I’ve gotten more mail in the last year and a half than I’ve ever gotten all together in my life, but it’s all email. Getting regular mail, or snail mail, as it’s come to be called, is difficult to say the least. When the kids were going to school, it was merely an issue of making an extra stop after school, but even so mail only came twice a week. Back then, we took great pains to not have monthly bills; the only one we had was the phone bill and we kept that one paid over the phone, we still do. The rest of the mail was just junk mail anyway most of the time. There were the occasional Christmas cards from assorted family but all in all, there was really very little.
Now that the kids are grown and gone, getting the mail is not so easy. With the post office being over twenty-seven miles up river, and since I just don’t get that direction any more, going to the post office has to be a planned affair. I’m old and lazy these days so the trip pretty much kills my day. During the summer, it’s a two or more hour run up there, a delightful chat with Joe, the Post Master and maybe a nice visit with Norma, his wife, and then it’s another two hour trip home - faster going down river, but really, it’s not different enough to calculate - maybe twenty minutes faster going home than going up - I never really did the math. Of course you have to remember that during the summer, I’m also working at least six days a week. Now really, on my one day off, do you think I want to spend it running to the post office? As it is, I have six days of chores at home to catch up on.
Sometimes, my husband will check out the fishing up river and he will stop in at the post office when he does. Sometimes my boss does the same thing and he’ll pick up my mail too. Everyone loves Joe, and everyone likes to show off our unique post office. Occasionally some of my other assorted neighbors will collect the river mail and deliver it down the river and sometimes someone will bring mine over to work for me. It’s always a nice pleasure when that happens. All in all, if I can’t get my mail brought down to me, I don’t go get it until I can do it by snowmachine. It’s still a long trip, but I can pick my day, a nice sunny day. I can bundle up, put my sunglasses on if the sun’s shining, and toodle on up at a comfortable speed, enjoying the view as I go. I suppose I really should be more sociable on these trips but really, I just want to get there and get home. I really am kind of lazy when it comes to that sort of thing and I never have been a visiting kind of person.
There are great chunks of the year when a trip to the post office, or anywhere for that matter, is quite impossible. From somewhere in September usually to somewhere in December if I’m lucky the water goes down too far to travel by boat and I need to wait until we get a couple feet of snow before we can go anywhere by snowmachine. You see, down Twentymile Slough, where I live, there is at least two places where we need to shovel ramps in order to get on and off the river. One ramp is right here where we park the boats. That gets us down onto the river, but Twentymile Slough is a wicked witch sometimes and there is one place between us and the Yentna River where it only freezes over safe enough for travel at like twenty below (that’s Fahrenheit) (roughly -50C). So, rather than wrestle with this spot, we go around it, which calls for another ramp.
Breaking a trail all the way out of here is more than just shoveling those ramps. You need to be somewhat skilled at driving a snowmachine in powder snow, not my strong point. That’s Don’s department; I’m the one who gets to do the shoveling. Along with the first ramp, we generally pack and mark a runway down on the river, so while I’m shoveling, Don’s going up and down the river, packing the runway.
I shovel some and then walk down and up it to pack it some and then shovel some more. I keep doing that until I can walk up it without crawling, then Don drives up and down it a time or two. Maybe there’s some more shoveling, but generally, if I can walk it more or less, it’s good enough for the machine to make it up. Then it’s a day or two to let it harden. When we’ve recovered enough from doing that, it’s the seven-mile trip out to the main river, the Yentna, with its one necessary ramp about halfway there.
My laziness factor comes into effect here too. Once was the time when I would get a couple week’s work at the lodge during the Iditarod, but that hasn’t happened for a few years now, so the need to break that trail out comes down to my one post office run. Yeah, I only go up there once. Yeah, I’m that lazy, but really, I never have that much to go up there after. And it’s not as if we get a lot of visitors. In all the time we’ve lived down here, we’ve only had a handful of visitors stop in and that’s not counting the neighbors who live down here - two, one who long since moved down to the lower 48 and our next door neighbor who only comes out on holidays - he stops in at least once every winter.
At any rate, my need to break out a trail I’ll use only once is really rather slim. I think, now that my son is living in Eagle River, I’ll change my mailing address. It will be a lot easier for him to drop our mail off at a plane coming our way than for me to do all that work for a leisurely toodle to the post office.
In the spring, from somewhere in April to somewhere near the end of May, the river is once again untravelable. In April the sun in the afternoon is starting to do its work on the snow and the trails start getting soft - sink far enough and you hit melt water on top of the ice. At this time of year, you only have to sink a few inches to see water. There’s still plenty of ice down there, but you can still get stuck if you’re not careful, and I’m not strong enough to get unstuck. Walking on a trail that’s soft enough where a snow machine sinks is impossible unless you want to get wet up to your knees or higher - I see myself crawling. I don’t let myself get into that kind of situation.
Sometime around the end of April or first part of May, enough water has melted to float the ice - breakup, we call it. The ice will lift up, break apart and get carried down the river. This can be a very dangerous part of the year. The ice will jam up somewhere and the water behind it will build up, sometimes to near flood level. It did that here a couple years ago. I had to go down and babysit the boats. Not that they were in much danger of being carried away, but I wanted to ensure that they remained in the river when the water went back down. They kept drifting to the side, which would have left them high and dry, and so much harder to launch. As long as they were in the river, it didn’t matter if the water going down left them sitting on the bottom again, they wouldn’t be that way for long.
When the water rises high enough to lift the ice over whatever obstacle it was caught on, the whole thing gushes down to the next obstacle where the process starts all over again. The further these jams get down river, the less affect they have on what’s left behind, and all the time, both the sun and the water is eating away at the ice. This has all passed by the end of May and enough snow has melted to bring the water level back up to normal, or up far enough where travel by boat is again possible, and very shortly after that, I’m off to work again.