Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Only Alaskan Beach Alive

Summer in Alaska means construction, you can’t go anywhere without running into flaggers and work crews (maybe that’s not the best idiom to use) and it’s no different at home. As soon as the warm weather hit Andrew started into this year’s home improvement project: window replacement, picking off each window weekend by weekend until all that was left was the giant-big-as-a-bus-window in the front room.

Last Sunday as the two of us were holding our weekly Sunday night planning session, outlining and coordinating our schedules for the week (yes, I know, we’re both in therapy for it) Andrew was relating his plans to spend Saturday replacing that monster window. Suddenly the stillness was broken by the phone ringing. Hold everything, it’s the governor! One minute before the switch was thrown Andrew walked away a pardoned and free man—we’d been invited to THE LAKE.

We have these friends who have a cabin on Crooked Lake that we have managed to get invited to every summer and when that call came, we were ready. Work can wait, it was, “Grab your suits and towels, kids, we’re going to the cabin!”

For some reason every time we go there we get fabulous, best-of-the-best-Alaskan weather and this time was no different, plenty of sun, sand and warm water (and that’s saying something) with an occasional time-out for a hamburger fix. Yes, I imagine that heaven can’t be too far off of the scenario. “Is this heaven?” “No, it’s Crooked Lake.”

The cabin sits on a private cove, built before pesky things like environmental impact studies were invented, where the owners created a private beach with—get this—REAL SAND! You don’t get sand in Alaska, oh, maybe an occasional life-threatening mudflat but a sand beach? Never. Kind of sad when Spencer gets out of the car and asks, “Mom, what’s this?”

“It’s sand. Precious Alaskan Sand. Use it well my son.”

Besides the novel concept of Alaskan sand, the kids are wowed by the warm water. Many lakes and streams are fed by glaciers and those that aren’t still are cold, but the Matanuska-Susitna Valley lakes can actually be warm.

Upon arriving I set up my little wooden tub filled with sun block and lined up my children for their sheep dip. They were so eager to get into the water they were dancing around. Grace does this shimmy and shake thing whenever she’s excited, up on her toes and flapping her hands. I had to tell her if she didn’t stop shaking she was going to get an eyeful of sun block which sobered her up. Six families with 16 kids but with life vests for all we just suited them up and let ‘em go—free-range children.

Spencer ran for the diving board, stopped and then spent ten minutes just staring into the water trying to find the courage to jump. Last year, after he had been diving all day I told him he was brave, that the water was thirty feet deep and ended with, “That’s taller than our house.” He paled a bit and it stuck with him because now he wouldn’t jump.

I tried all the motherly tactics such as “It’s only scary the first time, the next will be easy, you've done it before,” but he wasn’t buying. He freaked a bit when he saw fish swimming in the water below and I caught him with a canoe paddle, reaching down to stir the water and get rid of the fish so he could have a clean shot. I finally said that I’d spent ten minutes waiting for him and if he wasn’t jumping, I was leaving. Heartless, I know, but effective. He plunged in and we couldn’t get him away from the diving board after that.

David, on the other hand, is more of a R & R man—after trying out the floating trampoline he spent the rest of the day hanging out in the hot tub, with snorkel mask which enabled him to dive to the bottom of the wooden tub and see the mysterious and magnificent sea life the human petri dish has to offer. I hear that’s how Jacques Cousteau got his start.

When the hot tub was first filled and the fire blazing to heat it our host added the chlorine and said to wait for twenty minutes before using it. Now THIS was something interesting! David wanted to know what chlorine was, what it did, why it was dangerous, what it looked liked, why they couldn’t go in yet, etc. He sat around watching the tub, trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive yet deadly stuff that had awakened his imagination. After the tub was ready to go and he’d jumped in, he dived to the bottom (a whole three feet) and quickly surfaced, upset because he’d “seen the chlorine” at the bottom, it had got him and now he would die. I’m not sure what he’d thought chlorine was, something with teeth I suppose, but we calmed him down and his buddies the triplets and Tanner joined him and life was good again. I guess he figured if something bad was going to happen, say someone was to be eaten, the weak and defenseless would be picked off first and he was planning on offering one of the others.

When we play outdoors Andrew and I frequently differ on what constitutes a good time. He likes to drive the four-wheelers or snow machines, anything with a motor. I, who spend eight hours a day behind the wheel, have to say the thrill is gone. Driving a machine just doesn’t do it for me anymore, I’m past the bumper-car phase. So he’s the one who will drive kids around all day and come back smelling of exhaust and sporting the great wind-blown, 1980s, feathered hair while I sit back and exercise my right not to drive. I just prefer to enjoy the sun and relax. Why get in the water when I’m toasty and dry?

Then the boat came out. Andrew had to join the group of thirty-something men reclaiming their youth by proving who was the best “used-to-be” water skier. When Steve set out on a trip around the lake and came back in the boat Andrew knew it was his chance at the title. He took a turn around the lake, later confiding that halfway around he began to mentally plead with the driver to take him back, begging for death, but eventually sailing back into the cove with the macho waves and splashes. That was all it took, Grace wanted to try. We Alaskans don’t get many chances at water skiing, that whole warm water issue, and last year she’d worked at it with little luck but was determined to succeed this time. I was praying she’d get up but I needed a closer seat, all I could see from the shore was her back.

The floating trampoline had drifted right up to the beach so I rolled up my pants, waded out and hopped on, nice and dry, floating where I could watch from the side—someone had left a oar so I wasn’t up a trampoline without a paddle. Half an hour later she’d got up on the two skis for a few seconds and it was then I noticed someone had by stealth hauled up my anchor and deposited it farther out in the lake so that I had slowly drifted away from the shore and couldn’t paddle back. Brenda waded out to help me and we began this odd scene: Her holding the end of my paddle, trying to draw me to shore, confused about why it wasn’t working. Picture me leaning out over edge with my paddle extended and her pulling harder and harder on the other end and saying, “Just a little farther, you’re getting close, just lean out a little farther, a little f-a-r-t-h-e-r . . .”

At least I saved my watch.

Now officially wet I decided to try water skiing too. How hard could it be? I sat in the water ready after all the necessary instructions and said, “Hit it!” whereupon I then plowed the surface of the lake for twenty seconds before I had the presence of mind to let go and forgo skiing in lieu of oxygen. I think I filtered half the lake through my nose. It had looked much easier from the shore.

After the boys had been stewing in the hot tub for several hours Andrew had a burst of bravery and joined them. I told him he was taking his life into his own hands to go sit in the tub where those five boys had been playing ALL day with very few bathroom breaks. He shrugged and said, “Hey, chlorine!” and that was good enough for him. After my water logged experience on the skis the tub started looking pretty good to me too so I "screwed my courage to the sticking place” and jumped in.

It quickly became apparent that the germs weren’t the problem. David challenged me to a breath-holding contest and and I was soon bobbing around trying to show off my lung capacity (like it’s much of a trophy to beat a bunch of six year olds). They got rowdier and rowdier until there were arms, legs, snorkel masks and swimming trunks flying and the tub was more filled with bodies than with water. It was like being in a giant pot of chicken soup—where the chickens were still alive and flapping.

But nonetheless not a bad way to spend a Saturday.


dbrown said...

Really enjoyed your column! You have a great talent for humor! There is just that touch of sarcasm that I enjoy. I will bookmark your blog and make it a regular part of my Alaska experience.
Best regards!

Ms. Underhill said...

Where is your update for this weekend. I got all excited to read the up and coming moments of the family. Got into work...opened my bookmark...and noooo update :( Write moooore soooon!
Lil' sis