Three weeks ago today our annual spring migration began. Unlike the birds in the springtime we do the opposite. We fly south. It’s always a little funny when our absence from the Fairbanks community comes up in casual conversation with strangers, for example, getting our home phone line set up again for the summer, “How nice,” the costumer service person will say, “your lucky to get out of here for the winter!” thinking that we go somewhere warm and exotic. I don’t usually explain that we go north, well above the Arctic Circle, mostly I don’t like explaining our oddball lifestyle over and over again to people and also because when you do lead an oddball lifestyle it’s easy to come across as “a real character” as I have been accused of before, and I don’t know how I feel about being coined “a real character”.
Three weeks ago I woke up in our trapping cabin 250ish miles north of Fairbanks, nursed our baby, had a cup of coffee and started thinking about the weather. We were due to call the pilot with a weather report at 8am. It was partly cloudy, 5 mph wind from the northeast and 8 degrees below zero. Decent weather for flying. Chances looked good that I was leaving as scheduled. I had been in the woods with my husband Tyler and baby daughter Sydney since the middle of August 2017. We had been away from society for almost 7 months. I can say right now that Sydney has currently spent 3/4 of her life in the Alaskan wilds completely oblivious of cars, cell phones, box stores, light pollution, noise pollution, etc. Three weeks ago I drank my coffee and considered all of the changes I was about to make in my daughters short life after a simple 2 hour flight from one world to another.
It was hard to say goodbye to the place that I’ve called home every winter for the past 10 years. This year I felt even more nostalgic about leaving now that our cabin in the middle of the woods will forever hold the memories of raising our firstborn through her precious 1st year of life. Our nursing cocoon in the wilderness. I packed up a few familiar toys for comfort, some books and left the rest of her things for hopefully another future child. I tried not to cry as I got her dressed to spend the rest of the day outside in the cold, on a drafty bush plane then out in the cold again till we got the fire going in our stove at our cabin outside of Fairbanks. I was anxious for her. I didn’t know how she would handle the abrupt life changes of the day; the plane ride packed full of our sled dogs and fur, lots of new, unfamiliar people, cars, noise, new house and all without her Daddy. Tyler was staying behind to do logging work to fix up one of our line cabins.
I felt anxious about that too. He was staying behind to do dangerous hard work in the woods and I had to face getting set up again back in town alone with the baby. I had a lot on my plate those first few days. I had the dog team to take care of, no food in the fridge, no running water, our vehicles were blocked in by 3 ft. of the winter snow and it was a sweaty trail breaking experience just to get to the outhouse!!!!
Thanks to some really good friends the 1st day back to town went off pretty well. I grabbed my personal bag, loaded Sydney in the sled, Tyler hitched up the dog team and we headed down to our runway, which is actually a snow packed gravel bar. Dan landed, we loaded up dogs and the winters fur catch, then Tyler held Sydney as I buckled myself into the plane, He handed her over to me and I held her on my lap. There were no tears. We both had hard jobs ahead of us and we were both pretty focused on the tasks we each had. The flight went well till we got about 10 miles North of Fairbanks. Fairbanks was wrapped in a blanket of fog and we had to fly south of town to find a way under the blanket to get to the landing strip. Daniel has a good track record so I wasn’t too worried. In the past I have always worried about the dogs on these flights but this year I was completely focused on the precious child in my lap, my life treasure. Lulled by the vibration of the plane and the high altitude Sydney slept the entire flight. We landed safely and Molly, Sarah and Emma were there with a couple of vehicles and a dog box for the dogs to ride home in. A dog box is often a wooden box that sits on the bed of a truck that has kennel compartments built into it for traveling dog teams. Knowing I would have no groceries, Sarah had made me a few sandwiches and even bought some baby food for Sydney. Another friend, Kristi, came later in the evening and brought me a couple 5 gallon containers of water and a bag of dog food to get me started till I had the truck shoveled out and started up. Last, before going to bed in our still thawing cabin, our neighbor and close friend Sarah came over to hang out with Sydney while I fed the dogs. With the new environment, unfamiliar people and overall strange day, Sydney was not very good company for Sarah. She cried the whole time and worked herself into hives worrying about me coming back to her. For the next 2 days she would cry if I went into the closet without her, unfamiliar even with cupboards she would cry when I would open a cupboard door as if I might climb inside and get out of her sight.
The next day was the beginning of 2 weeks of lots of work with 25 lbs of baby on my back. I strapped on snowshoes, put Sydney in an external frame backpack and started making trails around the yard wide enough to pull a big sled around. I needed to haul water, wood, groceries, our leftover moose meat, fish for the dogs and everything else that goes in and out of a house down a 200 yd path through the snow. Our driveway doesn’t extend to our house. We have always walked things in down a path. It may seem inconvenient, if not stupid or crazy, but we like it that way. Makes things around here more private and hard for any thieves while we are away, not that we have much to steal. We feel more at home in our little spot of woods and don’t care to give that up for the sake of convenience.
The daily chores of stomping through snow, chopping wood for the stove and feeding the dogs were hard with with the baby in tow but familiar and comforting tasks. Driving into the city and stepping into a box store is not my favorite cup of tea but If I wanted to eat a salad out of season, which I did, I was going to have to take the plunge. Again, friends bailed me out, digging the truck out for me and then hooking a tow strap onto the fender to pop it out of its icy hole in the snow, the oil was checked and I put a trickle charger on it for the night because the battery was completely dead. The next morning I buckled Sydney into the car seat, which she submitted to, despite being completely unfamiliar with the contraption. I turned the key and we took off down the road in a vehicle for the first time in 7 months. On the 5 mile drive to town, a serpentine lane through white and black spruce forest, I flipped on my favorite old time country radio station and the first song out was “I wanna, I wanna, I wanna Redneck girl” It felt suitable to me, cruising down the road with 3 feet of snow riding on the truck topper. I received a few thumbs up from passersby, some more mature citizens gave me a look that said it wasn’t very responsible of me not to have shoveled it off. I justified it to myself, I’m very busy, I have a baby and my fridge needs to be filled with fresh vegetables!
Our migration patterns are opposite of our avian friends. In the summer most head to Gods country where the air is fresh and the water runs clean. We head to the city….by far the hardest part of our lifestyle to adjust to. We miss community and friends while we are out in the woods and eating fresh food with a high mileage plan from the grocery store like mango and avocado, that is really about all we miss. I can’t live without seeing my friends and family and they are mostly why we emerge every spring. Tyler flew in a few days ago after 18 days of logging. It’s good to have him here at our second home. Sydney knows life is as it should be now. He completes our little family she knows to be very important. We will spend the next few weeks adjusting to town life and learning how to exist in a place that we feel we don’t quite fit in anymore.