Being an Urban Alaskan #1 – Why the hell do you live in Alaska?

Last Saturday morning as I crawled out of bed and rummaged through my social media notifications from friends in more civilized timezones, I tossed out the idea of a blog about the urban Alaskan experience. This was followed immediately by positive reception and encouragement to consider a series of posts. So, here I am. These blog essays are going to be relatively short and focused on one general topic. As I proceed through my stories of the Urban AK experience, if anyone has a story to share, I’ll post it in the series.

I live in Alaska because this is where I grew up. While I wasn’t born here, this is home. From my earliest memories until I was about ten, I lived in Anchorage then we moved to Wasilla. My college years were spent in Fairbanks with a couple summers in Seward. After college my wife and I moved to Maryland for a year then we were back to Seward, then Anchorage and finally Wasilla, in the home we’ve lived in for twelve years.

Even though I wasn’t born here, I don’t remember the time before and so I consider my year long adventure in Maryland as the only time I’ve lived out of state. While I’m about to go on in a whole pile of posts about how much urban Alaska is just like everywhere else, I’d be lying if I tried to tell you moving from Fairbanks, AK to Ellicott City, MD wasn’t a shock to the system. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there is a real, tangible difference between east and west coast culture.

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The truth of it is that I had a great job in Maryland. It was super interesting, paid well, and had excellent prospects for advancement and long-term career stuff. However, neither Stacy or I could handle the bustling ocean of humanity or the unfamiliar pace of life. After several months, we started looking around us and gazing into the future in that lazy manner twenty-somethings do. It’s a place we’d have to go at some point, but not just yet. In that gazing, we realized that life was going to be more or less completely unlike either of our childhoods. We weren’t going to have a cute little house with a creek out back and maybe some chickens and things. Living in Maryland meant we’d be crammed into a row-house, neighbors stacked so tightly on either side that we might as well be dried, salted, and packed in oil. Even then, it still took about a year before I realized that happiness wasn’t going to be in work. We were also going to have to be happy with where we were. So, we packed all of our things into our Subaru and a little trailer and scuttled back up the highway. Neither of us had a job, our savings amounted to just enough to get us through a month, and yet off we went.

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Of course, we found good jobs, a nice house with the creek and eventually chickens. Really, we could have gone anywhere find this. Even in Maryland, had we really really looked and made some concessions, we’d have found something similar, but the pull to home was strong and so here we are, and hopefully, here we stay.

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Next up: What’s it like to live in Alaska?

Sick days & fever dreams

I was out sick yesterday. It wasn’t awful. Didn’t have the plague or anything, but I did want to sleep in and then spend the rest of the day basically sitting around. Really, I just felt tired and didn’t want to get anyone else sick, plus a bit of rest can go a long way in feeling better. Anyhow, that’s not the interesting thing. Last night I crashed out a little too late and I had odd dreams. Last night’s dream involved me talking to someone else, also me. The writer part of me. He reminded me of a story  idea that I’d come up with some weeks ago and failed to write down. Then, we proceeded to have a discussion of plot and characters and research methods. It was so vivid that I remember it even now after getting up, coughing my guts out and downing most of a cup of coffee – and also being chased round the house once by the geese. It was odd seeing the writer side of me personified and telling me things that I couldn’t remember the night before.

Anyhow. That’s my writer update. I’ve got a new concept on the sketch pad and I’m stalling on Dark Queen because, well, I want it to be an awesome story and don’t want to rush it. It’s sitting at 90K right now with a plotted target of 110-120K. In other news, I just submitted a short story to a self-pub anthology effort. The deadline is the 31st of August, so hopefully I’ll have more news on that as it progresses, but it might be a while. Now – on to chores. They don’t pause for sick days 🙂

Puttering around in the garden

I saw a picture on twitter yesterday that got me thinking. Not thinking in any sort of productive way, but that way that writers start thinking, as in: There’s a story here and I’m going to find it. So, here is the story. It’s not well edited or polished, but here it is. 

To say Samantha loved her garden would paint a dramatically understated picture of bright days filled with every shade of green complimented by brilliant flowers in every color of the rainbow. She luxuriated in the smell of damp earth and gentle buzzing of a thousand types of insects. It was her one sanctuary from the hectic bustle of domestic demands, and a job that would make even Einstein’s brain hurt.
On a day as perfect as any she could recall, she went back into her garden, eyeing a big, horribly bland patch of grass. That patch of grass had been on her landscaping shit list for entirely too long. Sure, lawn was nice, but it was boring. She wanted more color, more vegetables, more greens, and most importantly, less grass to mow. She took out her shovel, she took out her hoe, she took out her gloves, and she faced the grass. 

Armed with the tools to convert a perfectly good lawn into a far better garden, she set to it. First, she removed the sod, then began turning black dirty digging ever deeper. With each shovel, she got the satisfying shuck of the shovel sinking into the earth. Then, a resounding clang rattled the shovel handle. 

Samantha frowned. Rocks of any notable size weren’t common in this area. The topsoil should go for many feet, not just a few inches. It certainly did in the rest of her garden. She tapped the bit of rock with her shovel and found it was, indeed, a substantial obstacle. It was deep enough that she could have left it, but leaving it would bother her. She got down on her hands and knees and set to finding the edges of the rock so she could move it.

A few minutes with her hands in the dirt and she uncovered not a rock, but a perfectly round metal object some sixteen inches in diameter. She continued to remove the dirt until she revealed an old rusted car wheel rim. It was absolutely embedded in the ground and wouldn’t so much as wiggle. More digging revealed the entire rim. It sat neatly in the hole as if she might just be able to pick it up and move it, yet it still wouldn’t budge. She pulled it, she kicked it, she even jammed the shovel under it and tried to pry, but nothing seems to help. It was almost as if it were still attached to the car. The thought made her feel cold, as if a great curtian of rain clouds had rolled over the perfect blue sky and quenched the sun.

In an attempt to reassure herself that this silly bit of debris was not still attached to a vehicle, she cleared yet more dirt from further around the rim. It took little time before she struck something else. This time, she hit what proved to be a fender. She nearly stopped and covered the whole mess, but curiosity pressed her on. Who would bury and entire car? 

As the morning wore on to afternoon and threatened to become evening, Samantha revealed more and more of the car, finally coming to the driver’s side door window. She tapped it with her shovel once, then twice, and on the third tap it shattered. It was so sudden and unexpected that she let out a little scream. Then she looked around to make sure nobody had noticed. They hadn’t, she was quite alone. The kids were with dad at soccer practice. 

Curiosity continued to push her, so she took her shovel and pushed it in through the broken window. She tentatively poked the interior of the car. The shovel stopped. Something pulled on it. She pulled back, but the shovel wouldn’t come free, then it shot clean out of her hands. She stared, absolutely dumbfounded and more than a little frozen by fear, staring at the broken window where her shovel had disappeared. 

A skeletal hand reached out of the window. Samantha screamed and turned to run, but something grabbed her leg. She screamed all the harder as she fell to the ground and something pulled her inexorably toward the broken car window. No matter how hard she grabbed at the grass and thrashed about, she kept moving until she reached the very edge of the car window. Then, she felt more bony fingers grasp her legs, pulling her yet hard, and in one very hard, swift yank, she was in darkness.

When her husband and children returned from soccer practice, they found a shovel, and a hoe, and a pair of gloves laying next to a small hole where an old car rim sat partially covered in dirt.