I know. It should be snowing and cold in Alaska. But, …. I’m in Sitka. Trust me, if southeastern Alaska had this much snow and temperatures this low, last year, I would not have returned for a second year with Americorps. Still, given the COVID-19 situation, I can’t really complain. Sitka has been a great location for riding out the pandemic. Currently, I’ve been in my dorm room for ten days. My godson’s family left Sitka on the 27th of December. I decided to self quarantine, seeing that I flew to Seattle to meet them, stayed in a hotel the day before they arrived, visited two old Peace Corps friends, and ate out a few times. After the family arrived, I moved into their AirBnB. We took a sightseeing boat trip together and also went out for a few meals.
Then, we all flew to Sitka. It was their first time in Alaska. We had Christmas Eve dinner, at a friend’s, and then the next three days to tour around. Before leaving for the airport, my guests dropped off all their grocery leftovers. Who knew that instant pancake mix was so yummy? Then, the following day, a local friend gave me a ride to one of the three grocery stores in town. I was all set for my mini quarantine. Most of the other Americorps members living in the dorm were gone. Some had gone down south (the lower 48) and others were taking a break from dorm life by house sitting around Sitka. I wasn’t really alone, as the maintenance crew was using the time to replace the windows around the dorm. One day, I looked out my window and saw a deer. I guess all the noise from the workers was keeping the deer awake too.
It’s so cold here that I can’t believe this crew is cutting wood outside in the snow. So far, I’ve seen two guys and one female. They seem to be making fast work out of the project. Before they started, we were told to sign up for slots, to have our windows replaced. We were also told to move everything away from the windows. I took the first slot available. When the workers arrived to begin the project, they decided that they couldn’t go by the schedule. So, now they’re only replacing windows in vacant rooms and I’ve moved all my stuff back to the way it was.
Today, I ran out of food and decided to walk to a nearby store. The driveway was nothing but solid ice. I managed to make my way to the road. There was nothing but more ice before me. Luckily, I grew up in Detroit. Those winters were crazy. And, I served in Peace Corps Armenia. I can’t even begin to tell you about the alley outside my host family’s house. My siblings would often just wear sneakers to school, during the winter. Fashion came before safety. So, today I figured that I would pretend that I was in Detroit or Masis and just go for it.
I had walked about a block, when a car pulled up next to me. I was overjoyed that some nice person was going to offer me a ride. The nice person rolled down his window and began taking photos. There was a deer directly across the street. Then, the nice person drove away. I managed to make it to the alternative high school and then up the road two blocks to the grocery store. I, of course, forgot that I had to walk back home. After shopping, I now had three bags of groceries to hand carry, while balancing myself along the ice.
As luck would have it, my old coworker was heading home for lunch. She offered to carry one of my bags. Her house is in the alley that I normally take to and from work. When we reached her home, I took the bag. A short distance later, a woman was carefully walking to her house, after checking the outside mailbox. “We need a hot chocolate hut!” I called out. We both laughed. The woman complimented me on my concentration on the ice. “Do you have tracks on your boots?” She asked. I told her no and then explained my Detroit and Armenia ice walking training. She wasn’t buying it and shook her head, once safely back to her driveway.
I made it up the alley and turned right. It was easier to walk in the street and not far from my next turn. After I turned, I saw that the road was solid ice. I thought about trying to walk down to the street with the deer. It was too far, with three bags of groceries. Directly before me, there was a pile of ice and snow. There was also a woman, walking her two dogs, heading directly for me. I stopped to see how she and the dogs were going to get around the mound. Then, I walked in footprints. I was almost to the long drive way for the dorm, when I cut through the trees and got myself stuck. Each time I took a step, my foot would sink into the icy snow. On my next step, I heard my knee pop.
I pulled it together and made my way from the snow pile onto the driveway. There was a parked car, right before the door to the dorm. I headed for it. I figured that I could hold onto the car, over the last bits of ice. Once safely in the dorm, I quickly sat down on the couch, in the community area. I did it! My old sixty five year old butt walked on soiled ice, without a traction device on my boots. I then made my way to the kitchen, where I wrote my name and today’s date on my frozen items and placed them in the freezer. I keep all my other food in the safety of my room.
So, this is my life now. Five years after retirement. I’ve been able to take care of myself, get vaccinated, keep COVID free, and ride out each new variant. Still, this is not the way most people see their retirement years. It’s certainly not the way I saw celebrating my fifth anniversary, next month. It is what it is and things could be worse.
Besides, even in this ice and snow, I can still remember that one time, February 2020, on the beach in Zanzibar. Trust me, they’ll be days and days and days of that life still to come. —GGT