Grit Blogs > Close to the Earth in Alaska

Something in the Water

A photo of Susan B. SommerI’ve just learned there’s something in the water in our neighborhood. It causes a disease called H1NF and typically only affects men, especially those who’ve lived here a long time. Apparently, if too many germs from this malady build up in their system, they’re forever afflicted. H1NF’s common name is House 1 Never Finished.

Remodeling frustration

The causes of H1NF are many: lack of money or time; illness or injury; 80-hour work weeks; indecision; purchase of other more pressing items such as camper, RV, ATV, snow machine, or boat; football season; fishing season; cold beer. In fact, a friend up the hill swears it’s not the water wreaking havoc with our men’s systems, but something – ahem – a little stronger. Could be. Could also be that every so often they hear a voice on the wind calling, “Hhhhoooo - this is your cabin speaking ... when are you going to build my deck? And how about that Arctic entryway you promised?” Our poor chaps. They’re pulled in all directions! I do know that whenever my hubby and I earn a little extra money, we both agree it’s more fun to use it for fixing up the cabin than our house. So I admit I’m just as guilty of fostering our case of H1NF.

Cabin improvements in progress

Friends and neighbors have come up with all kinds of creative solutions for dealing with their own H1NF condition. One married gal whose kitchen floor was bare plywood for the longest time decided to sponge paint it a nice peaceful green to simulate a mossy carpet. Though a trail has been worn into the most active corridor, the floor retains a rustic charm that matches the rest of her house.

Another friend whose home, upon initial entry, seems finished – for it sports carpet, linoleum, and blinds – reveals a few small details left off the to-do list. The window sills have lacked trim for a decade. And a while ago (as in years, not weeks), the couple cut a wall back to make more room in the dining area. The flooring there still gapes, filling with dirt and crumbs between regular vacuumings. My friend just rolls her eyes and offers us ladies more wine. While sipping, we joke about trading our men to each other for house and yard projects, since they seem more eager to tackle others’ tasks than their own (especially if there’s beer). Maybe that way we’d all end up with finished houses one day. But probably not. Guys are so easily distracted by things like tractors, sawmills, “vintage” cars, and shiny tools.

Working on the sawmill

The most outrageous case of H1NF in our neighborhood made itself known to me only recently. I thought I’d seen it all until I met a delightful couple and subsequently paid them a visit on their turf. The lady of the house is new to Alaska, but her man has lived on this spot for years. Like many, he started out small and expanded his living quarters over time. What they call The Shack is now a guesthouse. Another cabinesque structure houses all manner of things, from furniture to bags of chicken feed nearly spilling out the front door. (They are now, by the way, our source for fresh eggs.) The big house, the one they occupy, is still a work in progress. On the ground level is a massive garage, though “shop” would be a more accurate term, as there’s no room to park a vehicle. Creative projects are a higher priority. The house perched above the shop on this sloping plot is nearly done except for a bit of flooring and a railing around the small, 20-foot-high deck. There is one other major thing missing. Stairs. To get up to the house. Their (his) solution is an aluminum extension ladder spanning the vertiginous gap from dirt to towering porch. Ever since she moved in last winter, my hardy new friend has been carrying groceries – and everything else – up the rungs to the house in a backpack. She, being a woman, and as yet unaffected by H1NF, has of course insisted on stairs by the end of this summer. I wish her lots of luck, for this fever has a strangle hold on our beloved gentlemen.

As for my own experience with this contagion, I’ve learned to endure, and even to ignore. Less and less I apologize to new guests for the painted plywood section of our living room, or for the water-stained hardwood floor that needs to be refinished, or for the lack of trim everywhere, or for the general oldness of our abode. After all, this homestead has history and character. Less and less I expound to those who’ve already heard it a hundred times anyway on our grand plans for getting rid of the popcorn ceiling or eventually laying carpet back in the bedroom from which I ripped the horrid ‘70s shag several years ago. As for my man, I know he’s both lured and repelled by all that “needs to be done.” The never-ending, self-imposed list sometimes overwhelms him. But really, we’re our own worst critics. No one else is out there wondering, “Gosh, are those people ever going to finish their house?” Nobody cares. We could live in a tent and they’d still be our friends. Besides, they have no room to talk, since many of them also suffer the same curse.

Alaskan house with character

Now, as if H1NF isn’t concern enough, there’s yet another ailment besieging nearly all Alaskans, not just those in our area. 2CGC’s source is uncertain but is believed to have originated from drinking water contaminated with dust left behind by the ever-growing population of packus ratus, an unruly little rodent immune to even the most valiant of its hosts’ efforts at eradication. Its results can be seen everywhere, from city streets to country hamlets: cars and trucks parked outside in the cold, mere feet from heated garages packed full of Stuff. So close, and yet so far. Ours included. 2CGC, of course, is the infamous epidemic Dicargarageicide. Although a few individuals have made progress in fighting it, the scourge is so widespread that any attempts at a cure remain as elusive as a pesky mosquito at night.

Hmm, maybe we should all start drinking bottled water. Beat these poxes to a pulp. Naaahhh. What, then, would we gals have to gripe about?

Wait. Don’t answer that.