Here we are, Jerry and I, in Manley Hot Springs. For anyone first time visiting this blog let me explain that Manley is 150 miles west of Fairbanks, Alaska. It isn’t near anything else and when I walk in the woods behind our tiny house I like to think that there’s nothing for hundreds of miles but hills and valleys full of spruce and birch. We come here once or twice a year for a month or so. The rest of the time we live on an island in Puget Sound.
Why Manley? Because Jerry used to live here in the prime of his life. He owned the power company (that served about 80 people) and he started a telephone company for this community that had only one radio phone at the town’s only store. Jerry owned the store too, for a while, until he got tired of the retail business. He and I got married here 8 years ago during a trip we took 6 weeks after we met. I could see his nostalgia for the place and we bought this little house and fixed it up. It’s comfortable, warm and full of light.
We sleep in the upstairs which has loft-like features. It’s partly open and the stair to it is steep, almost ladder like. Jerry built the stair, which wouldn’t pass building codes, except out here in the unincorporated wilderness there are no building codes or inspections. No property taxes either. That makes Jerry happy.
Now that we are in our 80’s we are converting a small workroom downstairs to a bedroom so we won’t have to make the somewhat risky trip down the stair-ladder to the toilet several times a night. Yes, we have indoor plumbing, something of an exception in this tiny community. But we don’t have a washing machine, so I am writing this as I sit in the Native run Washeteria waiting for my laundry to be done. The Washeteria also has showers for townsfolk who don’t have indoor facilities.
I like Manley in the fall. It’s usually sunny, and this year it is peculiarly warm. Daytime temps have been in the 60’s and 70’s for almost a week. That means we still have lots of mosquitoes. There’s a sign on the wall of the Washeteria:
The other day we had a minute of excitement: an earthquake! There was a thump — I said to Jerry, “What was that?” Then the house began to shake and things fell off shelves. It was probably less than a minute. I said, “It’s an earthquake!” He said, “No it isn’t — well, maybe it is.” Some things fell off shelves upstairs. About that time it was over. Usually earthquakes scare me, but this one was only about 5.3 and over too fast to be scary. The center was near here, about 40 miles away on the Minto Flats. We heard on the radio that seismologists from the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute were on the verge of installing new seismographs on the Minto Flats. They were chagrined that the earthquake got there before they did.
Last night I woke up at 1AM and saw a display of northern lights. Sheets of greenish light with pinkish red at the edges swoop across the sky. Some just appear, stay flickering and go. I stood on the porch in my nightgown and bare feet for about 10 minutes watching, but it wasn’t too cold –about 45 or 50.
Sometimes a moose wanders through our yard. Here’s a cow moose with her calf that I photographed through the living room window.
It’s hunting season here now, so bull moose are in danger, but it is not legal to shoot a cow moose, so she and her calf are safe from hunters.
What do we do in Manley? We maintain our regular old people routine. Up early, I paint pictures or write in the mornings, Jerry fixes things, does chores, starts a fire, chops wood. And at present we have the little bedroom project. Jerry is in the process of installing a window. Then lunch, nap, feed dogs, a little more project work or housekeeping and then we walk up a hill in the woods behind our house to a trail, mostly unused now, that is for mining equipment. The woods are beautiful white birch and some spruce. Just now the leaves are brilliant yellow and constantly tumbling down, making the forest floor golden too.
This has been a bad year for berries (cranberries, blueberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries and rose hips) so the bears are hungry and have been hanging around houses and the dump. We take bear spray with us when we walk, but so far we have seen no bears. Then I cook and we eat dinner. We watch a couple of lectures from The Teaching Company before bed. More of that later.
We have to travel to Fairbanks for food and supplies as there isn’t much in the way of stores in Manley. The drive is about 3 1/2 hours. About half the distance is on a gravel road, slow going. Generally we stay overnight in Fairbanks. Once or twice we have tried to do it in one day, but 7 hours of driving plus trying to shop for 3 weeks or a month exhausts us and it takes days to recover. This time we will make an extra trip for a new well pump. The old one is wearing out and Jerry will install the new one.
In Fairbanks we stay at a small, old fashioned motel called The Golden North, on a sort of hidden back street. The owner is a lady almost as old as Jerry and me and she knows many people in Manley. She and Jerry exchange news and remenicences Across the road from the motel there is a bar called The Lonely Lady which has “show-girls”. There is a sign up this year that says “New Girl”. There was a fanciful structure down the street, a jumble of fake half-timbered towers, gables and extensions painted a violent green with brown timbers and woodwork. Jerry said it was called the Swiss Chalet and he used to take girlfriends there for dinner. It has not been open since I have known it, and this time we were sad to see that it has disappeared entirely, being replaced by a bank and Walgreens. Fairbanks once had a kind of tacky charm, but now it is becoming a city of MacDonalds and big box stores. Charm is gone.
In Fairbanks we got groceries for a month, propane to run the hot water heater and cooking stove and heating fuel for the oil burning stove, also lumber, a window and door for our bedroom project. Jerry needed a new axe. Home Depot had no axes. Besides they had no fire lighters. A clerk looked them up on the computer which said there were 0 in stock and called them “seasonal”. Jerry went to Lowes to look for an axe and I had a chance to go to Pier 1 imports to look for a rug and paper lanterns for the bare light bulbs in our new bedroom. There were no axes at Lowes, but I found what I wanted at Pier 1. The pump we will get next trip.
On the way back to Manley we stopped to change drivers. Jerry said, “What’s that leaking from the truck bed?” He leaned over and stuck his fingers in the dripping fluid. “Diesel!” he said. There was no way to get at the diesel barrel — it was under the lumber, door,window and a new mattress. We had 60 miles to go and we drove home trying not to think about the $150 of heating oil that was dripping along the road. When we got home and unloaded the truck Jerry said we had only lost about 5 gallons of fuel. Funny what can make you happy. I don’t use the driers in the Washeteria. I go home with tubs of wet wash and hang it on the clothesline in the sun. I like to see it flap in the wind as the yellow leaves flutter down on the orange and maroon fireweed that covers the yard. It gives me peace.
It makes me happy to be here in Manley. I am completely quiet and rested. I have nothing pressing to do, not much housework, no garden to tend, no doctors appointments, no social obligations, especially since I was ostracized by the Manley women because I wrote about them in my blog. I am thinking of reposting some of those old blog entries. When I am here I don’t think much about the law suit, don’t worry much about my children. My husband, my 4th husband, is my first competent husband. I don’t have to worry about things needing repair, things to be built, stoves and fuel being attended to. He can fix or build anything, so this isolated place holds no terrors for me. We are both in reasonably good health, so the lack of nearby medical help is not yet a problem.
We have thought about selling this house. We say to each other, “We’re old, we won’t be able to do this for many more years.” But just now there is no demand for property in Manley. The place has potential for the future. There is not a great deal of private property in Manley. Most of the land is owned by the Native Village Council. There is a road going through to Tanana and it is an extension of the road that goes by our house. This road will eventually be the Road to Nome — the other side of Alaska. And we have a well, a septic system, electricity and a phone line. Our house is on high ground, so will never be troubled by high water on the slough as many of the houses in Manley are. I am thinking that perhaps I could leave this, and another lot we own here that has a wonderful view, to a couple of my great grandchildren. I love this place. I like to think of it staying with my descendents.