“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir

The photo above is of Mt. Susitna, or “Sleeping Lady.” It is here, in Alaska. And the story about her is one of my favorite traditional folk tales from the Alaska native peoples.

Utqiagvik

My son is heading to Barrow for at least a week for work. It is the northernmost city populated year round, and within the USA. The city has changed its name back to its original name, Utqiaġvik. It is pronounced, “oot — kay-ahg — vik.” Up there is where they have total darkness for the winter part of the year, and total sunshine for the summer part of the year. Life there, for the original native population, is not one many of us could have survived, back in ancient times. Even today, life there is much harder than the normal suburban housewife could handle. Prices for simple things like milk and cereal are insane. A gallon of milk is $10 and a box of Fruit Loops is $9.73. It’s almost impossible to imagine those sorts of prices. But the people survive. And it is what I look to when I want to see an example of strength and the ability to survive. History has not shared the full tale, but I know it is magnificent, if just known by its folklore. I cannot wait to hear my son’s stories when he gets back home. I am so excited he gets to see and stay in such a remarkable place.

Mt. Denali

I have been noticing that I am drawn more and more to the simple, the quiet, the serene, the natural. I would much prefer a mountain vista with a lake or stream than a high rise and traffic. I have no desire to uproot myself from the heaven-on-earth I live in to explore elsewhere. One of the reasons is because I have allowed myself to find my comfort zone, and to be comfortable there.

When we first relocated here, almost 10 years ago now, I was incessantly trying to get my friends from the lower 48 to see what I saw. To enjoy what I enjoy. Most everyone who has not taken to where I choose to live, have pretty much the same list of their reasons why not to live here:

  1. Too cold
  2. Too remote
  3. Too expensive
  4. Too rural
  5. Too frontier and not civilized enough

And you know what? I can see that. I really can. I was more than ready for summer after a pretty cold winter. This summer is not impressing me – we are having a few sunny days but most are overcast and in the 50s. This entire week we expect rain and 50s daily. I want sun! And this week is my grandson’s All Star tournament – every day – baseball in rain. Fun.

So I understand the objections. I was born and raised in Southern California. I know hot. And I know beach (born in Santa Monica). I know crowds, smog, and traffic, too. High taxes. Insane real estate prices. Yeah. I know SoCal. I miss my family and friends, but not the place. And I realized that my comfort zone does not include hot weather. I’d rather put on a jacket to get warmer than suffer in sweltering heat, relying on my A/C in the house or the car. And learning to get comfortable with who you are is such a hard step to take. I don’t much care for what others think of me anymore. I am here to please (1) my God, (2) my husband, and (3) my family. Friends are the flowers we carry through life. They are the extras we are blessed with to enjoy this journey.

Three Ladies in the Rain

I am blessed with some friends who I have had for decades. We shared marrying, and birthing and raising our kids, soccer, baseball, pizza parties, vacations and holidays, losing our parents, date nights, card playing, shopping, and tea times. We have gone through a lot together, holding each other’s hands when we needed to and celebrating when we were able to. And those friends will be with me until my last breath. And I am a blessed woman.

When we moved here, making connections was more difficult. People who choose to live here are a different bunch. They are hard-scrabble, as my grandma would say. I have met some friends here who have challenged me and who have changed me. For the better, I think. I am not as dependent in some ways, and more so in others. I have learned the importance of my community. I have learned more about infrastructure and supply chain dynamics than I thought I needed to know. And it has informed my conscious and has made both my husband and I change things in our daily lives. And realizing the things I thought I needed, I have no real need of. I can go all day without turning on the TV. I love walking through my garden, barefooted, battling weeds and swatting at mosquitoes. I love hanging out with my husband and he and I planning and enjoying our plans come to life. It is a good life. I am content. I am happy. I am where I am supposed to be. And I am making connections along the way. It is good.

The infamous sars virus that invaded our lives made us change, too. Smaller circle of friends, more prepared for disasters. Disappointed in how our local and state and federal government handled this. And deeply disappointed in how the Church handled it (so much for trusting in God over some man-made disease). Our faith has become more personal, and I actually think that is a bonus we can take from all this. And we have taken a look at how we live in relationship to the services we can use from local agencies. One of the changes we are in the midst of making is changing from a pretty, flick-a-switch-on-the-wall gas fireplace to a real, honest-to-goodness, cast-iron wood stove. My only requirement? It had to be pretty. And boy, is it gorgeous. I cannot wait for the construction to be over and to be able to light it up! We are also surrounding it with fossil rock. As an anthropology major, getting the opportunity to have real fossils, from Alaska, on my fireplace walls, is beyond exciting. The stove is brown-enameled cast iron and it is shiny and pretty and I am so excited. And I can take the pretty top off and cook on it, if I need to! Pretty and practical – I’d call that a win-win!

Cast Iron Humidifier

My stove will look like the cute humidifier I got for it. Gorgeous brown enamel. You fill it with water and set it on the stove and it humidifies the house! So simple and so elegant looking, at the same time. So far all I do with it is dust it! Soon it will have its home on our wood stove – and it is a perfect match!

Why would we pull out a gas fireplace? Well, when we had the big earthquake a couple of years ago, we lost power. We could actually get the fireplace to start, but the electric blowers did not work. The heat stayed right by the fireplace. We had no lights and no way to run our appliances. We were not bad off in comparison to others, but it made us think. We also rushed to the store that day and even though things were all over the floors, the store was open, workers were there, and water was selling out. It made us realize we needed to be more independent of stores, electric and gas companies, and water suppliers. We have since looked at where our food comes from. We now buy local – we try to source everything we can locally. Keeping our small economy running.

One of our raised beds

We also started to take care of our own food supply. There are so many ways we can all be more independent. This is one way. Control your own food. Plant only what you like to eat, that will grow where you live. You can grow enough at a townhouse or apartment, if you want to. Container gardening is almost easier than a full-on acre garden like we have. We also have a greenhouse with our tomatoes, peppers, and dill, keeping them nice and warm.

If a disaster should strike, and food becomes scarce, where will you find enough to eat? You can store canned and freeze-dried food (but you need water to eat freeze dried) and you can also store water. About 1/2 gallon per person, per day. You need about a week’s worth of supplies, at least. If power grids fail, if gas lines rupture, if water pipes burst…what are you going to do? If violence erupts and stores close, are you supplied? What if there is another lockdown? Do you have what you need? What if the computer system crashes and we can’t use ATMs or our debit cards at places like gas stations and grocery stores? What will you have to trade or bargain with? Cash on hand? Politics control most of our lives and the powers-that-be are moving into our food supply (artificial shortages). Have you priced simple lumber these days? Artificial shortage. Research it. The government mandating farmers not farm? Research it.

Sleeping Lady

And all this leads me to why I wrote about the mountains – and for me, that is Alaska. I fled the chaos for the serenity of a quieter life; a life closer to most of my kids (there’s one who is moving even further away, but at least he’ll be out of CA); a more purposeful life…and a life near mountains. All around me in Alaska are mountains. I get all 4 seasons. (I do get more winter than fall, more summer than spring, but they all appear). I am now exerting myself into more control of my life, rather than relying on the system. Living “closer to the dirt,” as the saying goes. Off grid? Not hardly. But I know people who live that way and I sort of envy them. (I am spoiled in that I require running water, and a water heater). I’m not that brave. But I can strive for more than who I was and what I was capable of doing.

And so I have decided to get another tattoo…this one will be of Sleeping Lady, much like what is above. I love the mountains, they truly call me, and I love the story of Sleeping Lady.

For a brief overview, the Sleeping Lady story is about a race of giants. It is about a girl named Susitna and boy named Nekatla. They were deeply in love. It is about war and faith, community and life, and remaining steadfast. All of the story is filled with honorable traits of having a good character. The story says that when there is peace again on the earth, Susitna will awaken. It inspires me (look up the full folk tale for yourself – it is beautiful). And it fulfills my love of ancient cultures, and the mountains. And one day I hope the truth of the history of these ancient peoples comes to light. Perhaps then, Susitna will awaken.