Blown Away

We have lived in our new home for about 18 months now.  I’ll never forget the day we found this place:  it was a crisp, clear January afternoon.  Clark had found the listing online that morning, and we decided to do a drive by.  Imagine our surprise when we discovered there was an open house, and we could tour the home that very day!

We weren’t two steps into the living room before we knew this was the place for us.  There were huge windows overlooking Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range mountains; to the north we could see Denali, and to the southwest we could see several volcanoes.  We stayed until the sun went down (which wasn’t terribly rude, since it sets around 4 PM that time of year).  We were absolutely blown away.

Snapshot of our future living room on the day we found the house in January 2011.

There are many features we love about our home, but the view is definitely at the top of the list.  One day I caught myself staring out my kitchen window with a spatula in hand, oblivious to the grilled cheese sandwich that was burning below.  The sunsets are so amazing that I frequently dangle out the living room windows with a camera strapped around my neck like some ridiculous tourist.  It’s currently fall, and my morning commute guarantees either swans in the marsh, alpenglow on the mountains, or an Alaskan railroad engine rumbling down the tracks.  Some days I see all three, and it just blows me away.

In the 18 months we have lived in this house, we have been blown away over and over again.  Unfortunately, that’s not always such a good thing…

Our first experience with Anchorage Hillside windstorms came last November, when a 70 MPH guster kept us up half the night.  The house was shaking, the bathroom vents were flapping, the toilet water sloshing, and the giant creaking windows were suddenly more scary than scenic.  The next morning we crept outside like a couple of trauma victims, and did not take comfort in the neighbors’ reassurance that we would get used to it.  This was normal?

In December, Mother Nature decided to kick it up a notch.  This time the winds topped 100 MPH and once again we lay in bed, motionless and paralyzed with fear.  We were helpless as we heard the violent flapping sounds of shingles being savagely ripped from our roof.  Massive power outages ensued, and the blown transformers caused blinding light strobes that silhouetted our shingles somersaulting through the sky.

The next morning we learned that our roof had been totaled, and even the folks who had lived up here for decades crept out of their homes trembling.  We helped our neighbors hunt down their canoes, hot tub covers, wheel barrows, and trash cans.  We also spent the next few months plucking shingles from each others’ alders.

The neighbors were right – we can now sleep through the little 70 MPH gusts.  The problem is that the 100+ gales seem to be more of a norm lately.  It’s only fall, but last week a wind storm raged through Anchorage that uprooted entire trees and left thousands without power for nearly a week.  The storm was not discretionary – it enveloped the entire city and even resulted in an unprecedented school closure.  In September.  Three feet of snow won’t rattle this district, and our children don’t get indoor recess unless it’s -10 degrees… but this storm shut down everything from schools to Subway’s credit card machines.  (Yes, the sandwich shop.)  It was massive.

The viral Anchorage Facebook picture… I honestly thought it was photoshopped until I witnessed the local damage for myself. (Photo credit: Jamie Miller)

We were lucky last week:  we didn’t lose power, shingles, or trees.  Our only casualty was a cancelled Alaska Airlines flight.  My aunt had been staying with us for the previous three weeks and was scheduled to fly back to Arizona on a red eye the night of the wind storm.  I was nervous to drive our mountain road in the blustering winds, so Clark took her to the airport around 11 PM, only to return at 3 AM to bring her back home again.  She was happy to stay longer, but the wind storm wasn’t the ideal way to extend her trip.

The weather service kept saying the storm was a rare fall event, but last weekend a second hurricane force front was forecast to slam the city.  In some parts of the country, people would have tacked plywood to their windows and evacuated.  In Alaska, husbands still go moose hunting.

If it weren’t for the dog, I probably would have accepted an invitation to spend the night in town with friends.  Instead, the kids and I huddled under a giant fleece blanket and watched a recording of that day’s Husker game.  When we arrived home around 9 PM it was eerily calm – not a leaf was rustling – but by the end of the game things had changed drastically.  It sounded as if the wind was using our gutters as its personal clarinet, and I didn’t particularly enjoy the melody.

Luckily the kids slept soundly, but I spent the night awake and alert in a jostling bed.  With each gust the curtains danced and the bed literally shook, and all I could think about was what I would do if the windows suddenly imploded.  Would the curtains prevent the shards of glass from impaling us?  The mind can do crazy things when left alone in fear, and I was starting to think I was crazy until an interior door blew open and slammed against a wall.  Nope.  My fear was rational.

The next morning I had a sleep-deprived headache, and Clark came home early from his hunt.  Only the kids were unfazed.  As soon as the horizontal rain let up, the neighbor kids all emerged and started ringing doorbells.  They propped up the basketball hoop , but it kept blowing back down so they moved on to a rambunctious game of Capture the Flag instead.

Throughout the city many old, beloved trees had been lost.  But in our neighborhood, budding friendships were still growing strong.

We had a few days of reprieve, but tonight a third storm is predicted to rock our world.

It’s hard not to slump into buyer’s remorse about this house.  Back at our old duplex, we had a lack of wind and ten years of memories.  We made many improvements to that home:  my dad built a hearth, Clark built a back yard, I painted every inch of every wall, and the kids wore dirt patches beneath the swing set.  Here, we can’t even have a swing set because it would blow away.

Of course, we had no control over the neighborhood or square footage at the duplex.  Did I really want to go back to a kitchen where an open dishwasher door barricaded the entire room?  Where we had to convert a coat closet to a pantry?  Where the guest room was barely big enough for a blow up bed?  Where we slept in a basement bedroom underneath moose antlers, and the kids shared a bedroom, closet, and dresser?  And, worst of all, where police SWAT teams were starting to visit?

In the midst of these windstorms, the answer was sometimes yes.  Maybe the weather was just an excuse, but it was hard to leave the home where we had planned our wedding, assembled our baby cribs, and screwed holes in the ceiling for Johnny Jump Ups.  That duplex holds a lot of happy memories for us, of festive birthday parties to quiet moments with nursing babies.  The kids have memories there too; just the other day Sam was reminiscing about the football fields Clark used to spray paint on our grass out back.

I think it all comes down to sentimental value.  That’s what I’m still waiting for here, at our new home, and for every two steps forward these wind storms set me 10 steps back.  It would be nice to spend funds on something other than the roof and chronically disappearing gutter drain spouts.  Infrastructure is important, but not fun.  Or cheap.  Have you priced generators lately?

Our old house would have been great if we could have contained our children indoors for life.  We lived on a cul-de-sac, but still didn’t feel comfortable letting the kids explore on their own.  Who would have dreamed they would have more autonomy up here in bear country, where they are free to run amok through the entire neighborhood?

Through these wind storms, I just need to have faith.  The night we moved into this home, we had a constant crew of friends helping us move, unpack, and clean.  I went to bed that night with an overwhelming feeling that the house was happy.  I can’t explain it, but I just knew this home was pleased with its new family.  The feeling was ethereal.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a moment like that since, but as we embark upon another wind storm it’s a reassuring memory.  I just need to trust:  in the roots our children are making, the protection our home has already offered, and the memories yet to be made here.

So trust I will… but I’m still going to figure out a way to tie down those drain spouts!

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