March 20, 2018
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North to Alaska: When it rains, it pours

By Catie Zielinski, Special to the BDN

This summer, so I am told, has been particularly cool and wet. After experiencing two such summers in northern Maine in ‘08 and ‘09, I’m beginning to think this is par for the course. I’m also willing to grant that for here, a semi-arid environment, when it rains three days in a row at least once a week that’s a lot.

This wouldn’t be that big of a deal except that when it rains outside, it rains in the cafe, as well. This isn’t just an “oh-ha-ha, the ceiling leaks,” sort of thing; it is so bad we actually built the Yukon River version of the Roman aqueducts. We have sheets of plastic duct-taped to the ceiling to catch the water and divert it a corner where we have a 40-gallon trash can to collect it.

Next to the gift shop we have a 5-gallon bucket and a small trash can which seems to collect as much trash as it does rain, and let me tell you, picking wet garbage out of a rain bucket is less than exciting.

On the windowsill in the office, we have two narrow trays which don’t work quite as well as we would hope since there is — I kid you not — grass and moss growing in the window, and I also recently discovered a leafy plant which has taken root there as well.

The boarded-up window fares better since it doesn’t drip exactly, it just sort of leaks down the face of the painted bear, so that it looks as though he’s crying. Someone once mentioned to us that that’s what we get for shooting him when he took up residence in the cafe six years ago.

Even this is bearable compared to what the kitchen crew has to deal with. At one point early this summer it was raining so hard, water was dripping on the stove, the charbroiler, the grill, and in the fryer — which was when the aqueducts got built. Now it only drips on the spice shelf and the counter where the food gets prepped.

It also leaks over the window where we pass orders in, and the cooks pass food out. This means that when it rains, we have to put a pan of some sort in the window to catch drips, and the harder it rains, the more leaks we get, and the more buckets we have to put up. Occasionally, it’s raining so hard, we can’t get the food out at all, and have to walk it around to the door.

We have another 40-gallon trash can next to the walking freezer, but perhaps the worst leak is the one that happens to be right next to the light between it and the walk-in refrigerator. This means that if the electricity short-circuits in that trailer, it’s bye-bye refrigeration. We sometimes turn this light off if it’s really coming down.

For all of this, it’s nothing compared to the volume of water which cascades through our roof. I didn’t believe Heidi at first when she expressed her amazement at this fact, but then I saw it for myself. On rainy days when I open, I’ll empty the rain-buckets at 5:30 in the morning when I come on duty. I’ll often have to empty the windowsill pans sometime around 11 a.m. (including the one next to the kitchen), and when I leave at 2 p.m., the five-gallon bucket next to the gift shop will have four or five inches of water in it. I don’t know how this is possible, but it is, and that’s why we hate it when it rains.

Catie Zielinski graduated from Bangor High School in 2007 and is a recent graduate of Cornell University. She is working this summer 120 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, at the Yukon River Camp.

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