Fourteen weeks since I've posted. That is, I believe, a record. I was partly encouraged to come back by a mention from asphalteden in a vocal post he made to a community. It's slightly odd hearing your journal spoken about, I sometimes forget that I can affect people thousands of miles away here, even though there are those who affect me daily.
I haven't felt able to put this most difficult trip back home into words, let alone look at the photographs. I still feel uncertain whether going on the trip was the right thing to do given the circumstances back here in England, and the thought that it may have denied Macsen closure on his grandfather's death and emotional support for his father is tearing me up inside. We were told to go, they insisted, but should we have insisted harder? Nevertheless, it's done and our only option is to move forward as best as we can.
I discovered my love for all things Arctic is in my blood. I stayed an extra week after Macsen went home and it made travelling back to London more of a pain, but it was worth it because I was able to spend more time with my grandfather. With a love of life glint in his eyes he told me stories about his homesteading in Alaska. He was an airforce pilot in World War II and after the war he decided to move to Alaska with my pregnant grandmother, baby, and no money. He built his own house with packed-dirt floors and due to his ingenuity was the only homesteader with a well (everyone else had to walk miles for fresh water). Since he was in the airforce he knew where the military kept secret stockpiles of fuel, so one day he piloted a small plane with some friends to go hunting, stopping off at one of the fuel stations 800 miles north of Juneau. As they landed they slid on ice and one of the wings were damaged so they were stranded in the middle of a cold and forbidding nowhere. During their descent they had spotted an Eskimo village many miles away, so they started the long and snowy hike for twelve miles until they saw a lone figure silhouetted against the snow, peering at them through a rifle scope. They made friendly gestures and finally the man greeted them, leading them to the village where they slept the night in a warm igloo. True to my grandfather's incredible luck it turned out the military sent out a medical plane to remote posts in the Alaskan and Yukon wilderness every 3 months and it was due to arrive at the village the next day! He always speaks about Alaska with fondness and his eyes lights up whenever he recalls his first boat there and the chill wind on his face. It was worth staying the extra week for that one story alone.
The rest of the trip was a series of highs and lows. We were supposed to spend nearly a week with Gael and take her to Eastern Washington with us, but she suffered the worst asthma attack I've ever known her to have and she had to go to the hospital. Since she's going to school right now she can't afford health insurance, so of course she waited until she could barely breathe before she would go to the emergency room. It was a huge scare for all of us and I'm still fuming over her hospital bill: $800+ for the emergency room and prescription drugs. It was a devastating financial blow for her, but the family have all pitched in to help her out.
Another heartbreak: My aunt Cindy (who some of you may remember from this post) wasn't "allowed" to see Macsen or I during our visit by her controlling husband. She claimed she couldn't find the time because he kept giving her work to do (they own a landscaping business together), not even an hour. Yet they still somehow found time to fly down to Colorado to see his family for 4 days. She wouldn't even talk to me on the phone because I believe she was too embarrassed. There are rumors that he may try to get her to move to Colorado with him, which means we will most likely never see her again. Losing Cindy from my life is unthinkable, it's incredible to me how one man can change a once vibrant, highly intelligent, and ambitious woman into a submissive and fearful victim, unable to even see her niece once a year.
The highs were: Going to my cousin's 9th birthday party (dinosaur cake and a magician!), my uncle's venison stew (he hunts one deer a year and the vegetables were from his garden), beachcombing, cooking for my family, seeing my father vibrant and confident after skippering a 40-ft sailboat, early morning chats with mom over tea with honey, teriyaki with Gael, walking the Columbia Plateau trail, Macsen's first toasted marshmallow and hot tub experience (not at the same time), take-out Thai curries with my aunt & uncle, spicy shredded pork tacos with mango salsa (so good!), fish tacos at Café Adrift (I've been experiencing a severe case of taco-deprivation this year), stuffed baby pumpkins at Huckleberry's, helping my mom buy a laptop, watching Terry Gilliam films, and sunsets over the desert.
Oh, there's so much more to catch you up on, but this post is long enough.
the ice crystals were fantastic
boc's campfire headphase was the perfect cross-atlantic soundtrack
above the rainclouds
best descent over Seattle ever.
On the day of Macsen's grandfather's funeral we threw flowers into the sea.
they all floated away,
except for one.
Oh, if I had known I would have waved! It's almost always cloudy or dark (which has a beauty of its own) when flying over Seattle, so this descent was special. When I was little I used to live not far from the area in the photo. :)
It's good to see you back: your entries always have a special beauty to them; and yes, your journal does have 'class', but it's not a universal thing acquired from being over here. It's also your openness and tenderness that provides appeal, as well as all the obvious eye-candy you supply.
I hope things settle well for you now you are back and your auntie finds the energy to escape, eventually. I'm sure that Macsen and his family have sufficient acceptance of the situation such that it won't become a little sore point, picked at when times are tough. And family stories can be wonderful things. I never really obtained good ones from my Grampi, despite knowing he had them in him. He fought in the first world war and was injured out of it with metal in his leg.
Very moving. Glad to see you're writing again, I was quite worried about you. I hope you both manage to come to terms with the circumstances of your loss...
I know what you mean about Campfire Headphase being the perfect soundtrack. I listened to it repeatedly while flying over the mountains of Greenland and northern Canada on the way to and from SF.
so nice to hear from you again. thanks as always for the poignant photos. and thanks to asphalteden for luring you back. ;)
i flew over what i'm assuming was the arabian desert 5 days ago. i really wish i had a rockin' camera like yours to capture the images--they were haunting. unfortunately my snaps all came out black. :p
I'm so very envious of your Arabian desert flight.. someday. :) We might be going to Morocco in February, so I may get my desert soon (hoping!)
What snail mail address can I reach you at? I just send out a bunch of Bonne Année cards, but realised I had your India address (and I'm not sure if you ever received the cards I sent there anyway!) Please mail it to my gmail and I'll send it out before I leave France. Hope your holidays were wonderful and I'll think of you tonight when we toast the New Year! :)
As I said below, I came back only to leave again! I will be back in England in a few days and I have a great deal to write about here, hopefully I can maintain interest with it all.
I also want to say that I enjoyed your innovative vocal post from start to finish.
Wow! So glad to hear something from you again - I was getting a little worried. Your photos brought a tear to my eye - poignant & beautiful.
Really sorry to hear about Gael's illness, and that things are as bad as ever for Cindy.
Your grandpa's stories are amazing. Oddly enough, I bought a National Geographic book of photos ("then and now") from a charity shop last week. Of all the amazing things in it, the one which really caught my imagination was a picture of homesteaders in Anchorage in 1913. Not an especially good photo, or even very interesting to look at, but the thoughts it conjured up made me want to pack my bags and head straight for Alaska.
Venison stew... mmm... we have roast venison for our Christmas dinner this year!
I came back only to leave again! (just to France this time, going back to England in a few days.)
My grandfather has many photos of his homesteading in Alaska, my goal for next time is to scan them all and I'll certainly share them here. Before Macsen's grandfather passed away we always meant to record his WWII stories, but never did.. we don't intend to make the same mistake twice so I'm taking my video camera next visit as well. My grandpa always talks about homesteading with joy, but my grandmother is much less enthusiastic.. still, I have a lot of respect for her sticking it out as well as she did.
I've never been to Alaska myself, I'd like to go before it all melts away (according to friends of the family who still live there it's half gone already!)
mm roast venison! We had a mixed French/English christmas dinner with seafood and roast duck. I had some more venison with celeriac puree in Tours last week, the perfect wintery combination!
nomi said: "It was a huge scare for all of us and I'm still fuming over her hospital bill: $800+ for the emergency room and prescription drugs."
The lack of universal healthcare in the U.S. is truely criminal. It makes me furious when my friends loss their jobs because of "downsizing", they also loss their healthcare. It scares me because we could be next.