Almost Home

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Last night was a capper. The train ran right through the tent about every two hours and at one point it started to rain intermittently. In the morning I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time… a private humiliation to close out a challenging, wonderful adventure.

Mt. Shasta is an old home to Michael and thus to me. Yesterday afternoon I climbed high up to the rim of the avalanche bowl to where I’d released his ashes. Like a fanatic I looked on the rock surfaces for any bit of bony ash then sat and cried. Old pain but pain all the same. I was grateful that I can still hike up into this incredible height and raced down the mountain to go to a movie, since that is what he would have done. Miraculously it was about an area rich with Michael memory—Lander, Wyoming.

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This trip was built on facing fears, seeing new beauty, laying down new track but also seeing old beloved friends. In Corvallis I was able to go out to dinner and stay with Valori George and Courtney Childs, her partner. I love to listen to Valori like she is chocolate cake, the most scrumptious and wonderful teller of real life stories of anyone I know. Life in Valori’s telling is fascinating and full of important but unrecognized heroes. I’m like a child at story time, rapt on whatever quiet time carpet that can be mustered. Being with them is to be filled with grace and good food.

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I also visited my friend Jan Meyer in Medford. She was a pediatric nurse practitioner for 54 years and just let her license go. She still plays concert violin and shoots balloons from horseback… what? At 82, sure why not? She’s got a rascal man friend who is still a practicing attorney named Bill and a Jack who is like Selkie is to me. She gave me shelter and I love her smile like she is Love itself.

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Selkie has suffered with my endless driving distances, packing and unpacking of the car, belated meals and treats, too rigorous and not rigorous enough walks and shared thousands of doggy pettings twix my hands  (and hundreds of strangers,) and her increasingly long haired body. I can’t imagine how the trip would have gone without her!

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Yesterday I charged at the Safeway in Ashland and now I’m at the Chevrolet dealership (Lithia) in Redding, listening to muzak and appreciating the air conditioned waiting room. I envision we will be getting home while it is still hot with a few hours to go jump in the creek and unpack before dark. I imagine there will be some changes and maybe some things that will cause me pause with disappointment or irritation, other things that I will surge with gratitude over. One thing is sure though. My bed will be there and in the morning, my job as a women’s health care nurse practitioner will resume while Selkie reassumes the job of a bored house dog.

Where will the time in Alaska and Yukon sit in my brain? All that endless land, filled with beauty and livingness was only glimpsed but now it takes up space in my imagination. (The photo is from Valdez.) People across from me at the Mt. Shasta KOA were from Ancourage and had driven down the entire Alcan… I salute Alaskans, those arriving, those leaving and especially those staying. I wrap my memories in the present of where I am and hold my wild wonder as a cherished central feature of my being as I prepare to travel this last 90 miles to Home. (This photo is from spring when the columbines were flying around like butterflies… it will be a much dryer world, I know that.)  IMG_2271

 

 

 

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Crossing

Good day bad day, like most. Got off the ferry, finally, after 5 days. Days of rare elation with whales and beautiful places, like Sitka but mostly lumbering not boredom but sameness. I never really had any good talks with anyone… my own fault. My book, Stolen Life about a half Cree, half white woman who suffers abuse, rape and alcoholism then ends up getting the short shrift for a murder she participated in… chilling and horrifying book but important and informative. Anyway, in my dull moving along way I didn’t realize it was Labor Day weekend til just short of arrival. I had said no to Wendy and Toms’ invitation to Nanaimo but then decided it was my best bet and a wonderful opportunity to see my old friends from Guatemala days. (Wendy and I go back to 1994 when I was showing my fertility awareness slides at the Casa Cami house in Guatemala City and she was there with her Mam friend Nicolasa and Nicolasa thought how great this information would be for the women of her community.)

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So we got in and had good luck finding a charger and good breakfast spot. I drove north and got through customs and through to the ferry but then missed an early ferry, realized I’d tossed my driver’s license with my Alaska Marine Highway boarding pass and took the turn short of their street at dusk, almost hitting a pedestrian (again!) I sat out in front of a similarly numbered empty house for almost 2 hours before it dawned on me to walk back and check the street sign. After getting to their house, a block up, it was like heaven to see them in their comfortable home! They kindly hosted me for four days– it was heaven being with them!

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I worry for the earth. It is so parched and hot here in Nanaimo… the heat is pushing north, the fires are ranging from California well into the B.C. mainland. Air quality is bad and people are just starting to reckon with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. Now Irma is gathering strength from the warm Gulf waters. To me, just returning from the far north it is very clear.. I don’t have the frog in the slowly heating water effect again yet.

Crossing from Victoria to Port Angeles was bitter sweet because Kathy Faith, a dear friend to me, contacted me as I was wedged in the ferry line that she was on Vancouver Island for the next few days. If I’d had a helicopter and not a car I’d have whirled to her but it was not to be. Soon I was in Port Angeles. The air is lifeless everywhere due to the fires and there the traffic was terrible too.

I made my way carefully to the home of Lisa Love, aka Lisa Sun. She is a dear woman who had to leave Chico’s bad air because of her struggle to live with Lyme Disease. I’m so impressed with the life she has carved out in just a year and the beautiful town of Port Townsend! I stayed with her and her friend Bob overnight then camped one night. It was a wonderful little interlude. I am so GRATEFUL for Friends who are ready to take in a wanderer with little notice!

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The charger at the Coop in Port Townsend was Free and so is the one I’m on now at the Quilcene Village Store (Bless their sweet Hearts!!!)

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The plan now is to round the Peninsula (east side) and head to the coast for the night with a hope to get out to the natural edge of the bad air. I’m pulled to the ocean too after the tranquility of the inner waterways.

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The Southern Lakes

I left Whitehorse after a great lunch with Jan Grauman. He is a resident in the Canadian physician program (already an MD in the U.S.) and he’d had three shifts in about 30 hours since arriving in Whitehorse. Since he’s young he didn’t seem blurry at all, just serious. We had a great time bemoaning the health care system and talking about family. I got to talk by phone with both of his parents, who I love dearly. For my final few moments in Whitehorse I foisted my parking ticket onto Jan and left with a full heart.

I took the Alcan south-east then cut down to Tagish. I’d left a message with some people with cabins that I would like to stay the night. In that tiny far flung community of about 100 it took me probably an hour to find those cabins and then I waited another hour for someone to show up. By then the hour was growing late and I went off in search of other lodging. I ended up somewhere where dogs were not welcomed and I got a reduced rate since I agreed not to turn on the heat. Selkie slept in the car.

What little I think I know about Tagish is that “the narrows” where now there is a bridge is where the crazy gold seekers crossed and that some local Yukoners resent the government settlement with local First Nations for what’s been done to them over this last 150 years or so. (This deduced from a book I skimmed called Paddle til Dark, which is funny since it never gets dark in summer.)

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I looped back up the Klondike Highway to see what I had missed taking the route I had to Carcross. (I saved Carcross for my last two days) and stopped at the Spirit Lake Lodge, which has no access to the lake. A Thai family owns it and they have delicious food, according to my vegetarian palette. I hiked across the roadway from the lodge to an old railroad right of way, probably from the day the train had run to Whitehorse.

People have been saying summer is over since I arrived but now, alas, I think they are right. It is said that when the fireweed is going to seed like this summer is over and indeed it’s intermittently cold and rainy.

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But then, after a few squalls the next day turned out to be dry and breezy in Carcross. I drove past Bove Island as far as I could to get a round trip out of my electric charge from Spirit Lake but didn’t make it to the Chilcoot Pass.

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After that I wandered around the stores in touristy Carcross and got established at the Fox Hollow B&B—this is my street…

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Many years ago I was married to Steven Watson. He was a good guy and had a good family. His sister Katie had a beautiful little boy named Matthew and about 40 years ago he was killed in a car accident because Katie, after a long day of packing up her house to move, in the late afternoon slow traffic of a hot day fell asleep at the wheel. That tragedy has echoed down through the years. (This store sure made me think of time!)

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I learned about the 1873 expedition of Schwatka who followed the Chilkoot trail through Tlingit and Tagish country about 15 years before the gold rush, until he reached this area where the Bennett lake begins the chain of lakes to the Yukon and how he made it to the Bering Sea in just 2 months… Really hard to imagine…like Lewis and Clark it really plays with my imagination. I also learned about the Tlingit and the Tagish and how they managed to live side by side through arranged marriages between their two matrilineal bands. The young woman at the museum explained how that had worked out for her grandparents and I can certainly see it.

I’m glad to know a little more about our world but what mainly I want to take with me is the vastness and beauty of the country and I regret leaving it as my time grows shorter. I am not attracted to the idea of wintering in the north or ever living here but just to having the living images of a day like today with the dynamism of the weather imprinted somehow on my skin, in my eyes, in my awareness for all my remaining days. I also love the sponginess of the woods, how vibrant it is when every square inch of earth is covered with moss, berries, lichen… The staidness of where I live and the mostly undramatic and overly hot weather makes me shrink inside to think of after the dynamism of the lands I have loved here. The fleeting nature of things baffles me. These heroic adventurers are frozen in memory why not our most vivid and cherished recollections?

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My last day here I wasn’t able to do laundry. No water because the water truck doesn’t deliver on Sundays. They are surrounded on three sides by water but depend on chlorinated water by truck! Instead we hiked along the railroad tracks for awhile and then up onto Montana Mountain. Our last walk will be along Bennett Lake. I’ll have to get up early to get into Skagway in time to do laundry before the ferry.

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Whitehorse

20170822_164005_Burst01I’m in a hotel by the airport in Whitehorse, cheapest place I could find that wasn’t my own tent again. The last night I was in the tent it rained all night… luckily my tarp placement over the tent kept everything fine and just draping a sheet between the tent and the fly kept out some of the cold gusts. Here in Whitehorse it has rained on and off the last three days with the same predicted for the entire region until I leave the north on Monday.

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My view is heavy bellied clouds and a lot swollen with vehicles… a used car lot, Yukon style. At any rate, it’s ugly but impersonal. I enjoyed my three days here. I have had a whole little city with walking trails to explore.

Whitehorse was first set in motion from the sustainable life of a Yukon First Nation fishery with the Gold Rush (late 1800s) then it quieted down until the Alcan Highway was built, 75 years ago. Since then it has gentrified and destroyed its salmon run with the hydro plant south of town. The narrative of the destruction of a way of life is barely visible and the clout of it is so subterranean that it dismisses the past in preference for what is now just a whisper of recall.

The town has a huge Salvation Army franchise and only one other branded US corporation, the Starbucks, otherwise there is a lot to recommend the town like a wonderful walking trail by the Yukon River. I’ve loved the workers memorial,

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the Alpine Bakery, the glass blowing Lumel Studios, the Baked coffee shop across from the Railway station… Things are expensive so I’ve had no dinners out but I’ve scoured the town for what jumps out at me to check out and that has been mostly interesting except for almost hitting a pedestrian.

Yesterday I was excited to go to a NO Hate Rally but I went to the wrong Teepee pole so have no idea how it went. It saddened me to read that the people who lived in the section of town (Peace Park) where I was (=Whiskey Flats) had had their homes bulldozed one day without notice and now the Friendship Pole given by a collection of First Nations groups stood there considering things while I waited in the rain for folks to show up. The pole below is where the rally ended up being… I have no idea how it went but I was on pins and needles all evening waiting to hear how Orien was in Phoenix where she had been a Legal Observer at the Trump rally.

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Right after my pole time I saw the destruction of the hydroelectric dam to the local wild salmon population and the two things together set me into a sad place. (I went to the fish ladder where a handful of exhausted fishery and wild salmon waited at the base of the ladder after their 1500 mile swim from the Bering Sea.)

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Today, due to a different mix of wanderings, was better and tomorrow I move on very gradually toward Skagway.  Here’s some other photos of the “cute” aspects of the town–

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The car is charging up (I did find free charging at the high school but did not want to sit there long enough to use it so I’m charging for a charge here at the hotel.)

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This won’t be the last time I meet the Gold Rush iconography but I’m soured to it and wonder what it would take to get these statues taken down? Food for thought.

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Wonders Never Ceasing

20170815_140631~2Valdez on the day of my leaving had sprung into definition when the clouds lifted and the incredible mountains and tucked in glaciers went visible. Wandering in the Blueberry Lake Recreation area on Thompson Pass was deliriously beautiful and I more or less floated to Kenny Lake, another access point into the Wrangell-St. Elias Park. Kenny Lake, like Slana, is a successful community of homesteaders but I don’t know about “the hotel.” For 70$ I got a stark room with stained floors, stained towel and bathroom across the hall. Luckily I was alone and the young attendant came and figured out the stove for me. (It was mid-40s.) The owner was very pissed off with me because I told her that Selkie, as a service dog, could not be charged to stay there under the ADA. That was uncomfortable and bleached any flavor of optimism I might have had about the adventure of staying in yet another unique environment. After spending over 100$ for a dump with paper thin walls in Valdez I wasn’t excited to be running the budget down further at another one. Despite being off my magic carpet I slept well and we left there uneventfully.

The road north again was long. I got a little better view of the Wrangells but the sky grew more gray with the afternoon. I stopped in a few First Nation communities, like Copper Center, trying to locate a small hair clip for myself or affordable gifts but most stores seemed to be owned by Caucasians and were not what I hoped to find.

Finally, with grogginess overtaking me I came off the road at a small family owned grocery store (Midway Services, next to Autell Creek, near Talkeetna–its For Sale!) Owner Jay and his wife Debbie offered me their school bus to stay in for FREE! This is what they have done for years and the entire ceiling is Thank You notes from internationalists—many riding bikes (eg Anchorage to Argentina!) The bus looks very much like the one in Into the Wild, although it is only a few hundred feet from the roadway.

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It rained in the night and the temperature dropped close to freezing. The propane tank went empty and I didn’t want to stay long enough to use the woodstove so I left and finished my meander to Tok where I stayed in this unconventional housing for the night.

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I’m now in Beaver Creek. The second I hit the Canadian border (and the border guard had given Selkie a Milkbone,) the sky opened up and immediately the road went white with hail. Luckily, Beaver Creek is just about 2 km from the border and I could quickly get in here for the night.

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And this is my wonderful lodging for tonight. 5 separate rooms, bathroom across the hall but I’m luckily alone and the price is right! Don’t knock it… it’s like heaven to me. (Think of the Seven thousand people who have fled Trump’s U.S. for Quebec seeking refugee status!) Tomorrow will be a long haul to Haine’s Junction on more bad road… It has gone into the 30s at night now and the rains are unpredictable… don’t think I’ll be camping again despite how lovely it is to have fewer mosquitos.

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Valdez and the Glacier of Time and Travel

I was released from my worries this morning Thanks to the combination of Mabel’s land line and my credit union explaining why they blocked my card and no it was ok they could unblock it. (Never go to two gas stations in a row… this automatically triggers the Fraud Alert!)

After that it was such smooth sailing! This post will mostly be about glaciers. Not the politics of climate change but just the beauty and grandeur of glaciers. (I even have one outside my window here in Valdez although you might mistake it for the cloud that it is hanging out with.)

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Some glaciers along the road to Valdez weren’t ones I can fix a name to but I took a few angles of the Worthington glacier. They are all melting at an accelerated rate.

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Rivers are swollen with gray glacial waters.  It gives birth to gorgeous waterfalls too.

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One summer after I’d graduated from nursing school my ex-husband Steven Watson and I came up to Alaska to spend time with his friends Bonnie and David and their daughter Crysanna at their homestead on Day Harbor, the next harbor over from Seward and to go on a tour of Prince William Sound… this was in the 70s. It was the most beautiful and amazing trip I’ve ever been on by water—the only one. Their boat was a 28 foot Bristol Bay double ender that they used for halibut fishing. It wasn’t big enough for all of us so we would sleep on land with David’s huge old rifle in the tent with us. We got to visit incredible islands and communities in Prince William Sound but when we got to Valdez, which was in the middle of the pipeline boom, the harbor master came out and asked for me. My uncle was the Police Commissioner of Baltimore with connections to the FBI and he’d put out an alert. Turns out my dad was born with only one kidney and the other one was seriously infected and he needed surgery. I flew home to be with him–from Valdez to Anchorage then to St. Louis, over the vast glacier just over the mountains to the north.

Nothing of that time is familiar to me here. I remember bits and pieces of that scary day but this does not look like the same place at all. Now it is crowded with tourists, the harbor looks different and the rugged quality is gone.

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Mainly I remember the life teeming in the Sound and how all that was destroyed by the Exon-Valdez oil spill. How I mourned then and how good it is to reconnect with this little outpost of it even if it is completely fragmented by memory, pollution and change.

Tomorrow I have been gone for a month. Tomorrow I turn back toward Tok, then the Yukon… moving slowly back to Skagway and the Malaspina (ferry.) I don’t have any profound feelings to express. This is neither a pinnacle nor a sad thing to be at the pivot point. Considering how worried I was this morning I’m still in the aura of delight and contentment where I want to remain for the balance of this journey, if possible. It’s a very long journey, this reverse direction.

 

 

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Alaska Bits

My time in Tok (first town up from the Yukon border on the Alcan Highway,) revolved around not much… I gloried in staying in an RV the first night when I was exhausted from the road and the next day I had a meal out, went to the library and read under my mosquito net. The second night Selk and I slept in a Teardrop trailer, a little box really.

The country on from Yukon was probably fantastic, with little lakes and lots of wildness but I didn’t really register it as beautiful until I started out on the road south-west toward Valdez. Now mountains are cropping up and the road isn’t so straight, in fact there is a lot of roadwork and gravel patches but nothing to prepare me for Slana.

Slana community is one of the two land entrances into the Wrangell-St. Elias mountain range and National Park. Where I’d made reservations was miles off that paved road on a doubtful gravel road in vast country where a couple have carved out a life for 33 years, quite beyond my imagining since this area gets to minus 50  degrees and has many feet of snow. Right now though it is idyllic with two greenhouses brimming with flowers and food, a sweeping lawn and tidy cabin house.

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My cabin is beyond vision and shouting distance from the main house or anything else human. It’s about the size of my old cabin on Pine Creek and uses kerosene lamps and an outdoor shitter just like I had there… more than 36 years ago. For 70$ I’m here for two nights.

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The silence has built in around me so that my ears ring a little. The tall skinny spruce trees rock a little in the wind—good, less mosquitos for when I go out next. I tried some of the wild blueberries but they weren’t so tasty… (remembering crystal clear Carp Lake where we swam and paddled in B.C. grazing on them and they were so delicious.)

I am glad to stop moving through a continuous postcard- To have a chance to see wildlife after hundreds of miles in the wildest part of the world and seeing none but giant ravens. Already what looks like a Goshawk has flown over, giving me joy since I’m reading a fascinating book about them by Helen Macdonald called, H is for Hawk. And even if I see no wildlife to just not be next to a road carrying endless travelers one direction or the other is enough.  To just BE grounded for a little while in Alaska. (I’d thought earlier about how the imminent drop in temperature and rain coming would throw me into a panic of wood cutting if I lived here. I’d also thought about the First Nations people living and moving through the density of the woods and brush in all seasons when bear and wolves were in balance with all the other creatures that filled the capacity of these great lands. Those thoughts fill me with imagining.)

I have no skill set that helps me now. No great love or talent that sustains me. I am just going to be here.

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And so I have… I’ve wandered the land but not really seen other than beaver, grouse and moose or caribou tracks. It started raining heavily a couple of hours ago and that makes the cabin even more cozy… there’s a faint cloud from the oil lamp and the sky is as dark as an Alaskan summer night.

I’ve had a lot of time to think but not much of what I thought needs replaying. I’m fairly used to solitude after these last almost three years but I still carry a taint of restlessness. I slow down and open up my sensing to accept my options and am grateful to have a day without any outside world input. There is innocence in solitude but also room for fabrication and private drama. I have had some flapping about the weaknesses that come with age. Mainly I’ve just been present to my space and the crawl of time as the thirsty plants outside sponge up this needed rain and the gray sheet of Alaskan darkness settles early over this small patch of Alaska.

The next day in Glennallen I found that my debit card won’t work due to a fraud alert. Great. It’s raining and I have 35 dollars. Luckily I got to Mendeltna Creek Lodge and got in a bunk house (alone) for 10 bucks a night. The owner’s husband is away and so Mabel and I have been doing everything together. I got to card while she spun, do yoga with her, harvest food, go in the hot tub, have a home cooked (all grown on the land) meal.

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It’s satisfied some of my barely acknowledged people craving.

Tomorrow I’ll try to sort it out with the bank. At least I’ll have a fully charged car when everyone else is waiting at the pumps (and it was a pump in Tok that triggered the fraud alert…) Hopefully Mabel and I will stay friends and I’ll get to go on to Valdez.

It’s always a hello and goodbye to each bite of Alaska I take.

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