Sunday, October 09, 2005

In the Alaskan Bush

So I did it. I quit my day job and went and spent six weeks in Alaska with my high school friend Tanya, two weeks in Fairbanks and a month in the Alaska bush on the Kantishna river. So imagine this: two middle aged women living in a two room cabin together for one month in the Alaskan bush, after barely seeing each other for thirty-years.

Yes, we survived it. Tanya has evolved into THE quintessential survivor, now solidly packed with not only life experience but all sorts of wisdom you can only obtain in the Alaskan bush: how to manage and clean a chain saw, how to maintain generators and battery packs, how to whip up delicious oatmeal cookies on a wood stove, how to clear a path in the woods, how to fell and limb a tree for firewood, then chop the wood neatly in two so it will fit into the stove, how to shoot a bear when it comes after your chickens, then feed the bear to the chickens and can the rest.

And me? Utterly useless. Despite my camping forays into the California Sierras and the desert, I am basically a city girl, and years of city living has made me soft. So, okay, I limbed a few trees, learned how to clean a chainsaw, went on long walks in the forest, feet bouncing on the spongy rockless ground, observed explosions of mushrooms push through the ground from one day to the next, watched the birch leaves turn from green to yellow to blazing gold then fall away to leave the white birches standing naked among the green spruce, listened to the wolves howl near our cabin at night, stared across the river at a fat and sassy moose, made friends with the sled dogs Gusto and Buddy, stood in awe as thousands of cranes filled the sky on the day that we left, heading south. And of course did what I do in the city--sat in front of my computer and played with words.

No cell phones. No internet. No telephone. Only a CB for communication between the cabins on the banks of the Kantishna, and a Christian radio station for receiving messages from people outside the Bush. Splendid isolation.

I also met a few of The Bush People, homesteaders like Tanya who have given up city life on a full or part-time basis, and live entirely off the land in the remote Alaskan Bush. People like Mike, a grizzled trapper in his sixties and his forty-something wife Fran, who could rival Martha Stewart with what she's done with just a small cabin and a chunk of land. In the fall, the homesteaders get in their boats and visit one another, and some of the moose hunters from the city also drop by. I introduced Argentine mate as well as the film Hope in Hard Times to a bunch of these folk, hopefully linking a bit of the Far South with a bit of the Far North.

Tanya, who is part Tlingit, thought it would be a good idea if the indigenous people of the continent could form a kind of network, a thought echoed by Quechua and Aymara friends that I have in the Southern Hemisphere, so we talked about how that might happen. We also talked a lot about religion, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bahai, Native traditions, New Age thought--it's easy to feel the presence of god in remote places like the Alaskan bush, and interesting how that presence has been interpreted over the years.

Tanya wrote about her experience in her comment in my previous post. I'm glad she thinks of me as still golden despite all the grey I see in the mirror. We have, over the years, passed a kind of poem back and forth between each other. This was another verse.