*Names and identifying details have been altered to protect the innocent people who could sue me.

April 18, 2011

Day 108

Dear all,

It’s amazing how warm 40 degrees can feel. We’ve had a beautiful weekend: sun shining, snow (mostly) melted, soft wind blowing, bears (mostly) unseen.

A friend was preaching at a nearby (1 hour drive) church this weekend, so together with some friends we spent Sunday morning there. No liturgy, no Eucharist, no ordained minister – it was certainly unlike any church service I had as yet attended. But the families were friendly, if somewhat populous, and the sermon was impressive in the ease and familiarity of its delivery. I may have had some (ok, many) disagreements about the content, but the service itself was good to observe, and wonderful to share with friends.

After church we climbed back into the truck and ate some leftover homemade pizza as we drove to the shooting range, from whence will arrive the forthcoming “How to Shoot a Gun: A Play in Three Acts.” Suffice it to say, for now, that I did in fact learn how to shoot a .12 gauge shotgun and a .45 pistol. My skills are enough that if we’re hiking in the woods and something happens to the primary gun carrier, I will be able to load and shoot at the oncoming bear or whathaveyou -- assuming it wasn’t approaching at a dead run. I probably won’t hit it with any kind of accuracy, but I could scare it away. The point, anyway, is that I’m more comfortable around a gun than I was before.

After the shooting range, the boys stayed outside to clean the guns and we headed inside to begin prepping for today’s Seder. After so much unfamiliarity it was a welcome comfort to take a pile of apples, a handful of nuts, and a dash of red wine and produce a charoset just like the kind I’ve always known. Some friends have been kind enough to host the meal, and I’ve put together a Hagaddah and all the symbolic elements, so tonight we will be one Jew and 12 Christians around the Passover table -- the numeric symbolism of which is both unplanned, and hilarious.

It remains to be seen just how tonight will go, but it was good this weekend to find a balance between the new and the age-old, the unknown and the familiar. Paradoxical sentiments are, at least in part, what tonight’s celebration is about: freedom and slavery, journey and arrival, old and new. Ours is meant to be a living faith: rooted in the past and thus able to embrace the present. Chag sameach – happy Passover!

Much love,

April 6, 2011

Day 96

Dear all,

"Break-up" is Alaskan for what other people call "spring" (and New Englanders call "mud season"). I call it the “I can’t get to sleep anymore because the sun doesn’t even start to go down until 9pm and where the heck did all this daylight even come from anyway” season. The snow is still falling lightly, the boyfriend remains clean-shaven, and the (pre-Pevensie) Narnian layer of snow and ice covering everything is starting to break-up. New features of the landscape begin to emerge: people's yards, lines telling you where the road actually starts, bears ...

We think the bears are awake because a few dogs have gone missing from the neighborhood (sorry, but it’s true). If/when I actually see them, I want to know how to shoot a gun. I don’t plan on carrying it – that’s the boyfriend’s job – but I do want to know how to use it. You know, just in case the bear gets to him first. So for the moment, all outdoors adventuring has been put on hold until I can bring to you the second part of the Alaska-grams Playwriting Series, this one to be titled: “How to Shoot a Gun: A Play in (hopefully no more than) Three Acts.” In the meantime, we’ve been playing a lot of Monopoly. And while it will come as no surprise to anyone that I make a horrible capitalist, I was pleased to discover that I do sort of enjoy playing the game.

In keeping with my “A” series (Austen and Achebe already under the belt), I’m reading Jane Addams’ “Twenty Years at Hull House.” I picked it up because the blurb on the back bore a strong resemblance to “The Long Loneliness,” an autobiography by Dorothy Day that I have read many, many times. I haven’t actually gotten to the part yet where she moves to Chicago, founds Hull House, and changes the pattern of American engagement with the working class, but I have been struck by her discussion of the “snare of preparation” that Tolstoy claimed both engaged and ruined our young adulthood. In the very years when we are best suited to go out and actually do, we find ourselves caught instead in “curious inactivity.” (And let’s not pretend that playing Monopoly counts, either.)

Last weekend we did go out – way out – to the northern end of the peninsula where friends’ family has a homestead, and a sauna. This was not a “sahna,” fyi. That’s the sissy kind of steam bath. This was the Finnish word, which I can’t reproduce for you here because I honestly wasn’t too preoccupied with pronunciation while I was sitting in the 200 degree temperature. The family chose and settled on this homestead a long while ago – long for Alaska being anytime fifty years ago, of course – and now much of the family has portioned off land and built their own houses around the lake. The main road out holds their last name – for privacy’s sake, let’s call it “Doe Trail.” The smaller roads carry first names: Sue’s Lane, Jack’s Drive. So Mary Doe lives, basically, at the intersection of Mary and Doe. There’s only one sauna, though – and that’s where everyone congregated at noon on Sunday, to sit and sweat and catch up. Being half-naked and sweaty is the best way to really bond with your family, I think. And it was fun, even if I skipped the part where you emerge from the sauna, skin steaming and face red, and walk through the snow down to the lake where a garden hose neatly transfers water through a hole in the ice and onto you. I opted for the slightly less abrupt “sit outside in your bathing suit and slowly lose all your body heat until you are cold and want to go back into the sauna.” Maybe next time.

In the meantime, I continue to search for a job that doesn’t involve making other people coffee, to contemplate both the strength of the familial unit and the snare of preparation, and to look around -- very carefully -- before I walk out of the house.

Much love to you all,