Saturday, June 2, 2012

Visitors among Other Invasive Creatures

(I welcome your comments and questions through the "comments" option below any entry. --Laura)

Everyone who has a second home on a lake or beach or other attractive setting has stories about their visitors.  Below are some of mine. 

Like any parent who is sure that his baby is the most beautiful in the world, Bryan’s love affair with the state of Alaska and his property adventure had prompted him to invite everyone on the planet to visit us over the next few summers.   Initially, I looked forward to these visitors as a break from outdoor labor.  On the other hand, the experiences of our first few visitors soon engendered in me an intense reaction approaching xenophobia.  I came to fear an onslaught of na├»ve visitors, larded up with the same multi-faceted ignorance that we demonstrated so amply on any given day.  Given Bryan’s superlatives, what if they expected a vacation resort rather than what was really a remote homestead?  What if they regarded words like “rustic” as something that still included indoor plumbing and a gravel road to a doctor or shopping mall?  On the other hand, what if they thought they knew their way around guns and fishing hooks and fire ... because they were of a particular gender that assumes muscle memory from being a cub scouts several decades earlier or watching Discovery Channel once upon a time.

With each ensuing visitor, I adapted a planning, and packing guide – whether to encourage or discourage visitors is open to interpretation.  I also limited the number of guests to one set per month and, except for relatives, to 3 days,  after one particularly social summer when I cooked 156 person/meals (yes - I counted) for business friends of my husband (and their families) - people I had never met before and rarely seen since.  

Below are some of the "best - worst guest anecdotes." 

 (Dear Friends:  you know who you are).

One guest thought the word, "Outhouse" was a euphemism.  It is my impression that he remained constipated the entire week. 

On his first fishing foray, one man failed to wear gloves when he hauled a three foot fighting pike into the kayak and hooked his finger, necessitating the painful procedure of pushing the hook all the way through before cutting it out.  The poor guy worried about sepsis for the remainder of his visit, but didn't want to hire a plane to take him to an Anchorage doctor. 

A friend came with her daughter.  She brought a glass French coffee press with her, which broke, and organic salad greens, but no hiking boots.  On a hike through a bog to a salmon stream, their sneakers kept getting sucked off their feet by the mud.  The exertion exacerbated the daughter's asthma.  The medicine was back at the cabin.  
Note the bear spray on the right and the gun on the left

A couple with very different personalities visited.  The introverted wife loved the silence and frequently kayaked off alone, and I could understand why - her extroverted husband never stopped talking.  Maybe he felt out of his element, or disconcerted by the quiet, because he felt compelled to fill each moment from the first cup of coffee to the 10 pm gorgeous sunset with a non-stop monologue about his business experiences and prior vacations.  I took the other kayak whenever it wasn't raining and left my husband as the designated listener.  After she left, the wife told me that she teared up when she flew away from our lake.  The quietude was really something she had needed.  Me, too! 

I've noticed that men in particular like to start bonfires, so I offered that task to one man while I gathered additional wood.  After a while, he said that "there was something wrong with the matches."  I watched him for a bit.  He was holding a little match under a log!  Hmmm.  What to do.  I invited him to gather some wood while I lit a piece of birch bark and dry leaves before adding a few twigs he could add to when he returned.    

My parents came to visit for six hours one day.  They took a cruise to Alaska, spent two nights in Anchorage and in between took their first float plane trip out to spend the day with us.  They wanted to see what on earth we were doing "up there."  I made them "Bear Bourgignon" from Julia Child's recipe (except for the meat choice).  Unfortunately, this was my first time to cook bear, and the meat was so tender that I chose the wrong style of cooking.  It was rather chewy, but it smelled and tasted great and my parents enjoyed the "story rights" to that meal when they returned home to the Lower 48.  My dad kept looking at his watch and worrying about the time the plane would return.  Did he think the air taxi would arrive at the dock without his noticing?  Leave without the only designated people - my mom and him?  Maybe he just wanted to avoid the outhouse or was worried that he'd miss a cocktail reservation at the Crow's Nest atop the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage.  Whatever the issue, it meant a great deal to me that my parents exited their normal comfort zone to visit a setting so foreign to them and by a transport new to them, probably to make sure that their daughter was OK and that my husband hadn't gone bonkers.  

One man certainly knew that there were bears in Alaska but when he saw a black bear in our yard he was too frightened to walk back to his guest cabin, even with bear spray and an armed escort, so we blew up an air mattress in the living room and gave him a toothbrush.  

One couple emailed me a few days before their arrival to mention that she was a vegetarian and he was lactose intolerant.   That might be legitimate protocol for a city dinner, but clearly their definition of remote was someplace in Ohio. The best I could do was give them the address of a supermarket in Anchorage for any supplies they might want to carry on the plane.   

Perhaps the most surprising guests were supposed to stay three days but departed 24.5 hours after arrival.  They would have left sooner except it was the busy Fourth of July weekend.  The couple is very cosmopolitan and from one of the most densely populated cities in the world.  They used accumulated miles to travel to the most remote place they could think of - us - for a three day weekend.  However, I think the wife had something of a panic attack triggered by the remoteness, first as she flew, mile after mile in the air taxi from Anchorage to us and second when she landed and saw no habitation, wire, road or anything from our property. She was very game about trying kayaking and target shooting once we had reserved a return flight the next morning to a city of 270,000 people. We were astonished when the husband told us several months later that "they" want to return to Alaska every summer!  Hmmm.  Is that unanimous???
We have enjoyed other visitors, too, who "got it."  The world traveling stewardess who gamely hiked and fished in the rain and met each soggy day with a delightful attitude. A financier who enjoyed a solo week of camping on the Kenai peninsula with great wine and favorite music tracks before flying out to us with the remaining bottles and an enviable gusto for life.  A scientific couple from Texas who planned a two week trip itinerary I have saved for myself of kayaking, hiking, and horse riding in various parts of the state I want to explore, too.  A family that couldn't even swim, and had never touched a gun, that kayaked, helped me make caribou pizza, and hit their targets more than they missed.        

Conclusion:  My husband and I like to travel a lot.  Each culture and experience  teaches one as much about oneself as about the new setting.  In the case of our visitors' reactions, I remind myself that I sat down in the middle of the woods our first summer and cried, totally out of sync with my husband's midlife crisis enthusiasm for such a venture.  I felt like Eva Gabor in "Green Acres"  so I can sympathize with  friends and relatives who never intend to visit as well as guests who find themselves disconcerted. The latter group may fondly recall sepia toned memories of scout camp long ago, but they may not have realized how much they have changed since then, and how the silence and self-sufficiency (or not) affects them now, in a visceral sort of way. 

For some the silence, rusticity, remoteness is liberating.  For others it is frightening.  My son gave an interesting description one visit.  He sat in one of the kayaks in the middle of lake, reading.  He noticed how quiet it was - no birds chirping, no human noises either.  He described a "boomerang" feeling, first of fear of being so utterly far away from...anything, and then second, a deep sigh of comfort in being in such a place, where, he realized, he attained a relaxation and contentment that eluded him elsewhere.  A bit slower than my husband, I, too, have come to love our life here, but I realize that this certainly isn't for everybody.   Slowly, my husband may be realizing that, too.  But if he doesn't, guess who's cooking dinner for the hapless guests he invites!

1 comment:

  1. Funny and well balanced, but are you sure you want visitors?