Cheechako is a Chinook Jargon word used mainly in Alaska. It means “newcomer,” “tenderfoot,” or “greenhorn.” I learned this word years ago from some kid magazine (Highlights for Children or Cricket or Cobblestone or some such — I had subscriptions to them all). Aren’t you impressed that I still remember it? 😉 Since moving here in July, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to apply it to myself as I’ve come to realize how very different life is in the Last Frontier and how much I don’t know.
It’s not that I expected everything to be perfectly smooth in the transition, but I did think it might be a little easier than it has been. Because it’s not just the people that are different, nor the physical and spiritual climates, nor the terrain. It’s all of those things and more. It’s my own perspectives needing to shift. It’s letting go of things, even when I consider them important. It’s trying to find my own little space in this vast, open land.
When we first talked about moving, there was such a sense of newness over it all. Maybe a better way to say that would be that it felt like opening a new journal full of pristine pages and taking pen in hand. And then sitting there, excited to write, but experiencing the mother of all writer’s blocks, well, that has been the reality. Let me explain:
When Lechuga, our family friend who moved with us, and I rolled into town, we assumed she was going to get an apartment, and I’d stay with her until my boys got here a month later. There was not a single apartment available, so we rented a cabin, brainstormed, Skyped with my hubby, and came to the conclusion that we should all get a house together until such a time as Lechuga meets her mountain man/love of her life and J and I buy property and build. We found a house (the rental market is uber-competitive here), and the day we went to walk through it with the intent of signing a lease, the realtor got a call from the tenants saying they were going to stay for another month, which, according to the lease terms, is perfectly kosher. That left us effectively homeless for that time because we only had enough money for the rent and security deposit. But God, being in the details like he is, told us to pick a church, drive to it, and tell our story. We did…and a perfectly lovely receptionist promptly offered the use of her spare room and her basement apartment for when the boys arrived.
So there we stayed for a month, and maybe I’ll write more about that in another post. On the 23rd of August, we got into the house, and then a week after that, the money showed up to pay the movers and the movers showed up with our stuff. Well, most of it. They lost two boxes and a deep freezer and damaged our TempurPedic mattress, a hutch drawer, two bookshelves, and a dresser. To make a very long story short, after the Austin movers passed the buck to the parent company and the parent company passed the buck to AK Terminals, they’re not replacing the freezer because the movers neglected to list it on the inventory list, and they gave us 60 cents per pound of damaged items because we didn’t take out full insurance. And instead of fighting, I have let it go. Why? Well, back to the writer’s block analogy. I expected certain things to be written on all those beautiful, blank pages, and instead, I haven’t been able to make the story say what I wanted it to say. And frankly, I’m tired. I have felt like so many things from our “old” life grew tentacles and grabbed at us, trying to hold us back. I want the newness. And if that means old, damaged or lost stuff doesn’t get replaced, then I will wait for the new to come in its time. If I carried ideas or assumptions from my life in Texas into this new place, and they don’t fit, then I have to set them down. If the story takes a different direction from what I imagined, I need to write it as such.
I’m not sure if I’m making sense. I mean, EVERYTHING is different. EVERYTHING:
- People aren’t rude, exactly, but they don’t use the pleasantries I grew up with like “excuse me” or “thank you.” They don’t even really look you in the face; nor do they hold doors open or give you the right of way. I have made a point to do these things for them, anyway.
- I did notice that their driving got less aggressive when I put Alaska plates on my car. There’s a love/hate relationship with tourists up here. Tourism dollars are a HUGE part of the economy, and Alaskans know it, but they also have definite ideas about when it’s time for the tourists to go home.
- Non-Texan friends have teased me all my life about how much Texans love Texas. I just need to tell y’all that Alaska’s pride puts Texas to shame. I have never seen so many businesses with the state name as a part of the business name as up here. EVERYTHING is “Alaska This or That.” People have Alaska decals on their cars. They wear all manner of Alaska-themed t-shirts and hoodies. And Alaskans love to make fun of Texans, too, which was all the more reason to get those Texas plates off my car.
- Even the way I go shopping is different. Pretty much everything my family uses is available up here. It’s just not ALWAYS available. You buy it when you see it on the shelf because it may not be there tomorrow. This goes for groceries, clothing, toys, household goods, and all.
- 70 degrees here is WARM. Even 50 degrees is warm when the sun is out. And it’s not from the humidity because it’s super-dry. I can’t figure it out, but, as a dear friend said, I have found my people. Shorts and flip-flops and a sweatshirt? Yes, please. It’s almost the uniform here, at least for now. I just need a pair of Bogs, and I will be indistinguishable from the “real” Alaskans.
- There’s a lot less happening spiritually here than in Austin. I expected this, but it’s been interesting trying to acclimate. That said, we know that’s part of why we were sent here. My own relationship with God and the way I hear him has certainly been stretched. This is, at times, painful, but it is always good.
- I have been introduced to the wonders of the HRV, or heat recovery ventilator, system. I’m still not totally sure how to use it, though, like do I leave it on with the heater, or when it rains, or just all the time? Someone clue me in!
- Speaking of rain, August-September is the rainy season here, if, by “rain,” you mean “kinda misty with a few big raindrops every day, several times a day.” The Alaskan idea of a hard rain is one that you can hear hitting your roof. As someone who adores Texas thunderstorms, I can only shake my head and laugh a little. 🙂
Last night, I wanted to go watch the northern lights. But as I drove up into the mountains, I became less and less sure of myself. It was pitch black, I was alone at 3900′ elevation, had no cell service, no gun, no bear spray. The thought of car trouble or meeting some maniac – animal or human – was enough that I turned around and drove home, frustrated with the realization of how unequipped I was to take care of myself in this great land. I have so much to learn, and very little of my Texas upbringing applies. Even so, I have awakened every morning with a profound sense of gratefulness that I get to live here. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. I am home.