North Fork Women

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When family or friends inquire about how things are going with me living up in the woods somewhere near Canada, the answer always goes kind of wonky.

They can never quite grasp all that this reality entails as well as my choice to live somewhere so far from electricity and without hot water automatically spilling out at the turn of a faucet.

And I can’t really sell it to them because, well, if you get it, then you get it. And the women of the North Fork get it. Because the women of the North Fork are awesome.

They are always eager to swap tips and share hilarious stories of failure.

Because life up here is trial and error. And, eventually, success. The women of this valley live with a sense of determination because it is required.

Even when you’ve triple-read the instructions on how to put something together or start something up, just leave it to the extreme weather or the part (that’s in town) or the lack of connectivity, to always add a few extra steps when doing, well, anything.

“Simple problems with complicated solutions,” my friend, Jessica Brown, coined on a rather chilly, negative 10-degree October morning in 2009, as we were blasting the diesel generator with ether and a butane torch. To consciously subject yourself to this lifestyle, well, that’s awesome. Or crazy.

Showering and bathing are two aspects of the life in the woods for which I am ever curious and always passionate about North Forkettes methodology.

The term “shower poaching” is familiar to many of us, for when that opportunity presents itself (or you present yourself to it), you can always ask when visiting a more modern abode.

In summertime “bathing” is easy, breezy, thanks to warm air and a variety of bodies of water on tap. The wintertime, though, is when we have to get creative or down right adventurous.

Like that one time before the Valentine’s Day party on a particularly blustery 8-degree afternoon when the snow was blowing sideways and I slung that bag of hot water from the post at the platform spanning the slough, hoping to get showered before the water refroze. Mission accomplished. And if it isn’t an elemental shower you’re in for, Margaret suggests setting up an oversized Tupperware next to the wood stove and the pot of hot water on top of it and taking a nice relaxing bath indoors. Or there’s the ‘70s Hippie style of the horse trough over the firepit. Just don’t forget to put a smooth slab of wood at the bottom of the tub so you don’t burn your buns. Bird baths or sponge baths. Water snow melted or hand-pumped. The women up here prove, time and again, cleanliness can be achieved without basic amenities. And always with a view. Awesome.

All that, and then you realize the firewood doesn’t chop itself. Fortunately, the firefighters, therapists, consultants, biologists, educators, entrepreneurs, historians, chefs, bakers, writers, ministers, doctors, Park employees, scrappy self-sufficient babes and hardcore homemakers don’t think twice about wielding an ax or a saw. Oh yeah, and the mail carrier in a pear tree.

Obviously, the women of the North Fork have been on my mind this week. Why, you ask? Well, it was called to my attention that Diane Boyd, a North Fork babe for a few decades, took her last trip (of her career anyway) to Kintla Lake to check on her wolves one more time as the biologist for FWP before she retires. You can read a lot about Diane’s accomplishments over the last 40 years she’s been obsessed with wolves. Just Google her name and click on the impressive drop bar of search results you’ll find. Her passion translates nicely. Also, this week I ran into another North Fork sweetie at the grocery store by the name of Debo Powers. If you haven’t heard of her yet, you will soon. She’s the new representative for House District 3, she was sworn in last Wednesday and she is eager to get busy at the capital on our behalves. I’ve always felt fortunate to call this place home. Now, thanks to the reminder from a few awesome neighbors, I’m feeling evermore fortunate to be surrounded by such inspiring women. It might be time to assemble a women’s outdoor Olympics team. What do you think?

— Flannery Coats is a North Fork woman and columnist for the Hungry Horse News.

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