I love the seasons here in the Arctic. Each has its own gifts, its own colors, its own flavor.
And, if I’m behind honest, the first day of the transition is humbling, to say the least! You’re pulling out gear from storage, remembering how to layer for every situation, and smacking your forehead when you forget something.
When winter blows in, there are two phases: Permanent jacket weather (easy transition — temps in the 20s and teens!), and the deep freeze (less easy transition — when daytime high temps hover around -10!).
This week, the deep freeze set in.
Weather is the main news headline in our house. When a shift is in the forecast, all focus is on prep. And prep for Deep Freeze 2021 lasted forever! It’s weeks behind schedule, which made it feel even more like a bandaid being ripped off. We monitor fuel levels, fill water from the creek for (possibly) the last time, insulate propane lines, add straw in the dog boxes, add chicken fat to their nightly feast for more calories, assure firewood is split and stacked — all things that ideally happen in the short daylight hours between 10am and 4pm … which is ever decreasing by 12 minutes of light per day, all the way to Polar Night and the solstice.
All this, plus daily life; work, coffee, testing new recipes, and dog mushing — winter’s BIGGEST perk! We are also putting the final touches on our cozy Yoga Dome in preparation for next month’s Winter Solstice yoga retreat.
It’s hard not to get overwhelmed… which is when I turn to the unique gifts of the season. Lady Winter does not disappoint.
Whether lit by a few hours of sun or a headlamp after hours, the snow sparkles during the first deep freeze. A landscape that was once covered in tundra and tussocks is now blanketed by feet of snow, and sparkles in every direction. Even with very few hours of daylight (which will transition to no sun at all at the end of November!), there is light everywhere. The crystalline snowflakes piled high reflect light in all directions — Winter puts on her best sequined party dress for her full arrival… and we can, too.
Winter dresses up to go inward.
Although it’s always a little uncomfortable, “going in” is really the only way to go as a yogi. If we aim to evolve and grow, it’s imperative that we embrace the chance to check in with our inner environment. And Nature supports us in this goal, especially this time of year! Although the holidays can feel a little crazed, if we pause, breathe and notice the sequins, we see that Winter naturally encourages us to stay inside a little longer, snuggle up to those we love, and cook hearty soups with fresh baked sourdough. If we take her hint, we see there’s no better time than to embrace this time of reflection.
Put on your sparkles as the temps dip low… dress up to dive into yourself this winter.
And if you want to add about 7 layers, c’mon up to an Arctic Hive retreat. We’d love to have you!
From a deep sleep, I was roused by a familiar ah-WOOOOOOO! coming from our dog yard.
The team (which is now 7 sled dogs and 1 puppy—a sled dog in training!) was calling for me — perhaps because they love me...
... more likely because I'm in charge of their breakfast.
I glanced at my phone: 7:16am. Out the window, there was no sun in sight... just a fuzzy twilight on the horizon, indicating a future sunrise.
I sighed and rubbed the sleep from my eyes — winter is on its way, and we're increasingly descending into darkness every day. In fact, each day in the Arctic we lose 12 minutes of daylight. As the sun rises later and later (and sets earlier and earlier), we get one step closer to Polar Night, the time of year when the sun doesn't rise above the horizon in the far north.
To put this into perspective:
People ask me all the time how I survive living above the arctic circle when the sun doesn’t show its face for weeks during the winter. We don't see the sun — we just get about four hours of eery blue twilight, during which time we make it a priority to get outside with the dogs! Certainly, there are challenges without sunlight for a bulk of late December/early January... but despite those, I appreciate the opportunity because I believe life is made more meaningful by contrast.
At Arctic Hive, nature offers extreme opportunities to disconnect from things we often take for granted (like the sun)— and in absence, we find beauty unrivaled anywhere in the world.
During Polar Night, if it’s clear, the northern lights seem brighter… and sometimes they’re still waving in the sky when we wake up in the morning. The Full Moon lights a path so bright, you don’t even need a headlamp. The New Moon engulfs us in darkness so black, we can’t even see our hands held in front of our face. There’s a certain serenity unlike anything I’ve experienced — and it’s in that extreme experience of polar opposites that I find access to nature’s wisdom, as I dive into my yoga practice (which includes the yoga of dog mushing!).
It was mid-April in the Arctic, and I could feel the pressure.
The river was still covered in ice, and yet if I listened closely, I could feel the energy pulsing beneath its surface — bursting at the seams. The iced-over tributaries that flow into the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River in the Brooks Range, like Wiseman Creek, were being slowly worn down by melt-off from the mountains. As the water comes down, it digs little trenches (that become very large trenches over time), relentlessly carving a path to the Koyukuk. The overflow doesn’t stop until it reaches its destination — and even then, it flows onward as it merges with the river.
This is Mother Nature’s springtime awakening, called “Breakup” in Alaska.
And during Breakup, the water steers our ship — meaning our plans revolve around the speed at which Her water melts, runs and flows. In addition to the running rivers, Arctic Breakup also causes the snow and ice on the ground to melt, the water to rise because the permafrost underneath the tundra prevents ice/snow melt from sinking into the ground — it’s like a flood that lasts longer than usual.
This flooding causes the puddles to grow, the mud to thicken, the earth to feel spongey, and the trails to be slick. What was once a solid path is now a mud pit that acts like quicksand, suctioning your rubber boots with each sloshing step… sometimes threatening to pull your boot right off your foot.
No snowmachines. No wheelers. Just hand-hauling gear and water up to Arctic Hive during Breakup!
When Sean and I first started living off-grid in Montana years ago, I re-discovered my connection to Mother Nature. I remembered that I could sense Her seasonal patterns — which always seemed to curiously mirror my own internal world.
It’s like She knows.
Throughout those years in Montana, I went through some personal struggles that left me desperately clinging to anything that would keep me in the present moment — the stars, the wind, the night sky, even hawks flying overhead became my sign. When I saw them circling overhead, I’d remind myself that everything was working out.
Then when we moved to Alaska, we went from Level 2 in the off-grid video game to Level 87 — in an instant. I realized quickly that up here, Mother Nature doesn’t hold back.
If you’re not living in the present moment in the Alaskan bush, you’re dead. Literally, or figuratively — depending on the day. If we’re not getting assaulted with Her bounty of bugs, Her bone-chilling cold, or Her endless sunshine or darkness at opposite ends of the year, we’re basking in the glory of Her endless mountain ranges, divinely clear creek water, and Her thick forests and spongey tundra carpet. If you don’t like the weather, maybe change your clothes. Maybe change your attitude. And then move on to the next moment… just stay present!
Mother Nature is raw up here in the Brooks Range — and true to form, I’ve felt quite raw myself these past few months. On my darkest days, I’ve turned to the outdoors, seeking Her wisdom as I decided how to move forward in my life. As I leaned into the pressure of Breakup this April, I realized I felt all sorts of similar, uncomfortable pressure within my heart — the pressure before you finally open the floodgates. The pressure when you know it’s time to let go.
And Mother Nature’s wisdom did not let me down.
In June, I was privileged to let go and pass the torch of Yoga Hive Montana (my first yoga studio) to one of my dear friends and colleagues. I couldn’t feel more excited for her and the Montana yogis she’s going to hold space for, and more proud of myself for having the strength to untether my creation into the world.
And yet, as I’ve finally returned to Alaska after a month of clearing out and cleaning up business in Montana, Mother Nature has been waiting for me up here. Per usual, She puts my life into perspective so well. I’d been feeling out of sorts for the past few weeks… a little extra sensitive… a little less motivated to tackle new projects. As we drove the wide, expansive road north through British Columbia, up through the Yukon and finally back to Alaska, Ma Nature whispered her wisdom to me in a meditation one morning:
“Sometimes we require a little extra space in our lives before we can truly let go.”
It never really landed with me until that moment. Of course letting go takes bandwidth! Even as an optimist, I understand that letting go is much easier said than done. Tossing out torn jeans from 2012 might be easy. And cleaning the basement is arduous but rewarding. But truly letting go of our most meaningful experiences, creations and even loved ones is an entirely different category. Letting go of those treasured pieces of our heart takes courage, integration, and assimilation.
Like the Brooks Range overflow carving out pathways through frozen creeks before Mother Nature unleashes Breakup in full force, letting go is a path that only we know, and only we can walk — alone. And sometimes, we need extra space before we can experience the pulsing, powerful, expansive spaciousness that waits for us on the other side.
And you know what? It's good to be here, now.
One of our adventurous retreat goers last month arrived early for breakfast to thank me for creating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for she and her partner at Arctic Hive.
Without skipping a beat, I humbly replied “You’re so welcome,” as I’ve been taught to do... I smiled graciously, as I’ve always done.
But then she went on, trying to put into words how deeply this place has touched her, and I watched tears well up in her eyes. Just then, something clicked in my head.
I remembered how the week earlier, another retreat guest had walked up to her cabin every afternoon for four days straight and exclaimed, out loud, “Today was the BEST day!”
And I remembered another retreat guest shared how he stayed back from an excursion to meditate on the deck of the Igloo, and felt as if he could hear the mountains speaking to him as he meditated and memorized the outline of one peak at a time.
I realized that we hadn’t just given our guests a “good time up north.”
We facilitated access to a sacred space to heal.
How do I know for sure? Because Sean and I have felt it, too. Healing is the foundation upon which our retreat center was built — which didn’t really dawn on me till that moment.
When the COVID lockdown happened last March, Sean and I were thrown together in the same space for an undetermined amount of time, and all our plans to bring people to the Arctic that month were cancelled. All that time together was something we hadn’t experienced in years, given the haphazard schedule we’d been maintaining for work.
So even though it was uncomfortable at first, we took that opportunity to re-imagine Arctic Hive, build our dream retreat center, and build up our relationship that had suffered some wear and tear from our intense entrepreneurial lifestyle.
This sacred ground — which we were so lucky to purchase from an Alaskan Native family as some of the last available land in the entire Brooks Range — helped us relearn each other. It helped us learn more about ourselves. It helped us create a shared vision for our future.
In short, Arctic Hive changed our lives, and our marriage.
And incredulously, in that moment standing in the kitchen, hearing this woman’s words, I realized that healing capacity of Mother Nature wasn’t exclusively for Sean and I. That side effect of eye-opening self-discovery after spending time here, so close to the earth, is available to everyone... anyone who’s willing to show up, sit in quiet and listen to the heartbeat of Mother Nature — 270+ miles away from the nearest shopping center, town, and reliable internet.
Here, we can hear Her feedback and wisdom. We can integrate Her teachings slowly, and steadily into our own lives. This is the way we were meant to be — one with Her, and thus one with all. Everything — and everyone — is interconnected.
Sure, these retreats are filled with adventure, yoga, laughter, good food among good company (you'll see a photo recap, below!). But I now understand on a deep level that this land, so far from the hustle and bustle and yet in the middle of one of the most delicate ecosystems in the world... the Arctic... it’s here to jumpstart healing. Not just for us, as stewards of this property and visitors to Arctic Hive. But healing for humanity — and Mother Earth herself.
I always tell folks that environmentally-speaking, what happens in the Arctic should be the concern of everyone, everywhere. It’s ground zero for climate change — which isn’t even debatable anymore. The changes happening here trickle into everyone’s life, no matter where you live around the globe.
And now I know it can also be ground zero for reestablishing that connection with Source so that we might tread a little lighter on Her soil. So that we may be more conscious in our connections with others. So that we may live a more spiritually-sound life.
“Negative twenty degrees!” Sean grins as he reads the inside temperature from cabin thermometer aloud.
I sigh, willing the oil drip stove to work it’s magic (faster!).
Ten minutes pass as we focus solely on the mechanics of the stove, lighter, fuel, flame.
Sean: “Only -6 degrees!”
I allow a smile to cross my lips as the frost stops accumulating on my neck gaiter. I know the warmth is on its way.
Another 20 minutes and we’re above zero… hallelujah! I sigh again with relief, and peel off a layer before starting the long process of unpacking.
Getting back to the Arctic after a few days spent in town is interesting. Getting back to the Arctic for the first time in over a month? I’ll call it “an adjustment.” After tending to business in the lower 48, and getting used to plug-and-play life on the grid, I knew I was in for an awakening, returning home up north when Sean came to pick me up from quarantine.
I’ve learned over the years... whether I’m a month on the road, or one day on the road, it doesn’t matter how efficient I feel, or how many pro-tips I remember before making the long journey up the Haul Road. I’ve come to know that something WILL break and I WILL receive a swift kick in the rear end, compliments of Mother Nature.
This is a promise.
On this week’s butt-kicking menu was a typical sunny, gorgeous winter day with the standard subzero temps — the kind where you can’t have your fingers out for more than a minute, and your eyelashes develop a white, frosty mascara. You need at least three layers on bottom and four on top. Anything plastic must be handled with extreme care or it breaks like a tiny twig. Daytime temps typically range from -20 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit at latitude 67 during the winter. When we hit -10, it feels like a heat wave! That polar vortex that slammed the rest of the country and Texas? Yeah, just a little gift that originated right here in the Arctic
So after a long night of hauling, warming, arranging the dogs and feeding them so they can crawl in their straw-filled dog boxes, followed by a 10pm dinner for Sean and I... I fell into bed, which was still hard as a rock— downside of me insisting we have memory foam mattresses! Regardless, I had no problem drifting to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I looked outside and remembered why I love this life. Why I put myself through the hassle of being our own utility company to live in the wild.
I do it specifically for that reason. When I disconnect from life’s utilities, I can reconnect with the moment. The mountains. And myself, without all the noise. And that reconnection happens all day long... the wild surrounds us 24/7... we have the privilege of spending each moment in sync with Mother Nature. And for Sean and I, that’s what’s required to live our best life.
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