Scarlett’s Letter September 6 – 8, 2013

My last three days in Alaska. Sad face.

Problem solving, or, perhaps trouble shooting would be a better label for what I’m about to share with you. As is customary when I travel to Alaska, I brought wine. We’d hoped to do a wine tasting for friends, but our unpredictable schedule with possible travel south to Valdez, the trip north to Coldfoot, the trip up and down the Salcha River, and the fateful non-trip gill netting on the Yukon, it was really hard to nail down a date and, commit, and get the word out. So, we drank the wine I brought in about three days. Bought more. Drank it. Bought more and drank it. We do love our wine. A match made in heaven. Two red wine lovers.

True to nature, at the mere hint of entertaining, as in a wine tasting party, I usually seek to acquire bits and pieces of pretty little things and nifty little objects that will make the soiree all that much more delightful for all involved. Usually, entertaining is a happy excuse to buy shit I want. On one of my guy’s visits to NorCal we were, you guessed it, wine tasting. We were at a winery in El Dorado County just outside of Placerville in the area known as Apple Hill, one of my favorite stomping grounds. One of the wineries we visited aerated their wine with a fantastic pewter toned horse head. The wine spilled out of the horse’s mouth. If only my horses had been capable of such wonders, I might have found a way afford them a bit longer! I have lusted after this delight ever since. I Googled it, of course, and found it online for twenty some dollars, but exercised great restraint at not ordering it immediately. On my recent trip to Trefethen, nearly a year after first spying the wine barfing horse head aerator/spout, it reared it’s lovely head once more. Under the influence of a generous and free tasting, only days before my trip to Alaska, I succumb to my inner shopaholic and bought my trophy horse head wine aerator/spout for twenty some bucks. All of these puns are intended, by the way.

I somehow found room to wedge my lovely horse head into my suitcase, but only because I was bringing enough wine to justify a dedicated and special “wine checking luggage box” (from V. Sattui Winery for ten dollars), and with that additional piece of checked luggage, an additional twenty dollars in luggage fees. I was a few miles short of status and free checked bags with Alaska Airlines at this point. I probably officially made status about the time my plane flew over Redding from its Sacramento departure point. Seriously, I was that close. Anyway. I arrived in Fairbanks with a big box of fantastic Napa Valley red wine and a horse head aerator/spout thing. And the fact that we didn’t end up having our wine-tasting party did not dampen my desire to use my little treasure every time a new bottle was opened, which, I’m not ashamed to say, may have been two or three times a day, depending on the day and whether a brewery visit had occurred.

At one point, in finishing one bottle and opening the next, in exuberance only I can manage at this task, I yanked the horse head from one bottle and went to place it within the next, only to find that the rubber sleeve had remained in the preceding bottle. Plan A; I tried to gingerly pry it out with my ever so slender pinky finger, and almost had it, but, sadly, lack the muscular strength in that tiny digit to extract the firmly fit bit of rubber from the neck of the bottle. I tried a few artificial implements and managed only to shove the rubber sleeve further down the neck of the wine bottle, now out of my slender pinky’s reach. One final attempt with one final implement and, plop. Into the empty bottle the rubber sleeve fell. We poured the next bottle without the glorious horsehead, like ordinary wine being poured from an ordinary bottle. May as well have been a bottle of Thunderbird from a brown paper sack as far as I was concerned.

The problem, now, was how to reunite the rubber sleeve with the horsehead spout. I devised a plan, in the morning, or some time during daylight when time permitted, I’d put the bottle with the rubber sleeve within into a paper bag, or two, take it out to the garage and smash it to bits with a hammer, freeing said rubber sleeve.

Plan B failed. Miserably. Wine bottles are a lot tougher than you think, which, when you consider that I often transport them in my suitcase with my beloved shoes and clothes, is probably a good thing. It’s not like I just toss them into my suitcase with my cherished wardrobe pieces, I do wrap them in bubble wrap, secured with some gaudy animal print duct tape, then place them each in a two-gallon Ziploc bag – just in case. In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had no mishaps. So, why was I so surprised that smacking a wine bottle with a hammer would only result in a cute “tink” sound and nothing more? Plan B was hatched, with the help of my clever man.

How wine flies.
How wine flies.

Plan C; trouble shooting. We’d just procured dinner from the chukar pen with the .22 rifle. I’m sure you’re connecting the dots now. We placed the wine bottle, within it’s bag, on a bank, and, as I have not yet had the guts to wield a firearm in front of my very adept hunter/boyfriend, because I have not shot at anything for some time and, truthfully, being right-handed and left-eyed, have always had a little trouble hitting my mark, I’m a bit shy about “the first time”. The third date has long since come and gone, and while I’m not at all shy about what is implied there, I am shy about shooting and missing. I’ll be going to target practice in the months to come, and perhaps therapy, to overcome this lack of faith I have in myself. Thankfully, my man does not even for a second suggest I wield a weapon and solve this little problem I created. Fire one. He hits the bottle, evidently, by the “BLAM, tink”, one followed so immediately after the other. I was a little worried about ricochet, so I squinted, and maybe even blinked. Like that would be a defense. We examined the bottle and there was just a little white mark where the bullet hit the glass and nothing more. Fire two. “BLAM, tink”.  Just a little scuff on the green glass. Fire three. “BLAM!” followed by the satisfying sound of shattering glass. Forensically, we decided the bullet traveled through the opening of the bottle, right down the neck, hitting the bottom of the bottle, blowing it apart. Inside, unharmed, the rubber sleeve. I cleaned up the bits of glass and tried to contain them in the shredded paper bag. Back in the house, after a bit of troubleshooting, the rubber sleeve and the horse head aerator/spout were reunited. In celebration, we opened a bottle of wine!

The lesson here, I suppose, is when we have a little problem, an issue a dilemma, sometimes our first, brilliant idea to solve it, may fall short. Even our second terrific idea may fail miserable. Sometimes, we just have to keep brainstorming, keep trying, until the problem is blasted to bits! I think more problems in life require multiple, creative attempts at resolving. If I had become discouraged by the first failure and the second failure, and then the first two shots, I may have given up and my long sought after trinket would have been a short lived frivolity. But, we just kept plugging away at our little problem, and now, each and every night, I have my lovely horse head wine aerator/spout thing to marvel at as beautiful red wine spills from the horse’s wide-opened mouth. And that is straight from the horse’s mouth!

We received a call about a trip to Prudhoe Bay. With my plane departing Sunday around noon, it would be a real tight schedule to make it back on time. Not that I really cared, I was just begging to miss my flight. But, as we just got back from Coldfoot, the thought of two more days in the truck was more than my guy was willing to subject me to. We turned it down. He was asked whether he’d be willing to go half way, to Coldfoot, if the permit could be obtained for that. We decided we could do that, if we left in the morning. We’d have ample time to get home so I could pack up my stuff and make it to the airport. Again, like I cared.

Oversize loads have to obtain permits and permitted loads have certain guidelines and requirements. Until some time in October, when traffic on the haul road lessens, oversize loads require the requisite number of pilot cars, based on size and weight, all the way to Prudhoe Bay. After October, the pilot car, or cars, don’t necessarily need to accompany certain loads beyond Coldfoot. We were hoping to get a special dispensation for this load only requiring a pilot car to Coldfoot, The request for special dispensation for this early September load was denied, so another pilot car who could go all the way to Prudhoe Bay had to be found. We had made our way to town and were at the ready. Because, at any moment, we thought we’d be headed to the yard to meet our load, we made a crazy, crisscross pattern across town and back to accomplish a task, wait for a call, accomplish another task, wait for a call. Like our errands, today, sometimes, in life, we have to take a crazy route to do what needs to be done. While efficiency is great, it isn’t always possible. What really matters, if the most direct route isn’t possible, is that we are making some sort of progress, always.

We didn’t go to Coldfoot, so we enjoyed the remainder of the day and evening together, just being together.

The morning of my departure was a bit hectic. There was so much we wanted to squeeze into the few hours we had. It was “Potato Fest” Day at the Cogan’s Homestead, meaning the potatoes were ready to be harvested and friends and family all gather together to accomplish this task and share in a potluck afterwards. This is something I have been wanting to experience for as long as I’ve known about it! Even if it was pouring rain, I’d have picked potatoes. But, since I had to board a plane and travel for many hours, being wet and muddy really wasn’t an option, even if time permitted. We also had a gift certificate for a free brunch at Pike’s Landing, right across from the airport. Could we do both in the time permitted? Not really. But we kind of did both. We stopped by and visited at the Homestead before everyone went out in the rain and dug for potatoes in the mud. Then we made our way to town for brunch, only to find as we got close to town and actually had cell service and I could check-in on my Alaska Airlines app on my phone, that my flight was delayed several hours. Oh well. We had a lovely morning. When I made it to the airport, with the assistance of a very helpful Alaska Airlines ticket agent, my flights were rearranged in order to guarantee a successful connection.

My flight home went smoothly, once we finally got underway. All my connections were made, flawlessly, and I enjoyed all the perks of my newly attained status with Alaska Airlines; earlier boarding, the option to select exit row and aisle seats the whole way home, on all three flights. I had engaging conversations with a group of folks that commute from far off places, and back, three weeks on, three weeks off, to work the oil fields near Prudhoe Bay, on the longest leg of my journey between Anchorage and Seattle. And I even got my first, free, first-class upgrade on the final leg of my flight! I almost felt like I was flying United! Until the meal arrived, then I knew, for certain, I was on an Alaska Airlines flight. I’m not saying the food is bad, this being my second first-class meal with Alaska, but it is rather pedestrian. By comparison. And for airline food. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. But it was free, so hey! All of this, I suppose, in some miniscule way, helped me ease my way from Alaska, being with my love and a lifestyle I love to being home, working with clients over the phone starting well before the crack of dawn, beginning tomorrow, and a lifestyle I am enjoying, or maybe something between tolerating and enjoying. I’m making the best of it. I’m enjoying being in Napa and visiting my beloved Sacramento from time to time. But, currently, truthfully, my lifestyle and my goals and values are not in total alignment. But, like freeing a rubber sleeve from its wine bottle dungeon and like crisscrossing town, accomplishing things piecemeal, waiting for plans to solidify, I am moving forward, towards a goal, one step at a time, whether the steps are all in the same direction or in the ideal sequence matters not, the goal is there and, daily, in some small way, I’m shooting for it. BLAM!

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