Wild Fibers 10th Anniversary - - Features - By Linda N. Cor­tright

House guest Rules 101.

Even in the best of cir­cum­stances, house­guests can be prob­lem­atic. Sad­dled with a smor­gas­bord of idio­syn­cra­sies rang­ing from geri­atric Pig­pens to pre- dawn ris­ers, a man might not be able to pre­serve his king­dom even if he strictly ad­heres to the two- night rot­ten fish rule.

The same ap­plies to “queens,” who can be equally riled by an overnight invasion. In my ex­pe­ri­ence they come in two va­ri­eties. The first host­ess is like a golden retriever: in­dis­crim­i­nate, un­con­trol­lably ef­fu­sive, and beck­on­ing you to stay.

“We love hav­ing guests. Our house is al­ways full. It’s no trou­ble at all,” she says, subtly sug­gest­ing that stay­ing in a nearby ho­tel would be viewed as a per­sonal af­front.

It may be true that her house is al­ways full, but don’t be sur­prised to dis­cover that all nine cats pre­fer sleep­ing in your bed. And yes, her teenage son is learn­ing to play the drums. And yes, she lives across from the fire sta­tion. “But we don’t even hear those sirens any­more,” she adds with a gig­gle.

The other host­ess is more like a true queen with strict pro­to­cols that be­come ap­par­ent when you no­tice the sheets, the pil­low­cases, and the bath mat all have match­ing mono­grams. Even the dog has its own linen nap­kin—mono­grammed!

“We dine at seven sharp.” she an­nounces. “Don’t worry, it’s ca­sual. We never dress for din­ner on a week­night.”

Last Fe­bru­ary I was bound for the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska, (an hour north of An­chor­age). Mark Austin, the farm’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, in­sisted I stay at his home.

“We love hav­ing peo­ple stay with us,” he said, and im­me­di­ately I sensed a large tail thump­ing on the floor.

I was hes­i­tant to im­pose on a stranger, not least be­cause my flight would land within min­utes of mid­night. It just so hap­pened that Mark’s birth­day was the very next day.

It’s bad enough to ask a friend, much less a stranger, to ven­ture out on a cold dark win­ter’s night— but on their birth­day as well?

When Mark and I fi­nally met face- to- face, it was puppy love in the best way imag­in­able. I had no de­sire to scratch his belly, but we be­came in­stant pals. We are both over the moon about musk oxen, and we could have stayed up the en­tire night talk­ing about them. But we didn’t.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing I came pad­ding down­stairs ( turned up the heat), and in an ef­fort to min­i­mize my im­po­si­tion— par­tic­u­larly on the cel­e­brant— I of­fered to make Mark break­fast. ( Mark’s wife and daugh­ter were away that week vis­it­ing fam­ily.)

Mark paused for a mo­ment, and be­fore he could ob­ject, I quickly added that I love mak­ing break­fast for peo­ple.

That, my friends, is not an en­tirely true state­ment, but it seemed wholly for­giv­able given the sit­u­a­tion.

“Do you want eggs? I asked. “Fried? Scram­bled? Poached? How about one of my sig­na­ture omelets? ( I don’t have a sig­na­ture omelet.)

Mark or­dered an omelet, and for the next 20 min­utes I did my best not to dec­i­mate his kitchen while he sat at the ta­ble and al­ter­nated be­tween watch­ing the musk ox, who were just wak­ing up in a pas­ture not fifty feet from the win­dow, and ob­serv­ing me as I fum­bled through the draw­ers for the cheese grater.

I don’t dis­like cook­ing; I just don’t have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence. Even an au­di­ence of one gives me per­for­mance anx­i­ety.

I cracked the eggs. I whipped the eggs. I added a drib­ble of wa­ter, and I de­cided the only thing to pos­si­bly coun­ter­act my lack of culi­nary tal­ent was the knowl­edge that at least Mark wasn’t din­ing on cold pizza in his wife’s ab­sence.

Fi­nally, break­fast was served and as I set the plate down in front of Mark I wished him a Happy Birth­day ( again), and apol­o­gized for the pre­sen­ta­tion’s poor aes­thetic. I as­sumed that a typ­i­cal male wouldn’t re­ally no­tice my in­ep­ti­tude. Af­ter all, this was a warm meal and, I trusted, a mite tastier than a crusty cold pep­per­oni.

And then Mark ut­tered the fatal phrase: “You know, I used to own a restau­rant.”

“What? A restau­rant? You? As in you cook? And you just let me make an idiot of my­self for the last 20 min­utes?” I said. “Mark, how could you?”

He smiled, and he smiled big, and if he had a tail it would have been bang­ing hard.

“I didn’t say any­thing be­cause you’re the guest,” he an­swered sweetly. “Guests al­ways get what­ever they want.”

“Re­ally? “I said, and paused for a mo­ment. “Then how about you make me break­fast tomorrow morn­ing?”

He agreed. And for the rest of my stay I felt like a queen in a wild and won­der­ful king­dom where the musk ox roam, and no one ever has to dress for din­ner.

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