Monday, April 30, 2012

La «primavera» alasqueño

It's the last day of April. Tomorrow is MayDay. At lower latitudes, all is green and fair and in bloom, and it's been that way for several weeks now. Up here just south of the Arctic Circle, however, everything is grey, icy, and dusty, and on the last day of April a cold wind was blowing that made it too uncomfortable to take Little Bit for a stroll to the library. Sigh. Perhaps tomorrow. Our day inside wasn't so bad, just long, since LittleBit's cumulative nap time-- morning and afternoon naps combined-- was just over an hour. Maybe he'll sleep earlier and longer tonight.

We've had a pleasant evening, though. We actually got a chance to go out. One of Esquire's coworkers is here in town on a temporary fill-in for the week, and after they got off work we all bundled up (LittleBit most of all) and walked a walk and a half over to a pizzeria. Wasn't earth-shatteringly good pizza or anything, but the company was really nice and it was pleasant to spend a couple of hours out with some company. Esq's coworker is really nice, and did her first couple of years here in Bethel, too (she's in Anchorage, now). She has a good sense of humor about Bethel and is very down to earth. In addition to being an attorney, she's an aspiring writer who recently finished a manuscript of a crime thriller. Oooh! So, in addition to the other things I'm reading this week, I'll be reading her manuscript, too. I'm excited for it. I hope she sends it tomorrow.

I have been reading a lot, even while care for an unenthusiastic napper. Last night I finished A Passage to India, and today I read Gathering Blue (my old book club read The Giver a few months ago). Esq bought me a Kindle as we were leaving town to drive up here, and I'm so glad to have it. I'd be going mad without books up here. I especially love that I can download public domain texts for free. So happy. So, with not much else to do up here, I'm spending a good amount of time reading, and am finally feeling motivated to do some writing, too. I just needed a little face time with another writer to get my juices going.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

¿Dónde jugarán los niños?

It was chilly out today, so LittleBit and I just hung out in the hotel room (Esq's office is putting us up for a month until we find a rental). Poor kid has explored every corner of this little room, and we still have another three and a half weeks left here. I suppose we could have gone out and walked to the library, since it's not like there's anything to do outside except walk around. That's right, no signs yet of a park with a playground. No baby swings. No slides. Poor Ari. Poor mommy. I didn't think I'd ever be wishing for a McDonald's, but oh what I'd do for one with a PlayPlace here. The things we take for granted. So if you have children and live near a McDonald's with a play area, take a moment to be grateful for it. And know that someone out there (that'd be me) is envious.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I apologize at the first for the lack of paragraph formatting. Blogger has recently redone its page and I assume that the formatting is a little kink that is soon to be worked out. In the meantime, bear with me as it appears I have a penchant for running all my thoughts together.

So, today we ventured out to the library. It's inside the Yup'ik cultural center, but the good news is that it is indeed a public facility-- some facilities here are exclusively for Native use, and I hoped desperately that the library wasn't one of them. It isn't, hooray! The children's books are in a separate little room, brightly painted and with pictures on the ceiling. They have a decent selection of picture pictures, including a small collection of board books. I was so excited to find a bilingual edition of a Richard Scarry counting book, with Willy el Conejito alongside Willy the Bunny. LittleBit was more interested in running around the room and climbing on the furniture, and we only got up to cinco before he was out of my lap and roaming. That's alright, though, since I'm sure we'll be back to the library a few days a week and we have months and months ahead of us to read together. We have only two of his own books with us, so it'll be good to change it up with library books.

In other news, we went back to the grocery store today so that I could pick up some Tylenol, as I felt a headache coming on. I was momentarily tempted by the nacho cheese Doritos, but at $12 a bag they were not a temptation worth yielding to. I feel some much-needed weight loss on the horizon, since I can't justify the cost of junk food.

And yuck, a foul breeze just came in the window. The people of Bethel may be kind and friendly, but their town smells like poo.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

La aldeíta

So, we've arrived in Bethel, and as one acquaintance diplomatically put it, "Bethel's nothing much to look at, but the people are great". Succinct and deadly accurate. This is one dismal-looking little town, but so far the people have been nothing but kind and even friendly. This allays the greatest of my fears about Alaska-- that nobody would be nice to me.

Since my last post we spent a few more days on the road, all of them with a prodigiously puking baby, and finally arrived in Anchorage last Thursday night. We got a few things done in Anchorage, spent a little time with friends and distant but warm family, even took a windy and icy hike up to a look out where we could see all of the Cook Inlet and the little bit of Denali that wasn't shrouded in clouds. Monday we hopped a plane out to the bush. I'd love to say for adventure's sake that it was a ratty little prop plane with a failing engine, but apparently there's enough of a demand to get out to Bethel that it fills a small passenger jet (converted so that only the rear half of the plane is seats, but still). We checked into the hotel where Esq's office is putting us up for the month and set out to wander around and get our bearings. As I said, everyone has been really nice. Which is good, because there's a lot to make up for.

Someone had told me that milk ran $10 a gallon here. Perhaps that's the winter price, because yesterday it was a mere $6.99. We didn't buy organic, which was twice that. I remain underwhelmed by my "savings". All told, staples for a little less than a week ran us $120. Ouch.

We've started looking for a place to rent, and rents are shockingly high. I say this coming from a large metro area with a high standard of living. And you don't get much for what you pay, but it's better than being left out in the weather. In theory I don't have too big a problem with the high rent prices, because it's what the market will bear. I do hear horror stories, though, about wildly fluctuating utility prices that can run into the several hundreds for no apparent reason. We'll see how true those are. I hope they're exaggerations, but I won't hold my breath. They were true in Mexico.

Today, my first full day in town, went alright. I spent the day with my son in the hotel room, trying to keep him quiet, entertained, and well-fed. He took his naps more or less on schedule and was content with the few toys I packed and with some silly play. I'm so grateful to have gotten a flexible, relatively low-maintenance kid. The long drive along the AlCan was especially trying for him, and though it was hard on us I don't blame him for crying and puking the last three days of it. I was pretty damn sick of my carseat too, but I'm an adult and it's not socially acceptable for me to cry when I want to get out of the car. Also my tummy is more mature and I don't get carsick so easily. Poor kid. The hotel room is small and uninteresting, but he's not strapped down all day. Tomorrow we'll set out in search of the library. I'm hoping that it's public and not for Alaska Native exclusively. Here's hoping.

I'd post some pics of our new digs, but there isn't enough bandwidth here to upload photos. Rather, there's available bandwidth but the solitary provider charges out the nose for it and so the hotel prohibits things like uploading large files and streaming videos. So much for the otherwise "unlimited" Sesame Street stream I'd planned on for LittleBit. Ah, life in the bush. More to come. Wish me luck on the library.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Una nueva experiencia

In the last couple of years I've been keeping friends up-to-date through slightly more private channels, like phone and facebook. However, crazy new developments en mi vida call for something drastic, specifically, a return to blogging.

And now, for a ridiculously rapid update of the last two years: I got pregnant, had a horrific pregnancy that resulted in an awesome kid, referred to here as LittleBit (or LB for short). The husband passed the Colorado Bar Exam and will now be referred to as Esquire, even though he dislikes that term. He's been freelancing and doing of-counsel work at a small firm. The legal market in the Denver area is pretty saturated and finding enough work to regularly make ends meet was a rough game. In an insecurity-induced stroke of madness I told Esq., "sure, go looking for a job in Alaska", and lo and behold he found one. In the bush. Off the road system. In a place accessible only by plane and the occasional boat, when it can get past the ice pack (and you didn't think God had a sense of humor).

Entonces, here I sit in a hotel room in the frontier town of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, an outpost on the AlCan Highway, with Esq. and I trying to keep a one-year-old happy while ferrying him and a slim portion of our earthly possessions across the Yukon and into Alaska. It's pretty up here in an I'm-alone-in-the-wilds kind of way, and I imagine it's prettier if and when they have summer. They've clearly missed the memo about spring starting in March. I could easily have mistaken today for a dead-of-winter day in Colorado.

I would like to tell you all that I know about the place we'll be living, but the truth is there isn't much to tell right now. Information about Bethel, Alaska, is disappointingly sparse on the usually reliable interwebs. It's about 400 miles west of Anchorage, on the delta of the Kuskokwim River in the middle of the tundra. Swampy tundra, only 6,500 people, and the largest town for hundreds of miles. It's remote and everything has to be flown in, so the cost of living is high. Milk reportedly costs $10/gallon, and a bottle of Tide detergent sells for $25. Ouch. The main source of entertainment is high school basketball, and we're told that in the winter people get around town with snowshoes and dogsleds because motorized vehicles struggle in the extreme cold. Highs in August soar up into the low 70s.

I'm not trying to be negative, I promise. The wee problem here is that Esq. is at heart a small-town boy whose dream is to live in a last-frontier place like Alaska, while I am in truth a spoiled city girl who only likes to play out in the wilderness, then go home to a hot shower and have dinner in some little ethnic bistro with my citified friends. I like a bit of adventure, but living on the frontier is a definite compromise for me. I'm more into tropical or equatorial adventures than Arctic ones. My husband just happens to have gotten a cherry of a public defense job in a less-than-ideal place for his family.

So, that's what's going on with s these days. We've gone through the insanity of packing up our place to move, wrapping up our affairs in Colorado, finding good homes for our things or putting them in storage, and cramming our poor Ford Explorer full of a few essentials for the long cross-continental haul. So far LittleBit has been an extraordinarily good sport, considering the long stretches that he has to endure his car seat when what he wants is to practice his favorite new skill of walking. At present I'm watching him buzz around the hotel room, singing to himself. He's a great kid.

Stayed tuned, mis amigos. Further reports from the frozen north are forthcoming.