More snow days

The library where I work moved into a new building three years ago, and since then it has become a bit of a town living room.  In the winter locals stop in between errands to warm up by the fireplace, or to check their email or browse through the new books.  Friends meet there to play chess or to knit.  It’s also a great place for small talk.  I’m one of the chattier librarians, which I guess might be bad since libraries are supposed to be quiet places, but one of the things I like about living in a small town is being on a friendly basis with most everyone I see.

Some days everybody is talking about the most recent antics of our ex-governor, or about the high school hockey team.  Last week there were lots of comments about the six puppies that were left near a dumpster in a kennel with the word “HELP” spray painted on the sides.  Something always has folks talking, and if no local politician has done anything gossip-worthy, or there haven’t been any house fires, then we always have Mother Nature to fall back on.  Last March Mt. Redoubt, the volcano across Cook Inlet, gave us all something to speculate about and yesterday the library was abuzz with talk of the impending storm that the weather service predicted would start at 4:00pm.

Blizzards aren’t terribly unusual here in Homer, so you wouldn’t think we’d get all excited about them, but we do.  For a little while, before every dramatic storm, the town feels like Christmas Eve.  The grocery stores get busy with people wanting to “stock up.”  Folks rush to the library so they won’t run out of reading material.  Trying to find a parking place at the video store becomes impossible.

We say that all of the bustling about is for the sake of preparedness, but in reality you won’t find a population more prepared for disaster than Alaskans.  We have full propane tanks, multiple cords of firewood, plenty of food and, I’d guess, more entertainment options at home than we’d ever consume while waiting out one measly storm.  I think the pre-blizzard giddiness that happens is just our excitement over the possibility of having a snow day or two.  We all just want an excuse to stay home for a while, and in case that happens we want to make sure we have half and half for our coffee and couple of good movies.

As individuals we’ve adapted to the extreme conditions here, and so have the road crews and city maintenance workers.  We should know better than to hope for a snow day.  But we can’t seem to help ourselves.  Whenever the national weather service issues a winter storm warning the fantasies start to play out in our minds.  We imagine a day of tending the fire, drinking hot cocoa, cooking a slow, savory stew.

Yesterday, just like the weather service predicted, the wind started to pick up around 4:00 pm.  The library was a flurry of activity until we closed at six.  It was cool to see people in town preparing not for the storm, but for the off chance, the hope, of this being that one big blizzard that happens every few years that allows us to stay home for a few days.  Even in Homer, Alaska we manage to fill up our time with work, school, sports, meetings and a hundred other things.  A harsh storm gives us all reason to pause and remember that slowing down wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  We know that we’re able to get where we need to go when the snow is three feet deep and blowing sideways; but just because we can doesn’t always mean that we should.  I think we need more snow days.

Food and Stories

I started working at the local public library just over four years ago.  Besides getting first dibs on the new releases and getting to help choose which books to buy, another benefit of my job is the amount of money I save.  I know you don’t have to be an employee of a library in order to reap the benefits of them, but I didn’t really use it to its full potential until I worked there.  I am continually reminded of the fact that I can get my hands on almost any book I’d ever want to read for free. Sometimes though, I come across a book that I feel compelled to own.  Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is one such book.

Barbara Kingsolver has been one of my favorite authors since I first read “The Bean Trees” back in 1990.  And I’ve referred to her personal essays in “High Tide in Tucson” many times when I’ve been trying to transform my own thoughts into writing.  When I read the premise of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” I knew it would be a good investment so a couple years ago, on the day it was released, I made a special trip to The Homer Bookstore and forked over $26.95 plus 6% sales tax for a brand new hardcover.

In case you aren’t familiar with the book it’s about a year in the author’s life when she makes a concerted effort to feed herself and her family only food that is locally produced.  She describes raising turkeys and chickens, growing a garden and seeking out goods produced by other farmers and ranchers near her community.

The concept wasn’t entirely new to me.  I grew up eating lots of food that my parents had either grown or killed themselves. In my adult life I eat salmon and berries that my family harvests each summer and I keep chickens for the fresh eggs they provide.  We try every year, with varying degrees of success, to grow a vegetable garden.  But Barbara Kingsolver’s book inspired me to take it all a step further.

This year we bought half of a cow that spent the summer grazing at the head of Kachemak Bay, just a few miles east of our house.  Every time I drive to and from town I pass the place where it was born, and the butcher shop where it was processed.  It doesn’t get much more local than that.  I spent the better part of Friday afternoon sledding three huge boxes of  meat to our house, and rearranging the salmon and halibut in our freezer to make room for it.  Somehow I managed to make it all fit.  The arrangement is precarious however and I feel like I should post avalanche warning signs on the upright freezer in the garage.

There’s something deeply satisfying about having a full freezer, and knowing the stories of how all of the food came to be there.  For me it’s the stories that make life more interesting and everything has a story; every item I buy, every tune I play on my fiddle, every person I meet, and every meal I prepare for my family.  I guess that explains why I feel compelled to write, and why I’ll never be able to read all the books on my list.  It’s a good thing I don’t have to pay for all of them.