The truth is there are no sane hermits. Forgive me, then, if I occasionally long for a more spartan existence. Mortgages and relationships require maintenence, and I've been in a place where there was no harassing phone, no media blast, no internet, and no dry erase "to do" board. I wasn't entirely miserable there. Cat Stevens caught grief for reasonably dumping the clutter of his life, and walkabouts are an accepted practice in some cultures. I was ready for a break in May when the phone call came.
Two people I didn't know needed a hand. They were relatives of the second or third distant kind, young brothers coming to Alaska to work. The younger one I'd met for the first time in his father's shop several years ago when he was a sneering preteen, critically watching (not helping) while I replaced a U-joint in my stranded vehicle. He'd been surly and disrespectful, and I wrote him off as someone with few prospects for a productive life. His brother I had only heard of because my mother rambles on about family, neighbors, and friends that are importantly connected to her, whether or not they have relevance to her conversation target. I knew he was just back from Iraq, but had no inkling or interest in where he was headed.
When they arrived unannounced in Alaska, I was in a remote place, corraled with a group of men that had spent too much time together, just wanting to finish the current job and move into the next phase of our lives. Cell service was nil, so I didn't get the message for two days, when I stepped onto the Anchorage tarmac, and switched the phone on.
"Um, Hi. I don't know if you know me, but this is..."
Damn. Understand I didn't have a choice. Long ago my father accepted several troubled nephews, put them to work at the trading post, turned almost all of them around. I had been taken in by a friend's family in Ketchikan when I had first come north, spending a wonderful week in a spectacular author's home until I steadied my stance. The grandfather of these boys had salvaged my arse from a dilemma when I was nineteen and needed five gallons of gas at three a.m.
"Where are you now?"
"We couldn't find you, so we got a motel and rented a car."
The Marriott summer rates are two-and-a-quarter per night in Anchorage. They'd shelled over two hundred for the ride. I'll bet sticker shock kills more Alaska tourists than bears do, and I don't blame relatives, even distant ones, for searching out a space on the floor for a sleeping bag. I make sure they understand, though, that the hospitality industry only has a few months to cover the cost of operations, and the folks that live here have limited time to enjoy their own summer activities. I had plans for fishing and extended motorcycle trips, with no plans to change those plans because others hadn't planned.
"The first thing we need to do is get you out of that motel. Then we'll return your car. I've got room and a car you can use temporarily. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
I remember a saying my mother repeats, about fish and house guests getting old after three days. "If they last that long, I'll be amazed," I thought. They've got Alaska at their fingertips, a young man's dream.
As it turns out I didn't know anything about their dreams.
Update: Three years later, and they still live in town with a gaggle of friends and their mother, who came up last year. The younger cousin joined the Alaska Air National Guard, and deployed to Afghanistan, soon to return. The older attended the college and works steadily, hoping to soon land a job he can call a career so he can pursue flying and the other items on his checklist of things to do while living in Alaska.
Good on 'em.