Friday, July 3, 2009

The Good Days

Today I stopped and journalled more than the two sentence scrawl which has been the extent of my dull entries to myself since I've been here. I realized in recounting these past two days, how my happiness is linked to the dynamic span of happenings in my days. Before leaving the logging camp we had to thoroughly scrub our industrial kitchen- removing burnt dinner bits off the stove floor, scrubbing out cabinet shelves, washing the walls, moping the floor, carting boxes of food from storage, trying to distinguish between the pans, garbage, and food items which are all packed (a bit idiotically) in to the same black bin bags. A full mornings labour and then quiet repose as the helicopter took trips of people from camp and the foremen and us remained to wait out the hauling of gear in an empty dining while the rain poured out side and we had nothing left with which to pass the afternoon except a deck of cards, a box and a half of Smarties from someone's pocket, and long rejected Grey Goose Vodka with tomato juice that we drank from paper bowls. Perched on the countertop, dirty and in soggy wollen socks, we relaxed in to our wait with the content sense of no work left to do, isolated in the middle of the forest, rest while time allowed. 

James was our sweet and interesting New Zealander helicopter pilot who flew us out. During the afternoons we'd talk about his time at boarding school, his visits to Dubai, flying for south asian fishing companies, and his wife and his happy settlement in to northern Canada. He gifted us with a bottle of respectable Aussi wine upon parting ways and I've never seen a more hilarious, merry drunk as he danced and did the twist for much of the last evening by himself. From our camp, he knew Lizzie and I were new to helicopter flying so he took us soaring through a high cliff river valley, the red rock rising around us and the muddy water below as we wove our way down the bends like the footage in Imax theatres. When we rose up over the trees, the mountainous plateaus stretched all around and the massive sky held huge, billowing clouds with dark rain in the east and golden sunlight pouring through from the west. As the landscape flattened out he brought the helicopter down to what felt like ground level and he hit full throttle, dead-ahead, racing along until the tree-line seemed seconds away from contact before the last minute rise that pulled us back over the trees. Brilliantly sweet ride. When we landed Lizzie and I spent the next couple hours slowly unloading heli-nets full of engines, tires, pipes, cans of food, luggage- tired, muddy, but enjoying the hard work and company of a few planters with whom we joked and ate oranges with on the flatbed trailer as we waited for the next load. Drove out in the rain, tired and content in the slow, comfortable conversation that happens when you work hard with people and share in exuastion of work that must be done. 

In Fort Nelson Lizzie and I salvaged up a new pair of shoes for me after mine were eaten by logging camp mud, and then spent much of the afternoon in Boston Pizza with our foremen who'd set up their office space, computers, printer and all on two tables in the corner until the restaurant eventually realized how insane it was that three men had effectively turned a portion of their restaurant in to a forestation office with faxes coming in and phone calls going out. We left crammed in to one truck, Lizzie and I sharing one seat in the back until the highway demanded seatbelts and I was sandwiched between two men, the dashboard and the radio system for four more hours on the road. We dozed, watched the scenery, spotted a bear and a black fox, debated satellite radio stations and eventually spent a hilarious couple hours playing twenty questions over the two-way radio. It was nothing short of brillianty fun and comfortable. You're dusty, tired, working hard, but enjoying the conversation and people in between. The guys would have some sort of trailer to hitch or piece of equipment to fix every few hours along the way, but then you sit and watch, munch an apple, and see if they can guess your 20 questions choice "thing" of "frustration." A portion of time was even spent playing "name the car part that you're saying in your made-up accent" and I discovered that "clock" can be quite effectively disguised as a chicken "cluck" sound. We stopped at the Saskwatch (monster) road stop along the way, the only sign of people on a nearly deserted stretch of highway between two "main" towns, and the restaurant was something between a British fish shop and your grandma's log house 70's living room, buffalo heads, fake flowers, electric pipe organ and all. We ate cereal on the couch and felt a bit odd about the episode of South Park on the tv. Peed behind the old building with the most spectaclar view you could ever afford of three loons on a lake, the sun shining through the late night rain (10 PM), mountains in the distance. We ran back to the truck as it began to pour and made it to our motel just past midnight where we rejoiced over our kitchennette, clean room, and purple towels. Here I stay.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Logging Camp Mosquito Land

We’re now less than a hundred clicks away from the Norwest Territories in remotest, buggiest BC. The temperatures range from clouded sky blue to windy chilly and our logging camp is pretty much floating on a bog. Unfortunately, Lizzie and I no longer live outside so we spend very little time in direct daylight or washing planter dishes as the sun rises and sets. Fortunately, we’re inside all day and thus can control the flow of mosquitos that can make their way in to our kitchen and dining hall. On the break between shifts we tried to take an evening walk after washing up the dishes, putting away the food, wiping the counterspace- an attempt to “get outisde” and “out of the kitchen.” We lasted about a giggling 15 minutes as the mosquitos completely swarmed us, the muddy road clung to our shoes and the dogs went nuts over the bear spotted a few hours before right outside camp. We deemed the evening beautiful and came back to the dining hall. The pines here are dark and thin and the daylight is ever persistent- once again the night sky has not yet graced my eyes. We managed to truck out to our location over a three hour bumpy, rutted road (feeling new appreciation for those pioneers in covered wagons- we ourselves could do very little to conquer the deep muddy patches that could easily have stuck us). Since the rain the way is now unnegotiable by truck and the helicopter is our mode of transport.

I now approach each day’s meal with no planning except for a scan around the fridge and freezer and a general sense of what their tastes might fancy. I’m in a somewhat tricky position of trying to stretch certain ingredients that need to last us until we’re flown out- like milk, eggs, melons, lettuce, mayonnaise- while also use up whatever won’t last or will be a huge pain to sling back. I rather guiltily keep asking Lizzie to half the eggs called for in her baking recipes and I myself am looking for new, unique ways to secretly employ potatoes. For the meals I try to strike a balance between a number of interesting options, while also having one big hearty, meaty meal for those men who like to feel that they’re getting their daily slab of meat and not being fed by a namby pampy “healthy” vegetarian. It’s often hard to know what’s worth the time and effort when they get excited by breaded asparagus but then are happy to get a very simple ground beef cheese pie. I’m quite wary of potential complaint or malcontent so I do try to have a well balanced meal out of some fear rather than the pure joy of mixing up interesting things. I realized that my sense of planter and my employer’s expectations was contributing largely to my anxiety and its taken me a lot of time for me to start believing that almost everyone was trully happy with my cooking, my food bills weren’t extraordinarily high, and I could relax. Lizzie has the fun of simply baking delicious things that people find delightful, but I feel responsible if we run out of something or if someone is unhappy with what I’m cooking. Fortunately, Lizzie has been tremendously supportive in reminding me of how well things are going and in talking through my worries that are more of my own making than real.

I feel so lucky to be out here with Lizzie and to be living and talking and working with someone who I not only can stand 24/7, but enjoy and like and appreiciate immensely. We approach kitchen and cleaning work very much as a team and the other picks up the slack on days when one person is slow or just tired, we have the emotional “how are you” conversations when drained and in my case even teary, we discuss past life worries and trials, share ideas, and laugh at ourselves, our grubbyness and even been able to laugh when all seems at its worst (cake sagging and cracking, meatballs still red in the middle (two hours in the oven already!), mess on the floor, grumpy planters and piles of dishes.) People are kind though and we’re regularly greated with something to the degree of “so how are my two favourite people?” (we DO give them food) and been brought music as well as speakers for my laptop computer. Every supportive word is not taken in vain when their happiness and like of the food is quite important to me yet the tasks that we do can seem ridiculously huge for two people.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Finished in Wonowon

Yesterday we finished our first contract out of Wonowon, British Columbia and are leaving in a couple hours for farthest north Fort Nelson where we’ll be helicoptered out to a logging camp and cook for another nine days. We worked for eleven days straight from 4 to 9 everyday, and last night the comfort of the motel was unbeatable as I slept until the long late hour of seven O’clock and relished the bed, close toilet, shower, and quiet away from the generator. Last night I trecked across the highway with my laptop tucked under my arm, wool socks to my knees, and hot water and milk in hand and the sky was glimmering late night blue as the thin clouds stretched in late night sun above the trees that lined the Alaska highway. When the internet failed in our convience store/café that IS the town of Wonowon a few of us sat and drank a glass of wine in the pitstop that was our night’s perminance. Our camp was set up in a horse race ring so the fences and broken bleachers lent a cowboy-esque air to our days. When we woke in the mornings we’d trip out of our tent to gorgeous brilliant morning skies; the longest day of the year is today at 18 some hours which means that the light from the set sun lingers much longer in both morning and night.

I resent breakfast making because the fare involves many meaty options from sausage and bacon and eggs that mean I hover over heat and grease when I tend to be tired and hungry and grumpy to begin with. But I pull through and once Lizzie and I have cleaned up the kitchen for the morning, we sit outside with our own breakfast and chat and plan and laze for our half an hour that is our least rushed time of the day. In recent days I’ve been having more fun trying recipes and dinner meals that are much more in the style of my own creations and less standard camp fare and everyones happier because of it. I made a breaded cheese and jam block which was garnished with picked asparagus and pickles, along side four types of bean dips and three different kinds of salad (this was the accompaionment to the main taco bar selection for those meaty men.) My shepherds pie was a great success and my only regret in reflection is that I don’t remember how I made it.

I miss being out of touch with many of you when I have the hours to be actively missing, but the days are very full and Lizzie and are very happy despite our business and find the planters endearing and our foreman Guy very kind. We’ve had broken water pipes, broken generator (no power) and gasless stoves in some new mix every day. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Planting Camp

We're in to our second shift having worked 7 days straight from 4AM until 9PM every night. I feel the need to announce that we're alive and well as I've failed to be in contact with anyone since our arrival. All is well in Alanna and Lizzie's world though and when exhaustion doesn't over take us the giggles do. The internet is magically up today in camp and I have found an empty hour while Lizzie plunks through the planting dishes and I rather guiltily cruise my inbox. Life is good: The bugs out here aren't here and other than the odd ankle nibble we've been unbothered by the insects known to torment planters. I drive a big honkin' truck when we go in to town and we feel suitably dirty and dishevelled if not a bit silly and pretentious- like the kid who can't believe their father handed them the car keys. Lizzie has been my encourager and constant companion in every task and we pray together, have great conversations in the kitchen, laugh and giggle constantly and are loving the great big sky, the freedom of our days and even manage to bear with chagrin the chores that fill the hours. I'm still working through some of the anxiety of getting full meals on the table every day- a physiological more than a practical battle which can be wearing when the work never stops. Tonight there shall be shepherds pie (veg alternative as well), rosemary sweet potatoes, herbed peas, rottini broccoli salad, apple spinach salad, three bean salad, pumpkin pie, and rhubarb pie (desserts compliments of Lizzie.) I just ran out to ask Lizzie "Want to finish later?" as she washes up the last of the cutlery in the pouring rain. Response- "Might as well finish, I'm already wet." Reasonable enough. 

My poor feet went from trench foot dampness after discovering that my one pair of shoes had a huge crack through both heels (old shoes not so great after all) and the mud puddles that I stood in all day where constant pools for damp feet. Since switching to flip flops a few days ago my feet have become equally blackened by dirt (and all else) and I pull on socks at night to protect my sleeping bag from my feet. General pyjama policy is to wear them to protect my clean covers from my grubby self. Laundry mat conversation with a planter went as follows: He asked me "You wear pyjamas?!?" as I rejoiced over the freshly laundered pair that Lizzie had washed for me. "Yes...?" He smiled and nodded before pulling out from the dryer his own pair of full-body long-john pyjamas, bum-flap and all, and we all rejoiced. I told Lizzie I was trying to blog, with great difficulty, about how to summarize life here when our setting is so completely other. This conversation took place happened after I hopped in to the cook shack via window, stood there reboiling some hot coffee and milk in a soup pot, and eating yogurt with a knife as she sliced almond bars in her mother's apron, disheveled and dripping wet. She said, "How bout just describe exactly how it is right now." Yesterday a planter very sweetly asked her, "Um do you mind if I wash my boots here in the sink?" This was returned with a recalibrating moment as his sincerity was not to be missed despite the fact that she reminded him of how we like to use those sinks for washing silverwear and dishes. He was calmly handed a bucket with warm water and told to toss it somewhere the sludge would go un-noted. 

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ah yes, Women

My blog page is still in French, something which makes me mildly worried about my poor computer's locality confusion, for I am indeed a good week and a half English-speaking Vancouver. And O the English that we speak! Nothing linguistically remarkable as much as the familiarity and joy of conversions with people whose thought currents resonate with my own. I've realized in coming back to such a large friend base, the importance of loving individuals and liking them in specifics. There are some with whom I have a very unique connection, though a remarkably large number given how in some places people personalities can be difficult to line up with my own. 

I am grateful in particular for several women with whom I click with in an instant and long-enduring sort of way. Their intelligence, warmth, deep-kindness, laughter and hard experience often make me stop and say to myself, "Man, I am friends with such amazing women." It seems that part of friendship is the attraction of like-to-like because we do share many details of similar personal struggles, world travelling, and current loves and for this I feel that I find myself among kindred spirits and creatures whom I understand and understand me as well. Each is still distinctively them self, but we mesh in a relaxed mode that lets us soberly make meals together, spend hours dramatizing and getting dressed, lounge and muse as we read in the living room, or crash in to rage or share a current woe. I think too of how I can laugh with these girls, of how joy is well within our grasp. I am delighted to announce that I am nabbing Lizzie Curry from the group and taking her as my friend and baker in to the woods of northern B.C. We are likely going to have way too much fun as two girls left to their own devilish devices. We leave by greyhound tonight. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cedar Rapids

There's a lot to be said for midwest American friendliness; their greetings and cheerful helpfulness were enough to make my morning at the dentist positively delightful and a trip to the grocery store quite shocking after being greeted by five smiling employees. My France-informed Vancouverness almost made me recoil, raise my eyebrow and pose, "Why on earth are you talking to me?" before I quickly eased in to the warmth of public interaction. My most frustrating encounter was post-customs Chicago where a fat, middle-aged man was harassing my newest Bulgarian friend by yelling at her while she struggled with her baggage cart. A bit embarrassed, I said to him, "Sir, she doesn't speak any English" to which he responded, "Well if I came to a foreign country I'd learn to speak the language!" Sure he would. I mused up a number of cutting, witty insults in English and French that part of me itched to have said as I navigated my way to my next flight. Arrogant xenophobe...

The lush oak and maple trees and the sprawling green lawns in front of turn-of-the-century houses look so quintessentially American. The solidity of it all almost makes me wish I was staying to fly kites, take bike rides and light fireworks as my imaginings dictate that an idyllic American summer would entail. My mother's been out digging and replanting the patio garden and soon the pots will be overflowing with colour and the basil, dill and rosemary growing against the muraled  garage wall. The first real thunder storm has been threatening for weeks and I would love to be here for the rumbling downpour. My spacious room even strikes me as comfortably opulent between the dark wooden furnishings and my fluffy down comforter. 

The best part of my time home was catching up with a few friends. I liked going out or having people in- going away is always a reminder of who you can call when you get back. I was struck by how unique each person was and how each friendship had a characteristic dynamic unto itself. This made me glad as I realized that no friend will ever be a replacement for someone else as much their own distinct person that I can enjoy for who they individually are. I find it remarkable that we can have such distinct relationships. I've sometimes felt over-saturated in self-esteem shlop about how "special and unique" each of us is, but I feel like this was manifested in a fresh new way that I was somehow given lens to see and believe.  The attitudes of some of my friends here made me feel cared for in a round, stabilizing sort way, something securely woven to fall back in to. It did me' heart good. 

Today I fly to Vancouver. First to Dallas, my first touchdown in Texas!, and then home to my country, o Canada. It always feels good to be back and set foot on the soil where I was born. I'm getting tingly just thinking about it... Any Canadians to say, "Ay?" (As oppose to nay... this is in fact, a pun.) 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Family and Friends - Fragility and Fortitude

I'm writing from a vine covered stoney terrace, the tiny private garden in the the middle of the bedroom suites where I'm staying in Laurmarin. In addition to the curious number of cats ands artists' studios, we may be staying in one of the most beautiful regions of France imaginable from the rocky small mountains, the quaint village streets, the olive groves and the rose bushes with glorious colour and size. I've actually invited myself in to the studio apartment of my parents having left Aix a few days early, and I am now the live in daughter and chef while they explore the surrounding countryside. I myself am more than happy to hang back and write and relax.

I don't quite know where to begin in my reflections. I said goodbye to Aix with ever dawning realization of how I'm saying goodbye to all things French and a life and lifestyle that have suited me quite nicely and easily. Life here has been relaxed and undemanding on many counts and it would surprise me if I have such an extended period of ambling repose any time again in the years to come. I learned a lot about relationships- what's required and sometimes what's not, how it's best to be myself and how to work and apologize when myself isn't enough. How friendships need to be trusted and the importance of communication and forgiveness. The time here near the end has been particularly forming as I've had to come to terms with how I can't control or even change how people feel. Sometimes my best won't be enough and I have to juggle appropriate humility while also acknowledging that others can choose and act as well. If I could choose, I would always be exactly what everyone needed and wanted of me... it seems so obvious, but I often struggle to come to terms with the fact that I can never be perfect for anyone and can not make such a demand on myself. I regret announcing this to you all and dash any illusions you may have had of my magical prowess. Better that we all acknowledge this now then all be disappointed later... (sarcasm, sarcasm). 

Mistakes or mere inadequacy can make me feel like such a failure and I've had to constantly negotiate appropriate personal responsibility. These last weeks in particular have been hard practice in learning to be vulnerable but also when to refortify and be the strong woman with removal and bearing. Sometimes I need to admit when I've been hurt and other times I need to step back and remove myself from caring too much. Too much aloofness removes us from the joys of friendship and too much sensitivity runs us over. 

I've realized too that loving people can happen despite all disagreements and differences and it somehow sneaks in to the fabric of living without never quite realizing when it arrived. We find ourselves loving, laughing, caring and crying in ways we'd never expect and changing us more that we sometimes know. I hate to just say "it hasn't been easy" living with Véronique because it would demean all the good aspects of our life together and the teasing and sincerity shared over the dinner table and in the kitchen. She was generous and dramatic beyond measure, and I'll never know a woman like her so intimately again. In the same way with my room mate Jenna, to just note how much our friendship has taught me would miss the heart of the enduring affection between us that's been through train traveling, crazy drama, boring endless hours, and french reflection. I never could have guessed or known to ask for the friendships I formed in France, but they were rich beyond measure and maybe even exactly what I needed. 

I now find myself with my parents, reminded of familial stability that can be there when you need them most but also separate people from who I am and become. I feel older with them than I use to- I love an appreciate them as ever but am also okay with having my own life that takes me in other directions. I feel more myself than ever: good, bad, weaknesses and strengths, this "self-discovery" of youth is hardly the cliché process I expected as much as the inevitable.