Waiting out Winter

Lately, I’ve been a little stir crazy here in the Interior. I’ve never wanted spring to come so badly before. I’ve got a serious case of heliophilia, and Sligo and I have been walking lots and lots trying to soak up the sunlight. 



^This sunset made my frozen heart so happy. 

But there are still fun things to do here before winter is over. For example, somebody let me run wild in a used bookstore having a 50% off sale. 



Greed doesn’t begin to cover it. The bag I brought for my haul broke, and they had to give me a box. 

It wasn’t as embarrassing as it sounds because I was surrounded by my own neurotic people. (All those books for $32!!!!) 

Look at all those new authors I’ve never heard of before! And think of all poems by Frost and plays by Yeats I should read. And that neat anathology of Fairbanks authors. 

Every time I move, I swear I’ll never procure more books. It’s always a lie. By the end of my 27th year, I’ve decided to acknowledge that I’m a reader. Some people run marathons, some people garden…I like to sit on my bum and ruin my eyesight for hours and hours. 

I also got a fantastic belated Christmas gift. 



We went Skijoring to celebrate the Iditarod. 



Check out Sligo’s snow beard. 

The Iditarod started yesterday in Anchorage.  But for the first time in awhile, the restart is in Fairbanks tomorrow. Apparently there wasn’t enough snow down south. 

The Iditarod, also known as the Last Great Race on Earth, is approximately 1,000 miles of trail between Anchorage and Nome, tracing the Bering Sea coast. Originally the route of a mail-supply trail, it tracks the path that antitoxin took to diphtheria-stricken Nome in 1925. Dogsled teams ran the valuable medicine to sick children because all other modes of transit were unavailable due to Arctic conditions. A team including a dog named Balto seems to be most memorable in popular culture, but that team didn’t actually run the longest leg of the route. Balto simply led the last leg of the race, but a dog named Togo actually ran the longest and most treacherous part of the trail. The race was first run in 1973. 



We had Baileys hot chocolate to finish our weekend. 

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Call of the Wild

There’s something to be said about the places in the world where one can walk alone, pinned between the earth and the sky.

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In those places, nothing hampers your view. No man-made objects exist to clutter your path from the snow at your feet to the clouds scudding overhead. The sun is brighter and stronger because it’s unfiltered and unfettered. The trees are more green because the snow is more pristine. You can see for miles, and there’s no distinction between up and down.

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In any direction, your vista is the same. Maybe the whole world looks like this, and your memories of other places come from dreams.

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And the call of the wild is strong.

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“But he is not always alone. When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack.” -Jack London

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Frost

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“Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

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My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

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He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is something mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

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The woods are are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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~Robert Frost

Wisdom

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This is a photo of what my dog looks like at the end of a skijoring harness. Skijoring is like dog mushing without a sled. The human is on cross country skis, and he or she is pulled by a small team of dogs.

I share this because it’s a new sport for me. Recently, I was discussing with an old friend how I find it strange that young people have asked me for advice – and they seem to truly believe I’m in a position to bestow wisdom!

It’s ok. You can laugh, too.

But I’ve also been trying to think of something useful to tell those who ask my opinion about jobs or law school or whatever. Here’s the best advice I have to give (the root of the root and the bud of the bud):

Have as many experiences as you can.

That’s it. That’s the sum of everything I’ve learned in 27.5 years. It sums up living, loving, crying, sleeping, traveling, writing, jumping, eating, being embarrassed, being proud, becoming well-rounded, learning, and just about every bumper sticker.

Do as much as you can. Gather experiences like people collect flowers. Be uncomfortable.

Be inelegant and ungrateful on skis as your dog drags you across the tundra.

Questions of Travel

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.

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–For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.
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Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?

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Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
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But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
–Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
–A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.

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–Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
–Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
–And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:
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“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?
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Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?”

~Elizabeth Bishop (emphasis added)

Moose on the Loose

I have now had two close-ish encounters with moose.

The first occurred soon after I moved here.  It was not late, but it was dark.  I was pulling my car around to get at my mailbox, and I noticed a LARGE dark shape.  I couldn’t remember that dark shape being there before, and just as I was scratching my head in confusion, it moved.

When the headlights of my car managed to catch it, the moose was revealed in all its muscular glory.  No matter where I drove, the moose would not leave my mailbox.  So I decided to get my mail later . . . because the moose was taller than my SVU.

The second encounter was from a slightly greater distance.  I noticed a moose and her baby in my neighbor’s driveway one weekend afternoon.

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The most important thing to note about this photo is the size of the moose.  If you need scale, just use the minivan being dwarfed by the 1,400 lb. hunk of meat.

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The funny story behind this photo is that I saw the baby moose first, and I thought that it was maybe an adult.  Until its mother walked up behind it.  I’ve seen moose before, but their sheer size never ceases to amaze.  Alliteration is absolutely awesome.

I’ve been in Alaska for about three months, and everybody has some horror story about moose fatalities.  At an in-processing briefing, I was made to watch a moose mauling a man in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  Moose can be aggressive, and the mothers can be extremely protective of their young.  I have one friend who apparently used to feed moose out of his hand as a child . . . but by and large, everyone else warned me how belligerent and brutal they can be.  The next important thing to understand is the relative size of a moose.  They generally outweigh grizzly bears.  Wrap your mind around that, and come back to this post later.

Eventually it occurred to me to wonder what to do in the event of a moose attack.  After all, there’s bear spray and bear bells for bears – surely there would be something equally effective against moose? 

Nope.

You have two options in the event of a moose attack.  The first, and better, option is to put something between yourself and the moose.  They’re not too bright, and this can stymie them.  The second, less preferable, option is to run in very tight circles until the moose becomes tired and gives up.  The goal is to outlast the moose.  Moose are so large that they can’t corner well, so they can’t catch a human running in tight circles.  This is how Norwegian elkhounds hunted moose; they would track one down, allow themselves to be chased it, and run it in circles until it wearied.  Then the hounds would go in for the kill. 

The best thing to do is admire from a distance with your eyes.  Never, under any circumstances, put yourself between a mother and a mooselet.  Moose associate dogs with wolves, and they will sometimes back down at the sight of a dog.  If you’re going to try to shoot the moose, use a big ol’ gun otherwise you’ll just piss it off.  Finally, remember to never give a moose a muffin.

And this concludes today’s lesson on things I never thought I’d have to know, but is now extremely valuable information. 

Dawn of the North

My best friend has been bothering me to start a blog about my new life and adventures.  I’ve been resisting because I don’t know who it would interest, but a dam broke somewhere in my soul tonight, and I feel like I have so much to say.  Therefore, this blog is going to transition from a fitness/vegan blog into an Alaskan lifestyle blog.  So let’s get this show on the road.

The event that changed my mind from not blogging to blogging again, writing for the public, was the most spectacular display of aurora borealis anybody could hope to see.  To set the stage: I had had a fairly pleasant week at work, I went to my friends’ house for a nice Friday dinner, and I was driving home feeling pretty content with my lot in life.  All of a sudden, as I was descending from the hills of Fox to return home to North Pole, I came out of the trees and saw LIGHT!

Unfortunately, iPhones cannot capture the mind-blowing display that is the northern lights.  But I can say it’s every bit as impressive as photographs.  After I had nearly driven off the road half a dozen times trying to watch the lights, I pulled over into the end of someone’s driveway and got out.

The lights take up the whole horizon.  These were green, white, purple, and pink.  And they really do “dance” as the most unoriginal writers claim.  These huge ribbons of light furl and coil across the sky, merging, separating, writing in a language nobody can read.  It’s like a mirror image of everything beautiful that’s happening on Earth, and it’s reflected back at us, and all you need is a pair of eyes socked into your head and a pulse to receive the bounty.

That’s when it occurred to me that not everybody has those things, the simplest of things, the lowest level of health.  And I was struck by how right my life feels, how charmed it is, how I appreciate the path my life has taken.  And I had to share this awesome experience because it’s just so.damn.moving.

I finally got home, grabbed a beer, and went to stand in my backyard in -2*F weather (which is practically balmy here).  And I watched.  You can’t really go inside when a ballet of the whole cosmos is showing right there in your own backyard, free admission, BYOB.  So I stood and sipped and watched.  My yard was lit by a bright moon.

The movement of the lights puts me in mind of the dolphins swimming in a pod and jumping in and out of the waves.  Or a flock of birds in flight.  Or waves crashing on the shore.  It also really makes me feel like someone somewhere is trying really hard to reach us.  It seems like that other being is RIGHT THERE, pressed up close against the glass, and all we have to do is make the merest movement back, and we’d touch him or her.

I might mean God.

I might mean alien life forms.

I might mean our own consciences trying to remind us to look the f*** up sometimes and be present in the moment.

As I watched the lights revel in their own glory, I also saw a shooting star.  And I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  I made a wish, my secret heart wish, and I dearly hope it comes true.  But even if it doesn’t, I won’t mind a bit.  The star streaked a long way down the sky, seeming very small and insignificant compared to the lights.
Eventually the lights smudged out and became faint glimmers.  The lights don’t always appear as the dramatic curtains and ribbons captured in photos; sometimes it’s just smudges that kind of look like the Milky Way.  The most common colors are green and pink, though they can also be blue, violet, red, or yellow.  And by the way, “aurora borealis” means “dawn of the north.”

So now I’ve written this long blog post without any explanation.  Hello.  My name is Kristin.  I’m a lawyer and an Air Force officer.  I’m stationed near Fairbanks, Alaska for three years.  I love my new adventure.

Pool Function

I really should’ve taken a picture of myself after the pool function this morning.  It would fully illustrate the killer workout through which I suffered.

A pool function is an event at which trained Marines put Marine Corps applicants and candidates through their paces.  They yell at us (I sometimes yell back, which you’re not supposed to do), harry us, generally abuse us, and ultimately enjoy our struggle.  Pool functions vary in nature.  This morning, it was a two and a half hour workout down at 31st Street Beach in 22* weather.  Don’t worry – none of us were cold.

I learned a lot about where my strengths and weaknesses are.  For example, I’m still not running as fast as I should (although, in fairness, I was running on wet, churned up sand this morning, rather than a nice flat surface.  Seriously, they keep moving the bar on me.)  But I killed all the ab exercises.  Now that I’m feeling a deep muscle burn everywhere and my legs complain loudly at stairs, I’m going to recommend a few of my favorite exercises from this morning.  (Running on sand is not one of them – I  immediately rolled my right ankle badly since I was running in running shoes rather than boots, which means I had to sit out a few of the exercises, like the fireman’s carry, because I couldn’t do them.  I’m only kind of sorry.)

1.) Push-ups 2.0:  Rather than starting with your arms straight and lowering yourself to the floor, you start on the floor with your hands off the ground.  You raise yourself up until your arms are straight, and then back down so you’re laying your belly.  Then you lift your hands off the ground, so you’re really laying flat, and that’s one.  We did the following: one minute on, ten seconds off for six minutes.  (No, I can’t feel my arms)

2.) Backward lunges: Start with your feet shoulders’ width apart, hands on your hips.  Then step back with one foot and bend until your knee touches the ground.  Lift yourself back up, and step your feet together again.  Then alternate feet.

3.) Flutter kicks: lay on your back, hands under your butt, straighten your legs, and raise your feet six inches into the air (always keeping your legs straight).  Then raise one foot higher than the other, quickly, for 30 seconds.

4.) Sideways planks: It’s what you think it is.  Lay on your side on one elbow.  Then raise yourself up off the ground until your elbow and your feet are supporting your entire body.

5.) Squats: put your arms straight out in front of you and place your feet shoulders’ width apart.  Then squat down until your knees reach a 90* angle.  Actually, when we did our first set of these, I was squatting all the way down like we did in dance, but apparently a Marine Corps squat is only partway down.  Trust me, either one is a good workout if you do enough.

We also did a number of crawling exercises through the sand, which is how I got so dirty.  I was covered head to toe in sandy grit, and I got lots of funny looks on the bus from all the nicely groomed folks going to Saturday brunch.  I dumped approximately 2 cups of sand out of my shoes when I got home. The reasons I like all of these exercises so much are that (1) you don’t need a gym, and (2) they’re all designed to use your own body weight to make you stronger.  I’m pretty convinced that doing lat pull-downs on a machine is not as hard as doing pull-ups, so I like these bodyweight workouts.

What are your favorite exercises?

 

Lent

I have given some thought to what I should give up for Lent.  But everybody seems to be giving up food, and I feel like I’ve already given up plenty of food.  After all, I’m a vegan.  You want me to give up tortilla chips, too, my last bastion of snackery?**  Nope.

But then I remembered my religion classes from elementary school: I could DO something every day rather than SACRIFICE something.  After all, this will instill discipline, too.

So here’s my Lenten promise: I will run every day.  Not just exercise, not just stretch or do an ab work-out, but run.  I’ll keep you updated on my observation of this stricture.

This corresponds well with an article I read this morning about your brain and exercise.  The research is still in very early stages, but it states that the brain runs on glycogen and suggests that exercise definitively makes your brain sharper and more alert.

**(Actually, I considered giving up chips, but I already ate some for breakfast.)

Valentine’s Day Gifts

Need a cool Valentine’s Day gift for a cool runner in your life this chilly February?  Consider Yak Trax.  They’re these interesting things that strap onto your shoes and allow you to run on ice and packed down snow.  The traction is key to successful winter runs.

{Image from http://www.yaktrax.com}

If you’re like me and you hate running on treadmills in gyms with comfortable temperatures, but you love running outside in brutal wind and icy roads, then Yak Trax are for you.  My chapped skin thanks them.