A Town of One

Last night, a coworker (we’ll call her Coworker A) told me about a news story she’d seen recently. It was a about a little town (if you could call it that) here in Alaska with only one resident. This woman lived alone in the middle of nowhere. During our short summer and autumn, I guess she guides tourists, sportsmen and hunters from her tiny little outpost. But most of the year, she has no contact with the outside world.

Another coworker, we’ll call her Coworker B, pointed out that this woman is actually typical of many Alaskans, even as recently as only 50 years ago.

Regardless of this woman’s isolated residence and somewhat atypical livelihood, this woman was NOT the point Coworker A was getting at. Coworker A went on say something like, “Jen, think about how much knitting you could get done! Think about how much peace and quiet you could have!”

I’m going to take the high road here and presume that Coworker A was meaning this, at least partly, in jest. She was teasing me about the fact that I hole up in my cabin several nights a week with my knitting. (Well, ok, that’s not entirely correct, but let’s deal with one fallacy at a time.) She was teasing me that I’m such an introvert that I can’t stand being around people and 9 months of complete isolation in the middle of nowhere must sound like Heaven on Earth.

Dear God.

You know what? Those kinds of assumptions just hurt. Instead of getting to know me, there is a value judgement place on my habits and hobbies, without thinking to look at the root of the behavior.

Perhaps that root is the fact that I just can’t stand being around people like Coworker A all of the time. But in such situations, is there a point to wasting my breath? Would she understand how I feel? What is the root of her behavior, in saying such a thing?

Instead of arguing, I acted like I didn’t understand what she was saying. I think I made my voice sound a bit hurt (like the inept mocking bothered me). And Coworker A swiftly changed and restated her question as, “Can you imagine not talking to another living being for 9 months of each year?”

Holing up in my cabin is what I learned to do as a child. When the bully teased, I was sent to my room, as though it were my fault and their teasing was a direct result of MY behavior (which, of course, it wasn’t, but that’s another can of worms). I was never allowed to stand up for myself properly, and to this day, my only means of self-preservation is to go hide and take care of myself.

I don’t argue, I don’t tease back, I just wish Coworker A a pleasant evening after work and I go home. I get about my business without so much as a wink as to why I do what I do.

It’s not for me to judge what she does with her time, because isn’t this what got us into this mess in the first place? She’s placing a value judgement on my hobbies, my interests and my lifestyle (at least as she views them).

It’s true that I do like certain things that she doesn’t. I like classic literature. I like European period dramas and well-written mysteries. I like making things for myself, including my food and clothing.

I’m not going to apologize for having skills for which she’s jealous.

If I were to judge her interests, I’d say: truthfully, Coworker A rehashes the same beat-to-death topics every day and quotes (and re-quotes and re-quotes) the same TV shows to no end. I don’t always agree with her politics. Actually, the things she considers to be “politics” are things that I think are personal choices. And I don’t need to watch most of her TV shows, because they were already quoted to me at work. I have tried to watch TV with her; I usually end up paying more attention to the knitting in my hand simply because it holds my interest more.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able speak these thoughts to Coworker A, much less actually get her to understand me. She holds strong stereotypes about me that would be painful to break. (Probably more painful to me, due to the work involved.)

I think Stephanie Pearl-McPhee* has summed up this quite well:

A whole lot of knitters (myself included) knit beause it makes us better people. Way better people. Without my knitting, I have a lot of trouble even being polite to great swathes of humanity, never mind being relaxed about it….

Perhaps it’s simple defensiveness. Perhaps the people who say, ‘I don’t have the time’ are trying to justify their own slacker ways. Maybe, just maybe, when they see me using my time to churn something out while they’re just sitting there, some little voice in the back of their head is judging them… ‘We, um… we don’t have time! We’re too busy. Yeah, that’s it.’ With that, the idleness of a modern life is sanctified, most people slip back into compliant waiting and watching, saving time by buying what they need, confident that it would be a waste of time to make it, understanding that only grandmothers and terrifically boring people knit, and that if they knit like I did, sitting here [waiting in line] in a government office, watching each other’s hair grow, it would be curtains for any sort of social life they may have hoped for themselves.

Yep. For me it’s not defensiveness. It’s self-defense. Coworker A would not want me to put down my knitting needles. She ought to be damn thankful that I knit.

*Quotes taken from _All Wound Up_ by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Copyright 2011. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. Kansas City, Missouri.

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January? When?

Those of you who know me well already know how I started off my year. I spent three days (January 1-3) glued to my little laptop computer and WIFI, here among the majestic mountains of Denali National Park and Preserve.

I knew and worked with Margaret Anderson when I worked at Mount Rainier. In fact, she lived two buildings/houses over from me at headquarters. Of course, I was in the Division of Interpretation and she was a Law Enforcement Ranger, but she used to wave to me on her drive home.

Despite this tragedy, or maybe because of it, I find myself thinking back through all of the accumulated HAPPY memories I have from our parks.

Finding that last Harebell of the season on the Bierstadt Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park in late September, 2007, after returning to Colorado from a research field season in Alaska.

Remembering all of the unique sounds that Yellowstone’s landscape makes. (To me, Yellowstone is all about soundscapes. Everything builds up to Nature’s Chorus there.)

Or watching a black bear scrambling around on a log near the White River in Mount Rainier National Park in the spring of 2010.

How about that time (those months?) I picked berries of many colors around the shores of Wonder Lake in Denali?

The message, at least for me, is that I draw strength and inspiration through the rough times from over 30 years of happy memories in our magnificent National Parks.

January, thus far, has been a month of reflection, conversation with friends, and a time to look back through the plethora of photos I’ve taken in our parks. I feel much more energized to tackle the coming summer season.