Friday, December 18, 2009

Alaska, for me.

I honestly didn't know what I was getting into when I moved here, in June of 2003. I knew it was a big, dang state. And there were salmon. And it was "dark" for enough of the year that people talked about it. I knew it was an adventure, or at least it would be.

The time between getting a job offer with the federal gov'ment and actually starting said job was about 2 months. Before I was offered a job as a soil scientist in Wrangell I was a recent university grad, working 2-3 jobs, with a boyfriend of 3-ish years. I stepped off the Malaspina on June 20, 2003 a married lady (yes, I am a lady) with a steady, full-time job. Between the job offer (April 1ish) and June 20, I had:
  • Romantically slammed my day planner (Franklin Covey, fo' life) down on the middle seat of my purple, rebuilt 1989 Ford Ranger, demanding that the future husband of mine to "pick a date to get married before I had to report to work on June 20."
  • May 31! Woot.
  • Crabbed that I wasn't proposed to (see above)
  • Was proposed to, in a park somewhere by Arroyo Grande
  • Attended 3 bridal showers all over the great state of California
  • Sold my beloved 1989 ranger that I rebuilt myself after totalling it on 101 in 1999.
  • Put all of my worldly possessions in a huge cargo container parked in the driveway of my future in-laws. This includes my terrible college furniture that I have to this day.
  • Got married, after having my best friend's mom safety-pin me into my grandmother's wedding dress. (A hilarious tale of broken zippers. I call it Broken Promises: Dry cleaners From Hell. look for it nowhere.)
  • Drove up to the Bay Area to watch my brother graduate from High School. Longhorns!
  • Drove to Bellingham, WA to get on the ferry. We stayed in Dunsmuir, CA; Salem, OR and Bellingham at the finest Motel 6's.
look at how young and naive we were.

Watching the tiny town of Wrangell come into view was more peaceful than I imagined. It wasn't surreal, it was too right to be surreal. I was home. The very kind folks at my new work had scrounged up an air mattress and some chairs so we would have someplace to sleep/sit. We unpacked our 1986 brown/tan suburban and went to have the most expensive pizza and pitcher imaginable. Since then, $50+ on pizza and beer has become normal.

The next day all of our stuff arrived. All the glorious garbage we convince ourselves that we need. In boxes. Everywhere. To. This. Day. My husband, the Dirty Fisherman, reminds me how he unpacked the whole house in Wrangell while I was at work. Starting a brand new job and filling out a mountain of paperwork that could only come from Uncle Sam. (Later, I learned to call him Uncle Sugar because he sure was sweet to us.) I think my 4th day I was on a helicopter on the way out to the Madan sale to look at some limestone outcrop that could have Karst features.

That was only a 4 hour excursion in the woods but it was the hardest hiking of my life. I can't begin to describe how difficult it is to move in the woods here as a newbie. It's like slipping every 1.5 steps, sliding back 2, smacking yourself in the face with a branch, wondering how to carry that goldang rifle over your shoulder, trying to understand why you are working up here, and finally seeing a cedar tree so big it would take 5 people to encircle it. That night I was knock-down, drag-out exhausted. I slept like the dead, which was a feat because it was near the solstice and light for 18 glorious hours a day. Hiking in the woods became a right of passage, a puzzle, a sense that I was someone who could move through the woods with aplomb. Every other forest is too easy now, it bears no resemblance to the complex mystery of my temperate rain forest.

I learned how to be married here. That it was ok to yell (as long as the neighbors couldn't hear). That partnership means working together and explaining why you hate/like things. Understanding the difference between roommate issues like the dishes and relationship issues like feelings and family. Knowing why your in laws were laughing at you when you fight with your husband. Learning that halibut bait smells so bad it makes your eyes water but shrimp bait is way, way worse. Finding out that it was ok to be different from your spouse, as long as you talked about it.

I remember the first pile of local shrimp that made their way home. WTF heads? Watching all the others, I learned the proper picking technique. My boss took me out on the water after we had been there about 2 weeks. We could only afford 1 fishing license so tDF got to fish. Pulling the first king salmon of our lives over the rail, dragging the first little slabs of halibut, and opening the crab trap filled my hear with such glee. This was how I eat now. We eat things from the sea, that we catch ourselves. TDF was offered a deck hand position. 20% of the take of a gillnet, longline, crabber boat. We were in, we were tied to the industry. Half of us made our living on the water.

Evenings were spent drinking beer, cleaning shrimp or crab or salmon or halibut. Our freezer filled with little packages of meat. I learned how to cook. Easy dinners: Shrimp pasta in tomato-basil sauce, teriyaki salmon and peas and rice, Halibut enchiladas. More difficult failures like salmon bisque and successes like duck-au-vin. August brought berries like I had never seen. What to do? What to do? It was so new, clean, real.

My little California heart was broken. Then rebuilt. It only feels Alaska now. I am home.


  1. Wow--what a beautiful post! You almost make me want to move up there--except this last cold snap we had in CA (we had frost on our windshields, how shocking!) had me whining about my cold feet and fingers, so I don't think I should.

    I know that "home" feeling you are describing though. I felt it when DH and I first moved to CA from the midwest. I felt it as soon as we drove down El Camino the first time looking for a place to buy late night groceries when I first got off the plane. It took DH a little longer the get that feeling, but we are happy where we are now.

    Sounds like we were both right.

  2. I love this post. Made me all misty eyed and stuff.

  3. Jo--where in CA? I remember that first grocery trip too, something about buying staples for the first time in a new place.

    Thanks, Mary. That is a huge compliment.

  4. My first place was near the San Jose airport, by Santa Clara University. Your mom got me reading your blog--she mentioned it at a knitting night, in between showing off the fingerless gloves you made her and telling us about the knitted sushi.

  5. Ohhhhhhh, "Jomama" = mon ami! (BTW, Jomama and Muskey Harpy speak French)! Jomama, Muskey is a KILLER cook! Hugs, from tDF's MIL :)

  6.'re so sweet about Alaska. Makes it slightly less terrifying. I learned to be married in Texas, where I learned that it's okay to yell at your spouse, ESPECIALLY at a crowded grocery stores. I'm glad it's home for you now.

  7. love the reflective post- we are still learning...our trek to ak was a huge learning curve...but delhi, ca with his 15 yr old incorrigible niece was our real life start. sorry we laughed- it's cuz it made us remember what learning to be married looked like...and you two looked like us to us---! such sweet memories ... i hate how yelling makes me feel now, but i used to do it