You win some, you lose some

When we began our drive in Haines it was autumn. There was still color in the trees.

The road to Canada

The road to Canada

But we quickly transitioned to winter as we drove north and inland.

On the Alcan Highway

On the Alcan Highway

We stopped the first day at Destruction Bay (in Canada) where we have stayed before.  It was early afternoon when we got there, and it was a mistake to stop so early.  It was cold and snowing, so walking was not what we wanted to do; we turned on the TV, and I thereby reaffirmed my previous impression that TV all over the world is just plain boring.

The next day we drove on to Fairbanks.  There was snow on the ground and it snowed intermittently as we drove.  There is a stretch of road (about 30 kilometers) between Canadian customs and American customs where there seems to be no road maintenance.  Driving over roads with deep ruts in snow is scary and with good reason.  We hit a rut and the car began to spin.  There was a drop of more than 10 feet on either side of the road, and I thought: this is it, I am going to die in no man’s land between Canada and Alaska.  The car spun two complete circles and came to a stop just at the edge of the right hand drop off.  At first we were so disoriented that we were not sure whether we were facing north or south.  Jerry said it was the snow berm that kept us from going over the edge.

We survived the trip, and we survived shopping in Fairbanks, and we survived the drive to Manley.

On the road to Manley.  There is fire damage from last summer on the hills.

On the road to Manley. There is fire damage from last summer on the hills.

Snow sprinkled off and on.  By evening we had the house warm, the hot water heater going, the food stored and we were sipping wine.  Life was good.

The next morning the trees looked magical.  There was a thin layer of snow on the ground and the trees were covered with hoar frost.

Hoar frost on the trees

Hoar frost on the trees

As the sun rose over the tops of the spruces, at about 9 o’clock, the ice began to drop in little slivers from the branches.  It sparkled in the sunshine, and it seemed as though  a million tiny diamonds were gently dropping to the ground.

I was ready to start painting.  I had intended to paint on the ferry, but the logistics of setting up in the aft lounge seemed complex, especially as I was constantly flitting about taking pictures and people watching.  I assembled the painting materials that I had brought with me.  Where was the bag with my brushes, painting medium and a big new tube of white paint?  When I finally accepted the reality that we had not brought it from the ferry and I had no brushes I was in despair.  Three weeks with nothing to do.  All my paint brushes, some of which I have had for 40 years lost.

I was terribly upset, and I felt as if I couldn’t get my mind around the loss.  Jerry just looked miserable, and after a while I began to wonder how I was going to cope.  I washed some dishes.  Jerry put his arms around me and said, “ We can go to Fairbanks on Monday and buy some more brushes.  We can get some of the other things we forgot as well.”  Gradually over the day my mood lifted and by Monday I was eager to go.

The trip was tiring, but with new brushes in hand and a new post on line I was ready to go with the paints.  The first day I started two new pictures and the next day two more.  None of them is yet finished but all have possibilities.

The day after we went to Fairbanks it snowed, and continued to snow for another day.  There are now 3 or 4 inches of snow on the ground, even though the weather has warmed up to around 30 F.  A new storm — perhaps I should say stormlet — was brewing in our life.

I’ll try to lay out the problem briefly.  Our house and dog sitter is a nice lady and a good friend from another island.  She is almost as old as Jerry and me, and she is quite heavy, so she can’t negotiate the stairs to our loft.  She is staying in our side of our duplex, and the other side is guest quarters.  I had promised our guest place to my friend Gwen from Juneau for 5 days, and I told our house sitter which days to expect her.  All the other days I offered the guest place to the house sitter so her friends could visit.

Gwen called me in great distress because when she called to tell the sitter when to expect her she was told she would have to share the guest place with a friend of the sitter.  I was upset, but since I am a couple of thousand miles away there was nothing I could do about it.  Next the house sitter called to say she had changed the time of her friend’s visit, and could she take the dogs to her island while Gwen was there?  Could Gwen take care of the cat while she gone? The sitter would wait for Gwen to arrive before leaving.  I was relieved and thought the problem was solved.

Next Gwen called the day she arrived to say that the sitter and dogs were gone, the house dark, the door locked and the cat trying to get in.  What should she do?  I told her where to find the key.  Gwen had with her our friend Ria who had driven her up from Seattle.  Gwen is small, smart, around 50, a bit flamboyant



and excitable.  Ria is in her 60’s is tall, smart, and calmly flamboyant.  Gwen and Ria were joined by Ria’s husband, Basel, who is wiry, bald, sports a devilish little goatee, and is missing his two front teeth.

Ria and Basel dressed for a party

Ria and Basel dressed for a party

He makes grave monuments and jewelry.  They were drinking wine in the living room of my side of the duplex (where the house sitter had been staying) when the sitter and her friend Penny returned from having dinner out in Bellingham. When the sitter and her friend, Penny, drove up they saw two cars in the driveway (Ria’s and Basel’s) and Basel was peeing in the yard.  Penny, who was driving, deliberately blocked the cars — so that the possible buglers couldn’t escape. That’s when the tensions that had been building erupted.

The sitter declared that her space had been invaded.  Penny grabbed Gwen’s bottle of wine and put it in the cupboard.  The sitter demanded to know whether “that man” was going to spend the night with Gwen.  Gwen, Ria and Basel prepared to decamp to the other side, when Penny told them triumphantly that their cars were blocked in.  Basel, who at this point was laughing his high cackle, said, “Why did you do that, don’t you want us to leave?”

All this I heard at 9 in the evening during Gwen’s tipsy phone call.  I had some difficulty falling asleep, wondering how things could have gone so wrong.  The next morning at about 6:30 the sitter called.  She was still excited and upset.  She said that Gwen had behaved badly, that she was drinking all my wine, that her (the sitter’s) privacy had been invaded, that she was leaving with the dogs until Gwen went away, but was worried about her things left in the house.  I said I was sorry, but that Gwen had to have the key.  “Why?“ the sitter asked angrily.  I said, “Because she has to be able to let the cat in.”

“Oh, yes, the cat.”

Then Penny came on the phone.  She began to recount all of Gwen’s transgressions.  She had left wine glasses in the living room.  To change the subject I asked Penny if she had slept in the loft, and whether she had been comfortable.  She said she loved the loft.  She had brought her own cot with her to avoid the stairs, but she said, “I didn’t want to go get it out of the car, because of –” she dropped her voice, “–that man.”

The whole thing upset Jerry, and me too.  I was mostly annoyed that these two women, both of whom I like, had been unable to sort out their problems without telephoning me every few hours.  Jerry and I now think it is better to have a house sitter who is not a friend, so we can just say, this is how it has to be.

In the mean time, as things to the south have quieted, I am painting, we have had our friends over for dinner, and we walk up the snowy hill in the woods every afternoon.  There we see animal tracks, we think from a fox, and then little tiny tracks from one tunnel under the snow to another; that must be a mouse.  I suppose the fox is looking for mouse dinner.  Each day we walk there are more tracks, so that fox really covers a lot of territory.   We don’t see the fox or the mouse, but we know they are there from their tracks, and I guess they know we are there from our tracks.  Sometimes the fox tracks follow our trail.

So far the seen wildlife count is: one bear crossing the highway in Canada, one hare in its white winter coat crossing the road to Manley, two moose beside the highway to Fairbanks, and numerous spruce hens.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you don‘t.

A note to my web friends:  I am only able to get on the net for a few minutes each week for the next couple of weeks.  I’ll catch up with you all when I get back to Lummi.

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15 Responses to You win some, you lose some

  1. pauline says:

    goodness! what an adventure, from the close call with a ten foot drop, the lost brushes and then the sitter issues. Hope the rest of your sojourn is tension free!

  2. Tabor says:

    You live a most exciting life and having your friends is like having children.

  3. Rain says:

    I love your photos.

    The house sitting problem (for us farm sitting) is always difficult. I wish I had a solution as if I did, I’d also take it for myself. Hopefully everybody will remain friends when it’s all over. Many of these things come out of misunderstandings.

  4. Freda says:

    I can’t believe you had all that trouble with friends. There I was, ready to say how wonderful the frozen trees are, when real life kicks in. Sorry it has been so difficult and hope it hasn’t spoiled your trip. We do house and animal sitting for Son #2 but we take our motorhome along and park up in the grounds, that way we have the best of both worlds. Every Blessing

  5. Hattie says:

    We never have house sitters. Our animals get boarded. We know they are safe and we know that no one is trashing our house.
    Right now the housesitter from Hell is inhabiting a neighbor’s place. He’s one of your colorful characters, don’t you know, who makes a mess out of everything and tries to cover up with his feckless charm. He’s driving us all nuts. I’ll be so glad when our neighbor gets back.

  6. The trees – all white like that? Are beautiful. Now, that’s something I’ve never seen here! : )

  7. wisewebwoman says:

    Oh Anne, such turmoil. It would be wise not to have same sitter involved again. Talk of kindergarten!!!
    Glad you’re enjoying the sights and sounds of Alaska, though that near calamity on the highway made my heart stop!

  8. Brighid says:

    People can be so duh, even friends at times. Great pics.

  9. Darlene says:

    Some trips are just fraught with problems and they all seem to come in bunches like bananas. It sounds like yours is one of those. The near death of a drop of 10 feet would have left me shaking for hours.

    It sounds like your guest/house sitting problems fall into the category of ‘no good deed goes unpunished’.

    I hope all bad things are behind you now and the rest of your trip is pleasant.

  10. I feel sorry for the poor house sitter.

  11. Sally says:

    Anne, I was struck with the beauty of your first photo-the road to Canada. It had a Monet-like unsharpness to it I thought.
    Gosh, which was worse, the road with no guardrail or the house sitting debacle? Sorry, you must have felt so helpless in both situations. Life is full of peril when you least expect it.
    I hope the rest of your journey and your time away renews you and Jerry.

  12. Incredible photos. Human race stumbles along, as always.

  13. Tessa says:

    Love the photos, especially the picture of the hoar frost – my favourite weather phenomenon. Can’t wait to see your paintings.

    Re Gwen et all, what a to-do about nothing! Common sense would dictate that they all get stuck into the wine, bond over their common friendship with their absentee hostess, and end up as chums.

  14. Lavenderbay says:

    People can do what they want in their own homes, but housesitting is a job. The housesitter left the house with the cat outside, no lights on, and no contingency plan for the other guests. Of course she kicked up a fuss — to cover her lack of professionalism.

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