gone from living before I got to him.  I wasn't his demise.  I just figured I could make something beautiful from his remains, and we all know what my artwork is like. Bones, rawhide, talons.  Don't act surprised.

  •   I could look out the window, but I didn't have my contacts in, so even if I did see something, I wouldn't really see it, and whatever movement took place for me to see would result in a series of monsters and possibilities of death, which were already playing themselves out in my mind anyway.
  • How should I look out the window?  If I put my headlamp on, whatever was outside would see the light and be attracted to it.  We all learned that just because you close your eyes, shut tight, doesn't mean they can't see you when you get scared.
  • What if it is a bear?  My phone doesn't work here, it's not like I can call anyone for assistance.

What I thought for sure I was going to see outside my cabin.

  • What if it's a bear, and it ATTACKS!? What is my escape route?  Let's see, my cabin is the size of a closet, so I would have to wait for the bear to pretty much be half-way inside my house, before I could crawl out a window, otherwise he could just see where I was going, side step one footing, and be there quicker than I could get there myself. 
  • My windows don't open. How fast can I break out a window?
  • On two sides of my cabin are trees, making a window escape very hard, and on the third side a 40 foot cliff, making this option not much better than being eaten by a bear.
  • Holy shit, I can't see ANYTHING. I should put my contacts in.
  At this point, I clamber out of bed and try to put my contacts in, without the use of light, which also means without the use of a mirror, and bear in mind (hahaha, bear in mind, that's funny!), I am pretty much half-awake, I would say almost sleep walking at this point.

  Somehow, I got the contact case open, but couldn't tell if I had grabbed one of the contacts out, or not.  So in a panic, because thumping sounds, and now heavy breathing, were still happening outside my cabin, I just moved on to trying to get the second contact out of the case, thinking that even if I could just see clearly out of one eye, I would drastically increase my chances of survival.  I got the second contact out of the case, and into my palm.  Apparently, in my sleep I had mastered the art of magicianry because there was now not one, but two contacts in my palm. Contact wearers, know two things.  Rarely is your prescription for one eye identical to that of the other, (in my case they are not the same), and contacts are easily turned inside out.  In the next few seconds that followed, and in world record time I put them in my eyes.  Again crediting my new found glory as a magician, I actually got them in right side out, and right way round.

  The moment of truth was upon me.
  What was outside my cabin?
  I peered out the windows and saw only darkness, but the noise persisted.
  • Was it a visiting bear?  Perhaps somber and not at all hungry.  Perhaps stark raving mad and feverishly famished.
  • Bear
  • Bear
  • Angry bear?
  • Hungry bear?
  • Bear
  • Bear
  • Kayaker?
  • Was it the guy on the kayak who had been seen around the cove the last 4 days without ever stepping foot on land, which had been rumored of being homeless, and pirating a place to sleep on the shores of Ismailof Island here in Halibut Cove?
  • Was it Cosgood Creeps and Mr. Crawls who would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those pesky kids and that pesky dog of theirs, Scooby Doo?
  I had to investigate further.  I quietly opened my door and stepped out into the moonlight, my wits more about me, the sleep wearing off, the crisp edges of both my vision and reality returning.

  That noise I heard.   Was one of the horses, who had been let out of the corral to overnight graze.

Sneaky horses!!!

   And so there you have it.  I dream more vividly here, and more consistently than I ever have anywhere in my life.  I have been known to sleep walk from time to time and have quite the collection of silly stories, but this week takes the cake.  I won't even go into the episode that happened earlier this week.  In a nut shell, that was one of the most memorable sleep walking episodes I have had.  Usually I know when one has happened, because I have a certain feeling, when I finally become fully awake, and I can sometimes remember snippets of them.  But this was about as lucid as I have ever experienced.

  And to answer the lingering question, yes, since I was up, I did finally make the long trek to the bathroom.  Stupid impatient pee.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Halibut Cove, Alaska. My summer frontier.

A view front the top of Ismailof Island, Halibut Cove, Alaska.

  They say Alaska is the last frontier.  It's a place people have flocked to in hopes of never being found.  Fresh starts after displacing those slates we've been carrying around on our backs, whose weight has slowly brought us closer and closer to the ground.  Closer and closer to the grave.  Heavy hearts, burdened backs, and buckling knees be damned!  This is a place for release, and I am going to find some answers here.

 The truth is, we can find answers anywhere, we just forget in the day-to-day to listen for them.  Familiar settings dulling our intuitions because we have expectations of what will be just around the corner.  When living in one place, people never ask you "What's next".  When you are stationary people simply accept the status you currently hold, in profession, education, living quarters, etc.  In being anchored to a place, we allow ourselves to be anchored to expectations.  There are some who forget to let go of their anchor as they cast it overboard, and sink in a flailing panic, forgetting themselves as they disappear into an abyss.  Some cast anchors, yet forget to take down their sails, leaving themselves pulled in two directions.  Others drift along, letting the ocean take them where it will.

  Why am I using so many nautical references?  It probably has something to do with my current locale.  I have recently taken up residence in Halibut Cove, Alaska where I have acquired a summer job.  I live on a very small island, just off the mainland, eastward, across the bay from Homer.

 As it happens, I have had a very great run of finding adventure in my life. This time adventure was disguised as an old acquaintance who called me on the phone and offered me a job in Alaska. This is an atypical occurrence.  How many times are we sitting at home when someone calls and offers us jobs without even searching them out? Let alone one as adventurous as this one?  I thought it best to oblige the offering.  I have noticed the mannerisms of universal hands at play.  They speak with silence through delicate gestures, guiding us onward, and scooping us up into white crested currents of excitement, delivering us to the doorstep of opportunities and rare lifetime happenings.  What insignificant, ungrateful mortal would I be, if I were to ignore such an invitation?

  I turned in my notice at work.  I informed my family and friends that I would once again be on the move, and none of them seemed surprised in the slightest, which was ironic, because I think of all the people shocked at my leaving, I was the most caught off guard.  Wasn't I suppose to have found the answers to all my wandering questions in my last venture?  Shouldn't I have found myself in a zen-like trance, engulfed within the nesting space I was to have created for myself after months of finding out "who I was", while hiking the bush of New Zealand the year prior?  Wasn't I suppose to be on my way toward a steady relationship, marriage, a white picket fence, kids, a dog, and a lifetime of pre-answered queries?

  I do hope to find stability in my life at some point again.  I do miss it, but as it stands now a stationary life hasn't worked out quite yet.  At this moment I have no reason to be anywhere particular.  Perhaps some day there will be a shift, and I will find a reason to stay put.  An anchor to hold me a bit more still through the tumultuous waters of life.  In the meantime...Alaska.

The first view of my new home as we crossed the bay.

  I met up with a few co-workers on the last flight from Anchorage to Homer.  Our flight attendant was the funniest attendant I have ever seen.  As soon as I took a seat, the gentlemen next to me, gestured toward her and said "Oh good, she's the funny one!"  Boy was he right!!! She started off, what I will refer to as her "set," because she used the 45 minute flight as a platform from which to crack jokes to a captive audience, by introducing herself.  "My name is Diana Ross, but I'm not a very good singer, so I do this instead.".  I have never been to a comedy show where the comedian not only provides an ab workout and tears from laughter slit eyes, but also provides cookies, and refreshments.  She is renowned through the area.  Anyone within 200 miles of here knows of her hilarity.  What a great introduction to Homer. 

  We stopped at a grocery, stocked up on a few items, and drove out to the edge of the Homer spit to catch our ride across the bay.  The 4.5 mile spit features the longest road into ocean waters, in the entire world, taking up to 15 minutes to travel by car.  Pretty cool! We transferred supplies, boarded a boat by the name of the Creel, and made our way to Ismailof Island in Halibut Cove.  My new home.

 Above pictured on the left are four of the employee cabins.  One room cabins with a loft and a cold water sink.

  The building on the left pictured above here, is Dave's shop, above which resides Marian's studio.  (Dave and Marian are the owners of The Saltry.)  Adjacent to the studio is one more employee room.  The middle building is dry storage for the restaurant, the shower and the laundry room.  Above is another employee quarters.  Just above that center building on the hill is a tiny white cabin.  This is where I live.  The final building on the right is The Saltry, the wonderful restaurant I am working at this summer.  The structure to the right of the Saltry is a covered deck with fireplace, built into the edge of a rock cliff.  If you follow the boardwalk further down past the restaurant it will take you to several other properties, a horse coral, 2 galleries, a small coffee shop that I hear will be opening shortly for the season, and you can also find a small post office which is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 9, but then promptly leaves for Homer after opening.  You are welcome to catch a ride into town aboard the Stormbird on post days if you need to re-supply.  I have already had the pleasure of doing just that!  She leaves at 10, arrives into Homer by 11, and departs again at 2 for the voyage home.

My cabin is the old wheelhouse on the Danny J, which is the ship our patrons ride upon from Homer for their dining experience.

  6 horses live here, Piko the dog who sticks out his tongue often after having lost his top teeth to a horse kick a few years prior, and two bunnies.  Carrots and Celery.  Aside from that, bald eagles are a very regular sight.  Just yesterday I helped process cod at a fish processing station they have situated on the deck.  The unusable scraps were thrown into the ocean, and when the tide went out later it was a feeding frenzy between the eagles and the gulls.  It's a constant battle between them, one I never tire of watching.


  On the spit is Homer's famous Salty Dawg Saloon.

  You expect it to be like any other dive bar, full of regulars, slouching over a cold brew and having hum-drum ignorable conversations about what so-n-so did or said, and blah-di-blah blah blah. Then you open the door to this!!!!!!

  Every square inch of wall and ceiling surface is covered with bills.  I of course had to know why.  Apparently, sailors and fishermen use to go in and buy drinks, but if someone whom they wanted to buy a drink for wasn't in their immediate company, they would write that person's name on the bill and tack it to the wall, so when they eventually did make it into the saloon, they would be greeted by a pre-paid drink.  Since then it has just taken off as a sort of good luck charm.  Now people have a tendency to write their own name on the bills and tack them to the walls.  An item I plan to cross off my list before I leave here this year.

  Our official season doesn't actually begin until next Saturday, so up until now, we have been slowly prepping the Saltry for summer business.  Dusting off the winter cobwebs, sometimes quite literally.  So there has been a bit of down time, in which we play a lot of cribbage, sit by the fireplace, have an occasional drink, dine on king salmon caught that very morning, or even last night we had muscles harvested right here in Halibut Cove, and a wildcrafted salad of fiddlehead ferns and various hearty greens. Last week, after dinner it began to rain.  I happened to go outside and catch sight of the most beautiful rainbow, so we all hopped up, donned a life-vest, boarded the skiff and went rainbow hunting!

Double rainbow chasing, an excellent after-dinner activity!

  One afternoon Marian dropped us off at a beach on the mainland and we hiked into a glacier.

  Apparently, it's also on my to-do list to enjoy an old fashioned, with a glacial ice cube before the season is over.  My to-do lists rock.  My to-do list is on the rocks!! Hahaha!!

  For our final big pre-season excursion we hiked out to a little mainland lakeside cabin used by the family and friends of Dave and Marian.

Look at that sultry Saltry crew!!!  Buncha' wonderful riff-raffian rabble rousers if you ask me!

Leisure Lake

Compass photos have become a staple for my travels.

  And that pretty much brings us up to date. The work days are about to get very long.  We have divided up our days off as well as they days we take turns making everyone breakfast. Thursdays will be my day off, or in other words my studio day :)  Let the season begin!!!