Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Buying Alaska

When it is this cold outside, the only thing you can really do is settle in with a blanket and a good book. As I am currently forcing myself through my to-be-read shelf of books and am faced with two dozen books I really am not interested in reading, I have turned on the TV instead. What am I watching? I’m so glad you asked.

Destination America is one of the random channels in my cable arsenal to which I have become addicted. My absolute new favorite show, one that I can watch without an ounce of guilt, is Buying Alaska. In each episode a person or couple looks at three homes in Alaska, frequently in remote locations and decides which one will best suit their needs. It sounds basic, right? House Hunters and all its offshoots have been doing this since God cut off his curls. However, Alaska, being the only final frontier that does not require Gene Roddenberry, is a very different beast.

For example, most of the homes showcased on these episodes do not have electricity or running water. This is called living “off the grid.” Those that have electricity, but no running water are called dry cabins. Those that have both usually also have something called an arctic entry. Are you intrigued yet? 

What I find enthralling is that people willingly move to a home that does not have what I consider essentials. If I wanted to pee in a chamber pot while sleeping in the rafters of a shack out in the middle of nowhere, you’d call me crazy. In Alaska, they call that cozy. I’ve seen episodes that require people to memorize the latitude and longitude of their homes because the closest street address is 10 miles away. When you are in trouble, you don’t call 911, you call the Coast Guard. I’ve seen episodes that require people to use a boat, a four-wheeler, an ATV, a fat-bike, and/or a snowmobile to access their homes. Cars are for pussies.

Don’t even get me started on the bathroom arrangements. It was stupid cold in the Northeast today. I bundled my kids up to walk to our car, then walk from the car to the doorway of their school – probably 10 yards total. Now imagine having to do that, but multiply the distance by 10, drop the temp by 30, and your destination at the end – an outhouse. (If you are lucky, it has a door. Surprisingly, not all of them do.) The cheeks on my face felt like they were going to freeze off today, I can’t imagine if I had to drop trou and get the other end drafty. Throw in bears, other assorted wild animals, a ridiculous amount of bugs in their six-week summer, and you have a recipe for kidney failure and severe constipation because I would NOT be going outside to pee. Ever. Hence what is known as the “honey bucket.” Still no. (How do you even wash your hands after?)

Now imagine taking a shower. I saw a young newlywed couple buy a home with no indoor plumbing. In order to shower, you had to walk across the yard, start the generator, wait for it to heat the water (carried in by ATV), take the three-minute shower available due to water supply, dry off in what is essentially a shed, and then hike back across the yard. Remember, this is Alaska in winter, where is snows eight months out of the year. You are not throwing on a hat with your slippers to run out and get the mail. This is a full-on, multi-layer approach to walk through land that has not been plowed or shoveled, in snow that could reach your knees, in temperatures that can cause frostbite almost instantly. Can you imagine doing all that just to shower? It sounds exhausting.

What kills me is that people live this way willingly! One guy said he felt like he hadn’t “earned” electricity. Dude, really? Guys in federal prisons doing time for the worst crimes get lights and toilets, what the hell do you think you have done in life that you haven’t earned either? Others want to get back to nature and live off the land. While I find that a lovely sentiment and I applaud their ability to hunt and fish enough to feed themselves and their family, where are the fruits and veggies coming from? The chocolate? The copious amounts of whiskey I imagine are required to warm your belly and toes? Can you imagine a life where the closest Target is the one in your long-range rifle and is pointed at the back of a moose?

However, after years of watching the aforementioned House Hunters and screaming at the TV when the home owners say they want a fixer upper, then complain about having to repaint, it is refreshing to see people buy homes with bare, insulated walls, no sinks, and nothing even resembling a bathroom and think they have found their dream house. In the lower 48, we talk about mud rooms to keep the clutter of kids and all their crap at bay. In Alaska, they need an arctic entry as a way to store their assorted gear without opening an interior door into their home and automatically losing half of its heat. They don’t need a garage so they can fill it with junk and keep their car in the driveway. They need a garage so that it doesn’t take them an hour every day to clean off their cars and start their engines. They don’t worry about traffic on their morning commute. They worry about trails being washed away. It truly is another way of life and while I am happy to watch it, I would not be happy to live it.

So instead, I’ll sit and use my DVR to tape the show on my HDTV player, beamed in through cable, with the heat on and maybe a fire going, then run the tap to put water in my Keurig to make myself a cup of hot chocolate, all while I sit in my well-insulated home, on the grid.

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