Monthly Archives: September 2014

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Alaska Licensed

I always find it mildly frustrating the differences between state laws. While I understand that states can give its inhabitants more freedom than Federal laws, certain differences in laws, such as traffic laws or laws governing drivers license renewals, for instance, always strike me as odd.

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This was me at DMV, reading Charles Dickens. Because what else do you do at DMV?

Case in point: when I moved to Washington State almost five years ago, getting my Alaskan driver’s license turned into a Washington driver’s license involved simply sitting at DMV and bringing in a piece of paper (a letter or bill addressed to me) proving that I had an address in Washington State. I was immediately issued the license. Here in Alaska, if you haven’t had an Alaskan driver’s license issued within the past year (e.g. it was expired for at least a year), you must retake the written driver’s test of 20 questions that come randomly out of the DMV driver’s manual. Now I have a temporary license and will get my permanent one in two weeks via mail.

Either way doesn’t really bother me. Having to retake a test, although annoying, is reasonable, as road laws can vary slightly state to state. But it’s interesting to me that one state doesn’t require a written test, just a valid license from another state, while this state requires the written test.

Regardless, on this wintry day, where I woke up to both a screaming baby and a light dusting of snow, I am now officially licensed to drive in Alaska.

I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t have to take a road test, although the snow hasn’t stuck and was gone by mid-morning. The first snow in Fairbanks (and probably any another Alaskan town) brings its share of traffic accidents and foolish drivers.

I’ve been trying hard to live in denial about the approaching snow though, ignoring the forecasts of snow (I mean, how often are the weathermen wrong?) and instead getting out of doors and soaking up the feeble rays of winter sun.

I spent this weekend enjoying fantastic times with amazing friends. I taught a beautiful woman who has lived in Alaska for ten years what lingonberries are and how to pick them (not that it’s hard!). But we had a great time in the woods, trying to ignore the late-season bugs that fell in our hair and down our backs, and trying to pretend we both aren’t in our thirties with bad knees as we trekked around squatting in the woods. (Let me assure you, my knee was swollen the next day.)

These friends of ours are moving to Outside in two short weeks. They have lived in Anchorage for the last eight or so years, and, of course, they leave for the outside world as we return to this small town of Alaska. It was bittersweet to see them this weekend, knowing that it would be our last in-person visit for who knows how long. But it’s always harder to be the one left than the one leaving. For the one leaving, everything changes. You start fresh and have something to look forward to–many new people and new experiences. For those left behind, nothing changes except a gaping hole where your friend used to be. I know we are the kind of friend that will see each other again, but it is certainly sad to see them go, especially so soon after our return to Alaska.

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A delectable dessert our friends introduced us to: espresso poured over coffee. Um, YUM!!

The First Frost

If I haven’t posted lately, it’s because several things have been happening at once. 1. It’s started snowing and more snow is in the forecast. 2. We got our first frost on the 21st. 3. I’ve been madly picking lingonberries (i.e. low-bush cranberries). 4. I’ve been unpacking. (One day, I do hope to be done with number four.) 5. I’ve been on the hunt for winter clothes for my baby.

The snow, thankfully, did not stick. But I was concerned for a little while there, as the flurries were fast and furious. There are still some trees with leaves on them, and snow now would not be kind to those trees. But those snows delivered the cold temperatures that brought the first hard frost to my backyard overnight, which is what I was waiting for in order to begin picking lingonberries.

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Have you ever seen anything more gorgeous than berries ripe for the picking?

Now, every nap time, I am to be found either outside picking more berries, or inside washing, sorting, and freezing berries. Berry picking is backbreaking work. And the actual berry picking is only a part of that. It’s nearly as time consuming (especially with an infant) to remove all the leaves, stems, bugs, and other debris out of the berries once you’ve picked them.

But, the carrot hanging down in front of me is all the things I can make with my lingonberries (and high-bush cranberries and chokecherries). My mother has a killer cream cheese lingonberry bread recipe, which I have fond memories of growing up with. It was a yearly tradition to wait for the first frost, then go out behind our property to a nearby lingonberry patch and pick until our hands were numb, or our bags were full.

I’ve missed that bread since leaving Alaska.

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Our backyard is covered in these little gems.

So about four hours of squatting in the leaves, kneeling on the ground, digging in leaves, sticks, and other debris, staining my jeans and hands with cranberry juice, chapping my knuckles until they bleed, and allowing my son to nap in the backpack carrier, led to about two gallon bags full of lingonberries in the freezer.

To someone from “Outside,” this may not seem like a lot. But lingonberries are much smaller than their Thanksgiving cranberry cousins. Perhaps 1/3 to 1/4 the size of the typical Ocean Spray fresh cranberries you find in Fred Meyer in November. And oh, so much better. It’s true that small fruits often pack more flavor, and these are flavorful little berries.

Although the demise of fall and the snow in the forecast makes me incredibly sad, I try to focus on the benefits of this first frost. The lingonberries are quickly falling off their stems and rotting, and so I return to the crisp days out of doors to pick some more, ignoring the pain in my knees and back so that I can stock up my berry supply. Because once that snow falls, it’s not leaving for a very long time.

 

The sun is finally shining. Yesterday the clouds broke and Denali emerged just in time for a gorgeous sunset. But on the other side of the sky, the Alaskan Mountain Range stole some of the show. I have yet to see more mountains out than we did last night, so of course I pulled out the camera.

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Early yesterday, this was what the sky over Denali had looked like for days. No glimpse of the mountain, and a gray, gloomy sky.

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Finally, late yesterday evening, the sky cleared and the entire Alaskan Mountain Range emerged. I have never seen it so clear before.

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At sunset, Denali came out, bathed in a pinkish hue. This photo really doesn’t do the image justice.

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Another shot of the Alaskan Mountain Range. I couldn’t get enough it last night.

Snow & Denial

No, that’s not a typo. Although I never realized before now how close “Denali” is to “denial.” What I’m currently living in denial about is the snowflakes that fell earlier today.

All in all, September 21st isn’t an early winter for Fairbanks. It’s semi-decent, perhaps average. There was a definite chill in the air when I drove back from my parents’ house with our three cats (who have been enduring a prolonged stay at their house during our moving process). I watched the car thermometer drop to the high thirties, and smelled that chill of impending doom

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Sunrise Over the Alaskan Mountain Range

I’m currently taking a break from unpacking our house to dabble in yesterday’s sunrise. This morning we are fogged in, so much so that I almost can’t see the neighboring houses through the bare trees below, and certainly not any natural mountains. (The only mountains I can see are of a different kind: dirty clothing.)

Sunrise over the Alaskan Mountain Range, 19 September 2014

A Gentle Sunrise Over the Alaskan Mountain Range, 19 September 2014

It’s amazing how after a few weeks in this house, I find myself constantly looking out of doors, seeking the mountains that I have missed so much. (Yes, Washington State has mountains, but they’re baby mountains.) Today, while Grandma has her grandson, my husband and I have kept busy by unpacking the rest of our boxes, doing laundry, reorganizing things we thought we had already organized, doing laundry, as well as putting out the remainder of our gigantic book collection, and (you guessed it!) doing more laundry. Yet in my occasional glance out the windows, the fog seems oppressive and depressing. Where are the mountains that have greeted me each morning? Where is the clear, blue sky? Where are the trees?

I know this isn’t Seattle, and the fog will lift. There is a reason that we get amazing Northern Lights up here: the cold temperatures mean no insulating clouds. But as days becomes shorter, every second of daylight seems precious to my eyes. Until December 21st the daylight lessens, and, up here in Alaska, it is a drastic difference between summer and winter, both in sunlight and temperatures.

Fairbanks has one of (if not the) greatest temperature variances in the world. Summers can reach 90˚F, while winters can–and do–dip below -60˚F. Where I grew up in North Pole, our house would often be about ten degrees colder than Fairbanks. One memorable day while I was in high school, I recall it bottoming out at about -70˚F. (And yes, I went to school that day.) But in my new house, one of the things I am looking forward to with great pleasure is being on top of the inversion zone. Here on the hill, already I am seeing a temperature difference of about ten degrees in the opposite direction. The morning temperatures have been about 47˚F at the house in recent mornings, but down on the highway a mile or so away, the temperature are just above freezing. Finally, to this cold-blooded Alaskan, it’s going to seem warm at my house!

So while the fog has me feeling trapped, I will continue to unpack this house and tackling a different kind of mountain. It’s been a long few weeks without a washer and dryer (more on that story later–and how much I owe my parents for that as well!), and the dirty clothes have certainly piled up to a level rivaling Denali.

While Denali Hides…

Since the mountain has been hiding the past couple days, I have no pictures of her to post*. Instead, a tidbit of life in Alaska which most people wouldn’t think about.

I’m a Mac junkie. I admit it. I am writing this blog post on my Macbook, I have an iPod touch, use my iPad daily, and have owned an iPhone since their release (how many years ago has it been?!). Today though, I did something that I’ve never done before. I purchased the new iPhone on its release date. I actually went into the store and everything. *gasp*

One of the amazing things about Fairbanks, Alaska, is that you can get an iPhone the day its released without waiting in line for hours. I drove by the AT&T store this morning and there was a line out the door, presumably because of the new iPhone’s release. An hour later, when I drove by again, the line had hardly moved. However, when I returned to town hours later, the line had dissipated, and although there were ten people in front of me when I entered the store and put my name on the list, I was in and out in 45 minutes, with the exact iPhone I desired in my hand. (Since moving back to Alaska, I’ve been using my old iPhone 4, and it’s so nice to have a fast phone in my hand again.)

Now, while I’m not encouraging purchasing iPhones on the release date, or even purchasing iPhones at all, I find it amusing that hours after the release of the iPhone, there are still plenty to be had in a place like Fairbanks, Alaska. Perhaps it speaks to the nature of Fairbanksians. We are a simple people, for those who focus on having the newest fashions won’t last long in a town that doesn’t even have a Target, or a real mall. (Don’t get me started on the Bentley “Mall.”)

But people who live here either grew up here, or have grown accustomed to the lack of amenities (we boast about having the largest Wal-Mart in the country, for heavens’ sake–and we have only one). Being out of state for the past five years, it’s been an adjustment for me to give up the excess of shopping options the Lower 48 offers. Outside, if one store doesn’t have it, you visit the store ten miles away, or go next door where they’re bound to have it. (The one exception might be iPhones on release days, the subject which spurred this line of thinking.) But up here, it’s a unique existence. Fairbanks is isolated. Although the borough has about 90K inhabitants, once you leave the borough (before you even leave the borough, really), you’re in no-man’s land. The land between where there are a handful of gas stations on the 350 mile road to Anchorage, the state’s largest city (but not capital city).

It’s this isolation which both attracts and repels people. Fairbanks attracts an odd mix of inhabitants. Plenty of military, with both Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright within 20 miles of each other. Military brings in a wide range, and people tend to either love it or hate it here. Those that love it try to stay, while those that hate it complain until the day they leave. It creates an oxymoron: a transient population, and yet a population that is strangely stagnant. Having gone to school here from preschool to graduate school, I can go almost anywhere after five years of being gone and still run into people I recognize.

Some people love that small town feel. To a reserved introvert such as myself, I find it both comforting and suffocating. But, I admit there are pluses. And getting my preferred iPhone in less than an hour on the afternoon of its release is certainly a plus. I even got my husband to watch the baby while I went in. It was like a mini-vacation. Now if I could just get the opportunity to spend more than five minutes playing with my new phone, life would be good. (Just kidding, my parents took the baby for the night, so hubby and I are enjoying a pleasant movie night–the first in many, many months!)

All in all, I am blessed. Even if I have to live in a place where winter dominates (it’s always winter and never Christmas, says my husband), there is a silver lining.

*P.S. I did get a pretty picture of today’s sunrise over the Alaskan Mountain Range, but I’ll have to post that tomorrow, as my camera is upstairs and I’m too lazy to deal with it tonight. Check back tomorrow!