We had a brief window of darkness from about midnight to 4 a.m. where were staying with Gary’s sister Karen and her family just north of Anchorage. Here the nights are forty minutes shorter, or so my online calendar tells me. In truth, night here no longer has any real night-like quality. Midnight is, if not broad daylight, very close. I woke at 2:30 in Anchorage to darkness, but here 2:30 is just a shade darker than dusk. Shortly before 4:00 sunrise is showing its pink lights, and an hour later it is in full bloom, a rose backdrop to the snow-covered Alaska Range. We’re home.
Life makes good use of the long days. Seagulls, mallards, swallows and robins abound in Anchorage now, finding food and refuge in grass and bugs and snowmelt as well as in the birch and aspen that spun a chartreuse array from nothing in the nine days we spent there. The snow was already gone when we arrived, save for a few dirty piles here and there. School is over, and the whole population must have been out last weekend to pick up the trash that surfaced from under snow’s cover. It’s a bright new season, sunny and warm, there at the foot of the dramatic Chugach mountains.
A couple of hours out of Anchorage, driving home, we began to see snow in the woods again. Our season is well behind theirs, with not quite half of the landscape here still covered in snow. Our nights are frosty but the days are toasty, into the fifties and sixties. Yet aspen and birch, to the extent we see them at all, are still stark as winter. We saw trumpeter swans on lakes as we drove home, and the robins are back. New birdsong tells me I have much to learn about life here in spring. Our pure-white snowshoe hare had brownish highlights when we last saw him less than two weeks ago; will he be completely brown when I see him again?
The icy river’s surface was sinking in places when we left. I stopped the car on the bridge as we arrived. Frozen no more, the river’s waters are muddy and high, racing loudly between banks of dying ice. I didn’t have the nerve to drive through the muck and flowing snowmelt that greeted us at the gate, so Gary managed it, getting us perhaps a quarter of the way — maybe a hundred yards — closer to our door. On foot the rest of the way, we had a choice of slopping through mud or trying the rotted snow still on the drive.
The seeds we planted are starting to sprout despite the frost, safe under a plastic sheet. Something (a bear?) has come along and forcibly torn down the platform of the bird feeder. The detritus of winter shows here, too, where we missed in picking up after ourselves and Ella before and through the long season. Yesterday, when I wasn’t napping or fixing meals, I was picking up. First I collected a five-gallon bucket of post-consumer recycled willow, otherwise known as moose poop, from the campground across the river. I want to learn to make paper, and Gary came up with the idea that the pulp might require less cooking and beating if it had been previously processed. If it works, I’ll need a lot; the moose have provided. Next I picked up after Ella, and today I went after bits of insulation and debris that escaped us earlier. I’d reach for some foam insulation and come up with a dessicated mushroom; a piece of aged newspaper was just birch bark. I reached for a piece of white plastic and found a bone; I also found a small skull and a partial jaw, probably porcupine, according to Gary. Meanwhile, Gary is working on trellises for the Alaska Botanical Garden’s mid-June Garden Fair, and Ella is running crazy in circles, chasing birds, or sitting in the sun with her ball waiting for one of us to give it a good kick.
Gary is healing remarkably, now ten days out of surgery. His excellent surgeon removed the tumor on his pancreas, together with a small one he found on Gary’s liver during surgery and a healthy spleen that happened to be in the right place at the wrong time. We were told the tumor was not likely to be a return of Gary’s sarcoma, which would have metastasized to his lungs if at all, but indeed that’s what it turned out to be. We don’t know what that means, or what the treatment might be, or where Gary will be treated. We’re scheduled to go to OHSU in Portland before long to see the oncologist, one of three experts we found nationwide when Gary was first fighting this strange spindle-cell sarcoma of unknown origin.
We’re in a season of transition. What seemed so clear a month ago is, like our river, opaque, muddy. We don’t know what is coming or where it will take us. The love and care, thoughts and prayers of our friends and family, even friends of friends and readers of this blog, stands in high relief and brings us comfort. Still it is a time of great discomfort, physical and emotional, and there are moments when nothing would suit me better than a good cry. Our current state of uncertainty cushions us for now, though, so we laugh and play with Miss Ella, do our chores and enjoy the weather, scenery and new life around us. It’s Saturday night, so for now I’ll just worry about what movie to watch and whether we’ll have to close the shutters against the brightness of the setting sun.
Sunrise: 4:37 a.m.
Sunset: 11:08 p.m.
Weather: Mixed sun and clouds, breezy; high 52°, low °30.
What we’re reading:
Gary: Gary read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski, in the hospital; good book, especially for dog lovers, but not such a good ending, he tells me. A few minutes ago he finished Hank Vaughan (1849-1893): A Hell-Raising Horse Trader from the Bunchgrass Territory, by Jon M. and Donna McDaniel Skovlin. Not particularly well-written, and my Aunt Vee calls its accuracy into question, but still Gary seems to be taking great pleasure in reading about my notorious ancestor. Also reading Teaming with Microbes, by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis, a book on soil for gardeners.
Barbara: The Sun magazine, mostly. Just finished Help, by Kathryn Stockett (thanks, Joan!) and just starting So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger, author of a book I loved, Peace Like a River, which was his first novel.
Note: Today’s title comes from a poem of Gary’s.
We are thinking of you both with love. It’s good to see the river open and running again.
Healing, cancer-ass-kicking thoughts and prayers coming your way…
Beautifully written, as always, Barbara. Thanks to your eloquent descriptions, I presume to imagine “the light of night” there; would love a chance to read the poem one day.
Hoping so much that some good news is coming your way. Love to you and G.
Susan Barrett said:
lovely pictures! Sending positive thoughts for you two – all the best
Steve Hibshman said:
My the near 24 hours of sunlight and warmth of the spring help the healing. Enjoy the time up there. All The Best!
Becky Johnson said:
Just catching up on reading your posts and was so sorry to hear what you are both having to face with Gary’s health issues. I send my most positive thoughts and good wishes to you. We had an incredible time with Matt, Katie and Siena in Healdsburg. And, time for a little wine tasting!
Lee and Bob Grogan said:
Hello Gary and Barbara, sending you all our good thoughts and best wishes. You two are so blessed to have found one another, and we keep up with you through Vee and Joan. I love reading your blog, Barbara. You have a gift for beauty in words.
Thanks to everyone for your good thoughts and encouragement. We’re enjoying a break at home now, and it’s a delight to hear from friends old and new.