I came of age in the late 1960s/ early 1970s in the Bay Area of California. It was the age when women started to wake up from their subjugation in the so-called mans’ world. So began a rebellion of women demanding equal rights and opportunities that continues to this day.
In 1976 I headed up to Alaska for a summer job that morphed into a 10-year stay. Alaska was a perfect place for an independent, outdoorsy kind of woman to break down barriers. Nobody blinked an eye if you built a cabin, commercial fished, mushed dogs, hunted, and the like. Then in 1978, I met with my biggest obstacle- working in a sawmill as the only woman. This is my story…
On the first day of my new job, I drove the 6 ½ miles out the road with a lump in my stomach. My ’63 VW bug purred around the last bend and the sawmill came into view, a hulking, half- rusted sheet metal structure belching a billowing plume of steam from a tall stack. Shrieks and clanks of machinery inside clashed with the placid water of the canal and the misty islands beyond. This was not exactly in my life plan to work at a sawmill but there were no other options to be had in the small Southeastern Alaskan island town of Wrangell. It so happened when I needed a job, the 6 ½ mile mill needed an employee and a woman at that.
It is winter solstice today. This story came to mind of a much younger me living in Alaska…
In December, the sun dips low in the peach and lavender sky at 1 PM in Fairbanks, Alaska. Night begins to fall slowly at that latitude. When I lived there I learned to embrace the darkness lest I get claustrophobic in the small confines of our cabin. Dressed in layers of wool with a headlamp, I’d go chop firewood, shovel snow, or better yet, go out for a night ski. We lived on Yellow Snow Rd., aptly named for the many dog teams that lived on it so there were plenty of dog trails to ski on in the neighborhood.
Hoar frost was an event. At subfreezing temperatures, moisture present in the air would freeze in a crystalline structure and collect on the surfaces of branches eventually coating them in a sparking beard of white. At 10 below zero to 10 degrees above, a hoar frost provided the perfect conditions to ski.
I did not have important business to attend to, a family emergency, or anything pressing that required me to get on an airplane and travel during this Covid 19 pandemic. That fact was, I was going nutty fruitcakes having been so restricted for so long. I NEEDED TO GETAWAY. I guess this would come under the mental health category. After venting to my sister outlaw (former sister inlaw), Jean, a couple of months back she said “why don’t you come up to Juneau for a visit?” A trip to Alaska and a lot of hiking in the wilds sounded like just the ticket. Before I knew it I had gone online, cashed in some frequent flyer miles, and then was to be on my way August 5th for a 6- day trip.
I have to say that before I departed I consulted my inner “riskometer.” I knew I would be forced to be closer than was recommended to strangers, but I also knew that Alaska Airlines had HEPA filtration and offered every other seating. All passengers and crew were required to wear masks. That combined with the N-95 masks and face shield I just purchased to wear would make my risk of acquiring the virus very low. Juneau, Alaska also had a very low infection rate.
When I left I was self-contained with my PPE, hand sanitizer, and enough food so I would not need to purchase anything to eat. The Portland, Oregon airport had maybe 20% of its normal traffic. I felt secure there. The first leg of the trip to Seattle I had an entire row to myself. Now Seatac airport, a major airline, hub was a different story. It seemed to be more like at 80% capacity. The gate of my departing flight was fairly crowded with its share of sloppy maskers. I waited outside of the gate area in a sparsely occupied alcove area and then waited to board last. As advertised the middle seat was empty. I did not accept the offered drinks from the flight attendant and avoided using the lavatory during the 2-hour flight to Juneau. On arriving I got a Covid test required from the State of Alaska. Then Jean and I were off for some adventures.
Every day we were out hiking rain or shine and there seemed to be way more than the former. It didn’t matter. It was so nice to be out in nature and such a beauty- not that the Willamette Valley in Oregon isn’t beautiful. This was a different beauty- a total change of scenery. We saw a beaver, 4 black bears, including a mama and baby, a beaver, porcupine, spawning salmon, bald eagles, ravens, and a plethora of wildflowers
Three days later my covid test came back negative which made socializing less stressful. There was no going out to eat nor shopping which was fine with me. Being outside was what I needed in cooler weather than what the Oregon summer was serving up.
I’ve been back home for over two weeks and no Covid. For me, this trip was worth the calculated risk I took. I’m in a better frame of mind and feel refreshed. This pandemic is going to be around for a while – probably at least another year or so. In my late 60s, I don’t want to lose two years of my life to this pandemic, but I don’t want to lose my life either. So it continues to be a dance with risk, being safe but not paralyzed with fear. I can hardly wait to look at this time and talk about it in the past tense- while being healthy.
I spent several years working and exploring in remote corners of Alaska as a young woman. This required transportation in floatplanes and small boats to rocky shores, arctic lakes, meandering rivers
and remote airstrips. The weather played an important part in determining departure and pickup times. It seemed that the pickups were often the most delayed. Maybe that’s because it was the end of a trip when I was tired, cold, and desperately in need of a shower and my own bed.
I just returned from a week’s visit to Juneau, Alaska. Juneau was one of my residences as a young person as I explored the far North in the late 1970s and early 80s. Besides visiting friends and seeking better snow for XC skiing than Oregon had to offer, on this itinerary was attending the 20th annual Juneau Wearable Arts Show. This was my second time for this event after about a 10-year hiatus. The show is put on by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council and all proceeds go to their organization.
This is an extravaganza where a majority of the attendees dress to the nines to enjoy the show in a hall equally dressed up. There is dazzling lighting, a long curving runway, and several large monitors placed where you could be sure to have a good view. The professional emcees also wildly decked out. This year they had a local drag queen star and a well known local actor running the show.
Juneau is a relatively small town remotely tucked away in the seclusion of Southeastern Alaska’s majestic landscape with the only access being by boat or air. Still, residents value the arts and know how to come together for a really good time. The entries are from local artists who strive to use recycled and/or unique materials to assemble the garments to match the year’s theme.
This year’s theme was Joie de Vivre (French for “Joy of Life”). Unfortunately, the show was smaller than in years past. Artists have boycotted after an entrant in the 2017 event was accused by a local citizen of cultural appropriation for her geisha themed garment (really???) She was then pulled from the next performance. Still, aside from the politics, I enjoyed the night with all the flair and people watching. I appreciated the fact many of these artists take the better part of a year to fashion their pieces.