Sitting here tonight, in the deep cold of an Alaskan winter night, I find myself transported home in my mind. Where is home, you might ask? Spoiler alert … it’s a long story.
Where is home? That’s a good question. Harder to answer. I moved to Alaska in 1997, after meeting and falling for an Alaskan guy. Oh my. Talk about not even being on my radar. I’m not sure anything short of Jerry could have moved me from where I lived back then. My little farm was less than ten wooded miles from the southern shore of Lake Superior. I had a job I enjoyed, friends that I cherished and finally, finally enough land to feed my soul. There was even a bubbling creek cheerfully ambling through my back yard. I still remember the day I drove down the nearly quarter-mile long driveway with the realtor. It was love at first sight. We pulled up and stepped out of the car. I looked at the little red farmhouse, the big white barn and the creek. A sigh whispered through me. I knew I was home.
The place needed a lot of work. The house needed upgrading (it was pretty awful) and the barn a new roof. I didn’t care. I loved the land, so figured the rest could be fixed over time.
It seemed like it took forever to clean 30 years of accumulated trash and debris out of the long unused old dairy barn, but we managed it in a couple of weeks. Pens went up, fencing was added and my Pygmy goats and boisterous flock of Embden geese moved in. The geese were thrilled with the creek! It wasn’t much as farms go, but it was my personal 40 acres of heaven and I loved it there.
Of course, a twenty-year span between those old memories and now leaves plenty of room for rose-colored glasses, hazing over the bad times and remembering only what the mind wants to recall. Since I want to keep those happy memories intact, I won’t dig any more deeply into those “good old days” for now. Heck, what I’ve written, deleted, re-written and deleted again over the past few days was enough for me to consider going [back] into therapy. There may be a reason people only keep the “happy” pictures from the past. Who knew? I loved that farm and it will always hold a special spot in my heart, but it wasn’t always good times. Writing about this helped me to remember WHY I moved on when I did.
I met Jerry in 1996. Not so unusual now-a-days, but meeting someone online back then was an eyebrow-raiser. My Aunt Mary Jo voiced the concern others wouldn’t or couldn’t bring themselves to say; “How do you know he isn’t an ax murderer?”
Well geez, wasn’t it obvious? Jer lived [at the time] in a modest mobile home in Anchorage, Alaska. I lived on a 40-acre goat farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Guess who owned more axes? HAH! It sure wasn’t Jerry. Wink.
It was a heart-wrenching decision, but six months later, I sold my farm and followed my heart. To not do so out of fear of the unknown and the comfort of familiar surroundings would have surely left me with regrets and wondering “what if?”. I have no regrets other than those caused by the sheer distance I ended up moving. It was difficult financially and time-wise (keeping in mind I had a working farm with livestock most of those years) to return to visit family and friends. I DO regret not finding a way to manage that.
The first twelve years in Alaska were memorable. We found and bought thirty acres of beautiful wooded land overlooking the Mat-Su Valley to build our home, barn and shop on. I air-shipped nine of my adult Pygmy goats from where they’d been boarded in Michigan to our newly built barn. I was married to a man I loved and was very busy building a new life. Jerry and I were both working hard, while also raising and showing beautiful, purebred Pygmy goats. I was spinning, knitting, dabbling in a variety of fiber and metal arts and writing (always writing). Although I still missed my friends and family, I was happy here. Time flew by.
Then September 2009 came, and Jerry’s accident. The resultant severe TBI (traumatic brain injury) changed Jerry and changed our lives completely. He was hospitalized for over two months. Rehab took years. I stopped writing. I stopped breeding my Pygmy goats. I stopped … well, for a long time I just stopped. There was no room for anything except coping with our new life. But that is for another blog post at a later time. Probably. I still have no regrets. Like Garth Brooks sang; “Our lives are better left to chance … I could have missed the pain, but I’d have to miss the Dance.”
Those twelve years with Jerry were worth every bit of what has come since. For now, let’s get back to loving Alaska but missing the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Boy, when I ramble off track, I really ramble, eh?
SO … lovely though Alaska is, there are days like today when I look outside at the snow-laden trees, so reminiscent of winter in the UP and find myself missing the best of those days, those people, that life.
I lived in the vividly green, brilliant fall reds, oranges and golds and stark white landscape that is the western end of the Upper Peninsula of MI for nearly 15 years and in many ways, I still think of it as “home”. I see photos like this one (below) and my mind instantly thinks “home”. I don’t quite understand why.
I was born and raised in hot, sunny southern California, even though I wanted to live on a farm and raise horses, even as a child. In my early 30’s, I nearly got my wish when we moved to L’Anse, Michigan. The picturesque town sits on the shore of Lake Superior, along the Keweenaw peninsula. Talk about culture shock! It dumped snow on this city girl the first week we lived there – and I embraced it from day one. Altogether, I lived in the UP for about 15 years; first in L’Anse, then Nisula and finally my little farm in Ironwood. Less years than where I grew up in CA, and less years than I have spent living here in Alaska. But if someone asks me where I’m from, more often than not, my response is “the Upper Peninsula of Michigan”.
After twenty plus years of living in Alaska, I certainly am a big fan of all that is intrinsically Alaskan. The rugged snow topped mountain ranges and ice fields, massive glaciers, boulder-strewn glacial-fed rivers and crystal blue lakes … the sheer vastness of Alaska is something everyone should experience in their lifetime. If you do nothing else; drive from Anchorage to Tok, or vice versa. Where you’ll really start to comprehend the magnitude of this great state is along the stretch of highway between Glennallen and Tok. When they say you can see forever, they are very nearly right.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the time to see the rest of Alaska, too – just that this stretch really brings home the sheer SIZE of the state.
It’s really the heavy, fluffy snow we’ve seen this past week (in Alaska) that has taken my mind wandering back to the UP. Alaska gets plenty cold in winter, for sure. But honestly, compared to the UP, the amount of snow we see here is peanuts. I mean, unless you live in Valdez (now, THEY see a lot of snow!), average snowfall here in south-central Alaska is about 50-60” per season.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t miss the amount of snow we saw annually in the UP – if I remember correctly, it averaged between 200-300+ inches per season! That was a LOT of snow shoveling and I’m honestly not up to that these days. But oh, did all that snow glisten. Some winters, you could drive down a residential street and only glimpse the houses briefly as you passed their plowed or shoveled driveways, since the snow was so deep on the sides of the road, you couldn’t see over the berms. It was like driving through a winter snow tunnel.
Blizzards were not uncommon in the UP, leaving driveways and roads completely drifted over as if they’d never been there and making just getting to my barn a challenge. I used to don my one-piece snowsuit and boots to do morning barn chores, and remember days when I’d put my 5-gallon jug of water on a sled and then push it ahead of me as I trudged through waist to chest high drifts to get morning water to the goats and geese. Yes, I eventually invested in a John Deere snow-blower, but even then, I still had to wade through deep snow to get to the snow-blower in the garage … and then snow-blow paths to the barn, the goose building, the dog shed and back to the house. All before heading off to work! I was quite a lot younger, healthier and thriving on living the farm life I’d always been drawn to. Ah! The memories. Hmm … when I think about it now – it was also a lot of work.
Spring in MI was pretty much mud season, as it is in most rural areas, rivers running high with brown winter run-off, grass spongy and easily rutted and farm gardens too mucky wet to work the soil. But spring was also kidding season, which kept me busy as a bee. God, how I loved kidding season with my Pygmy goats. The geese added to the fun with nests bursting with goslings. There was seldom a boring day in spring in the UP. Then again, since the goats moved to Alaska with me, my springs didn’t change all that much.
Summers were gorgeous; filled with thriving baby goats, wildflowers, wildlife and sunshine – not as much sunshine or the long hours of daylight we see here in Alaska, and higher humidity, but just as lovely in its own way.
Autumn in the Upper Peninsula is the cherry atop the sundae – absolutely unforgettable. It’s one of the few times of year where it totally out-shines anything you’ll see in Alaska. There is simply no comparison. I very much want to revisit during this time of year. If I can manage to get there in my RV by September (eventually), I doubt I will be pried away again until snowfall is imminent. 😉 Hey, a girl can dream …
I may sometimes wish it were possible, but no – I do not want to go back to the UP to live … you really CAN’T go back, and I know that. If nothing else, writing this has brought me to a clearer awareness that the past is the past. Most of it is surely better off staying there.
Keep memories that makes you happy. Keep the lessons you may have learned, often the hard way, along with the rewards and accomplishments earned. Let go of the pain and loss, of the difficult parts of the journey that was your life in another time, another place. Keep the GOOD MEMORIES. Treasure them. And move on. Life is not meant to be viewed, like a photograph. It’s meant to be lived.