A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Monday, December 24, 2012

Choose-Your-Own Holiday Letter

1)      It’s way back in January, 2012.  You live in Fairbanks Alaska, in a small cabin with no plumbing. As a research professor, you do a lot of professing – mostly about climate change, and how it is causing Alaska to catch fire, melt, and sink into the swamp – sometimes all at the same time. However, climate change notwithstanding, it's forty-six below zero here in Fairbanks.  The sun did not rise more than one degree above the horizon during its brief visit today.   What should you do? 

If you head out for a session of vigorous skiing with an athletic group of friends (or perhaps strangers -- it’s hard to tell under the balaclavas), go to 5. If you load yourself, your marvelous husband, and your knock-knock-joke-telling twins on a plane headed south, go to 8.

2)      Yes, sugar works wonders as a motivator.  Following in this precedent, lollipops and candy corn are major factors in powering the twins -- along with one of their little buddies -- through their first 10k race, the Midnight Sun Run. The three pipsqueaks breeze across the finish line, Cinderella-like, at the stroke of midnight.  

If you think that the logical next step would be sign up the same three six-year-olds sign for the Kids’ Equinox Marathon – and also take them  over ten miles of mountainous, wind-blown trail to Tolovana Hot Springs –try 3.  If you’d like this narrative to return to yourself, take an egotistical hop to 6.

3)      Sure, why not?  Kids love hiking!  Entertainment along the trail is varied, but includes a strong focus on out-of-key singing and name-carving on tree-fungus. 

If you decide that car-camping might have been a better idea, go to 4.  If you’d prefer to do something deeply startling and irresponsible, try 7.

4)      Excellent choice. The sun is shining, and given that it’s mid-May, the river ice has all but disappeared.  We’re in that brief ten minutes of calm before the mosquitoes appear in full force, so it’s the perfect time for some quality outdoor time with a veritable gaggle of friends.  Remember, socializing is important, now that you’ve reached those Middle Years.  It’s not like college, y’know, where you tripped over like-minded nerds in every lecture hall. 

If you want to broaden your social horizons by hanging out with the parents of other hip-high people, proceed to 9.  If you just want to regress and dig up all those old college friends again (and not only via Facebook), try 10.

5)      Excellent choice.  After all, you’re training for a couple of hundred-mile ski races – one in February and one in March – as well as a hundred-mile mountain bike race in June, a half-ironman triathlon in July, and a trail-marathon over a mountain in September.  You wouldn’t want to completely embarrass yourself at every single one of these events, would you?  Um, would you?

If you proceed with your exercise regimen by skiing amongst your friends' houses, stopping at each abode to eat cookies and/or peculiar European boxed fruitcake, go to 2.  If the rest of your training consists of bike-commuting three or four miles to work and hiking at a 1mph pace with your offspring, go to 3. 

6)      Ok…it’s your fortieth birthday!  Time to party! 

If you decide to celebrate your maturity by going camping with a horde of small children (what – you thought this was all about you?), go to 4. If you’d prefer to have an entertaining midlife crisis that leads to the sort of behavior that could not possibly be included in a holiday letter, try 7.

7)      Oh, for heaven’s sake, what did you expect to find here?  Go back to 4.

8)      Welcome to the southern realms! Arches National Park is, according to the rangers, inhospitably cold in January.  But given that it’s about 100 degrees warmer than Fairbanks, you’re not complaining.  After a fine start during which one of your kids pukes in your amazingly uncomplaining brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s kitchen, you drag along the twins -- plus their six cousins -- for some fantastic vistas, breathtaking rock formations, and desert hiking. 

When the four-year-old nephew proves uncertain that he likes hoofing it for mile after mile, and the older kids are leery of heights, should you (5) provide piggy-back rides, or (2) hand out more gummi-worms?

9)      Great! There are so many eminently entertaining, immensely time-consuming, and irredeemably messy things to do with kids and their doting caregivers.  You wallow in kettle corn at the fair.  You commit yourself to orchestrating a very crimson made-up holiday called Cranberry Festival.  You trudge the snowy streets with a herd of chubby-looking creatures on Halloween. You hob-nob at birthday parties – chilly pool parties, violent piñata parties, and one at which you pretend to be Minerva McGonagall. 

As the year draws to a close, should you and a friend volunteer to co-lead a table at the University Park Elementary holiday craft fair?  If so, go to 11.  If you’d prefer to drag your parent-friends into a six-gingerbread-house baking fest, go to 12.

10)        Conveniently, a college friend is getting married, and he and his fantastic bride have invited a large percentage of your college friends to a gorgeous retreat in Monterey California.  Best of all, it turns out that everyone is just as much of a dork as they were back in 1994. Major themes include doing jigsaw puzzles, playing Apples to Apples, and flying kites.

 If you decide to leave the kids with a babysitter and join the friends playing mock-Jeopardy, proceed to 11.  If you take the kids whale-watching, go on to 11 anyhow.

11)        Mercifully, you have one child who does not end up either freaking out or vomiting at this event.  Too bad about the other one. 

If you still think you might be able to make something of this year -- and yourself -- through zealous use of humor, irrational optimism, and limited sleep, dive right into 12.  However, if you have entirely given up on the concepts of sustained accomplishment and personal dignity, go straight to 13. 

12)        Time flies, and it’s Solstice.  The good news is, you’ve almost made it to 2013!  The bad news is, it’s forty-six degrees below zero again, and the sun is once again only up for three and a half hours each day. 

If you decide, weather be darned, to attend two different outdoor Solstice parties, both of which involve regressive behavior and setting things on fire, go to 14.  If you choose to take part in a dawn-to-dusk race in which you hoof it up and down West Ridge for eighteen miles in temperatures known to congeal propane, go to 14 anyhow.  And if you decide to bake three pecan pies, roast chestnuts, and sew handmade gifts for everyone in your 13-person community all in the space of 48 hours… still go to 14.

13)        I kind of thought I’d find you here – either that, or hanging out at 7.
Ok, fine.  Go check on 7 again, then proceed to 14.

14)        Collapse on the window seat in a thermal sweatshirt with stains all down the front.  Gaze helplessly at the piles of laundry, odd mittens, and overdue library books. Eat a large hunk of baking chocolate and a handful of Zippy Zoo vitamins. Write a Holiday Letter.


Happy holidays everyone.  Best wishes for an exhilarating, hilarious, and fulfilling 2013.  And to all a good night. 

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