Sunday, November 11, 2012
must have seen, it was a hysterical request for a cat.....that's why you
don't write emails in a panic early in the morning.......
....woke up this morning to what I swear was a mouse in the bed. In my
sleepy haze i feel like I pulled back the covers and THERE IT WAS! I
don't know if I'm becoming a little nutty up here on the mountain or if
there really was a mouse. There HAD to have been one! Why else would I
have felt scratching and saw one and let out a blood curdling scream and
found myself in standing in the bathtub because its now the safest place??
Anyways - whether or not I am now a delusional cat lady without a cat, I
am happy to report that I GOT ONE!!!!
After my second consecutive rude awakening I sat down at the kitchen
table and practiced setting traps. After an hour of almost snapping my
fingers off and mutilating a plastic pen, I was finally ready. I lined
up those traps and put one under the kitchen sink - and BAM - less than
a minute later - I got my first mouse.
After several manuevers involving gloves, salad tongs, and plastic bag I
deposited my first mouse in the field to feed the raven couple and told
him I was sorry.
Despite the fact that I was hysterically crying this morning - I now am
feeling very brave and competent and fabulous....
So, in case any of you with a mouse phobia and zero mice killing
experience are planning to move to a cabin for the winter any time soon,
here are some of the things I learned......
1. Mice like to run along walls.
2. Mice reach maturity in 3-4 weeks and then procreate with up to 10+
babies at a time.
3. There is a right way and a wrong way to set a mouse trap.
4. There is a right way and a wrong way to peanut butter the trap.
5. Adding oatmeal to the peanut butter makes the mouse work a little
harder to get the flakes off - springing the trap.
6. You have to put the peanut butter on the very end of the trap - not
the back or middle - so the leverage will work in your favor and the
mouse has to step on it.
7. Mice don't like steel wool - you can stuff it into holes.
8. Rat poison makes mice thirsty - so set it outside so they will
hopefully go away from the house in search of a water source.
9. Not all cats are mouser cats. There are apparently some cats that
are better than others.
10. Sticky mouse traps are a moral dilemma because you have the cute
live mouse all stuck.
11. Most folks around here seemed to have advised me to set live traps
- I will consider it.
12. A bucket trap can be set with or without water inside. The can
must spin freely in the middle.
13. You can use an empty rectangular box or roll of toilet paper to
lure them to the end, tipping it into a trash can etc and live trapping
14. When you have one mouse, you probably have more than one mouse.
15. Search for and plug all mouse access holes.
16. Bleach everything mice have touched.
Thanks for all the advice and wisdom. I'm done making a fool out of
myself on the internet for awhile. But I really DO feel empowered that
I caught one all by myself.... even though it took me 2 days to do
something the rest of the Alaskan population can do in 3 minutes........
Saturday, November 10, 2012
However, I guess no one told them yet, so this morning I get awoken to scurrying feet on my hair and face and found myself catapulting through the air and landing on my feet on the other side of the room. Although it is encouraging to note that my fight or flight mechanisms are most certainly intact AND that I a very agile and fast mover, it is NOT the way I wanted to start my day.
I guess you could say I have a phobia. An irrational and unreasonable fear. One I thought I was well on my way to conquering. I always took great comfort in reminding myself that "mice are more scared of you than you are of them...." and I have been repeating that but to no avail. Apparently, Alaskan mice are a different breed of fearless. Alaskan mice are in a category all there own, and I find myself longing for the days of Tchadian rat invasions.
When I had a resident rat in my hut in Tchad, I was at least safe in my zip up bug tent - and I fixed that problem with black market poison and duct tape seal on the door. I felt proud of myself for that one and did quite a bit of bragging about my duct tape seal job. Also - the critters over there have at least a holy and approptiate dose of fear - probably because they see their relatives grilling on the open cookfires and getting mixed up in sauces and eaten by smacking Tchadian lips.
THESE mice, however, have been sheltered. They haven't been exposed to the rest of the world. They haven't had their twin sister eaten for dinner and chased with a shovel or dozens of little hands. These mice, well, they just don't know whats coming to them.
But I am in town, I have arrived, and the mice are going DOWN!
it all started yesterday morning. I was sitting at the kitchen table - having a zen morning - hot cup of coffee and admiring the mountains and congratulating myself on how productive i was going to be that day. I was writing a to do list with a red marker - being all organized and had great visions of getting out of my funk and being productive. I even added items that were pretty much already done just so I could cross them out. And things I was about to do. Anyway.
So I'm sitting there and I see flashes of liquid brown reflecting through the water jugs under the counter area. No, it can't be. I immediately put my feet up on the other chair just in case and reminded myself not to panic and breath deeply. It wasn't a mouse, it couldn't be, just the light reflecting off the shimmering feathers of an unknown bird and hitting the water jugs just right. right? right. Okay, deep breath. Then a flash again. uh oh. nope. still in denial.
But then there was no denying - for (dun dun dun.....creepy movie music...) at that VERY MOMENT a fat little mouse had the audacity to come out into the open and venture onto the kitchen tile. it hit me like a thousand screams (500 of which i was participating in) THERE IS A MOUSE. in the kitchen. A mouse. In the kitchen. And I am also in the kitchen. Alone in the kitchen.
First thought - I need a man. But no, no fierce hunter, fisherman, or any rugged individual of the sort to be found in the house. Must remedy that. Second thought - I need to call a man. Third thought - no!!! no man!!! You are a strong, powerful, amazing, brilliant, tough, independent, now Alaskan woman! Alaskan women don't need men. Alaskan women kill their own mice. Alaskan women don't run screaming from creatures that are scared of them....... mice are more scared of you than you are of them..... mice are more scared of you than you are of them.....okay. deep breath.
I'm still sitting rooted to my chair, my feet safely up. What to do? this is serious. Put boots on. Okay. deep breath. STOMP STOMP on the floor. The mouse skitters back. ok, good. So boots. and not just any boots. oh no. Xtra Tuff boots. Because, obviously, since I am living in a house on a ridge all by myself for an Alaskan winter, that makes me EXTRA tough. and awesome. and fierce. okay, just keep telling yourself that.
I don't need a man. nope. I'll call my friend. So I call Liz, ever practical and willing to give sage advice in such serious matters. We make a game plan. The trash has got to go. Except there is a problem - my 4 buckets of recycling and the trash can are in the VERY spot that the mouse disappeared into. Approach the trash can? unthinkable. Luckily, there were some heavy snow boots in reach. score. STOMP STOMP STOMP. I'm coming (except I was still several broom lengths away. Be scared little mouse.
I receive the excellent advice to throw the snowboots and hit the trashcan. and the buckets. That way it is safe to approach. See, I told you Liz was a regular shaman. I throw the snow boots, perfectly hitting the trash can and respective buckets and re-affirming that not only am I a tough Alaskan chick, I have true grit and good aim. Score.
So, hoping that the mouse is running scared, in a serious of shrieking hysterical maneuver (giving a play by play to my staunch supporter over the phone) I approach the trash can and finally get it and all the buckets out of the mouse zone. Okay. Sigh of relief. Make mental note to wear boots at all time from now on.
So i head to town, roll into save you more, and buy mouse traps. I have never bought mouse traps in my life. I have never looked for them, purchased them, peanut buttered them, or set them. But I'm tough. I'll figure it out. Nothing can stop me. I buy 4 sinister looking traps, natural peanut butter, and a box of poison for good measure. These purchases make me feel much better and after receiving some friendly advice from the lady at the checkout about plugging the holes in the house with steel wool - I head back up to do battle.
As i type this - one is on the counter. SHUDDER. running over the silverware. double shudder. I haven't eaten all day - my appetite is GONE.
so - I arrive back at the house with my new cache of weapons.....and try to read the very detailed instructions on the mousetrap. Well, they don't help AT all. Setting a mouse trap is definitely more complicated than their little one step process. I keep trying and almost snap my fingers off. My resolve to be a do-it-your-selfer is rapidly waning as the (OKAY AT THIS VERY MOMENT I HEAR STIRRINGS IN THE BEDROOM. NOT EVEN MY BED IS SAFE!!!) little sucker AGAIN starts walking around the kitchen like he owns the place.
So, I call my dad. He's an Alaskan, from Juneau, once a Viking warrior mouse killer back in the day, and I know he will have some good advice for me even though there won't be a side of sympathy with that. So I call him fairly frantic at this point, and like the wonderful father he is, looks up the trap online, and guides to a video of someone setting the trap. Better, but still, the fingers in the video made it look SO EASY.
So, i try, and I set and I snap and narrowly escape destruction and finally get one set. I feel SO proud of myself. I set a mouse trap. I am going to kill him. No doubt. I am assured by my father that it will do the trick and go to bed with a heavily peanut buttered trap on the base of the counter top.
I keep sneaking out to see if its sprung. No. What is that mouse's problem? so I grab a bag of dried fruit and go to the bed, which seems to be the safest place.
So - I wake up to mouse on face and in hair and find myself on the other side of the room shaking and shuddering. Like cold icy gut wrenching shudders simply racking me. This cannot be happening. I did not just have a mouse IN MY BED. my safety zone has just shrunk to nothing. I get booted up and stomp STOMP into the kitchen to check the trap. Nothing.
But the peanut butter is gone.
I test it with scissors. It snaps. Apparently i put on too much peanut butter and it wasn't sensitive enough. Who knew setting mouse traps took skill and agility? And i have a smart mouse. As i contemplate this problem, I SEE ANOTHER ONE! larger this time, running around between the potatoes and the bananas on the counter, ON THE COUNTER. in broad daylight. AND ITS NOT THE SAME MOUSE. this one is longer, leaner, and meaner. The one yesterday was almost loveable, very round and cozy. THEN out from under the counter comes a baby mouse. So i now have three. a family. A rapidly multiplying family.
And its just too much. I'm not that tough. I put my feet on the chair and call my dad in tears. I start crying about the mouse, and the one mouse and the 2 mice, and he says, yes, yes, in a wise old been there done that killed that tone. He tells me war stories of going up hunting to these old abandoned cabins and how they would set whats he termed an "Alaskan mouse trap" and nab 20 of them in one night.
I start to feel better. I also will set an Alaskan mouse trap. I also will kill mice. I will also be a tough warrior like my father.
So, I set out to assemble the trap. Essentially, he explains, you get a bucket. okay. check. a tin can with holes drilled on each end. an opened up and stretched out coat hanger. Drill holes in either side of the bucket, thread the hanger through with the can spinning easily in the middle. Put water in the bottom of the bucket. Slather can with peanut butter. Makes sure it spins well. Set bucket on chair. Make ramp from counter to bucket just out of reach of peanut butter. Mice go down ramp, jump onto can, and go spinning into the water!
Yes. I can do this. I pound and flatten coat hanger. I make holes in bucket with hot nail. I thread the whole thing through. It spins like a dream. I now have to make pumpkin cookies out of can contents if I ever reclaim my counters. I go out to the shed and get a "ramp." I prop it up. I fill it with water. I put peanut butter on the can. I am prepared. I am ready. I have my toughness back. Who needs men? not this girl......
So, now, the time is right now, and I am sitting on the bed. My Alaskan moue trap is set up. I have 2 traps set. I have at least 3 mice to kill. I had to retreat to the bed because the lean mean one was being too bold and having his way with the counter, the silverware, the pots. really, how am i supposed to eat? I got in the bedroom, and heard more scurrying. I am considering relocating to the tub - placing a chair in the tub and typing there. Instead I am sitting not leaning back on the bed. my back hurts. I am tough.
I heard 2 crashes/noises coming from the kitchen. Did I get lucky? I feel like it couldn't have been that easy. More likely the family is having a freeforall with the frying pan. Going to boot up and check it out........
.....to be cont........
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
A voracious, dancing, crashing, potent epiphany of gratitude has finally burst its way through sodden sludgy neuronal pathways, clearing my headspace with laughing rainbow popcorn and leaving behind a bright cleanswept path of thought and light, smelling faintly of nag champa and lemon pledge.
I was so caught up in feeling like an isolated mental case on the top of a mountain that I wasn't even registering the blessings coming my way and the people that were bringing them.
I feel humility, sheepishness, awe, and belief as I begin to put this list together in my mind - as awareness came crashing into me like a smile and I begin to see a pattern forming on the intricate tapestry of human kindness and connection.
People are AMAZING!!
There's Betsy - graciously giving me, a stranger, the ideal winter situation - a cozy log house, plenty of firewood, a car to drive, utilities paid - all in exchange for house sitting, keeping the pipes from freezing, and sorting through mountains of beautiful books - which is pretty much the way I want to spend my time anyway. I came with nothing and even though what I have now is not mine - every need I possibly have is met. Thank-you Betsy.
There's Carol - someone I don't know and never met, who, after reading about my great longing not to be separated from my books, took it upon herself to graciously insist on paying to send them to me....all 9 boxes..... my soul is so touched by the kindness of a complete stranger who somehow knew that my having them would make such a difference. Thank-you Carol.
There's Eli - my precious cousin and friend who happened to be in location of said books and spent hours re-boxing and shipping them media mail, and then decided to just go ahead and send me everything else as well - so now I don't have to feel split - I can feel like I made a clean move - I have nothing in storage. I can't describe how good that feels. Thank-you Elise.
There's Aunt Susan - assuming responsibility of my car for me, fixing it up, and taking all those pesky tag and titling expenses out of the future proceeds of the sale. Also paying my first hefty month of student loans for me, without me asking, without me telling her how hard it would have been to come up with that amount the month I came back. Thank-you Aunt Susan.
There's my mom - sending me a kind little package stuffed with Vitamin D, foaming cleansing face wash, and all those other little things that mothers tuck in here and there and send your way. Also came a shocking, unexpected, undeserved, and uncharacteristic cash donation that brought tears to my eyes and bought me another month of unemployment. Thank-you Mom.
There's my brother, Daniel - knowing I'd be up here and preparing a special "back pack full of awesome" for me when I arrived, trying to make connections for me, promising me his 12 string guitar that's living in Anchorage, and being the voice of reason and insanity calling me up here in the first place. Thank-you Daniel.
There's Christy, new friend extraordinaire without whom I don't even want to imagine what moving up here would have been like. We connected almost immediately - she was living next door in the guest house my first three weeks of being here, and even though she has moved down to town, I now have a person to laugh and screech and be a girl with, a person to talk to, and someone who is a little bit of a kindred spirit. She has inspired me with her strength, courage, kindness, and insight and I am truly grateful to have made such a friend. Thank-you Christy.
There's Lars, my official second friend in Homer, a fellow Monopoly enthusiast, someone who went out of his way to be a friend, to make sure I was doing okay and had someone to hang out with. Thank-you Lars.
There's Cory, who took the time to befriend me and talk to me about his experience applying for MSF, someone who shares my passion for travel and social justice, who went hiking and exploring with me and just restored my faith in human goodness and kindness. Thank-you Cory.
There's Hannah, who interviewed me for the interview I'm still too scared to listen to on KBBI, the local radio station (I'm don't want to hear what my voice actually sounds like), a strong fabulous Xtra Tuff wearing real Alaskan fisher-woman chick that I want to be like when I grow up. She went out of her way to hang out with a stranger and may even be crazier about books and writing than I am - which is really saying something. She inspired me to consider the possibilities of continuing to write my book about the Tchadian women that I interviewed and has an absolutely hilarious blog http://hannanigansalaska.blogspot.com that I feel is a must-read for anyone interested in the day to day madness and wonder of Alaskan life. Thank-you Hannah.
There's Gordon and Denise, Betsy's family, who invited me over for dinner so I could meet another couple that they had just met who spent time traveling in Africa. They were so gracious and hospitable and have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome here. Thank-you Gordon and Denise.
There's Doug - who emailed me because he was in the Peace Corps in Tchad too, and David, who never fails to send me encouraging and inspirational emails, and so many others who have taken the time to call me on the phone (or actually pick up when I call them like....everyday) or email me, or let me know that they are thinking of me and rooting for me. Thank-you friends and strangers.
I basically feel punched in the gut by human kindness and I am so, so, so, so grateful.
Thank-you new friends.
Thank-you old friends.
Thank you strangers.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
It's also the kind of place that is in itself a rite of passage - the kind of place where when you ask someone if they are from here, they will pause, say, well, I've been here for 12 years....so I'm almost from here. Or, I've been here for 2 years.....so I just got here.
It's the kind of place that not everyone stays but those that do tend to never leave. It's a place of magnetism, pulling tourists, entrepreneurs, fishermen, Alaskans from other places, and all types of workers, adventurers, outdoors men, and vagabonds from the lower 48.
It's the kind of place people dream of living - driving in with their RVs and rental cars, taking snapshots of mountains jutting white and sacred like cathedrals rising out of the ocean and ringing the bay. Its the kind of place where living the dream is more about guts than glory, and whose winters shift and shake what men are made of.
Its the kind of place that pulls you in, and then shruggingly dares you to stay.
It's the kind of place where people shake your hand, look you in the eye, go out of their way to help you.
It's the kind of place where doors aren't locked and neighbors are neighbors, where everyone listens to the local radio and personal messages are sent over the bushlines.
It's the kind of place where you box your own groceries, recycle your cardboard, glass, and plastics, and take pride in keeping the surrounding nature pristine.
It's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, where mutual friendships and complicated connections abound, and where its both hard and easy to be an outsider.
It's the kind of place where you can be as visible or invisible as you want to be, as involved or reticent as you decide, and where the experience you have depends entirely on you.
It's the kind of place where individuality and eclecticism are given room to spread their wings, where you are free to be whoever you want to be, where you can wear what you want, say what you want, and live how you want - and nobody bats an eye.
It's the kind of place where people work hard, play hard, and drink hard.
It's the kind of place where moose curl up 20 feet from the front porch to sleep.
It's the kind of place where the air is unspoiled and the stars are bright and vivid and the moon is covered in frost - where the sun rises purple and slowly and disappears too soon, dropping fiery pink under the edge of the sea.
It's the kind of place I don't fully understand, but want to learn more about.
It's the kind of place I want to stay.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Still, I am just this morning stopping to register the fact that I am literally on the other side of the world. I am geographically, spiritually, emotionally, physically in a completely different place than I was a month ago.
A month ago....
I was walking barefoot down muddy sandy village paths, tangling my toes in shattered millet stalks and nudging croaking frogs from beneath my feet.
I am crunching through crispy, crystalline snow with 2 layers of wools socks and XtraTufs or snow boots, kicking clods of frozen snow and gingerly picking my way through the ice covering the porch and driveway.
A month ago.....
I got woken up at 5:30 am to screeching rooster calls, chased hoppety raggedy anne sheep out of the cook shed, threw sticks at mangy duck families trying to steal the peanuts drying in the sun, and watched goats meander through the compound.
I stand outside on the log front porch, cup of steaming coffee in my hands, watching a moose and her calf kicking up snow and dancing in and out of the spruce trees. I look to the left and see an eagle, perched on the top of a tree, his nest an intricate sprawl of woven sticks, half-way down the tree. I can hear magpies and watch the birds that I don't know the name of flitting in skittishly to peck at bread crumbs and bits of salmon.
A month ago....
I was queen of pediatrics, comfortable and competent, making my way down the line of quinine drips, adjusting and assessing, writing prescriptions, making things happen, giving good care, presenting lectures and communicating in French. I was creating the hospital paperwork system, wrapping up my Community Health Worker training program, starting a new parasite prevention program with Mebendazole prescription slips for the community, and interviewing leading government officials about women's rights.
I am broke, I am jobless, no one knows me, and I know no one. I am starting over at the bottom, all my "accomplishments" pressed into a few lines I printed out on nice paper and slid carefully into a black presentation folder. I clutch this folder and push it forward, pick me, pick me - I'll do a good job for you, I'm a hard worker, I'm a team player, I'm....... desperate.
A month ago.....
I was eating rice and alum sauce with my fingers, sitting cross-legged on the mat and laughing with my family, for desert crunching handfuls of freshly roasted peanuts between our palms, the skin sliding off and and wafting to the ground like clay-red fairy dust. I was dreaming of sorbet and dark chocolate and real creamy milk and butter....just a taste of butter. I was craving potatoes and apples, crisp fresh perfect apples, and planning to eat berries every day.
Food has become food again, grazing through the cupboard, toasting a slice of bread, slathering it with butter without registering the deep appreciation I thought I would have. I'm making lentil soup bursting with bright beautiful organic vegetables, forgetting to marvel at the color, the texture, the vibrancy, the fact that I can cook on a stove and put something in the oven. Now, I'm taking food for granted, forgetting its a miracle, forgetting to savor it, forgetting I had dreamed of it for over a year.
A month ago.....
I was sleeping outside every night under the stars, perfectly comfortable on my little back packing mattress that was always deflated by morning. I was trying to soak in the brightness, the clarity, the wisdom of those stars. I didn't have a sleeping bag, a blanket, only sometimes covering up with a light faded paisley blue tapestry when I woke up at 3 am to the novel and welcome sensation of being cold. I woke up every morning to the sun on my face and a pack of children screaming and sweeping and beating drums.
I am sleeping on a cozy comfy queen sized bed, burrowed under a down comforter, soft pink sheets, and a wool blanket if I get colder. I look up and see rough wooden rafters, peeking my toes out of this sprawling mass of comfort. I wake up to....darkness, or grey morning light, the window between me and the gradual mild purple orange of the dawning sunrise. The stars here are just as bright but I have to bundle up to see them, pulling on layers of hoodies and flannel, looking at the end like a clunky overstuffed giant as I stumble onto the porch in the morning, blowing white morning breath from my shivering lips towards the light creeping over the mountains.
A month ago....
I was wearing light flowing cotton skirts, pants full of holes and tears, tank tops and flip flops, scrubs and a stethoscope. I didn't wear makeup and my face was tan and vibrant and I saw tone creeping into my arms from a long year hauling water from the well for dishes, horse, and bucket showers.
I am wearing stacks of layers, taking Vit. D instead of sunshine, and have yet to sink into a fashionable mode of winter attire. My tan has faded, I am shudderingly white, and I've lost my edge. In so many ways. I no longer look and smell like I stumbled out of the Sahel, I look....normal, kind of pasty, the wildness is gone and the make-up is on. I'm scouring my scanty wardrobe for things that look professional, looked through the Salvation army for black pants, worrying if my boots are nice enough for an interview....wishing I hadn't so zealously thrown out most of my possessions before going to Tchad.
A month ago.....
I was surrounded by friends and people that loved and respected me. I was enjoying relationships cultivated by a year of sharing intense experiences. I was swimming in the rice fields with Bronwyn and getting perpetually lost of the motorcycle with Carlie. I was hugging those girls goodbye the day I left, all of us crying, waving and waving and waving as the plane took off, some of the dearest people in the world to me fading to tiny little toy soldiers, still in Tchad, still surviving, still changing lives. How could I have just left them?
I am lonely. I'm reminding myself to be brave. To take risks. To join things. To try. I am overjoyed at the fact that I have found a friend in my neighbor, even though she is moving.
A month ago.....
I was putting NGTs into tiny broken babies, tucking them between Danae's hot water bottles, telling them to know, just know, that someone loved them. I was squeezing colostrum out of stubborn nipples, trying to keep from screaming at obtuse husbands that refused to let their aging wives have contraception, even though their life was at risk, and breaking down regularly as child after child that I knew or worked with died.
It seems like that barely happened. It seems like I barely cared that much. It seems like I don't know that person anymore. Even there faces are fading, the ones I swore I would carry with me always. The ones I swore that would always be remembered. The ones I promised as their heart slowed under my hands that I would never forget. Now, I am forgetting.
Then and now
Then and now
Now and then
Now and then
is all I have to say
****note: "a month ago" is not quite literal. think more " a month and a half ago" - but i didn't say that cuz it kinda messes up the literary "flow"
Monday, October 22, 2012
What is it about going west, going north, about last frontiers?
What is it about climbing a mountain, just to see what it looks like from the top? Or climbing the next one, to see if it looks any different?
What is it about not following recipes, adding rebel dashes of pepper and switching white sugar for brown or deciding to let the dough rise a few extra times?
What is it about not reading owners manuals or not stopping for directions?
What is it about breaking rules and laws and driving fast just to feel the wind in your hair?
What is it about Airstreams and VWs and campers and tents and tarps and backpacks?
What is it about moonshine and bluegrass and plucking the music of the road, of the mountain from a borrowed guitar?
What is it about the power of dreaming - the invisible forces of cherished wishes driving you on a blind walk toward a distant flash of northern lights?
What is it about seeing gypsies, road kids, hitch-hikers, leather tramps, thumbs to the sky with the world in their backpacks, wishing for a moment that you could be that free?
What is it about people that live on the edge, carving out there wild niche, not quite belonging to the wilderness, not quite belonging to society?
What is it about the notion of starting over?
What is it about long silver braids and feathers in the hat, fringed moccasins, and leather jackets?
What is it about wanting to beckon a stranger into the cracking contents of your soul, just because you know you'll never see them again?
What is it about motorcycles, the raw power and grit eating up the open road?
What is it about how the moon looks the same, dimpled and creamy and ferocious, no matter which side of the world you are standing on?
What is it about thrift stores and threadbare sweaters and a black and white picture in a locket that someone somewhere wore close to their heart?
What is it about used books, the wanderlust and wonder and exploration masquerading as dust falling reverent from cracking spines, weightless in slanted beams of afternoon sunshine.
What is it about peregrine falcons and birds and airplanes and hang-gliding and faeries and angel wings?
What is it about songs from the past, filling you with the wistfulness and power of a movement, a generation that will never repeat itself?
What is it about gambling, with your last crumpled 20, or with your job, your future, your life?
What is it about trading in everything tangible for an idea, or a belief, a cause, or a person?
What is it about forbidden fruit and Eve and skinny dipping under no swimming signs?
What is it about rain on your tongue and running water and bubbling springs and waves crashing rhythmic on salty beaches?
What is it about the eagle, the the wolf, the flashing flip of a silver salmon?
What is it about moving trains and open water and thunder swirling its grey magic across the sky?
What is it about cracks of lightening and gold trimmed purple orange sunsets and flames licking light from a solitary fire?
What is it about legends and leprechauns and big foot and running breathless towards the goldmine at the end of the rainbow?
What is it about the dust and the tears and the dance and the colors and the mad mad halleluiah of the journey?
What is it about craving, about wishing, about wanting, about going, about trying, about moving, about flying, about being, about hoping, about risking?
What it is about discontent masked as wanderlust?
What is it about longing to find a place that will finally pull me to stay?
**** in honor of Christopher Columbus and the spirit of this blog, the following is a silly throwback to my time in Tchad - what is it about the allure of exploring uncharted seas (or flooded rice fields) in a dugout canoe??
from a perfect turquoise speckled tie die cup. The view of the water
and the mountains is extraordinary. I have been here a week now. It
seems longer, so long, while at the same time seeming to be a frosty blink.
The snow came to Diamond Ridge with my arrival and hasn't left. I
probably won't see ground or green until June. Winter is long here, and
on the ridge it is even longer.
I have already seen a moose and her baby frolicking in the sloping field
in front of the front porch. I have hauled wood and split kindling. I
have shoveled snow and learned how to keep the wod stove at the delicate
and desired temperature. I have successfully driven on snow and ice
(twice!) and am slowly learning how to navigate the town. Its simple
really, most of the businesses etc are clustered on a few long streets.
I have driven out onto the spit - seen the boat harbor and where the big
oil rigs dock when they come to town to refuel. I am learning to cook
salmon and may have to just abandon my vegetarian status for awhile, or
join the ranks of those who mistakenly insist that fish isn't meat.
The atmosphere is different here. More relaxed, friendly. Yet it is
still a small town, skeptical of tourists, the demographic seems to be
split between the hardy long-termers, the ones that came up 20 or 30
years ago and never left, and the more transient gypsies, passing
through, spending a season or two taking in the beauty and outdoor
opportunities this place offers. There is an abundance of cute cafes
and coffee shops.
I am just trying to take it slow, gradually explore, but I am still in
limbo. I thought that feeling would stop once I got here, but
everything is just so up in the air. I always considered myself to be
easy going, not much a planner, but now I'm not so sure. I need to get
back to my live-in-the-moment-not-worry-about-what-tomorrow-brings kind
of attitude that I had in high school before nursing school sucked my
soul away with its responsibilities and deadlines - turning me into a
person that got A's and showed up to work on time.
The unknown is hard. Everything is up in the air. The neighbor in the
guest house next door is leaving and anything could happen. I don't
know if I'll stay in the log house or guest house will be. I don't know
who my neighbor will be or if I'll have one. I don't know if I will
take care of the dogs or not - Betsy is trying to decide whether or not
to take them to Portland. I'm trying to be responsible and helpful and
learn as much as I can and just roll with things, one day at a time. I
think it is good for me. The solitude is a mental game - and I am
gradually remembering that there is such a thing as controlling your
thoughts, as intentionally creating stillness within your mind and heart.
The solitude is going to be hard to grapple with. But it is necessary.
Learning to be good company for yourself. Motivating yourself to push
through loneliness and be productive. Its harder than I thought but I
will have all winter to work on it. I still wonder what on earth I am
doing here. That part never was clear to me. I just knew I wanted to
go. I felt like maybe I was supposed to be here. and so I staked it
all on that, threw all my eggs in one basket, some of them cracking, and
put everything I had into making it work in this place.
And I love it here. The beauty is stunning. A new place is just always
hard. When you are in the old place, comfortable and zen with your
current experience, the unknown is alluring. the journey. But then
when you arrive, it isn't quite as glorious. When you arrive at a new
place, you realize all the things you knew you would. You realize you
are at the bottom again. You realize that you will have to fight your
way up. You realize that even though its an essential part of the human
experience to arrive an unknown in the place you know no one - still it
I haven't found a job, and that is disconcerting. I have also only been
here a week. The search is far from over, but one did not fall out of
the sky into my lap as I had somehow expected. But I have far from
exhausted all my options, and I am currently deciding just how picky I
can afford to be. The answer, really, is not picky. not picky at all.
But the sun is shining, and the water is glistening, and the mountains
are silent and wild and ageless and I am grateful to be here.
que serah serah
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
I am cold!
Today it was 29 degrees, not even cold at all by Alaska standards - but I spent the better part of the day in various levels of shivering.
I need to learn how to dress. I was always the girl that never got cold, that kept the AC at 68 and opened my windows in the winter. I never bought coats or warm clothes and just went through winter's with hoodies, it was always too much bother to buy a warm coat and I would laugh at those who suggested it. I even used to go barefoot in snow and liked the feel of frosted grass under my toes.
But this is different. this is cold! Its probably because exactly one month ago - I was in Africa. And I had acclimated so much that the heat that felt unbearable a year ago felt like a perfect temperature when I left. Maybe I'll acclimate here too. Acclimate. I use that word a lot, but it has a quite literal and freezing meaning here.
I feel like of shell shocked to be honest. Its such a drastic change. I'm just taking it slow, doing one thing at a time, trying to give myself time and space and not expect too much. Today was the first big snow they have had here. Its a wild and eerie and silent and calm.
The snowflakes are falling in large lazy chrystalline clusters, the world is white and three inches of snow are stuck in feathery stacks on the the porch, the trees, the whole ridge.
It is wonderful here. Absolutely wonderful. It will take some de cluttering of the spirit to be able jive with the solace and solitude of life here. But it is beautiful. I am staying in a log house that was built by hand by Betsy's husband in the 60's. There are hard wood floors and huge picture windows overlooking the valley and a wrap around porch. There is a perfect glowing wood stove and I've already spent several mesmerized hours toasting my feet with my hands wrapped around a cup of tea, watching the twisting orange flames lick around the crackling logs.
There is art on the walls and plants on the window sill and 2 loving and enormous St. Bernard dogs lying like huge furry rugs in the living room. My room is full of books and bookshelves - I spent part of today unpacking and arranging and now I have my little slice of home and sanctuary. Items that once were stacked inside my mosquito net are tucked into a cabin in the Alaskan mountains.
I'm wondering what on earth I'm doing here. It is far from the edge of the Sahel. Far from the poverty and corruption and the daily grind of unspeakable suffering. This is a cute little town with a vibrant community, but I still miss Tchad. I knew when I left that Africa would stay in my blood and it has. I especially miss my friend Bronwyn - she is going through so much on the other side of the world and I wish we were holed up in her little house, slapping away mosquitos and ranting our frustrations or laughing hysterically as the situation requires. I love you Bronwyn. I miss you more than you can know.
It looks like my daring gamble payed off and I won't have that much trouble finding a job. I'm hoping I won't have to endure the dreaded soul suck of a 9-5, and I'm currently on a mission to discovery exactly how picky I can or cannot be. Betsy is amazing - the lady I am house sitting for. She is wise and kind and gentle with long silver hair and a robust laugh. I want to be like her when I grow up. She eats organic food, went to Berkeley in the early 60's and got a degree in Genetics and drove north from California one day, finally winding up in Alaska. It seems like most people that come here end up staying. I wonder if the same will happen to me.
I already have had my first lessons in working a wood stove, cooking salmon, and driving in snow and ice.
Today we had lunch at this awesome place - had steaming cups of soup and fresh baked bread - I'm in love with Homer already.
And did I mention - I'm cold?
Cold but so so so soooooo grateful for the opportunity to be here!
Monday, October 15, 2012
finally googled where I'm flying into in 2 hours...) this is Homer!
I'll be there this evening.
After a month of catching up with friends and family, packing,
repacking, crashing on couches, meeting wonderful new people and
reconnecting with old, I am finally almost at my final destination:
no good reason.
I hear its beautiful.....
I have always wanted to live in Alaska.....
I feel rather "called" there.....
I hear it might be my kind of town.....
I'm looking for a place to put a few roots down....
I really don't know....
But I do know that it feels right. I do know that I'm so excited. I
do know that it was be hard. I do know that it will be another cultural
But I am ready.
My goals are to take it slow. be kind. be quiet. be honest. be real.
and then of course....the elusive and all important nursing job....
(expecting my AK nursing license in a few days!!)
and then keep working on French
and when I get settled start taking a hard look at all the interviews I
got in Tchad from the women....
and I want to become more outdoorsy, maybe take up cross country skiing,
swimming, kayaking, etc.
I just want to settle in gradually and let the serenity of the mountains
seep into my soul
My "culture shock" which was really more of a grey haze is slowly
receding and strength and excitement is taking its place.
Thanks to those of you who are hanging in there with my blog - last
month was sort of a black hole but I am hoping that inspiration will
come again and I can take you with me on this new journey to the other
side of the world.
As I flew into Anchorage, there was a low mist hanging over its flat
sprawling expanse and power sugar snow was dusting the tips of the
mountains and clinging to the trees.
It is officially freezing.
and as of today,
I have officially moved to Alaska!!!
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
That's the real question. Not the "how was Africa?" I was expecting, but, how does it feel to be back?
how DOES it feel to be back?
that's a valid question that I have no answer to. My answer varies every time.
The fact is I just don't know.
Maybe "it" will hit me later.
What that it will entail I have no idea.
Or maybe I made out like an emotional bandit - maybe it really IS this easy.....
After my initial evening of wow look at all the paved streets, it has been surprisingly nice to be back.
That's the word: nice.
Raspberries with thick creamy Greek yogurt have been nice.
Hot tea in the morning as rain bruises the window pane has been nice.
Catching up with as many friends as possible, although exhausting, has been nice.
Markets stuffed with fresh baked bread, organic chocolates, and rainbows of vegetables has been nice.
Hot water and bathtubs and bath salts and sugar scrubs and tea tree face wash has been nice.
Getting my nails done has been nice.
Being able to sleep in without a pressing engagement has been nice.
Its all been nice. But its vanilla.
I miss the depth, the richness, the spice, the color, the mud, and the heat rising from the trampled earth.
But its not like its always in my mind - just a vague wistfulness.
My main problem right now is limbo. Not having anywhere to call home, packing and re packing and sorting and sorting and now with 130 pounds of belongings I am going to start a new life. Its silly, but it breaks my heart to leave my books behind. I don't have much in this life to call my own other than clothes and books and mementos from all my travels. I so wanted to haul everything up to Alaska with me and have a fresh start, a clean move.
But the absurdities of shipping 7 boxes of books when one is broke and living off a credit card are self-evident, and so I'm once again split - half my things at Grandma's and half my things with me. Its not like I have a lot - to most people's standards I don't. I just hate feeling scattered, feeling split.
And I love my family and friends and those that have been so gracious to me, but a month of living on other people's couches takes a strange toll of its own. There is no sanctuary, no space to spread out and decompress. No room to arrange things to your liking and then sit in it thinking.
Of course, its people, not things, that constitute the stuff a vibrant life is made out of, but there is something to be said for having your own space.
So, now, a new, emphatic, adamant dream has been born - I want to make as much money as possible and then buy property some place beautiful at my first available opportunity. I don't want to get sucked in, I don't want to sink a lot of money into it, just some small quaint self - sufficient place that is mine, that is a home base, a sacred space, a little oasis I can come back to every time I get back from the madness. Because I want more madness. I want more insanity. I want more travel. I want more experience. I loved Tchad. I want to work internationally and MSF is still my big wide driving dream - but I never want to feel like this. never. ever. again.
So, how is being back?
Its a curious mix of gratitude, limbo, longing, and grey. Its sort of like a lucid dream while at the same time feeling both brutally awake while unable to shake off the curtains of sleep.
and also, it is, it really is nice.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for following my blog
this past year. It has meant everything to me that even though I was a
world away you took the time out of your busy lives to learn about a
culture different from yours, and to open up your hearts to read about
suffering and loss and beauty that you could have easily shut out or
been indifferent to.
Thank you for your comments, prayers, encouragement, emails, light, and
Thank you for not forgetting me.
Now that I am back, it becomes even more amazing still that anyone would
have paused their routine to become immersed in the struggles of the
life and death drama that played out in front of my eyes in Tchad.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
You truly were my lifeline.
I am going to continue writing my blog - so I encourage everyone to
continue reading it. The focus will shift to the next chapter in my
life - my move up to snow country, Homer, Alaska and all the adventure
and hardship that that will entail. I will truly be going into another
culture, starting once again at the bottom of something I don't
understand and am not prepared for - and I will write about it.
I have the opportunity to house-sit a beautiful rustic home on the top
of a mountain - over looking the town of Homer and the glaciers and the
bay - I will have to figure out how on earth to cook a fish, swing an
ax, and drive in snow for the first time.
I will arrive in Alaska Oct. 15 to start my new life! Right now I am
living out of boxes and suitcases and by the generosity of family and
Please feel free to contact me via email as well:
firstname.lastname@example.org and my new address and phone number are
available upon request and at my discretion.
I want to open my arms up wide wide wider than the earth and the stars
and hug all of you, so tight, and somehow transmit to you this gratitude
that is bursting out of my heart for those of you that truly were my
lifeline in one of the hardest and best years I have ever had.
Love Love Love Love
- and keep reading!
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Cars and cement and shiny plastic red shoes, spikey and garish and dull, how much do you think those cost he said.
“$500? no, $150?”
No, [laugh] “$1,400”
Judging the shoes and judging the mall, seeing tiny frail bodies pressed into the soles, little languid wrists tumbling out.
Stop! Drama queen!
Walking past Versace, Michael Kors, sparkling dresses and shiny silver and maroon suits, who would buy that I said,
Versace is more Miami, he said, Italian elegance.
Just landed and tired and am I dreaming, walking through one of the most opulent malls of America.
Skeletons peering out from behind suits, swaying and dancing, little sharp bumps under folds of rich emerald fabric.
I smell pretzals, and pretzals smell good, I don’t want any. I’m not actually here.
Into a Nike store, rows of neon green, construction orange, gray lined with bright pink, giant photos of perfectly perspiring models staring down at me in black and white grim and frozen in time.
Can I help you find anything, he said
He had a headband around his forehead, I wonder, have you ever been in 120 heat?
She is walking out of Bloomingdale’s before us. Twisted black bra strap, black designer sunglasses, lips rich and red, tiny pinstriped shorts with a high waste line, high gold heels, slim white top, am I in the circus?
Am I in the circus, or am I the circus?
Feet swollen from the airplane, top of right food angry and red, spreading pink from a quarter sized infected bug bit, pus and grey and red and it’s just another bug bite and that’s disgusting, he said.
I won’t tell you about all the fungus and spreading purple rashes and hundreds of bites and a 2 months heat rash stinging my back and how that’s just another day.
Come with us to the mall,
Do I need to change? Well, yes.
Why did I ask? I shouldn’t have asked. I don’t need to do anything.
Took off my Tchad jersey and blue hospital scrubs, wearing a tight black shirt and pants, looking skinnier, not skinny enough, is this okay? Or this? Why do I need to ask anyone what is okay to wear to one of the fanciest mall in America?
Green scarf and African bag, nice touch he said, except it’s not an accessory, it was the only thing left of me.
Putting on makeup, briefly liking the girl staring back, yet makeup wasn’t the panacea I dreamed it would be. I thought I would be more beautiful. I want to take it off.
Crocs on my feet and going to the mall.
This is my car. I don’t know about cars. It was black and sleek and shiny. You could change the music from the steering wheel. Tan leather seats and rain slapping the windshield.
I hate the rain, he said
The city, the city, so glad I am not driving, going down the hill, the lights turn green and it’s a trippy strip of color shining back and pouncing into our eyes as we speed through slick black streets.
Searching for something in common. He is nice, I like him. No, I didn’t know Kim Kardashian was divorced. Or ever married for that matter.
I felt safe in Tchad, I said.
Safer than the city.
Feeling a black despair creep in with the rain, my pants are too tight and I don’t see any cows.
Swiping my credit card at CVS, yum, zing, altoids, I want those too, 7 dollars.
A fighting match between a tall fat woman and her slouchy husband man, ordering him out of the store, I don’t know if he goes.
Wait, did I buy it, let me help you, he said. Is it debit or credit. Oh, um, smile, sorry I just back from Africa. No, really.
She is older and has grey dreadlocks. Why do I feel racist saying “Africa?”
Did you like it?
Yes, sure, yes.
Push credit, I forgot there were so many steps. The receipt is like magic.
Sorry, I said, in my tight black shirt, I’m kind of like a kid right now. Following him wherever he went, past the perfumes and the shoes and the mall was so clean and so much space and smelled like roses at a funeral.
Are you having a good time? [anxiously]
Yes! I’m fine, I’m just looking at everything….
Why am I such a cliché?
Why did I think, that I am above culture shock, somehow stronger than that.
I’m thinking in cliché, stop seeing the children, stop! but there are children in every dress, they are tiny and in the next few hours they are going to die and I wonder the hard plastic mannequin knows that reaching wrinkled hands are wrapped around her waist, that she is wearing more than Abercrombie.
Checking prices of a purse of his friend. How much did she pay for it?
Well, that depends. The question was met seriously. Suade and leather, or all three pieces are leather, and it depends. Also, it has increased in value. Last year it was $1900, now it’s $2400.
Is that something that she gets asked a lot?
Atlanta is the LA for black people he said. We push past people. Heels clicking. The mall is dead now. Dead? You should see these girls on a Saturday. Decked out, beautiful, and he lists in what but he lost me.
Why would you pay $5,000 for a wig?
I want to knock it from your head. But you are beautiful. Like I wish I was.
I come home, I slurp up vegetable soup from a serving spoon, the carrots are perfect and crunchy and I’m consuming large amounts of squash and zucchini do I like those now? Seriously, this soup is amazing.
Going to bed, I can’t sleep on silk sheets, pushing them off me, where is my tapestry, its static from being fresh and washed and I pull it over me, hairy legs peeking out and catching on the sheets beneath me and music, I need music,
Dylan? No, he will make me so sad. Clapton, no, there isn’t enough soul in mine for Clapton…. Nickelback…..if everyone cared and nobody cried, if everyone loved and nobody died, fan blowing gently and contacts out and before the song is over I am sleeping
Waking up this morning and the shower is hot. Its searing and steaming and feels so good between my shoulder blades. The soap is luxury, probably from Victoria secret, designer shampoo, and it’s silky on my skin and then I go for the soap bar just in case.
Yesterday, I got pushed into the shower. You smell rank, she said. Shower so I can enjoy you. Does everyone smell like that in Africa? Feeling like I have to explain, it’s just that I’ve been traveling for 48 hours,
Did you shave your armpits, the question when I got out. I thank her graciously. And shaving my armpits was nice.
My hair isn’t coarse anymore. I want my Dr. Bronner’s. Did you know you can brush your teeth with that too?
The dirt under my fingernails is gone. I want it back.
Pushing my pillow off the bed – you’re going to have to wash that, it still smells like Africa. It’s not a bad smell….it’s just, I’m just letting you know….
Black coffee this morning, flowing brown pants and low green Bob marley shirt, its big and comfy and has been with me 5 years, I cut the collar out long ago and loved it ever since. Okay, this is me. No makeup. I’m surprised. I don’t want it this morning
Okay. That’s better.
Humid drizzly Atlanta morning. The house across the gated suburb has a giant TV on the wall. I can see through the cast iron porch slats, and they are watching TV at 7 am.
I want Montana.
I want my future Yurt.
I want my people. I don’t know where they or if they exist, but I want them. The people that think dirt is clean and have lots of mosquito bites too.
You have to be yourself, I told myself. It doesn’t matter who is around you, you have to be yourself. Don’t change your clothes for anything or anyone.
And don’t judge.
I DO judge you. Not you, my friend who so kindly picked up and threw her arms around me and carried my heavy bags and bought organic vegetables and ordered me into her wonderful shower and let me use her shampoos and cosmetics.
I DO judge you. Not you, my new friend, my friend’s roommate, boy in all black with the funky black hat and the black BMW that likes the thrift store too, friend that let me follow like an odd ugly duckling, trailing through the mall. Not you, the one that asked about the specifics of bucket showering, and typical houses, and listened when I told about compounds. We finally found a CD we both loved and you let me burn it and that was so kind. You are kind.
No, not you.
So, if I don’t judge you, who do I judge? I guess I judge the faceless. I judge the ones I haven’t met. I judge the diamonds on your shoes. I judge the existence of a mall. I judge anyone that would pay that price for anything.
But then, I’m judging most people. I don’t want to be judged either.
I don’t know how to stop judging.
But, how can you pay that? How can you ostracize and exclude someone from your social circle that doesn’t pay that. Is that why you pay? For friends? Or were you that little girl, always on the outside looking in, and now, now that you made it, it’s important to you, so important. Is that why you pay?
Why are appearances so important? It’s not your fault, it’s not, we are all a product of our environment and exposures and in this regard I have been lucky in this life. But, how can you pay that?
But how I am supposed to tell you what a skeleton feels like. Or the hunted eyes of a starving woman. Or what it’s like to walk by a woman pounding millet, and she leans on her wooden pounding stick, and she is wearing purple and tired and sweaty with strong shaped arms and she just looks at you, and you just look back and you don’t wave and you don’t say hi, because the divide is too great. This will never be your life and she will never have yours. And to have those eyes, that look, that chasm, always with you.
But should I tell you about that? Should I become a mad street corner preacher, a moralizer no one wants to be around, should I be a dark rain dissolving your rainbow of happiness? No! of course not. That’s not fair. To anyone.
Is it my responsibility to teach what I’ve learned, to convey it?
Maybe not. No. Give others grace. That’s all you want, after all.
Wow, yes, I am the cliché.
I miss French. I’m listening to French music right now.
I don’t know.
But I will wear what I want.
I stood on my sticker covered trunk outside the airport looking for Buggy. I was barefoot and very tall standing on it and my backpack was beside me and I was listening to CCR without headphones because in Tchad everyone walks around with their music blasting and I had messed up braids and a brown shirt and sweeping black pants with a thousand holes and I stood on my trunk in the wind and looked out over the cars and everyone was looking at me and I DIDN’T CARE. I was me.
And now, since I have no home, I am all I have. So, I cannot abandon myself. Never. Never. And if I don’t abandon myself, perhaps I won’t abandon them either. The ones I promised to never forget.
I need to stop seeing sharp little racks of ribs stuffed into every opulent item.
But, then again, the more frightening thing would be to have the sharpness lose its edge.
And I guess it’s not your fault either, but I hate you, you spikey ugly high heeled red shoes – did you hear the skull pop and the squish of the brains sliding out in the hole you made in the eye socket as you stepped down?
Did you even know you were walking on bodies?