Saturday, July 26, 2008

Walking In Two Wolrds

I’ve discovered a new season in my life, a yearly or bi-yearly occurrence that’s full of excitement and stress, it happens as I transition to Northern Alaska from California and when I transition to California from Northern Alaska. I liken it to riding out the rapids at Whiskey Rock while rafting from my cabin back to Bettles, AK. The river might be calm and steady but you always know, to get to Bettles, you have to go through those rapids that bubble up at Whiskey Rock. Those rapids are always so intense and surprising simply because they are like nothing else on the river. They are their own experience all together.

My life is like that now, I know that there is an intermedial between these two worlds I live. I can’t shift from cement and the loud fast paced world of Oakland, to the silent, slow and meditative world of Northern Alaska without there being a bit of an upheaval both physically and emotionally inside me.

My life moves now in the spaces between two worlds. This is the season that I speak of. It is neither transition nor settled. It is it’s own spatial reality.

I speed along highways at 70 miles an hour - all to comfortable swerving between other metal boxes also catapulting themselves along at 70 miles an hour. But my mind is elsewhere it‘s creating lists in my head: gear to buy, questions to ask, subjects to research... I say them out loud like a mantra trying to not forget items on the list before I can get to a place to pull off and jot them down on a piece of paper I’m bound to lose in the cracks between the seat. Someday, some city person will find them inside my sister’s car and wonder why she has a partial recipe for fried porcupine.

N. Alaska calls me; I pick up the phone and stumble across their pauses and slow speech like hitting yield and stop signs I had forgotten existed on a well traveled road. I talk over people and assume too much, I’m too loud and ask too many questions, I yap on about the newest gadgets and forget that the old ones have been working for centuries - it seems I have forgotten to ask ‘why’ before assuming I needed such a new fangled thing…I want to wash myself of the cities influences, it will do me no good when I go North. I want to hit the off switch - I’m embarrassed. But I do not even know that these influences are there until I stumble upon them through the eyes of others.

There is no off switch there is only remembering and absorbing how to adjust to a vastly different world, and I’m ashamed to be learning this again.

Their words, far away and in another cultural language, start to rein me in, bring me home:
I try to slow down as we speak of things that make no sense in my reality here in my city life: radio freq.‘s., scopes, bullet weights, ice, water levels, hunting regulations and controversial park service funding. We speak of moose and wolf populations, caribou routes…we speak of salmon runs and whose flying what planes now. We speak of bear sightings and whether or not they’ve gotten into the cabin. I fidget with pencils - tapping them on my knee’s between scribbles, feeling more important with every tap. As if every tap emphasizes and legitimates my stress, which then emphasizes and legitimates my reality and the importance of me going home. This is truly a ‘society‘ thing. I don‘t feel this need when I am up North. And than I remember how after being at the lake for a year I noted how fidgety everyone was when they first arrived. Tapping, messing with their hands, jerky movements, swiveling heads, loud footsteps and tripping over everything. I stair at the pencil and wonder if I’ll be that noticeable and how long it will take to calm this personally un noticed agitation.

It’s 4am and I can’t sleep - I’ve been drifting in and out - snoozing maybe. Disconnected thoughts wash over me. I’m remembering having lunch in Berkeley with my brother Jay a few months ago, I’m at the diner, and I’m trying to eat all my French Fries. I ask him if he knows any secret blue berry patches as I mop up the ketchup with one of the last French Fries. We start talking about berries and flowers and he’s talking about the sun on the mountains and which area is more green and lush because of it. Back in bed, that thought leads me to remembering my mom’s ‘directions’ to my brother Dion’s cabin. A cabin he built the year he died, at age 17. Directions that take you over the mountains to the other valley. A trip Ryan and I tried, and 3 miserable days later, failed. We failed because of a storm but we also failed because of exhaustion, exhaustion because we had chosen a route that led us into the battle grounds of willow thickets and ice cold creek water. It was obviously not the right route. My mom’s ‘directions’ were too simple - they were splinters of memories that we all tried to piece together: she had told me she remembered wild flowers, she remembered going up the creek behind the rock where the eagle’s nest, she remembered waking up with the creek on the left - but she didn’t remember climbing any mountains. At the time, I questioned her memory - non of that made sense. The right side was too steep, she couldn’t have been there and I saw no wildflowers on either side. I’m dreaming about the wildflowers, wondering about the blueberries, thinking about the flowers and berries we didn’t see on that trek except right in the beginning before we had descended into that awful creek bed, before turning towards the mountains. “Descended” is the word that jolts me out of snooze land. I perform some kind of acrobatic flip out of my loft, boot up Google Earth on my computer with one hand and grab a pencil and the Topo maps with the other.

It’s 4am and I’m back in that cold wet mountain creek bed fighting willows and trying to get a perspective. I zoom out to a raven’s height, no, higher even to a planes height - and I look down. I’m flying through a valley with the aid of a digital topo map taking shape and changing as I move around the computer screen. I think about the height of the mountains, I look at the topos on my lap, I think about the angle of the sun in June, I think about mountain passes and peaks, of wildflowers and my families reality that was based in a mountainous world that is never flat. And then I remember there is a difference between physical mountains and topo mountains. As Sam Wright would say: “The map is not the territory.” and for a moment I’m right there, gliding through the valley and over the pass in a reality created by the combined factors of my memory, my mom’s words, Google Earth and the crumpled and warn topo maps.

And then there it is blazed across my mind, that route we missed. It all suddenly makes sense, the angle of the sun, the flowers, the creek on the left, yep - right past the steepest part they must have headed up, around the peak to the saddle. In a world that is not flat - it would never be considered much of an incline. Just life. To me, it was a mountain. To them, they hadn’t taken the vertical cliff route - so it wasn’t THE mountain - it was just the route.

I’m lost somewhere between kicking myself for my arrogance and stupidity and jumping for joy and egotistically wanting to brag to a cement world that would stair back at me with empty eyes. And that’s when the truck came. It was 5 am by now or maybe 6am, the early shift of rush hour traffic had moved into the nearby freeway. I was in that cold wet valley tho - trying to find a route up to the saddle that would help me get back to my brothers cabin. When the truck went blaring past I lost all sense of my self - for several long seconds I experienced the split between two worlds as exactly that - a sharp split. My mind registered the sound with physical adrenalin - lost in that valley in N. Alaska that kind of noise would only mean that something dangerous was occurring. A bear roaring at my back? A rock slide? Landslide? A moose charging? A plane crash? Sitting in my apartment one hand frozen on a computer keyboard another on a topo map, a pencil clutched in my teeth - my senses were torn from the far north at warp speed to my little apartment in Oakland.

Just like the occasional icy white water drenches at Whiskey Rock, I’ve come to understand that this is my new life. I am unlike my parents in not wanting to leave ‘civilization’ behind and just as their dedication to isolation brought them challenges, my dedication to not turning my back on ‘civilization’ brings and will bring it’s own challenges.

And so it is that I am trying to walk in two worlds and sometimes, it is clear, that these worlds will walk over me instead.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Helpful info for sending mail to Heather

My address:
Heather Meader
P.O. Box 73
Bettles Field, AK 99726

•Small boxes are better – they are easier to cram into planes, snow mobiles etc.

•Package well – they will be tossed, jammed, dragged and possibly dropped out of a flying plane by the time they reach me.

•If you’re sending stuff between September and May make sure it can freeze. The back of a snowmobile or the inside of a Cessna 185 plane is NOT climate controlled.

•Put liquids in plastic bags incase they open.

•Package fragile stuff with newspaper so I don’t have to burn plastic and because its fun to read.

•If you can put things in reusable containers or ziplock bags please do.

•Keep in mind it could be months before I get it – no perishables or small children please.

•If there’s nothing fragile write: “OK to Airdrop” on letters and packages in case they get a chance to drop it out of a plane when they fly by.

•Magazines are fun!

•Letters are even better!

•Don’t be afraid to tell me about the messed up news stories – don’t worry it won’t depress me anymore then I already am. I’d rather find out while I’m out there then all at once when I come out.

•Please don’t send a lot of food or treats in one package – space them out. Although I love getting treats – I’ve recently found that when I get too much all at once then I get overwhelmed. It’s like I’ve just been teleported into a Co-op or Safeway. For example if you want to send me chocolate, send me one or two bars not a whole box.

•If you have come across some money and want to buy me something special that would be helpful out there, for Christmas or just for fun, but are at a loss as what to buy. Check and enter my first and last name: Heather Meader-McCausland. There’s small stuff like mosquito repellent and really expensive stuff like a nice cozy parka. There’s everything from books to toys to survival gear. You don’t have to buy it from the specific stores like Cabela’s, REI or – in fact I highly suggest you look around – especially with the REI gear. They are so over priced. If you purchase something on the wish list please ‘reserve it’ on the website so that other people know not to buy it.

•Cotton and non-cotton socks are always nice.

•Powdered WHOLE milk is also always nice as well as peanut butter.

•Bulk orders of basic staples such as flour, rice, noodles, Peanut Butter, Milk, Sugar etc. etc. are always very much appreciated. They can best be purchased through Span Alaska Last I checked you needed to order at least $100 worth of food – so it is probably best for several people to go into an order together.

•If you can ditch the packaging please do.

•I always try to write back. But please don’t be offended if I don’t write back or I write something very short. I have an injured shoulder that screams at me when I write letters and I need it to be happy so I can be out there and so I can work when I’m back in ‘civilization’.

•Keep in mind the mail delay when sending letters or waiting for a response. It can take several months for me to get your letter. Even if I read it and write you right away, it can take several months before I see a plane to send it out on. Yes, that means it might take up to 6 months to get a response, even if I write the letter the next day!

The Future, a message from Heather Meader

As many of you know, I am returning back to the cabin in a few weeks. This is a time of many new challenges and changes, one of the most prominent being that I will be returning alone. I will be spending the winter (and possibly longer) living at the cabin as well as in Bettles or Fairbanks where I will be going to school online when I‘m not at the cabin. I suspect spending part of winter in town will be a very different experience - pipes to freeze, furnaces to break…plenty of adventure to be had!

After returning in 2007 I determined that I couldn’t leave my Alaskan home permanently. I couldn’t just walk away, deny its importance to me, start a new life and say : “Well, that was a cool adventure”. It had gotten back into my blood with such a fierce love and such a fierce passion - I couldn’t turn my back. It was too much a part of me, no longer layered and lost by the daily distractions of ‘civilization’.

The fact is, this beautiful valley holds my first memories and has always remained, first and foremost, my first love and first home. For me it is the place where everything -the land, my family, and their ideals- shaped so much of who I am. And because of this the world out there makes sense in a way that no other place has made sense to me.

One of the main differences between my parents and me is that my return is not based on a rejection of society. Although I have plenty of problems with the state of the world, I am not returning to the wilderness to try to remove myself from society and my friends and family permanently. Instead, I am trying to walk in two worlds. As much as that land is part of my heart and soul, so are my family and friends and the “landscape” of this “civilization.” Because of all this, I’ve decided to attempt to split my time between the two places. This return will be the beginning of this new life.

Lots of people have been surprised by this decision and have had a hard time understanding how and why. First, I think it’s important to note that many people split their lives between two places. Whether it be people who choose to have a part time home in Hawaii, Florida or Paris, or whether it be people who commute long distances in planes and cars for work. The idea that people can live or have homes in two places is not new to our society. Choosing to spend your time in a home in the arctic is a bit unique, I suppose, but to each his own.

To do something like this takes work and creativity. Deciding to do this meant trying to build a new way of life, and a way of sustaining that life. Because of this I have chosen to go back to school (online) for Graphic and Web Design, a job I can take most anywhere (although not all the way out to the cabin - thank God!). With these job skills I can work in Bettles, Fairbanks and California. Deciding to go public with my photography as well as talks and showings of Year of the Caribou was also part of that decision.

Another important aspect of my return is the realization of how much more Northern Light Legacy can accomplish with one of the family members now on the land consistently. Our goals to take care of the cabins, rebuild the old ones, and to gather information about my parent’s way of life has been, and will continue to be, easier through the consistent presence of one of us living there. Not to mention that a more consistent involvement on the land will also help in understanding more intimately the political forces that affect the landscape and life out there.

How my life on the land unfolds in the future still remains to be seen. Presently, I’m focusing and working on the immediate needs of restoring the cabins. Hoisting 25+ logs onto 10’ walls with me, myself and I will possibly be a very challenging endeavor for this spring or summer - but not impossible. (I take great comfort in the solitary life of the miners and trappers and what they accomplished). Of course, I would much prefer to be working alongside one or two other people on these projects. However, finding the right people to work on these projects is not always easy. I need a person to be skilled in many outdoor and building areas (or at least be an open and fast learner). He or she needs to be compatible in personality and work habits. It’s no fun to be trapped in the wilderness, swinging axes with someone you don’t get along with! And finally they need to have the job flexibility and financial ability to travel to the Interior Arctic for several months.

I am lucky enough to know several people whose skills and personality would be great for the job. Finances, however, are the single, largest issue that holds them back from assisting me with the cabins. With their help, I have no doubt that I could finish the Creekside cabin (Check out my website for pictures of the Creekside) and possibly restore the “Old Study”. What would help us at this time is donations, sponsorship or frequent flyer miles to get one or more of these people up to the lake for spring or early summer to help with the restoration projects.

If you would like to donate towards helping the restoration of the original cabins please contact my mother, Elaine McCausland, at Any questions in regards to the restoration projects can be directed towards myself at Please be patient, I’ll most likely be back on computer contact by December.

In the longer term future, as we rebuild the cabins and continue to turn the place back into a home again, we have also discussed possibly using the land to support short term visits. In particular, I have considered bringing children, students and/or photographers out to the land…to experience a world that is probably quite different from much that surrounds them. But at this time it isn’t the season for such plans. Now is the time to learn from, and to help take care of, a land that sustains me and has sustained my family. I have much to learn there still.
I am not sure of the length of time that I will remain in Alaska so I, of course, welcome any letters or care packages to help with the ‘wow, I am really all
alone out here in this land of endless snow and silence’ feeling that I am bound to have now and than (Please see the updated document titled: How to Write Heather for details)
So, for all of you that know us, and for all of you that have been following these updates, I welcome you to a new chapter!

If you haven’t already, check out our new websites (where you can buy the DVD of Year of the Caribou) and (where you can see pictures of my life out there). If you know of someone who would like to receive these updates please refer them to our website we they can now sign up for them directly.

I hope you enjoy the most recent updates and I wish you all the best in the rest of the summer, fall and winter.

- Heather Meader

Thoughts On Culture Shock: Part 2

The real complex culture shock really didn’t hit me until about week after landing in Oakland. It was all a strange adventure until it became home and then the strangeness became stronger and the adventure lessened quickly.

I had already experienced the strangeness of driving while in Fairbanks and Juneau and now it just seemed that there was no real definition between 45 mph and 70 mph, it was all just unworldly fast and felt like a dream.

The intensity of sounds, however, really didn’t hit me till I was living in Oakland. Up North I had become accustomed to the different sounds - there weren’t a lot of them and they weren’t layered very thick. If I didn’t know a new sound it was cause for curiosity and/or concern. Here in the city however, sounds were different. There were a ton of them and there were lots of layers. I couldn’t identify many of them and some that I could identify seemed alarming.

I’d walk down the street to the lake in downtown Oakland and hear the sounds of traffic on the freeway ¼ mile away, the sounds of cars on my street, the sounds of busses two streets over, then layered on that I’d hear a bird or two, someone’s music and then someone else’s music, several people talking and two people yelling, layered on that an airplane and a helicopter, a siren, a car door closing, the wind in the trees… Every sound was so clear - too clear and piled on top of each other. My mind, not used to these sounds, jolted forward and back - trying to register each one, trying to stop and think. My body naturally would follow suit. It was hard to hold a conversation, hard to walk without pausing every other step, hard to listen and comprehend. The speed and amount of sounds was too much. My mind would quickly go into over drive and within an hour I felt utterly physically and mentally exhausted.

Food became difficult as well. After a year of dreaming of foods I couldn’t have I found I didn’t want any of the foods around me. I would wonder around the supermarket and look at all the glossy packages. But they didn’t register as food - they were more like pages in a magazine. Nothing made sense - where was the food, y’know food? Not the flashy processed stuff. I no longer really remembered what some of those things tasted like and I couldn’t register, as hungry as I was, whether I REALLY wanted that particular item.

When I ended up in the produce section my mind seemed to explode. I remembered the Weins flying in on x-mas eve, running towards our cabin as fast as they could and bursting in the door with a package wrapped up. It was fruit! They had traveled all the way from Fairbanks during a time when we had about 3 ½ hours of light (just enough to get to us and back) and had hand delivered to us fresh fruit in -30 degree weather. It was quite an accomplishment. I remember I could only eat half an apple at a time, it was overwhelming and did a number on my stomach…but it was damn good! Now here I was in a produce section the size of 2 or 3 of my cabins. There were so many apples - all different. I remember I called Ryan, I was in tears. It was all to noisy, there was too much fruit, it was too bright, people were walking too fast, no one looked at me or said hi, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t decipher the sounds, I couldn’t think - nothing made sense anymore. What felt vaguely familiar now was discombobulating and all crashing down on me. I suddenly felt fiercely a lone and utter lost in a way I had never felt up north.

I was so much more happier with that basket of apples than when I was standing in a sea of them.

During those first months, I spent a lot of time wondering how far we had come.

Have our bodies adjusted to all that incoming “noise” - so that it is truly normalized? Or are we, deep down, in a constant state of adrenalin and reaction - trying to take in more than our bodies were designed to compute?
It is now a year later and I’m preparing to return to my Northern home. I know that I’ve adjusted to much of this world here. If for no other reason than that I’ve spent much of my life in ‘civilization’ so my adjustment ’back’ should be easy - yet I still feel that I am not as comfortable and confident as I once was in this ‘society’. I suspect much of it is due to my resistance to allowing my mind and body to forget the north. To turn my back on that reality is like turning my back on part of who I am - but allowing myself to be remembering two worlds at once means that I am probably forcing a bit of ‘culture shock’ to remain reacting in an uncomfortable state of awareness instead of escaping into a tunnel of denial…