What p. said. Except I've only read one of those books. But everything else, yeah. Right on.

ps. pete is thrilled.
A new friend asked me last weekend what it is I write. I stuttered out some incoherence or other, but didn't - and don't - know. Is that because what I write doesn't fit a genre, an easy convention? Or because I don't write enough anymore to create the critical mass that would be an answer. I've been trying not to think too hard about that all week, because the critical mass behind the real answer is heavy enough to hurt.

You can see Chena Pump Road from the parking lot near the ski hut, and it looks too big to be a road on the edge of an Alaskan town. It looks like someone transplanted it from Houston, dropped it into the woods. Probably the fancy-pants highway exits, light posts and ostentatious new building strip have something to do with that.

Finally, this thing p. found!
That is all. Goodnight.



Six years ago, I was sitting on stiff sheets in a sweltering room, listening to the distant traffic and trying not to let sweat drip onto my field journal. My three coworker-roommates were watching a soap opera at full volume, perched on the other side of the one staff bed. I was sort-of paying attention, knowing that once I could follow the convoluted plot I'd have the language mastered. I was more annoyed that the television had been requisitioned for sappy drama. In the next room, the street-boys I'd come halfway around the world to work with were sprawled out on the cool tiles of the bare living area sleeping or listening to a garbled radio program of ghost stories. They were happy for a dry, safe place to crash and utterly disdainful of the mattresses someone had requisitioned for the program. I didn't blame them. The mattresses already smelled of mold after just a few weeks of rainy-season humidity.

In the eternal dusk of urban night, the last call to prayer sounded over local loudspeakers. A dog's bark echoed down our small alley. A car swept its headlights through the front window. I weighed trying to go to sleep over the screeching television against looking up the translation for 'volume' and attempting a diplomatic request for less of it.
The phone rang. Ari, one of the older street boys who'd been in the program nearly three months tapped the door and stuck his head in.

"Bu Maria!"

"Aku?" Nobody called me here. I didn't even know if more than two people had the number. I shuffled out and shut the door against the now-wailing, recently-bereaved soap-star. I saw the whites of wide-eyed five and six year olds in the gloom after lights-out, terrified by the ghost story and egged on in their fear by the older boys. Ari handed me the phone and stood by curiously. I squatted on the floor next to the phone. A familiar voice was urgent on the other line. It was Mrs. Karsi, my host-mother from the first half of my internship. I had to ask her three times to slow down so my brain had time to translate.

"Are you alright?"

"Um, yes. I'm fine."

"Have you spoken to your parents?"

"My parents? No. Did they try to call me there?"

"No. Are they alright?"

"I haven't spoken to them. Did they call you?"

"You should call them."

I was trying to piece it together. Had my parents called me at her house? I had moved into the street boys home several weeks before, and they had my cell phone number. Was something wrong? Was someone sick, and in the rush they had called the old number? I felt my breath growing short. Ari asked what was wrong. I shrugged my shoulders and asked him to make the little boys turn down their ghost story. A sharp command later, and a sea of dark faces were looking up at me. Apin grabbed my hand. I waved them silent.

"Did you talk to them? Did they call you there?"

"No! No! Is the television on?"

"Yes. The girls are watching a soap opera. What's wrong?"

"There was an airplane crash in America."

I laughed with relief. "They are not flying today. America is a big place, like here. Where was the plane crash?"

"Near the big house!"

"Near the big house? There are lots of big houses."

"The big house! The biggest one." I racked my brain. Big house? Hollywood?

"They don't live near any big houses."

"No! No! The biggest house. The house painted white. Yes! The house that is white!"

"Oh! The House that is White. No, they don't live near there. I'm sure my family is safe."

"You should call them to be sure. Ok? They would want you call them. Right away."

"Ok. Thank you. I will call them." I hung up and told the boys it was nothing, sent them back to their ghost story. They wandered back into the darkness, and the garbled radio-voice fired up again. How sweet that my host-mother was worried enough about an airplane crash in my home country to call me. What a relief that there was nothing actually wrong, nothing to worry about. I slipped back into the staff room, where Norma asked, "Who was it?"

"There was an airplane crash in America's Capitol. Mama Karsi was worried about my parents."

Karima looked at me, grudgingly. "Do you want us to turn on the news?" I could see the soap coming back on over her shoulder.

"Nah. No big deal. My family isn't near there. I'll call them tomorrow."

I slipped my field journal under the bed, pulled my sarong over my arms and head against mosquitoes and settled down to get some sleep.



I spent this summer working for Little Tour Company, a small independent outfit here with a few small buses and a few small airplanes that gets folks into the Arctic during the summer tour season and beyond. (Beyond the tour season, that is. There's not much beyond the Arctic.) Little Tour Company deals mostly with the RV and otherwise Independent Traveler set, especially folks who want to cross the Arctic Circle without tearing up their own vehicles on the notorious Dalton Highway in the process. On a regular day, I would drive between 250 and 400 miles, and spend between twelve and sixteen hours with no more than twenty four (and often quite a few less) guests. That's a lot of time to hang out with and get to know to a small group of people. Over the course of the Season, I noticed a few things:
  • On any trip with over eighteen people, there is always at least one man with missing fingers.
  • If a man over 60 teases you when boarding the bus, he will try to anticipate your every need for the rest of the trip. After attempting to do your job for you all day, he will tip twice as much as everyone else.
  • Every second trip, on the last stop before returning to Fairbanks, an older man will call you aside to tell you how he was diagnosed with prostate cancer X months ago, and is so glad he was able to make this trip and was relieved that there is a toilet on the bus so that he hasn't had to worry about his now-small waste-capacity, which is really not what it used to be.
  • People who wear Christian T-shirts or slip in comments about their church ministry before the first stop always become visually agitated when you mention the last ice age and mankind's 11,000+ yr. presence in what-is-now-Alaska. They will shake your hand warmly at the end of the trip while wondering aloud what God has in store for you. They will never, ever tip.
  • There will always be at least one man with a commercial driver's license on board, watching your speed, lane placement and braking method. If you sidle up to him early on and mention the type of chassis, engine and retarder on board and throw in that you're on a first-name basis with the company mechanics, he will sleep like a baby through the rest of the trip.
  • Single women travelers have the best questions.
  • Cranky people are easily cheered by attention and interest. (Granted, that's pretty universal.) But moods are contagious, and cranky people do not good all-day bus-riders make.
  • Retired, Full-Time RVer couples have the best relationships.
  • Middle-aged married couples on a 2 week vacation have the worst.
  • If an aggressive, middle-aged man manages to find you before the tour starts and pressures you to put his family in the best seats on the bus, become best friends with the man and tell him you'll 'take special care' of his family even though the treatment you are giving them is exactly what you do for everyone, every time. Tell them why the seats they end up in are the best seats. He's probably not going to tip any more than anyone else, but if you don't you have a Very Long Day ahead of you.
  • ADHD kids bouncing off the ceiling are way more engaged and interested in the trip, the landscape and the story of the north than the quiet, perfectly-behaved bookish kids who sit in the back with their nose in LOTR.

[guide training in may ... i'm squished up next to the rock, far right, top row.]

It was a great summer in the sunny North Country, getting to know Coldfoot and Wiseman and learning every pothole and washboard on the first two hundred odd miles of the Haul Road. Guiding is, after all, a perfect outlet for my consummate nerdiness. A captive audience that's paying to hear about all the obscure northern books and studies I've spent the winter tearing through! And in one of the most remote and unexplored regions accessible by road! What bliss!

Now that I'm in the classroom all day (audience and subject not quite as engaged or engaging) and the prospects of getting out of town, even for a weekend, are slim (and now that I've officially lived in the same place for an entire year for the first time in seven) I'm getting a little antsy for that sweet open road. Peter's having a hard time reigning in my impulse to buy an old cargo-van, throw a mattress and some blankets in the back and get the hell out of dodge. After today's Fifth Grade Math Fiasco, I was ready to pack up and go, go, go.

After all, they always need cooks at the truckstop in Coldfoot.



I was afraid there wouldn't be color, this year. The stars came back out a few weeks ago. Peter coaxed me out of bed to watch a full moon eclipse in the middle of a star-and-aurora flecked darkness. The dark took my breath away before I even saw the black disc of earth's shadow blocking the moon. It was harvest-moon red, wet and thick and slowly disappearing into the glorious northern night sky. I still sigh with relief going to sleep without sunlight, evenings.

Mornings are cold. The porch crusted in ice and my breath a fog on the path to the outhouse. I've been shivering my way downstairs, blundering through coffee, lunch packing, pulling on still-uncomfortable dress clothes for my new and unexpected iteration as a student teacher. After which, if all goes to plan, I will take on long term substitute. Given the last three weeks, this is not the relief one might think. The certification, I can manage. The career still fills me with a turmoil of ambivalence. But that is not news.

The trees started turning brown two weeks ago, and I was worried that a summer of warm-and-dry weather had sapped them of their ability to explode into winter with the pomp that marks the season. Then Friday, driving home into a weekend that suddenly carries new meaning and relief, there were the colors. Or a color. The birch have turned and they have blanketed the valley. The aspen, as far as I can tell, have given up the ghost. They are losing their leaves without comment or hue. All summer, I fell in love with the aspen. Their blue-green dance, their shimmering leaves, their powder bark dusting my hands with ancient medicine at a touch. And now I feel like them, dropping from a summer of glorious north-country travel, of wolves and mountains and trucker-banter on the CB into stiff, blistering shoes and pants that require ironing and the hounding of lesson plans to be written.