The Backwoods

Where we teeter between our love of modern convenience and the yearning for something long past; a world where neighbors knew your name and a “Friend Request” was eye contact and a smile.


Where’s Waldo?

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We drove south from Alaska near the end of May this year on a whim. Maybe I’m just tired of the winters. The darkness gets to me. Or maybe it’s just a classic mid-life crisis and the husband and I have sunk at the same time. Because in April when I said, “Let’s go south,” […]


Bear In The Backwoods

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An Alaska Bear Tale: BEAR in the Backwoods My two boys gathered blueberries from their secret patch near the road. Jars filled, they headed back towards the cabin, Anthony leading the way. Just before the sawmill, Anthony heard a loud noise rustling through the brush. Steven, behind him, startled at the noise and looked up […]


For The Bees

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I love that at 11:30 at night I can wander out to check on my bees and the sun is still bright enough to see by. Mya tagged along as bear patrol….though what she would do if one pounced out, we aren’t sure.  But since bees don’t take too kindly to being harassed in the […]


Fishing For Elders

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Yesterday the kids and I found ourselves on the Ninilchik beach helping pull king salmon from the water to feed some of the village elders. Here on this same beach many years back, the natives of Ninilchik built fish traps and pulled nets much like us, feeding their families before there were grocery stores to […]

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Remembering The Backwoods

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Ever since we left Alaska to winter in California a couple weeks ago I’ve been getting message after message…                 “What about the cabin? Are you going back??? The cabin. My nemesis. My love.  It strikes me I’ve not written the details of how our place works and maybe I’m a tad homesick. So here […]


Bison Of British Columbia

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I’ve actually got nothing funny to say about today…which is good news since that means nothing bad happened. Good for us, bad for entertainment value. It’s late, we drove about 13 hours today through windy, mountainous, freezing, roads and we’re tired. We drove, we ate, we watched me cower behind the truck while a buffalo […]


South of the Border (Canadian That Is…)

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We bedded down last night in Tok, Alaska in a highway frontage hotel.  If I have learned anything on this trip so far it’s that there is no need for an alarm clock with five kids, three dogs, and two cats who are all used to the silence of the backwoods. Nobody sleeps through hotel […]


South From Alaska

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I was born a nomad.  In my forty-two years I have lived in 18 different homes in four different states and yet I feel like I’ve been stationary my whole life. My feet get the urge to wander and my family knows it’s time when I start thinning my belongings to a manageable heap. So […]


Locked and Unloaded

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I’m not an avid gun handler. I mean, I grew up lugging around a BB gun and could take out a Budweiser bottle as well as any filthy boy next door. I blew away ant hills and sabotaged unsuspecting spruce hen deep in the woods of Alaska late in the fall of my childhood. But […]


Just Another Scenic Sunday 8-11-13

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Apparently we only have Sundays about once a month this summer…either that or I’ve just been TOO BUSY TO SIT AT THE COMPUTER! Probably, it’s the latter. But here’s a glimpse of the past few weeks. Alaska Photos


Just Another Scenic Sunday 08-04-2013

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They say you never really know your area until you have company…or at least that’s what it seems.  This past two weeks my oldest daughter, Heather, and her boyfriend, Andrew, have been visiting from Oregon. SO we are playing touristy and seeing the sites.  These pictures come from our ferry trip across from Homer to […]



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For many Alaskans, “summer” means three things for sure…fish, fish and fish!  We dip, catch, and net fish…we clean, cut, can, freeze and smoke fish…we eat fish, love fish and sometimes we smell like fish. At least Destini does after logging over 136 hours at the processing plant in the past two weeks. She smells […]

Mya and Peter

It Takes A Village

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Our little community of Ninilchik, Alaska, is saddened by the death of one of our local teens in a four wheeler accident on the beach this past weekend.  A boy with a history of trying to find his place.  A boy being raised by a village, known by many and understood by few. A few […]

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Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch…

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I think often of this site…ideas for improvement flitting through my head, one-liners jotted down in yellow notebooks, good intentions paving the road to nowhere. And then life slams me back into reality as the land of the midnight sun has us attempting to complete a year worth of work in the four months of […]


New Babies!

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About an hour ago our dogs began to bark like crazy. I yelled to Mya to go find out what they were barking at and she comes screaming back towards the house… “PICA HAD A BABY, PICA HAD A BABY!” Sure enough, we have a baaa-ing baby girl and perhaps another on the way.  And […]


Into The Woods

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Winter has finally succumbed to spring here in south central Alaska, though that is debatable since we are forecasted to get snow on Friday.  But most of the snow has given away to mucky mud and for some reason we are all excited to see it.   I’ve emerged from hibernation ten pounds heavier, lethargic […]


A Moostacle Course!

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We spent most of the day trapped in the house by two friendly bull moose who just don’t realize that next Fall, they may be dinner.  The mistake is, when they are babies they are so darn cute that we just ignore them…don’t try to scare them off. Well eventually they grow up and become, […]


Aurora Borealis March 2013

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Robin and I trudged through the cemetery in Ninilchik, Alaska in the week hours of the night on St. Patrick’s Day 2013 to achieve these pictures.  The auroras were floating directly above, to the north, south, east and west. They were everywhere. Robin lay in the snow on her back, reaching her hand up to […]

Six of the kids on the beach...

Ninilchik, Alaska Beach Of Winter

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  The kids and I made an evening trip to the Ninilchik Beach today under the false pretense that Spring was just around the corner and the sun that shone so brightly might ACTUALLY BE WARM!!!   We walked briskly, snapped quickly, and jogged back to the truck with frozen hands and toes. We’ll give it […]

A Day At The Races

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  Unplanned fun is the best kind, and so when my phone woke me this morning with Billy on the other end asking me to bring snowmachine oil 16 miles up an ice mountain road, I thought…why the heck not?  It was a warm day, in the 30F’s, the sun was popping out from the […]

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Stalactites Of Winter

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When winter blends in to the fall that precedes And darkness consumes us and sunlight recedes Tall spears of ice, from the roofs edge they dangle Nearly to ground—a precarious angle.  ~ Through winters of wonder, they magically hold Till summer comes closer and Christmas grows old Near April the ice swords, wet, shiny round […]


Admitting Defeat…and a photo journey of success

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I’ve not written in weeks and I promise this won’t be one of those “I’m sorry I’ve not blogged” posts. But well, I’m sorry. Okay, that’s out of the way. Phew. SO now down to why I’ve not written…Pride…purely pride.  You see, we’ve retreated into our old house for the winter and I’ve been afraid […]


September 22, 2012

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My lantern oil just dimmed to nothing and left me in complete darkness but for the glow of my laptop and the internet box blinking green to my right. I see the hazy glow of Luke’s flashlight bouncing as he walks back in from the outhouse and another in the hall where Anthony pulls a […]


Pre-Cabin Fever

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This is not going to be well written, of that I am sure. It’s late at night, I’m tired, and I have computer access for just a short time. I apologize ahead of time… The past few weeks have been very stressful.  We left behind our 7 bedroom home, moved completely out, cleaned it spotless […]


Boys In The Backwoods…

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I don’t remember being covered in bruises, blood and broken skin on a daily basis as a child…perhaps that is the key difference between little girls and little boys.  Then again, the way I used to roll my 3-wheeler down every dirt hill within miles, it’s rather surprising I made it through my eleventh year […]


The Mighty Fisherman

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  Four days now, Billy has been gone on the fishing boat where he makes his summer living.  At seventeen, he’s one of thousands of kids in Alaskan waters earning more than most teens around the world ever dreamed. (Read last summer’s post about Billy’s job here…When The Boy Becomes A Man) He’s been texting […]


And On The Seventh Day…

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Even God rested one day a week, or so I reminded Dan this morning as we made our list of “to-do” things during breakfast. He’s home just two weeks at a time, then gone again for two or more.  So when he’s home, it seems we do a lot of running and make little progress. […]

The queen is in that tiny box on the left corner, already engulfed in her bees...

Backwoods Bees

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When I was a kid in Kasilof, Alaska, there was a honey store about a mile down the road. We’d pedal down there, present our quarter, and get a sample of honey such that I’ve not tasted since.  This year, as we move onto our off-grid property and make an attempt at becoming more self […]


The Long Walk Home

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I’ve not yet written about the time when Dan, Destini and Billy spent the night in the woods when the kids were in 7th and 8th grade…but it involves state troopers, a heat-seeking helicopter, a missing canoe and one night of Hell for this mom.  And I’m not going to tell it now because it […]


Aurora Borealis-Ninilchik, Alaska-March 8, 2012

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Thanks to the sun doing some fancy stuff this week, we in the north have been getting quite a show.  So it didn’t let a little thing like deflated lungs stop me…I sucked down my Albuterol, chugged Nyquil and headed out.                             […]


Shockingly Good Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

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  A few weeks ago my friend, Rhea, brought me a plate of cookies for the kids and said, “Here, they are gluten free…”  And I thought what most every other wheat loving person in the world would think… “Oh…um….thanks…I think.” And then I ate one.  Shock is not sufficient a word to cover how […]


Firewood Day

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Our current home is over 3000 square feet ( I know, you are trying to picture us living in the tiny cabin come summer…) and because the cost of heating fuel is upwards of four dollars per gallon here in Alaska, we compensate by burning wood in our wood stove as much as possible. Last […]


At The End Of The Trail

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As I sit in the Alaska dark, waiting for Spring, I can feel the grit beneath my nails, the sweat across the back of my neck and the ache of my arms after a day in the woods.  The course skin of hands, dry and stiff from the leather of my gloves, the grain of […]

They Pay Me To Live Here

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Whenever I tell people from the lower 48 that I live in Alaska, I inevitably hear the same question: “Don’t they pay you to live there?” It’s kind of like saying, “Why the heck would you live in that frozen wasteland? Oh yea…that’s right…they pay you.” They are referring, of course, to the Alaska Permanent […]


Deck On The Verge

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This year, because of homeschool, we moved our couch in front of our sliding glass door to the deck, and thus…it’s been abandoned until Spring.  Unkempt and ignored…it’s built up…and up…and up!  I’m a bit worried about the storage room that lies underneath…but at least that will make for good photos when it collapses.  

Two Foot High Kick

Native Youth Olympics II

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When Steven and Luke moved in they were already heavily involved in the Native Youth Olympics, and so I threw Anthony into the mix because…let’s face it…it gets him out of the house for four hours a week.  This year Robin jumped aboard also and they have been diligently working towards competitions for months now. […]


Caroling In The Backwoods

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I was about ten years old the first time I went Christmas caroling with the other neighborhood kids.  And while in some neighborhoods the houses are door-to-door and kids can walk from yard to yard making joyful noise, in the back country of Alaska, it’s not that easy. Our houses are tucked down narrow, unplowed […]


A Trip To Good News Bay

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I put in a call to a client a few years back to arrange a trip into the village of Good News Bay, Alaska, where I would assess an adoptive situation and write a report for the courts either approving, or denying, the potential adoptive placement. The young woman who answered the phone sought to […]


That First Winter

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We came to Alaska when I was nine years old, stacked into a Toyota pickup so packed full that my grandfather had done the final shove with a broom stick to get it all in. At the time, it was just life. I didn’t know that other kid’s dads didn’t shove them into the back […]


Always Be Prepared

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I was once in a vehicle that slammed into an eight foot snow burm, flipped to the right and rolled onto the top, spun in the center of the road, upside down, and finally came to a stop.  I crawled out a broken window with two other people, unhurt, and quickly realized the next vehicle […]

Wearing For The Weather

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This morning I slipped on my stage four Patagonia long underwear under my Carhart coveralls.  I pulled my Smartwool hat over my head and my Smartwool socks on my toes. I stuck my feet into my Garmont work boots, tugged my Under Armour sweatshirt over my head, shrugged into my Mountain Hardware windbreaker and was […]


Sawmill Saga

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In August, shortly after we purchased our 40 acres, we acquired a portable band saw mill with the intent of creating our own lumber with which to build our own home. But first…knowing we couldn’t afford to complete a home this year nor did we have time to begin with winter nearing…we decided to build […]

Fiction Friday 9/23/11

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Fiction Friday, my way of forcing myself to write outside my comfort zone of non-fiction, by backing myself into a corner every Thursday night. Chapter ONE   Chapter TWO Chapter THREE Chapter Four By Monday morning, word had gotten around the village and whispers had turned into assumptions which had quickly become pure fact, as […]


Porcupine Piracy

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  When I found a porcupine in my yard a couple of nights ago while videoing the coyotes across the driveway, it never really occurred to me to do anything other than Facebook his picture…because what else would I do…until my friend Cindy suggested I should collect some quills for crafting. And me being a […]


Fiction Friday 9/16/11

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Fiction Friday, my way of forcing myself to write outside my comfort zone of non-fiction, by backing myself into a corner every Thursday night. To read Chapter ONE To read Chapter TWO  Chapter Three There’s something good to be said for small towns, but Jess wasn’t sure what it could be.  She’d lived in Sherman, […]


Whaling Away Her Youth

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Photo courtesy Charles Lampe-Kaktovik, Alaska Yesterday Sandi’s daughter, Kendra, climbed into a twenty foot boat with a group of close friends and family.  They pushed into the Arctic Ocean off the shores of Kaktovik/Barter Island…the only permanent settlement in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the North Slope of Alaska.  They scanned the waters and […]

Alaska Log Furniture

Alaska Log Furniture

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For more than twenty years I wanted to know how to make log furniture…I’m talking cut the tree down, pack it out of the woods, custom, from scratch kinda log furniture. Not the neatly perfected pieces you find in most furniture stores. I’m talking backwoods…Alaska style. So last summer I did it. Now, mind you, I have […]

Fiction Friday

Fiction Friday 9/9/11

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Fiction Friday, my way of forcing myself to write outside my comfort zone of non-fiction, by backing myself into a corner every Thursday night.  To read chapter ONE To read chapter THREE Chapter Two Heavy steps ran toward Jess as she sputtered snow from her mouth and struggled to remove the small boy from her […]

Why Off Grid

Why Off-Grid?

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We turn the handle, water flows from the faucet.  We flip a switch and a light goes on or off. We flush a toilet, crank the thermostat, open the fridge…and voila, magic happens. And then we all get three days off and we spend it sitting around a campfire, looking up at the stars, listening […]

Fiction Friday

Fiction Friday 9/2/11

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This is the first installment of Fiction Friday, my way of forcing myself to write outside my comfort zone of non-fiction, by backing myself into a corner every Thursday night.  Read chapter TWO Chapter One It would be unlikely to find a small town that was not governed, propelled and held captive by gossip.  Sherman, […]

Native Youth Olympics

Native Youth Olympics

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My boys play basketball with vigor, ride bikes nonstop and roll in the dirt for fun. But their favorite activity…by far…is the Native Youth Olympics. The programs events are based on the life skills of past generations of Alaska Natives.  They simulate their hunting and survival skills and are intended to strengthen and create a […]

Home Made Condiment Recipes

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I just came across this video by The Healthy Home Economist…and LOVED IT!  If you fast forward past the first minute or two, she goes right into a whole list of great recipes.  Excellent resource! Thought I’d share.

Grapes Of My Bad

The Grapes Of ‘My Bad’

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Today I swung into Walmart in Kenai (don’t judge me…we have literally three grocery stores to choose from…ha) and was perusing the fruit and veggie section when I saw one of the employees drop a bag of grapes from the shelf.  The rolled about on the floor, across the floor matt, under the edge of […]


You Know You Are From Kaktovik, Alaska If…

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Photos courtesy of Sandi Semaken (I only wish I took these…) We’ve all seen those, “You Know You Are From … If … ” groups around Facebook lately.  They are kind of annoying, as you scroll down your page, because most of them are very personalized to the people from that area…and the rest of […]

Hitting The Bank

Hitting The Bank…er…I Mean Trail!

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(Created in 2010, just before our Resurrection Trail hike…) For years my family has masqueraded outdoorsy while trapped in the gear of a penniless waif. Every year we traipse into the local wilderness store and fantasize about how different our adventures would be if only we could afford the fancier garb. Surely it’s more pleasant […]

Yardword Backwoods Style

Yardwork…Backwoods Style

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We took possession of our 40 acres off-grid this week and as is our style…dug right in.  With no time to waste before winter and Dan working half his life away from home, we have about four weeks of actual time on the land before we have to start to buckle down for winter. Our […]

Resurrection Trail

Resurrection Trail — aka Trail Of Terror

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 Written summer, 2010…warning…this piece is long…but worth the read (or at least look at the photographs of true Alaska wilderness.) We were eighteen steps down the trail when Anthony announced he had to go to the bathroom. And not the easy one. Blood pressure rising so early in the day, Dan unclipped the boys backpack […]

On The Kenai

On The Kenai

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Ignore the cheesy grin…I’m much better behind the camera!                         I’ve spent the last two days at the mouth of the Kenai River dip netting Sockey (Red) Salmon from a boat.  It’s my version of “I’m broke so I gotta get food somewhere” and […]

Dear Alaska Tourist

Dear Alaska Tourist

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Welcome to Alaska!  I’m so glad you were able to drive all this way in your motor home to enjoy this fabulous state.  We love it here and hope you do also. It doesn’t bother me at all to be behind your motor home.  Especially when you slow way down so you don’t miss anything.  […]

Alaska Myths

Alaska Myths…Proven and Debunked!

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Having spent the better part of my 39 years in Alaska, I’ve heard just about all of the questions you can imagine.  Before I even start, I’d just like to say, there ARE NO PENGUINS IN ALASKA. There.  Whew. Here are some more….I’ve taken MANY pictures to prove em. There ARE wild animals roaming around: […]

Moose Attack

Moose Attack!

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Object in this photo is closer than it appears… I first noticed her in the distance, blending in to the swampy foliage with her thick brown fur.  She moved through the forest nearly silent, long legs fluid beneath her, as my dad and I crunched loudly through the mossy undergrowth.  We stopped.  Figured we’d stand, […]

Raftin Kenai

Kenai River Rafting

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The great thing about life jackets…everybody has the same square figure…   The last time I was rafting on the Kenai River, a bunch of us folded an old Avon raft over the top of a tiny car, threw in a cooler chest of questionably legal beverages, and spent the day pulling to the bank […]

Bear Bait

Bear Bait

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On more than one occasion I’ve wondered just how wise it is to hang out in bear country, eating greasy hotdogs next to a salmon spawning ground.  And yet every summer we go back to the same old places, nestle down into the paw print covered sandy bank, and sun ourselves with our backs to […]

Fuller Lake Trails

Fuller Lakes Trail

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It was noon on a sunny summer day last June when Dan and I decided on the spur of the moment to hike in to Fuller Lakes Trail near Cooper Landing, Alaska. We’d driven by the spot a thousand times but never had we explored what was beyond the steep steps rising from the side […]

One Night On Tustumena

One Night On Tustumena

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The world is so wide here, I can see clear into yesterday from where I stand. This lake was once, a lifetime ago, home to trappers and homesteaders; those with a spirit adventurous enough to journey the miles of wilderness and settle here, in this pristine land. It’s said they followed the river to its […]

Witout A Paddle

Without A Paddle

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Sandi and I had escaped, kid free…which says a lot considering between us we have thirteen children…and were laughing our way across Tustumena lake headed for Nikolai Creek to spot some grizzly bears through our telephotos. We intended to stake out the creek until dark if we had to, just for the perfect shot.  Photo, […]

Pilot Fell AWhat

The Pilot Fell-A-What?

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I’ve gotten used to flying in small planes. In fact, I prefer it immensely over large planes. I figure, if a forty ton jet loses an engine, we’re all toast. There’s no way out of that one. But if a tiny plane, the kind that appear to be made from paper gum wrappers and glue […]

Backwoods Dream

Going Backwoodsier…Our Off-Grid Dream

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From the home site… Not everybody’s idea of a dream come true involves the potential for being eaten by bears…but tonight when I found my third pile of fresh bear poo in as many trips to my new land, I knew my dreams were coming true right before my feet. Not that I want to […]