a trip to the zoo (but not really)

We had just left a seafood market and were driving down the road towards home when I saw the sign: “Fairbanks Animal Control.”

“Hey, let’s stop,” I said to Drew. I’d mentioned to him before that I wanted to take Lukas to an animal shelter. We’ve spent almost two months here without our two furry felines. And there’s no zoo or indoor nature center in Fairbanks. So in my mind, a trip to the animal shelter would fulfill two desires: Lukas could pretend he was visiting Trixie and Tupelo. Maybe we’d even bump into a fluffy ginger kitty or a blue-eyed Siamese. And we’d get to see a plethora of dogs and cats, which I was sure would make my little dude smile.

We walked in and I was only expecting cats and dogs, but the first room held one chicken and three bunnies; so not your usual animal shelter residents. All four looked perfectly content to be there. The chicken was scratching away, while one of the bunnies busily worked on his newspaper, re-arranging it to optimal fluffiness.

The dog room was an entirely different story. A few dogs had been barking before we pushed the door open. One was howling. As soon we stepped inside, there was a pause, the briefest moment of complete silence. And then all hell broke loose. The barking resumed, this time excitedly. I could practically read the dogs’ minds.

“Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh, it’s HUMANS!”

“Hurry up, come over HERE!”

“Pick me, pick MEEE!”

We passed a few sad eyed dogs, one or two wildly excited ones, and a gray pit bull that reminded me of Fitzgerald, my sister-in-law’s pooch. Some dogs sat politely, eyeing us anxiously, while one guy stood up, huge paws on the chain link fence, practically grabbing at Drew’s jacket as he walked by. It was heart breaking. I eyed Lukas carefully, thinking he might burst into tears—the barking was amplified in the concrete block room and the noise was intense—but he just stared at everyone and everything, taking it all in. No smile, but no tears either.

When the door of the dog room clicked closed, I let out a sigh.

“That was painful,” I admitted to Drew. Dogs wear their emotions in their eyes and I felt like an awful person for not taking one home.

The cat room was quiet and peaceful. The residents were either sleeping or giving us the once over. The first cat we approached, a black kitty with huge yellow eyes, took one look at me and the kiddo and let out a hiss. “Whoa, I don’t think this one likes us,” I observed, taking a step back. We lingered in front of that cage, talking to the cat who, seconds later, determined we weren’t a threat (after all, she reasoned, what could that tiny child possibly do to her?) and came up to rub herself against the cage. These cats were hanging out, playing it cool, and definitely not wearing their hearts on their sleeves like the dogs.

“I wonder if I’d even like their house?”

“They smell strange.”

“Meh, I can wait for a human that doesn’t have a tiny human.”

Call me heartless, but therein lies my love of cats over dogs. I remember our family Golden Retriever and the way she would lay on the kitchen floor with her face in the food bowl. Her brown eyes would be fixed up as she pathetically tried to convey to us that she hadn’t eaten in weeks (try two hours ago) and that she didn’t think she had the energy to get up (throw a ball and watch her sprint).

I was born with an overabundance of guilt and dogs know this about me. The Golden only had to plop her face in my lap and stare up at me sadly and I’d feel compelled to take her for a walk. Cats, on the other hand, are independent. Sassy. Opinionated. For the most part, they don’t need me to do anything for them (there are cats and then there’s our Siamese Trixie…but she’s an entirely different blog post. That crazy feline is a dog living inside a cat’s body).

Lukas (no surprise here) is so much like his daddy-o. His deadpan expression had him in and out of the dog room with not a single smile cracked or tear shed. From the looks of it, he was most interested in the chicken and bunnies. So the next time we visit an animal shelter, I’ve decided we had better be in the market for a dog. Because this guilty conscience of mine won’t be able to say no to all the sad puppy eyes for a second time.

 

musings

A friend sent me an email the other day. “How is Alaska?” she asked. “Like, how is it really?”

During a vacation—when you’re gone only a few days or a week—it’s easy to establish a whimsical romance with the place you’re visiting; to build it up in your mind until there isn’t one bad thing you can remember. Months later, you find yourself describing the trip to friends and family with nostalgia.

Travel nursing has given us the rare opportunity to witness Fairbanks at her best…and then wake up beside her the following morning, when she’s rocking yucky morning breath and bed head. I’m guessing that if we weren’t living here now—if years down the road, we visited Alaska as tourists—it would’ve been a weeklong trip and probably have involved a cruise ship, so we could see as much of the state as possible. Our memories would be the whimsical, romantic sort.

Our time here is most definitely not of the romantic variety. We chose one of the tougher states. If we were in Arizona or Kentucky, it still wouldn’t be easy living without car, friends, or family. But Fairbanks, Alaska, presents a unique set of challenges that I imagine most of the other fifty states do not.

Drew, Lukas, and I have now been here almost two months. I keep thinking of my friend’s question: “How is it really?” If I’m being brutally honest…it’s hard. This life—the one with a single car, no job, no family, no close friends—isn’t easy. Locals have promised that summer more than makes up for the winter, but as our small family grows and I look forward to two babies tumbling around this fall, I can’t imagine bundling, carrying, and strapping more than one kiddo into the car multiple times a day while it’s this cold. Daylight is peeking through my blinds by 7AM these days, but when we first arrived and the penetrating dark gloom pressed up against the glass doors until almost ten in the morning, it was hard. Hard to make myself believe it was actually morning. The landscape is stunning, but it also reminds me (on a daily basis) that I can’t simply pull on sneakers and take Lukas out for a walk whenever I want.

If you don’t count family and friends, it’s this that I miss the most: long walks. That was our thing back home. If I couldn’t get to the gym, I’d lace up my Nikes, call a friend, and push the stroller for miles. Fresh air and exercise was practically guaranteed. Here, it’s a complicated dance with the thermometer. If it’s below zero, Lukas and I stay inside. Zero to twenty means a quick walk to the coffee shop, where we warm up for a few minutes before walking home. When it hits twenty or thirty degrees, it’s time to leave the hat and gloves at home—a heat wave has rolled in and we can zip out for a long walk.

There’s a lot to get used to in Fairbanks. But there are perks. I’ve never seen so much snow in my life. It covers everything in a pure, crusty white, from chain link fences and mailboxes to the distant mountains. On days it snows, the sky turns a thick, ashy gray and I imagine I’m living inside a snow globe. Every morning, the sun paints the morning sky in the most splendid shades of roses and lavenders. We finally saw the northern lights a few weeks ago. It was strange and wonderful, just as I’d imagined. And I’ve gotten the hang of driving here. What terrified me at first is now (relatively) old hat.

And then there are those times when I think, “Never in Durham” with a wry grin on my face. Like the day I rolled down my window in the coffee shop drive-thru…and it wouldn’t go back up. Or that time when it snowed 18 inches in two days. Or when my nose hairs froze (epic).

So the answer to my friend is this: it’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s extremely hard, other times it’s awesome. Travel nursing is our way of life until July and I’m trying to soak it in so that I have lots of amazing memories to take home in my pockets.