Sunday, December 22, 2013

Solstice Greetings

Check this out.  This is what it looked like on the solstice yesterday.  It's the kind of phenomenon similar to rainbows, sundogs and northern lights.  We see it often in winter, this blue line along the horizon but I don't know if it has a name.  It reminds me of Rob's favorite kids book "Harold and his purple crayon".  Since we are in a crag, a deep valley, it feels like an odd pocket of energy and chemistry, while the sun dances on the periphery in bold blue skies high above us.  We haven't seen the sun directly here in several days but no matter, this is a good time to snuggle up with a book on the couch or to get to those long forgotten creative projects.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dear Linda

Dear Linda,
     Funny that I should think of you here, in this unusual space.  I’m in a musher’s cabin, waiting for Ana-Maria who has just gone for a short trip with Kelly, a young female musher.  What a luxury to be in the comfort of her rustic dwelling, for the equivalent of a 10-mile run.  The dogs left behind are howling mournfully like old-fashioned police sirens, some yelping and then all is quiet.
     No doubt I’m thinking of you here because of your lengthy search for home.  Living on a boat for a decade, no matter how romantic it may seem, must take a toll after a while.  So let me tell you about this different life.
     The view from this squat rugged cabin is spectacular.  A large picture window taking up most of the wall is symmetrically positioned to frame an iconic snow covered mountain.  In the foreground there are 20 square doghouses haphazardly strewn, with all of their chewed away door openings facing the cabin.  Several dogs are lounging on the flat tops, soaking up the sun while others are running around their individual posts, impatient and hopeful that they may be the next ones chosen to go out for a run.
     The cabin is tiny with its rough plank walls, even with a large extension.  The original part has a hint of a loft, a trailer sized sink, and a double bed with a shelf above it lined with recent DVD’s.  No TV visible anywhere.  As far as I can see, the only thing locked around here is a tall narrow metal cabinet – a rifle most likely.  Not even a lock on the main door, nothing to steal, I guess.  Her dogs would alert and protect her. 
     A green spiral notebook is open on the table and catches my attention.  It has a bold hand written message in blue marker;
To find happiness in life you must:
1)      find something to do
2)      find something to love
3)      find something to hope for.
I can’t resist adding a quote from Yoda: “Try not.  Do or do not.  There is no try.”  Very quickly, I realize that I love the calm quiet young woman who casually allowed me in her unpretentious home, with her green eyed cat for company, while she kindly took my friend out for a spin around her neighbourhood.  So open and comfortable, not out to impress anyone but herself.  There’s a sense of personal satisfaction with this hard simple life.
Her kitchen is bare-bone functional; she obviously hates to cook.  No cupboards but narrow shelves for tea and dried goods.  Olive oil, hot sauce, honey, vinegar…a half eaten stack of whole wheat pancakes, a fork stuck into a large triangular cut portion rests on a plastic cutting board.  Plywood shelves below store a supply of tins, a purple hand-sewn curtain with blue thread hangs loose on either side.  There is no water or electricity, instead a few gas lamps and a clump of scented candles occupy this table in front of me.
An old converted oil barrel flattened out by a hammer is the main source of wood heat, with 2 stainless steel pots on top for water.  This reminds me of the early days at Rob’s ‘batch pad’, where a doorknob was considered frivolous.  His cabin had a giant frost heave in the floor just under where the stove was.  In those early exuberant days of romance, I remember hanging some laundry too close to the stove.  The associated smell of a stove like that is of burning rubber from my bra and undies.
There’s a tub of raw meat on a chair nearby for the yummy pre-run soup.  A clothesline above it holds mitts, hats, socks and a string of Velcro dog bootees.  There is no semblance of anything being up to code, not anything being organized in any way other than to sustain herself and her beloved dogs in a joyous harmonious state. 
A tiny shelf above the vintage 80’s couch holds a German beer stein, a framed tropical post card, and a photo of herself in a wedding party wearing a black gown with spaghetti straps, carrying a bouquet of yellow flowers, embracing a plump smiling bride. 
Dusty wine glasses and cat haired cutlery are gathered in a forgotten corner, along with mugs with broken handles.  I see no modern hardware, only antler handles and wooden latches.  “People don’t like to rent to mushers,” Kelly said before leaving.  Life here in this community seems relaxed, focused and fortunate.  She has several neighbours, all mushers, like a tiny village far away from anything where no one minds the howling excited barking.
Here they come!  Ana-Maria has a broad smile plastered on her face, she waves two thumbs up.  She disembarks the sled, straightens her leopard print jacket and gushes about the amazing trail.  I remind her that the day before a stray dog bit her, but today she is firmly handling and harnessing these huskies.  When was the last time I saw her so euphoric?
I leave you now Linda, and look forward to having a healthy discussion upon our next visit about our concepts of home.  Alternative is the key; I know you’ll agree,

Love, Suzanne

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Water Returns!

Thank you Bonnie for inquiring about the current water situation.  It might be weird to say but after a while it was a regular part of our weekly routine to haul water - usually a dozen blue jugs at a time.  It was a whole new adventure for me but for Rob it was shades of his bachelor days when he lived with two blue jugs a week and he had to drive 10 miles to get it.  We had large plastic garbage cans filled in the bathtub and in the corner of the kitchen.  A large pot of water was always on the wood stove for dishes.  In fact, this was such a good idea that we continue to do this for moisture in the cabin and to reduce water heating costs.  Bathing was done in traditional style in the lakeside sauna.  There's nothing like standing naked on a moonlit night on a frozen lake, smelling of essential oils, to observe millions of stars and possible northern lights.  For guests this is the highlight of their stay here.

As soon as spring returned at the end of April, Rob (A.K.A. Hernia Man who was soon to have surgery) was busy digging up a long trench, a foot deep, from the cabin to the lake.  That's about 100 feet.  The last stretch was the worst with the ground still frozen.   The month prior to this, he's bought all the necessary supplies, PVC pipes, heat trace... There was a man who was anxious for the return of spring and for things to be 'normal', but I remind him that especially around here normal is a setting on your washing machine.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Update - Organic Moments

This long delayed post is dedicated to Rose, one of my persistent supporters.  I though of her and this blog while eating rose petal ice cream a few weeks ago when visiting my favorite Mexican city, La Paz.  In the shadow of a polka dotted tree near the Vermillion Bay of Illusions, several cones of this were consumed in hopes of re-creating it at Crag Lake during the summer wild rose season.  At first lick, rose petal ice cream tastes like grand mothers bubble bath, a bit shocking but quickly the creamy deliciousness makes a clear presence.  The best part is the subtle sensation of the frozen petals that come back to their velvety life over the tongue.  We sampled corn ice cream too, it has a true Mexican flare. 

Catching up on the last year; during the four months of my new full time career of carving a hole in the ice and hauling water uphill to the cabin, I became very in tuned with the natural environment and the authentic contents of my heart while looking for a new life direction.  As a self confessed pack rat, I decided that during this time of being unemployed in the conventional sense was a good opportunity to examine my piles of what I consider to be art supplies for future creative projects.  Rob calls it junk.  While I would agree that a partial canoe, stacks of driftwood, beaver chewed sticks and rusty bed frames may indeed be useless to some less imaginative types, to me they are true treasures.  I'd like to take full credit for the idea to hide these under the guest cabin behind the garden shed that Rob built with his usual standard of beauty, craftsmanship and function.

The collection in question at the time was my postage stamps, literally thousands of them ranging from the dull everyday ones to the antiques and globally gathered.  Much like my collection of clothing labels (see earlier posts of clothing label quilts I've made), I saw stamps as tiny unique art pieces that tantalize my sense of travel and adventure.  How could people overlook these and simply throw them in the garbage without a second thought?  So I started to cover furniture with them; first a chair, then a cabinet, a bread board, an old metal file box, a mirror...  Visually speaking they are much like the label quilts and they represent a similar disappearing era.  People rarely write letters anymore and labels are now being stamped directly on fabric.

Now combine these two elements of no water and delving into a new juicy project and what is the outcome?  Another Organic Moment!

Laundry had to be hauled to the Carcross gas station once a week, since of course we could not do it here without water.  Instead of looking at this situation as a hassle, I took this opportunity to hang out at the post office in between loads to check out any new stamps and to enjoy the general vibe there.  What I found every week was one stressed out post master, who I'd describe as running around like her hair was on fire.  Finally and reluctantly, I said "You look like you could use some help around here."  And presto (almost) I got the job as acting post master for the tiny town of Carcross, population 450.  Truth is I really love this job and as a bonus, imagine the stamps I get to admire and acquire thanks to some understanding and generous patrons.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Spring has Sprung

Whitepass on the way to Skagway

     For me, spring starts on St. Paddy's Day, which marks the day I arrived in the Yukon, 1980.  I remember it well because green beer was served at the bar.  The Whitehorse airport at the time was a large cavernous hanger, with the only place heated being a small office in a corner.  Pigeons lived in the rafters high above the wide open space.  The luggage was delivered by tractor to a sheltered frozen ramp outside.  Winters seemed a lot longer and colder back then, and this day was no exception.  The first true Yukon character I saw was a fully bearded man wearing a long fur coat with coyote tails dangling all around the hem.  From under his massive hairy hood, I heard a raspy voice tell me "You should've been here yesterday, it was even colder."  I was undeterred and welcomed the new adventure ahead.

     On this 32nd anniversary Robertson and I drove over the White Pass to Skagway Alaska to visit some friends who are undertaking a massive house project.  I love the energy of dream houses under construction and to visualize with them.  We had the usual fish and chips at the Sweet Tooth Cafe, seated at the table by the window and watched almost no activity passing on the wooden sidewalks.  We picked seaweed on the beach to take back to the compost heap to give it some extra coastal vitamins.  Like tourists we stopped often to marvel and take photos.  It's still an amazing place to call home.
     Is it the human condition to reminisce of perfect days long after they have occurred?  I vow to be more attentive to the ingredients of idealic moments.  Take today for example, we snowshoed across the lake in the sunshine, and followed it up with a sauna.  I shoveled ice off the deck with only a towel loosely draped over me with steam wafting from my wet hair.  Scented a spoonful of water with drops of lemon grass and lavender oils before tossing it on the lava rocks to create steam.  The spoon is made of a burl from a diseased tree and the bottom is carved with "Maked it by hand" signed by "Skully".  Another true Yukon character who once had a spot on the Alaska Highway selling a variety of bowls and such.  I hold it up to Rob and tell him it's one of the few things I hung on to from my last marriage.
     The weekend ends with a chicken roasting in the oven, a glass of wine and a good book.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Water issues in February

     Apologies for my long absence.   We've been busy with water issues; rain and our water pipes exploding in early December.  This relatively modern cabin with expected amenities has reverted to being a rustic cabin again and we're ready for it.  The over sized pails in the kitchen and bathroom are hardly noticeable and we are ever more mindful of how much water we use.  Grateful too for the medieval themed outhouse.  It's rewarding for us to note that we currently live with 55 gallons of water a week.  That's with traditional bathing in the sauna and laundry in Carcross (which turns out to be an unexpected community bonus with random visits).  The fortunate thing for us is that we have a clean body of water right outside our front door.  It's just a matter of carving out a hole with my new auger through 3 feet of ice, filling the blue jugs and hauling them up the hill.  Imagine how buff we'll look by spring!  I am so grateful that one of us is home full time to handle the extra work.
     Plus there's been rain in February, in the Yukon.  I blame our busted pipes on this warm weather, so much extreme change is too harsh and erratic on this system.  Still, we rejoice in the spring-like weather and parade around the wood pile in light fleece jackets, even without toques sometimes.  Skiing on the lake, with the sun on our pale faces, has been fantastic.
     But then we encounter unusual icy patches on our paths and stairs and shovel heavy loads of slush.  The sidewalks in Whitehorse are mushy and brown.  Great for snowman building, not something we have a lot of training in usually.  It's the kind of winter misery I left behind in my Maritime youth.  Its a hard concept to explain, the difference between a wet and dry climate when it comes to the cold.  We are like Arizona with the smallest desert in the world in our neighbourhood.  What this means for us is crispy granulated fluffy snow, not the smiling rotund stacked type with carrot noses.
     Part of me wants this mild weather to continue until spring (May) when we can dig up a new trench for a slick new water system but I suffer some guilt too knowing there is a price to be paid.   It's just not normal, all over the world we can share stories of disturbing weather patterns.  Climate change is here.  We, the Skookum minority would relish a steady -15 to -20C weather to give us a sense of peace in the world.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Buddha's Hat & risotto recipe

View from the kitchen sink.
Dear Kindred Spirits,
     I'm not sure if you have a Buddha living at your house, but if he lives outside like ours, it might be time to get him geared up for winter.  First, find an acorn squash at the grocery store, or if you're really lucky, at the farmers market.  Look for one with a funky stem.  Cut the top of the squash so that the circumference is about 3 inches across.  It'll look like a flower looking down at it.  Now find a sunny windowsill and let this part dry for a few weeks.  You'll see over time, how it'll curl in on itself and form a bit of a 'hat'.  When it's almost dry, put it on Buddha's head for a form fit.  The final results will be very satisfying and make you laugh every time you look at it.  Maybe the local squirrels will discover it too, it won't interrupt the joy factor in the long run.
     Risotto Recipe; all measurements are approximate.  Peel the above mentioned acorn squash, take out seeds and boil or bake until done but firm.  You'll know it's ready when you mash it and it'll break down but still have lumps in it.  Lumps are yummy.  Add vegetable or chicken broth so that you have about 5 cups of liquid in all, simmering.  In a large cast iron cooking pot, fry an onion and 5-6 cloves of garlic.  When well cooked pour in about 1/2 cup of white wine.  Now pour in about 1.5 or 2 cups of Arborio rice (also known as sushi rice), these are fatter and rounder grains.  Stir the rice into the wine, onion and garlic mixture until the rice is translucent, about 2-3 minutes.  Then add about a 1/2 cup of your squash liquid, keep stirring, as it thickens, add more liquid when it gets goopy.  This is the basic combination; keep adding liquid until it's all gone and the rice is tender in a kind of sauce - a long process without a glass of wine.  It's good to have and use lots of liquid to make your risotto nice and gooey.  As the rice reaches it's right texture, add grated cheese.  We like to use Cheddar, blue cheese or Swiss or a combination. This usually makes a large pot so the second night you can make risotto cakes by making patties, dipping them in bread crumbs and frying.  Top with pesto/sour cream sauce.  Asparagus is a nice side dish.