Sunday, November 11, 2012


Accidentally posted an email to my blog - sorry if you got it - as you
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


Mice were supposed to stay in Tchad.  Or stay in the field.  Or the basement.  Or even the kitchen.  But certainly not in my bedroom and MOST DEFINITELY not on my face. 

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. 

Big mistake. 

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........ be cont........


Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Sunrise is seeping through the mountains, long impish brushes of purpled blue and pink are streaking across the sky, and loneliness has been replaced by wonder and gratitude - real, breathtaking, i-can't-believe-how-nice-people-are gratitude.

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 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.

Thank-you family.

Thank-you Homer.

Thank-you Universe. 


Saturday, November 3, 2012


Its utter desolation and there are snippets of everything.  Minnie dying, Teskrio’s smile, Bronwyn’s chocolate sponge cake, everything.  Its french radio and coffee that gets cold too fast $150.00 to fill the gas tank and going places all by myself.

I feel like I’m in the Himalayas or some place just as ragged and jutting and wild.  There is supposed to be great energy here – but for me there is great loneliness.  The wind howls in circles around the house, unknown boards creaking and shuddering, bringing a cold that cuts you.  A cold that seeps through down layers and razors your face and makes fingers red and stiff and swollen.  The mountains are the same every morning.  Just as majestic and uncaring, mystical and untouchable as the day before.

The threadbare prayer flags flapping and dancing to harsh slams of wind on the weathered porch gate remind me of another place, another time, just as cold.  They make me feel like I’m climbing Everest or if a red robed Tibetan monk is going to sit cross legged on the edge of the railing or if some lone figure is standing on the top of a mountain, screaming secrets my mind is too cluttered to perceive.  The shivering slap of the prayer flags always draws me in, mesmerizing me with a great haunting desolation. 

I feel like I’m surrounded by ocean – a lone cork or buoy bobbing in the froth and tangle of the sea, something bright but forgotten, something far far from home.  But I don’t have a home.  Idaho is the closest thing to a home that I felt kinship to - Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Michigan, New York, Tchad, Alaska – in all those places I was my home – home was the sacred niche you carved out of the madness.  Home was a bunk bed, a dorm room, a mosquito net, a trailer, a tent, a spare bedroom, and now – a hand built log house on the top of the ridge.  But it doesn’t feel like home.  I wonder if anything ever will any more.  I wonder if I will let it. 

I came here because finally, I wanted to put down roots.  Now, all I want to do is run. 

I want to run back to Tchad, where at least I gave a damn and knew my place in this world – now, I don’t know those people anymore and I don’t know the person that was there, and I feel like I don’t care at all.  That is the most unsettling part.  I don’t care at all. 

I want to run to Pennsylvania – and make impossible things possible with a boy I barely know and will never have a chance to know because I am always the one that leaves.  

I want to run to Tennessee – to rewind the fallen dominoes of choices and never let go of the person that loved me more than anyone else in the whole world.

I want to run to Idaho – turn back the clock and be a kid again – get a horse and eat food from my parents kitchen and swim in the waters of Lake Chatcolet and spend hours taming wild barn cats with tuna and building forts and teepees and scrambling for rusted stakes on abandoned railroad tracks. 

I want to run across the world – with magically enough money in my pocket and everything I need in my backpack and I just want to see everything.  I want to balance barefoot on the Great Wall of China and watch Europe blur by from the window of a train.  I want to drink Guinness in Dublin and roll down a hill thick with wildflowers in the Alps and tour Auschwitz and ride horses through Australia and hitchhike in New Zealand. 

I want to run to South Sudan – I want to give medical help to the starving the dying the ones that need it the most, the ones in the most fragile situations, I want to work with MSF now, I want to know what I’m doing here, why here, why Homer, when I should be there.

I’m a planner.  A dreamer.  My mind is always wandering.  My soul is never content.  My spirit is always flying around the cage of my mind, crashing into logic and scattering feathers, breaking its wings against grit and determination. 

I’m not one that gives up when things are hard.  I’m one that foolishly seeks hard things for the sake of overcoming them.  I’m the one that romanticized moving to Alaska in winter.  I believe in myself far too much and not nearly enough all at the same time.  But things are hard right now.  Things are very hard.  The arms of solitude are cold and bare and icy and unforgiving. 

The loneliness here is like the mountains, solid and silent, unflinching, unrelenting, uncanny, immoveable, regal, majestic, breathtaking, and uncaring.  The mountains give you a sense of insignificance.  They were here long before you.  They will be here long after.  The sun rose over the peaks and fell beneath the ocean long before your plane arrived in Homer and long after you say your last goodbye.  How long you last is up to you.  How hard you want to fight is up to you.  What you do with your time is up to you.  When you say goodbye is up to you.  If you run away, it’s up to you – the wind will still catch the sails of the prayer flags, the old porch will peel and grey a little more each year, the sun will still smile cold and hard and fleeting, and the mountains will be as beautiful as they have always been.