Evacuation

I was thinking today about another story from my life here in Alaska and thought I would add it to the “My Life in Chapters” portion of my blog site.  I hope you enjoy.

I was nine months pregnant  and one week away from my due date with our third child in May of 2002.  We lived in a little unfinished house that we were building “out-of-pocket” little by little every year on seven acres in Anchor Point, Alaska.  The house was built with our own unique designs and characteristics, and one of those being that the Master Bedroom was on the upper level of the house accessible only by a ladder.  The idea was to eventually replace the ladder with a spiral staircase, but until then we climbed that ladder several times a day.  In our arctic entryway, we had a “hatch” in the floor that would open up to a little storage area where we threw our gloves and hats, and shoes we weren’t presently wearing.  The house itself sat atop cement pilings and was skirted in with plywood with access underneath that you entered from a door on the outside of the skirting.

I had spent many days under the house in that crawl space during winters when my husband was working away.  When the temperatures dipped low, our pipes would sometimes freeze, and so I would crawl under the house with a Buddy diesel fired heater and blow the heat in the direction of the pipes until they thawed.  This was also our storage area for things that wouldn’t fit in the little 880 square foot house.

It was a sunny day as I recall, and my first-born, Bethany was with my friend Melanie who had taken them to the Anchor Point Fire station for a “bike rodeo” where they taught bicycle safety, gave out helmets, and held a raffle to give some bikes away.  Jamin and I were at home with our son Jaron who was two when our neighbor stopped in to warn us that a fire that a neighbor had started to burn up brush was out of control and could very well head our direction. Upon hearing about the fire, my husband Jamin dressed to go and help to fight the fire with our neighbor.

Meanwhile, at the Bike Rodeo, the dispatcher received a call about a brush fire out of control on our road, and the Rodeo was quickly dispersed so that volunteer fire fighters could jump in their trucks to respond.  My friend Melanie took Bethany, and headed our direction.  She stopped in to our home and offered to take Jaron for the afternoon in the event that we needed to evacuate and I agreed that would be a great idea.

I had never thought about what I wanted to save the most in my home if there were a fire.  I began to think about some changes of clothes, favorite blankets, pictures….oh and the taxes….I still needed to file the taxes for that year and so I didn’t want to lose that paperwork.  I made my way upstairs and began going through drawers and boxes and packing up things of value.  Suddenly I heard a commotion downstairs that was unfamiliar, and so I stuck my head down the hole that was the entry to my room to see two more of my neighbors detaching my washer and dryer from the wall in the entry and loading it up on a trailer in the driveway.  This was followed by another neighbor who began unpacking my kitchen and putting everything into large garbage cans and carting them out of the house.

“The fire is headed your way,” my neighbor Ron Tavera said, as he quickly and decisively disconnected my appliances and hauled them out of our house.  Suddenly the situation became very serious to me, and I realized I needed to move faster.  I grabbed laundry baskets and filled them with everything I thought was valuable to the family and handed them down the hole to the neighbors.  Then I ventured down the ladder to see someone unloading my dirty dishes from the dishwasher and packing them away.  I remembered Jamin’s snowboards under the house, and some of our storage items, so I hustled outside to the crawlspace and spent the next several minutes crawling around pulling things out from under the house and carrying them outside to be loaded in yet another trailer brought by another neighbor.  Soon our pastor showed up and he and his wife began unpacking our home.

From my windows I could see flames shooting up above the tall spruce trees and it looked like it wouldn’t be long before they were licking up the trees on our heavily tree populated acreage.   We all moved faster.  Our home had no insurance.  We had been building it ourselves and used every available penny to complete it.

The wind changed and moved the fire north-east of our home, jumping the creek that divided our property from a 40 acre parcel and began devouring that land across the creek from us.  From my living room windows I could clearly see the fire sweeping its way across the landscape.  Fire Jumpers were flown in to combat and contain the fire and they called in C-130’s to drop orange retardant on the flames.  The volunteer fire department was joined by many neighbors.  From my now nearly empty home I could see it all.

My home had been completely evacuated of possessions in a matter of three hours.  All that is, except for the love seat in the living room that I asked the neighbors to leave to burn.  It was broken and I didn’t mind if it went.  Upon the command of my neighbor Frank, a retired Fire Chief from Sacramento, I laid down on that love seat for a few minutes while he assessed my pulse and blood pressure.  I was red from all of my hustling, out of breath, and still running on adrenaline.

“Your blood pressure is too high, Cate.” Frank said.  “You need to get to the hospital, because you have a baby to consider.”

Our driveway and yard had become the gathering place for many neighbors, and the volunteer ambulance was down the road ready to give assistance to the fire fighters.  They called the ambulance into our driveway and I realized I had no shoes to wear to go out to meet it.  Remembering the hatch in the entryway, I opened it up to find that there were still a few things in there.  I grabbed a pair of heeled dress shoes,  put them on and pranced out the door.  The EMT’s checked my vitals and agreed that I needed to get to the hospital, but they thought if I could find a ride in that would be better since they needed to stay there to tend the emergent needs of the fire fighters.  Not a problem, there were many neighbors in my house now and so Bryan and Wilma Epley agreed to drive me into the hospital.

I left the scene not knowing where Jamin was.  I was having contractions and feeling still charged up on adrenaline when I arrived at South Peninsula Hospital.  My mid-wife was called in to check on me and I was placed in a hospital birthing room in the event my labor would progress.

Sometime after I left, Jamin returned home –dirty and covered in soot.  He entered the house to find it completely empty.  “Where is everything?” he asked.  The neighbors filled him in on the recent evacuation of our things and assured him that our possessions were safe and sound in the back of trucks and trailers that were hauled across the road.

“Your wife went to the hospital.” Frank told him.

“Oh, really?” Jamin asked.  “At least something good could come of this day.”  He was thinking about the fact that our son might be born that day.

“No, her blood pressure was sky-high and she was overheated.” Frank responded.

“I’d better get to the hospital then.” Jamin said.

Jamin went to the bathroom to wash up only to find the soap was gone.  He went upstairs to find clothes to change into only to find the bedroom bare.  Realizing he would have to just go the way he was, he returned downstairs.

“Has anyone seen my car keys?”  Jamin asked looking around.

“If they were on the counter, they went out with the first load in a large garbage can that is now across the road.” replied Ron.

Another neighbor volunteered their car to Jamin and he gratefully got in and drove the 20 miles in to the hospital to meet me.

Jamin was filthy when he entered the hospital.  He rushed in to where I was to check on my status and finding me fine, we began to exchange stories of the past four hours.  I told him of the neighbors coming and evacuating the house and he told me of the shock and surprise he found when he climbed up the hill to our house after helping with the fire and seeing so many people gathered in our yard, then entering our house only to find it completely empty.

“There wasn’t even toilet paper on the toilet paper roll, Cate.” He recounted.  “My keys were gone, all the clothes were gone, and there wasn’t even soap at the sink to wash up with.”

We laughed and sighed as we realized what we could have lost if not for our wonderful neighbors.

My mid-wife monitored my contractions and helped me get re-hydrated.  After a couple of hours, she said, “Cate, it doesn’t look like these contractions are going to develop into labor.  My best advice to you is to go home and rest for the night and see if anything further develops.  Most likely, your contractions were brought on by exertion, but will settle down as you rest.  Call me if they don’t.”

Jamin and I looked at each other…”Home??” we said in unison.

The fire missed our home that day, and thankfully was contained before it could destroy any other houses.  It was a historic and memorable event that we and our neighbors will never forget.

Jamin and I left the hospital and headed home.  We then began the process of moving back into our house, and what took us three hours to empty took us two days to restore.  Still our third child waited until his due date to come, and one week later on May 28th, Chad Jamin was born.

 

 

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Full Circle

This is the final chapter in my series on life in Dillingham.  If you missed the previous two, you can click on the link to the right called “My Life In Chapters” and it will take you to the first two.

Chapter 3

Jamin’s co-workers on the job had to leave when autumn set in.  Lee was a school teacher who had to get back to his hometown to teach, and another man had another project to start in another part of the state, so that left Jamin to finish up the large metal building.  The only problem was that Jamin often needed to get up on the roof of the building and now there was no one there to run the forklift.  This is where I came in again.  I became a forklift driver during the day on the jobsite.  By now I was six months pregnant.

We were getting anxious to finish the job and go home because it was getting colder in our little house and we were missing friends and family.  When we thought the project was finished, the inspector was called to come and look at the building.  He decided that there needed to be more trim around the windows,and that the undersides of the eaves needed to painted blue like the rest of the building, and the screws on the roof panels to also be painted to match the building. I am so glad OSHA was not watching as this pregnant lady stood on the roof panels of the building painting the screws and bolts blue.

I had so much to learn about Alaskan life.  Here I was, a girl from Idaho who had never been hunting, and had never lived in such a remote place.

I was a “Gussok” as the natives like to call “white men”.  I didn’t know anything about their culture or life.  Maybe that is why I was in such shock and disbelief the day we visited the Assemblies of God church in Dillingham.

It was another weekend when we had borrowed a van that we drove out to the Assemblies Church in Dillingham.  I was raised in the Assemblies of God church as a kid, so I was curious to join the fellowship there for a Sunday service.  The Pastor’s daughter led the worship there using a computerized box that she had recorded herself playing the piano into the week before.  She just had to push play and we could all sing along.  She made an appeal to any guests in the congregation who could play an instrument to come up and play and they would have live music, but no one took her up on the offer.  At this point in my life, I didn’t have those skills either.

The service was nice and the pastor began his message.  It was somewhere in the middle of his message that I remember him instructing the audience saying something like:  “The Bible does not support or agree with the idea of the sharing of spouses with one another.”  Did I hear him correctly?  Is he instructing people in the audience not to share their spouses with others?  “Who is sharing their spouse in here?” I wondered.  I wanted to look around but decided against that.  I felt very uncomfortable all of a sudden, however.  I later learned that this is a practice of some of the native communities and it had to be addressed by the church.  “Wow”, I thought, “that pastor has his work cut out for him.”

These were all my first thoughts and reactions.  I didn’t know the people, I didn’t know the culture.  I was intimidated, young, and naive.

I am writing these memories now because just a few weeks ago I left Anchorage to speak and lead worship for a ladies retreat in Port Alsworth, Alaska.  It was my second time to attent this retreat and my first opportunity to speak.  The ladies at this retreat came from different villages in Western Alaska with several of them coming from Dillingham.  It made me feel like my life had come full circle from fourteen years ago when I was new to the state and new to their town.

This time I climbed into an airplane even smaller than the one I initially flew in.  The airplane had been loaded with cargo for people in different villages along the way.  There was a dishwasher, a boquet of flowers, boxes of Cheerios, diapers, bananas, canned goods, lumber, milk, and even a puppy.  I stood on the scale with my carryons for them to weigh my total mass. 😉  I clamoured into my seat wearing my snowpants, coat, boots hat and gloves, and buckled up directly behind the pilot.  This time I was excited!

I got to share life with women from Dillingham and other villages.  The women are strong, creative, and resilliant.  They have endured long winters and isolation.  They are beautiful, hardy, precious people. I was no longer intimidated, but honored.  I had experienced just a taste of their lives and it became my bridge to this moment of ministry together.

As I reflect on all that God has brought me through and the places He has taken me, I realize that all roads lead to relationships, and many of these relationships are ordered of the Lord.  His desire is that every person comes to know Him.  My job is not to complain about the town I live in or the conditions I am struggling with, but to learn, connect, love people and hear God’s heart for the people around me.  This for me is “Coming Full Circle”.  I am so glad God gave me a chance to see this day!

Acts 17:24-28

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

God never wastes our lives.  Every little piece is tailor made to fit together in His plan.  For me the first puzzling piece was Mindy, but now the picture is coming into view.  I am so grateful for Mindy and for the God who orders my steps.

The Great Hunt

This is Chapter 2 of my Dillingham Adventures

Chapter 2

I remember a rather humorous phone conversation I had with a book company I was ordering from while in Dillingham.  I made my way to the local grocery store to use the payphone located outside so that I could place an order for a Bible Study Series.  I knew I would have a few months there and figured I could get a lot of studying done.  When it came time to discuss the shipping, the Customer Service Representative informed me that they would ship UPS and would reach me in a few days.  I had to inform him that there was no UPS service in the village and I would need them shipped through the regular mail.  This” threw him for a loop” since their ordering system was set up to only ship UPS.  He questioned me to be sure I knew what I was talking about.  He then offered that maybe they could fly the books to the border of Alaska and that I could then send a dog sled team to the border to fetch them and bring them to where I was.  I laughed, he laughed, and he figured out how to get the order mailed to me through the post office.

The mornings were getting colder the longer we stayed, so the little space heater we had was used in one level of the house at a time.  At night, we would carry the heater up to our little bedroom and run it all night.  Jamin would set his alarm for an hour earlier than he needed to get up in order to take the heater downstairs and begin warming up the kitchen/living area.  He would also turn on the oven to 500 degrees F. and open the oven door to speed up the warming process, then he would run back upstairs and join me in bed until it was time to get up again.  This made us thankful that our electric bill was included in our rent!

The building Jamin was building was huge and the pieces to it had been shipped in a few weeks previous.  Each metal sheet for the building was coated with a plastic sheath that had to be removed in order to use it.  On the trim pieces in particular, the plastic sheath was stubborn and the men found they were spending a lot of time removing plastic and it was slowing down the construction time.  The solution seemed to be to drop the pieces of steel off at our little cabin and throughout the day I would work on peeling the plastic off of each piece.  They paid me “Davis Bacon” wages to perform that task, so I had a chance to work along with my reading and studying, and puking.

My dish soap was beginning to freeze in the bathtub at night.  The weather was changing from summer to fall.  Fall in Alaska means moose hunting season and in this village that was no exception.  Being in such a remote area, the chances of finding a large moose are greater, so Jamin was determined we would hunt the mighty moose in our time there.  Our first chance came one weekend when someone loaned Jamin a truck and we took off on a drive around a lake outside of town.

We drove up a road that took us to the top of a hill where we pulled over on the side of the road in order to get a look down at the valley and spot for moose.  We were about 1/4 of a mile atop an embankment that was steep, but thick with Alder trees.  Beyond those short “leggy” trees was a patch of Spruce trees that eventually gave way to an open area of muskeg (low lying marsh or bog) with a small pond at it’s center.  It was near that pond that Jamin spotted the “Big One”.  And big he was.  Through the binoculars we could see a large bull moose with antlers so heavy they weighed down his head when he walked.  He was in the clear and Jamin was stoked!

For the next five minutes, everything was a blur.  Jamin jumped out of the truck, quickly moved to the back and grabbed his rifle.  He dumped out a large bag, brought it to me in the front of the cab along with his .44 handgun.  His instructions were something like this:  “I’m going down after it Cate!  Come down after me in a little while and bring this bag with you.  If you get lost, fire this gun and I will find you.  Okay, I’m going!”

Okay…..I’m six months pregnant now and my belly has become a little cumbersome.  I watch Jamin practically fly down the hill in pursuit of the bull and I grabbed my binoculars to watch and see when he would make it to the clearing.  It took him about ten minutes.  Well, I guessed then that it was my turn to descend, so I holstered the handgun, put it in the bag, zipped up the bag, threw it over my shoulder and got out of the truck.  “Oh, man…I’ve got to get down this embankment!”

I grabbed at Alder branches for stability and began groping my way down the hill.  Alders are trees that kind of begin branching from the ground up.  They are almost like a bush because of the many “legs” and branches that you have to step over and through to get through them.  I didn’t find it very easy.  As I was wandering deep into the alders and down, I thought to myself, “What if I were to encounter a bear here in the Alders?  My gun is zipped up in this bag on my shoulder and holstered.”  I quickly unzipped my bag, unholstered the gun, and placed it where I could grab it quickly if I needed to. Ten or so minutes later I made it to the bottom of the hill through the alders.  Next was the patch of Spruce trees.

I must have lumbered worse than that bull moose because it took me more than twenty minutes to get myself out to the clearing where I last saw Jamin and the moose.  To my surprise neither of them were anywhere to be seen.  I pondered what to do and decided that I would rather hang out in the clearing where I could see in all directions rather than sit under a tree.  So I found a place to sit on the wet squishy muskeg and waited….and waited….and waited.

It didn’t take long before my pregnant body had to pee.  I was grateful I was in the middle of nowhere, because I was going to have to find a place out there in the open to go.  That’s when I learned about “no-see-ums”.  They are these tiny flies that love to eat the flesh of unsuspecting humans taking tiny bites at a time.  They hurt and then the wounds they leave itch and sometimes swell up.  Needless to say, my backside had quite a dot-to-dot art gallery.

I waited and watched for what seemed like hours…maybe two hours and there was no sign of Jamin or a moose.  I was getting impatient.  Then it began to rain.  And I mean it rained!  It began pouring down so hard that there were streams of water running down the branches of the trees.  I decided that I had had enough so I reached for the .44 that Jamin had left me and I extended my arm into the air and fired the gun.

I had never fired that gun before.  That moment was my first.  All I can remember was that my sense of hearing was suddenly absent and I felt the need to overcompensate for my lack of hearing by opening my eyes wide.  I stood there kind of stunned with wide eyes wondering “what just happened?”

I began scanning the tree lines looking for movement and hoping that Jamin would emerge from somewhere.  Then I spotted movement about  a mile away across the meadow coming out of the trees.  It was a dark object that appeared to be moving my direction.  I thought about walking in that general direction to meet Jamin and then realized that I wasn’t sure that this dark object was Jamin.  I had left my binoculars up in the truck so I decided just to stay put and let the object get close enough for me to identify it before I moved.  Gratefully, as it got closer I could see that it was indeed Jamin.

Jamin had followed the moose into the woods and had climbed into a tree to get a better look.  The moose had eluded him, and he was waiting for another sign.  Jamin approached me there in the muskeg with a million apologies.  “I am so sorry Cate.  I didn’t mean for you to have to come down here.  I meant to say only come down if you hear me shoot.  Then I would need the bag to start packing out meat.  I am so sorry.”

“What?” I asked with ears that were slowly adjusting to sound again.

The rain was coming down hard and so we decided to leave and hike back up to the truck while we could.  The 20 minute downhill hike for me turned into an hour uphill hike for both of us.  I was slow. Jamin had to push me up the hill in places.  We were so thirsty and tired, so we would stop from time to time, open our mouths, and drink the water pouring off of the tree branches in a steady stream just like a drinking fountain.  We found several low bush blueberries along the way too which we ate.  It seemed like such a long hike, but we made it finally to the truck before the sun went down.

Jamin was full of apologies for causing his pregnant wife to hike for miles on a hunt, but I assured him that if I had an easy delivery with this child I would thank him then.  For now I wanted to go back to our cabin and straight to bed.

To Be Continued…..

It All Started With Mindy

This story is Chapter 1 in my Dillingham Adventures.  Enjoy!!

Chapter 1

Growing up in Boise, Idaho, I considered myself a Tomboy. I liked the malls, shopping, going to movies and other things convenient to life in a city, but I lived in a suburb on an acre of land where we raised cows, horses, pigeons, sheep and other animals. I shot BB guns, played in mud, caught frogs and grasshoppers and played with worms. I have an older brother, so sometimes, when he let me, we would play “Cowboys and Indians” and I got to join in the fun with his friends. My world enlarged the year I left to Bible School at Christ for the Nations in Dallas, Texas when God placed a roommate in my life named Mindy.

I knew she was a different kind of woman when we began unpacking our things and pulling from our boxes the decorations we were planning to hang on the walls. I pulled out floral calendars, candles, and my favorite stuffed animal, and Mindy pulled out deer hides, fox tails, and raccoon tails. The deer hide went up on the wall and the other fuzzy tails were attached to each of the pull string lights in the two closets of our apartment. I was speechless!
Now Mindy liked girlie things too, but her growing up years consisted of events that I never participated in as a kid–like hunting. She was a fantastic cook, made beautiful beadwork jewelry, and decided to learn to play bluegrass fiddle while she attended school.

I was in awe of this lady. She told me stories of spending her summers working in Alaska, away from her family, hanging nets in a village called Dillingham. She talked about her morning runs along Aleknegik Lake. She talked about her hunting expeditions and other things she did outside in the wild. Her life was such a contrast to mine that I barely paid attention. I couldn’t imagine her life and was certain mine would never even come close to hers. Well, I should have paid attention.

I’ve heard it said many times, that God places people in your life to round off your edges and to prepare you for future events. This was true of Mindy and me. I didn’t always understand her. She didn’t always understand me. I liked security and playing it safe and she loved taking risks. We rubbed on each other some. We disagreed on many things. But then she would cook and I would be disarmed by her wonderful culinary gift.
She only stayed one semester, so I didn’t get to spend more time with Mindy, but after reflecting on my past 15 years of life, there are many things I have found in common with my roommate.

Within my first year of marrying my Alaskan Sweetheart, Jamin, I found myself living in a fishing village in western Alaska. After the conclusion of the salmon fishing season, my husband got a job in this village putting up a steel building for the DOT at the local airport. It would be a project that would take about three months. I was four months pregnant with our first child by the time I packed up our stuff and headed out to meet Jamin in this place. Everything about the village was culture shock to me. The airplane that flew me there alone scared the heck out of me. It was more like a metal tube with glorified lawn chairs for seats. I wasn’t certain of it’s ability to fly. I had to pack food for our time out there because grocery prices in the village were ridiculously high, and some items unavailable. Where was I headed? Why, Dillingham of course!

We lived in a boat for a few days while Jamin searched for a home for us to rent. When he finally found that place and took me to go and see it, I was in shock. It looked like a toolshed. “Are you sure this is a house?” I asked. The landlord opened the door to the little arctic entry and then into the building. There was some mold growing up a wall along the stairwell, and a few mushrooms blooming on the stairs. The kitchen area featured a full size cooking range/oven, an apartment-sized refrigerator with enough freezer capacity to house a half gallon of ice cream, and a few kitchen cupboards. The landlord scratched his head as he looked around and said, “I thought for sure I had a kitchen sink in here!” Hmmm……do people steal kitchen sinks and then cover up the hole with countertops? I mused. So the only running water was in the little bathroom to the right of the kitchen where there was a bathtub/shower and a small sink. There was a small living room area, and up the stairs was the loft where we could make a bedroom.

The house was not insulated, so our time there would have to be temporary as winter set in. There was no source of heat in the home either, but the landlord promised to bring us a space heater and wouldn’t charge us extra for electricity. Well, the price was good, it was all we could find and so Jamin and I made an agreement: If he would harvest the mushrooms on the steps, I would bleach the wall and we would make the best of it. So it was agreed. We were now in our first home!

Oh, If I hadn’t have been so sick with that pregnancy! I mentioned that the only running water in the house was in the bathroom, so all dirty dishes were washed in the bathtub. Only the smell of the food made me so nauseous that I couldn’t wash dishes during the day. Jamin would very often come home from his long day of work and take a shower with the dishes…sort of a pre-rinse cycle! Then after dinner the two of us would work on them together.
What does a nauseous, pregnant woman do with her time all day in a village? That is a good question! Well, I slept a lot and I ordered cd’s books and videos through the mail to entertain me. Jamin’s parents bought us a tv and shipped it out to us along with a couple of book series so that I could read. I remember taking a bicycle to the post office and balancing the box with the tv on the seat of the bike as I walked it back to our home. I did a lot of balancing acts on that bike with our laundry, the mail, and any groceries I purchased. I wasn’t very quick walking that bike, and I would often have a drunk older native man follow me on my way complimenting my blue eyes and hoping to befriend me. I think he needed someone to buy his alcohol because he was no longer allowed in the stores. We had many “chance” meetings on my errands to the grocery store, post office or laundromat.  I wasn’t in any danger, but it took me awhile to get used to this new place and this new culture.  I should have paid more attention to Mindy’s stories.

To be continued……