Thursday, June 30, 2011

Campout: Take II

In the midst of Saturday's hike...

One year ago I flew in on a red-eye flight, squeezed in a couple hours of jet-lagged sleep, and headed out to the annual resident campout. It was rainy and cold (by Ohio standards), and my sleep-deprived state did little for my love (read: disdain) for surface chit-chat.

Unfortunately, most relationships start with surface chitchat. 36 hours of rain later, Curtis and I headed away from the campsite and compared mental notes. “So-and-so seemed nice.” “Yeah. What’s-her-name’s husband is a teacher.” “I know…and the other girl’s husband couldn’t find a teaching job.” Basically Curtis knew everyone’s name from two weeks of orientation, and I was trying to match people to names based on hair, height, camping attire and dogs.

The gal with the green coat had two kids and was married to a lawyer.
The guy with the two wolfish dogs and two equally crazy kids was wearing a hat from a Midwestern college team.

Instead of dreading the onslaught of small talk this year, I looked forward to meeting up with people I hadn’t seen in several weeks and months, due to busyness, travel, and life. The weather was agreeable, with rainy spells only occurring in the middle of the night or late evening, and though the constant light dispelled by the tent nylon made for less than constant sleep throughout the night, the excitement of getting up to have breakfast and lunch and dinner, and hiking with people who are my friends (rather than strangers), made me feel like I was back at summer camp, away from home and free to play and share stories.

In real life, we have jobs and responsibilities that keep us from staying up late at night playing volleyball on a sand court with a beach ball, playing rounds and rounds of catch phrase around a campfire, and hiking for hours in the wilderness with a backpack full of snacks and a couple cans of bear spray. At the campout, everyone is off for the weekend, and the number one goal is unsaid but felt deeply: develop relationships and be rejuvenated.

As we pulled out of the campsite this past weekend, headed back for Curtis to catch an overnight shift, we couldn’t help but comment on how far we had come: one year, arguably the worst of residency, nearly completed. This year has been one that is very full: new jobs for both of us, new friendships established and old ones renewed, a condo purchased, a community established.

Today we will attend the residency graduation and bid farewell to a class of doctors that will head off on their own professions, officially done with training as they readily admit how much more they have to learn. Many of them have trips planned for personal solace and renewal before starting their official careers, and all would admit they are ready to go out and be independent of a program or schedule where they are slaves to the hospital.

Today as I watch the slideshow and socialize with guests I will have one eye fixed on the future that will soon approach, a graduation in two years that will come with many decisions about who and what and where. The other eye will be remembering how far we have come and how quickly it has passed, because even as this year has been exhausting and grueling, it has gone quickly.

And two years from now, two campouts from now, the people graduating will be us.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Traditions: Hiking Adventures

Taken back in college, when the clouds weren't quite as thick...

I found myself clawing at a muddy surface as I slid backward down a wet slope this evening. My shoes had failed me, and the late onset of rain had left the lower half of the mountain quite slick and me wondering if the hike I had voluntarily signed up for still qualified as fun.

Yesterday I went running on some local trails with a friend I used to train with in high school. It was good to catch up, and when she mentioned she’d be hiking one of the local peaks today I jumped on the opportunity. After all, I have a flexible schedule and if there’s anything better than hiking in the wilderness, it’s having good company for the journey.

It didn’t occur to me until I was parked at the trailhead that this old high school friend of mine—who is currently a competitive mountain racer—was going to end up dragging me up and then back down the mountain. Hiking is one of my favorite summer activities, but I haven’t been out much this year with all the busyness of the past month. Sure, this was a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up—but it was going to come at a cost.

The hike started at a reasonable pace, running up and down grassy hills, weaving through devil’s club, and balancing on logs over muddy bogs. The sun was pushing through heavy clouds and it looked like it was going to turn into a gorgeous evening. As we made it further up the base, the grade grew steeper and we transitioned from running to a swift hike.

After almost an hour we made the turn to hike toward the peak, and at that point the promise of sunshine had long since disappeared. We were up in the midst of the clouds, droplets collecting on my forearms and eyelashes, keeping me cool while I struggled to keep up the pace. My legs were burning, my breathing was labored, and while it was clear that we were making progress, the peak seemed to grow nearer in a painfully slow manner—literally.

One hour and thirty minutes after we started, we reached the peak. The cloud that hovered around us seemed complete with the silence. We were wrapped in a tight canopy, far from the city, far from civilization, far from any other people or anything made by man. The only reminder of anyone else treading among the clouds was the peel from an orange resting on a rock nearby, crawling with ants eager for fresh produce so far from its normal habitat. And even as my muscles quivered and ached, there was no doubt that this was a sacred place, even as I was far from my own.

If not for the increasing wind and the growing size of the droplets, we might have stayed at the top of the mountain a bit longer, but it was growing cold. While my mountain running friend had set an ambitious pace up the mountain, at least I could keep up. On the way down? That was another story.

I’ve never been one to prance down mountains with fearless abandon, which is something that has often separated me from my Alaskan grown friends. I’m cautious, perhaps to a fault, and hate the moment I realize I have so much momentum I cannot stop if I want to. The building rain seemed to cloud my vision, and my muscles seemed to be teetering far too close to exhaustion. One misstep and my ankle might roll, my knee might buckle, my toe might catch—and whenever I envision a fall it always involves breaking off my two front teeth. This is what I pictured as I tried to concentrate on my footing, one eye ahead on the distance that was growing between us on our descent, the other on the switchbacks that wove back and forth up the slope.

Relief washed over me when we reached ground flat enough to run on without fearing a potentially tragic fall. And that’s when I noticed that the rain had done much more than cloud my vision on the steep decent; it had completely stripped all traction from the trail. Thus I found myself sliding down muddy hills, laughing inwardly at claw marks down the trail, reminiscent of a desperate cartoon character—hanging on against all odds.

The muddy slopes led back to the original undulating grassy hills, where we stumbled on several fresh bear and moose tracks pressed into the soft mud and hardly bothered to avoid sloshing through it over the top of them. There was no point by this time—we were already covered.

I tried to brush off residual dirt and mud when we returned to the trailhead, not wanting to carry the mountain away with me in my vehicle, and drove the mere five miles that exist between mountain and my front door. I stripped off my shoes and socks, grimacing at the chunks of mud accumulating in my entryway, while secretly loving the state of my filth. Less than thirty minutes after leaving the mountain I was scrubbed clean, in freshly laundered clothes, waddling around my house with my exhausted legs, examining the small cuts in the creases of my palm, the only visible evidence of my evening adventure.

By the time I climbed into bed, my legs ached a satisfying exhaustion that I feared would keep me awake all night even as my body craved rest. Yet I woke this morning to find my mud-caked shoes still resting outside my front door, my gait still awkward and disjointed as I descended the stairs, and I found myself wondering when I will make my way up a mountain again.

A large dose of exhaustion, dirt ground into my palms and under my fingernails, a few moments away from everything enjoying the simplicity of nature at its finest—these are things I love about summer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Curtis using the boat to rescue a stray frisbee, when the glacial waters proved much too cold to swim out...

Last summer I came to appreciate the privilege of having a place to call my own after four months of suitcase packing and relocating. This summer, two weeks and two days away seem to have done the trick.

I flew back from Ohio last Friday, watching the sky fall to night and come back to life as we headed Northwest. Landing at nearly 2am, the sky still held streaks of fluorescent light reminding me (if I’d forgotten) one thing that Alaska would always hold over Ohio—the summer midnight sun.

Twelve hours after landing I was back on the road, on my way out of town to meet up with Curtis, who had flown back early to get back to work. After 4.5 hours of sleep at home (coupled with 4ish hours on the plane, interrupted regularly by an infant very displeased with this whole flying business), I was anxious to nest in my home again—if only for a few hours before heading out again.

The bathrooms were scoured, the bags unpacked, the clothes laundered and everything tidied. Post wedding packing two weeks prior had left me with few moments to reign in the chaos before heading out of town, and I had every intention of making up for lost time.

The weekend was wonderful, filled with good company and good weather, lazy mornings, generous meals and a rocky beach so warm I was wishing I had a swimsuit to lounge around in. We rescued Frisbees from freezing lakes, layered and braved the rain when the blazing sun was replaced with clouds and wind, and watched ducks corral their ducklings away from looming eagles.

I woke this morning to the sound of steady rain on a metal roof, and found myself making plans for the summer. The season started with whirlwind, continued with a vacation, and now I am ready to settle into productive projects I’ve been accumulating in my mind since we moved into our condo nine months ago.

As long as the weather isn’t 75 and sunny, I hope to make some serious progress.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

So Comfortable


I find myself sitting in the same place, one year later, both a same and different person. The trees have aged, died and come back to life. The seasons have come full circle, and I guess in a way so have I.

I am back, but only for a visit.

I feel at ease back in this town I lived in for eight years. This is where I became an adult, dated and married, procured my first job and started my first career. This is the place I learned to love cardinals and autumn leaves, a place I became my own person with my own thoughts, and a place where I will probably always have many friends and confidants.

This is a place I love.

I no longer live here, with all the variety of flora and fauna…I live far away, where moose wander up and down the road and mountains flank my existence. The seasons are very unbalanced, and the winter is beautiful and long. We bask in exhaustion through abundant sunlight and fight fatigue when the sun rises and falls between meals.

We are often asked if we will return to this Midwest place that moves on without us, and yet comfortably allows us to settle back in when we show up for the week. We don’t know the next time we will come to visit, let alone if we will ever move back. But we do know that it is a place that will always feel comfortable: where runs through neighborhoods and parks trace routes we know by heart, where every corner and shop seems to hold memories, and where an old house on an insignificant street holds an apartment that will always be “our first”.

We may be visitors in this place for the rest of our lives, but being a visitor doesn’t mean you can’t make yourself at home.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Thrill of Travel

Taken during our recent trip in Salt Lake, where a one hour layover turned into almost four--the perfect opportunity to enjoy overcooked chinese food, and frozen yogurt.

There is something exciting about getting away from it all: scheduled responsibilities, daily work, household necessities. In my experience it doesn't matter if I have big plans or a wide open schedule, it's nice to just "be" somewhere else.

One of my favorite parts about being away is flying--and I say this as someone that gets motion sick very easily. What's the draw of airplanes? Being completely cut off. Unless you are the elderly gentleman sitting next to me recently that kept his cell phone on to receive texts and send emails whenever a signal appeared, cell phones are out of commission for the entire flight. Until recently, internet was out of the question too. This mandatory technology hiatus has become a welcome time to check-out over the years: five hours to LA or Salt Lake, six to Chicago, eight to Atlanta...a long afternoon or evening to read without interruption, sleep if desired, watch a movie with scratchy audio or try to stave off sickness in the midst of turbulence.

In the technology infused age in which we live, every trip has a chance to begin with a bit of cleansing to think, reflect, listen to the baby cry in the back of the plane (or in my ear, if I'm back there). There's nothing appealing about being stuck in a germ-infested, inclosed environment except for this.

And whether or not I end up exiting the airplane with a tightly sealed bag, I hope the attraction of this time of seclusion never loses its charm.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What do I love about my life right now?

Spending time with people I love, and haven't seen in a long time.

Playing with small children, in the water and on land, searching for "treasures" among rocks.

Staying up late, sleeping in or taking naps, finding rest in a slower pace with no pressure on productivity.

The warmth of the sun still glowing on my skin long after the sun goes down.

Days and days with Curtis, never sharing him with the hospital, no pager in sight.

It will be short-lived, but a vacation commencing after ten months of planning and schedule maneuvering leaves me feeling very content.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

And Then There Were Ten

A cake that tasted even better than it looks...hard to believe, I know.

Every year when I approach the summer I dream of all that will be accomplished: I will run more, write more, read more, sleep more, cook more, and just enjoy everything...more.

I realized today while biking back from my mom's house that it has been a week since I've sat down to write and there is one very good reason for the summer hiatus: a wedding. This past holiday weekend my mom married a wonderful man and our family of six has expanded into a family of ten. Many a flight, meal, and food preparation occasion later, the festivities have come to a close and the last of our visitors are flying out.

Even though writing has been neglected, there is one thing that has been happening in earnest: eating. If there is one thing our family can all rally and get behind, it's a good meal. There are so many plates and containers full of uneaten goodness I am almost sad that we are headed out of town very soon...

...but even massive amounts of food couldn't tempt me to stay. We're off to the Midwest to visit so many of those we left behind last June when we picked up to move. And spectacular weather or not, we're taking a break from all that makes Alaska summers amazing to get out and take a break.

Let the summer travels begin.