Friday, January 22, 2021

seasonal round


What Goes Around Comes Around

June, month of light; it never gets dark
I am up early and go to bed late.
I watch the sun move in a circle around the sky,
Changing the color of the birch leaves
Who knew there were so many shades of green?

July, endless summer and it’s getting old.
The days never end, 
The mosquitoes have gone.
I am tired of the sun.
I am tired of green.
I am tired.

Here comes the rain again bringing the colors with it.
Mushrooms poke their yellow and red heads from the brown earth,
While high bush cranberry leaves blush crimson red.
Every morning I go outside and breathe in deeply,
Hoping to feel the first bite of fall filling my lungs,
As a golden birch leaf falls silently to my feet.

September’s golden hills surround me.
I walk on a carpet of yellow leaves
That have let go of summer and have fallen like the sun
Finally we have night again.

October and the world is transformed from dead brown
To crystal white as the snow falls magically from a gray sky.
It is time to hibernate with my candles,
And my Christmas lights,
And my books and yarn,
And myself.

November, December—darker and darker,
 I feel more and more joyful with each passing day.
The peace and tranquility of the dark mornings
Fill me with gratitude for all I have,
And all that I am.
I sit and enjoy the silence and give thanks.

January and the light returns,
Six more minutes each day.
Outside in my purple parka on a clear –40 degree day,
Even my breath is brittle.
It feels like it will shatter and crash to the ground in tiny pieces
To blend with the snow that crunches under my feet 
Sparkling like a carpet of diamonds.

April and May and winter gives way.
The white melts into brown, as my mood turns black.
Piles of filthy snow sit in parking lots and along roadways.
Driveways and dirt roads become lakes of mud.
I can hear the mosquitoes breeding.
Turning my face to the sky,
I desperately search,
Hoping to see a faint wash of green against the blue,
That tells me the birch leaves are budding
And will soon be back.
Are there really that many shades of green?

Thursday, January 21, 2021

being peace


Thanksgiving decorations
seem strangely
out of place
where the harvest has been
over for months and
the red and gold
have been smothered by the snow
that will be here until
overstaying its welcome.

The morning is cold, dark, and still
except for the manic chickadees
swooping to the feeder,
grabbing a seed and
flying away.

Wrapping myself in a shawl
I take my seat by
the window.
Cradling my cup of tea
I hold the mug to
my face
Letting my breath mingle with
the wispy tendrils of heat
escaping from the mug
into the air.

I feel the peace wrapping itself
around me 
flowing into me.

I watch the candle flames dance
to the peaceful sounds
of the chants that
flow from the 
no other light but that of my own

In a while I will pick up some
or some
but for now
I will just sit here
being peace
and radiating joy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

moose crossing

When we went to Fairbanks to find a place to live, one thing we noticed right away was the many moose crossing signs. They were everywhere. We eagerly awaited our first moose sighting. Alas, we did not see one moose on that trip, nor did we see one during the first few months after we’d moved there. We had met our neighbours, who lived down the road a bit, and mentioned our eagerness to see some moose. One night, they called to tell us that a moose was headed our way. We went directly to the large windows and waited. Then, all of a sudden, there it was! The tall, gangly being, slowly walking among the trees looking for something to munch on. We watched with rapt attention. I am not sure how long we stood there.

After living there for a while, moose sightings became commonplace and it was kind of sad to realise that. We just took them for granted We still enjoyed watching them, and we knew to respect them, because you don’t want to get between a mama moose and her offspring. She has a mean kick that can do serious damage and has killed small dogs. Our neighbours had a garden and they had to try to make a moose-proof fence. I chuckled, remembering my Nana, who used to see the deer in her large garden and would keep a pot and wooden spoon by the back door for just such moments. I vividly remember her storming out the door, banging on the pot and yelling, ‘You deer get out of my garden!’ I’m not sure how she would have dealt with moose munching on her veggies!

We had large windows in our round house and we had our dining table next to one of them. One morning, I turned around with my coffee and saw a moose on the porch looking in the window at my breakfast.

I loved winter mornings in that house. I would sit by one of the windows that looked out down the driveway, a curved path cut through the trees. It would not get light until 10:30 or 11, depending on the month, and I would sit drinking tea, listening to quiet music, and stitching or reading, stopping frequently to just look out the window. I had icicle lights hanging down in the windows, which were double-paned, so the lights were reflected in them, providing enough light, but not too much. I had candles burning. 

The cats would sleep in their improvised cat cabins, made out of boxes and set in front of the heater. The dogs napped on the floor in front of the heater. It was quiet. As sunrise slowly approached, the birds would come to the feeder, the squirrels would attempt to steal some seed (but never succeeded) and the moose would come. It was so blissfully peaceful.

Our dog, Inu, also liked the moose, but in a different way. One day, our Inupiaq Eskimo friends came to visit, bringing him the gift of a moose bone. He was thrilled and strutted around the house. But we apparently did not make enough enthusiastic noises to suit him, and he started whining as he marched around the house with the giant bone hanging from his mouth. We started making exclamations of delight in our high pitched voices. ‘Oh, what do you have there?’ ‘What a big bone!’ ‘What an excellent bone!’ After a minute or two of this, he was satisfied and settled down with his treat.

Sadly, it was pretty common for moose to get hit by cars and killed. When this happened, the list was consulted. I am not sure who kept this list, but it consisted of people and groups that signed up to come to the scene when a moose was killed by a vehicle. They butchered the moose and kept or distributed the meat, so it did not go to waste.

They are definitely magnificent creatures! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

water 4

After about a year of this, it got old, and we decided to start going to the laundromat and to get water from a place closer to town.  It cost two cents a gallon there, where the other place was free, but it was closer so we used less gas, and it was easier.  You could pull right up and they had hoses, like at the gas station.  It was right near where Bill worked, so it was convenient—and it meant no more getting up early on Sunday morning!
    About nine months later, Bill tried again to get someone to go into the tank and fix the hole.  He had tried when the hole was first discovered and no one would do it.  I can’t say I blame them—the only way into the tank was through a small opening about 18 inches across.  Then the person would have to stand in there with a torch and weld a new piece of metal over the hole!  The thought of being in that tank, with such a tiny opening with flame and smoke makes me queasy!  But this time, he found someone who would do it. Of course, by this time, the pump was frozen, as was the line to the house.  And the water heater was shot, so we had to get those things fixed.  Finally, one day, we turned on the faucet, and out came water!  It was weird.  So we tried to get used to having water once again.  It didn’t last long.  By this time we were selling the house and the new one we bought had a septic system, but no running water.  We knew how to live like that—we’d had lots of practice.  So we were back to hauling water.  We knew though, that we had it easier than people who don’t have septic systems.  We had an indoor bathroom and drains and things like that.  

We could take something like a shower in our own house, and we could stay inside to go to the bathroom, instead of trudging through the snow at –45 degrees to use the outhouse.  Because of that, it really wasn’t that bad to be without running water.  In some ways, it was easier.  We never had to worry about running out of water because we could always see how much we had and go get it ourselves when we needed more.  It was much cheaper to get it ourselves than to have it delivered.  And our electric bill plummeted.  It is amazing how much electricity we had used in our first years there simply for water!  We never had to worry about pipes freezing or plugging in the heat tape.  It was annoying at times, but it was satisfying in a way too.  I felt that I was living in a more basic way somehow.  The water wasn’t the only reason for that—I had gotten to a place where I was eliminating lots of extraneous stuff from my life, and running water became one more thing that was eliminated.  And I suppose I felt somewhat virtuous—I was conserving, and conserving a lot!  As a family of three, we used less than 100 gallons of water per week in the house, plus whatever we used to do our one load of laundry at the laundromat.  It was a real learning experience, and one I am rather glad I had!  It helped me to understand that what we commonly think of as “necessary” can usually be revised!

Monday, January 18, 2021

water 3

Things went along like that for several years.  Again we thought we were doing such a good job using water wisely.  Then we got to go to the next level.  One day I was doing dishes when there was a drop in water pressure.  From past experience, I knew that this meant the pump was not pumping water into the house.  Bill went to investigate and what he found was a flood!  The underground room was knee deep in water!  That meant the tank had sprung a leak.  It was December 30 and cold, but thankfully, not as cold as it could have been!  He called a rental place to try and rent a pump.  He explained the situation and the guy took pity on him, I guess.  He said they don’t usually rent out pumps in the winter because people bring them back frozen, but since technically we would not be using it outside, he would make an exception.  By the time we got the pump home and started pumping, it was 3 p.m.  We finished at midnight.  By the time the water was pumped out of the room, there was still some left in the tank, so I filled as many containers as I could find to get us through the next few days.  This began the next stage in our water adventure!

The next day we returned the pump and then went to buy some water containers.  We found seven, six, and five gallon jugs.  Then we went to find the spring that we had heard people talking about.  We discovered that we had driven by it without knowing what it was on several occasions.  

We pulled up, parked and brought our jugs up to the spigots.  There were two of them on a little platform over the spring.  We pressed a metal button and water came out of the spigot—sometimes fast and sometimes slow—it depended on the water level and whether both spigots were in use.  Once it was full, I went to pick up the six-gallon jug and almost fell down!  It was so heavy!  I had no idea water weighed so much!  And, to make matters worse, the place was a sheet of ice—all uneven and bumpy, with no traction at all.  Under the spigots was a metal grate so ice wouldn’t build up so fast, but around that was like this hill of ice and you had to kind of brace yourself against that to get the water.  It was always a nerve-wracking time, trying to get those full containers back to the truck.  And if people came up after you, instead of waiting by their vehicles, they had to line up their containers right behind you, so there was no room to move.  I grew to hate going there.  The water was really good, but the experience was tedious—at least in the winter.  

The metal button was cold, though someone showed us how to shove a penny in there to keep it depressed—that was good for my frozen fingers!  It was icy and sometimes crowded, and people were inconsiderate.  It was treacherous to try to get from the truck to the water and back to the truck.  And in order to beat the crowds, we got up very early on Sunday morning to get there.  It took an hour altogether from the time we left to the time we got back.    If, for some reason, we used more water than usual, we had to make an extra trip.  We were very careful with water.  We heated a kettle of water for dishes and for “showers.”  We learned to wash with even less water.  We used about a gallon to “shower.”  It took a long time to do things now that you had to wait for the water to heat up.  Instead of jumping in the shower, we had to heat up the water and mix it with colder water to get the right temperature.  Then we had to be very careful once we were in there washing up, because once that hot water was gone, there wasn’t any more.  To do dishes we filled a dishpan with hot water washed them all, then rinsed from the beverage cooler thing we had on the counter by the sink.  It had a little spigot, and that served as our “running water” for the sink.  Cooking changed because we never wanted to produce large amounts of dirty dishes—they were a pain to clean.  For a while, I even was doing the laundry by hand.  That was quite something in the winter—hanging dripping wet clothes outside on the clothesline and watching them steam until they froze, leaving icicles hanging from them.

Friday, January 15, 2021

water 2

So began our experience with water in Fairbanks.  We became very aware of every single drop we used.  It is one thing to pay your city water and sewer bill every three months and not pay much attention to it.  But when you have to constantly keep an eye on the water level in your tank and pay 6 cents per gallon (now currently 9 cents per gallon) when it gets too low, you have a different perspective!  As it turns out, our well produced a lot sometimes and very little at other times, so we never knew when we would need a delivery.  Bill would go down every couple of days and check the level in the tank.  In time, he was able to recognize the level at which an order for 1000 gallons of water should be called in for the next day.  In the winter, we usually went a few months between deliveries; at other times of the year it was more like three weeks.  One summer we went only nine days between deliveries.  That was expensive!     
Some people in town put tanks of 300-500 gallons in the back of their pick-up trucks or on trailers and they hauled water themselves.  They would go to the water station and pay two cents a gallon to fill their tank and then bring it home and fill the holding tank in their house.  We didn’t have the equipment for that, so we paid the extra to have it delivered to our house—and it certainly was convenient to have them do that when it was –40 outside.  We had one mishap when we ordered 1000 gallons (as we always did) and for some unknown reason, they pumped 1300 gallons into the tank—and all over the floor of the underground room.  We had to rent a pump to clean up the mess.  Still, we got used to things.
  We learned to take fast showers and to get wet, turn off the water, soap up, turn the water back on, rinse, and get out.  This was not as bad as you might think when taking a shower in the morning.  The bathroom was cold and standing there wet was not something I cared to spend lots of time doing!  It became second nature to us to turn off the water when brushing teeth, or washing dishes, and to simply be mindful when we were using water for any purpose.  It was a somewhat difficult transition for the Norwegian exchange student we had one year, who was used to 20-minute (literally) showers at home where there is water everywhere.  She also had to learn to turn off the lights when she left the room, which annoyed her mother to no end when she returned home.  Since they use water to produce their electricity, they pay virtually nothing for it, so they leave lights on all the time.  Even she got used to it, though I am sure she was happy to get back to her long, steamy showers when she returned home!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

water 1

this is the water wagon station where you can fill up your containers.  A delivery truck can be seen on the side of the station filling up so he can go out and deliver water to their customers.

Water—we tend to take it for granted.  Turn on the faucet and out it flows.  Oh, sure, while we lived in Portland, we had drought warnings in the summer sometimes and being a person who believes in conservation, I was always happy to try to cut back on my usage.  And I thought I was doing a pretty good job!  It didn’t take very long in Fairbanks, though, for me to learn that there was more to be done.
    Fairbanks is very dry.  There are also permafrost areas.  So ground water is not abundant.  Building a house off the city water system means making choices.  You can try to dig a well, but it will probably have to be very deep and expensive.  The quality of the water may be questionable.  You can go without running water altogether—many people do this.  There are cabins all over the area with outhouses and no water.  
4.40 for a 10min shower
Laundromats have shower rooms to accommodate people who live in these places. Water is available at pumping stations and at a spring north of town.  If neither of those options appeals to you, you can install a holding tank and have water delivered.  Our house had a well that pumped water into a holding tank that was in a subterranean room that you could climb down into.  We were told that the well pumped 200 gallons of water a day.  This would be no problem, we figured, since we were pretty good at not using large amounts of water—or so we thought!
    A few days after our arrival in Fairbanks, someone flushed.  It was pretty clear from the resulting noises that we were not getting any water coming into the house.  Bill and Rick climbed underground to have a look.  Yup, the tank was dry.  They tried the button for the well pump.  Nothing happened.  Figuring that there was a problem with the pump, we looked up the number of the company that had recently installed the pump, though since it was Independence Day, we knew we wouldn’t be talking to them until the following day.
   Someone came out in the morning, tested it and said everything was fine.  We just had a well that was producing variably, we were told, and to test exactly how much would be an expensive proposition.  We were advised to just have water delivered.  Back to the phone book we went.  Rick called around town and discovered that everyone’s prices were the same—six cents per gallon with a $50 minimum.  They kept asking how big the tank was and Rick kept guessing 500 gallons.  We picked a company and they came over.  The guy went to look at the tank and informed us it was 1500 gallons.  Then he began pumping the water through the black pipe sticking up from the ground (so that’s what that was for!).  It was just like an oil delivery that you might get to heat your house.  It took several minutes and that was it!  We paid the bill and the guy left.