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My Evil Plot
It's on account of the jellyfish that I ended up in Siberia. That, and a can of Pringles, a volleyball and two very sloppy plumbere vanilla ice-cream cones that ended up down the front of my Tasmanian-devil pajama top.
But probably I should tell the entire story of how Chase not only talked me into moving to the backside of the worldwhere the snow crests off the tundra like whirling dervishes, where a person can literally freeze the nose off her face, and where people eat pig fat for snacksbut how it made me reach deep inside myself to find more of me than I'd ever dreamed.
Definitely more than Chase ever dreamed. But we'll get to that.
I need to state for the record that I, Josey Berglund Anderson, never liked camping. At least, not my husband's definition of camping, which I've discovered is vastly different from mine. But that, in part, is what marriage is all aboutdiscovering the definitions of our personal vocabulary.
Case in point: To me, camping is smores over a crackling fire after a day of hiking some well-used trail along a northern river while the sun sets above a perfect, rose-gilded lake, fireflies twinkling in the indigo twilight. It's watching the moon rise and heating up coffee in a tin camping cup as the night settles in around us. That much I believe Chase and I can agree on. However, it is here where our definitions diverge and trek off into opposite accommodations. I retire to a cabin with indoor plumbing, screens and something to sleep on that is padded and well away from the creepy-crawlies that live in the dirt. In short, when I camp, I want to just add water. This, however, is not Chase's definition. Chase likes tocamp from scratch.
I should have known that Chase's interpretation of camping might be different from mine. After all, as an anthropologistor former anthropologisthis greatest dreams are along the lines of living among the Nepalese, trekking up the sides of mountains clad only in felt moccasins, sleeping in clay-covered huts and eating boiled dal-bhat while playing the sarangi.
I know, because he has a fifty-pound textbook on the subject. My Chase likes doing things like bathing in a glacial river and wearing the same natty attire for two weeks.
And you ask, I know, how we ended up together. Alas, the differences in our definitions of camping didn't surface until long after our wedding day, and even after the birth of our twins, Chloe and Justin. Perhaps Chase snowed me with his black motorcycle and the way he filled out a football-letter jacket. Perhaps it was the way he chased me across the planet to get my attention and win my heart.
Or maybe, as usual, it was the way he backed me into a corner, one hand propped over my shoulder as he leaned into my neck to plant a kiss and whispered, "C'mon, GI, it'll be fun."
The use of my GI-Josey nickname should have been my first warning. As I've discovered, that wordfunhas vastly different definitions. For example, I do not think it is fun to pack into backpacks everything we ownincluding buckets for hauling water (aka the kitchen sink), swim gear, sleeping bags, clothes, pots and pans, plates, cups, silverware, tents, blankets, a shovel and enough food for ten days spend two days on a train from Moscow to Simferopol, Ukraine, spend four more hours on a bus and then hike across a treeless steppe to a cliff that drops a hundred meters or so of sure death to the sea where we have to erect our own shelter like nomads, all the while carrying two munchkins (who have their own backpacks, I might add).
I should have realized as we stood on the high cliffs overlooking the Black Sea, watching the waves crashing across a pebbled, not-so-sandy beach and against the boulders below, that setting up camp in a still-rustic yet sturdy cabin hadn't even registered on Chase's list of expectations.
Which led to panic and a softly breathed question. "Where are the bathrooms?"
"Outhouses." Chase pointed to the shovel attached to his pack. "Do it yourself."
I stood there a moment, taking in the view, trying to make it all better by focusing on the aqua-green bay under a cloudless sky, on the way the beach curved as if cupping the water, rimmed by rugged, orange, lichen-covered cliffs and lush, green brush. Scattered along the beach like so many shells were tents of all size, shape and color, evidence that Chase is not the only adventurer in Russia. A road wound down to this Chasonian paradise from the cliff, and with a grin, Chase headed for it.
Justin and Chloe ran after him, as if he were the Pied Piper of Hamlin.
I sacrificed three things the day I gave birth to my twins:
1. My waistline. I must have offended it with one too many peanut-butter cookies because it hasn't been back, something my maternity clothes are oh-too-happy to embrace. Chase says two children are enough, especially living in a high-rise, two-bedroom flat in the center of Russia, but I've been holding on to my painfully acquired pregnancy wardrobe (yoga pants and all of Chase's extra-large shirts) just in case. At least that's the story I'm sticking to.
2. My sense of romantic adventure. Take our arrival at the Black Sea, for instance. Instead of running down the beach, the Ray Conniff Singers crooning "Love Story" in my head, rushing toward the crashing waves without a care in the world, I descended the cliff and saw with my maternal eye broken glass, jagged beer cans and old cigarette butts hidden in the sand like land mines. Three-year-old Justin rushed into the water up to his knees, laughing and splashing. I stepped close to grab him in case he went under.
I'll probably never enjoy water again.
3. My bladder. Which has decided that when it wants attention, it gets it. Immediately.
Chase dropped our gear on an empty patch of dirty sand and dug out the shovel. I looked at it, looked at Chase and tried not to cry.
I've come to expect a few inconveniences while living in Russia over the past four-plus years. For example, I don't really expect the electricity to stay on the entire time I'm cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. I know that the hot water will be shut off from May until November, and that if I want a warm bath, I need to prepare at least twelve hours in advance. I have every public bathroom in Moscow plotted out in my mind and have rated them on a scale of "worth walking to" to "I'm desperate." Moreover, I know that when Chase latches on to a new idea, it's much like body surfing. Catch the idea at the right time and you're on top of the wave, enjoying the view. Catch it too late and the wave crests over your head, saltwater up your nose. You land choking and gasping and even a little roughed up by the sand and shells.
I've been wonderingat what point does a girl get to stand in the surf, let the wave crash against her knees and say Nyet?
Clearly, I'm not there yet. Which is why, now, I find myself one outpost in a sea of tents facing Russia and Ukraine's idea of paradise, smack in the middle of Chase's definition of a vacation. He's been planning said vacation since we arrived in Russia, and I figure it's his well-earned bonus for four years of dedication to WorldMar, his NGO (non-government organization) in Moscow. Over the past four years, he's launched and managed an entrepreneurial peanut-butter company that's created a new love for creamy spreadsas well as lots of jobsall the way down the Yalta.
Here's where I admit to my evil master plan, the real reason I agreed to set up camp at the edge of the world. The project has ended, and we've got two choices on the horizon.
Choice One: Head back to Gull Lake, Minnesota, buy a house, and enroll the kids in soccer and ballet lessons. Chase will work for my dad until a teaching position at the school opens up, and we'll finally get to live someplace where the backyard isn't a hazardous-waste zone. (This is obviously my vote.)
Choice Two: Another NGO project, this time working with local, private, chicken farmers.
Can you believe Chase is actually considering it? Not that I have anything against chickens. Rather, I'm thinking that maybe I did my time, and it's my turn.
So, my master plan is, give the man a camping trip, he'll give me Gull Lake. Because, well, four years into marriage I'm learning fast how to bargain. All that time in the market haggling over potatoes has made me a master.
Hence, this last adventure to the south of Ukraine. As far as the eye can see, tentsblue, orange, browndot the coast. Russia and Ukraine, in fact all of Eastern Europe, take a vacation in August, most people heading to the sea, where some make, uh, reservations and stay at a resort (which, by the way, has been my family's livelihood back home in Minnesota for nearly forty years), and others find a space of land and set up a homestead. With kitchens (portable stoves and campfires) and laundry facilities (buckets and clotheslines) and living rooms (tarps staked over cars and paddles and other makeshift walls). Kids run naked to the sea and backmy preschoolers are overdressed in their pull-ups, T-shirts, and sunhats. The smell of fish and smoke taint the fresh air. Someone has decided to run the battery down on their boom box and picked up a radio station. I recognize a Machina Vremina song.
About fifty paces behind all this chaos is another villageof outhouses. Most are made of driftwood or scrap lumber shoved into the ground and covered on three sides (some of them poorly) with an old sheet. The backside is open to face, uh, nature. Not ours, however. The American outhouse is made of four rebars and a dark sheet secured on three sides, with a hanging door for privacy. It's quite sturdy, and I have a feeling it could survive a typhoon.
The fact that there is no chance my backside will flash the worldeven in the most dramatic of weatheris my one consolation for having to spend every waking moment sweeping out the tent, making sure our children don't kick off their beach shoes or disappear forever into the sea, cooking another pot of potatoes and lathering on another layer of sunblock.
Yeah, I'm having fun. I love camping.
Gull Lake, think Gull Lake. Three-bedroom home. Swing set.
Dog. A black Lab, or maybe a collie
"Josey, look what our neighbors Nastia and Vadeem gave us." Chase comes tromping across the sand, all grins. Of course Chase is on a first-name basis with the "neighbors." Another day, and they'll adopt him.
Okay, yes, I have some attitude issues. Although I came to Russia first, over five years ago, learned to speak Russian first, learned how to negotiate the Moscow subway first, Chase was born to live in Russia. He even looks Russian, and he speaks it so well after four years that someone even asked him how he, as a Russian, managed to nab me, an American wife. That particular day, I didn't have an answer for that.
Today I might. Because he's looking tan and toned, his dark-blond needs-a-cut hair curly on his neck and shiny in the sun. He smiles at me, his blue eyes alight with mischief. Wearing a red handkerchief he's tied on his head, a T-shirt with the arms cut off and a pair of swim trunks (the American kind, not the Russian-favored Speedo style), he crouches where I'm sitting, accidentally kicking sand and pebbles onto my towel. I have an eye on Chloe, who is standing just at the edge of the water with a plastic shovel, perhaps contemplating how long it might take to fill the hole she's just dug with water. Her blond hair is nearly white, curling out under her hat like Chase's. Justin is napping in the tent behind me, his lips askew, a fine bead of sweat along his brow. He's going to be a charmer, just like his dad.