Monday, September 21, 2009

Lots of progress!

Greetings from sunny Alaska! Oh, you didn’t expect Alaska after sunny? Well, it is! I’m pretty certain that we see more sun here than we did in NY! We see blue sky most days, even if there are a few clouds. And this is the “rainy season”! We did have a nice frost overnight last night and Anthracite, one of the peaks visible from camp, has some fresh snow on it now. Rodney says this isn’t the first frost but I’ve walked the dogs every morning and this is the first one I’ve noticed.

It has been another busy week. I spent a big part of the week working on a list of work that needs to be done on the buildings here at camp. There are cabins, lodges and bathrooms for three camps within the larger camp, plus the conference center lodge with housing, staff housing, horse facilities and the various maintenance buildings and facilities to support the camp. It took us a full day to walk the camp taking notes on paper and on voice recorder, it took me another day to type it all up (including listening to the voice recorder) notes, and then Nate and I took another half day cleaning it up. I sat out of the walk-through they did later in the week to discuss it with Rick Cornfield and Brian Headings. My head was spinning with all of it by then! I went down to the lower shop to do some more cleaning and sorting. That was MUCH easier work! Hahaha!!!

Nate and Rodney have been working on the log cabin the last few evenings. They accomplished a lot in a short time. They’ve got the boat running, got water running from the spring for water and they got the generator up and running and charging the batteries for power. There’s still a lot to do yet but it is a very good start. They still need to get the pelton wheel running to provide power. They got 100 psi off the spring water where the pelton wheel should sit so there should be plenty of power to run the house if we can get that going. The generator is a great backup, but the pelton wheel is essentially free if we can get it hooked up. Compared to NY’s electric rates, the generator is still cost effective, but it is more work because you need to haul in the fuel. They also still need to get the well hooked up and drawing water from there. The spring will be a great summer source, but it does freeze up in winter. They just aren’t certain how much water the well will provide and when it was last hooked up, it tripped the breaker. We also still need to treat the mold under the house (just spray with bleach) and I’ve ordered a different, odorless mold killer that I can use to clean inside the house. Lastly, we need to insulate and figure out how to heat it! There’s plenty of dead pine trees around the house that we can cut and burn, but we’ll need to get something more substantial for real cold and overnight. Basically though, there has been a lot of progress in a short time.

Friday Rodney and I went to Wasilla again. It seems like I’m there every week. Ugh! Wasilla is ok if you need to get stuff, but it is a city and frankly, I don’t care for cities. We did stop in for a minute at Kingdom Air Corp on the way in to town and ended up staying for about two hours. We got talking to Dwayne King who is another one of Alaska’s interesting classic characters. Dwayne rebuilds and repairs airplanes and trains missionary bush pilots, including quite a few Russians. Rodney was up here just a little more than a year ago working on one of the cabins that now houses some of the staff. We got to see the completed project along with the new dining hall and a number of planes they were working on in the hangar. He also has many engine parts in various states of repair all over his workshop. Now THAT looked like fun! It is like fitting together a VERY exact puzzle, after ensuring that every single piece is in perfect working order, with no cracks or worn spots. It inspired me to dig out my Russian language tapes to start brushing up on my Russian again!

Speaking of the Russians, ours are doing fairly well. Sergei is doing very well. He’s downright pleasant to be around most of the time! It’s a miracle! He’s still got a bit of the old Sergei in there that shows itself from time to time. That’s to be expected I suppose. Can’t change COMPLETELY overnight! Andrei is Andrei. Not much change at all there. Still having his usual ups and downs. Nothing big fortunately. Oksana is struggling a bit more but we are beginning to think she might also be being affected by the mold in the house. She’s mentioned having difficulty breathing when she tries to run at school. Her mile run times have been getting worse, not better. She’s also been more crabby than usual. I know that school is causing her more stress – with her learning disability she has to work three times as hard as the boys, plus the teachers aren’t taking the extra time to explain things to her that she often needs. We’ll see. We’ll wait it out for a while at this point. So far she seems to still want to be there. If she changes her mind, we’ll evaluate again.

Luci, my cousin Jeff’s wife, had recommended a book titled “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name” by Heather Lende. I ran across it at Target while we were in Wasilla so I picked it up. It is so good I devoured it in two days! If you’re tempted to read it though, I will warn that she writes obituaries and lives in an area where people die a lot. It is a sad book, but not really in a bad way I don’t think. I guess maybe I’ve lost enough people I love to appreciate that loss is a big part of life. Rodney says it is a chick book though, so… Whatever! At the risk of boring ya’ll, I’m going to put in a few quotes that really capture part of what I find so attractive about Alaska as well as her writing. “I have lived in Haines, Alaska, all of my adult life but there are still times, especially winter evenings when the setting sun washes over the white mountaintops, the sky turns a deep blue, and the water is whipped into whitecaps by the north wind, that I can’t believe my good fortune. It’s so wild and beautiful that all I can do is walk outside my house and stare.”

“Wild places are reminders that the world doesn’t revolve around us. It doesn’t care about our little successes or smashing failures. The tides ebb and flow and the seasons change regardless of how we live or die.” I’d have to go back and read again to see if I’ve written it down before or if I’ve just told other people that, but I have a similar philosophy about NYers vs Alaskans and this quote is the crux of it. I think I may have hesitated to post it for fear of offending anyone. I know that not everyone on the east coast is self centered. Actually, it seems to be more a city dweller phenomena rather than an east vs west phenomena, except that there are more cities on the east coast than the west. At any rate, one of the first thoughts that came to me as we drove across some of those western states, primarily Montana, was that all east coasters ought to drive that drive. When you see the vastness of the country you can’t help but be struck by how small we are by comparison. Too many people seem to act as if they believe they are the center of the universe. Out west people seem much more connected, much friendlier, much less self centered, much more pleasant to be around.

This last one is a quote at the end of a section where she talks about having taken the kids to a Broadway production and how it doesn’t compare to the town having put on their own production of “The Sound of Music.” “I’m still humming “My Favorite Things,” and so are my children. No one remembers the music from "Cats". This summer when we hike up Mount Riley, I’m sure at least one of us will break into “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” It’s our song now; everyone knows all the words. That’s why local shows mean more than big Broadway productions, and local customs, shared with friends and family, take the place of other ones from other places. Happiness can be as simple as a familiar tune and someone to sing it with.”

Basically, we’re still thrilled to be here. It’s not an easy place to live by any stretch of the imagination but it is beautiful and wild and the little things seem to mean more out here somehow. I hope you’ll hang with us to find out if we feel the same way a year from now. If you haven't seen them already, keep looking down the page at pictures posted last week that I forgot to tell people I'd posted.

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