Monday, August 19, 2013

Meditation While Weeding with the Chickens

Many harried people I know seem to answer requests and invitations with a breathless, “I can't; I have too much to do.” But have you ever noticed that the most productive people you know are often both busier and calmer than the rest of us? I think this is because they are often visionary – they can picture a project completed – and, in an organized, deliberate manner, they get things done.

By contrast, the first group may get overwhelmed by the immensity of an endeavor. I often fit in this group. We don't know where to start so we don't, or we start and then give up, leaving behind the detritus of several abandoned hobbies and projects. The other population is more dogged. They aren't deterred by the immensity of an effort. So they start. They slog on through, like untwisting and unknotting a ball of twine that others might toss aside in frustration.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Alaska Float Plane Follies

We finally bought a small, ancient float/ski plane to help us get to and from our off-road home. What a difference this has made to my sense of isolation and worry about emergency medical care. We aren't at the “honey, we're out of milk” stage, but we can much more easily and spontaneously fly half hour to a nearby town when we are out of basics or to a lovely lake for a picnic or to one of the fun festivals around Alaska.

Our excellent carpenter leaves our dock

Getting in and out of the plane itself, though, is not so easy. The Piper PA-20 has two doors, but the one on the port side is behind the front seats, for cargo access. The pilot and passenger enter through the door on the starboard side. Since my husband prefers to fly from the port seat (a plane has two pairs of steering wheels, rudder pedals, etc), he enters first. Once he is ready to go, I untie the float ropes from the dock cleats, step onto the float with one leg while pushing us away from the dock with the other. Then, I climb as quickly as I can up into my seat, since he doesn't start the propeller until I am inside and meanwhile, we are drifting with the wind.

At some locations, and virtually all summer at our lake because of wind direction, the access door is on the side AWAY from the dock. To get in, we have to walk across a tight wire stretched between the fronts of the two floats, grabbing onto the cowling and nose cone (but not the propeller) for balance. Once on the other side, we walk along the float, swing under the two angled wing struts and THEN climb up into the plane. I have to do this AFTER I have kicked the plane away from the dock, while it is floating toward wherever, and as my husband is invariably yelling, “Hurry up! The wind is pushing us the wrong direction!”

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Recommended Books About Alaska

Whether you are planning to visit Alaska or are an armchair traveler, the following are books that I commend to your attention, in no particular order.  Selections below include poetry, fiction, cartoons, and non-fiction (natural world, true crime, autobiographies and history).  I will add to this blog over time.  


Poetry:                        Robert Service

Sample titles: books:  Songs of a Sourdough (1907) with “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses.

Service is such a well known poet in Alaska that schools are named after him, but the fact is that he lived in Canada (Dawson City, Whitehorse, Vancouver), never Alaska.  Even so, Alaskan school children used to (maybe they still do, some places) have to memorize one of his ballads to deliver to the class or on, paper, to the teacher.  I highly recommend one of his slim books of verse to anyone interested in immersing himself or herself in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Gold Rush era.  His poems, with a driving rhythm that cries out to be read aloud (even to yourself) capture the loneliness and risks braved by men and women confronted by conniving men and women, as well as by weather, animals, topography, greed and hubris.  Each poem is a well told story with plot twists and emotional recoil – shifting between humor and pathos. Service was the most commercially successful poet of his age, derided by “high-brow” writers for writing doggerel and verse, rather than poetry.  That was fine by him.  And by me.


Touching fiction:         Eowyn Ivey:   

Sample title:    The Snow Child

Ivey’s first novel is one that has attracted attention and translations faster than you can say “October snowfall.”  I have recommended it to many of my friends because this is one of the few books about Alaska that that describe the arctic winter, not as a danger to be overcome (like Jack London’s tales), but as stunningly beautiful – a privilege to behold.  Her depiction of a yellow birch leaf flowing below the clear, icy surface of a creek is one such image early in the novel, followed by many others.  Her marvelous sense of place grounds a story that is also graced by a compelling plot populated by believable characters (married homesteaders in the 1920s and their nearest neighbors) who transition through experiences, over time.   This book describes some of the challenges and joys I have discovered in my little log cabin in the middle of nowhere in ways that I hope my friends can appreciate through this author’s skill.