30 Day Writing Challenge — Day 20: Put Your Music Player On Shuffle and Write the First Three Songs That Play and What Your Initial Thought Is

First, my initial thought: What if I don’t have a music player?

I have a tiny little iPod Shuffle that is about 8 years old and barely holds a charge. Other than that, the only time I listen to music at any length is in the car on road trips. Most of what I listen to is news-related, unless NPR happens to be playing a music-related show when I’m in the car.

So I took out my old iPod and turned it on. The first three tracks that played were this:

  1. An old Project Jukebox episode interviewing Celia Hunter about how she and Ginny Wood founded Camp Denali. Having driven by the Camp every day for an entire summer, I feel I know the place a little bit, although I never actually stayed in one of the cabins. I obviously never met either of these two women, but I find inspiration in their story. Along with Margaret Murie and Fannie Quigley, these are four women whose footsteps I would love to follow someday. I spent one summer in Denali National Park telling Fannie’s story to park visitors in Kantishna, and I’d go back and do that trek again in a heartbeat. Google these women. You will find them inspiring too. (Sadly, I couldn’t find this episode listed on the Project Jukebox page. If you’re lucky enough to stumble across the series with Celia Hunter, give it a listen.)
  2. Wild Montana Skies by John Denver. The message in this song reminds me very much of a young man that I know, and I can’t help but think of him every time I hear this song – he had a rough life and needs those wild skies. I hope he finds his way back home some day. This version is the one with Emmylou Harris, the best version.
  3. Blessed by Hobo Jim. I’m not really into some of his country songs, but the Alaska theme (he played for years out of Soldotna, AK) permeates his work and the album Woodsmoke has some nice folksy music. Of course, The Iditerod Trail Song is also a good song. 😉  This coming year I will have a friend to cheer on as she runs the Iditerod.

What in the hell am I doing in Texas? I need to drop the permanent job and move back up north. It’s just that simple.

Driving north from Coldfoot along the Dalton Highway in northern Alaska.

Driving north from Coldfoot along the Dalton Highway in northern Alaska.


30 Day Writing Challenge — Day 8: A Book You Love and One You Didn’t

Since I have bookshelves in three rooms of my apartment, it’s hard to narrow down which book I want to discuss here.

So I won’t choose, because I want the best of both worlds.

Here are two that I have read many times and love, each of which shows a different part of personality, tastes and dreams.

First, Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). If you don’t fall in love with the father’s snark from the first chapter, you’ll probably never appreciate all of the great lines, characters and nuances of this classic. So while my everyday life is nothing like that of Elizabeth or Darcy, I see parts of most of the characters in me at some point. Like Elizabeth, I can be stubborn, strong and I sometimes see the world differently than the people surrounding me, or so it seems. Really, aren’t we all blinded by our own perspectives at one time or another? But like her sisters, I sometimes want to be responsible for nothing more than choosing my clothing and dancing all night.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have next to no limit and be able to buy what you want and need? And maybe buy something pretty while you’re at it?

Of course, my relatively free life would have never been possible back in Regency and Victorian Periods in England, so I’m also glad I’m living now. I’m not forced to spend my days crying because my neighborhood doesn’t have enough eligible bachelors. (No matter how true it might be.)

Of course, if you look at the screen versions of Pride and Prejudice, you can’t help falling in love with Darcy. Oh, dear god, Colin Firth.

I’ll leave that topic alone for now. Suffice it to say, I have wanted to be like each of the women in that book at sometime or another. That’s parts of what makes a book great – characters you can identify with and who can make you feel emotions.

My other book love is One Man’s Wilderness (Richard Proenneke). Like Austen’s classic, One Man’s Wilderness shows how one person made a life where he was. Proenneke had a lot more freedom than any of the women in Austen’s day, but he did have limits. His limits (if any really existed) were self-imposed, rather than imposed by society and law. He chose to build a cabin by hand in the Alaskan wilderness, far from roads, people and the comforts of his younger days.

I think his choice of lifestyle was his ultimate mark of freedom. He lived without running water, he had to chop his own firewood, hunt his own game, tend his own garden and find ways to make it through tough situations – completely alone by choice.

I’ve always loved little cabins in the mountains, and after reading Proenneke’s journals (the book is the first compiled volume of what were his daily notes, observations, and musings), I became more entranced with the wilderness. Not that it was my first experience with wilderness, but I read it for the first time while living in Alaska for the first time. I’m not a fast reader and I had to spread the book out over many days. One thing I do remember about that time in Alaska were the rainbows – the simple beauty of the natural world around me. Beauty unlike the ‘beauty’ so often described in novels like Pride and Prejudice.

There is a part of me that longs to live the life that Proenneke lived at Twin Lakes, at least partially because he was so skilled and could make just about anything he needed. He was a master of invention, not spoiled by modern invention, and creative. He came up with solutions for everyday needs and comforts. I often think I’m skilled because I can make my own clothes. I’ve watched carpenters, woodworkers, and various craftsmen all my life, and I could probably talk through some of the steps it takes to build a cabin like Proenneke’s, but could I do it all by myself? No. For that, I am jealous of him.

But isn’t that was Lizzy was fighting for? Independence?

A book I didn’t love: Um, just about any history book from any such class I had to take in school, at any level of school. Let’s face it, those classes put me to sleep. But I can’t actually say I hated those books – I don’t remember a word of them because they bored me so.

It wasn’t until I finally got to learn history hands-on in parks, museums and monuments that it started to sink in.

History textbooks should be banned.

Places, Part 1

It’s hard to put into words what I have been feeling this last week. So many different thoughts, feelings and emotions. Fear of the unknown. Naive surprise at how things got so out of hand. Joy to see friends supporting small businesses and farmers’ markets in Ferguson, not afraid to walk down the streets and be a part of a community that needs strong people who choose intelligence over brawn.

Some of it felt very surreal to watch, especially from two states away; the violence and destruction so close to a city I know so well. Or KNEW so well. But I’ve been gone a long time, with only brief visits back and even then, only to key landmarks and events. It left me wondering……

Do I know this place?

As a ranger, I often talked to park visitors about a sense of place. Maybe not in those exact words, but we would talk about how the park made one feel – how the experiences in a National Park made you feel like you were connected to a magnificent landscape, the furry creatures that called it home, and generations of travelers that went before you, sometimes leaving their history behind from which we could learn truths of our own present lives.

So I found it interesting that my mom asked me the other night whether or not it was weird (or maybe even bothered me?) to see her living in a home other than that in which I was raised.


Dad on a tractor? Seems familiar.

At first, I didn’t know how to answer this question. They still own the house I was raised in, however, my brother and sister-in-law live there at the moment. My parents have moved around a bit in the last 10+ years, following Dad’s jobs, and I guess my Mom was wondering if I really felt like there was a stability in the concept of ‘home’.

But I’ve moved around a lot too, and I’ve lived in a few pretty spectacular locations. So it really didn’t faze me that my parents have moved. The people stayed the same, and that is the key.

The landscape is a setting. And that setting is constantly changing. Even out in our parks, where we see timeless iconic images all around us, we just need to sit and watch. Wait for the daylight to change the shadows. Wait for the sky to become cloudy or snow to blanket the ground. Things change every moment of every day.

There is so much more to glean from any given landscape than just the immediate first impression. We need to spend time, get to know the land, learn to read the natural cues around us. The people in our lives are the more constant element; it’s up to us to get to know the rest of what the world is telling us, so that we form a connection to these places.

To that end, I’d like to introduce you to a project I’ve been working on, now and then, over the last 5-6 years. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee wrote about a similar idea here just this week, and it brought a smile to my face to see another artist making similar connections.

I love knitting my own socks. There is something about warm wool socks that comforts me. And not just because I get cold easily, but because there is comfort in taking care of yourself, spoiling yourself just a little, and reminding yourself that you are worth the effort. Time spent knitting yourself a garment that will last and be used for years is never wasted.

With socks, you can add little details without needing oodles of extra time and materials. That is just what I started doing. Plain socks are ok, and they will keep my feet warm, but handknit socks can be intricate scrapbooks of my travels. Each pair of socks has a stitch pattern reflective of a place I lived, worked, or visited. In this way, I’m reminded of the majestic landscapes, the tiny berries, the flowing rivers and lights that made each ‘home’ unique.

To date, I believe my collection encompasses five original patterns and places in four states. I have 3 other patterns/pairs lined up still waiting to be brought out of the depths of my imagination. Eventually, these patterns will be published together in book form somehow; I’m hoping that part of the project will be done around Christmas 2014. We’ll see; it might be more than I can accomplish in the next 3.5 months.

Without further ado, here is the first (and most recent) pattern: Alaskan Skies. The pair is still in progress, but the stitch pattern reminds me of the way the aurora moves and waves and streaks across the dark northern winter skies, patches of color seemingly popping out of the darkness and fading away just as quickly.

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If you get a chance, visit the north country in the winter and look up. The dark sky often doesn’t stay dark for long. The twinkling of the stars and the movement of the aurora will mesmerize you.