Picture Quilt

It seems fitting to write a quilt-themed blog post while here in the edge of Alaska--the last frontier.  I think about how a finished quilt represents  hard work, spans many sweet memories, and makes one feel warmth.  This collection of (most of the) Instagram photos I've taken this summer are my Alaska "quilt" that will, for years to come, remind me of the great times I've had here this summer and why this place so quickly has become a second home to me.  Quilts generally have themes or patterns they follow.  This photo quilt was not meant to follow a pattern but I see the theme of "enjoying the small things" emerging throughout.  I'll describe each photo/"block" below.

Flat Top. Anchorage.  Thank heavens for great friends!  Ruth Remple and her family have hosted me and my brothers countless times during our Alaska entrances and exits.  She has helped me with store decor, prepping food, selecting merchandise, and--as pictured here--my personal Anchorage tour guide.  She and her daughter Savannah took me to Flat Top Mountain where we had a beautiful view of Anchorage from above.  We observed about four moose up close during the drive back down the mountain.  In this picture I'm demonstrating that, even a month before summer solstice, shades were needed at 10:00pm.

Shaz vs. Porcupine.  (I'm "Shaz".  So named by my niece who couldn't yet say "Shannon".  I think it's a good, feisty, name--perfect for one who's battling a porcupine.)  I arrived in McCarthy a week or so before Austin or Eddie and independently moved our giant load of groceries down our overgrown four-wheeler trail and into our new cabin rental for the summer, a mile downhill from Kennecott and three-ish miles uphill from McCarthy.  I woke up one of my first mornings here to what sounded like someone sawing off the corner of our roof.  I grabbed my bearspray and cautiously walked outside to assess the situation.  A porcupine was gnawing on a low portion of the cabin (they love the glue in wood composite and treated lumber) and stopped when I yelled at it.  It turned around, showed me its nasty yellow teeth and I quickly retreated back inside (while, maybe, a slight yelp emerged) and I called a friend who grew up in this area to ask what one does to chase off such a critter.  I followed her recommendation and scooted him off the porch and into the woods with a broom.  It showed me its bristled backside but I kept sweeping and he didn't come back for a few days.  By then, however, Austin and my brother Jesse were here to take over.

Outhouse View.  I love using an outhouse.  Especially one that is large and has a beautiful view.  I really do miss outhousing it when I return to Colorado.  I don't think I can really explain the magic of an outie.  Maybe it's because I really like having a bit of time each day to myself.  Maybe because it feels rustic.  If you take care of the outhouse it really can have no smell (peeing in the woods and not putting toilet paper down the hatch or adding sawdust to absorb the smell/liquid).  But, I especially love this outhouse. The seat is perpendicular to the door and large corner windows provides a view of wildflowers and forest in the foreground with the glacier and Fireweed Mountain in the distance.  Sitting there, unrushed, in the mornings is a start to a beautiful day.

Running Water.  For the first time, we rented a cabin with running water!  The mother of the family we rent from came over before Austin arrived and showed me how to get the water running and how to troubleshoot at the creek if the intake became clogged with leaves.  I cannot express how excited I was when I took this picture.  It really was not a big deal to live in a dry cabin the past two summers (I imagine 10% of folks around here have running water come from their tap).  But, it did involve filling large 7 gallon buckets with spigots at a creek or having a kind neighbor with a well offer to top off our jugs every few days.  Running water means easy dish washing, teeth brushing, French press coffee making, cooking, the potential for hand washing laundry and showering etc.  We became spoiled very quickly. However, all good things come to an end.  Because this area (and much of Alaska) had very low snowfall this winter our creek of melted snow ran dry within one month.  So, for the remaining 2.5 months, we're back to hauling water.  We do have other conveniences at this cabin we've not before experienced, which softens the emotional hit of losing water, such as fridge, freezer, oven, and stove.  These amenities are, in my opinion (as the one who does not physically haul the water), bigger perks as they allow us to keep food for weeks and make dinner in our own cabin instead of traveling to McCarthy to cook each night.

Tony the Espresso Machine.  This beautiful espresso machine was born in Italy and reconfigured to reside on a cart that also houses a small fridge.  It eats propane and drinks water we haul from the lodge across the street.  It's name is Tony ("Antonio" since he's Italiano).  For espresso beans and other coffee supplies to get to Tony, they must be picked up in Anchorage.  Then the driver drives 6 hours to Chitina where the paved road ends.  The supplies then travel 60 miles on a dirt road until that road (the McCarthy Road - an old railway bed with most of the rails removed or set aside) dead ends at the Kennicott River.  Once the river is crossed (either via footbridge or private vehicle bridge if you've paid the several hundred dollars for a pass) the supplies are hauled five miles uphill to my store.  Once here, customers enjoy delicious Kaladi Brothers lattes, cappuccinos, americanos, etc. that Europeans routinely claim is the best they've had since they left X country.

Austin Arrives.  This was truly one of the best days of the summer.  I'd been in McCarthy for over a week prior to Austin's arrival.  He took off from Boulder, Colorado in a small plane (Citabria) that holds very little more than one pilot and one cramped co-pilot directly behind.  It's a tail wheel, or taildragger, plane which means that it has two larger tires up front and one very small wheel below the tail.  These are great planes for backcountry flying and off-airstrip landings.  The Citabria belongs to our friend, and Austin's fellow Wrangell Mountain Air pilot, Martin.  He brings it up each summer and puts it on floats so he can take it to lakes on days off.  Austin flew in with a student pilot who wanted tail wheel time and they landed on a Sunday afternoon just as we arrived back to McCarthy from church. Hungry, we all made a beeline for "the pizza bus" for pizza, espresso, and cokes.  It was so fun to show him around our new cabin and demonstrate my "tough girl" abilities in setting us up for the summer.

Walk to Work.  Eddie and I get to start our mornings by walking one mile slightly uphill to Kennecott.  We leave anywhere from 8:00 to 8:30 and leisurely stroll to Kennecott Trading Company.  We have been fortunate to not run in to any wildlife on these commutes which does surprise me as there have been many reports of a large black bear in the neighborhood along with occasional transient moose.

Ed's Adventures. Ed has been a real trooper this summer and has grown up quite a bit since last season. His highlights of this summer include swimming in the swimming hole, making countless running trips from Kennecott to McCarthy (while Austin and I ride on the dirt bike), exploring the glacier, treeing squirrels, and taking the "polar plunge" (jumping into icy, blue glacial pools on the Root Glacier) over and over til he shivers all over. He's proven himself to be great with kiddos--finding a nice quiet spot when he needs space but otherwise patiently enduring not-so-gentle petting and eyeball poking.

McCarthy Cuisine. Though we are remote and don't make it to the grocery stores very often we eat well. That is, if we eat out. There are about six restaurants between McCarthy and Kennecott (two to four open simultaneously at a given hour) and all boast incredible food. Options include burgers, pizza, fries, wraps, salads, French dip, prime rib sandwich, halibut, salmon, steak, soups and chowders, pastries, and fancy schmancy delicious creative morsels at "Fine Dining" in McCarthy. In this photo Austin enjoys a cold beer and take-out pizza from our local pizza bus.

Moscow Mule Mugs. One of the most fun and challenging aspects of managing the gift shop is identifying what tourists will want to purchase, knowing how much to spend, and the quantity to buy. Last season a few tourists asked for shot glasses. While these would likely sell, I didn't want to find cheapo shot glasses that only appeal to a few. So, I set about drawing a picture of our Mill Building and was fortunate to discover that a friend in Greeley has the capability to laser the drawing onto copper mugs. These have flown off the shelves. I'm happy that it reaches out to those who'd be interested in shot glasses while still appealing tourists who love the idea of buying a copper piece of art in Kennecott.

Riding the Red Thread. Our first summer in McCarthy, we invited one of Austin's old-time friends to come visit for a while. This friend is called "Wild Op" because he's generally up for anything even if it's unconventional and involves a bit of risk. Work was slow so he flew up planning on being up here for a "bit". Landing in Anchorage, he had to find a way to make the eight hour car trip to see us. So, he procured a dirt bike from Craigslist--pause--Wild Op is well over six feet tall with a large frame and this bike was made for someone my size many, many years ago and was in no way road legal--resume--and began his long journey to see us. Knowing there would eventually be a long stretch without fuel stations, he did what any resourceful young man with gumption would do and searched through some garbage til he found an empty kitty litter container that he could fill with gasoline and bungee to the bike behind him. Of note: he strapped his hiking backpack longways to create a shelf behind him and then had a place to hold two bags of groceries and the kitty litter fuel reserves. After a day and a half of driving at night (to avoid confrontation with the popo) he arrived in McCarthy tired and cold and with a bike that seemed to violently vomit oil. Wild Op ended up getting a job as a shuttle driver and stayed the remainder of the summer during which he and Austin spent countless hours nursing the Red Thread back to health. The "Red Thread", as it became known, continued to hang on to dear life by that thread and has served us well for the next two summers. Though we have often wonder to ourselves "is this its last trip up the hill?" Thank you, Wild Op for bequeathing to us such a fine riding machine. And thank you, Red Thread, for so faithfully serving us day after day with only a few rumbling complaints.

Summer Solstice. This photo was taken at midnight on Summer Solstice. People often ask me what I like about the Alaska-Colorado back-and-forth and one of the main benefits is that I get to follow the sun. They say that Colorado has 300 days of  sunshine each year. This, plus the dry climate, makes winters pretty easy and enjoyable. The summer daylight in Alaska, along with the mild temps (usually in the 70s), is a great compliment to our living in Colorado. Born in Florida and growing up in Texas, I've come to love me some vitamin D. The sunlight gives a great rhythm to the summer too.  Arriving in Alaska in June, the days are notably longer than in Colorado and it gets me excited to stay out with friends and catch up on life since the previous summer. As the summer continues and draws to a close, the sun sets earlier and prepares me for returning to Colorado.

Fireweed in the Rain. I love Fireweed. It's my second favorite plant that grows here (my favorite is "dryas"). I like the look of it, but mostly I like how dynamic this plant is. It is the first plant to grow after a wildfire and exhibits pink-fuschia colored blooms that begin on the bottom portion of the flower stalk and work their way upwards throughout the summer. It marks the changing and passing of time and presents ever-changing displays of beauty. Toward the end of the summer, when the blooms are all spent and the lower once-blooms have changed to pods that release cotton-like seedlings into the air, the entire plant becomes a vibrant, rich, and deep red that can cover an entire mountain side. This is a great compliment to the yellow-leafed birch and aspens here.

We're Havin' a Kid. This was our online social network baby announcement. We couldn't think of a way to spread the news and not be cheesy about it so we went all out. The caption read, "this glacier is getting smaller... But our family is getting bigger! Expecting baby Robel in January, 2016!" We are excited about this huge life shift but really don't know what to expect. We plan to continue our seasonal lifestyle and are excited about the benefits this can have on our "Sprout"... Learning to live and thrive in community in two very different cultures, gaining city-life skills in Greeley while also developing the ability to live in the wilderness, become flexible, love travel, etc. We are not going to find out the gender before the birth--I'm a huge fan of surprises and think it'll be nice to have that extra punch of excitement after hours of intense pain. One of the things I'm most looking forward to is seeing Austin become a dad. He's gonna be great!

Softball T-Shirts. Another huge success of the store this summer--though not my brain child--was thought up by a guide from the guiding service next door. They give tours of the historic town of Kennecott and, in these tours, talk about the old Kennecott Bearcats vs. McCarthy Tigers baseball games that were epic social events. Even today, most of the town collects at the baseball field (same place as in the old days, I believe) every Friday night and plays two back-to-back games. We made these throwback t-shirts to celebrate the history between these two towns, and it's been fun to watch almost exclusively locals purchase the McCarthy t while tourists almost always go for the Kennecott shirt. In this picture, some of the gal guides pose with their new shirts the day they came in and we had the doggies model the opposing team's jersey.

Ahhh Day Off. Days off work are lovely here. Whether you do nothing (as I did the day I took this picture) or use it to go hiking, these are the highlights of the summer. I began this post almost one month ago and have slowly chipped away at it during days off. It's a fun way to reflect on what has happened and what there still is to look forward to. Today, like many of my off-days, I slept late, caught a ride down to McCarthy, did a couple loads of laundry, ate an ice cream cone, said hello to the museum folks, and will eventually make my way back to the cabin for a late afternoon nap, reading, and yoga on the front deck. I just love life here.