Sunday, October 16, 2016

I have arrived

... and have been crazy busy helping to look after 36 black bear cubs, three fawns, a cougar and lynx at Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter, while finishing up my translation of Robert McCammons "Speaks the Nightbird" in my spare time and writing a couple of newspaper columns.

The train trip from Prince Rupert to Smithers was beautiful, though a bit funny. The train schedule on the seats a poor-quality photocopy, somewhat out of synch with the more high-end glass-domed observation car in the back.

VIA Rail has obviously seen better times, but the landscape is stunning all the same:
I was picked up at the train station and whisked away to the wildlife shelter and its incredibly welcoming crew of fellow volunteers and the extended family who runs it. I have volunteered for different organizations over the years, but never have I encountered one that is so warmly appreciative of its volunteers. This is as inspiring as everybody's complete committment to the animals in care.
I came here to help look after orphaned wildlife and learn more about animals, but I can already see that I will come away from this with more experiences than I ever anticipated.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Taking the Alaska ferry

My home disappears into a salmon-coloured dawn. Ahead of me are couple of days in the closest village, a day in the Yukon metropolis of Whitehorse, two days in Skagway, Alaska (all this with my partner) – and then a few more days by ferry and train to Smithers. It’s a slow-motion dive into civilization, a gradual dipping of toes into being constantly surrounded by numerous people every day. Our two months travelling through Alaska, plus my Europe visit this summer have already worn the worst crusty hermit edges off, and I don’t feel exhausted.

Skagway is abuzz with the last cruise ship of the year and a bewildering number of jewellery stores – I haven’t been in Skagway in over a decade and can’t remember all these diamonds and trinket stores from before. Maybe I just didn’t notice them? The town has its roots in fleecing the would-be miners of the gold rush and is now continuing that tradition with cruise ship tourists.

We spend our last day together hiking on the lower part of the Chilkoot Trail and relaxing at long last. I didn’t even have time to get all excited about my ferry trip!
The next morning, my Sweetie, our dog and Skagway recede into the dawn (notice the pattern?) as the ferry pulls away from the dock.

The ferry is half empty and there’s not much competition for the deck chairs in the solarium. The solarium is the best place to sleep and hang out – it’s sheltered from the elements and infrared heaters keep it warmish at night.

There’s really no need to book a cabin for the trip. Free showers are available to everybody, and even food costs can be kept to a minimum thanks to the free hot water and microwave in the cafeteria.
Mountains and glaciers span the western and eastern horizons (the ferry weaves its way through the maze of southeast Alaska’s islands).

Most of the passengers who got on in Skagway and Haines get off in Juneau.

After a few hours in port and replenishing the passenger numbers, we head into the night and gathering wind.

I’ve taken this trip once before, half a lifetime ago, but have no memories of Petersburg – maybe at the time the ferry got into port at night? It looks like a stunning place to live:

The buoys marking the channel into the harbour are wildly popular with sea lions who play musical chairs as the ferry drives by: whoever loses their nerve and jumps off the buoy is prevented from getting back on by his bellowing comrades.

And so the days unfold, peeling back layer upon layer of densely wooded islands and mountain ranges. The sea changes colour from dark blue to grey as clouds move in. Wind whistles forlorn in the rigging of the dinghies, and the ferry vibrates beneath my feet. Somewhere to the south the train tracks start that will lead me back into Canada and to the orphaned bears.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Leaving the wilderness

It meant a lot of headache and getting incomprehensible answers to probably extremely stupid questions, but as you see I did manage to move my website – yay! And no, I didn’t inadvertently lose lots of content along the way, I just took the opportunity to de-bloat my blog and delete posts I didn’t want to cart around with me any longer. I love getting rid of stuff.
It’s been a frantic week, actually two frantic weeks: because our old satellite internet modem had been acting up, we got a new one set up (read: my boyfriend had to get the installer and all the hardware in by boat, and then the weather turned so rough that the installer had to stay overnight – and in the meantime the old modem had of course decided to fix itself and was –is!- working beautifully again). While I packed for my year as a wildlife rehab volunteer, fiddled with the blog and mysterious things like CNAMEs, alias roots and A-records, and raced to finish my latest book translation, my boyfriend harvested and pickled a greenhouse worth of cucumbers. Plus it’s hunting season … cutting up and hand-grinding moose meat soon joined the multitude of other tasks. We’re so very grateful for the meat and yet so sorry we took this life.
Now we’re as organized as we can hope to be. Next week I’ll take the ferry from Skagway to Prince Rupert and continue on by train to Smithers to help take care of wild animals in need while my boyfriend has the opportunity to spend an entire winter out here by himself. Well, the summer and next fall, too, but then it’s easier to get out if he wants to or needs to. If he ends up blogging about his lonely bushman life, I’ll let you know. 

Goodbye for now, wilderness life ...

... log cabin, lake and mountains ...

... my sweet porcupine …

... and my love. Come follow me into the world of orphaned bear cubs, deer fawns, moose calves and other young animals whose chances of survival would be very slim were it not for Northern Lights WildlifeShelter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Laundry challenges of the northern kind

The brownish soup of suds and fabric steams on the woodstove, adding a note of washing soda to the winter cabin atmosphere of dog and ashes smells. I heave the heavy pot off the stove onto the floor and swing our toilet plunger into action – the only kind of action it sees since our outhouse “plumbing” is impossible to plug. You can buy plungers especially designed for doing laundry by hand, but I find the good old rubber bell works just fine.

With gentle farting noises it sucks the increasingly dirty water through the fabric, dislodging the grime. This is the relaxed … no, I can’t bring myself to call it “fun” … part of doing laundry in the winter. I wring out as much water as I can, and now there’s no way around the rinse cycle anymore. Cycle because of its cyclical nature: mainly the grunting back and forth between lake and cabin with a bucket in my hand. I pour water and pieces of ice from hacking open the hole on the lake over the laundry, squish the clothing around, wring it, and so on and so forth. Repeat five or six times.
When the rinse water comes out clear follows the tricky part. At -10°C (15°F) and colder the sodden pile of laundry becomes increasingly reluctant to part from the rinse tub and indeed, each item from the other. Longjohns cling to socks like Velcro and shirts stick to the walls of the rinse tub, giving way to my progressively more hectic tugging with a sucking sigh.
One more time I wring each item, faster and faster, before I drape it over the line, the fabric freezing in my hands. Water drips off the dangling ends in slow motion, congealing into icicles before my eyes. As always, in the end I lose the struggle to hang the laundry over the line in such way that one side of the item won’t freeze to the other, making it impossible to remove before it the weather warms. Laundry pins would come in handy, I think as I have been thinking for 11 winters. Thoughts that have yet to result in making or buying laundry pins.

Of course the laundry won’t dry out there. In the winter our laundry line turns into something like an extra closet, a storage space from which I bring in shirts and pants, socks and longjohns bit by bit, snapping the icicles off outside the cabin door. The frozen clothing always looks as if it would prefer to stay outside: shirts stick their stiff arms mutely towards their still hanging companions and refuse to lie meekly in my arms. I wrestle them through the cabin door and fold them over the drying lines behind our stoves, where they begin to drip and sag.

It’s only when they’re finally dry that I feel happy about the whole procedure. I sneak little whiffs of clean-smelling clothes aroma as I put them away in the closet, avoiding thoughts of the already growing new mountain of dirty laundry.