A mild winter indeed, Haines has been experiencing remarkable conditions as of late. March first, clear and cloudless skies that are bluer than blue, with magic mountains gleaming so clear that it takes me a moment to wipe my eyes and re-focus in order to take them in as they should be taken. Temperatures have been mild as well; daytime highs these last days have hovered in the high thirties, with the darkness temperatures peaking lowly around fifteen. Snow has not fallen since early February, while back in January, snow did not fall at all with any significance; December on the other hand, showed a display of record breaking snowfall, with over 96 inches of the white stuff, breaking all known snowfall accounts since humans have been recording such occurrences. It has been a grand spectacle of remarkable days for some time. Folks are out and about in these fantastic status, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, working. I, unfortunately, and on the same account, fortunately, have been a commitment to the latter, having just bought a house in conjunction with my sister Paloma and mate Angela. This is where I am at. There has been no time for getting out there and falling prey to the world of Alaska that I hold so dear. The juxtaposition is thick, and I am fully committed to the chores of not only woking to pay the mortgage and bills, but to improve and upkeep the dwelling in question.
I am fortunate in the fact that I have favorable workmates to consort with, and a splendid home in which to occupy. This makes me happy, as I have not experienced this home sensation since being “kicked out” of our school bus life in Moab, and subsequently embarking on a self imposed exile from said place. I am overwhelmingly joyous to be in Alaska finally; I am no longer looking back to the potentialities of Moab, because for me, there are none. Alaska is a place of hard work for ones self and the day to day chores of encompassing these duties are inherent to living in a place as magnificent as this. Perhaps one could argue that it is this way anywhere one wants to be, especially in as beautiful a place. But here, it is infinitely different, at least to me. Alaska is a different place. It is a place that I have dreamed of for many years, and after having embarked on two separate ultra long distance bicycle journey’s here, and wracking my brain in ways to make this surreal place my home, I have at last succeeded, and I am grateful.
There will always exist a balance between making a living, wether it be hunting and gathering, or living a life of the modern prose, and enjoying the surroundings that I have labored so hard to accommodate. To me, that is what makes Alaska so special; a life here is a interspersion of both of these philosophies that commands a keen eye, a solid heart, a will of iron, and a temperament and willingness to take a leap of faith that the forest and the animals and the community in which one dwells, will provide. It is hard work indeed. Life in The North is no joke. It takes commitment. It requires a doctrine that is largely missing from the rest of the United States. That is why I am here.
Yesterday, as I was headed out the door to work, a Bald Eagle had placed itself proper at the top of the giant Sitka Spruce tree in my yard. It cawed out at the raven that was tormenting it, looked me square in the eyes, and flew off, likely headed to the side of the Lynn Canal in search of a meal. And I, bound for the finishing of drywall and paint, take glimpse at the glorious glaciers not far off, reminding me of why I am doing what I do.
In a potentially similar fashion, yet at the same time, in a far reached difference, I feel as though Henry David Thoreau might have felt at his cabin at Walden Pond. A different time indeed, but a similar sensation seems to me being evoked. A life in the woods of the north, observing the world from a alternative perspective of his time. One that has been dominated by a sense of predominant commerce and trust in a world of thought that is largely obsessed with technology and and it’s dominance over nature, rather than a personal reflection of the real and natural world before him.
Life in Haines, and anywhere in The North for that matter requires a blending of these concepts. One, partly due to the economic differences here, and the obvious resources available, must be available to the notions that one must cut his own firewood, grow his own vegetables, harvest his own meat, maintain his own dwelling, take care of his own health, take care of his community, and do this all with respect and dignity in regards to the people, forests, and animals involved. To live in balance is the goal, and nothing else will do. It is hard wok, but so is living in the polluted environment of the cities to the south. Even Juneau, a mere 50 miles south, where lie services and goods readily purchased, seems a far cry from here, where one must learn to do things for himself and all commonly available items of the cities are not not so common. Yes, living in The North is a unique experience, to say the least. To dispose of waste and garbage here, one must haul said items to the Haines Borough dump, where trash is disposed of for a fee, by the pound. There is a recycling center here of which most take deep advantage. There is nothing like financial burden to force humans to alter their lifestyle and create less waste. Even in the realm of wildlife is there a uniqueness that prevails. The house I have purchased sits on “Cemetery Hill”, an ancient native burial ground, and is a know Brown (Grizzly) Bear thoroughfare. Gerry, the previous owner, told me a story of a big Brown decimating an air tight freezer full of fish on the back porch. Life here requires diligence. If you want or need something that is not locally available, such as a stereo amplifier or a computer monitor, one must decide wether to do without, or pay a dear price for it’s transport from the “outside”. In Haines, there is no UPS or Fed Ex; the post office is the main source for the delivery of personal goods. All other things must be delivered via the barge from Juneau or Seattle, or be flown in, all of which are expensive options. This notion keeps it real, and keeps unchecked consumerism under wraps. If one is flying somewhere abroad, your options are to catch a 2-4 hour ferry to Juneau, spend the night there and fly out the following day, or drive to Whitehorse, some 260 miles into Canada, all the while dealing with customs and international flights. Flying out of the tiny Haines airport is a costly and unreliable option as most planes are grounded during inclement weather, which is often. The mail is also flown in, which in times of bad weather, becomes held up. Diligence, I say. Perhaps that is why there is a real sense of community in Haines. Being very new here, I still feel like an outsider, but in fact I am a member of this scene; I care about what happens here, because it is now my home. I still do not know that many folks here. The main social arenas seem to be the Mountain Market, where coffee and organic and local food can be bought, and the Haines Borough Public Library. There are several bars here as well, of which I have yet to step foot upon. There are community events here quite often I see, but, as of yet, I have not had time or energy for. Perhaps when Angela arrives, we might embark this.
Spring seems to be in the air now, and it is hard not to get excited about it. Be forewarned however; March, I am told, can be a real blizzard. Just when you have reserved yourself to warm and dry spring-like conditions, March can drop a torrent of snow unlike any other month in a normal year, some times depositing 2 or 3 feet in a single storm. Snow removal is a challenge as well; one must be willing to acquire the necessary equipment for said task, shovel like crazy, or hire it out to one of several people who have heavy equipment for the job. Sometimes all three might come into play. The typical hire out to plow a 100 yard driveway might be 60-80 dollars a pop. That’s per storm. It can add up. I for the time being, will be shovel happy.
I sat down at the computer yesterday to go through the photos of last summer’s 2600 mile bicycle journey, and it made my heart ache. It made me long so badly the weight of the heavily laden bicycle, the quiet solitude of the Alaskan forest, the smell of sweat, the rain, and the day to day scenery change that a long distance bicycle trip affords. For the time being, I am on a different adventure, one that I am excited about; the bicycle is on my mind, however. It has been some time since I have ridden my it, due to the reasons already spoken, and today I am to remedy this. So now, I will shut this damn computer down, get on the savage Ogre, and pedal away, into the Alaska I love.