When I was a child and I lived in the city,
I dreamed of Alaska so far away.
And I dreamed I was flying over mountains and glaciers,
Somehow I knew Id live there one day…
– “Alaska & Me” by John Denver
The State of Alaska’s court decision this week is a sign from God. Now that the roadless parts of Tongass National Forest could be opened to commercial activity, it’s time that Lena, Benjamin, and I make this move. We’re even a little stunned ourselves as we pursue this next chapter in our life together. I only interviewed with Georgia Pacific this past Friday, and already they’ve made an offer I just can’t refuse.
It’s not the decision so much that surprises me. Decisions are just ideas; thoughts. Ideas fill my mind every day. The startling part of our lives’ next chapter is that we’re taking action on this decision. Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. I’ve always been an intentional person. My daily view of the world is fixed and concrete. It’s just my personality. From this perspective, that I’ve had these intentions, even if hidden or buried for such a long time, and that I’m finally taking the step to move Alaska is actually consistent with who I am and how I’ve always lived.
With our move scheduled for two weeks from today, we’ve accelerated the purging of our personal belongings. In packing boxes and selling furniture to Craig’s List bargain hunters, I openly wonder how exactly we reached this point. I fondly remember John Denver as a regular guest on “The Muppet Show” when I was a kid. As a Boy Scout, I took to earning merit badges in forestry, woodworking, and conservation with wild abandon.
You won’t find this on my LinkedIn profile, but my first job out of college was with Decor-ative Specialties, an Los Angeles-based cabinet door manufacturer that had opened a manufacturing facility in Monroe, NC. As the company’s youngest outside salesman, I roamed the Carolinas visiting cabinet makers, dispensing the virtues of outsourcing the craft of cabinet door-making to our specialty shop. I quickly learned about wood grain patterns and the best places to install soft pine, cherry wood, and red oak based on expected room humidity. For example, teak wood is remarkably good for laundry rooms where clothes dryers run frequently. Few effects in a home communicate more about a homeowner’s pride than well-made, professionally-installed custom cabinetry. I really learned the beauty of the inside of a tree, and more importantly, how to control Mother Nature for the sole purpose of vanity and personal satisfaction.
About two years ago, Lena and gave away our television. We never used it after Benjamin was born, plus we needed the space for various and sundry items related to child-rearing. (Looking back now, perhaps this was the start of the subconscious disposition our personal belongings.) But all the while without a TV, I clandestinely maintained my NetFlix account to watch reality TV shows. The History Channel’s “Ax Men” quickly become a personal favorite. I’ve watched every season at least eight times, mostly on airplanes or on the Amtrak during my morning commute to San Francisco.
In checking my Amazon and GoodReads accounts, I’ve noticeably increased my consumption of Jack London books over the past few months. While packing, I came across Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” on our bookshelf. I find Christopher Johnson McCandless’s approach to life in Alaska to be both comforting and profound. We don’t expect to live in an abandoned school bus while we’re there, though living in a tent for a stretch or even sleeping in open already feels like fresh water for our souls.
I experimented with vegetarianism a couple of years ago. The transition wasn’t too difficult, and in identifying the plant-based proteins and nutrients I needed for my rigorous triathlon training, I felt an interest in botany germinating.
Tying together my ingrained love for wood and the influence of such a well-crafted television series and books, we’ve decided that pursuing this new career as a lumberjack will bring me the personal happiness I’ve been chopping away to find all of these years on the corporate ladder. Even better, because I’m a college graduate, Georgia Pacific (or “GP” as we in the business call it…) included a fast track to a lead logger position as part of their offer. This is akin to an assistant foreman role in a manufacturing plant. I am very grateful to GP for this leadership opportunity despite my lack of industry experience.
Just this morning, I drove past a construction site adorn with John Deere tractors. I felt my pulse quicken thinking about the Feller Bunchers, Skidders, and Knuckleboom Loaders that I’ll be licensed to operate by the end of the Summer. It brings back fond childhood memories of playing with Mark Jeurgans and his Tonka trucks when we first moved to the Whispering Oaks subdivision when I was four.
Meanwhile, Lena will be fulfilling her dream as a full-time private commercial pilot. We’ve worked out an agreement with GP for her to transport site managers daily to and from our worksite in Tongass, and just this week she found a classified ad in the Juneau Empire for flying a US Mail route twice a week. Plus, we’re pretty confident that she’ll be able to at least find some part-time work as a consultant given her PhD research on grapes and pest management. It’s a little known fact that a microclimate exists in southern Alaska near Juneau where wineries are sprouting up to meet the demand for “buy local” consumers. In fact, rampant bootlegging now requires that both the US Immigration Services and ATF to patrol the US-Canadian border.
As a lumberjack and lead logger, I’ll be among the plants, the earth, and the soil, standing tall beneath the everlasting golden sky in the summer months and the comforting dark blanket of the cold Alaskan winter months. I can’t imagine a more delightful hardship than learning to coexist with Mother Nature during the darkest, dreariest days of December and January when the snow reaches the tall pine tree tops. Plants are such amazing creatures, and I’m becoming rather obsessed with the field of plant neurobiology and its quest to explain animal-like competitive behavior between and among plant life. To pass the time during the logging offseason, I plan to earn my bachelor’s degree from Kensington University in cellular plant biology.
Most of all, I’m excited for Benjamin. Leaving behind a life of iPads, Thomas the Train, and his day care friends will force him to develop his manhood sooner. Kids need more structure nowadays. Lena and I are sure that an everlasting love of nature will grow as he becomes rooted in Alaskan culture. We’ve preordered curriculums and home educational materials so that we can home school him properly, and we’ve decided to speak Russian exclusively in the house starting today. As Sarah Palln so adeptly noted, you can see Russia from Alaska. Fun fact: Anchorage is closer to Moscow than Chicago.
With Lena’s regular access to an airplane and especially with the mail route position (fingers crossed!), we expect to send and receive letters pretty often. We’ve yet to figure out if there’s cell phone coverage in the national forest, but I’ll be issued a satellite phone through work. (Good ole GP!) Whether or not we can make personal calls from this phone is yet undetermined.
I’ll be sure to add another post or two before we pack up our trusty Saturn for the drive north later this month. She might be a 2002 model with 123,000 miles, but we think she has enough pep to get us to our new home in the northern hinterlands.
We love you all and appreciate the support we know you’ll give us with our decision! As Lex Luther said in Superman II: “North, Miss Teschmacher. Due north.”
Finally, and most of all, if you’re bereft in reading about these developments, double check the date of this post.