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.”

Mumford and Sons to the Rescue

Cabin pole almost peeledCabin Wall

For the first 10 days of my Arctic adventure I peeled 25-foot log poles, using a drawknife, in a clearing 50 yards from the new cabin site and prayed that the mosquitoes that swarmed around me would keep the grizzlies in the high mountains. Dad and Heimo worked down a narrow trail at the cabin site, swinging axes, notching logs, driving in 12-inch steel spikes, and practicing their Wisconsin accents. Since we arrived, my dad and Heimo (a former Wisconsinite) had been performing their own rendition of the musical “Guys On Ice”, making jokes about ditching da wife and heading to the tavern to thrown down a few PBRs and cheer on the Pack with da boys. Though their humor was pretty feeble, they cackled like little kids, and I admit that the first few times I laughed with them. But by day two, I was completely sick of it and eager, despite my fears, to get as far away from them as possible. Though Heimo said that with all the noise, an animal wouldn’t get within half a mile of us, this was my first time in the Alaskan bush and my head was full of big bad grizzlies. I wore a bear bell around my neck that clanged as I worked and had a loaded shotgun leaning against a nearby tree. But what saved me was Mumford and Sons. I turned the volume up on my Kindle and blasted them across the Arctic landscape.

Do bears like British rockers?

bush plane drop-off
Bush Plane Drop-off
Coleen River and Brooks Range from the air
The Coleen River and Brooks Range from the Air