For reasons that will inevitably be intimated and referenced over the course of my writings, I am now living at and taking-over some operations of a very small lodge outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Soaring Through Very Cold Air
December in Fairbanks can be an intense place. Anything exposed to the elements is covered in ice, snow, and shadows My comfort zone is a full 60 degrees away. The owner of the lodge and the handyman (who are full time residents) waste no time and dump massive amounts of information on me. They are a kindly Scandinavian bottle of nervous energy and an superhigh export from Connecticut with a hammer in his hand, respectively. I stand, somewhat dumbly letting the information roll off of me.
I had visions of relaxing, writing, doing yoga, and occasionally letting guests in and maybe making breakfast while I stayed here. As my orientation began to include such things as sewage shooting through the air, arctic heating systems and frostbite, I came to realize this was not a vacation. Alaska is a brutal place. There isn’t a lot of money to be made at this lodge. There are two cars that are somewhat functional. “My” car is covered in snow, and doesn’t run. I’m already nervous I’ll turn into a wacky Alaskan in a matter of days.
The water is full of manganese and other minerals that comes through the pipes, so all the dishes, the area near the sink, the showers, the toilets, and the inside of the dishwasher are a deep rusty orange. It smells funny. I’m told it isn’t dangerous, but I still shouldn’t drink it. They haul water from a spring in a village called Fox in an array of 5 gallon containers that look like they would be full of gasoline. These are hefted and used any time even the smallest cup needs filling. The lodge is littered these containers. The property that the lodge occupies is littered with defunct and unfathomable old farm equipment, asleep under snow until the end of time.
The sun rose at around 10:30. It began to set sometime around 2:00. The sky remained luminous and creamsicle orange during the whole “day”. The owner of the lodge, a person I consider a friend, walked me through the booking process at some point between darknesses. When a guest books online, she gets an email, then she translates it onto the nearest piece of paper in hieroglyphs and then files it inside a battered composition notebook in no particular sequence. She then draws an incomprehensible grid on the page, with the x-axis apparently representing the rooms, ordered “5, 3, 6, 4, 10, 12, 14”. There are scribbles and exed-out quadrants, arrows like a football playbook, and writing that is illegible. This is now my dominion.
I am an Inn Keeper, now. I keep the fire burning in the lodge, perched just beyond the grip of the Arctic Circle. I will rise, I will create breakfasts and will (mostly chinese) travelers to laugh and to enjoy themselves. This is my quest.
We wrap up the first day in the “staff” kitchen. I use the word loosely because it’s just the kitchen where the owner, occasionally one of her daughters, and the handyman eat. I watch the handyman grooving over the sink with a mango like he was eating a live chicken. It’s a regular kitchen, but by placing it in the forbidden territory of the “staff” it seems much more important. The owner laments the unending list of woes of owning a lodge. It occurs to me that I am very valuable. I am here to keep the ship above water. The handyman continues to groove, and I think to myself, will I become a strange Alaskan creature? Will I learn to speak Alaskan? Do I want to speak Alaskan? What is my fate?
In the kitchen, large bags of dried beans, rice, millet, and grains sit in the corner. The owner said to me “Oh, let me know what you need, I can get things in bulk from the feed store.” It was not a sentence that filled my spirit.
They left. I cooked some beans and sautéd two carrots and an onion. I tried to cook a mystery grain from one of the feed bags, but it tasted foul. I ate the carrot and bean mixture quietly, and returned to my room.