Flash

Spring of 2006 was a time that all was right with the world. We still owned the bar; our son was finishing up 2nd grade; and I was working for the Washington Art Consortium and volunteering as much as I could at Happy Valley Elementary. We had our routine down. The bar was running smoothly so my love was able to come home for dinner and then head back down after our son went to sleep. Our son attended a wonderful school, played out back with the neighbor kids, swam for the Bellingham Bay Blowfish, and just enjoyed life as a kid growing up in Bellingham, WA. In addition to working for the most amazing collective of museums and galleries, I was working on my Masters in Arts Administration. All was right with the world.

The Washington Art Consortium office and collections are stored at the Western Gallery, Western Washington University (WWU). As a graduate of the WWU Art Department in Art History, this was such a familial place for me. The Art Department and the Western Gallery were like home. One day while sitting in my office, I am not sure what I was working on, one of the newer Art History professors announced that a litter of kittens were living near the sculpture studio and their mother had left them. There were many feral cats in the area as the Art Department abutted Sehome Hill, a wonderful place for nature hikes and so much more (our son’s birth ritual was atop of Sehome Hill.) To the chagrin of the lead Art Department Secretary, the professor brought the kittens into the office. Of course many of us gathered around to check them out. I could not resist. Walking back to my office the box of kittens remained in my mind the rest of the day as I devised a plan on how best to convince my love that we should adopt one.

At that point in time I think we just had one pet. It was a big old tomcat named Burky. He was quite the hunter. He would bring home any number of creatures. His favorite thing to do was to bring bunny butts and entrails into the house. Oh man, that would always get me going. Well I thought Burky needed a friend so I began to work on my love to convince him how cute these kittens were. It did not take too much convincing because my love knew he could not win and that I would bring a kitten home if I really wanted to. I suppose it was up for discussion but he was probably right. In the end, I brought two kittens home, one for us and the other for my mom.

The kittens are Norwegian forest Cats. These little lumps of fur were so tiny they could fit in the palm of your hand. While the two had similar features, their personalities were as different as night and day. The female kitten was fierce and fast. The male was timid and careful. Since we already had a male cat, I thought we should have the female kitten. My mom gladly adopted the male. By the way, he is still alive and living with us in Alaska. He actually is probably not too sad that his sister is gone. They never really got along to well. Bear, the name of the male cat lumbers along and still is just a mellow dude. While Bear has always been mellow, the female was always fast and fierce. Given her personality, we named her Flash.

Burky now had a playmate and a friend that he could go hunting out back. Our home in Bellingham was adjacent to a large tract of land that was not developed. It was a great place for neighborhood kids to build forts and for our cats to hunt for any number of creatures. While that might seem ideal, the problem was that in 2000 the City of Bellingham came through and widened our road, causing us to loose ten feet of frontage and creating a road that now could accommodate more traffic. After 2000 the road became a bypass for people who live in the Lake Whatcom area to get to the I-5 easier. Because of the increased traffic we lost a number of pets over the years.

For the first two years, Flash lived life to the fullest. Similar to Burky, she was a great hunter. While Burky had a fascination with Bunny butts, Flash would bring in birds that she had been playing with and that were not dead. The reason they could bring critters in so easily is because we had a pet door for them. I remember a number of times that Flash proudly brought in her prey and the poor bird would fly all around the house. We had lofted ceilings and of course the darn birds would try and find a way out through the skylights. What a spectacle, we would get a broom and duct tape an extension to the handle. That never worked. The bird eventually gave up and died. Birds were not the only critter Flash had a fascination with; mice, moles and bunnies were equally at risk. Flash was a lioness that enjoyed all that life had to offer.

In early summer of 2008 I received a call from my love that Flash had been injured. We really did not know how badly. My love told me that she had jumped over our six-foot fence entered the pet door and fell to the ground at my loves feet. He said she was a mess. I said well we better get her to the veterinarian to have her checked out. Our vet was on the other side of town. My love carefully picked her up and took her in. The Vet told us that Flash had at least nine fractures in her leg. We asked if he thought that he could set the leg. He admitted that while he could treat her, if we wanted it done right we should go to Seattle. We asked the cost difference and decided to give the Bellingham Vet Hospital a try instead. The Vet said that he could preform the surgery for $1,000. If we went to Seattle the surgery would likely cost a minimum of $4,000. We had never spent that much money on fixing a pet before. Flash was part of the family so we thought that we should at least give the Vet in Bellingham a try. So we agreed to the surgery.

During recovery we learned that her injuries were much more extensive then we thought. While we went back East for my grad school graduation, my mom took care of Flash. While cleaning her up she found that Flash had no feeling in her other leg at all and experienced pain in her hips and the first portion of her tail. Come to find out that during the surgery, nerves were pinched causing her non broken leg to be paralyzed and that her tail section near her hips to be paralyzed. Interesting enough, the middle and end section of her tail worked fine.

To make the most out of life, my love decided that Flash needed one of those devices that dogs use when they are missing legs. As I have said before, my love was a conceptual wizard. He designed and fabricated a wheeled carriage for Flash to get around in. My love spent a good amount of time on the carriage and in the end; Flash really would have nothing to do with it. Moving on. My love also created a carpeted step so Flash could perch herself atop and see the world. He made a carpeted playhouse for Flash. For someone who really did not want another cat, my love made every effort to find ways to make Flash’s life better.

While my love tried everything to give Flash a good life, Flash had her own ideas of what life was going to be like now that she had limited capabilities. When we returned home from graduation Flash used the perch that my love made for her and escaped out a window. She disappeared for over two weeks. Well we thought this was it. She went off to die. Working in the yard I heard a tiny meow from the apple orchard across the street. Curious, I walked over and yep, there was Flash, a flea bitten mess. We cleaned her up and moved the perch away from the window so she could not escape again. Probably a year later she managed to escape again. This time she left for only a week. Each time we thought this was it. Flash had gone off to die.

Fast forward to the fall of 2010. I accepted a job in Valdez Alaska. As my love and son sailed off to Desolation Sound off the coast of British Columbia, I packed the house for the trip north to Alaska. By this time Burky met his match with a raccoon. A year earlier my love had talked me into the sweetest golden retriever black lab mix. Her name is Annabelle. In addition to packing the house, I made sure the pets had all their papers so we could drive up the Alcan Highway (that is a story unto itself and I will likely tell it later.) We drove a 26-foot U-Haul and trailered my car. As the cab of the truck was full, the pets traveled in the car on the trailer. Annabelle rode in the front seat and Flash in a pet carry in the back. To ease Flash’s nerves I got some kitty downers for her. As my love had to get back to the boat in less then five days, the trip up the Alcan was going to be one of those quick trips. I had planned on driving myself with our son but my love would not have it. We drove from Bellingham to Valdez in a little over three days. While Flash faired relatively well, Annabelle no longer likes riding in the car. The washed out roads and dust were too much for her.

Once we arrived at our new house it was time to start moving in. Given that doors are left open when moving into a new place, this was yet another opportunity for Flash to wander off into the wild. This time though, there are bigger and meaner predators out there, bears and eagles to name a few. Yes, you got it. While moving in, Flash went on walk about again. Since she has done this before I really was not that worried. Oh, I was a little worried since this was a new neighborhood. The thing she had going for her was that there is thick brush all around the house. There are plenty of places to hide and voles to eat. One week went by and I mentioned to my son, “maybe this is it for Flash.” Then another week went by and I was now certain this was it. Until one afternoon I was in the yard contemplating what I would like to do with it, I hear a tiny meow. Yep, there she was again. While she was a mess, she had no fleas. The nice thing about Alaska, there is no fleas. So once again Flash was home.

Over the next few years Flash was queen of the household. She ruled with a sharp claw. We made sure that both Annabelle and Flash had equal love. We provided two pillows in front of the fireplace, a large one for Annabelle and a small one for Flash. Flash felt the small one did not suit her so she appropriated the large pillow and Annabelle was left with the small pillow. In the end, that worked out for Annabelle as we eventually allowed her to lie on the couch. Here was Flash on a dog bed that she occupied only a mere 5% of the pillow. Also, my mom and her cats now live with us. Flash’s brother Bear and my mom’s other cat Tjtske live on the first floor. As you can imagine, Flash made sure that her brother knew who was boss. Flash was perfectly able to get up the stairs but would scream until someone would come and get her. Flash knew how to play the game.

About six weeks ago Flash managed to find her way outside again. As this was three weeks before the passing of my love, I really had more to think about then Flash. Furthermore, she had done this so many times in the past; I figured she would come back. Although, three weeks is a long time and the snow had begun to fly. My love and I talked numerous times about how this time Flash went off to die. The weekend before my love passed, he had spoken of Flash wondering what had happened to her. The day after his passing, a neighbor who found her in his front yard brought Flash home to us. I took the cat in and scolded her for not coming back a day earlier. My love would have enjoyed knowing that Flash was all right.

She was a mess and so very thin. I cleaned her up and immediately fed her. She seemed to respond well to eating and attempted to clean herself and use the piddle pad that we provided her. A week went by and her health began to deteriorate. She did not eat and her bowel movements and urine were bloody. As I just lived through this with my love, I knew all was not right with the world. I probably should have brought her in days earlier, but I was a mess grieving the loss of my love. Then when I found the strength to call the local vet, they were out of town. The vet and I played phone tag for a week and I finally was able to get an appointment to put Flash out of her misery. Today, November 21, 2014 at 4:30 pm Flash left this world.

Until now, I have never had to deal with taking a beloved pet to the vet to be put to sleep. This is something that my love always handled. All day long I fretted. I reverted to the sobbing mess I was the week my love passed. Then I realized that I had forgotten to take the anti depressant that the doctor prescribed for me. I went home for lunch and found that Flash was in misery. Before going back to work, I took one of those anti depressants and continued on. At 4:05 pm I went home to pick up Flash. I knew this was the right thing to do. The poor animal no longer looked up lovingly. She had a look of pain. I found that inner strength that got me through picking my love up at the post office. I put her in the pet carry and drove off. As you can imagine I had memories of the day I drove my love to the emergency room. Similar to that day, I made sure to avoid the bumps in the road. Upon arriving at the vet office, I was ten minutes early. There were people in the office with their dogs and I thought that I would wait until they left. After they left, I took a deep breath and entered. The front desk clerk was very nice. They asked if I wanted to stay with Flash as they put her to sleep. There was no way I could have handled that as the memories of the day that my loved died are still fervently planted in my brain.

It is now the fall of 2014 and all is not right with the world. Oh, how I would love to go back to the spring of 2006. I know that is not possible. There is so much uncertainty in the world. What will 2015 be like?

Clam Chowder

You do not need to be in New England to enjoy clam chowder. Thick and creamy, clam chowder brings back fond and memorable memories of my love. Oh I have to say they are not all fond but you will learn more about this as the story unfolds. My love was passionate about cooking. He refused to be called a chef. He was a cook and the best around. His clam chowder could not be beat. Whether he made 60 gallons, one gallon or a quart, it was consistently delicious. He really had no use for Manhattan clam chowder. As a matter of fact I do not ever recall if he actually made Manhattan clam chowder.   He may have been forced to make the Manhattan variety when he cooked for Western Washington University (WWU) Food Service but that was just work. Clam chowder was something that stuck to your ribs. His chowder was made with love and never disappointed. It consisted of potatoes, bacon, onions, celery, a generous portion of clams, heavy cream and spices. This chowder was hearty and really was not for the person who was on a diet.

When I first met my love he was the breakfast lunch cook at the Viking Commons Dining Hall at WWU. In those days soups were freshly made daily and shipped out to all the coffee shop eateries throughout campus. Clam chowder was on the menu every Friday. I remember looking forward to a cup of chowder. What I remember more vividly is how large the 60-gallon steam kettles were that the chowder was made in. The coffee shop driver would scoop out five gallon buckets of soup to deliver around campus. But, I digress.

Skip forwards a couple of years. By this time my love and I have moved in together in an apartment overlooking Bellingham Bay. We would work all day at the University and then spend our evenings at our favorite bar, which we eventually bought years later. This bar was an amazing place of good friends. During the holiday season we would all gather for a feast of fried hooligan and clam chowder. A hooligan is a smelt like creature that is scooped out of the Nooksack River. I think that run is all dried up now. One of my most memorable clan chowder memories is the Christmas party of either 1982 or 83.

I really do not remember the actual making of the clam chowder of 1982-83 but I do remember transporting the thick creamy goodness from our wonderful apartment to the bar. In those days I drove a small blue Mazda Truck. I think it was comparable to a Ford Courier. It was a manual without power steering. Bellingham, for those of you who do not know, is a town of hills. That Mazda truck’s clutch would pop at the most inopportune times. It had more issues but that is for another story. Bellingham is also a town of one-way streets. You cannot get anywhere on a straight shot. The drive from our apartment on south State Street to the bar on North State Street required us to drive down one steep hill, down Forest, right on Chestnut (another steep hill), left on Indian, left on Holly, and left on State. All was going well until we reached the right turn up the hill on Chestnut. My love was sitting in the passenger seat with a large stockpot filled to the brim with piping hot clam chowder. As I turned the corner to go up Chestnut, the clutch popped and the chowder exploded out of the pot, spilling hot thick chowder in my loves lap, all over the cab of the truck, everywhere. As you can imagine, my love was not pleased. I pulled over and he left the scene of the chowder fiasco and went to the bar next door. When I arrived at our bar, there really wasn’t that much chowder left. So, given the events I decided I needed a few drinks. When I sold the truck a year or so later, I was still cleaning chowder out of the truck’s cracks and crevasses. Each year from that point on, Christmas parties at our bar became bigger and bigger. I do not think that clam chowder was ever on the menu from that point forward though.

So, why am I fixated on clam chowder? Since my loves passing, friends and neighbors have been so generous by bringing us meals My son and I have received so many wonderful meals of all kinds. As this kindness was a little overwhelming, I decided that I should start freezing some of the delicacies. In addition to wonderful casseroles we have received a variety of chowders, all very yummy by the way. The other night I decided to pull some salmon chowder out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave. My son was sitting at the counter doing his Algebra II homework and not even complaining. He was actually getting it. All was right with the world. I pulled the chowder out and realized that it still needed another five minutes or so. Here is where things get a little troubling. When I pulled the chowder out for the second time, the bowl was hot and I really did not have a good grip on it. Yep, as you can imagine, I dropped the chowder and it exploded spilling chowder all over the stove, the counter, the floor, on my son’s homework, and all over me. This was too much for my son. He could not stop laughing. We were able to scrape up enough for dinner but what a mess. This weekend I am going to have to pull the stove out because chowder dripped between the stove and the counter. Oh, man what a mess.

As I have had this lingering sense that my love is near by, I retold the chowder story of 1982 to my son. I was standing in the place that my love spent many wonderful hours making homemade bread, pizza, lasagna, stews, pita bread, pastas of every variety, cinnamon rolls, Christmas cookies and a wide variety of other delightful delicacies. At that moment in time I was pretty certain that my love would have been having a good laugh.

Front Porch

Depending on what part of the country you live, the front porch takes on many different characteristics. It can be enclosed to keep in the heat or repel against pesky creatures like mosquitoes. The front porch can be open and spacious where families and friends gather for evening conversation. A front porch can be used for storage or firewood. It could have patio chairs, a table and even a swing. It is a place to welcome guests to your home or hang out for a morning cup of coffee with a loved one. The front porch that my love and I shared was large enough to store firewood at one end and a seating area at the other end. No matter what characteristics a front porch has, for me it is a place of powerful memories that preoccupy my mind.

Have you ever thought there was something out there but then it was gone? Wait, what was that? Did you hear that? Then you look over and there is nothing there. “Our brain decides how we perceive everything around us. It informs our decisions, guiding us carefully through the fog that is the world around us . . . except for when it lies to us. Often, what we think is true is actually just our brains messing with us.” (Gregory Meyers, 10 Weird Ways Your Brain Is Tricking You ) The brain is a wondrous thing, but it isn’t perfect

While I strive for perfection, I now know that the memories that preoccupy me will not allow me to move on. Over the last two weeks I have had this overwhelming sense that my love is sitting on the front porch next to me; sitting in the chair next to the fire; laying on the couch; sitting in the passenger seat of my car; standing by the kitchen stove; or even talking to me. These moments in time are so powerful. The problem is, when I look over no one is there.

It is the front porch that I am having the most trouble with. My love and I would sit on the front porch talking about everything. In the last few months, though, the conversation was primarily about cancer and the impact on our family, financial issues, emotional challenges, the holidays, what we should get our son for Christmas, eventual death and our beloved son. The last conversation I remember having with my love was about whether or not we should travel back to Seattle for the trial he was doing at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I truly wish the conversation was about something other than cancer.

Now, I sit on the front porch by myself. I have a sensation that makes me believe that my love is there. I am afraid to look over because I know he is not. I sit there waiting, thinking that he will be out soon. As time goes on, I realize that he is not coming. This really is not the time of year in Alaska to sit on an open porch waiting, unless you are really bundled up. I still sit on the front porch waiting but have learned to wear a heavier coat. It takes me a while to go back in the house. I feel a strong connection and believe that on some level my love and I are communicating. My love did not ascribe to the belief that he was floating on a cloud looking out over us. He believed that it is the power of memories that live on.

Why does this happen? I have spent some time researching psychology websites and have ascertained that the mind plays tricks on low vision people. According to Deborah Bier, PHD, “…the brain is filling in information where there is none due to diminished vision. A parallel can be drawn to the neurological mixup that occurs with phantom limb.” (Deborah Bier, Charles Bonnet Syndrome: The Mind Plays Tricks with Low Vision Patients) Research suggests that there is clear awareness by the viewer that the visions are not real, though initially he or she may second-guess that conclusion. The combination of memories and my diminished vision in my right eye brings to bear the phenomenon of the “phantom eye” that reaches out to see something that is not there.

How often have you pressured yourself to think positive after an unhappy incident? Over the last two weeks I constantly examine my thoughts to figure out how I am supposed to act. The memories occupy my life as I try to figure out what we could have done differently. While I realize that my love is no longer in the living world, it is the memories of those cherished front porch chats that hold me back. Is it denial? Is it a defense mechanism that buffers me from the shock? Is it a way to block out the words and hide from the facts?

I like to think that my love is living on in my memories, as he would have wanted. The front porch is now a place to communicate on a higher plane. It is not denial or isolation. I am a conduit that allows my love to live on.

Home Again!

In the “lower 48” more often than not, the United States Post Office is a place of scorn.  It is a place of inconvenience.  There never is a place to park. The lines are endless and by the time you get to the counter you are so frustrated that there are only two clerks behind the counter.  (Of course this is the look and feel of big city Post Offices.  I am sure small towns have a different persona.)  If you have a certified letter or a package slip you have to figure when you can find time to go.  If you work that is even a bigger challenge.  The lines during lunch time are even longer, inside as well as waiting for a parking spot.  At every opportunity I always found a way to ship through UPS or FedEx.  There were satellite stations all over town.  Unlike the US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx had better home delivery options.  Until moving to Alaska I avoided going to US Post Office at all costs.

Since moving to a remote rural community in Alaska I have found that the United States Post Office is a lifeline to the outside world.  It is not only a place to pick up your mail, both wanted and unwanted, and packages, it is a place where community events and garage sales are advertised, bake sales, raffle ticket sales, and a time to catch up with a neighbor or co-worker.  Sure there are days and times of the year that the lines are longer but that is ok because there is usually someone there that you can catch up with or even do a little business.  Given that there is no mail delivery, just about everyone needs to go to the Post Office sooner or later.  We had a clerk that recently retired who knew everyone by name as well as your box number.  It really reminds me of the old theme song from the TV show Cheers, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.”  Rural Alaskan Post Offices serve as the epicenter of life in small town Alaska.

Last week, however, I found myself a little reticent to go to the Post Office.  The thing about remote rural Alaska is that there are few services.  Sure we have a Safeway, a few bars and restaurants, a delightful health food store with a wonderful lunch counter, a car repair guy, a hardware store, a number of gift shops, an emergency medicine hospital, K-12 city schools, a library, three museum facilities, a NAPA, and a few other oddities but the thing we do not have is a funeral home with cremation services. The closest cremation provider is 305 miles away in Anchorage, Alaska.  While my love was transported on a RAVN Air flight to Anchorage I was told that he would be coming home via the United States Post Office.  That truly seemed odd to me.  A man who was not only big in character but big in size seemed too large to ship via the US Postal service.

Each day last week I tentatively went to the Post Office.  Friends and co-workers offered to go to the Post office for me but I really did not want just anyone to pick up this package.  I really felt that I owed it to my love to bring him home myself.  I would run into acquaintances at the Post Office and we would have the typical conversation, “Hey, how’s it going?”  My response would be vague and more often than not I would say “I’m hanging in there.”  On Wednesday I called the Alaska Cremation Society and asked when I could expect my package.  They said that my love would be arriving Thursday morning.

I typically go to the Post Office at lunch time before going home for lunch.  On Thursday I went to the Post Office as I always do but was uncertain how I would react to this package slip.  I knew that I wanted my love at home.  One of the last things I remember him saying is that he did not want to go to Anchorage.  The whole time he was in Anchorage I felt guilty that he was there.  I had no other choice.  So I gathered my strength and went to the Post Office.  I walked slowly to the Post Box and found a bunch of catalogues, bills and two package slips.  I thought hmm two.  I examined both carefully.  A couple of days earlier I spoke with the Post Master to ask him what I could expect the package slip to say.  He stated that it would have the box signature required checked and that the location of the box would say safe.  Well one of the slips had the signature required checked but it need not say safe.  Cremated remains are treated very carefully and are secured in a safe at both ends.  Well I figured this slip had to be the one.  (The second slip was a book club book.)  So before I went to the counter, I put the loose mail in my car because I wanted to have both hands free to carry this precious parcel.

Walking tentatively back in the Post Office with my two package slips, I found that there was no one in line.  There was a new clerk behind the counter.  Oh he had been there for a couple of months but I still did not know his name and he not mine.  I laid both of my package slips on the counter.  Away he went into the back.  First he handed me the book club order and as he did the second package teetered on the counter.  I knew this was my love.  I stated calmly, yet firmly, please do not drop my husband.  Mortified, he said “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll be more careful,” As he input confirmation data into his computer and requested that I sign the pin pad I got to thinking about how much the box weighed.  I had no idea what to expect.  Was my love light and fluffy?  I really did not know.  I mustered the physical and emotional strength to pick this precious package up and said “Oh that is heavier than I thought.”

As I walked away from the counter, a gentleman behind me said, “Did you get a box of quarters?”  I looked at him and said, “No, this is my husband.”  He too was mortified.  Walking back to the car, I thought about the quarters and remembered when my love and I owned a bar.  Each day my love would go to the bank across the street and buy a box of quarters.  For the duration of my walk to the car I tried to figure out if the two were comparable.

When I got to the car, I set my love and the book on the hood of the car.  I did not want to drop my packages.  I threw the book in the back seat.  The last time my love was in the car we were driving to the ER on that final day.  He was sitting in the front passenger seat.  I knew that is where this package should sit.  I placed my love in the seat and began to sob uncontrollably.  I debated whether or not to put his seatbelt on.  I shut his door and went around the car to the driver’s seat.  I sat there for quite a while before I could get it together.  Finally I started the car and I drove my love home.  It seemed weird yet satisfying that I was taking him home.

At home I knew what I had to do.  My love requested until the memorial cruise in the San Juan Islands he wanted to hang out on the dining room table. As my love enjoyed the holidays so much we felt this was a great place for him.  While not with us in full physical being, he would be with us for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Both holidays he would make lavish meals that would feed no less than 25.  I examined the table with a fancy trivet, napkin holder and a few papers.  My love needed to be placed just right.  I moved the fancy trivet to the center of the table and placed the US Postal Express box on it.  Until my son has time to build something better, I felt that this was a way to elevate my love with a little distinction.

As my son and I have not opened the box, I am assuming that my love is inside.  A couple of times I have asked if he would like to open the shipping box, of course not with a knife because we do not want to break the TSA seal underneath.  Frustrated, my son says “Mom, what are we going to do?  Examine his DNA?  That would break the TSA seal and then we will have trouble getting him on the airplane.”  I am told that this is part of the grief process where I doubt that he is actually in the box.  What if they put the wrong person in the box?  I am certain I will always have doubts.  For now, I will take a leap of faith that my love is indeed in a TSA Pre-approved box.

So, friends where there is life, there is death.  The United States Postal Service is so much more than a place of scorn.  The Post Offices throughout remote rural Alaska serve not only to deliver mail and Amazon orders.  The Post Office is a conveyance of cremated remains.  I will never go into the Post Office with the same light nonchalant feel again.  I will know that this is the place that my love came home to me.

Snow Walls

During the summer Valdez’s spectacular natural beauty cannot be beat. Naturalists, outdoor adventurers, and fishermen come from around the world to partake in all that Valdez has to offer, glacier and wild life cruises, fishing charters, miles and miles of hiking trails, and of course wonderful Museums. During this time there is a sense that mother nature truly has her favorites and Valdez is that place.

As the summer comes to a close there is a sense of urgency to prepare for the coming winter. The fireweed begins to bloom out. People start looking to the mountaintops to see if Sugar Loaf, a peak across the bay from Valdez, has had its first termination dust. Termination dust is a light snowfall. It is said that when Sugar Loaf has termination dust there are six more weeks until the first real snow that stays until May or June of the next year. It is a time to start stocking up on firewood; to make sure your snowplow provider is up for another year; and to start to think about your winter readiness checklist.

During the winter, Valdez is known as the snow capital of the world. On average Valdez receives over 300 inches a year. There are exceptions to that rule though. Some years Valdez has had 400, 500 and even close to 600 inches of snow. So your winter readiness checklist better prepare you for this extreme weather. In addition to putting on snow tires, making sure the anti freeze is filled up, and putting the flowerpots away, you really need to have the proper snow wall system in place.

So you might ask, what is a snow wall and why is it so necessary? Really it all starts with what kind of roof you have. A tile roof does not shed snow. This kind of roof requires the homeowner to shovel the roof. On the other hand there is something called a shed roof. That allows the snow to slide off and pile up. This type of roof is particularly useful, as you do not need to risk injury shoveling off the roof. With the convenience of a shed roof comes the need for suitable space for the massive tonnage of snow to shed.

As the snow builds up more often then not decks collapse and pathways are blocked. A proper snow wall enables inhabitants the ability to have easy access to their homes. It took four winters until we had the proper and effective snow wall system. I did not want just plywood. I just felt that was just ugly. So finally my love devised a system that was not only useful but also truly acceptable in character. As the snow builds up our snow wall can be hoisted through intricate rigging.

About four weeks ago I mentioned to my love and son that we should get the snow walls in place and rigged. Well the walls are in place now but the rigging was never completed. My love, the conceptual wizard, shared how to rig the system to our son but because of the intricacies we really did not fully understand how it truly works.

My love and I were a great team. We recognized each other’s strengths and weaknesses. My love took care of things like rigging snow walls and I made sure that all the bills were paid. It was a good system. Now as I struggle with new ways of thinking I have come across a new challenge, rigging the snow walls. Living in rural Alaska takes a team effort. I know my son and I will figure this one out as well but right now our snow walls are challenging me.

One Week Later

11:28 pm November 3, 2014 is etched in my mind.  Just twenty-four hours earlier we were in bed holding each other.  As I struggle to find the words at this time, the vision of death surrounds me.  The grief is unbearable.  I mourn the loss of my best friend; my lover; my soul mate.

One week ago today I came home for lunch to find that the end was near.  I was not willing to admit it.  I was certain that this was just another setback. I truly believed that we had more time.

This thing called cancer had a different idea.  As my love lay in pain retching up more blood than seems possible I still believed that there was hope.  Once stabilized with a transfusion I kept a close eye on the monitors.  It seemed like cancer was held back.  The Doctor came in the room and said the end is near.  No, i said.  Look at the monitor.  They eventually turned the monitor off and so quietly and peacefully my best friend, my love, my soul mate passed away.

The story is much more vivid than that.  I just am not ready to put it down in words.  I fear that the words will bring too much reality to the moment.

Over the last week I have been numb.  It just cannot be real.  It is even more unreal that it has been one week later.  Today as i drove to work, I remembered the last time my love was in the car.  To ease his fear as we drove to the Emergency Room I held his hand.  I made sure we did not go through any of the bumps in the road.  All day long i kept looking at the clock to see the different milestones that occurred ones eek ago.  1:30 pm we arrived at the ER.  4:10 pm we nearly lost the battle. 5:00 pm our son arrived.  While not communicative, I believe my love knew that our son was there.  I tried to watch a little TV in the evening to pass the time.  For some reason I decided to create a new Blog instead.   I began writing at 11:21 pm because I knew that I needed a distraction from 11:28 pm.

The week has been full of new ways of thinking.  I have learned about how to get someone cremated is rural Alaska. I have learned how many death certificates a person will likely need.  I have learned that my love will be returning to me via the US Post Office.  I have learned that you can not bring cremated remains in a Folgers Coffee can on the plane.  Come to find out cremated remains have a similar composition as the explosive C4.  Therefore, my love will be in a TSA Pre Approved box.  I am sure this is just the beginning.

The one thing that came as a surprise to me is how a small town really comes together to support people who loose a loved one.  This is my 5th winter in Alaska.  While I have made a few friends, the out pouring of support was more than i anticipated.  We came from a mid-size town in Washington State.  While familial there was not this close bond that small town Alaska has.  I cannot express how much this has meant to my son and I.

I seemed to have made it through the first week.  I am looking forward to the day that my love comes home.