Archives for the month of: June, 2014

Sam approaching tusty for trip backSaturday morning, June 21, on board the Tustumena and waiting to sail from the Homer Spit to Kodiak and back, my grandson Sam looks at me and says, without sighing or rolling his sea-blue eyes, “G, I am kind of bored.” It’s raining, and we are in the solarium of the aging, austere vessel once known as the Trusty Tusty, now the Rusty Tusty (it spent a long time in dry dock last year). Think floating government building or post office.  We are approximately 21 hours away from the end of a grandmother’s idea of a fun summer vacation activity for a 10-year-old boy.

view for most of the trip to KodiakI say, “Let’s get going with the movies.” I pull my Luddite-edition Dell laptop from my back pack and dig out the five movies Sam selected the day before at Barb’s Video.  I dose us both with organic, homeopathic seasickness pills from Safeway. Vomica is an ingredient; I am not kidding. Everyone I know who’s made the trip said we wouldn’t have a problem, but the crew member who checked us in suggested otherwise, and I didn’t even ask her about it.

Sam starts watching a movie. I pull out a cross-word puzzle book I bought for my trip to Georgia in May. The puzzles are so easy I fill in the answers while I build a mental image of the creator: she’s about my age, from the South, and she’s very religious. Sam laughs out loud at The Lego Movie. He says, “I don’t get tired of watching it because it’s not animated. Every character had to be put together by hand.”

Sam lounging and laughing as ship moves1The Tusty rocks a little; the sea is a little choppy. Sam goes out on the deck to get fresh air and comes back in, wet and laughing. He spots a seal. We eat in the dining room where the crew members are cordial with an edge of government employee discouragement. The food is not bad and not expensive. We see whale spouts in the distance. Close up, a whale’s tail, a porpoise. Sam tries malt vinegar on fish and chips. “Not bad,” he says. He shows me more features on my iPhone.

life boat

Kodiak entry 2Kodiak fishing boatsSam entering powerhouseTen hours pass, fast. We see Kodiak ahead, the sky clears and rain stops. We find The Old Powerhouse restaurant where I have a salad made with raw fish and squid salad. Real-deal Japanese. Sam has apple juice because he’s still full from fish and chips and cracker jacks.

Flowers at pursar's window

guest instructions on door2We check in for the trip back to Homer. The pursar, practicing U.S. Postal Service style hospitality, hands me a key to our cabin. It’s about as big as a walk-in closet, and Sam loves it.

We settle in. More movies for him. I pull out five back issues of The New Yorker I haven’t touched since I got back from Outside. I put them aside and pull on my sleep mask. I hear Sam laughing in the bunk above me.

Sam on his bunk ship blanket labelSunday morning, I wake up about 6:30, slip out of the room and make a cup of coffee in the magic-bullet machine just outside the dining room. Back in the cabin, I sip coffee and look out window. Good golly. We’ve just spent the night at sea. Sam wakes up when the pursar announces that we’re about 45 minutes from Homer.

Just before 9:00, the Tusty docks in Homer, and Sam says, “G, This is about the most fun thing I’ve done all summer.” He points out gulls nesting in the dock structure. We did not get seasick, the Tusty did not leak or sink, and I’m ready to go again. I think Sam is too.

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

baby wildflowers 001I don’t pray about weather, because what I think might be good for me could spoil someone else’s plans for the day. In fact, weather is the one aspect of my life that I accept unconditionally and without trying. That’s regardless of whatever the weather is, even when whatever it is in Alaska can feel over the top for a cheechako.

I didn’t pray for rain yesterday as I turned on the new lawn sprinkler and watched droplets shaped like dollar signs soak into the dirt. Water is expensive in Homer, but it’s hard not to love Alaska’s summer sunshine, and I knew people who were counting on it yesterday. Just down the hill AC General was pouring concrete and people were setting up for an outdoor event to honor one of Homer’s patron saints of the arts.

I didn’t pray for rain, but last night when I started outside to turn on the water again and saw rain, I did say out loud, “Thank goodness.” I said that again this morning when I saw signs of infant Alaska Native Wildflowers around the edges of the lot.

Yard Abstract 1In my back yard, the effect is more Abstract Expressionism than Impressionist. I’ve got a Rothko kind of yard instead of a Monet. Instead of a field of poppies, I’ve got a gray-brown block of color striped with green. I accept this knowing that more color will creep into the composition. Something will grow there eventually, and right now anything is welcome. Even dandelions.

DandelionAt 5:30, I pull off my sleep mask and open the curtains. I see a faint skim of green over the back yard. I think, “It’s happening. Alaska Native Wildflowers are sprouting. They’re alive. There’s already ROI in landscaping.” Believe me, it’s a modest investment but a gracious plenty, even with Alaska prices, for a skinny city lot and a budget leaner than that. Besides, the entire front is a gravel driveway.

I put on my glasses, make the bed, muck the litter box while Leo makes a cursory swipe at his jute scratching post. This is to throw off my investigation of disfigurement of the leather sofa I bought last summer on Craig’s List. The housesitter discovered the damage while I was Outside.

Leo races upstairs and at the top leaps halfway up the wall. Listen, if someone was going to make coffee for me and serve breakfast, I would leap. But that ain’t gonna happen, so I unkink as I go. I circle my arms, roll my head, blink. Sometimes there’s just not enough night.

I flip on the electric kettle to heat water for coffee: one cup of regular and not a sip more or I’m driven to do crazy things like iron sheets. I did that the first full day I was home from Outside, when a little groggy, a little disoriented after nearly three weeks in my sister’s kitchen, I used regular instead of decaf for my second cup.  I turn up the volume on the radio I bought at the Salvation Army. It looks OK but the on/off switch doesn’t work so it’s always on and permanently set on KBBI AM890. I listen to national and Alaska news, which today includes the Pavlof volcano eruption, the Funny River fire, and a grass fire out East End Road.

I pour hot water through a paper cone into my favorite mug (dark brown pottery, made with no handle), feed Leo his preferred mix of wet and dry food. I cook a bowl of steel-cut oats in the microwave (I’ve perfected this: power level 5 so no eruptions of oatmeal lava). I dress it with blueberries and a bit of banana. Organic stuff, all of it, and expensive. Designer gruel.

I check e-mail, read Writer’s Almanac, Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditation (currently he’s writing on the Enneagram, which I do not get . . . I am all of the types). I read NY Times online. Good stuff in Home and Garden. By 6:30 a.m., the sun and I have been up a little more than an hour.

House June 6 2014 006I peel off pajama bottoms, pull on ratty jeans and wool socks, pop a jacket over my pajama top.  On the front porch, I poke my feet into XTraTuffs, no longer embarrassingly new. I tromp around back and unwind the new, green garden hose Matt brought over a couple of days ago.

I set the sprayer on shower mode and walk backward, waving it back and forth like a priest swinging the incense thurible. Swing to the west and water catches sunlight from the east, so every other step, I see a rainbow. Tiny white butterflies flit through the air. Sometimes they’re in couples. Hmmm. I move slowly back yard to front, eyes cast down to catch sight of infant Alaska Native Wildflowers.

Rhubarb Oasis smallIt will be a miracle when I see them. The green I saw earlier must have been the reflection of a wall of trees at the back of the lot on the hard surface of the yard. Maybe the Alaska Native Wildflowers will push up through the cracks that are forming as the ground dries. But in case they don’t, I’m not discouraging what was already here. Pushki grows along my side of the next-door neighbors’ privacy fence. Later in the summer there’ll be gigantic blooms that look like Queen Anne’s lace on steroids. Horsetail persists, along with Alaska size buttercups and dandelions. To one side of the driveway, wild roses and small alders poke through tall grass. And a patch of rhubarb survived excavation and construction. I won’t harvest it, because the enormous leaves create a small green oasis on the east side of the house.

Matt and Beth advise me to have hope and keep watering, and I will, but I’m automating the process. After a cup of decaf, I’m going to buy a sprinkler at Ulmer’s Everything But Groceries and Pets.

Me, with a bit too much sun and looking as if I have been chewing tobacco, but really it's just coffee.

I swear I don’t chew tobacco. It’s just coffee.

I have just returned from Outside, which is Alaskan for anywhere in the Lower 48. For me, Outside is Georgia, where I stay with my sister Joy, enjoy her zany hospitality and art-filled house, and commute to Atlanta for appointments with doctors I haven’t been able to make myself give up.

Of course, it’s not all about the doctors. Joy and I cram in movies (this time Grand Budapest Hotel, Chef, and The Lunch Box) and music (Lucinda Williams at Variety Playhouse). In the park behind her house, we take early morning power walks among gigantic oaks, greenbrier, wild grapes, poison ivy, frogs and turtles, including one snapper laying eggs on the bank of Hog Wallow Creek.

She turns on the party lights and water feature, a hand-me-down from me when I move to Alaska, and we sip wine on her screened porch. The whole thing is about as Southern as life can be. No one even comments on my accent.

Outside last month, I made a side trip to Michigan to visit my younger son, Zach, and his dog, Mary, in their new home. The first full day I was there, we (I mean Zach and I) went to an estate sale across the street, and even though we were first in line, in the blink of an eye someone popped a sold sticker on every piece of good furniture. Not that I could have brought anything back to Alaska, and except for one piece of Danish modern, none of it appealed to Zach.

After the sale, we toured the new Broad Museum of Contemporary Art, which is nearly next-door to his office at Michigan State. And let me tell you that the art is the most contemporary of contemporary. For example, there’s a gigantic sculpture of pink dental resin in which the artist imbedded hundreds of false teeth. Maybe thousands. I am not kidding.

So I’m back from Outside, which is not to say I’m Inside. In fact, that term is not used; if you’re in Alaska and you’re an Alaska citizen, you’re just here. And here I have been for two years and two days, making my way in this different place, realizing more every day that living in a different place does not make a different person. I still do not hunt and fish. I do not chop wood and carry water. I do not grow my own vegetables and can or freeze them for the winter. I have not paddled a sea kayak through a pod of orcas (I have not paddled a sea kayak). I have not sat naked as a jay bird in a backyard sauna with anyone (I have not yet sat in a sauna). I have not been ravaged by mosquitoes, though I do have a fresh bite on my face, and I saw the guy who did it to me. Big as a bird.

In spite of all that and an accent that gets noticed as soon as I switch planes in Seattle or Portland, I am officially recognized as a full-time Alaska resident and this October will receive my first dividend check from the Alaska Permanent Fund. I’ll use that for a trip Outside, but the next time will be different.

I made the transition to a local hair stylist the first summer I was here because I couldn’t fly to Atlanta once a month to see Wayne and Diane at Cowlix. Early that first fall, I found an ophthalmologist because I couldn’t see through my sunglasses (botched prescription by an Atlanta provider). This past fall, a broken tooth led me to a Homer dentist. And now it’s time to put on my big girl pants and bring the rest of my healthcare inside Alaska before I have to.

Then Outside will be all fun with family and friends in Georgia, Michigan, Virginia, and who knows where else. Maybe Wales. Maybe Mexico, where I don’t know a soul, but I hear the weather is mighty fine in February and March. In the meantime, right here, right now, is mighty fine with me. I’m going outside.