I actually missed my daily hikes up and down the hill to the outhouse, usually several times a day. It gives me a chance to chatter back at the squirrels, look for new buds on the spring flowers, work my upper body pulling myself up the hill with the rope, work my legs and glutes climbing from root to root, and practice quick steps and balance coming down on wet leaves. Yes, a flush toilet is nice, but totally unnecessary.
Hands down, the one thing that I enjoyed most on our trip was warm, running water. Several years ago, when I was living in Kwethluk, Alaska, in southwestern Alaska, on the banks of the Lower Kuskokwim River, about 10 miles east of Bethel, as the crow flies, we were told, as new teachers in an introductory inservice, to be aware that village kids will want to use the bathroom all of the time, mainly to wash themselves in the sink. Then, when I first moved to the village, before I learned to say, “No,” a half dozen local, elementary age boys would knock on the door, asking, “Can we visit?” Shortly after opening the door, they beelined for the bathroom, where I had liquid soap in a pump container on the sink. They rolled up their sleeves, soaped and washed and scrubbed up to their elbows, laughing and pushing and splashing like nothing I’d ever seen. After several minutes, I had to tell them that that was enough and shoo them out of the bathroom. I never understood… until now. You see, no homes in the village, other than teacher housing, had running water. I now have complete understanding of what those children were experiencing in my bathroom all those years ago. On vacation, I washed my hands every chance I got. I also never let any dishes sit in a sink anywhere, regardless of whether there was a dishwasher or not. The sheer joy of warm, running water and the ease of keeping the kitchen counters cleared and cleaned was enough to keep me smiling as I washed, constantly. However, the ease of having warm water with just the mere twist of a nob certainly does not burn the calories of hauling it up from the river, and warming it on the stove. That lack of calorie usage combined with the accessibility to Culver’s frozen custard was not a good thing for my waistline!
I packed light for the trip, just a carry on, knowing that I would have access to a clothes washer and dryer. Changing into clean clothes every day and washing everything every few days was a real splurge for me - and the washing machines now are completely automated! They sense the load size and adjust the water level! At my daughter’s house, all I had to do was push two buttons to wash a load and two more buttons to dry them. The dryer even played a little tune when the clothes were finished, not the annoying buzzer sound of my youth! As pampering as that all felt to me, it also felt overly indulgent, and I get a lot of satisfaction from washing clothes in a hand-cranked tub with water warmed on the stove. After ringing those clothes and hanging them on the line to dry, I can stand back and look at everything I accomplished. You just don’t get that same feeling with an automated cleaning system.
As much fun as visiting the new Aldi’s grocery store in Wausau, Wisconsin, was, I would buy (and eat) way too much food if I lived there! My daughter and I just hopped into the car, which was in the attached garage, and zipped over to the store in no time at all. At home, if we run out of butter, we’re just out of butter. That’s it, until the next time I go to town, which may be tomorrow or may be next week. For me, going to the store in the summer involves gathering an empty tote from downstairs (to transport the goods back to the cabin), any trash that needs to go to town, and empty gas cans, hauling it all down the 40 steps to the boat, usually over the course of several trips, climbing down the bank (because there is no dock) and loading it in the boat, getting back out to gather the anchor, push off, and drive the 20 minutes into town, quite possibly through the rain, or bugs if it’s dry. I like the rain better. Once in town, the boat needs to be pulled out with the trailer behind the 4-wheeler (again, no dock), and driven the hundred yards to Gregg’s workshop where the boat is then unloaded. I can walk across the street to the grocery store to pick up whatever we need - don’t forget the reusable bags because they no longer use plastic. I usually grab a few things from our freezer, too - caribou meat and cheese. While I’m in town, I’ll load the empty gas cans and trash on the 4-wheeler and drive to the dumpster area to get rid of the trash and then on to the single gas pump in the village to fill the cans, stopping at the post office on my way back to the shop to pick up any boxes I might have in from Target or Amazon, where I do most of my grocery shopping. Then, all of the goods acquired have to be packed into the empty tote and loaded back into the boat along with the full gas cans. Then, the boat is returned to the water via the 4-wheeler and trailer duo and anchored while I park the duo and walk back to the boat. Time to head back upriver, goods protected from the weather by the plastic tote. Once home and the boat is anchored, everything has to be unloaded and hauled up the 40 steps to the cabin. Only then, can the groceries be unpacked and put away, storing the tote back downstairs until the next trip. Whew! All for a stick of butter!
Sitting outside on the porch at my sister’s house in Gig Harbor, Washington, it occured to me that there were no bugs. The obvious lack of mosquitoes in a rainforest climate made me uneasy, while affording me the luxury to relax and read, being serenaded by the sounds of construction vehicles coming through the woods just beyond my line of sight. I’m not sure if the city sprays pesticide or if it’s just because of the individual houses and the chemicals used to control pests and weeds, but it actually worried me. Of course, this morning, as I have already killed at least a dozen mosquitoes while writing, I question my pesticide concerns. Mosquitoes are so thick outside right now, that I wear a mosquito head net to do most anything - wash windows, weed the garden, walk the trail. I also shake like I’m doing the hokey pokey (you know the part where “you turn yourself around”) before going into the cabin to make sure I don’t have any freeloaders riding my back inside. Still, those little buggers are everywhere! That brings me to the idea of sitting out in the sun. It’s just not going to happen here! Although, I have noticed a conspicuous lack of those varmints in the village, because there’s usually a strong breeze and I imagine they don’t breed in the saltwater of the Bering Sea like they do in our river water upstream. Perhaps, I’m due for an afternoon in the sun on the beach. I’ll be sure to keep my eyes peeled for bears.
I was blessed to spend over two weeks with my daughter, her husband, and their new baby. Jack was less than three weeks old when I arrived and April was still recovering from a difficult C-section. Therefore, I was delighted to pick up the slack and even did some planting and weeding for her in the garden out in front of their house. It was literally two steps out their front door. At home, I have to go down a dozen steps, a few tricky steps down a steep slope, and then another two tall steps into the garden to weed (we live on the side of a mountain). In addition, I have some planters down below the greenhouse, which involves taking the 40 steps down to the riverside. Again, I’m counting calories burned here and as pretty as April’s garden is, it’s not going to get me where I need to be in order to have another one of those frozen custards!
Vacations always involve lots of eating out. This one was no different. Thankfully, my husband and I are of the same conviction to avoid fast food chains at all cost. Therefore, we usually seek out the locally run, mom and pop cafes that serve large portions of hearty food. I really wish they’d let me help cook and clean up, because just sitting in the booth while someone serves me is only adding insult to injury where the caloric burn, or lack thereof, is concerned. We were waiting for our one and only steak dinner of the trip at the Y Steak House in Park Rapids, Minnesota, to be delivered to our table while indulging in homemade rolls with soft butter, only to discover that the first bite of the perfectly cooked, medium rare steak made us look up at each other at the same time and longingly say, “This sure ain’t caribou!” Eating only caribou and moose has spoiled us both so badly that we don’t even care for beef anymore! We both had a serious case of withdrawal from our native foods by the time we got home. There’s also a great sense of satisfaction in eating meat that you chased down, shot, cleaned, and packaged yourself. It’s just one more byproduct of an active lifestyle.
I’m just one of those people who gets more done when they are busy. For example, when I was a high-school-teacher-single-mom, I was also on any number of committees, coaching any number of activities, and running two girls everywhere they needed to go all while keeping the house clean, cooking homemade meals, mowing the lawn, and growing flower gardens that were worthy of being featured in the local newspaper. However, when summer came, after I finished teaching summer school and the kids were visiting their father for a couple of weeks, I became a slug. Dishes piled up, laundry didn’t get done, I went to the drive-thru for dinner, and didn’t even take a shower most days. I’m surprised the cats got fed. I had nothing pressing to do, no deadlines, no meetings, no time schedules, nothing. Without that, I couldn’t even make myself do the most mundane tasks of keeping house. I work better under pressure, juggling too many commitments, and looming deadlines.
You may be wondering what kind of deadlines I could possibly have in my offgrid life. Well, right now, we just got back from a month in the Lower 48. The river ice only went out two days before we left. Before that, we were stuck at the cabin for almost three weeks, no way in or out. When we came back in mid-June, it was summer. I’d already missed fiddlehead season, so I was pretty bummed about that. Meanwhile, my garden had been planted the day before we left and that and the seedlings in the greenhouse had been left to their own devices for a month. If I want any harvest at all this year, I’d best get after the weeds and transplanting seedlings. Oh, but wait, the cabin is a dirty wreck from a long winter. My first priority was to get it cleaned top to bottom - windows, floors, everything. I just finished that today and the dandelions are starting to go to seed. I sure don’t want to miss that deadline, so today I’ll be picking dandelion flowers to make jelly and a healing, topical oil, and leaves for canning. Oh, and I had let my online grocery shopping slack while on vacation, so we don’t have any vegetables in the house! I just finished those orders last night.
Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye on the berry blooms and need to get up on the tundra and pick wild rhubarb while it’s in season. I should have done that yesterday! I’m going to be working at the Unalakleet River Lodge starting mid-July and that will be a 7-day/week job until September, so I need to get my fishing and smoking and canning done in the next month. I also have magazine articles that need to be completed and turned in for looming deadlines, syllabi to write for online writing courses that I’ll be teaching this fall for the University of Alaska - Fairbanks (those are due immediately), and Saturday Market projects to finish before the next market in less than two weeks. Did I mention that I’m writing a book?
So, yeah, I have deadlines, commitments, and pressures, even if they are selfmade. I’m smiling to myself as I write that. Selfmade. I definitely live an active life. I choose every day to live this life. It’s an easy choice for me. I may not have modern conveniences common to most, but I do exactly what I want all day, every day. No ornery boss. No corporate ladder. No common core. No bullshit. That reminds me… I need to go clean up the dogshit down by the boat landing. I’ll add that to my list.