Frostbitten Cheeks

One of the innovations that the Alaska Pipeline brought to the state were warm toilet seats. Understand that, in Alaska, plumbing is a challenge. If you live off-grid you don’t have any. And you need live only a couple of miles out of town to be off-grid. Your plumbing options are one: an outhouse. Imagine suiting up (parka, mittens, insulated boots, etc) to sally forth for your daily constitutional. Imagine putting your fish-belly white ass on a toilet seat that is ambient—say 30 below. You don’t spend much time paging thru last year’s Readers Digest; thirty below tends to make you exceptionally regular. Then came the Pipeline and, with it, blue foam insulation. My first two jobs on the Pipeline were laying 8’ x 2.5’ x 2”sheets of foam directly on the frozen tundra. Trucks backed up and dropped gravel on top of the foam to make the work pad. The foam insulated the tundra so that it didn’t thaw in the summer or with the weight (pressure lowers ice’s melting temperature) of the machinery working on the pad. It didn’t take long for a creative Alaskan to realize that cutting a hole in a square of foam and putting it on the toilet seat might substantially reduce the incidence of frostbitten cheeks in the state. It is effective—stunningly so. Within seconds of sitting on the foam, the warmth of your butt warms the foam which warms you. It revolutionized sub-arctic shitting. In Broken Angels, Annie and Ringer have foam on their seat. The outhouse at Ben’s cabin up the Alatna River, does not—to Kris’s distress. I turned off my...

The First Step To Achieving Unconditional Love Is A B*TCH

The first step is understanding why you have conditions in the first place. “When he proves to me that I can trust him, I’ll love him unconditionally.” I wait a beat. Two. My client is a brilliant and incisive lawyer. On cross-examination, she’d annihilate any witness who said something so inane. I wait another second. All I get is stubborn silence. “So,” I say slowly. “As soon as he meets your conditions, you’ll love him unconditionally.” “Yes,” she says. Incisively. Read...

Transformation: The Short Story

Personal transformation is a choice: just change the way you look at the world. This is a story about transformation. About changing your experience of the world. It can happen in a flash: all you need do is change the lens you are looking through. Read More  ...

Supper’s Sting

It’s dark when I get home. I leave the car at the end of the driveway where I shoveled out a space for it and hike into the cabin. The stars are brilliant, my only light as I wade through the snow. The door creaks open on antique hinges and I stamp the snow off my boots onto the chipped linoleum floor. Then I push open the door to the cabin’s only insulated room and dump my papers. Whatever warmth the cabin had in it when I left that morning has long fled into the winter forest. If the night air is 10 degrees, the cabin air is 12. Stacked under the porch is a week’s worth of firewood. I pile split spruce and balsam in my arms, put a handful of kindling on top, and dump it by the woodstove. The stove’s cast iron sides are chillingly cold. The wood is dry, over-seasoned, and I can be sloppy building the fire. The softwood catches easily. In the kitchen, the dishes I washed that morning haven’t dried, they’ve frozen—and stuck together. I break them apart. The water in the water buckets is also frozen. I keep a pot of water on the cook stove; the frail heat from the pilot light is enough to keep it ice free. I start supper. Thirty minutes later, amid great billows of steam, I spoon rice and beans onto a plate. Next to it, also steaming, sits a mug of tea. The salad is frozen, its greens ice-rimmed and crunchy. In the living room, I put the plate and mug on the top...