A drop of blood clings to the off-white border on my flannel mittens, and I realize at that moment my face must be bleeding. Seconds prior, I had hastily reached for the lower, snow-laden branch of our backyard spruce tree, trying to assist Penny, our puppy, in locating the stick I accidentally tossed into the tree. She leapt forward, thrusting all her weight into increasing her elevation. She wanted that stick and was determined. In a flash, she locked her teeth onto the stick and fell back.
Snap, cracked the branch, as snow careened through the space surrounding us. At that same moment, I felt sharp needles hit my face and mouth.
“I’m hit!” I cry out. “The branch hit me.”
I look down at my gloves and realize I’m bleeding. My face is bleeding. Darn. I run inside and tell Penny that we will pick up our game of fetch later. She chases me to the door, assuming that we are playing a new game now.
Once inside, I assess my face and clean the slight scratches. What a morning it’s been, and it’s only slightly after 10 a.m.
Originally, I took Penny to a nearby park to get some exercise. As we ventured deeper into the park, she started jumping incessantly and fighting the leash. Betwixt by sights and sounds – none of which seemed alarming to me, she wanted to explore the north end of the park, without anyone holding her back. I couldn’t control her easily, so I told her that we were leaving. Turning toward the west park entrance, we trudged through the snow, stopping only to gather little sticks for Penny.
The swooshing sound of hundreds of birds flying overhead caught my attention and I veered back around, enjoying their airborne dance. At that same moment, I noticed a large, dark creature take shape near the playground, where we had just been.
A young moose emerged from the forest. Trotting along, it stopped to lock its gaze on us, as if to say, I’ve been watching you.
“Thanks Penny,” I motion to her with pat. “You were looking out for us. As a reward, we can play more in the backyard when we get home.”
Temperatures near our home in Anchorage, Alaska, are hovering around zero degrees this week, with an occasional spike of 8 or 10 degrees at mid-day. Most days, I keep our fireplace burning with the spruce logs we purchased last spring. I can start a fire going myself, and feel accomplished by this newfound skill. In addition to heating our home and saving on gas costs, our fireplace is cozy. It provides a charming backdrop for reading a good book while cuddling with the dog.
Life in Alaska, aptly named “The Last Frontier,” is just that. A wild, untamed land holding great promise for explorers, dreamers, and adventure seekers. There are mountains for miles, large beasts that roam the state, and dramatic changes in light and dark and temperature, depending on the time of year and proximity to the coast. To survive the elements, one must be prepared.
I suppose living in Alaska has been such a shift for me in that way. Growing up on the island on Maui, I was privileged to live without much need for surviving the elements. My girl friends and I would throw together our swimsuits, towels, water, sometimes sunblock, and a snack and head to the beach for the day. Oftentimes, I would forget one or more of these items. Without a swimsuit, I’d jump in the water in all my clothes. Lacking snacks, or water, we’d find a public fountain to drink from or purchase ice cream at a local shop. Likewise, beach towels are nonessential. You can sunbathe and dry off pretty fast under the tropical sun.
Alaska is a stark contrast from the balmy beaches of my home state and yet, there is incredible beauty here as well – a fierce beauty that demands respect and forethought. Rather than passively enjoying Alaska, it must be experienced through preparation and reverence. Realizing that the weather can change drastically and moose or bears can cross your path.
As a child, I vividly recall telling my family that I would never live in Alaska nor did I ever want to visit. “Why would anyone want to be cold?” I’d curiously ask. In my mind, Alaska equaled death. Frostbite seemed like a horrible evil to me, one that could easily be avoided. Ironically, I married a man from Alaska who loves this state dearly, which in turn, helped me reconsider my preconceptions about this place. In coming here, I wanted to gain a deeper awareness of where my husband is from – what his childhood was like and how the place he grew up in has shaped him.
I’m thankful for this season of living in Alaska, where I’m learning how to better prepare for the elements. I think in many ways I’m becoming a stronger and more confident woman, wife, and mother. I am also growing in my ability to cherish the things that I must work for, and focusing on stewarding resources well.
Last night, while ladling steaming hot bowls of homemade moose chili and portioning out triangles of skillet bacon cornbread for dinner, I thought back over my day. I feel like a real pioneer woman – cooking, cleaning, avoiding moose, and fighting the elements (or really, that one spruce tree.)
A snapshot of life in this Great State.