Grittygal to Citygal

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I am sorry Alaska! I have betrayed you. You are no longer the only love of my life. I have found some place else, a civilized, sophisticated city, pulsing with energy. Its name is Amsterdam.

Those who say love at first sight is a lie have never been to Amsterdam: The narrow cobblestone streets, the three-story stone houses, the open-air markets winding through the city, the canals crisscrossing the neighborhoods, the musicians serenading the tourists on the bridges, the bikers zigzagging through cars, the people smoking in the green leaf cafes. Maybe it was the fact that the whole city smelled of marijuana, but there was no resisting it, I was high on Amsterdam.

The city gave me a rush that I had not experienced since Alaska. There, it was the quiet, a silence as big as the tundra.  But in Amsterdam, it was the noise. The torrent of people and traffic, expanding and contracting like the bellows of an accordion.  

That first day in Amsterdam, I explored every street corner and canal I could. Five hours later, I returned to my room and collapsed on my bed. Outside my window, the lights of the city danced over the water like the Aurora Borealis in the Alaskan night sky.

I was just about to fall asleep, when I realized I had forgotten something. I grabbed my purse from the window sill and started digging. Finally I found it at the very bottom, my Leatherman. Every night when I was in the Alaskan bush, I slept with it by my side. It made me feel secure.

Next to me, my cousin turned over in her bed, and stared at me, her eyes wide open. “Are you kidding me, Aidan!?” she asked, glancing at the knife. I laughed and tucked the Leatherman under my pillow. I may have fallen in love with the city, but it couldn’t change the fact that the habits I learned in the wilderness stayed with me. I was still an Alaska girl.

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Not This Summer

 
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After two summers of swatting mosquitoes, shivering in my sleeping bag, surviving on grayling and Mountain House freeze-dried food, breaking my back peeling poles and carrying a 60-pound pack, and spending the majority of my time without seeing a single teenager, let alone another person, this summer, I will be enjoying the anti-Alaska experience. That’s right! I will be trading in my bear spray for a bikini, my mosquito net for makeup, and my hiking boots for heels, and high-tailing it to Europe.

In honor of my cousin’s graduation, my 83-year-old German-born grandmother is taking me and my two cousins to Europe on a cruise. I will wear sun dresses every day, eat to my heart’s content, and see cliffs, castles, and vineyards. For two wonderful weeks I will be spoiled.

But, in exchange for spending-money, my dad has awarded me the job of scraping and painting the quarter-mile-long fence that runs along the front of our small farm. According to him, it is simply another vital lesson in the value of hard work. If I want to be spoiled, first I gotta pay my dues.

So each morning I get up, put on my old sap-stained, Alaska pole-peeling clothes, and head to the fence. I set down my Kindle — my old Coleen River sidekick — spray myself down with bug dope, blast Mumford and Sons, and begin the scraping.  It’s been a wet spring, and it feels like all the mosquitoes in Alaska have come down to pay me a visit. They hound me. The rhythm becomes painfully familiar: scrape, swat, swear, scrape, swat, swear. Sometimes, a neighbor comes out to watch me “Old man got you working again?” they ask. I just nod my head. Yup.

As I scrape, I picture myself in Europe, enjoying fine food, dessert wines and Swiss chocolate, riding through the canals of Amsterdam, and watching the World Cup final from an old German pub. At noon my dad pays me a visit. “Ugh, this is too much like peeling poles at Heimo’s,” I say.

“What’s the matter with you?” he responds. I thought you were an Alaska girl!”

“Nope,” I say. “Not this summer.”