Notes from the frozen north

Manley -- bridge over the slough

Jerry and I have been in Manley for a 2 weeks. Until 2 days ago it was still deeply frozen. We check the thermometer about 10 times a day to see whether there is a hope of a thaw before we leave. For the last 2 days it has been above freezing in the mid afternoon, but the snow is still much too deep to take our walk in the woods. This morning the temperature was 15. It is predicted to get up to 40 this afternoon. Jerry and I shoveled off the deck and immediately a lot of little sparrows came to peck up the birch seeds scattered on the boards.

Sparrow -- has a red smudge on its head

We had planned to do some work on the house, to turn a little work shop room off the living room into a bedroom so we wouldn’t have to climb down a steep stairway (almost a ladder) to make our frequent nocturnal trips to the bathroom. But after the strenuous trip north, and determining that putting a bed in the little room would interfere with the door opening, we decided to let well enough alone. We will sell the place as it is — which is quite nice. Jerry feels he is too old to do much in the way of construction.

At 81 we are getting to be survivors. My mother, who lived to be 100, had many friends, and I wondered why there were so few people other than family at her funeral. I realized, of course, that most of her friends had already died. My aunt died at 88, and her funeral was overflowing. Some people couldn’t get in the door at the little church in Peterborough New Hampshire where the service was held. They all came later to the house where my cousins and I provided drink and food. This all took place some months after she died, so there was plenty of time for people to come from far and wide — my British daughter came from England, others of my children from all over the country. I saw relatives I hadn’t seen for many years. My cousin Billy Byers was there in his elegant kilt. It really was a celebration.

Before we started our journey to Alaska I learned that my friend Adeline Turman died last year. She and I shared a studio at the Chastain Art Center in Atlanta where I sometimes taught courses in printmaking. She was considerably older than I, and died at 98. I left a message on a memorial web site where there were only a few other entries. Again, since Adeline had been active in art circles in Atlanta and had honors and recognition in weaving and other crafts, I was surprised that there were only 8 entries in the on-line visitors’ book. I wrote: “I am remembering all the times Adeline and I shared art classes, a studio, teaching duties at the Chastain Art Center, and visits after I moved away to the west coast. What a wonderful friend she was — loving, intelligent, talented, thoughtful and funny. Her work in its elegant simplicity reflected her own humanity. I am so sad that she is gone, but she left a wealth of beauty behind her.” I suppose, like my mother, most of her contemporaries had died before her.

Just after I learned of Adeline’s death Jerry was surprised to hear that his old friend Don de Lima had died in Fairbanks. Jerry had talked to Don on the phone a couple of weeks before and we planned to visit him in Manley. We often visited him in the past. Jerry said early morning was the time visit Don, so we would go around 7:30 or 8 AM. He was always well supplied with strong black coffee and he smoked continuously, cigarettes that he rolled himself with one hand. I never saw him dressed in anything but heavy long-johns. He was a great talker, intelligent and entertaining. He liked long words and he knew a lot of them and used them liberally, sometimes not with the exactly correct meaning. Politics was always on his mind, and he expressed his liberal views with gusto. Jerry, who tends to be more conservative, never argued with him — Jerry doesn’t argue with anyone but me. He enjoyed Don for his originality. They had a lot of life history in common and they talked of mutual friends and mining. Both Don and Jerry had been placer miners, Jerry only as a young man, but for Don it was a life-long obsession. Don had a plan that while we were here this time he and Jerry should have a conference about mining claims at nearby sites with a couple of other people, one of them an state official in Alaska. Even though he knew he was dying he was making plans for the future.

When I first met Don he was caring for his wife, Rose, who had had breast cancer and had very bad arthritis. He was helped by his daughter, Theresa, who later cared for both Don and Rose, and after Rose died about a year ago she was Don’s sole caretaker. She told Jerry and me that at the end, when Don was in the hospital, she said to him, “I’m going to miss you.” He replied, “Well, Darlin’, of course.”

Since we arrived we have seen the Redingtons a couple of times. They came for wine and cheese with Theresa. There was a lot of talk about old times in Manley, and I listened, amused but with only half a mind. Most of the people they talked of I had never known. A few I had met in old age.

The next thing that happened is that Pam Redington’s father died. Her mother has been taking care of him — he had been very ill for a long time. Pam has flown off to the funeral and Joee is taking care of the house and their kennel of racing dogs. Our other neighbor, Linda who lives in one of the Redingtons’ houses and also keeps racing dogs, has gone off for 2 weeks of caribou hunting. The hunt is in a place up the Dalton Road at the Brooks Range where no motorized vehicles are allowed. The hunters have to get around by dog team and sled or skis. She expects to come back with a couple of caribou. Joee is alone and came over for dinner last night. For entertainment we showed him pictures and videos of our trip last fall with British Daughter on the English canals.

Jerry is at a loose end. He has no project. There’s a big pile of downed trees at the new airport construction site that people can take for fuel. Jerry goes most days and comes back with a load. But we have more than we will use if we sell the house this year. He spends time splitting larger logs and making kindling of smaller ones. Then he sits down at the kitchen table and reads old New Yorkers and Science magazines. We listen to the news, the last few days all about the agonizing events in Boston, now, in a way, resolved, except for the long sad aftermath of grieving and pain.

In the afternoon we walk up the snowy road until we get to a sign that says, “no road maintenance” where, suddenly, the road has been completely cleared of snow. I guess this is because they are beginning to open the way for a road to Tanana, and for the someday Road to Nome. The old sign now serves as a target for teen-agers with guns.

Along the walk -- snowy woods

Every day I do a little writing, a little painting, a little cooking, a little reading. I play with the dogs and their toys. I sweep the floor. I listen to the radio, which has much better programing that our NPR station back on Lummi. I like KUAC’s mix of news and classical music. I am content here, except for the amount of trouble it takes to get on the internet.

But when the time comes to go home to our island we will both be ready.

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8 Responses to Notes from the frozen north

  1. So many losses in such a short time. My heart goes out to you and to Jerry. I do hope that you get your walk in the woods before you have to go home to your island.

  2. Annie says:

    The photo of a sparrow looks like it might actually be a Red Poll. Red smudge on head and males also have pink or red smudge on chest. Not sure if it is the Common or the Hoary Red Poll, the Hoary lives further north than the Common but flocks intermingle in areas of overlap. They are hard to tell apart.

    Your time in Manley must be very poignant, knowing it is probably the last time.

  3. Startling to see all the snow! Sending you hopeful Earth Day wishes from sunny Portland inching toward spring–as you move along in the challenge of the next move. yours, naomi

  4. Hattie says:

    It is nice to read about the doings of the last free people on earth.
    Happy Earth day to you and Jerry!

  5. annie says:

    A sad and melancholy post. Sending you some virtual hugs. So many losses and leaving your Manley is another.

  6. Friko says:

    That’s the trouble with getting old, nobody else does and you end up sole survivor of your era. Looks like the two of you have a few years left yet and know what to do with them. I know many 80+ year olds who do just nicely, even if they can’t run as fast as they used to.

    Leaving the frozen North for good may not be such a bad idea, old bones like a bit of warmth to keep smooth and supple; you have wonderful memories to take back with you and if you can’t have the real thing, memories are next best to live off.

  7. Mage B says:

    What a lovely home, and how sad to part with it. But sensible. Life is worth love, but it isn’t worth struggle.

  8. Betty Bishop says:

    Oh Anne – I just LOVE reading your words. They last me all day!

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