Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lydia brings me a plate of hot empanadas and a beer, then floffs down into the other chair at the little table.

"I think it's time for my break."

"Busy day?"

"Enough. I think the expeditions are coming back through."

We watch a group of people trudge up the street, stopping to point and comment--everything new to them. They look like scientists. Some days in Puerto Williams everyone looks like a scientist.

"I just feel like I need to get out of here--get outside in some air before it's dark."

"Do you want me to stay for a while?"

Lydia pauses. "Could you work for me this weekend? Alex is coming through, and if the weather holds, we can do a little hiking."

What can I say? Besides, it will be good for me to get out of my own little house, see some new faces, fix up something besides a pot of beans.

"Sure. I can cover for you."

Alex--and yet the postcard burns in my hand.

"What have you got there," Lydia asks, eyeing the photograph from Santiago.

"Haven't read it."

"You're impossible!" She makes half a grab at it, and then she wipes her hands on her apron and sashays back behind the counter.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A brisk Autumn, the wind snapping, blowing right through me as I walk down the hill into Puerto Williams. Picking up the mail has become a daily ritual instead of once a week. I don't find something every day, but I can feel my heart lifting just a little in my rib cage--just in case.

This afternoon, a letter from my sister and another postcard from Sevario, a picture of Cerro Santa Lucia. I look at the photograph, not wanting to turn the card over yet, savoring that delicious anticipation. I tuck both into my jacket pocket and head down the street to see Lydia.

Monday, December 13, 2010

(This on a postcard.)

Dear Misha,

I'm in Nevados de Chillàn, covering the sea and spa scene--spring on the slopes.

How are you? I'm still angling for another assignment down south. Tell the Chief hello for me. And Lydia.

-- Sevario

Succinct. But it's a postcard. I met him for a couple of days. But I read it again.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dear Misha,

I read your letters and I realize I've never heard you, the sound of your voice. I don't want to hear it flattened, compressed into a recording, or stretched thin over the wires.

Maybe this is sudden--too sudden, this need to meet you, to be with you. Why now, after so many years?

I walk along the docks before the sun comes up, listen to the birds and the slosh and the clanks. I listen to the old men tell stories over beer and Aqvavit. I listen to the wind sweeping through the streets. I've hung a wind chime up at the house. I hope you'll like it.

South Bend sounds bright--maybe in the winter? That's too long, too far away. Or right away. Yes, it sounds crazy. But I just finished another project, and I've been saving. I'll talk to Holloran about flights.

We will meet.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Two cards

February 2. Back home, it is Groundhog day--a day of hope, a trust that Spring will come and maybe even soon. No matter that the Northwest sky would still hunker down like a wet blanket until March rolled in on its fierce winds. No matter that night still dropped early.

Here on the opposite side of the equator, it's a sad day for me, a sign that Autumn is growing serious. It will be dark sooner and longer until we leave for the north.

Again, I consider some mid-point. And I knit and purl and cable. The stream of travelers through Puerto Williams is thinning, but the cash in my jar has grown.

Is it enough?

I think at this rate it might take decades for me to meet Henry anywhere. Saverio is closer.

And I stop. Both of these are impossible. I'm talking about traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to see two men--neither of whom I even know. That isn't even safe. It's crazy. It's not me.

Then I look at the letters resting on the kitchen table, and I read each one.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


"I don't know what I'm doing."

"Here?" he asks. "Here with me?"

I drag another silence into its own epoch.

"One of those."

The waiter clears our plates.

Saverio smiles. "This is a very different first date," he says.

"I'm out of practice."

"What, with all these young men around?"

"Some." I think seriously about dessert--I saw a lemon tart on the board.

"Some young men. Saverio, I knit for a living. I sell books. That must tell you something."

Please let it not.

"I am rushing this," he says. "We don't need to talk about travel yet. I have your address. I'll write."

More stamps.

Monday, December 6, 2010

And I don't have one.

Studiously, I saw into my lamb chop--not exactly delicate of me.

What can I ask him? What can I say?

It's been a couple of days--just a couple of days. And yet I feel a connection, this thrumming. It's the way I feel when I read Henry's letters. But this guy is not on paper. He's sitting right across from me, cracking open a crab leg.

Why do I feel allegiance to anyone? I don't think of myself as a drama queen, and yet I'm constructing scene after scene--like turns in a labyrinth. True, that's pretty dramatic. But I'm losing myself--or I'm finding myself, and it feels like lost.

I chew through the silence.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I order lamb--a sumptuous splurge. Saverio orders crab.

"Surrounded by the sea," he explains.

I live in the midst of crab harvests all year long.

"Chile is so thin, you're never far from the sea."

"It's true," he admits. "But in the city it is not the same. Here, I feel like I just climbed out of the sea myself."

"That sounds cold. And very wet."

He laughs. "You live close to the sky here--Nido Claro--and close to all the weather."

"On the margin of comfort."

"But you seem happy. You all seem happy."

I shrug as the waiter brings us our bottle of wine. We wait while he opens the bottle and pours.

A simple toast, and then Saverio adds, "I'd like to see you some more."

I want to ask why, and I know that it won't sound right. I don't say anything yet. I don’t know what to say yet.

"But I won't be able to come down here for a while."

He swirls the wine in his glass. Is he waiting for me to offer to come to Santiago? I'm already trying to save money to meet with Henry. I can't possibly afford two trips, and now I'm starting to worry, and I'm feeling more tense, and I sip my wine.

"You don't travel outside, do you?"

"It's hard," I start. "It costs money--another margin we're on."

I need a new question, right now.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Saverio stays at a hostel down the hill for three days. He speaks with the Lydia and the Chief and Gabriella. He stops by my house for tea--and now I can knit while he asks me questions. He is like a shark--or some other animal who can hunt out its answers. But he does not seem hard or voracious like a shark. No, he targets a thread and follows it.

I end up telling him about growing up in South Bend. I tell him about my family. I tell him about my father.

I tell him about my letters to Henry, and his letters to me. I think about the card I sent so long ago. I haven't heard a word since.

And Saverio can see that cloud crossing my face, so I try to change the subject.

"What about you?"

He asks me out to dinner.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Here, I don't know as much, except what I've read from Henry, what my friends have heard about their partners.

Some people can't stand the sunlight. Is it their brains, their nerve endings? I haven't read the research--any of it--but the sun can give them migraines. Excruciating. So they seek a way to avoid the sun, to live and work in darkness.

It's a smaller group. And they have been able to get some research grants. Maybe that isn't it. Researchers have been able to get grants to study them--people who want to find out more about brain chemistry or the physiological effects of living with such low doses of sunlight. Vitamin D companies, too.

But I falter. I don't really want to talk about Henry right now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I've never found out how Egill Lundgren became known as "The Chief." Captain would be a better fit. But somewhere along the line, someone began to call him the Chief, and as much as he didn't like it, the name stuck. I think he doesn't like to be thought of as the boss, but he is our leader--making the travel arrangements, helping people find living spaces. And "The Facilitator" just doesn't have the same ring.

Over the years, people have come and gone or come and stayed. Sometimes it's families. Sometimes scientists have stopped by to monitor our health--but that happens more with the others.

"Tell me about the others."

Monday, November 29, 2010

"But you aren't Norwegian. And your friend Lydia?"

"She's from Minsk. We're from all over."

"How do people find you? How did you come here?"

I tell him the story about the library, about meeting Lydia and the Chief.

"Usually, it seems, someone overhears someone's brother or cousin talking about it, and they ask, and they come to see for themselves." I think about Alex and Jeff, Paolo and Gabriel, all of us have wandered into this.

"We aren't a secret society."

"But you keep a pretty low profile."

"The Chief says it's easier that way."

"The Chief…"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Egill started out in Punta Arenas. He got a job working on the ferries crossing the channel--seasonal work, when the tourists come down to hike and more science expeditions are leaving for their bases on Antarctica. He visited the other towns in the area. It was happening--he was doing it!

By the New Year, he started to plan his next move. Winter was coming to the southern hemisphere. Egill remembered trips his family took up to Finnmark. When the Vernal Equinox arrived, Egill Lundgren was on a plane to Alta, Norway. There, at least, he'd know the language--or one of them.

Again, he traveled, picked up odd jobs, and tried not to seem too strange. In high summer, he could look like a tourist. He traveled to Nordkapp, Hammerfest, and Kirkenes.

He traveled back and forth for a few years, spending more than he was able to make. His third or fourth year, he met Stian Halvorsen, worked with him in his shop. Stian had a brother who troubled through the dark winters. The brother had a friend, and the friend had a wife. They came to Stian's and asked to join Egill when he left for the south. That's how it started.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"So it's been about 30 years?"

"Don't you need to write these things down?"

"Probably." Saverio pulls a pad of paper out of his back.

"No fancy gadgets? You're from the big city."

"I'm trying to fit in."

"You think we're primitive."

"You don't?" he asks as his pencil scratches a few notes.

"Yes, about 30 years."

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Egill Lundgren was working in the Brest offices of Hansen Shipping when February on the Breton coast wore him thin. Always the damn February, with its snow flurries and its pall, clouds in the sky and the light failing early, rising late.

Sure, Egill knew darkness. He grew up in Bergen, with its long, dark winters. He'd traveled that long tunnel. But one afternoon reviewing shipping records of cargo through Panama, he thought about the old days--and the Cape. If summers up north were light, those same long days were stretching the year's other half in the extreme south.

It was that obvious. Why hadn't anyone thought of this before?

The rest of the month took on a deeper gloom, as Egill realized he'd need a job. How could he support himself in an itinerant life? This was in the 1980s, before the Internet and working remotely. Even now, we're remote enough that we don't really have Internet. Wi-Fi is not an option here.

But spring was coming, and he made it through the summer, and he kept planning. He thought about medical studies. Could he be paid to be someone's guinea pig? He thought about government grants. He thought about his pension. He's lose that--but by September, he didn't care. He'd figure out something, anything. He bought a plane ticket and left on the equinox.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I offer a cup of tea. The house sounds extra quiet while I wait for the water to boil and Saverio looks around. There is not a lot to see here. I bring what I can carry--and Henry does not leave much behind. The books he keeps are those that he needs for his work, and so he travels with them. On the shelves, the ubiquitous field guide for local birds, a history of Chile written in Spanish, a couple of travel guides for Patagonia, and an atlas. The rest of the space is filled with yarns and wool. Few secrets are hidden here.

The kettle whistles, and pour the water over the tea, smell the rising steam laced with chamomile, mint, orange, and lavender. It's a healing.

I bring the cups over to the little table, and Saverio joins me there. Thank heavens I have two chairs.

"What brings you down here to find out about our little band?"

"It's different."

I hear "weird." Anyone else would have said "weird."

"It's not the kind of thing you hear about every day." He pauses, and I'm filling in all the blanks. Wait, Misha--this is supposed to be a good thing.

"How did it start?"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We walk up the hill to Nido Claro, our little nest of homes. I was worried about what to say, my ongoing struggle with small talk, but Saverio starts to ask questions--how many people, how long have I been here, how did all of this start. I realize I'm walking with a journalist.

I stop in the middle of the road.

"How did you find out about us?"

We try not to advertise. It's just a little stranger than most people want to know, a little too unrooted.

"You and your friend Lydia seemed extra quiet about who you were, where you were from."

We start to walk again.

"So I asked around in Ushuaia, talked with some of the vendors. Who are the ladies? And they tell me about the people who come around sometimes, and the man with the little wooden trains is from here, from Puerto Williams, and he talked about the nomads."

That's us.

"I convinced my editor that it might make an interesting travel story."

"A lot of travel."

"Yes. And I thought I might need a sweater." Saverio grins, and I'm being flirted with or played.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I am going to buy onions at the market in Puerto Williams when I catch the Chief in the corner of my eyes. He's speaking in his deliberate, patient way. I look again, and see Saverio! It looks like him. How did he get here? He couldn't be doing a story on the resorts of Puerto Williams.

"Misha!" The Chief beckons.

"This is Saverio de la Cruz. Saverio, this is Misha Strand. Saverio is here to do a story about Nido Claro."

To anyone else, I would think "Yes, you want to see the freaks." But I want to be hopeful.

Saverio smiles. "We meet in Ushuaia."

He remembered. I pray to all the gods that I am not blushing.

"Misha can take you around, introduce you to some of the others, fill in the details. I've got a few things to take care of, but I'll meet you back here at 10:00."

I forget about the onions.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

We rang in the New Year at Lydia's, a long light night with music and wine, place packed up to the roof. Our little family. And just before midnight, a long walk up the hill and then down into the town. A little stumbling, but the whole world was out.

Now, I'm feeling gray. Maybe it's coming up on 30. Maybe it's seeing Lydia and Alex together, thinking that I blew it. Maybe it's that I haven't heard from Henry, although the letter could be lost anywhere between here and Norway. Maybe it's just that the sky sweeps wide and light as though it is holding all my loneliness over my head--and there is so much of it.

Face it, Misha. You are a depressed person. You are your father's child.

I've been swimming away from this my whole life, but now it feels like the wave is catching up with me.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

When I open the door, my little home smells like oranges, and I realize one is withering in the bowl on my kitchen table. Not so good there, Misha.

For a moment, I consider cloves, remembering the Christmas sachets we made in Girl Scouts. At the time, it felt so old-fashioned, so pioneer.

I look at my little one-room house--not pioneer, not frontier, but certainly rustic. I pitch the orange into the compost can, wince at the waste, and then I pour some water out of the jug and start a pot of beans. Next year, maybe I'll plant some squash.

Everything feels small, so I look out the window over the sink, up the hill. Otherwise, I feel like pacing. I don't have enough room to pace. A long walk would be good, but I just got here. I can feel all my edges now.

Saverio was not at the market this weekend. And why should he be. He's probably back in Santiago, his story about Ushuaia vacations already published and read.

I knew that, but knowing isn't everything.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It happened on 101 South.

My father would do that--get in the car and drive to California or even Mexico, throw a few things in a suitcase and flee November.

The first time, I was seven. For days, we didn't know where he was, where he'd gone. My mother's face tightened and her voice almost disappeared, just a metallic scraping under her breath. He finally called from San Diego, said he'd found some work at a hotel for the holiday season--maybe until spring.

They must have argued, "had words," when he returned that March. I don't remember, but he didn't leave again until I was 10. Then 12. Then every year. We got used to it the way families adjust to their foibles that to anyone else would seem crazy. And he always came back--with a tan and stories and hugs for his girls.

We began to trust that rhythm.

When they found his car, it had been in the water for a day--at least. They thought he might have fallen asleep, missed a turn. We tried to explain that he'd never drive at night, never in the dark. We asked them to look for skid marks, imagined a logging truck coming around the curve or a traveler marveling at the views. We trusted that he swerved to avoid a collision and ran off the road.

They asked if he was depressed, and we knew what they meant. What could we say?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

This rag-tag life, this giving up, this checking out. Is this me?

For seven years, I've said Yes. It has been my lifeline. Maybe that's how long grief lives.

I take another sip of wine. I know better--know grief lasts a lifetime, takes on its different shades the way copper grows its green patina, the way an iron railing rusts. It becomes a part of you. I have this grief and I have this hunger for light and a fear of the dark and so I'm sitting at a table quite close to the end of the world, unless you count Antarctica, and I'm asking myself dangerous questions.

And the light and the water blur into one big pool of sky and here. I'm just lonely. That's all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Because I am tired of being the little sister.

Because I am tired of feeling like the third wheel on a bicycle, dragging it over to the ruts at the edge of the road.

Because I am damn lonely, I sit at a table on the sidewalk, treat myself to supper and a glass of wine. Bless the tourists for this sustenance.

Alex met us at the market, and he and Lydia went out. Yes, they invited me to come along. Yes, for the reasons listed above, I said No.

And now I'm questioning everything.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pick a card, any card.

No, not any card. I'm looking at two.

No, it's all in my head.

The wind runs right through me at railing. The ferry chugs across the Beagle channel, and sea birds loop over head, screeing and swooping. Sunlight strikes the water and glances off. Lydia narrows her eyes in the glare, but I feel my whole body opening, as though the light is unfolding me and spilling out of me all at the same time.

I can't describe it the right way--but someone must have. I think back through my books, but I don't want to think right now--not about books, not about cards, not about men. I don't want to think about what I want.

I lean into the wind even as it snaps my scarf and steals my breath from my throat.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dear Henry,

This is almost like a conversation. So how would I start a conversation?

How are you up in Norway?

I tell him about going to the market with Lydia.

I'm trying to make some extra money to visit my sister. Would you meet us in Washington state?

Suddenly every word sounds awkward. Suddenly, I wish I'd grown up somewhere darker.

I don't need an answer right away. But let me know.

I hope you are well and enjoying the darkness.

(Is that funny? I can't tell whether that's funny.)

Best wishes,


I slip the card into the envelope and write my own address.

When I walk down the hill into Puerto Williams, the air snaps with the sea smell, and the sun rains lightly through an afternoon mist.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Don't get me wrong.

I love my little nest in Nido Claro. It's not like Kirkenes, but it's a home and it resonates for me, the way music sings after the guitar has been strummed.

Yes, I'm feeling sentimental. And I'm enjoying it. The light looks even lighter right now.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"You want to go to Ushuaia again this weekend?" Lydia is skeptical.

One more weekend until Christmas. I don't mention Sevario. I don't want to know whether she remembers him, whether she noticed him. In this way, we are and aren't like sisters.

Besides, she would tell me that he wouldn't still be hanging around. And she'd be right. I know that.

Still, I can use the cash, add it to my travel stash in the cookie jar.

"I have sweaters left, and this is our best chance."

Lydia gives me that sideways glance, but I know she can make money, and I know she wants to go, and I know we'll be heading to Ushuaia.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In Nido Claro

I don't have a bank account!

It's been seven years, and I never thought about it until this morning.

I have stamps now--a book of them--and I splurged on a bag of oranges, and I have a roof over my head, but I don't have a bank account. I don't pay taxes, either (how has the Chief managed that one?).

If I weren't here, if I were reading about this place in a magazine, it might sound catastrophic--like a cult. When are they going to bring out the Kool-aid?

But it isn't like that. It's just a safe place, a day-to-day living. I haven't considered it, because up until now, I only thought about making enough to cover my head, cover my body, and fill my belly. Now, I'm thinking about saving for a plane ticket, round-trip, to Raymond.

I put the weekend's earnings in the cookie jar. (Is this even safe?)

Maybe I should talk to Lydia. I try to imagine her reaction.

The card I bought for Henry sits on the table. I'm not ready. I need to think about what I'm going to say.

I pick up my needles and a ball of yarn. I'll work on what to write while I replenish my inventory. If I'm going to make enough money, I have a lot of knitting ahead.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's been a good weekend. I've sold 11 sweaters, and now I'm packing up what's left. I haven't seen Saverio again. Why was I expecting to, hoping to?

Lydia hands me an empanada.

"One of the last ones left." She loves coming here--for the cash and the crowds.

Why do we do this? Why do we stay in our little band on the outskirts of everything? It suits me, but Lydia would be happier here, or in Oslo. But it's hard to move with the seasons, hard to find a place and a living. I guess our little tribe is our place, and so we stay together and make it work the best we can.

The pastry is warm and crispy, all melty in the middle. It warms me in the evening damp.

Tomorrow morning, we'll take the boat back to Puerto Williams, and I'll leave whatever fantasies I had.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

His name is Saverio. He looks through me when he tells me this--not past me, but into the inside of me.

He's a journalist from Santiago, working on a feature story about the resorts here, and the ecotourism trend. He begins to ask me questions, but the line is moving, and so he is moving.

I explain that I'm in Ushuaia only for the weekend, just for the market. I don't have much knowledge of the haunts and hangouts in town.

Lydia smiles--a little wickedly, and hands this gorgeous man an empanada.

"Then we'll take our country girl back to Nido Claro," she says. Saverio pays her and strolls off to find his answers.

I watch him until he disappears, and a young Brazilian woman asks me about a cardigan.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ushuaia is a whirlwind. People coming down from Rio, Santiago, and Buenos Aires, people heading for Antarctica.

I speak with people who want sweaters, who admire the sweaters--the pattern and the warm wool, repelling the humid air. It's always damp here. I hand them my hours for a price.

A table away, Lydia fries up empanadas, and a steady stream of customers carry them away, waiting for the pastries to cool before they take their first bite.

We've set it up this way: While you wait in line for your snack, see--and feel--these fabulous hand-knit sweaters.

She doesn't need me. But she set up the system, and it gives potential customers a chance to look instead of glancing and walking on by.

I sit back and wait, try to sense when someone's ready to buy, or ready to ask a question. I knit while I wait.

Now I look up and see an extremely handsome man in the line. He does not look at the wool.

Friday, November 5, 2010

While Lydia unpacks her fryer and sets up, I wander the aisles of the Ushuaia market. It's early, a pearled morning. Vendors are getting their wares ready, a flurry of food and blankets and wood carvings. I should be setting out my sweaters, but I'm looking for something—maybe presents for my nephews, some strange little toys from their strange aunt, gifts for my mother and sister. I need to feel like I belong to my family. This year, more than the others.

Then I see it—a beautiful hand-painted card on a table of cards. All of them are lovely and exact, but this one looks right at me. I know who it's for.

I'll have to wait until Monday to get a stamp.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

That first summer, I lolled in the light. I bathed in it.

Then came the turning, and another culture immersion--Tierra del Fuego, Spanish, empanadas. I had my own little tin home, and I loved the solitude.

Quickly it was clear that I needed to make a living, even a tiny one. When Reynaldo came through Puerto Williams offering wares, he had knitting needles and enough wool to keep me busy for a while. I could knit, and I did.

By the next turning, Lydia and Benjamin were serious, ready to live together.

I found a new home in Kirkenes, and a store that needed a person to own it. How? Did I have the money? I don't know. It was a store front, and I trusted the Chief. I trusted how much I love books. And maps.

Anything to give me a sense of direction.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

To Ushuaia

I'm packing sweaters into my largest bag. I've got a pot of beans simmering, with cumin and a pinch of cinnamon, because I'm feeling festive. Already, it's close to Christmas, and the days are gloriously long.

Lydia told me this morning that she's planning a trip to Ushuaia to work in the markets, selling to the holiday tourists who come down from Brazil. Sweaters make a good gift.

I haven't seen much of Alex, as he hops from one job to the next. When I do see him, he's often with Lydia. I called that wrong, although she hasn't said anything to me about it. Part of me feels sad, and part of me thinks Oh God, it's still like high school.

All these twenty- and thirty-something people thrown together, and then a few regular families thrown in—with kids. I wonder what it's like for them, moving every six months, living in the margins. Then I think about growing up. I'm hardly an expert on that.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dear Misha,

The Chief has picked up the mail and stopped by with a letter from my sister, Becky. Carefully I open the thin blue envelope and feel like I'm living in another generation.

Becky's handwriting jumps off the page. Another reminder of the life I used to live in. She sends news, a Walmart coming to the neighboring town of Raymond. Her oldest, Billy, has lost his front teeth.

My throat sticks. I've been gone their whole lives. They know me from photographs and letters and presents sent at Christmas and birthdays.

Mother is doing well, but she misses you. I miss you, too. Can you come home, even for a week?

I have no idea how I'd manage the money. This is a subsistence life. I sell books in the north. I knit sweaters in the south.

I eat enough. I'm as happy as I've ever been. But cash is not rampant. A trip outside of the turnings sounds like a trick of magic.

Could I pull that rabbit out of a hat? Would Henry meet me in South Bend?

Monday, November 1, 2010

On a clear night, the stars are magnificent—I could say a clear afternoon.

I've sent off two manuscripts to the States, and a third has come from a publisher in Buenos Ares, so it's busy—and rare that I take time for star-gazing.

Winter was especially quiet this year—for people—and especially stormy. I never made it across to Ushuaia to pick up any of the nice little things I know you like. The panty is left to the rice and beans.

I hope you have a good summer down here.

So formal. What do I want? I keep reading.

It would be wonderful to meet you sometime. I don't know—I don't know. And I'm writing this down and then I will leave it hanging. Misha, maybe somewhere on the equator? Maybe I'll visit my brother in San Diego, and you could join us? Maybe I'm dreaming?

They've found a new drug, but it's experimental. I'm not sure I want to go there.

Leave me a new photo, if it isn't too much trouble.

And be well,


Now I am trying to remember the letter I left for him in Kirkenes. What did I write?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What does one do at the ends of the earth?

I sell books and maps, and I knit. Lydia feeds people--at the bakery in Kirkenes, at a little coffee shop in Puerto Williams. Alex builds furniture in Norway and then down south picks up whatever work he can--whatever appeals to him at the moment.

Henry is in the darkness, so he writes. And he translates--Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Spanish. I love the idea of being fluent in so many languages--not like my high-school French and the get-by Norwegian and Spanish I use. Henry insists I'm too hard on myself. In seven years, I must have become comfortable with the language.

But among ourselves, we speak a lot of English. It's a crutch I lean on.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Years ago, Henry left me a photo with his letter in the cookie jar. So I know he looks tall and lean, with eyes that are squinting a little--from light or from laughter, and his hair is dark and rumpled, as though he runs his hands through it when he's thinking.

I keep the picture, wonder how he's changed.

At the next turning, I put a picture of me into the jar, one from Kirkenes, at the height of summer--a day at the reindeer park, sun-drenched, the wind blowing my hair across my face, brown streaks across the freckles.

I wished he could know summer.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Henry says three more families have left his group, but a couple of young men came down from Santiago--mostly curious. He doesn't know how long they'll stay.

It's hard for me to fathom why anyone--how anyone--could live in darkness, or a lingering dusk, could seek that.

The sun gives Henry headaches--bad ones, so he stays as far away from it as he can. He grew up in California, often in pain, and moved around until he found our counterparts--those who follow the night.

I've asked him about drugs, and he's asked me about antidepressants. But it's a lengthy conversation, and disjointed, because we correspond only at the turnings. Six months between letters.

I've wondered why we don't write more often, in between, use a simple stamp. But it feels like we would be breaking some rule.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dear Misha,

Dear Misha,

The letter is in the cookie jar. I start to read it--but maybe I should save it for later, after I'm unpacked and have a cup of tea in my hand.

Dear Misha,

I set the folded paper on the table and lug my bags to the middle of the room. Wool and yarns go into the chest, clothes into the old bureau, towels and toiletries in the cupboard, a couple of books on the kitchen shelves. A kitchen-library--the perfect use for a room.

Henry has left the tins of beans and rice full. I'll figure out later what I need to pick up.

I snap out the sheets and put them on my bed, give the floor a good sweep--who am I becoming? I guess it's my spring cleaning. Then I steep my tea and return to the letter.

Dear Misha,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Passage through the channel, in the dark and then daylight, a rotation, a great wheel. And the boat's motors chug. And the air bites.

Then I am stepping onto land again, lugging my bags through the roads of Puerto Williams and up the hill to Nido Claro, our little nest in the light.

My red tin home perches over there, on the left. I open the door.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Senora has a pot of beans on the back burner, and I scramble eggs while people drift in from the little sheds dotting the property. Lydia and Alex sit down at the table. Karin, Marya, and Sylvia burst into the kitchen, filling it with laughter.

"Something must be funny," Lydia grumbles, pouring the thick coffee. She'll warm up about halfway through the cup, and then maybe I'll find out what she has planned.

We're like sisters--friends and rivals. She mothers me, and maybe I need it--but I tend to resent it, too. Sometimes it feels fragile, this friendship built up over the years. I guess I'm still on my guard.

But Lydia has other plans. She's going to shop for supplies, lay up a store before taking the boat. I could tag along, but today she isn't goading me.

At 3:00 we walk across town to Sven's--our contact point with the Chief. Maybe he'll have found passage for us. The little office is cramped, and Sven leans against his desk, his rough gray hair sticking crazy out from under his watch cap.

We stand quietly when Sven picks up the phone and listens. I can feel the pull of my little tin house waiting for me across the Beagle channel.

Ten spots are available!

But my name isn't on the list Sven reads.

The pull is still in my gut, but my home feels further and further away.

I end up staying in Punta Arenas all week, helping Senora, feeding the chickens, stopping at Sven's in the afternoon, meeting with a wool merchant.

"You see, " Lydia chides, "you can buy directly, instead of waiting for Reynaldo."

Reynaldo, with his speeches and his flirting, will be disappointed, but it is a savings. And now I'm ready for the season.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"What is it with you and men?" Lydia asks as she hands me a plate to dry.

I hate drying dishes, would much rather plunge into the warm, sudsy water. But it's my first summer in Kirkenes, and I'm staying with Lydia, and so l dry the dishes and try to answer questions. I'd rather be asking the questions.

"My father," I explain.

She hands me another plate.

"He kept leaving." l polish the plate dry.

"He loved us, but he didn't know how to stay in one place, to be happy there. He kept looking around the next corner."

Another plate comes along, and I know she's waiting.

"I like men," and now I'm sounding defensive. Hold onto the plate.

"I just don't want anyone taking so much of me away when they go."

I imagine how my mother stood in the kitchen when she got that call. I remember the ragged breath, her voice when she phoned me with the news.

"They don't all go."

"How many stay here? How many years?"

Lydia has been here three seasons--six turnings, I think. Not enough for a definitive answer. But she is dating some one, and she wants to trust this loveliness is for good.

I hope she forgives my jab. I hope she's so happy she doesn't notice. And I hope she's right.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I snuggle into my sleeping bag's warmth, listen to the silence. I don't know what time it is, but think about what my sister might be doing. Sleeping, It's a short ritual. This is the trouble with time zones.

l stay as long as possible, and then the need to pee becomes imperative. Slowly, as quietly as I can, I fumble for the fresh blouse that l stashed in my bag to get warm. Why do I bother? It will be lovely beneath my sweater and coat. This chasing of light is not a warm business. Thank God Mrs. Strand taught me to knit. But I wriggle out, sufficiently dressed, without waking the others, and I head to the Senora's main house.

Mission accomplished and a little water splashed on my face. Then I hear the backdoor tap shut. I follow
the noise, catch up of with Senora Fuentes.

"Buenos dias, Senora,"
"Buenos dias, Misha," She is going to gather eggs.

Surrounded by the clucking hens, I remember my father, rigging lights in the fall so the hens would lay all winter. I think he needed the lights much as they did.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I was a normal girl once. I had red sneakers and ponytail holders and I fought with my sister and I got good grades in school. I sang in the church choir and practiced the piano most of the time and pigged out on chocolate chip cookies and ran all over the marshes in summer.

Dusk meant frogs, and the other twilight songs. Night meant sleep.

I wasn't afraid of the dark.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I am awake before the roosters, long before the light. I close my eyes again. See, it isn't so different.

Does that mean darkness is like sleepwalking?

These cusp months are the hardest, the trade-off. In my perfect world, we would spend the in-between seasons somewhere mid-way--in Caracas. Or I think about the Canary Islands. I have always wanted to see Tenerife.

I asked about it a couple of years ago, during one of the longer flights, with night pressing up against the airplane windows.

"Won't work." The Chief didn't waste his words.

Before I could ask why, he continued, "Three months is not enough time to join a community, to find work, to be trusted. We need to be trusted--and we're already looked upon as a little odd. But we've spent years building the trust and the relationships."

I shifted in my seat. An interim stop would also mean less traveling all at once, and my butt was getting sore.

"Misha, this is one of the trades we make. It isn't perfect for me either, for anyone." The Chief went back to reading his magazine, something about sailing. Again, I felt like the fish out of water.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The first swallow burns like light down my throat, and I chase the shot with a swig of beer.

It's karaoke night, and onstage a woman sings "I Got You Babe" in Spanish.

"Misha, what are you going to sing tonight?" Alex teases. Most of the songs I like probably aren't on the machine. I shrug my wet blanket shrug. I haven't sung in front of people since the eighth grade.

"What about you?" The best defense is a question.

Lydia returns with another round and a plate of empanadas.

"I saw the Parkers and Sebastian at the bar. They're coming over."

As the evening deepens, we collect more friends. We drink more, eat more, wander the town, watch it close. Stars arrive in the sky as we reach our little shed at the Senora's.

"Are you starting to feel at home?" Alex whispers as I crawl into my sleeping bag.

Not even a whole day.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lydia has stayed at this house before, and navigates easily. Alex and I must almost trot to keep up. The bags and the various luggage we carry or pull along grow heavier.

Lydia likes a city—and this is not. But it's closer than anywhere we usually live. Punta Arenas has pavement and plazas. Lydia is as hard as ice, but she likes her creature comforts as much as any of us—as much as I do.

Now, she chirps as she hurries to Casa Fuentes, all the things we'll be able to do and see—and eat and drink—while we're stuck here.

The word stuck is mine. And this is my first time stuck in Punta Arenas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Punta Arenas

Even though we travel lightly, we have a lot of bags and boxes and trunks to lug from the airport in Punta Arenas to the dock where we'll catch our boat. The Chief can't always get us all on. Sometimes he's able to charter, but often some of us have to wait behind, catch the next ride.

Lydia and Alex will be the first to volunteer. Lydia will want to try all the food. Alex just likes to be out and about, and he'll troll for guide work and whatever else he can find.

"Misha will stay with us," Lydia sings out as the Chief checks names on his list.

"What are you doing?" I hiss. She knows I'm a homebody. She knows I don't like the transition. And although I've grown used to Patagonia, I haven't quite grown fond of it.

"We have to get you acclimated," she replies. I have become her project. She is working to rehabilitate me—or habilitate me, to turn me into a good nomad. For a woman with so much attitude, she has her kindness.

And now it's too late to protest. I don't want to make a scene, add complications. I don't want to be a baby about this.

Chief Lundgren continues to separate us into two groups. I see Jeff, Paolo, and Gabriella go into the group leaving first. Jeff and Paolo are builders. They'll start off by fixing any damage that winter did to our houses. A lot can happen during a winter on the Cape. And Gabriella goes where Paolo goes.

I feel the small twinge.

The rest of us, left behind by now, divide into smaller groups—families, or three or four friends together. The Chief gives us each a name and address. This is where we'll stay until we can get a boat to Puerto Williams.

When we set off to find the home of Senora Fuentes, it's already growing dark—I can taste it under my tongue, a taste like sadness.

"But it's still too early to go out," Lydia reminds me. I see a night of bars ahead.

"We'll find you empanadas. It will be good." She looks at Alex, and I start to wonder.

Maybe I've got the wrong project.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I knit another row and try to find the right questions. I already know that he's from Edinborough, that he joined the band when he was sixteen, after his mother died. So many of us have death in our histories.

I know that Alex worked with Stian Halvorsen, sweeping the old man's shop and then learning how to carve from him—a long apprenticeship. I know that even in Kirkenes, where he has steady work, Alex likes to travel—to Hammerfest and Vardø.

I know he's a couple years older than I am, and his voice could charm me like a snake.

I start to unwind a little. Does he have any trips to the mainland planned? Has he heard from his brother in London?

In this way, we fly through the hours.

Monday, October 11, 2010

When you're 22 years old it can seem easy to dissolve your life, to reinvent yourself, to up and move away.

I had almost everything I owned in my suitcases, and it wasn't much—except for my books. I hadn't figured out how to bring them yet. Shipping to the end of the world gets expensive.

My books—all the books—waiting on their shelves.

I can sense Alex looking at me from across the aisle. My cheek feels a little red, and I pay closer attention to the wool between my fingers and the needles, careful not to drop stitches, .

Alex and I went out a couple of times this summer, hiking and coffee. Easy things. But nothing for the last couple weeks. I thought I must have bored him, but last night he kept hanging around the edge of my vision—and now here he is looking at me.

"You don't like the turning," he ventures.

"I'm a bad nomad." He already knows this. But I appreciate his efforts at conversation. I appreciate his smile, faded by the fakey airplane lighting, but still the brightest thing I've seen in hours.

I know it's my turn.

"What are you going to be doing this south?" My needles click and click. Didn't we talk about this before? I don't know what else to say.

Alex stretches out, hands behind his head.

"Anything I can—maybe a little guiding, maybe for birders, maybe try to get a guide job on one of the science teams, or I'll do some crabbing, or spend some time on Isla Grande with the sheep."

He grins.

"Mostly all of the above."

He is a good nomad, a wood carver, a sculptor up in Kirkenes—but a man of all trades on Navarino. I can feel my heartbeat picking up, and I don't want it to.

And why not?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chief Lundgren was not scary.

He was not scary, but he was fierce.

And old. And very tall.

The door seemed to swallow my knock before it swung open, and I saw the Chief.

"Hello—excuse me," I stammered, hoping my heartbeat wasn't as loud as it felt. "Lydia sent me."

He relaxed a little.

"How can I help you?"

I glanced around. The street was quiet, washed by a damp sunlight.

"I'd like to join your group."

The Chief looked at me for what felt like an hour.

"What do you know about our group?"

"This. Here, and that you go south the other half of the year."

He almost smiled.

"You need some more information."

He nodded for me to follow him inside.

"We have much to discuss," he stated as he took another coffee cup out of the cupboard.

"Starting with some introductions."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

She looks at me more closely. I feel like a bug under a magnifying glass. A streak of sunlight paints the table.

"My name is Lydia," she says. "I can give you the address of the chief. That's the guy you need to talk to."

I have so many questions—does this happen a lot, people wandering in and asking this? Is the chief nice? Is there a test?

I hope there isn't a test. How do you pass such a thing? A barometer for miserable? A measure of depression? The shadows under my eyes all winter?

She scribbles an address on a scrap of paper, and comes around the counter with it. I shake her hand, and she takes my plate as I stare at this magical writing.

"Go to the end of the road and take a left."

Friday, October 8, 2010

The bell jingles on the door, and a woman looks up from behind the pastry case. Her blue eyes look like ice. Good morning.

"En kaffe og…" I stutter and trail off, looking at all the choices. Can you order a cheese Danish in Norway?

"Welcome to Kirkenes," she says. I blush. So clearly I am American.

"I'll have one of those," and I point to the sign that says skillingsbolle. It looks like a cinnamon roll—a safe bet.

"For here?" she asks, and that’s when I notice the little tables by the windows—so many windows, as if the owner of this shop knew me.

"Yes. Please."

The coffee is stand-up-a-fork strong, and the pastry flakes in my fingers. It is sweet. It is buttery sugary goodness. It is almost too much.

No one else has come in, so I start to sweep up my courage.

"Do you know of a people…"

"A people?"

"A group who follows the sun, from here to the south?"

She is wiping the counter, and her rag slows down.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

All I have is the overheard name of a town, Kirkenes. I learn what I can—and it isn't much. But I purchase the tickets to get me there. It's a small place, and I figure someone will know something.

When I arrive at my hotel, I collapse. It's light out—it is gloriously light out—and I sleep anyway, through to the morning.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

At cruising altitude

Cruising altitude shows a carpet of clouds and then a large nothing. A blank page. I need to write a letter to my mother, ask again whether she'll visit me at Christmas. She'll say—again—that it's too far and she doesn't know Spanish. The amount of Spanish I've learned could fit in one empty water glass. My mother does not want to leave her home, even for a couple of weeks.

I'm not being fair. She did come to Oslo for a week. I met her there, and we toured the city museums and ate a lot.

In this living, I miss her—and my sister, my happy sister, who stayed just down the road and now has three sons who swirl around her, their circles ever-widening until one day they may escape that orbit entirely. I try not to feel guilty about leaving them. Sometimes it works.

I travel back the years to South Bend, Oyster Capital of the World—or one of them.

I grew up in along the Willapa River, with the wide light and the salt air and the long summer days. A smaller town safely away from any kind of a city. But I shivered through winter, a long sadness that got worse when I left home for college. Caught under the fluorescent lights in the dorms and classrooms, I shrank from the dark afternoons.

At this point in the flight, I remember where I first heard. This is my ritual:

I am in the library, and I am trying to focus on Euripides, but whispering from the next table pulls at my ears. My ears follow, pick up little scraps—a village in Norway, a people who travel to Chile, a tribe that follows the light.

Now, I am buzzing—surely the way you must buzz when you've been underwater much too long and you take that first electrifying gasp of air, the way your whole body tingles when you walk in from a cold evening.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In town, we pass my little shop, locked for now—the windows shuttered and the key left along with that letter in the drawer. The books and maps will stay shelved until the tourists return, looking for something to read in their own languages.

I am not a good traveler, and last night's akvavit isn't helping. I hunch up to the window, my forehead pressed against the safety glass. Lydia and Jeff gossip in the front seat, share what they know about the people who replace them.

"I think Mrs. Burton is an uptight bitch."

Lydia is not fond of her partners.

"And all those children. They write on the walls. I come back to find blue and yellow all over—just this crazy scrawling. Can't she clean that up?"

"She's probably too tired," says Jeff. We hear bits and pieces, or we leave letters to the people who move into our lives in the winter.

Now, Jeff is quiet. Old Mr. Albertson has died—and we don't know whether anyone will take his place. For people who love the light so much, we spend a lot of our time in the dark.

Jeff turns on the windshield wipers, their lovely lulling swish. By the time we reach the airport in Hesseng, I've slipped into thought, a submersion.

They will pick up our tickets from Chief Lundgren, shepherd me through the lines at baggage check and security. I'll take my seat for the flight to Oslo, and the next leg, and the leg after that. All these legs, and I'm sitting in an airplane chair. I'll take out my yarn and needles—plenty of time to work on my next sweater.

Plenty of time to think about where I'm going, what I've left.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dear Henry,

I lick the flap, the sticky sweet on my tongue, and slip the envelope into the desk drawer. The secretary, my mother called it.

Dear Henry…

Each season starts the same way: Dear Henry written, folded, and left.

"Misha, come on!" Lydia leans against the car, fidgeting. She doesn't like the going. Neither do I.

Mist is rolling in, like a procession, waving gray flags of good-bye. I can smell the rain coming.

"The Chief is waiting."

I pick up my bag and my jacket. I don't mean to slam the door.

Dear Henry,

We have a journey to make, a crossing. Seven autumns now I've locked the door to my little home, left my closets and cupboards for other hands to open, left the eiderdown to cover another body on my bed. For five, I've left a letter in the drawer.

Dear Henry,

Welcome back. We're late this year, three days after the turning, and the dark steals in before supper. Cucumber pickles are in the pantry, and I left you some canned tomatoes.

Lydia's hair glints in one last afternoon sliver of sun. She drums her nails on the car door.

She tosses her blond curls and slips into the station wagon. I slide in behind Jeff, and we pull away. I know the old wagon's rattle, the sound of our little road.