Friday, December 3, 2010

Hauling Ass

One of the interesting aspects about living in the Interior of Alaska that I'll perversely miss (for about a week) is the routine errands to replenish the utilitarian necessities for cabin living. My war-pony is one of the many ubiquitous pickups festooned with jugs for heating oil, jugs for water, and trash bound for the transfer station (aka dumpster), it seems like you are always hauling something somewhere. This lifestyle makes one always keenly aware and responsible for maintaining resources most folks in the Lower 48 take for granted as "out of sight/out of mind" - it's just assumed that somehow somebody else will take care of these messy details. Many years of heating my cabins with wood is another aspect of this daily ritual, and gives a different perspective on the fundamentals for maintaining one's comfort level, if not simply staying alive. You learn to take pride in and find pleasure performing  basic, menial tasks: chop wood, haul water, make fire etc. Even basic outhouse observations reflect upon this: physically seeing the volume of literal crap one person puts out - not to mention the bemusing experience of using the bathrooms of more civilized friends in town, and flushing away a few day's worth of water in one shot. There's also mulling over how much more connected one is with daily exposure to outside conditions, it's a much more integrated, conscientious drudgery awareness of one's surroundings, especially compared to the detached and artificial environment most urban citizens exist in. Instead of being conscious of one's "footprint," I believe a more appropriate term might be worrying about humanity's "buttprint."

This is not to romanticize the more unpleasant aspects of honest, good ol' Appalachian-style crack-house livin' - Fairbanks is home to some of the most appalling displays of disgusting greed exhibited by landlords I've ever seen. Providing a home is secondary to making a profit, as they routinely extort insane rents from people for living conditions that are at best third-world caliber, in a sort of passive class-warfare that points up the ever-widening discrepancies between the have and the have-nots. Much of the American Dream seems to be a spawning-run to get ahead just enough to screw over everybody else left behind to rot (caveat: this is tempered by the above-average number of folks who are active in supporting non-profits in Fairbanks). I love reading about patronizing perspectives on the barbaric squalor of other poor countries when we have outstanding examples right here in this community: it tends to get legitimized and mythologized as that uniquely Northern Way of Life, while the populace is morally anesthetized to the distorted reality of the shoddy situation. 
One example would be of how in the past twenty-five years when I first moved up here, I've seen rent for a simple 18 x 24' one-room cabin, without indoor plumbing, double, and in some cases triple, from the average $250 to the bare-minimum of $6-800 a month. It's illuminating and depressing to travel around the Lower 48 and compare how much that would get you someplace else, even though things are bad and times are tight all over. 

I always remember feeling like the sourdough exhibit in a museum of natural history for visiting family and friends, who were like anthropological tourists marveling at the cute little frontier homesteaders, until it was time to grit their teeth, drop their pants and take a shit in a hole in the ground ... best at forty-below-zero. You bet it "builds character" - mine is usually about a five-foot high stalagmite about this time of the season.

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