Sunday, December 5, 2010

Trimming the Tree

            Tonight my parents, brother, his fiancĂ©e, and I got together to trim our Christmas tree. It was fun, but not like the old days when I was young. When I was little, we lived where there were lots of trees, smaller ones, and we would go out and find one, chop it down, and bring it home. We would have to let it drip dry for a day or so, before we would move it to its trimming destination in the living room.
            On the designated evening we, my parents, sister, brother and I, would gather in the living room for the trimming of the tree. It was always my dad's job to put the lights on. Then, he would sit back in his chair and watch the rest of us put the garland and ornaments on. It was a great family time. We would listen to Christmas music and eat treats that always included chocolate covered cherries. Never a Christmas went by without them!
            One year, after the Christmas, while the tree was still up, I found a worm crawling on the floor. It must have come from the tree I thought. I put it in a jar with some toilet paper, poking holes in the top so oxygen could get in. I waited a couple weeks making sure that it was still alive, but then it seemed to disappear. I kind of forgot about it until one day, I looked into the jar and there was a little moth. Apparently, the worm had "disappeared" into the toilet paper to make a cocoon and immerged a changed creature. This was my first experience of a "butterfly" and it was rather exciting.
            As the years have gone by so our Christmases have changed. We no longer have a real tree and dad no longer puts the lights on because the fake tree already has them. We no longer gather as a core family because others have been added. My sister has a family of her own. We see them every other Christmas. Just not the same as it was. Not that it's bad. We simply have new traditions, new little minds to fill with the joys of Christmas. My brother has someone new too. Soon they also will have their own Christmas traditions, a combination of both our family and hers.
            And for me, well, Christmas is difficult for me this year. Last year my boyfriend joined our family in our festivities, but this year he is non-existent. He's gone, gone searching for some purpose and I don't know when I will see him again. I try not to be a grinch even though I want to cry every time I see my brother and his girl. I love them, but they are sore reminders of the one person that I want to be with.
            The star sits on top of the Christmas tree. It twinkles in the Christmas lights. It reminds me that I am being led along life to a baby in a manger, who is also my Savior. There is hope in the midst of the hopelessness that I feel. The star tells the story. I must simply be willing to travel the long journey that the wise men did so long ago to find the Hope for all people.

Making Stories

Running out of stories is never a good thing, but sometimes it is a kick in the pants. Looking back over my posts, I see that in order to have stories, a person has to go somewhere. In order to go somewhere, you have to move. I get angry with people who don't do anything with their lives especially when I see that they have great talents, but aren't using them. Sometimes it's hard, though to run off the cliff because you're not sure your body can take the impact of the fall until you actually glide through the water at the bottom.

This is my life, I go to the same job, eat the same food, and go to the same coffee shop every Saturday morning. Some older people would say, well, that's just how life is, but that is not a good enough answer for me. I want more. I want to be able to have new stories.

Sometimes stories just come upon a person. Like my roommate for instance, she wasn't looking for a guy, was living life, taking it as it came. Then, bam, out of nowhere this sweet guy walked into her life and rocked her world. They're getting married soon and it's a good thing. There are some people that I'm uncertain about the health of their relationship, but I've got my bet on these two. They're going to make it and make some good stories for themselves.

So what does making new stories look like for me? I'm beginning to think that it means doing something drastic, like selling most of my possessions, putting what I don't sell in my car and setting out. To where? I don't know!  I guess it's like pioneering all over again. Setting out to dreams that you can't quite perceive, but have heard of from people of the past. Looking toward something, that is big and scary because you've never tried it before, but you won't know the excitement that it holds until you actually take the training wheels off and ride free and clear. I think these are the kinds of stories I am looking for.

Right now, some of you are probably reading this and thinking that I'm naive. Well, the truth is I am. I've never lived anywhere away from my family other than a couple of years at school in Canada and even there I knew people. I've never been completely alone. Ever! I guess I want to see if I can survive, if I can make it out there in the big world of freeways and skyscrapers. Now, I'm not naive as to the danger. I am well aware of the creepy things that happen in our world. But somehow, this doesn't seem like enough to keep me from dreaming.

A classmate of mine recently wrote an essay on our generation and how we get comfortable and don't want to move unless something catastrophic happens in our lives. I wouldn't say that it's just our generation, but most. We seek the comfortable because, well, it's comfortable. Not too many people dream of living out of their car and eating from the local food bank. I'm not saying that this is what everybody should do, but maybe we would all have a few more stories to tell if we did live a bit more on the edge. I think this is what I'm going for. Time to take the training wheels off and head for the big hill.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My "Pet"

     Most of the winter days in Kako, were cold and dark. I never ventured far from the house unless it was to go to the main meeting hall to watch a movie (if the generator was turned on). Since I couldn't play outside much (due to the extreme temperatures), I found ways inside to entertain myself inside.
     One evening as I was preparing to take a shower, I pulled back the shower curtain and was greeted by a furry creature. I little vole had gotten himself trapped in the tub. Normally, I would have not been so eager at such a find, but since I had no other pets and not much to do, I thought I would make a pet out of the trapped little creature. If I had put him outside, he surely would have frozen to death, therefore, I thought I would give him a chance at life. I found an empty 5-gallon bucket, put a little towel in it, a bowl of water, and some food. My furry friend had a new home.
     I was very excited to have a pet, something that I could take responsibility for. However, the creature was not used to being in a 5-gallon bucket and on one attempt to jump from his "cage," he landed in the water bowl. It wasn't too deep, therefore, he didn't drown, but did manage to get himself very wet. I put his bucket near the wood stove so that he could get warm enough to dry off from his swimming adventure. I had never considered that my little charge was used to much chillier temperatures.
      When I came back from playing to check on my pet he seemed to have some problems. He was starting to loose his hair and was acting somewhat sickly. As I watched him over the next couple of days, he continued to get worse. I thought, oh, dear, I have given him cancer (I didn't understand that chemo is what makes people loose their hair).
      I woke up one morning and he wasn't moving. Now that I look back, I think I cooked the poor guy to death. Putting him next to the wood stove, with its high temperatures was probably not the greatest idea. I'm sorry that the creature died the death that he did. Now, he's just another memory of the many pets I had growing up (even if he didn't last a week).
      I didn't have any other experiences with animals while I was out in the bush unless you count the dead ones that our neighbor, Mark, caught in his traps. Sometimes he wouldn't have time to skin them right away, therefore, he would leave them out the front door of the main building where he had his room. It's a bit frightening to walk out the door and see the snarling frozen smile of wolverine. I guess it's just another one of those things that a person gets used to after living in the bush for a while. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Frozen Northland

           My family went back to Kako when I was twelve. We were supposed to only be there for about a month, but ended up being there for almost two months due to weather. Our main purpose for going was to be of assistance to another family that was holding down the fort during the long, cold winter months. The mother was six months pregnant and needed some help with her two other children as well as some general support. Since my mom is a retired nurse, we were the perfect family for the job.
            The adventure started, with a very, very cold arrival.  We approached the small snow-covered runway in a tiny plane. Thankfully our good friend, Jim, was piloting otherwise I'm not sure we would have made it safely to the ground. I say this because once we were on the ground, Jim alerted us to the fact that he had just landed the plane without flaps. They had frozen in the sub-zero temps.
            As we opened the door, we were greeted with COLD -  eighty below zero (with wind chill). My mom actually froze her hands. It took her nearly an hour to get feeling back and in the process went through extreme pain. It was my fault really. I had lost my hat in the plane and my mom had taken her gloves off to give me her hat. When she did, her hands froze instantly. What a good mom!
            I experienced many adventures during this visit that I probably would have never had otherwise. During these extreme colds, the water lines froze. Well, we still needed water, therefore, my older brother and I were assigned to get a line down to the local pond and pump water into the holding tanks in each of the three houses. It was some cold work. While digging the hole through the ice, we found water beetles. Um! That was the water that we were going to be drinking! After seeing this, I made sure my mom boiled the water before we used it.
            I don't remember showering much during that time. In fact, I only remember one shower in that almost two-month period. Surely, I showered more than that!? It was so cold, that we usually didn't take off our long underwear unless we were showering. Therefore, as you can guess I kept mine on most of the time. It's weird to think that that is exactly what the miners did. Not taking the long underwear off for months was a reality for them, for me too (and I thought that was only in the movies!).
            The only heat in our house was a wood stove that needed to be tended throughout the night. It was mostly my brother's job to do that. Most of the time, I would wake up seeing my breath, but I was toasty warm under my six or so blankets and polar fleece sheets.
            One night my brother packed so much wood into the fire that it got extremely hot. So hot that it melted the wool socks that we had put near by to dry. It was a little bit of a scary experience because when a wood stove gets that hot, it could catch other things on fire. A house fire in the middle of nowhere is not a pleasant experience! Thankfully, this did not happen!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Memories of a Simpler Life

            A person can never tell to what extent a particular experience will affect their life. Most people simply live taking advantage of what seems to come their way or as some of my friends, not taking advantage and wandering about doing absolutely nothing.
            This great thought has come to me as I have looked back over my forming years. I was given so many great chances to have experiences that many other children don't have (especially children who grow up in the more populated areas of the United States). One of these experiences was being able to go out and live in the bush two separate times.
            There is a small retreat center on the Yukon River called Kako. I'm not exactly sure why it was started initially though I know there was some mining done there, but when I went it was used in the summer as a place where people could go to get away from the normal life and hardships of the village.
            The first time I visited Kako, I believe I was about eleven. It was fall and the few deciduous trees around were loosing all their leaves. It has been a rather dry summer leaving much dust around (leftovers from mining).  There was only one other family there with children and one of the boys, Jesse, happened to be only a year or so older than I. We spent most of our waking hours together playing outside with whatever caught our attention.
            I had two favorite activities that fall were making dirt bombs and sailing Styrofoam boats. Jesse and I would go down to the mining dredge hole and gather the fine dirt left over from the years of sifting. We would then mix that dirt with water until we got the perfect consistency. Then, we would make stiff mud balls and dry them in the sun on random wood pieces left over from past building projects. Once fully dry, we would set up a target and have some mud ball target practice. It was great fun!
            When we got tired of the mud, we would run around searching for stray pieces of Styrofoam (also left over from building). These we would attach sticks and pieces of material (old T-shirt) to make sails. Then, off to the pond where we would sail our boats out into the "ocean." Sometime we would put our boats into the stream and see if they would make it all the way down to the holding pond. I remember one particular boat I was extremely proud of. We decided to see if it would make it through a culvert that ran under one of the roads. Unfortunately, it never made it to the other side. My best boat, gone forever!
            I never got bored that fall with Jesse. I don't really remember ever eating or sleeping though I'm sure I did. I solely remember our adventures in the mud and on the water. Those were some of the best times of my life!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Some conversations.........

I think it's ironic how conversation topics come and go, then come again.

Last Friday night, I went to hear Seth Kantner and Nick Jans speak at an Evening at Egan about their adventures in Northwest Alaska. When the lecture started out, I was wondering if I would really enjoy it. The library was packed so I took a seat on the wide window ledge. It was a good vantage point from where I could see the speaker and his pictures. It wasn't the seating that at first got to me, but the environmentalism (I care about the environment, but I put people above wolves). I'm a determined person, however, so I kept listening. I'm glad I did. As Seth spoke about his life in the village, my thoughts began to go wild. The part that hit me the most was the subject of suicide in the village and how the younger generation doesn't get the way of the older one.

As I drove home, I couldn't get this subject of teen suicide out of my head. I was suicidal as a teen and sometimes still think about it as an option, but I have a good support system around me that keeps me afloat. But these kids don't have that most of the time. So what does this have to do with me? I want to change things. I believe that God has everything for a purpose and maybe this was one of those steps in a direction for me.

The night after the lecture I went to the Island Pub with some friends for a snack and a hot chocolate and Bailey's (delicious!). As we were sitting there in the pub listening to the bluegrass that was playing, who do you think walked through the door but Seth Kantner himself with a few of his friends. Not only did he walk through the door, but came and sat in the chair right behind mine. After a little while I leaned back and said, "Hey, thanks for the chat last night." He looked at me a little strange and said "I talked last night?" I was a bit confused until his confession came. He had been drinking previous to coming to the pub. It all made sense. We introduced ourselves and went on to have a wonderful conversation about writing, what it was like to live in the village, what being a counselor in the village would take, and how he can't learn music because he never grew up with it. We popped around to all different subjects, but it didn't matter. I was glad to be talking about what I loved most - psychology and writing.

Today I was sitting in my office and a coworker came in. As we started talking, he mentioned a particular TV show that Sarah Palin puts on about Alaska. He said that it bothered him that she only highlighted the good things about Alaska and not the problem areas like the high suicide rates or the drinking problems. But who wants to enter into this territory? Then we would actually have to be accountable to something. If we try to sweep it under the rug, then we can try to forget about it, right? Wrong!

So conversations come and go, and then they come again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Minnesota Bike Ride

           Every time it's sunny, I am strangely reminded how much happier I am. I hate to admit that I am deeply affected by the amount of sunshine that we get, but I am. At this moment I am looking out my office window at the golden grass swaying in the fall breeze the often sings across the flats. The sky is finally blue and the ever present clouds are puffy white hanging around the tops of the now snowcapped mountains. I could hardly ask for a more beautiful sight.
            For some reason it reminds me of the year I spent a fall in Minnesota with my family many, many years ago. On that particular day, we had decided that it was perfect for a bike ride. We rented some bikes and got our gear together. There was a delightful little trail that followed the train tracks close to our motel. This was our route of choice. Everyone gathered, we swung our legs over the middle bar and started peddling. My poor mother! Immediately she started wobbling all over the trail. She hadn't been on a bike for years and it was obvious. After a couple more tries, she decided that she would not hold us back any longer. My dad, two older siblings, and I continued on spending the afternoon crunching leaves with our bike tires. There's nothing better in the fall than crunching leaves on Minnesota bike ride!