I have lived through 93 days of Fairbanks winter. I have weathered the weather, the sensation that every vehicle could become a coffin at any moment, minimal daylight, Chinese rescue-operations, social isolation, and dry-cabin life. Each hurdle has been adequately spaced from the others, allowing me to complete this steeple chase relatively well. As I now have a mere two weeks left, I felt that I would sweetly glide to the finish line on a downhill slope, a sense of gravity and perseverance easily bearing me home. But it appears The Lodge has saved the final battle until the final weeks.
Unquestionably the busiest The Lodge has yet been, we are officially fully-booked with a constantly rotating cast of guests, at last reaching a point of saturation. I can no longer discern one guest from another and the fatigue of meeting and introducing myself and the grounds to so many hopeful holiday faces and answering an endless stream questions in broken english about where to see the Northern Lights has at last begun to erode my seemingly unbeatable spirit. Has China beaten America, at last?
I, Fearful Dinosaur
I used to take great pleasure in rising early and slinking about the silent lodge. I would read and write in the quiet faux-fire light, meditatively sip coffee as the arctic sun slowly brought the day on long before anyone else stirred. This silence has been stripped away by wailing babies from India, inconsiderately robust conversation by barrel-chested men from Beijing, and fleets of ladies from Taiwan leaving doors ajar connecting the sub-zero exterior with the inside of the lodge.
When I was a child, I used to sneak around my house, trying to avoid being spotted by my family members. It was a game, and I think maybe I was supposed to be a dinosaur. Or maybe they were supposed to be dinosaurs. Someone was a dinosaur, I remember that much. I feel very much that I have returned to my urgently tactile youth, using all of my latent reptilian senses to avoid alerting anyone to my presence in any way.
I listen carefully from behind doors before opening them for sounds of padding feet, muffled conversation, or clinking glasses; anything that would betray a human presence is a light from which I must remain concealed at all costs. Sometimes I am walking from the living room to the back door and I have to walk in front of the staircase leading to the front door. If I hear shuffling and coats ruffling, indicating guests approaching the entrance, I will spring across the top of the stairs like a squirrel trying to safely escape a predator. Other times, if I know I’m too slow, I’ll retreat to the back corner near where the coats are and just hope that whoever is arriving doesn’t look back there and find me in a heap of jackets, clinging to my sanity.
If Pei-Wei, whom I may called Peggy spots me, she will ask me about how to go see the dog-races, no matter what time it is, or what I am doing.
If Astha or her husband Abhenov suspect my presence in any way, a powerful force will cause them to again ask me what it’s like to live in Alaska, a question to which there is no answer, Astha! It’s cold, okay?
The deadliest catch, however, is when the owner of The Lodge ensnares me while I am just trying to make coffee and flee to a some quiet realm. Many a time have I been trapped in that corner and told about the man on trial who better not get off with manslaughter, because he’s a murderer and he needs to be punished because he’s sick, he’s a sicko, Mike. I will try and be supportive and compassionate, but then as I excuse myself from the one-way street of sadness, she will follow me and continue to inform me of her brother in law, and how he doing okay and in detox so she bought him two gallons of whiskey to help him and don’t worry about Jake, the 12 year old dog that she took to live with him because he was getting very old and peeing all over the lodge, he’s definitely not dead, he’s just living with a man on the verge of death. I try and reconcile my urge to grow patience and kindness with my desire to take a seat in a giant catapult, pull out a hatchet, and cut the taut rope, and fly off into a swift arctic death.
Everyone is a Snowflake
I realize this is how Alaskans are formed. Like bizarre, opaque diamonds, they can only be formed under the great weight of time, ice, and isolation until they are brought to light, pale and talking endlessly about spark-plugs while they chisel ice off of their possessions.
I have retreated increasingly to my cabin, The Quonset, in the hopes at curbing my interaction with the energetic vampires that stalk the lodge. They of course mean well and are innocent as individuals, but as a collective body over time and space, they will be my undoing if I allow them to be.
“What time should I expect the Aurora?” They ask.
“I DON’T KNOW, WANG TIANXI!” I cry in despair. “IT’S NATURE.”
My beard and hair grow longer as I peer suspiciously out the window at families doing snow-angels in the bank, still 80 meters from my cabin. As they take selfies and videos that include my pale frame staring gauntly from a distant window, I wonder if my soul will survive the winter. How many family photos and instagram profiles will unknowingly feature my paranoid gaze? How many walls do I already adorn in Hangzhou?
The sun stays high in the sky much longer now, indicating that the winter is abating at last. It’s still very cold, but now the days are long, giving my legions of assailants extra energy to spill tea all over the couch, explain how they are unhappy with their room, or cook elaborate and fishy meals in the kitchen, leaving me the ever-replenishing gift of new dishes to wash. The sun bears the gift of well-being, the knowledge that a literal and spiritual winter is passing. But before the winter goes, the Innkeeper must make his last-stand. The final battle laid before him. He need only secure the gates from the battering-ram hefted by an international brotherhood, a cult of Northern Lights.
Michael, Innkeeper, fortify the gates.