IMG_2550I love nearly everything about summer in the South . . . magnolia blossoms . . . meaty red tomatoes and fuzzy peaches that drip with juice . . . one-course al fresco suppers of salted water melon. . .  screened porches and rocking chairs . . . lightning bugs signaling their profiles to potential matches . . . the racket of cicadas who’re also on the make. . . a glimpse of a coyote on a golf course. . . snapping turtles lazing on logs.

It’s only the South’s heat that I don’t miss, which makes summer in Homer just about perfect. It’s always cool (recent highs in the low 70s). And for everything I love about a southern summer, Alaska offers a parallel . . . fragrant peonies . . . vegetables in your mouth only a few hours after they’re picked . . . camp chairs around a fire ring (mine’s a truck tire rim that would make any Appalachian hillbilly proud) . . . moose grazing across the yard in slow motion . . . the possibility that a bear might come by . . . sand hill cranes squawking as they fly overhead.

small pitBut what’s best about summer in Homer, Alaska—for me anyway—it that doesn’t matter that I don’t look good in a bathing suit. Seriously, this is something that matters to Southern folks (and not just the women). Here’s the thing: If you’re pale, you’ve got to be buff; and if you’re bronze, you can get by with cellulite, even quite a bit. But I’m neither bronze nor buff, so it’s best not to be seen in public in a bathing suit.

kiteboard2Come to think of it, in the six summers I’ve lived in Homer, I haven’t seen a single soul in a bathing suit at Bishops Beach. It’s rocky and not conducive to soaking up rays on a big towel or in a folding chaise lounge. Anyone in the water is wearing a wet suit to prevent hypothermia, and they’re not swimming. People who are in the water of Kachemak Bay are mostly on it—kayaking or paddle boarding amongst humpback whales and sea otters. Or they are engaging in some vertiginous sport like kite boarding, and I’m not about to do any of that stuff because recreational terror is, for me, not the least bit fun.

You know, the wet suit has its merits aside from life preservation. A wet suit would not only keep me from freezing to death, but would also protect against sunburn while hiding my beluga skin tone (if you’ve visited the Georgia Aquarium, you know the shade from, unfortunately, direct observation). Plus, speaking of whales, a form-fitting wet suit would work like a full-body Spanx to compress the cumulative effect of five winters’ worth of hearty meals. Maybe I’ll get one in case my sister and I visit a Southern beach this winter.IMG_2632

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I celebrated Independence Day this week with a hot dog decked out in the style of the Blue Bus Diner in Anchor Point. More about that later.

For the dog itself, I went with Oscar Mayer’s all beef natural frank, which three New York Times food writers ranked “middle of the pack” in a field of ten that made the finals. “Best in Show” went to Wellshire Farms brand, available only at Whole Foods, which, as you probably know, doesn’t have a store in Homer, or anywhere else in Alaska for that matter. Hebrew National was a close runner-up.

Where I used to live in Southwest Virginia, the chunky, bronze-tan Oscar Mayer was top dog. I much preferred it to the cheaper, skinny pink variety. It’s still my favorite, so I picked up a pack on the fourth of July at 7:30 A.M., thus avoiding hordes of tourists, fishermen, and seniors who, like me, shop on Tuesday to get Safeway’s 10 percent discount.

IMG_2088I grilled the holiday hot dog, actually two of them, in my nearly vintage George Foreman that refuses to quit so I can get another one that’s easier to clean. Then I covered them with about a third of a can of Amy’s medium spicy vegetarian chili, and topped that with chopped black olives, diced onion, and grated, sharp cheddar cheese. Except for the chili being vegetarian, that’s pretty much the way they do it at the Blue Bus Diner. I went without buns, because I would’ve had to buy a whole bag, and the leftovers would be freezer-burned by Labor Day, when I’ll have another hot dog or two to tide me over until Memorial Day.

After dinner, I wadded up a few months’ accumulation of sensitive documents, which a more civilized person would shred, and used them to start a fire in the tire rim out front. Sitting by my make-shift fire ring in one of a pair of green plastic Adirondack chairs I bought at Ulmer’s Everything-But-Pets-Produce-and-Meat store, I got to thinking about what life would be like if, in this part of North America, the events that made the fourth day of July significant hadn’t happened.

What if we were still subjects of The Crown that rests now on the dignified, silver head of Elizabeth II? What if, instead of a POTUS, we had a PM. What if that were Justin Trudeau, who wears funky socks and forgot to mention Alberta on Canada Day, but seems like a decent guy. A publicly-funded healthcare system seems like a good idea, too, but since I mostly love the USA and know that history is complicated, I let those thoughts swirl away with the wood smoke.

Then I thought about how much I enjoyed those Oscar Mayer hot dogs. What a great way to celebrate Independence Day. And I remembered the song:

 “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener.
That is what I’d truly like to be.
’Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener,
Everyone would be in love with me.”

I don’t know why, but that made me think about Donald Trump. Maybe, instead of being President of the United States, all he truly wants to be is an Oscar Mayer Wiener.

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Copyright 2017. Genie Hambrick. 

 

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I LIVE YEAR ROUND in an internationally popular vacation destination, but I still have to do everything that people like me do when they’re not on vacation.

“Like me” is still, barely, middle class. This means I do housework, which includes vacuuming, and, except for people employed in the housekeeping industry, I vacuum more than anyone anywhere who is on the electrical grid. This is because Rys, my hairy, younger cat, is the Esau of Maine coon cats, and I have only a Shark (not a Dyson).

And there’s the rest of a “to-do” list that comes with keeping a house and maintaining standards set by my slightly obsessive-compulsive self. Loading and unloading the dishwasher, dusting, changing sheets, cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry. There’s a long to-do list in my head, and I review it at night when I want to be asleep.

Lately I’ve allowed myself to be on vacation at home. This is not a “staycation” where I troop around, eat at restaurants in town, and take a water taxi across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove and Seldovia. This is being on vacation in my own house, which is infinitely more affordable.

Today I put on my summer clothes (I mean all my remaining summer clothes from Georgia —a Target tank top and a Michael Stars knit skirt I bought at Squash Blossom in Decatur, GA). I sat on my postage-stamp deck in a chair I bought at a yard sale up the street. I hiked up the skirt to get a little sun on my pale Scots-Irish legs. I took a deep breath.

It’s OK to be on vacation. Nothing bad will happen because, for a couple of hours, I read and looked up at the sky. It’s OK just to breathe.

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Copyright 2017. Genie Hambrick. 

 

IMG_2440-inkDepending on where you are—Northern or Southern Hemisphere—today is either the longest day of the year, or the shortest; the shortest or the longest night. And tomorrow is the first day of summer, or winter. Depends on where you are.

IMG_2441-mug-inkRight this minute, I’m at latitude 59°38’33″N, seated at The Wurlitzer Console about to write a confession, which is this: I’m not ready for the days to get shorter. Maybe that’s because it rained all day on this longest day, eve of summer 2017 CE, and I’m sitting here, with wool socks and felt slippers on my feet, sipping double-strength lemon ginger tea while I ponder the Yogi brand’s bromides that dangle over the side of the mug. One says, “Give love, get love.” The other needs a semicolon: “You don’t need love, you are the love.” For music to complement melancholy, I’ve queued up Virgil Fox to blast Bach fugues and preludes in minor keys through the Marshall speaker.

7221b1bb731180501ec734aefd16b37eAs I post this, rain has stopped in Homer, AK. Virgil Fox is into D major. And in Cape Horn, Chile, 55° 58′ 59.9999″S, it’s the beginning of winter for the lighthouse keeper and his family.

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AFTER MANY YEARS OF MOWING AND WEEDING in obeisance to the doctrine of Southern Living, I no longer have the will to battle Nature. Horsetail and dandelion, hawk weed (a zesty paprika color here), buttercup, plantain, fireweed, stinging nettle, and pushki (Wonder Woman Queen Anne’s lace) are prolific in this area, and by area I mean the ditch in front of my house, the driveway and banks on both sides of it, and all across the power line easement at the back of the lot. Plus, across the street, there’s a stand of alders that reproduces by using wind power to launch ballistic seeds to the aforementioned area.

My dovish approach to gardening, to live and let live, has been a great disappointment to my next-door neighbor who told me last summer, during a slightly tense discussion of my landscaping style, that she had waged war on weeds for 35 years. She’s a real gardener, with a greenhouse and perennials and blooming trees in her back yard. It’s a nice view from my kitchen window, which allows me to see over her eight-foot privacy fence.  which separates her de-weeded zone from my refugee camp.

With this background information (oh, how I do go on), you may understand how delighted I was this afternoon, capturing dandelions going from bloom to seed as I crawled by them, when one half of a couple who walk their dogs in the ‘hood called out, “I admire your green thumb.”  I was crouched at the edge of the DWZ with a handful of Alaska-size dandelions. I stood up and said, “Oh, it’s not me, it’s Mother Nature.” I gestured expansively toward the refugee settlement, mostly horsetail.

“Oh,” she said. “Sorry. I meant the other yard.”

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Copyright 2017. Genie Hambrick

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IT’S THE FIRST WEEKEND IN JUNE and the fifth anniversary of my landing on the shores of Kachemak Bay. It wasn’t literally the beach, but close to it, at the Homer airport, which is delightfully small. I thought about kissing the ground, but refrained, as the Alaska Hambricks were gathered to meet me.

I was an immigrant from the Southeast, and for a going-away present had given myself a first-class, one-way ticket to Anchorage, which I thought I deserved for several reasons, which I won’t go into here. Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, on a value scale of 1 to 10, first class is a 5, and heated wash cloths doled out with tongs are ridiculous. It’s a long damn trip from Atlanta, no matter how semi-comfortable you are.

AnchorageAirport moose to Homer is a short trip. Once, when I expressed concern about the safety of the small planes that fly here, my Alaska son, Matt, said, “Just look at it this way, Mom. However it turns out, it’s quick.” Seating is completely egalitarian: one cabin about the size of a large passenger van, no assigned seats, and everyone gets a complimentary fruit juice or water, plus a homemade cookie–oatmeal-raisin, chocolate chip, or peanut butter. The selection varies, but never disappoints.

By the time the flight attendant whips through safety instructions without stopping for a breath, serves refreshments, circles back to collect juice boxes and cookie wrappers, the wunderkind pilots (there are two) have whisked you over Cook Inlet and the mountains and lakes of the Kenai Peninsula and planted you on the tarmac in Homer. Sometimes the co-pilot doubles as the flight attendant, but I don’t think any of the flight crew bake the cookies. That might be assigned to the ticket counter person who also serves as the gate person when it’s time to board.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

packingcrateWHEN I ARRIVED IN THE LAST FRONTIER, my worldly possessions, except what I gave away or sold and wish I hadn’t, were still traveling cross continent by truck to be loaded onto a barge in Washington, then hauled down to Homer. Some things I mailed to myself, such as important documents and spices, because for some reason I thought the movers wouldn’t pack them, like they were contraband, and I didn’t want to buy all new when I got to Alaska. As if I’m a gourmet cook and bought them in exotic bazaars instead of Publix. As if the movers would refuse to pack the garbage if I asked.

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For about a week, I bunked out East End Road at the resident Hambricks’ house, then moved to an apartment in town when my shipment arrived. I unpacked everything except the stained glass piece my brother-in-law crated for me. Then, 14 months later, my sister Joy, who’s named that for good reason, helped me pack everything in boxes from the Grog Shop, load a U-Haul truck, and move down the hill and around the corner to this house, which Matt built between March and August of that year. After Joy went back to Atlanta to rest from her Alaska vacation, I unpacked the stained glass and hung it in an east window of the living room.

This house is nearly twice the size of my condo in Atlanta, and I have accumulated furniture and lamps to replace what I sold or gave away and wish I hadn’t. Speaking of lamps, I bought a “happy light” to ward off S.A.D.D. during the dark winter months. I used it the first two winters, that would be 2103 and 2014, because I was afraid not to. I didn’t use it the third winter even though I dug it out of the closet and set it on top of my desk. I put it back in the closet and forgot about it until I was seized with a decluttering fit a few weeks ago. It’s in a heap of things I intend to sell or give away with nearly complete confidence that I won’t wish I hadn’t.

This sign was on the house my departed husband and I had in the northwest Georgia mountains. I discovered it during that minimizing frenzy and hung it on the deck. I’ve kept it through numerous downsizing moves. I’m mighty glad I did.

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I am not crazy about Alaska this time of year. Yeah, the sun is back where you think it’s supposed to be—still up at 5:00 in the afternoon—and the air has been a bit warmer the past few days. But Homer looks bedraggled with mounds of dirty snow pushed up along the streets and parking lots, and muddy potholes thaw and refreeze overnight.

I long for green leaves on the alders across the street, knowing that right now, this minute, I need to cherish things as they are. I can do that.
I think I can. I think I can.

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MooseMarch2017For several weeks it’s been cold in Homer, colder than Michigan and southwest Virginia. Ice cleats are de rigueur, and I’ve had to wear my down jacket. Thank God, it’s black; otherwise I would look as big as Bibendum himself. And I finally hired someone to plow the driveway, because the snow accumulation was more than I could manage, even with the serious shovel recommended by my plucky neighbor Fedora, an Alaska Native who knows what she’s talking about.

The effort of going somewhere when it’s this cold (believe me, it’s still doesn’t take much where I live) makes me consciously grateful for safe arrivals, even if it’s just down the hill and back for salad greens and hot Hungarian paprika from Save-U-More. Still, I’ve enjoyed this cold snap. Spicy soup tastes better, lamplight is cozier.

This is the cold that I expected when I moved here in 2012, and in a way it’s made things seem right-side-up. Except that they’re not. Alaska and the entire Planet Earth are dangerously warm, and so much else that I want to be upright is listing dangerously. There’s no comfort in the news, so I take it where I can find it: Sunlight returning, a moose resting in the alder thicket out back , and warm winter memories . . .

Kingsport, Tennessee, sledding in Preston Woods and ice skating on Cox’s Pond . . . Marion, Virginia, when snow closed school for weeks, and neighbors took turns hosting children in the daytime and family dinners several nights a week . . . Snowed in with friends at our house in Sky Valley, Georgia, making paper puppets to perform an Italian folk tale . . .

For the aphids who’ve been sucking life out of spruce trees, this may be a bad winter, but for this Scots-Irish hillbilly cheechako, it’s mighty fine.

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LAST NIGHT, when I picked up a pizza at Save-U-More for KBBI’s annual meeting/potluck, I heard, then saw, eagles perched in an aphid-sapped spruce tree outside the door that opens off the meat department. Eagles have a high-pitched “voice.” Not what you expect from the national bird of the United States of America.

Oh, yeah, eagles are flashy, big, and bossy. Their beaks and talons are menacing, but their voice doesn’t impress. It’s more of a peep. Ravens, however, in their sleek blue-black feathers, have a voice that means business, that commands attention. I could swear I just heard one say, “Forevermore.”

tower-of-london-ravenFOREVERMORE this United States of America means liberty and justice for all, equal opportunities for all. It means that we take care of each other—that an excellent education and affordable, effective healthcare are the rights of all and not privileges for a few. It means that all of us who are able contribute to the common good through fair taxation.

We expect wisdom from the national bird, and right now, today and tomorrow, forevermore, we need all the wisdom we can get. We have a lot of work to do for the people and for the planet. I nominate the raven for national bird.

 

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I thought about making sourdough bread after I read “Sourdough Starter: America’s Rising Pet” in the New York Times. Since people are called sourdoughs after they’ve lived in Alaska a while, baking the bread seemed like a worthwhile project. It would be an authentic Alaska kind of thing not requiring special gear or equipment, thus easily accessible for a new-50-age, single female cheechako, which is Alaska-speak for newcomer.

The term sourdough dates back to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, when scraggly prospectors prevented their bread starters from freezing by keeping them in pouches worn on their belts or around their necks. You know how it is when you want to cook something right this minute and it’s frozen solid. After a hard day in the mine and the inside of your cabin is below freezing, when the microwave hasn’t been invented and there’s no carryout or delivery, you need convenience.

According to several Google sources, you’re an Alaska sourdough after you weather all four seasons in the 49th state, and I assume this is consecutive seasons, so no fair dipping your toes in and out. You’ve got to take the full Arctic plunge for at least 12 months. One website says 25 years’ residency earns the title, which could be discouraging if, like me, you launch an expedition north to the Last Frontier about the time a lot of people migrate to a latitude south of wherever they’ve been forever, even if it’s already in the South.

I nixed the sourdough bread project because you have to feed and water the starter continuously once fermentation begins in the flour-water mix. Granted, I wouldn’t have to carry it around in a pouch, but I just can’t see myself paying that much attention to a jar of dough. If I were looking for another pet, I’d get a third cat, and, besides, I’m not much of a bread eater.

IMG_1141Instead of making sourdough bread, I went through my closet. Decluttering is the thing wherever you live, so out went spring and summer clothes brought from Georgia: short-sleeve tee shirts, linen anything, sandals with thin leather soles, flirty skirts, including one I bought to wear on the first date I had after I became single in the summer of 2008. That skirt still brought me joy every time I looked at it, but I let it go. I was never going to wear it again for several reasons, one being that I have added 10 pounds of natural insulation since I moved to Alaska.

As the pile of outbound clothes grew and my closet took on a slightly bleak minimalist look, I thought about my status. Am I an Alaska sourdough now? Going with the four seasons certification program, I qualify several times over with 16 seasons—four years ago today, the third of June, anno Domini 2016. But claim to be a sourdough? I don’t think so.

I am the same person I was when I moved here in 2012—an Appalachian girl whose Scots-Irish genes never got used to the heat and humidity in Georgia. Homer’s sunny, crisp summers and dark, velvety winters suit me just fine. With a few more black turtleneck shirts and sweaters, I wear year-round the same fall and winter clothes I wore down South. And since I’m not into what would be for me, now, extreme sports, I’ve had to acquire only minimal gear: XTRATUF boots, studded snow tires—and ice cleats, a snow shovel, and a down jacket, all of which I needed only once this past winter.

IMG_1062I don’t pretend to know very much about Alaska. In fact, several people who’ve visited from the Lower 48 know way more than I do about Homer and the state. I’ve learned just enough to keep from being afflicted with pushki blisters and stomped by moose. Plus, my car’s windshield hasn’t been cracked.

The word cheechako suggests youthfulness, don’t you think? So I’m sticking with that. When you get to new-50, anything hinting of youth is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. And I am.

Genie Hambrick. Copyright 2016.