Summer is more than half past and trees are beginning to change color. The flux of guests is beginning to ease a bit, just a bit, but enough to relax somewhat. I compare the pace of life now to what I thought was busy then, and chuckle. So much perspective with age, and we never realize how we’ll view things differently as decades pass.
It used to be that my day was full – of wood gathering, fishing, beachcombing, general day-to-day life in the bush. Today my days are exceptionally full. I get up at 3:30 many days to prepare a hot meal for folks departing for a day of exploration. Breakfasts continue through 9 a.m. and I’m left with clean-up, bread baking, and preparation for the evening’s new arrivals. The next morning is the same, the one after that, and many, many more after that. I’m seeing, finally, a reprieve from the constant hustle, maybe even a day or two here and there where I might sleep past 4:30 a.m. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve had two mornings in the past 75 days when I could stay in between the covers until at least 6 a.m. Such a treat, eh?
Not complaining. When I mined, it was April to November with nary a day off. Sometimes my duties as medic rolled the clock around once at least, and there were all the drilling samples to log and organize. Or I’d be managing a crew welding plastic pipe or digging a pit or logging with an excavator the shallow-rooted trees common to interior Alaska (yeah, fun!). In the fall running into winter, I’d be alongside a geologist, sampling holes or prospecting new ones, marveling at the water seeping out of the permafrost at -30 temps and lower. We built road, an ice bridge or two, and chain-sawed through the beaver pond for water to wash with. With the addition of a couple chlorine pills, your skin would be equal to a crocodile after a couple of months and no amount of lotion could soften that tough exterior. Mining was a grand way to live – in the weather, the cold, beneath the stars, and becoming nonchalant about the mounting color in the pan.
Fishing was busy, too, but it was different. Sometimes it’s hurry-up-and-wait as you make a set and let it soak, waiting to pull and clean whatever happens to be on the other end of your line. The weather was dicey, downright sphincter-clenching, and we weren’t always wise about whether to observe a harbor day or brave the elements. Here I am, though, none the worse for wear, but looking back I sure do remember the times I should have thought thrice and not just twice about poking our noses out.
These days life is busier, but relatively easier in comparison. I hate breakfast, can’t stand the smell of bacon or eggs, and eat a steady diet of fruit and my own homemade bread, toasted. I don’t eat store-bought meat, have a good stash of excellent king salmon, king crab, and look forward to a harvest of beach asparagus, goose tongue and berries. It seems each time I sit down to write it’s about a good life, now or then, or what is to come. In spite of setbacks and disappointments, a few dire situations and not too many regrets, I have very little to do over differently. Who knows what I’d miss if I did anything differently? I’d be different, no doubt – my outlook, the outcome of different scenarios may have well have impacted where I am today, and I’m sure not dissatisfied with where I find myself now.
I’ve come to realize the value of health insurance, I can say that much. I’ve always been blessed with exceptional health, strength, fortitude, and good attitude toward what must be done. Recently, I’ve paid cash for this and that and the reality of how limited options would be without some coverage is a stark one indeed. It’s an easy thing to say you’re healthy and don’t anticipate illness, would opt for this or that in lieu of conventional treatment, but when you face that choice or a lack of one, you realize quickly we don’t live in a society where the neighborhood doc will see you in exchange for eggs or a basket of shrimp. That said, however, I still believe I will opt for palliative treatment rather than medicine and technology if it ever becomes necessary to make a choice. So far, knock on wood, I’m a fortunate soul.
I listen to Sam Cooke, Seals & Crofts, John Prine, Jerry Vale, Robert Goulet, Henry Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald, and a host of others. They’re a shallow substitute to what I listen to when I’m in the bush. Once, a long time ago, I put some Gordon Lightfoot on while I painted the interior of an outbuilding. It sounded so out of place, I turned it off. Nothing compared to the sound of wind in the trees, eagles, ravens, tide rolling up the beach – the sound of silence in a place where nothing man-made dominated. I was in my place, no question.
And so, now, this morning, I’ll bake more bread for the folks who find that amazing because some of them don’t eat anything they don’t buy. I rarely eat anything I don’t prepare from real ingredients, so I’m silent as I overhear their comments. I feel no regret that I think my life was, is, and will continue to be better than theirs for very simple reasons. Life is good if you have perspective. It’s a necessary thing.