Our blog and meandering thoughts...
It's the 10th of October, 2 a.m. Last trip to the outhouse tonight before climbing under the pile of blankets on our bed.
The night sky is dancing with swirls of vibrant green and shadowed white lights streaking across the dark canvas. Bright stars twinkle randomly as if cast playfully by a child throwing sand into the air. It is crisp outside. Enough to catch your breath if you breathe in too deeply. The current temperature is hovering near zero. The spectacle tonight is breathtaking. I stop and stare above, smiling and delighted in the beauty only Alaska can reveal. Cold icy fingers of Jack Frost slowly tighten their grip, giving me a slight chill as I stand entranced, watching tonight's aurora borealis.
The chill reminds me of my destination. The outhouse. I quickly head there, trying to shake the chill and finish my task. Heading back to the cabin I can't help but stop and watch the smoke from the stovepipe swirling upwards as if wanting to join in the dance of the northern lights as they ebb and flow above. The solar Christmas lights I put on the trees out front twinkle. It is a perfect picture of an Alaskan wilderness homestead. I take a mental snapshot and file it in my mind as a happy warm content memory.
I open the door to our home and step inside. The warmth cast from the crackling fire in the woodstove makes me smile as I am hit with a wave of warm air. I remove my boots and coat and set them neatly by the back door just in case a later trip to the outhouse is needed. I throw more wood on fire and bank it for the night, turning the damper and air flow vents down low.
Upstairs it's cold in our room. We have blankets piled on the bed. If we leave the door open it gets too hot from the warm air rising from the woodstove below. If the door stays closed its cold, but it's better to sleep in the cold and snuggle under warm blankets than it is tossing and turning as you sweat all night in gruesome heat.
I reflect on the past week. It's progressively gotten colder each day. We've got the deck replaced as the old one was rotten and ready to collapse. That could've been an interesting story...hopping down the rotten steps in the middle of the night headed to the outhouse, they crumble and you tumble, lying there in freezing temperatures, perhaps with broken bones, perhaps unconscious, not to be found til the next person takes a late night run to the outhouse, only to tumble on top of you since the stairs are now missing... Ya, we averted that story and finished a new deck. We got our food storage pressure canned and stored away. We are nearly finished with the new arctic entry addition, one more day should have that done. Solar Christmas lights have been strung on several baby spruce trees in our front yard to give a warm glow to the front of the cabin.
Solar power is amazing. It's so empowering to harness energy from the sun to provide a power supply to your homestead. I smile every night I go outside and see those Christmas lights twinkling in the trees, or walk to the barn and trip the motion sensor that activates the solar powered floodlight, or walk into the outhouse and pull a cord hanging from the ceiling to activate the solar light hanging inside. We have plans to install solar panels on the south side of the cabin and wire them directly into our battery bank along with the generator to have plenty of power for the cabin and barn. All free.
No power bill. We haul our water. We heat and cook with wood. We hunt and fish for our meat. We garden and gather wild edibles for our vegetables and fruits. We bake our own bread and make meals from scratch. There's nowhere to go for fast food. Fast food out here is a bear charging you right before you drop him. That's fast food!
There are no cell phones where we live, no cell service within 160 miles actually. Satellite phones and Garmin inReach devices work up here. We do carry our Garmin when we are outside for emergency purposes. If you want to get online, you take a trip into Eagle, population 80, and only half that live there year round. You go to the local library which is a cozy log cabin with a barrel stove in the center of the room that's constantly being fed 3 foot sections of firewood. You log in and get to battle the slowest server in America and have to reconnect at least 3 times as it constantly boots your device offline. You can't download movies or pictures, the server doesnt have that capacity. So we check emails, browse the web, sometimes get lucky and chat on messenger, scroll Facebook and update our blog if the server isn't overloaded.
We check the mail at the post office once a week along with a trip to the library. Having that routine is nice. Overall, we live a simple but rewarding life. Mostly untouched by the outside world. No tv to fill us in with the latest world news, no cell phones ringing, no texts buzzing in, no sirens, no street noise, no humming of civilization, no street lights to pollute the night sky, no air pollution, I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. It is a life filled with adventures, challenges and beauty. We work hard and play harder. We love the life we've carved out here.
We are now trying to finish up our firewood supply, do last minute projects that need completed before deep freeze sets in and then we can focus on indoor projects and making items to sell for the upcoming Christmas season. We are happy, healthy and free, ready to take on another winter in the remote wilderness of Alaska.
The month of September was a whirlwind of activity. Hunting, constructing, cutting firewood, harvesting the garden, processing game meat and getting ready for winter.
While out on the Yukon River, about 80 miles downriver from Eagle, we found a public use cabin tucked away in the woods. We opted to stay at the cabin for our 3 day hunt for moose. It was built in the 1900's, the walls chinked with moss, a small cast iron woodstove inside, nails pounded thru the window coverings to keep out the bears. It was small. Three of us adults bunked in the cabin and the kids opted to sleep in the bear cache outside, elevated about 15 feet off the ground, to stay safe thru the night. There were some big grizzlies in the area!
One evening we were sitting around the campfire telling stories, the northern lights danced brilliantly overhead, hues of blue, grren and purple streaked the sky. We whistled loudly, causing the lights to shift and dance across the sky. The crackling campfire and dancing lights added up to a perfect fall night in the deep wilderness. We laid back on the forest floor and star gazed the night away. It was incredible!
Nate got a moose. We were headed to a spot on an island in the river that looked promising. About 10 minutes in, as we were raking the brush with caribou shoulder blades to get a moose to respond, Nate called out for all to stop. He saw a moose. He had a perfect shot, took the animal with one shot and we began the hard part. Butchering and packing the meat out. The moose filled our freezer. Check out fall hunt 2017 pics in the photo album!
A week later, we had to run to Tok (a 4 hour drive) to get chicken and hog feed for a friend who had run out of feed and couldnt get to Tok. On our way back home, we saw a bull caribou and Nate shot him. Another clean shot. More meat for the freezer. We should be well stocked with garden veggies, fish and wild game for the winter!
Yesterday, we drove into Fairbanks to take the kids to the college for their SAT exams. While driving in, we were able to bag 5 ptarmigan and 1 grouse. Hopefully on the way home tomorrow, we will be blessed with more birds and fill the remaining holes in the freezer!
We are happy and healthy, and ready to take on old man winter!
I looked at the un-tilled ground and wondered how on earth I was going to turn a dead looking parcel of ground into a thriving lush garden that would sustain us thru the winter.
We buckled down and with the help of a neighbor, who brought his deep furrow tiller, we turned the earth into a garden area about 20’x30’. We weeded and pulled out tons of grass and willow roots, turning the soil and adding
bag upon bag of lime and peat moss. The dirt became darker and richer with every turn of the spade. Mounds were created and rows formed. Seeds were planted and seedlings we had started indoors were transplanted outdoors.
Nothing seemed to be growing and the seedlings we had transplanted looked like they were wilting and dying off. But we pressed on and continued to haul water to the property to water the struggling plants.
Hauling water is a chore in and of itself. Having to haul 55 gallons of water by hand every day to water the garden is a pain in the rear end. It takes an hour to get the water. Then we fill the watering buckets and walk each row, dumping two buckets of water onto each row, and there are 25 rows to water. That takes about two more hours.
The weather here is so bizarre too. It can be a cloudless sunny 80 degree day, so you go get the water, come back home, water the garden, now you’re three hours invested into this daily chore. As the afternoon wanes on, dark clouds appear over the trees from who knows where and chaos breaks loose, thunder and lightning booms and strikes around you and torrential rains from the heavens floods the garden. Three hours down the drain, but hey, the garden is well watered.
So the garden begins to perk up with all the weird weather and work we’ve been doing and we’re thinking “we got this!”… A hail storm decides to drop onto our little piece of paradise and destroys our garden with marble size hail that we later found out, killed one of our neighbor’s chicks. We head out to assess damage, leaves have been shredded, plants demolished, seeds washed away from the tops of the mounds into the gulleys between the rows.
We press on and continue weeding and watering, hoping our efforts are not wasted. Not knowing what all washed into the gulleys, the garden is now overgrown with veggies in the rows AND between the rows, so be careful where you step!!
We leave the garden unattended for a week while we are away and return to find it thriving and flourishing. We had hired a local teen to come and tend the animals and water the garden while we were gone. She had the same thing happen to her, spent two hours watering only to be dumped on by torrential rain as soon as she finished watering!
Blessings from heaven have turned our dirt patch into a Garden of Eden. We are now in harvest mode. We have processed and canned jars upon jars of pickled veggies, beets, peas, spinach, swiss chard, rhubarb, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini. We are watching corn, celery, carrots, squash, pumpkins, rutabagas, kohlrabi and beans continue to grow. We’ve enjoyed fresh garden salads for weeks now and try to give the stuff away because it is growing so rapidly!
Hopefully we will be harvesting the remainder of the garden soon as hunting season is here and we must go bag a caribou, bear and moose to fill our freezers. After hunting season comes firewood gathering. Much to do before deep winter settles in!
When it rains, we get out the buckets…
We bought an old fixer upper, knowing it was going to need a lot of work and TLC to bring it around to an inhabitable, comfortable place we could call home. Funny thing is, last fall, we had been scoping out the area, looking for property to possibly purchase in the future. We stumbled across this old run down house and barn that had been empty and abandoned for about 20 years. The property was overgrown and the buildings were in a state of disrepair.
We were told the owner would never sell and he was too attached to the place. He had operated a fox farm there in the 80’s and had left the area with his family in the 90’s never to return, except for an occasional summer when he would return by himself for a couple weeks in the summer to “fix things up.”
Well, when we got a phone call from him, he said he was the owner of the property and might be interested in selling it. He wanted to meet us in Wasilla to talk about his place. So we met. We’d never been inside the house or the barn. We had only briefly looked around the outside and saw how overgrown it was. We decided to meet. The owner brought pictures of what it had been in its original glory in the 70’s and 80’s. He said he would only sell to someone he thought had an adventurous enough soul and the drive to bring the place back to life. I guess his meeting with us convinced him and his wife that we were those souls, and a week later, we were the proud new owners of a run down fixer upper.
Now, to set the record straight, we asked if there were any major repairs to be done. He said there was a little bit of foundation work that needed to be done, but with a few bottle jacks, easy enough to fix. He said there was a soft spot in one section of the roof that he had stepped thru several years before, but he had repaired it and it was good now. We took him at his word and signed the papers, pretty much sight unseen. Fast forward four months later, when we arrived to begin repairs, our hearts sank. There was A LOT of problems that needed addressed fast.
Sitting in the living room area, listening to the rain on the roof (a roof made from old printing press tin plates which had been hammered to the plywood with a million nails) we heard water drops splattering inside. The water was coming thru the upstairs floor into the living room, puddling onto the floor. Raindrops were also falling thru the open hole on the roof around the stovepipe, hissing as they hit the hot barrel stove we were using to heat the house. In a frenzy of chaos, we found buckets and pans, trying to catch as much water as we could. We now understood, we had a major problem of a leaky roof that un-benownst to us had been leaking for 30 plus years…
As money is an issue, we were not financially set to be able to purchase a new roof. So, we figured we’d hope for the best and cover it with a large tarp. We anchored a large blue tarp over the ridge of the roof and ran it down both sides. It was an eyesore to be sure, but the leaking roof was now manageable. It worked for what we needed it for. With summer approaching and warmer weather afoot, we pulled out the stovepipe and took the barrel stove to the barn. We patched the stovepipe hole in the roof with plywood and lots of waterproof sealant. It stayed warm enough, we didn’t need a fire.
As we could afford, we bought furring strips of 1x4 wood slats and affixed them across the roof. Later, we added 10 foot sections of sheet metal, each piece 36” wide. Sheet by sheet, we got drier and drier inside. We cheered and high fived each other when the worst part of the leaky roof got covered with sheet metal. Now, a year later, we are only one sheet away from having the upper section of the roof completed. The buckets have been put away and the nightmare of what we had endured slowly fades. Now we can lie in bed and listen to the rain on our sheet metal roof, peace and serenity filling our minds. No longer do we strain our ears for water dripping somewhere in the house. We can drift off to sleep peacefully, until suddenly, the thought of winter enters and then the question of “will this rotten old roof withstand an arctic snowload??” Our minds races with concerns and we talk into the night about what if’s. Sleep is once again disturbed…
Four new chicks had hatched. We were excited and filled with wonder as we watched the baby chicks learn to walk. They would topple over and land on their heads, only to hop back up and wobble around some more. Mama hen was being very protective and wouldn’t let us get too close. For several days we watched as the chicks grew steadier and ran circles around mama hen.
Except for one. It was smaller than the others and had trouble staying upright. Perhaps it had left the nest too early, for it could not keep up with the others and eventually, mama hen didn’t pay it much mind when it fell behind. She had a way of gathering them all in when the other chickens got close and she would push the chicks underneath her and sit on them until the other chickens curiosity faded and they wandered elsewhere.
During one of these sittings, she smothered the runt chick to death. We found its lifeless body and then we were down to three. Fish camp ensued and we left for a few days to get the camp set up downriver. The teens stayed home to tend to the homestead while we got camp established. Several days later we returned to pick the kids up and take them to camp. Remember, we have no cell phones here, so all news from home was on delay until we returned. We were met at the door by the youngest teen, who happens to also be the chicken whisperer of the family.
“MOM! YOU WON’T BELIVE WHAT I SAW!” were her words as I walked in.
“What’d you see?” I asked.
“A RAVEN STOLE A CHICK AND I WATCHED IT FLY AWAY WITH IT SCREECHING IN IT’S MOUTH! I’M GOING TO NEED THERAPY FOR THIS!”
The therapy comment made me laugh and she thought I was laughing about the chick being stolen by the raven. No amount of talking could convince her that I wasn’t laughing about that…
So we went outside and counted the chicks. Only one remained. One had been smothered to death, one went missing and the other had been stolen by a raven, witnessed by a horrified teen with a soft heart for chickens…