Once a Cheechako, Now a Sourdough

Lake Against A Mountain

In Alaska there are quite a few things we take pride in, one silly one is how cold it can get before we will put on a sweater to go outside for a short period of time (my personal best is 0°F), a more genuine one is how long we have lived in the state. We measure our number of years in “winters”–so that means that this coming winter will mark my fourth winter here. That doesn’t automatically make me a Sourdough (as opposed to a Cheechako, or someone who is new to Alaska and knows little to nothing about the world in which they have moved to)–no, what makes me a Sourdough is the experiences that I have had while I have been here, the hardship that I’ve gone through and the determination that I’ve pulled from the depths of my being in order to survive in what can be a harsh, unforgiving environment.

Not everyone moves to Alaska and moves into a dry cabin (a cabin removed from the basic luxury of running water and typically pizza delivery service) when they grew up in a large city with all the regularly overlooked amenities that come along with it. Yes, I have electricity, which means I have heat–yes, I have WiFi, which is how I’m writing this blog post today, but most of my friends and family that I left behind in California cannot wrap their heads around the concept of not having running water; never-you-mind the idea of using an outhouse. When there is no running water, it’s not the simple inconvenience of not being able to turn on a tap and have water on demand, it’s everything that goes with having a seemingly limitless tap at your disposal. When you have no running water, how do you do dishes? How do you do laundry? How do you take a shower? How do you–the list goes on. These ideas used to give me anxiety before I moved here, not because I didn’t think I could handle it, or figure it out, but because I thought about how complicated my life already was and didn’t know how it was possible to make it more so.

How do you get water if it doesn’t come out of a tap in your home? That’s one of the first things you learn when you move into a dry cabin for the first time. You obtain water containers–whether you’re recycling old juice containers, or you buy reusable five-gallon jugs from the store and taking them to the water fill-up to fill for a nominal fee. Once you haul them home, there is a little trial and error in figuring out the best way to do things without wasting water, when you realize every drop you possess really matters…

Here’s the thing, when you move to a place like Alaska, life slows down. You’ve moved to a place where time has turned back thirty years–doing the dishes means putting a pot of water on the stove to boil and cleaning up right after dinner. Doing laundry means either hand-washing small batches of clothes and hanging them up to dry (on a sunny summer day) or hauling fifty pounds of clothes down to the local laundromat and throwing them all in together (who separates the lights and the darks these days?). On the days we go to the laundromat, we pay for a fifteen-minute shower there and trust me when I say, when you’ve gone a week or more without a real shower, fifteen minutes of warm water is heavenly–the days we can’t make it out for a shower and we’re feeling really funky, we have what we lovingly refer to as a whore bath. I’m sure you all can figure out what that means.

This is just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, there is so much more complexity to what many here would consider a simple life than can really be written about in one sitting and I’m sure there are more interesting things a reader would rather be doing than consuming uninteresting prattle that is the length of a dissertation by a student overcompensating for a lack of information.

In closing, this blog is more of my personal notes, my experiences here in Alaska, along with my portfolios–short stories, poems, photographs, artwork, everything that I’ve been inspired to create since I’ve moved to the place where I’ll spend the rest of my life–and forgive me for being a little unhinged, every Alaskan is a little unhinged. I blame the lack of sunlight in the winter.

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