South From Alaska

8789

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,” he grabbed his suitcase and headed for the door.

“You are leaving Alaska in the summertime?” said everyone we passed going the opposite direction on the Alaska/Canada highway.  Even the Alaska border patrol said we were headed the wrong direction but we just smiled, nodded, and pointed south.

“Where is the six-door?” others would say, knowing we normally drive a rather unusually long rig.  She is having a new motor installed, and was sadly replaced with an old 15 passenger van. I know humility is healthy, but it’s humbling to drive an ugly van after being ultra cool in the six door all these years.  Perhaps our vanity needed to be taken down a notch. The van certainly did that.

It’s somewhere around 2300 miles from Anchorage to Seattle, our first destination being another 600 miles past that in Redding, California. Every time we drive the Alcan highway we swear the next we will take more time and see the sites. But this, my 17th time, was no different than the rest in that we hit the pedal to the medal and didn’t stop until we saw the tip of the space needle.

We did stop to photograph the first of eighteen black bears we saw along the drive, but after that the husband would slow down and I’d hang my head out the window snapping pictures, yelling, ‘go, go, go!’ as one pissed off cinnamon black came charging towards the truck as I clicked. They say black bears aren’t aggressive, but even they don’t like paparazzi shoving a camera in their faces.

Bears, bison, caribou, elk and moose are a common site alongside the road. Or even in the road as was the case with the bison, which don’t move fast for anyone and make a mighty big dent in the bumper if you try to nudge them aside.  So we did slow to a stop for them, but other than that we flew through Canada pretty fast. Someday…some day we will stop at the hot springs and wander the streets of Dawson City like we always promise. Or maybe not.

If you didn’t follow us in the winter of 2013-2014, we did a similar trip and spent six months travelling from Alaska clear down to the gulf of Mexico on the Padre Islands of the Texas coast. We spent a month there, headed up to Utah for a month, and spent the rest of our time relative hopping and camping across the western United States.  We returned to Alaska in May, 2014, spent one year at home (half of which was laid up after an injury involving a bear, two boys, and my superhuman-porch-leaping skills) and now we are off again.  This time for a full year.

We stopped off in Portland, Oregon and had a day with our adult kids, Heather, Destini and Billy as well as Heathers fiancé, Andrew.  We had a phenomenal day in the sun with the kids, and then headed south to the mom-in-laws in Redding just in time to put the husband on a plane to go back to work. Poor guy.

Here was the initial plan: The husband inherited an acre of land an hour east of Redding, deep in the logging roads behind Shingletown, California. It was, long story short, his childhood playground and the place where his family escaped the city life of southern Cal, his entire life. His father’s ashes are there, in a memorial rock, and a few years ago the whole place burned in a forest fire, leaving behind a few trees and nothing much else.  The ‘property’, as it’s known to the family, went from a shaded oasis of redwoods and pines to a desert of deep red dirt and ash.

And we came south to revive it. We bought tents, cots, lawn chairs, shovels, rakes and camping equipment and planned to spend the summer rebuilding the past, so the children of the future could love it as he did.  We started with an outhouse. But here is what we discovered..

Redding, California and the surrounding area, is like LIVING IN A TOASTER OVEN.

And sleeping in a tent, in a toaster oven, gets unbearable by six a.m.  So each day the kids, the pets and I loaded up our picnic and headed for higher ground.  The property is at 4000 ft elevation, so the only higher ground around was Lassen Volcanic National Park, not far up the road, and beyond that Hat Creek and Burney Falls recreation areas where we spent the next week.  We lazed in the lake by day, then headed back to the property around seven p.m., just in time for the air to become almost tolerable to these poor Alaskan kids who thought California was trying to kill them.

Clearly, camping out on the property and rebuilding was not going to work this time of year. So when my cousin, Tina, told me one night, “Go to Roseburg, my cabin is empty,” we were packed and out of there in ten minutes flat.  Off to Oregon we went.

(Backstory: I didn’t grow up around my family. Born in Roseburg, Oregon, as were my parents, my grandparents and my great-grand parents, we moved to Alaska when I was eight. I have a giant extended family in the Roseburg, Glide, Cottage Grove, Oregon area and I know about six of them.)

We spent five days in Roseburg at my cousins place which sits behind her folks house, overlooking the city. They have a pool, so it’s a wonder we ever left. We went to our first ever baseball game, met some cousins, swam in the pool and soaked up the hospitality. The husband flew in from work and we headed over to Pacific City on the coast where we were again spoiled by some old neighbors of ours who have retired at their beach cabin a couple blocks from the beach. It pays to have friends and relatives in ‘high’ places, or at least with swimming pools and beach cabins.

While on the coast, pondering our next move and wondering how long we could live in tents on friends and relatives good nature, we went down to a camp trailer dealer and impulsively bought a 30ft motorhome. A 1996 with only 27,000 miles on it, we got it super cheap and felt good about the decision.  Homeless no more, we headed south back to Redding to spend July 4th with the husband family where all four of his sisters had gathered at his moms.

Back into the firepits of Redding we went, though this time armed with air conditioning. We felt like we were on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, rolling down the road in style rather than our 91’ E350 van with the rusted roof and nonexistent air conditioning. Yes, Mother, I know there are starving children in Africa, but I’m Alaskan and I need my coolant.

After the 4th we dropped the husband down at the Sacramento airport and a couple days later we headed back up here to Roseburg so we could again lounge in my aunts pool. I’m not sure how long she will put up with us, but I have Steven mowing her lawn now and Mya cleaned her living room. With three kids left to do chores, I figure we will last through the weekend.

Our next stop is Portland again, then over to Tillamook where my DAUGHTER, HEATHER, IS GETTING MARRIED on July 25th! And then who knows.

After two months of answering Craigslist ads, we have discovered something definitive. NOBODY wants to rent to a family with 5 teenagers, 3 dogs and 3 cats. Hence the motorhome purchase. We like the looks of a Lake Havasu, Arizona snowbird rental where we can get a house with a pool and experience city life for a while.  Though we don’t actually like to spend any money…so…

But what we have really figured out…is that maybe we don’t want to settle in somewhere. Maybe the open road, an open atlas, and an open mind is the best option for now.

 

 

 

 

Fishing For Elders

1007

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 ease the burden.  They relied on the water for survival, taking only as much as they needed and using all that they took, down to the last piece.

It was a privilege to take part in providing a feast for those who can no longer do it themselves. Those who carried on the traditions of their people and lived to teach the next generation how to live from the land.

We pulled six King salmon from the net in just a few hours. The kids tied knots, pulled nets, learned some good things and laughed while doing it. It was a good day.

999

1000

1001

1003

1004

1005

1006

1007

1008

1009

1010

1011

1012

1013

1014

1015

1016

1017

1018

1019

1020

 

 

 

 

Bison Of British Columbia

9995

I’ve actually have 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 circled around behind and then we drove some more. We dodged elk, caribou and bison wandering around in the road. We’re in Fort Nelson, British Columbia and are thankful the worse of the temperatures are behind us. It’s minus 13 and windy.

Here’s some evidence of our day….sorry my eyes are not letting me tell any tales.  Now I’m off to get some sleep so we can wake and do it all again.

9987

9988

9989

9990

9991

9992

9993

9994

9995

9996

 

South of the Border (Canadian That Is…)

9998

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 noise. Sometime around four a.m. the dogs jolted us awake with a howl that would make a huntin’ dog jealous when a trucker out front started his rig. And so began our day.

10000

Tok is about 90 miles from the Alaska/Canada border and so we hit the crossing fairly early. The nice lady commented about the length of the truck and the husband said something about us being long enough to span two countries. I gave him a ‘look’ because for years he’s been told not to joke with the border folk. Some day he is going to get us deported. We handed over passports and birth certificates which she examined and had each child say their name through the truck window.  “You had two children in 1999?” she asked.  “We both had affairs,” replied the husband and I pinched him on the elbow.

Once that was cleared up she waved us through, declining our offer to leave her a “Border Cat”.

9995

The first time I came up the Alcan (Alaska/Canada) highway was in 1979.  The worst stretch of the whole trip back then was between the border and Kluane Lake. Thirty-four years later and it hasn’t changed a bit. It resembled a well groomed off-road track of broken pavement and wicked frost heaves. It seems no matter what they do, it just goes from bad to worse.  Near Beaver Creek, Yukon, a particularly evil frump sent the kids heads to the ceiling and the bike rack hanging off the receiver hitch buckled.  Cool. Two thousand dollars in mountain bikes barely hanging on and we were miles from anything.

9987

If you’ve ever seen one of those circus acts where sixteen clowns pile out of a car and run around like idiots with no real purpose at all, this is what we looked like on the side of a snow blown road in the Yukon today.  Only it was somewhere around negative twenty windchill and we were, for some reason, completely ill equipped for the weather. Boys in t-shirts grabbed dogs by leashes and took them for laps around the pull-off praying they would pee (one hasn’t peed yet).  The girls and us parents pulled the bikes from the teetering rack and one by one, tried to shove them into the tiny space once occupied by dogs. The food tub, duffel bags, bedding all went into the cab to make room for the bikes and then boys, girls, dogs, elephants and lions piled back into the cab. Meanwhile the cats huddled somewhere deep in the bed of the truck, now trapped behind a mountain of bikes half hanging out the canopy door.

9988

9989

9990

9991

9992

9993

We rode like this for a couple of hours.  Our food froze in the back so we shoved ham and cheese slices in the glove box, the warmest place in the car, to thaw. I made ham sandwiches and we sneakily ate them behind the dogs heads, switching hands as they twisted to see what was the smell. Beazie crawled from the third seat onto Mya, who already held Bagel, then across the laundry basket of food to Robin where she snuggled in like she’d found home.

Early in the evening, having lost about a half a day between the dogs, the bikes, and my leaving my Ipad under the pillow in the hotel which sent us backtracking, we hit the town of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory at the advice of a few fine Canadian folks.  We found a brand new bike rack at Canadian Tire (Coolest store ever, btw) and again battled the bikes, the cold and the dark. A fellow with a rich French accent visited us while we worked and we took turns warming ourselves in the cab of the truck between bolts, washers and curses.

Halfway thru assembling the new bike rack with numb hands the good people of Whitehorse reminded us it was Sunday night and every light in the vicinity went to black. Good thing I had a flashlight between chattering teeth and another stuffed inside my bra.  (cabin life finally pays off) As we fastened the last bike into place under the lights of the Walmart parking lot next door, a red fox casually moseyed by while the locals didn’t even seem to notice.  Just like home.

Tired, frustrated with our loss of time and chilled clear through we called it a night and checked into a pet friendly hotel. We’ll rise early tomorrow and attempt to make up some time.

I flipped off the hotel light switch a bit ago and Luke jumped up to go turn on the generator.  You can take the kid out of the backwoods…but you can’t take the backwoods out of the kid.

South From Alaska

9988

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 when we bought our 40 acres three years ago and began to create a life, a homestead, a permanent abode, my family was a little hesitant to believe I’d last. Well, there is still no place I’d rather be than right here in my cabin. No, really. 

But sometimes life changes your plans and the best thing to do is let go of the reigns and see what happens.

My mom-in-law turns 80 this year (I know women don’t like their age broadcast but I think 80 is something to shout about) and we’ve not lived near her for more than 20 years.  And so when the cabin didn’t quite reach the stage you might call, “remotely close to finished”, and we realized our feet may freeze to the floor if we stay still long, we devised a plan to spend the winter in the southern states so our kids can get to know the grandma they’ve been deprived of all these years.  

I’m gonna talk shop-lingo like a girl for a minute…be patient.  About a month ago the husband and the boys pulled the motor of the truck to replace the Timing Chain Cover because it was cracked and leaking oil. Leaking oil by the gallon equals not ready to drive 3500 miles.  In order to replace the timing chain cover, they had to pull out the entire motor so they could drop the oil pan and get some tube out of the oil pan. Thanks to Youtube, they found a way they could only ‘Lift’ the motor a ways to get the oil pan off, thus not having to remove the transmission, an act which makes the husband cuss like a sailor.  Okay, so several long days of greasy work and they put the whole thing back together.  We started the truck, nothing leaked, everyone is happy. 

SO, then we spent the next few weeks working on the interior. We pulled the seats; pulled old carpet and Rhinolined the floor, replaced the headliner; put new bucket seats up front; ran an external heater to the back seat; new speaker wires, etc. It looked beautiful and again, everyone was happy.

We we’re about five days shy of the husband going back to work with plans to leave for California the day of his return, when we started the truck. Uhoh, oil everywhere.  Hours later we tracked to leak to a missing seal. Again, most of the motor was disassembled, the leak repaired, the entire thing put back together. Woohoo, we said, we are going on vacation!

Again, we started the truck and took it for a test drive. A mile down the road we pulled over, looked under the truck, and a long stream of profanity flew from both our mouths. Oil, all over the road.

Upon investigation we discovered the oil pan was had sprung a leak. Or three.

Long story short, we dropped the six door off at Elite Diesel in Soldotna, Alaska and said, “Forget it…you fix it.”

The husband left for work and I called in an order for an oilpan via a local parts store who at this point, I am sure would like to remain nameless. But since the following was not their fault…it was the Soldotna Napa.  ‘The oil pan is a week out,’ they said, ‘coming from Kansas.’ And because we live in Alaska we are used to that. NO problem. The husband was gone to work for two weeks anyway.

And a week went by. Then ten days. I called Larry at Napa, who by this time recognized my voice. Larry did some dialing and found my oil pan has taken a little trip of it’s own. From Kansas to Idaho….to Alabama (twice) to Memphis Tennessee and had landed in Jacksonville, Florida. Cool. Trying not to freak out as our window of opportunity flies out the window, I called Keith at Ford in Kenai who assured me he can get one out of Sacramento the following day.’ Woohoo,’ we said, ‘we’re going on vacation!’

Now I’m sure the conversation between Keith from Ford and Blade from Elite the following day was more of an argument over who was going to call me, the nagging wench who harasses them on an hourly basis to finish her truck because the cabin is getting colder and smaller by the day. But Keith must have lost the toss because he called to tell me…my second oil pan had been sent to the wrong dealer. 

F#$$^%##%^…

I called Larry at Napa, “Did my oil pan happen to arrive from Florida?” I asked.  “Sweetie…” said Larry, “I don’t think you are supposed to leave Alaska.”   Bite me, Larry, I’m outta here one way or another.

I slept on it, letting Larry’s words sink in. Maybe the auto parts guy was right. Maybe all these issues were a sign. I’ve been following signs for years and it’s always worked out, but my drive to get south was stronger than my brains at that point.  So when Keith from Ford called me the next morning to say he’d managed to get me a third oil pan all the way from Sacramento in less than 20 hours, I wanted to kiss him through the phone. Kudos to Keith! It pays to have childhood friends in high places.

Four days in the shop and the engine was out, fixed up, and put back in place. Yesterday (Friday Nov 15, 2013) the truck came home. Since we’d spent a month or more preparing, the cabin was ready, the kids were packed, and all was in place for the trip. We spent the day playing a giant game of Tetris with the kids/dogs/cats/stuff in the truck and left half of it behind on the floor of the shop.  A good nights sleep and we were ready to roar at six this morning.

And then we saw the giant puddle of antifreeze pouring from the bottom of the motor as it warmed up in the dark driveway.. The husband high tailed it to our shop six miles away, the boys snapped into action as well-trained shop technicians, and half an hour later the leaky hose was back to work.

Meanwhile, the girls and I packed up our three dogs and two cats into their cubbies amongst the luggage. Nermal threw up all over my camera bag and Beezie is in heat…but other than that they appear to be handling the drive so far.

We hit Anchorage, then headed up the Glenn Highway towards Tok where we will spend the night. I’m typing this as the sun sets behind us and the moon reflects off snow coated spruce in the distance.  One long day nearly down, six more to go.

9987

 

Locked and Unloaded

MeTustumenaLake

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 if I ever have to take out a bear at a full charge, you’ll not be reading about it in the first person. I’ll be history.

I carry a gun on my hip, comfortably, in the woods and on more than one occasion have had to unholster. But to be honest…it’s more of a self-security feature than an absolute.  It may just weigh me down as I fled in pure panic whatever was in pursuit..

 So three nights ago when menacing dog growls sent shivers through my knees and the generator had died leaving us at the mercy of flashlights and courage, I tried to ignore the tiny hairs at attention on my neck.  I sat in the main room, dimly lit by my laptop screen. It’s unsettling, being silohetted by a bright bulb.  A target. To see my reflection in the window and know something could be standing on the other side of the glass, hidden by my own face. I was in the middle of freaking myself out when Anthony barreled out of the kids bunks insisting something had slowly scratched down his window, horror movie style, only the kid has never seen a horror movie.  Not to look like a weenie to the frightened boy, I rolled my eyes, climbed the ladder to my loft, and retrieved a pistol.  For the sake of the boy, of course.  I crept down the dark hallway, Anthony trailing behind, the beam of the light bouncing off plywood walls.  I clutched the forty-five in my best Charley’s Angels stance, pressed my back to the wall nearest the door, flipped the safety and opened the door just enough for three frightened dogs to slip out of the darkness into the safety of cabin walls.  Wimps.

And then, hands fluttering, I realized I’d not chambered a bullet. So much for protecting my family against the unknowns of the night.  If a creature of the dark had lunged through the door after my cowardly dogs, I’d have been nothing more than an appetizer, my children…the main course.

When I went up to bed that night, three dogs blending inconspicuously into couch cushions as if I wouldn’t notice, I tucked the forty-five under my pillow.  Why?  I don’t know. I’ve never done that before. Normally it’s holstered and stowed.  But my nerves were on end and somehow under my pillow felt right.

Until four-thirty, a.m. when in my sleep, my right hand fumbled around the bed in search of a flashlight. We don’t have power in the bedroom yet, so everything is done by the yellow glow of a Mag Light. Still completely asleep, incoherent and groggy, I found the flashlight.  But it wasn’t right. It felt odd.

You know that not-quite-awake-feeling when you are aware of what you are doing, but don’t seem to have any control over it?  Yah…that was me, fondling a loaded weapon under my pillow in the wee hours.  By the time I realized I was clutching a gun, I had rolled over, pulled it from under my pillow, and had a finger on the trigger…but the gun was aimed square at my pajamas.

The safety was on.  The bullets were not engaged. But…they could have been. I could have forgotten to lock the safety. I could have remembered to ‘Chachink’ the bullets into place and left it that way, stashed ‘safely’ under my pillow.

My pajamas could have been annihilated.

And people would have said, “well…it’s no shock…have you met her children?” Or, “she did seem pretty stressed out lately….” And nobody would have ever known what happened. I’d have been an unsolved mystery, profiled on Cold Case Files twenty years from now.  

Time for a refresher course in gun safety and a renewed realization that people who know all the rules… who are comfortable and confident and think they’ve got it all under control…can get too relaxed. And that is when accidents happen.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 8-11-13

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.

9989
Our trucks long lost rich relative tracked us down in Anchorage…
9990
Bizarre lighting in the snow up above Portage area…
9991
http://www.alaskawildlife.org/ Moose at Alaska Conservation Center
9992
http://www.alaskawildlife.org/ This girl/guy was like a statue.
9993
Bird On A Wire
9994
Take off!
9995
I love the velvet on the antlers…..and these look like creepy scary hands!
9996
I wonder if he gets headaches…
9997
Fishing boats waiting to come in with the tide off Ninilchik, Alaska
10003
Luke…well…he likes goggles. Alot. We just go with it…
10006
Ninilchik Beach
10007
Ninilchik, Alaska beach
10008
Robin being ‘blown away’….or is she?
10009
Bear at wildlife center. http://www.alaskawildlife.org/
10010
Bear at wildlife center. http://www.alaskawildlife.org/
10012
http://www.alaskawildlife.org/
9988
The husband can ride a wheelie FOREVER. He’s the coolest 42 year old in Jr. High…
9987
Blurry moose…but still cute.

Alaska Photos

Photo tour of Homer, Seldovia and Tustumena Lake

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 Seldovia, Alaska and also from a day on Tustumena Lake.

Tustumena lake is a 27 mile long glacier fed lake with VERY questionable weather changes with no notice. It can be smooth as glass one minute, then four foot swells the next, literally. We had smooth water all afternoon, made it all 27 miles up the lake in my dads boat, and back down the other edge for a full tour of the lake. Andrew kept saying, “I feel so lucky…” and indeed, he was.  We all were.

 

9999
My oldest daughter, Heather, and her guy, Andrew, on the boat.
9987
Fish from above, bridge in Seldovia, Alaska
9988
Old bottles in the bookstore near bridge in Seldovia, Alaska
9990
Russian Orthodox church in Seldovia, Alaska
9992
From the beach in Seldovia, Alaska
9994
Jellyfish off the docks of Seldovia, Alaska
9997
Old trapper cabin on Tustumena Lake, about 3/4 of the way to the glacier end… in Kasilof, Alaska
9998
Tustumena Lake, Kasilof Alaska

 

10002
My dad on Tustumena Lake, Kasilof, Alaska
10004
Jellyfish off dock in Seldovia, Alaska
10005
Jellyfish off docks in Seldovia, Alaska
10009
Sea otter in Seldovia, Alaska
10010
Sea Otter in Seldovia, Alaska
10011
Jelly fish in Seldovia, Alaska
10014
Old trapper cabin on Tustumena Lake, near far end by glacier, in Kasilof Alaska

Just Another Scenic Sunday 4-21-13

3463
Eagle hovering over dead fish in Ninilchik, Alaska
3464
Take off
3465
The eagle has landed
3453
This moose has just about demolished my rose bushes
3454
Steven found the invertebrate plate of a whale on the beach tonight. It’s the size of a dinner plate.
3455
Beach Boys…
3456
Seagulls in Ninilchik, Alaska
3457
Steven on the beach in Ninilchik, Alaska
3458
Homer, Alaska sunset
3459
Homer, Alaska sunset
3460
Homer, Alaska
3461
Looks edible…no?
3462
Anthony proving that yes, white men can jump…

 

A Moostacle Course!

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, well, a bit intimidating at the front door.

7869

7870

7871

7872

7873

7874

7875

7876

7877

7878

7879

7880

7881

7882

7883

7884

 

Aurora Borealis March 2013

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 see if she could touch them…they felt that close.7880

7875

7876

7877

7878

7879

7874

7873

7872

7871

7870

7869

7884

 

7883

7882

7881

7880

7879

Ninilchik, Alaska Beach Of Winter

Six of the kids on the beach...
Six of the kids on the beach…

 

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 another month and try again…or maybe tomorrow. 😉

Destini
Destini getting her Zen on…

 

Ninilchik
Ninilchik Beach at Sunset March 13 ,2013

 

Mya
Mya on beach…

 

Sunset
Sunset

 

Luke
Luke on beach

 

Destini
Destini with her normal face…

 

Robin
Robin with glasses of ice…

 

Ice Sunset
Ice Sunset on Ninilchik Beach, March 13, 2013

 

Girls
Destini and Mya on beach…

 

Stalactites Of Winter

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

Fall from their roots to crash on the ground.

~

Sporadic, unpredictable, falling like rain

They cave to the pressure, give in to the strain

Heavy-thawed-snow falls down the tin roof

Then hangs from the ledge—gravity proof.

~

The sheer wall of skewers—ic e sculpture art

Stalactites of winter, always are part

Of a change in the season, with spring round the bend

When snow will all vanish and winter will end.

Settling In To Cabin Life

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 book from the shelf, though it’s 12:14 a.m.  He’ll read far into the early morning, unable to regulate his desire to read just one…more…page.

Beyond the gentle hum of the cooling fan inside my computer, I hear the jumbled cur plunk of rain hitting the tin roof for the sixth night straight. The occasional turning of some child’s page and the crackle of a warm fire give life to the blackness around me and I ponder this night, this day, this life I’ve decided to live, somewhere between the Last Frontier and Star Trek Enterprise, where life is simple, yet technologically advanced.  The perfect world.

Outside the cabin a dog barks suddenly at nothing, at everything, and all these many weeks into life out here, I no longer wonder what is.  It’s different now, with walls firmly in place, compared to the times when the children dwelled in tents while the dogs coward and growled into the dark unknown.  It’s safe, now, though the front door only hangs, and doesn’t close, an extension cord strung through where the knob should be.  No matter, nothing can get in, we have no steps.

It’s September 22, just three weeks away from the average first snow.  We’ve still no well, but soon says the driller, soon.  Today I plumbed the sink drain. Such a simple pleasure, to be able to brush my teeth without first having to slip on a pair of boots and a coat even if I still get my water from a jug to the side.  Tomorrow I’ll set a toilet in place and we’ll all dance circles around the bowl, fighting over who gets to christen the throne.  I’ll win.

I’ll head towards my loft now.  I’ll fill the woodstove to heaping with logs the boys split and put the potato soup into the ice box using the flashlight app on my phone, just like Laura Ingals would have done it, no doubt, had she the chance. I’ll climb the not-quite-tall-enough ladder and defy death once again getting into my loft bedroom, flip on the flashlight that hangs from a nail on the ceiling, and crawl between my 400 thread count sheets.

It’s a strange world I live in, somewhere between what was…and what is. Finding a balance point…now that could be my demise.

 

 

Our Fearless Leader

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 and put it up for sale.

We moved onto our land far before we should have and set up camp, literally, with six of the kids.  Robin sleeps in a tent.  Billy sleeps in a tent which he proudly calls his two-room-mansion.  Mya and the three small boys sleep in an old run down travel trailer we picked up for pennies and cleaned the mold from.  I am sleeping in the loft of our incomplete 20×36 cabin, which is actually quite comfortable if you discount the fact that we STILL have gable ends with no sheeting because I am afraid of heights and the wind and mosquitos think that’s an invitation. And until two days ago, we had no front door.

When Dan is home from work next week we will put the tin on the roof, wire the generator to the cabin and have flushing toilets, if no water with which to flush them.

Truth be told, our money is tight, we need $9000 for a well, a new generator and some groceries in storage before winter and it’s not looking promising. Not that we won’t have the well…it just might be drilled through frost or snow sometime in October. We’ll live.

Oh, I’m not complaining, mind you.  Because as my older kids remind me daily, “You wanted this…”, therefore my gripe-rights are null and void. I simply have to bite my tongue, smile and nod, smile and nod, when people ask how things are coming along.

They are coming along… just a bit more slowly than we’d imagined, but coming along none the less.

Yesterday I found myself more frustrated than usual and when Dan called from whatever arctic oasis he has found himself in for his shift, I was less than pleasant.  I normally try not to complain when he calls. After all, he works 12 plus hour days for weeks at a time and rarely lets off steam.  But last night I needed to vent. And so I let him have it.

He listened, heard me out, and empathized with my plight.  Are we making a huge mistake, I wondered?  Did we plunge in based on fantasy and now reality closes in with the coming of winter?  Should we just move back into the big house?  What about going south?  Perhaps some sun is the answer, maybe camp out through the winter in a nice condo on a beach…now that sounds nice, doesn’t it?  I laid out my list of complaints like a rug at his weary feet, hoping he’d climb aboard my rampage.  He listened, we said our goodnights and I began to plot my escape.

And then my dear husband, who for over twenty years has calmed my storms, who should have been fast asleep by then, resting for the next day of work, sent me the following text:

“Homestead Survival page just asked, ‘What would you do with 30 acres?’  Looking at the replies, most readers see that as Heavenly and completely out of reach.  They can’t even dream of such a thing.  We have 40. It’s ours. We need to remember how blessed we are, and that we know hard work pays off in the end.  We are both mentally and physically fatigued…but we are living our dream.”

And he’s right, of course.  He always is.  I rarely talk about him on this site, because he really prefers me not to. I don’t blame him…I know a lot of secrets. But once in a while, I just need to say thanks.  He is the backbone of this family, the unsung hero, and my dream-sharer for life.

Boys In The Backwoods…

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 at all.

My three youngest boys go, go, go nonstop all day long and well into the night.  How we avoid the ER, I have no idea.  ( I probably shouldn’t tempt fate by saying that…)

Here’s a video I took last night on my cell of their home made ‘skate park’. Take note of the two pieces of upturned firewood holding the ramp in place.  Classy. Anthony, the master engineer, designed and constructed the masterpiece. Then again, he also designed and built the bike jump that left Steven’s face looking as it does above….so….

 

Backwoods Bees

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 sufficient, we decided to add bee keeping…just to upkeep the ‘crazy’ status we’ve gained around town.  It sounded fun, provided a basic necessity for our family, and we knew absolutely nothing about it….so it was pretty much fit the bill of how we do things around here.

I perused the internet, found a site called Alaska Honey and talked to a woman named Sarah, who owns the company.  Turns out, Sarah (located in Kenai) is not only the ‘bees knees’ when it comes to hiving knowledge, but she also loves to share that knowledge with newby’s like me!  Sarah invited me over to see her woodshop where she builds hives, sold me a starter kit (and with how much time she puts into them, she can’t be making any money), and gave me a freebie lesson on starter beekeeping, including her cell number in case I had trouble. That was her first mistake…

The whole swarm moves as you tilt the box, in one big mass...

I ordered a five pound box of bees shipped in from Washington, picked them up on Friday night, and brought home my new pets. (Destini was not impressed with the buzzing box of stingers that spent the night on the bathroom counter.)

Saturday morning, coffee in  hand, Billy and I loaded up the bees, gathered supplies along with Sarah’s instructions, and headed up to our cabin property where the bees would make their home.

Here’s something I learned about bees. Probably everyone else in the world already knew this… But, bees cannot be moved once they are hived.  Apparently, they map their location in such exact detail for up to a four mile radius, that if you moved the hive ten feet away they would die in a heap where they last saw their hive.  So, unless you plan to move them more than six miles away, they should be placed initially in their permanent residence. Good to know.

While handling the sugar bags, I got some on me...this makes me nervous...

Billy and I picked a spot on your property that was quite a ways from our cabin, yet easily accessible.  I slipped the bee hat over my head, duct taped every possible opening in my clothing and prayed my three pair of pants and puffy shirts would keep me pain free.  Billy did the same, minus the bee hat, and loudly and repeatedly reminded me he is allergic to bees and swells up like the Stay-puff Marshmallow Man when stung.  Wimp.

We set up the box on a flat area in the woods.  The hive consists of several important layers, none of which I know the name or purpose of, and so I called Sarah to make sure they were in the right order. It didn’t made sense to me that the bottom is nothing more than a screen. Honey is liquid.  It seems as if in the Fall I’ll lift my box to find all the honey has dripped down into the earth.  But she assured me it was correct and so we proceeded.

The queen is inside that tiny box...the bees are very excited to see her.

First, I pulled the feeding can from the travel box to get to the queen.  This is when panic began, because as soon as I polled that feeding can out of the hole, the bees came at me like canon fire.  I then had to release the queen bee from her tiny hotel box within the bee box.  She has a bit of wax covering a hole to keep her in and the bees will release her over the next couple of days. I put her onto the frames (hanging file style boards the bees build their honeycombs on) along with two Ziplocks of sugar water to get them started.

And then, contrary to every instinct in my body, I dumped the bees out into the hive.

Thank God for three layers of thick clothing. I look puffy...but I'm safe!

Now, somewhere around this point I’m pretty sure I blacked out.  Billy says he could tell I was freaking out because…well…because I was calm.  I’m rarely quiet, so he knew something was wrong.  He later told me my hands were moving like lightening and all advice that had been given me about relaxing, not showing fear, and taking it slow…went right out the window when those bees swarmed my face. I don’t even remember half of this.

I dumped, dumped, dumped bees, shaking the box around and trying not to damage the merchandise.  When I thought I had most of them out, I put the box down, layered the covers in the appropriate order, and strapped it tight to keep the bears from breaking into my stash, all while reminding myself there was a purpose to the insanity.

We brushed the bees from my body with a little swishy broom, I did a wiggly dance to make sure they were all gone, and we loaded up into the car.  I called Sarah to tell her things had gone well and she instructed us to turn around and go back, because we’d left the shipping box, with quite a few bees, laying on the ground by the hive. Apparently the bees who did not make it in the initial dumping may not make it into the hive because they still smell their queen in the shipping box.  We whipped around, crawled back into our duct tape safety, and traipsed back into the woods.

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

I lifted the lid to dump the rest of the bees, but in the few minutes since we’d left them, the bees had already attached themselves to the lid.  As I’d squashed many of them the first time I dropped the lid into place, we chose not to dump any more inside the hive…didn’t want to damage the merchandise.

This is what Billy looked like when I told him it was HIS turn...
This is Billy doing what his mommy says...
And this is Billy running away...

This time, I held the camera while Billy, feeling brave and manly, shook the remainder of the bees out on the hives ‘front porch’.  And then he ran like a scared little girl when one bee landed on his shoulder.  Wimp.  Minutes later, the bees were already making their way into the entrance in an awesome display of loyalty to their queen.  Wish my minions were that loyal.

Faithful minions seeking their queen...

I texted Sarah to let her know…as if she cared…that all had gone as planned and nobody had been stung or died a horrible death, other than a few unlucky bees I swatted in terror.

And so now we wait for the next step…though I’m not even sure what that is.  I’ll have to call Sarah to find out.

 

 

 

At The End Of The Trail

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 the bark against bare forearms, scraping the skin as I tug and pull a log onto the mill.

Six miles up the road from my house is the land I call home, buried beneath the depths of ice and snow, months away from weather that will allow us in.  I can feel it pulling.  I’ve not spent one night on its soil, nor cooked a meal under a roof within its boundaries.  I’ve not grown a vegetable there, or dug a foundation, or spent a winter within the narrow walls of the cabin we’ve begun to create.

But it is my home.  Just as sure as I am sitting here, I know that.  For I do not own the land…the land has ownership of me.

And it is on that land I will find that which I have sought, all these years of searching, finally come to an end.  It is there, amidst straight spruce and thick birch, in the depth of the fields and the dark of the alders, where I will discover a small hint of what did lie in the hearts of those homesteaders, so many years ago.

They had the passion…those frontier men and women…which is now lacking in so many.   They strived forward, not seeking the future of modern civilization, but lunged forward into their past, looking for the base of what was and what was to be.  They didn’t intend to be legendary…they fell into it be chance, out of a hope for something better, something solid, something pure.

And when I get there, on my land, I’ll raise up my family as I should have years ago, when I was so busy getting ahead, gathering things, and plunging headlong into the American Dream…my path mapped out before me by my peers…mortgage, toys, the esteem of thy neighbor…bigger, better, faster.  Isn’t that the way it was supposed to be? In retrospect, I had a choice…I just didn’t choose to listen.

I sit here tonight in the Alaska dark, daydreaming about what will be.  Months from now, when the snow dissipates and daylight reigns, I’ll trek my family home, onto the land which will raise us.  And in the thick of the trees I’ll plant my children; I’ll sit upon on my porch and watch them grow.

Emmerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

And so I shall.

They Pay Me To Live Here

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 Fund Dividend, which is doled out every October to each citizen of Alaska. It’s a throwback from the eighties, when oil money abounded and the population of Alaska was less than one person per square mile. It continues because no politician is brave enough to end their career by voting it down.

The 2009 check equated to $3.58 per day. That’s the price of ½ gallon of milk at the general store near my house. That’s also one gallon of heating fuel; a pound of apples; 1/3 a block of cheese or half a box of cereal. It will get me a cup of fancy coffee or a quarter-pounder at McDonalds. Yea, that’s why I live here…because they pay me.

Or it could be because…

In Alaska there are no crickets, no skunks, no raccoons and no smelly opossums. No deadly spiders, no scorpions or snakes. That’s right…I said no snakes.

I live here because there are no rules, no restrictions, no retaliations that I disagree with.

If I want to throw up a shack, on my own land, and cover it with a blue tarp, I can. There are no permits, no approvals, no inspections. It’s my land, my tarp, my life…and nobody cares.

In Alaska our beaches aren’t littered with garbage or lined with beach umbrellas and you can bet nobody’s nude. Ours are sandy shores, crashing waves and lines of fishing boats, waiting for the tide to bring them home.

I live here because every teacher knows my kids current grade off the top of their head and which missing assignments will keep them from playing ball. I live here because when the high school shop teacher asks someone to cut something, three kids whip out their pocket knife and nobody is afraid.

I live here because I can step outside, point myself in any direction, and in ten minutes I can lose myself in complete isolation. 

I live here because every ninth grader in Alaska knows who won the Iditarod last year, and most of them have never seen a gang member. They know what hard work is because they throw fish, like their fathers before them or are brought up around kids who do…and have seen their bank accounts.

I live here because when my kids look out their school windows, they don’t see skyscrapers or smog. They see three volcanoes, a beach and their family’s fishing vessels coming in with the days catch…their dads waving to them from the decks.

In Alaska, there are no traffic jams. There are no freeways. No forty-car-pileups. No circling the mall for parking. In the winter I don’t wait in line for anything—ever. In the summer, I meet the most interesting visitors, waiting in line.  After all, I’m not in a hurry…I’m already where I want to be.

Now that I think about it, I’m sure glad they pay me to live here.


A Trip To Good News Bay

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 adopt the three year old she’d been raising from birth and the State of Alaska wanted me to check it out.  So I dialed the number.

It sounds like a broad statement when I say that Alaska Native people, in general, are people of few words.  If you can make your point in three words, why bother making more words…there was work to be done, seemed to be their theory.  And so my conversations were always interesting, as I am a turbo tongue…and never in my life have I conveyed a thought in less than three hundred words.

I explained the reason for my visit, told her my fly in date, and asked if she could pick me up at the airstrip.

“Yea, I might pick you up,” she said.  “If my Honda will start.”

If?  If her Honda will start, she might pick me up?  If?

I pictured myself standing in the middle of the tundra, miles from anything, nothing but ice for as far as I could see…listening for the distant sound of a four-wheeler, putting my way.  If it would start.

This was pretty much the end of the conversation.  She might pick me up if her Honda would start.

So I packed my duffel with enough for an overnight stay and hoped to get in and out in one day.  I flew via typical commercial flight from Kenai to Anchorage, then on to Bethel, a village of substantial size towards the western coast of Alaska.

From Bethel I climbed into a plane that held four, including the pilot, and buckled up for the ride.  Some people can tell you what kind of plane I was in, but my dad has had an airplane my entire life and for a thousand bucks, I couldn’t tell you what kind it is.  The plane I was in was small, and just like every other bush plane I’d ever ridden in, it was apparent the owner had been grossly overcharged…I’ve seen six year olds build model airplanes more stout.  But alas, it was my only mode of transport…and I had a job to do.

Little is as intoxicating, despite the ill repair of the craft, as floating through the sky over Alaska’s desolate terrain.  From Bethel, we flew for about an hour and a half.  Once in a while the pilot would begin a decent and I’d search the white space below for some sign of life, suspecting we were about to land for no particular reason at all.  I’d squint out the window and eventually spy a village, coated in snow, perched on the side of some winding, no name, piece of water in the midst of all the nothing.  We’d land, hand a package or box of mail to some guy on a snow machine who appeared from nowhere across the frozen tundra, and then we’d take to the air once again. At one of the stops I asked if I could use a bathroom and the pilot, as well as the other passengers, just stared at me.  And then I realized there were no buildings for probably hundreds of miles in either direction, just some guy buried inside a fur lined parka, loading his sled with canned goods and mail.

We landed in Good News Bay, population 250, and as it turned out the airstrip was really just the frozen bay and the village was literally sitting on the edge.  I exited the plane to find that my client had indeed been able to start her Honda, and she waited, engine running.  I climbed on behind her and we putted up the bank, into the village, and parked at her tiny house. I could have thrown my duffel bag from the airplane to the village edge, and realized she had gone to more trouble getting her Honda to start, than it would have been to just pull my hood around my face and walk up to her small home.

Village houses are more like shanty’s, for the most part.  People who have never been to an Alaska village can’t possibly fathom the simplicity of life there.  The housing, if not government provided for certain jobs, is often no more than a group of weathered shacks, huddled together, warding out the weather. The smaller the better, as there is no firewood with which to heat and heating fuel is upwards of six dollars a gallon. Often entire extended families will cram into a one bedroom house because that is, quite simply, all there is.

I immediately asked to use the bathroom, and she shyly showed me her bucket. I assured her I’d peed in many a bucket in my day, and she smiled, knowing I was lying.  She told me that there used to be no sewer system in the town at all and that when she was growing up, the “honey bucket” was simply dumped outside after each use.  In the winter time, she said, the urine and waste would literally run down the streets and freeze solid.  Now, there was a better system in place.  Using the bucket, I felt guilty for having drank so much water before my flight…knowing she would have to transport my urine after I left, for disposal.

We spent a few hours talking about her daughter.  A formality, really, as she’d been raising the three year old from birth and nobody else in the village was waiting in line to take her in.  We filled out the necessary papers and visited about life in the village. About half way through our interview a neighbor stopped by with a white bird he’d shot, asking if she needed some food.  Excited, she plopped it right down on the kitchen floor, fresh blood still dripping from its wound, and began to pluck its feathers.   I sat down with her and watched her prepare our lunch…fresh from the kill and onto our plates in less than an hour.

The same fellow that brought her the bird had invited me to stay over and head up the river with them to catch some fish that night.  And though “up river” at night on a snowmachine in ten degrees below zero sounded like an adventure…and I’m not being sarcastic…I had to pass, as I had a series of flights to catch back home.

We loaded back on the Honda that afternoon, which did have a little trouble starting, and took a little tour of the village before heading down the embankment to the airplane.  We rode to the top of a slight incline and looked down on the area.  The cemetery perched above the people, as it does in most Native Alaska villages, as if they were keeping watch on the living.  Too cold to explore further, we headed back to the edge of the bay just as the plane came in to pick me up.  I climbed back into the same craft, buckled in, and waved goodbye to Good News Bay…glad I’d come, and hoping to one day return.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 10-16-11

This Week In My Life I...

 

Took a nice drive to Anchorage…
Saw what every Alaskan knows is the end of summer...
Had a fancy lunch with a friend...
Enjoyed the mountains, as always...
Walked the shores of Kenai Lake...
Tried to find a bear along the river...
Left my camera lens sitting on that rock...
Hung with Mya...
Enjoyed the view from my driveway again....and again...
Walked the Fall beach...
Used the bathroom with the best view...
Spied on the movie crew for Walking With The Dinosaurs....
Hung with some swans...
And really enjoyed photographing my world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sawmill Saga

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 a cabin.

Our mill is a band saw mill, as opposed to a circular blade, which is less expensive to buy, but doesn’t make the prettiest lumber. We figured our boards would be inside a wall where nobody would ever see them, so we went with cheap and picked up this little mill from a neighbor for a great deal.  We hauled her out of their woods and set her up in ours.

Since we knew little or nothing about a saw mill or how they worked, there was quite the learning curve involved.  Because Alaska logs are neither large nor straight.  And when it takes you an hour to create four 2×6 boards…the last thing you want to deal with is curvy, lumpy, tapered logs. But alas, that is what we had in abundance.  So we set to work.

And then we taught the kids how to use it because…well…we don’t believe in child labor laws and if they want a roof over their heads, they are going to get sweaty. Except Destini…her motto is, “I’m outta here in a year”…so she’s not exactly been the biggest helper. But she looks cute and is a princess, so we’ll let her slide.

We started out by making 2×6 boards because we knew we would need plenty of them.  Any log larger than 8 inches is worth cutting because we can get 3 boards from it.  Any smaller than that and it’s just a waste of time since the longest part is creating a square piece of wood to work with.  We’ve gotten as many as 12 boards from one giant log but on average, we’re getting 3-5 from a log. We needed 125 2×6 boards…just to get the first floor walls up.  70 for the floor frame and so one…so do the math and you’ll see how busy we’ve been creating lumber…sometimes in the pouring rain.

We decided on a pier and post foundation for our cabin because it’s cheap, easy, and gets the cabin up off the cold ground.  So Billy and I made 12 6×6 posts 8-10 feet long and we buried them four feet in the ground which left uneven legnths sticking up from the ground.  We packed sand around them until they were sturdy and then cut them all off even using a level and long piece of wood until all our posts were level.

Next we made 2 sided 6×6 beams to lay across our piers on which to place the cabin frame.  Billy built a wall with them and then karate kicked it over, because sometimes you just  need to have fun.  We then laid them across our piers and pounded spikes in to hold them in place.

We used our home built lumber to frame in the entire floor.  30 x 21 including a four foot porch off the front, leaving us with a 26 x 21 cabin.  Words of advice…even though you think that extra foot is going to be really helpful inside the cabin…do NOT try to build something not devidable by two because it will screw you through the entire building process.  Very single piece of plywood and lumber now has to be cut down and though we gained a foot overall, it added cost and labor to the project…which Dan will not let me forget since I added that foot while he was at work. 🙂

Once the floor was framed we had to decide whether to use our home built 1″ boards as slats for the floor or to purchase T and G plywood.  We went with store bought because our sawmill, though very cool, does NOT always cut everything the exact same dimensions and we didn’t want to stub our toe every time we walked across the floor. We will, however, be covering the plywood eventually with our own planks as I intend to plain them smooth and dimensional this winter and sand them smooth.  When complete, we will have a gorgeous 1″ plank floor, sanded and varnished.  I can’t wait.

This week we hit a barrier.  We kept snapping saw blades, because they were old and rusty, and had trouble finding a supplier.  By the time we did, we were down two blades and the supplier informed us it would be two weeks before we could have them custom built.  Two weeks in an Alaskan fall means winter will be upon us.  Two weeks can be the differeence between 5o degrees and dry, and 30 degrees and frozen.

And so we had to make an other difficult decision. Though in our hearts we wanted to make all of our own lumber from our own land, we knew we had a time limit.  Dan had to go back to work this Friday and snow hit the hills just beyond our place. So once again, we were forced to buy manufactured lumber for our walls.  It made us sad at first…and then when we realized the weeks of labor it would save, we became excited.  We knew we would be dried in before the freeze up.

Today we frame in the second wall, which will be a short stub wall, and begin the roof line. Since Dan is waiting in the truck…I’d better run!

Oh…and sometimes…we just have fun!

Whaling Away Her Youth

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 hunted just as their ancestors have done for centuries.  A boat in their crew spotted a whale, harpooned it, and dragged it home.  Kendra, who felt a little sad as the magnificent mammal drew its last breath, was soon after elated at the significance of what she’d witnessed.

And while her teenage peers are lounging on a sofa, somewhere in the deep inner city, watching reality television with a remote in hand…Kendra, seventeen, is living her reality on the open bow of an ocean vessel, learning the ways of the harpoon and how to feed her family.

Photo courtesy Sandi Semaken

But Kendra has had the unique opportunity of living both lives.  Last year Kendra lived in California and experienced the fast paced city life.  Now she is spending a year in the Inupiaq village which is her heritage, learning the culture, the trades, the ancient ways of her people.

Photo Courtesy Sandi Semaken

Teenagers…any teenager…will adapt to their environment.

Stick them in a gang infested area…and they will adapt.  Drop them into the wilderness with nothing but a pocket knife and they will adapt.  Stick a tomboy seventh grade girl in with a group of giggling teenyboppers, and they will have makeup on her by morning.  I’ve seen it happen.

Teenagers…for the most part…are like chameleons.  Their beliefs, their ideals, their sense of reality, are changeable depending on who is influencing them at the moment. If that weren’t true there would be no such thing as peer pressure.  There would be no keggers, no party bongs, no regrettable trendy hairstyles and teen pregnancy would not exist.

Give a teen a chance to change…and they will.  Whether it’s for the better…or for the worse.  I’ve heard time and time again from parents…

“I don’t like who my child hangs out with.”

No?  Then why do you let them?

“I don’t like how my child dresses!”

No?  Then why do you let them?

I understand demographics.  I understand job locations, financial restrictions and that not everyone’s child can be as blessed as Kendra and travel the world experiencing all walks of life.  Not all kids are going to be able to pick up and move from a bad neighborhood or leave behind a lifestyle they’ve known their entire life.

But sometimes…things are more in control than we believe.  Sometimes, a move thirty minutes down the road to a new house can make or break a child’s entire future.  A move, a school change, a hobby…anything to redirect the child’s mind from the negative behavior long enough for them to adapt to the new environment.

 Sometimes spending Saturday night with your son rowing a boat across a lake will keep him from lying down with a girl at a party that night and creating a baby he can’t afford to raise.  Sometimes taking your daughter to the mall yourself may keep her from walking around with that bad influence she’s been hanging with.

Sometimes it’s as simple as time spent.

If we plop our children down in the muck and expect them to surface on their own, we are bound to be disappointed.   But throw them a rope and stand their cheering…and more often than not, our children will adapt to our expectations and meet us at the top of the pile.

Alaska Log Furniture

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 a long history of setting a goal, completing said goal, loving the goal…and then never doing it again. But at least I got some decent furniture out of the deal. Not to mention some crazy expensive tools.


The project started with a log table. Seemed easy enough. So I worked late in to the night and came up with this…


Only problem is, I hate the “manufactured” top. The next one is going to be made from raw slats and have some kind of art…probably woodburning…in the top. Next time…

The second project was this end table…equally as plain looking as the coffee table, but not bad for a beginner. Both are still in my living room until I get time to create some new pieces…then these will be up for grabs to the nearest friend/relative who wants kiss up and claim they like them. 😉

(ignore the green carpet, came with the house,was my nemesis and is gone!)


Bored with the tables, I begin to visualize a bench. It had to be something unique, something fun, something Alaskan. Below is some things I came up with. Mind you, same stinkin’ manufactured board for the back, but at least I spiced them up with some woodburning. The next pieces will be completely from scratch…stuff I drag out of the woods, like the logs are. But for now…(there goes that “some day” again.)


The projects start with a pile of logs.  Sometimes, if my kids are desperate, I can pay them to peel them. Or if my son, Billy, feels like being industrious, I can get him to peel them with my chain saw attachment.  Otherwise, (usually) I am on my own.  Backbreaking work, by the way.


Then I begin to measure and cut them into lengths, sometimes re-cutting over and over until I have to start all over.  I then form the ends with a nifty router attachment that “tenions” the ends.  I use a wood boring bit and drill press to create the matching holes, and voila, it all goes together like this.


Then, I sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand.  You get the picture, right?  See in the picture below the difference between the rough cut slat, and the two I’ve sanded. They come out so beautiful…but did I mention I have to sand?


Below are some of the things I’ve ‘finished’. I use that term lightly since I’m very critical of my own work and don’t consider something ‘finished’ until I approve of it fully.  These are still works in progress…and progress…and progress.  There are no nails in these pieces, they are held together by wood glue only…except screws holding the back on…which I’m trying to solve.







(ignore the giant mess on the bed…I’m not gonna lie to ya, it’s always there…but let’s pretend it’s not.)





These are my completed pieces so far.  This winter, when it’s far too cold and dark to do anything else, I’ll likely create some more pieces to sit around the house collecting dust.  Because honestly?  Though I may complain loudly about the hard work the entire time, I LOVE the feel of a finished piece. 

Why Off-Grid?

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 to nothing…and ahhhh…it’s perfect.

And we wonder why we ever have to go home.

And yet, when I tell people we plan to live off the power grid on a semi-remote piece of land, we’ve often been asked, “Why on earth would you want to do that?”

 And I reply, “Why would I NOT?”

For those of you wondering what we are up to…here’s the plan…without getting into the details of the work, which I’ll save for another post…or six.

This summer we found the piece of land we’ve been searching twenty years for.  We sold our recreational cabin in the mountains to obtain the cash and signed on the line.  Forty acres of wooded property, on the road system, with a view and useable trees…a dream come true.

We bought a band sawmill, fueled up the chain saw, bought work gloves for all the kids, and went to work.  Again, no details here on what we’ve been doing…just a breakdown of the plan.

Our goal for the past five years or so has been to become debt free.  Four years ago we paid off all credit cards and tore them up. Yes, tore them up.  We didn’t “keep one for emergencies”.  We tore them up and canceled the accounts. We didn’t “Keep one for credit building”.  We don’t worry about building our credit rating because we never plan to use credit again…so who cares what our rating is? No credit for us.  Ever.  Period.

Our one remaining bank debt is our mortgage.  And with a family of nine, you can bet we have a big house with a sizeable mortgage.  And utility bills that nearly match the house payment.  All in all, about $2,500 per month goes out just to live in our big comfy home.  Just to stay dry and warm.

But I figure I can stay dry and warm for a whole lot less money if I’m willing to push up the shirt sleeves once in a while and the kids are willing to pitch a tent in the yard for the summer.  Just kidding.  Sorta.

So back to the plan.

We are building a cabin.  Not a big cabin.  A 20 x 24 with bunks along the wall, loft above for mom and dad, cabin.  (Did I mention we have seven children?)We’re milling our own lumber from the logs from our own land.  We cut, limb, drag (thanks to dad for the use of his dozer), cut to length, lift onto the sawmill, create useable pieces of wood, and stack them for building our new home.

We will have a generator for power connected to a large battery pack and eventually to solar and wind.  We will have a well for water and septic for…well, for flushing…and our home will run much like everyone else’s, except we will create our own energy and be completely self-sufficient.  Eventually.  In the end we hope to use the generator only as back up and have no fuel bill, no electric bill, no utility bill of any kind and no house payment.

Let me repeat.  No mortgage. No utility bills.  No debt.  Sound good?  I think so too.

We have about six weeks until the snow falls and doesn’t stop until May.  We hope to have our cabin dried in…that means framed and out of the weather but not finished inside…in time for the snow.  We’ve milled about half our lumber at this point.  And on Friday, Dan leaves for his two week shift at work.  Can you say panic? When he comes home we’ll have just about three weeks before our world freezes until spring.

Our hope is that in the spring we’ll be ready to put our current home for sale and move into the small cabin for the summer while we start building the actual house.  And by “actual house”, I mean one where we can’t hear each other snore from the next bunk over and have more than one bathroom.  We have the spot picked out on the peak of the sloping hill where we’ll build an efficient, beautiful home…and someday hope to look down on our little cabin and say, “Remember that summer we lived in the cabin?  Wasn’t that fun?”

But in reality, we’ll probably live in that tiny cabin with all these kids for so long that the kids will grow up and we no longer need a big house…and that’s okay too.  Because we’ll be doing it on our own, as a family, and ours will be a debt free home build of pure determination and grit from the land on which it sits.  It will be a legacy to hand to our children.  An example of the fruits of hard work and a testament to what a family can accomplish with a little sacrifice and hands that aren’t afraid to get dirty.

Yardwork…Backwoods Style

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 goal for this year is to attempt to get a functioning cabin up before we’re working in the snow and ice…like last time we put on a roof.  There’s nothing fun about roofing in freezing rain. So without hesitation, the work began.

We marked the road with pretty pink ribbons, plowed through with the dozer, and roughed in our driveway.  We don’t even want to talk about what it’s going to cost to gravel it…that is, if we don’t find gravel on our land. So far,  nothing.

Dan may be the only ‘treehugger’ oilfield worker in Alaska…he has a terrible time making himself take out perfectly good trees.  I agree…but if I have to choose between that view of Illiamna and Redoubt volcanoes versus scraggly black spruce…the tree is going to be firewood every time. So we pushed. And cut. And pushed…until our view began to appear before us and our house spot started to take shape.

Once the trees were over and the heavily covered ground was even more scraggly with logs and branches, the real work began. The kids chipped in, the dozer kept on pushing, and the chainsaw worked overtime. Me?  I took pictures…

 

Today the rain gave us a break and we were really able to get some work done.  We cleared most of the firewood from the house site where we’d been cutting it for days.  The kids piled it into the fourwheeler trailer and stacked it for winter.  We pulled logs with the dozer, piled branches for a winter bon fire, and lined the straightest logs next to our new saw mill for turning into lumber later.

We prepared for the cold by building a fire pit from rocks we ‘acquired’ down the road…

And then we played a bit…

And then…the kids…and dad…took a little siesta. Because hard work deserves a little rest once in a while…and kids who know how to put in a full days work have earned some time off!

 

Resurrection Trail — aka Trail Of Terror

 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 and sent him back to the parking lot outhouse. With thirty-one miles left to go, it was not a good sign.

Resurrection Trail runs between Cooper Landing, Alaska and Hope, Alaska with a separate trail that intersects it via Devils Pass, a ten mile climb to the 2600 foot summit. We began our 2010 trek in Hope because the Cooper Landing side is mostly uphill for the first eight miles. In 2005, we nearly died…or at least wanted too…by the time we reached the first cabin on the south end. Hope seemed like the better option for that reason and besides, Hope sounds optimistic.

We planned for months. Spent thousands, literally, on new backpacking gear designed specifically for lessening the load. If there was a lighter, smaller—or just simply cooler option—we bought it. Intent on being outdoorsy, but not really having the strength, agility or youth to handle it, we figured the less weight we carried, the better our chances of survival.  We’d planned meals for six and a the last minute Robin injured her leg and was unable to come so though we’d narrowed down our supplies, we lacked her brute strength in hefting along some of the load.  Destini hadn’t come either, but she’d have been useless anyway…more of a hindrance since her idea of physical work is clicking the send button on her cell phone. 😉

While waiting for Anthony’s return we looked at the trail in front of us with awe, eager to prove to ourselves we could do it. Mentally going over the contents of my pack I shifted the weight on my shoulders, wondering about the necessity of everything inside. Yes, I decided, I needed every single thing I carried. Nothing could be eliminated.

“Did you bring the first aid kit?” asked Dan.

“Of course,” I rolled my eyes, perturbed at the question as if I hadn’t just spent half a year planning the outing. The nerve…

“Toilet paper?”

I tried not to be irritated with the questions.  He was, after all, relying on me to keep us alive for four days in the wilderness.

“Yes, I brought a roll of toilet paper. It’s in my pack.”

“One roll?”

“We’re staying at cabins…this is just trail paper. It’s plenty.”

He raised one eyebrow, no doubt considering the repercussions of being wrong on this one.

“Trust me,” I assured him. He did.

Once Anthony had done his business and we were back on our way, we followed the well groomed trail along the edge of the rushing Resurrection River for the first few miles. Wide enough for a four-wheeler, or perhaps a small car, we wondered why we hadn’t just driven this far, but eventually the trail narrowed and became a winding dirt path through the thick overgrowth of Alaska wild.

Four miles in I began to feel it: the gnawing, burning sensation on the balls of my feet, the tips of three toes and the left side of one heel. I tightened my shoelace, adjusted my walk to alleviate the pressure on the sore spots; played favorites with my feet. Some would call it limping.

Five months prior, in the depths of winter, I’d gone online to rent our cabins for the trip. I was smarter than most, planning so early in the year. I’d get the best cabins; have my choice of which week to go. Not so. They were booked. With no less than three hours of linear calculations and quadratic equations I was able to finagle three nights in a row of cabins, not necessarily in the right order or equidistance apart. Grand. The result was that the first day required nearly twelve miles on the trail. No problem. If only my feet worked I’d be fine.

By mile six I began to realize there was a serious problem. Not only were both my feet boiling inside my shoes in a flaming, puffy, blistering disaster, my left butt cheek had begun to cramp. Dan had slung Anthony’s pack over his shoulder a mile back and the boy was running free while the old man did above and beyond dad-duty. Billy trucked ahead as if he’d been working out every day all year-which he had- and Mya, never to be outdone, followed closely behind him. We looked like the model hiking family if you ignored my disheveled gait and the pained look on Dan’s face as he carried an extra thirteen pounds up the side of a cliff claiming to be a trail.

Three potty stops in Mya and I decided to re-think the amount of squares we were using. Drip-dry became more appealing than usual as the diameter of the roll decreased with each sip off our water bottles.

At mile seven we came across the first cabin at Caribou Creek. We traipsed by begrudgingly, wishing we’d booked earlier, like in 1997 perhaps, so we could have been at destination. But alas, our reserved spot was still another five miles away. Had there not been at least ten tents staked out around the cabin as if on sentry duty, we may have crashed the place. But hikers are a rigid group and likely we wouldn’t have been welcome in their wagon train so we continued on.

Our arrival at the sign for our cabin, mile twelve, was welcome to all. Until we realized we weren’t there yet. It’s a cruel joke, really, to put the cabin a quarter mile off the trail, uphill. Both ways. Three miles back I’d removed my boots to discover silver dollar sized blisters on the balls of both feet, just below the toes. I’d slipped on my water shoes for a more flexible fit, hoping to alleviate some of the torture, and hobbled the rest of the way. Twelve miles down, nineteen to go. My immediate future did not look bright.

However, once I hobbled up the path and finally reached the cabin itself I was thrilled with the look of the newly remodeled Fox Creek Cabin.  Twenty-five years ago when I was last there it was little more than a shack, now it rivals a Tahoe ski chalet…and for only thirty-five bucks a night!

Upon arrival the kids claimed their bunks and scattered there stuff.  Billy brought me a container of water for feet soaking and I took back half of the bad things I’ve said about him.

The outhouse revealed our worst fear. Our cabin package was not all inclusive after all and our single roll instantly became my most guarded possession.

Day two was three miles.  Three miles.  Ahhhhh….only three miles.  I can walk three miles on my hands.  Or at least I wished I could have after the first mile on the gnarled, swollen stumps that used to be my feet.  Moss was our new friend trailside and the roll stayed closely guarded in the front of my pack for those emergency situations when a clump of moss just wouldn’t do the trick.

The second cabin we rented, East Creek Cabin, still in it’s original form, was not as fancy as the new and improved version but lent much to the ambiance of the rugged outdoors.   As I practically crawled up the trail head to the cabin door and collapsed on the porch in a heap of antiquity and anguish, we were surprised to find a couple of forest service workers doing cleanup inside.  An empty wine bottle, a ziplock of rice, numerous smash cans were pulled from the cabin where previous campers had overestimated their pack weight and decided to leave things behind.  I wondered how these litterers believed their garbage would disappear and had they not noticed the cleanliness of the cabin on their arrival?  Or did they simply not care.

I found it difficult to digest the idea that someone could spend two days getting to this cabin and not have appreciated the serenity of the spotless forest around them.  These are the same people who don’t care where the water comes from in their faucet, only that it is there.

The forestry workers, two women and a man, stopped to chat, shared their equal disgust with the garbage and let the kids feel the extra weight of the garbage bag they would be hauling back to the highway.  At the pained look on my face, one of the women dug through her pack and pulled out a full roll of athletic tape, prodded at the bottom of my bare feet, winced at the fact that I’d brought no tape myself, and left me with the roll.  I would have kissed her had I been able to move and had she not just been touching my sweaty feet.

The outhouse, once again, offered no amenities.

That night we concentrated on emptying some weight from our packs.  We hogged down the s’more fixings I’d toted along and chose the heaviest of the dehydrated foods for our meals.  I taped my feet and the kids played cards.  We swapped horror stories of our three mile day and regarded our water filter system with awe as we had three gallons of clean cold water in just minutes.  Ah the high priced gadgets were beginning to pay off.  With our Jet Boil cooking system we were able to boil our water in just over two minutes and our Mountain House meal pouches were hot and ready to eat in ten.  The shocker was, they tasted good!  Now granted, when tired and hungry, most anything becomes edible, but I’d have eaten these things at home.

Sometimes even the mile markers get tired.

Day three of the saga left us with less than half a roll of our now golden t.p.  My feet had discovered the miracle of athletic tape and were joyously jaunting at a normal pace.  Hallelujah.  On this day we knew we were going to be in for some work because we were to travel about 900 feet in elevation in seven miles.  Not too bad, but we also knew that a good portion of that would be above tree line and we may encounter snow.  What we didn’t count were remnants of avalanche and treacherous creek crossings.

The first mile or two after leaving East Creek Cabin were similar to a rock climbing expedition up Mt. Everest but once we’d reached the top and could breathe again, we were glad we’d made the trek.  The trees began to thin and everything opened up into a span of mountainous horizon so wide we could practically see into tomorrow.  As we rose into the valley the temperature dropped without the protection of the trees and the wind picked up.  Sprinkles fell, ears got cold,and it was totally worth it.

Walking along a steep embankment, traversing melting avalanches, one right after the other, one could imagine the danger of winter travel through these mountain passes and see just how treacherous snow machining can be in these deep valleys surrounded by wet, heavy snow that pummels down the mountain side like a freight train, taking out everything in it’s path.

But the expanse of beauty made it easy to see the draw, the appeal to adventurers who disregarded the danger and plunged forward into the depths of the Alaskan wild.

We topped Resurrection Pass Summit at 2600 feet and posed for a photo where the Less the Moose was totally a poser in front of the elevation sign.  He spent the whole trip on my backpack and then gloated when he reached the summit as if he’d packed us all up there himself.  But we humored him with a shot…I mean photo…and stuffed him back in his place.

Shortly after the sign we were alerted by the kids to an animal across the valley.  We squinted, stared and wondered until I broke out the camera and zeroed in on the varmint.  What we discovered were a large family of ROUS’s (Rodent’s of Unusual Size) living in giant holes all over the place.   What we later discovered were Marmots, and not the famous giant Fire Swamp creatures from the Princess Bride, were everywhere.

After scaring ourselves half to death sneaking up on a couple of these “little” guys and discovering they have a nasty streak, we decided it best to leave the wildlife in tact, as well as our throats.  But that didn’t stop Anthony who veered from the trail often, tracking them down like the Crocodile Hunter, fearless and crazed for the hunt.

We arrived at the cabin at Devils Pass eager to check the outhouse and were again disappointed to find no essentials, as our measly roll was depleted to nearly nothing and the tribe was beginning to hoard each square with a viscousness the Donner Pass party must have felt somewhere near the end.  The Devils Pass was well above tree line and there was no wood to be found, which worked out, since there was no wood stove.  Some bring in fuel in the winter months on snow machine so we were fortunate some fuel had been left behind.  Though we never fully got the stove to burn efficiently, we were able to keep some flame going long enough to dry our shoes and pant legs that had become soaked in some of the snow crossings.

I want to live right there, in that cabin, with that setting.  Alone.

Our last night sleeping along the trail was nice.  We ate as much food as we could stomach, hoping to lighten the load to almost nothing.  With the heater going until we slept we were cozy and happy.  Two days prior we’d lost cell phone service, therefore, our clocks didn’t work.  I’ve never in my life gone without time for more than a few hours.  Sensing the daylight, the feel of the air and the heaviness of my eyelids was new territory, but I liked the sense of freedom in moving according to our bodies clock and not what the digital numbers of civilization tell us we must.

In the wee unknown hour of the morning, as the sun cast it’s brilliance barely across the tops of the mountains on the far side of the valley, I woke to the sound of drip, drip, drip.  I’ll not go further…for the sake of confidentiality.  But suffice it to say, in the future all possible bed wetters sleep on the bottom bunks and not above Dan and I.  Especially not Dan.  Thank God it was our last night.  Let’s move on…

With such an early and abrupt awakening we decided to get right on the trail.  We had ten miles ahead of us and would need all day to do it in as we knew the trail was called Devil’s Pass for a reason.   Right away I found a paw shaped rock formation on the trail and it was not a good precedent for what was to come. Anxious to get back to the truck, to a foot bath, to a fresh roll of Ultra Soft Charmain, we moved along quite quickly that morning.

Interesting rock formation…

An hour into the day it began to resemble the arctic and suddenly we were trudging through deep snow, across avalanche remnants so steep we had to press our feet in sideways to keep from sliding down.  Looking forward seemed eternal, impossible that we would reach the end of the valley before us and yet knowing that once we got there, we’d turn and find another valley just like it in our path.

Some of the steeper snow crossings were worrisome because if we’d slipped we’d have quite a rid to the bottom, one that would likely not end well…in the bottom of a partially thawed waterway or drop off into a gully.  We locked hands, carried kids packs, and once walked far out of our way, up the hill, to go around a snow drift too steep to cross.

Finally the snow thinned and green became thicker as we re-entered tree line.  With the warmer temperatures came a new challenge.  Creeks had formed down from the tips of the mountains where snow melt off had formed gully’s of gushing water.  There were no bridges, only well placed rocks some kind previous hiker had taken the time to lay out.  Again, we faced the danger of not only falling in, but the fact that we were on such steep terrain that had we fallen to the right, more often than not we would have been plummeting off a veritable cliff of rock and snow.

The above photos who the worst crossings.  Notice how the water carves the snow out, forming a waterfall behind the wall of snow on which we walked, then opening up again right below us.  We had no idea how thick the snow was we were walking upon, and no idea if it would open up and swallow us.  So we sent Billy first. 😉

Thankful to be done with the icy waterfall crossings and into thick brush we kept on the lookout for bears.  Anthony restarted the “count the giant trees” game he’d begun three days before, when we’d last seen any sizable trees.  He got to number twenty three but we’re pretty sure he missed about four hundred others.

With the end of the trail within range we were elated at the idea of any food besides things dehydrated to 1/56th it’s original size and weight; fresh clothes; and a hot shower.  Six squares were left, faintly wrapped around the coveted cardboard cylinder. I devised a plan to keep it all to myself, all maternal instincts nil and void as crisis mode set in. It was every man for himself and I was the one holding the golden egg.  With so little time left on the trail the younger people would survive…an old woman has certain requirements.

With a last spurt of energy and my feet on their last leg, literally, we thrilled like a kid on Christmas morning to finally see the parking lot in Cooper Landing.  The sound of cars flying by on the highway, the scent of an oil leak, the feel of solid pavement under our feet, all reminders of a world we’d left behind, had missed, and yet were almost sad to come back to.

What’s in the hatch????

We walked, single file, limping towards the truck where Dan would open the door with the Slim Jim he’d strapped under the bumper since where we live, no key is required.  (I know, SO backwoods…)

There, on the ground in the parking lot, was a full roll of unused toilet paper, drenched and uselessly smashed against harsh black pavement. I was too tired to take a picture. We all stared longingly as we slowly passed…vowing from here on out to be forever thankful for the simpler necessities of the civilized world.

On The Kenai

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 besides, I LOVE to dip net.  If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about…let me fill you in.

Pretty empty out there today…I’ve seen it thick like flies.

In Alaska, we have a huge subsistence lifestyle.  Many, many people live off the land, hunt and grow their own food and sustain their families with their own two hands.  I know many places where people live like that…we hunted a great deal in Oregon…but in Alaska, it’s quite a commonly accepted way of family life.

Mya, by far, my strongest minion…  

For a few weeks every year, two of our local rivers here on the Kenai Peninsula are open to resident dip netting.  That means, if you are a resident of Alaska and you pick up a free subsistence permit…as well as your paid for fishing license…you are allowed a certain number of fish via net based on the size of your family.

Appropriate…  

My family is allowed 105 fish.  My permit practically had to have an addendum to include all the members of my family…see page two…but we got us all on there and we’re determined to fill that quota.

So we borrowed a boat from a friend since I blew up the motor in my boat (see Without A Paddle) last summer.  The first night my brother and I each took our twelve years olds.  The second  night, he and I took his wife and my buddy, Sandi…my accomplice.

You think we’re trouble in a boat…you should have seen us in Vegas…  

 Here’s what is supposed to happen. We put in at the docks at the Kenai River, go up river a bit, then idle down the motor and drift along the edge with our nets in the water.  The nets are huge and heavy.  We tie a rope off between the bow of the boat and our net handle for extra support in keeping it straight in the current.  Fish swim into the net, we twist upwards to keep them from swimming back out, and we pull the net into the boat.  We dump the fish out, and do it all over again.

Here’s what really happens:

Boat goes up river.  Squeeze between  a hundred other boats.  Everyone around us catches fish.  Smarty pants in boat three feet away catches their limit in thirty minutes.  We watch.  Fish swims into net.  Net holder doesn’t move fast enough.  Fish swims out.  Another fish finally swims in.  I grab net to help.  Fish flies out an whacks me in the mouth. Tail tastes gross.  I get slimed.

Double the tangles when both sides bring them in at once.  

No…really.  Nets tangle.  Fish jump all around the boat and avoid giant nets.  Net handles break.  And ‘dead’ fish unlatch cooler chests and leap back out.

The first night we got thirty-five fish in about two hours which is by all means, not a bad day on the water.  Especially since we had the children to work as little slave minions.  Tonight we left the water with about twenty-five, mostly because the sun went behind the clouds and our whiny nature got the best of us until my brother…the driver…had had enough and dumped us back on the dock.

Takes loner to clean and fillet than to catch!  

 The highlight…at least for me if not for the eye-rollers in my boat…was when a woman in a boat nearby yelled out, ‘HEY, aren’t you Backwoods Mom!  I LOVE your blog!!!”  How “me” that my first time being recognized by a stranger in public as BMOM, I’m wind blown and coated in fish slime.   It was, without a doubt, a moment to remember. And…I think I’ve made a new friend.

My little Eskimo digs in the trash for the eggs.  I made him wait until they are cooked.  

So, sixty giant fish, two seal sightings, one fin in mouth, a paparazzi moment, and no less than six three-stooges scenes later, we made it through dip netting season fairly unscathed…and next year, we’ll anxiously do it all again.

Moose Attack!

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, wait her out, as she crossed our path and weaved her way into the trees to disappear.

She didn’t.  She stopped.  She stared. Eek.

My dad had a gun on his hip, prepared in case we spooked a bear.  He laid one hand across the butt, wrapped his fingers loosely.  Prepared.  The moose took several slow, leggy, steps in our direction.  She was about twenty feet away, coming purposefully towards us.  Starting to get nervous, we began to move cautiously back the way we’d come.

She followed our lead.

With every step we took, she followed.  Her eyes never left ours, staring us down as if daring us to stay put, to give her a reason to attack.  Her steps were sure, unwavering, confident.  She knew exactly what she was doing.

The land we’d come to explore was a forty acre piece that started at least 1500 feet off the highway.  We’d trudged along the property lines, searching out markers.  Thick in some areas and sparsely treed in others, we’d run into her in a thick grove of underbrush … and she’d pushed us out into the open.  I swear she knew she’d done it.

“Get to that stand of trees,” dad said, motioning towards a grouping of birch.  We moved quickly across the field.  She stayed with us, stomping her front feet towards as we went.  “Yea, you better run,” she seemed to say.

We heeded her warning and weaved into a mix of small spruce with several thick birch towering overhead.  She’d now closed the gap to about ten feet.  We tucked ourselves behind two different trees and awaited her next move.  From behind the false safety of the wide trunk, I was able to get a better look at her.

Her coat was thin from the harsh winter months, her eyes wide–with fear?  I doubt it.  Her sides heaved with each breath as she opened her mouth, huffed and grunted at us…issuing a final warning before she would charge.  Dad’s hand still sat idly on the pistols handle.

“Draw your gun,” I said.

“I will, if I need to,” said dad.

“You need to,” I insisted, watching her nostrils flair.  “At least get it out!”

Adrenaline began to pump.  Okay, fine…I was scared near to panic.

She’d been pursuing us at least fifteen minutes by now and she looked no closer to backing down.  The next stand of trees was a good fifty feet way.  There would be no place to go from here.

“I’ll draw when I need to,” dad repeated.  My dad is always calm…he is sleuth…he is calculated…he is meticulous.  Oh, who am I kidding…he is slow!

“Dad,” I said now, really beginning to freak out, “I don’t remember you taking any quick-draw cowboy classes!”

Hearing the quiver in my voice, he drew the gun.  The moose took another step towards him, decreasing the escape route to about six feet between the point of the gun and the thick, heavy breathing of the monstrous moose as she prepared to defend her ground.

He fired near her front feet.  Dirt flew up from the ground a few feet from the moose.  She jerked to the left, backed up a few feet and he fired again.  She trotted off to her left and disappeared into the brush.  I breathed again.

Perplexed by the aggressive behavior and trying to calm our nerves, we looked around the property we had been exploring when it all began.  Continuing back towards the truck, about a thousand feet away, we were watchful as we made our way up a gradual hilltop.

Less than three minutes after the moose had run into the woods, we heard a crashing in the trees, the gun came from the holster a bit more quickly than before, and the same angry beast came straight at us.  She had circled through the woods to approach us from the front and was running towards us at a dead heat.

I eyeballed the nearest tree, wondering how fast…or how slow…I could climb a three inch wide black spruce.  If you’ve never seen an Alaskan swamp tree…picture the most pathetic looking squiggle of a scrawny, half-dead-looking tree…and that was my escape route.

Dad readied the gun and looked around but there was no cover this time.  He yelled at the moose, “Get outta here,” and waved his arms.  She stopped.  Stomped her front feet, and stepped slowly in our direction.

“Move,” he said, keeping his firing hand ready.

And I did.

For another ten minutes we weaved speedily through the forest towards our truck.  And so did she.  With every turn to the right or left, she followed.  Not behind but us…but next to us, paralleling our movements as if she were our reflection.   Huffing, grunting and heavy breathing, her ears tucked back, her mouth open, she followed.

As we neared the truck the sound of the highway grew louder and she finally began to fall back.  With the truck in site we moved our feet faster… like prisoners in those last few steps towards freedom.

As I put my hand on the truck handle, I glanced back.  She was still there, pacing back and forth at the edge of the trees, huffing and stomping her feet…warning us not to return.

We didn’t.

Kenai River Rafting

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 every sixteen minutes to refill the slowly deflating craft.  I was eighteen years old.

So when a friend told me she had one spot left in a group raft trip she’s purchased for her visiting family members, I was like, “WHOOHOO, I’ll bring the beer!”   Well, not quite…but I did stop drinking liquids six hours before the trip so my bladder would hold.  I am almost forty, after all.

The Kenai River, home to the largest King Salmon ever caught, starts in Cooper Landing, Alaska, where it flows from the giant Kenai Lake.  The river flows all the way to Kenai, Alaska, where it runs into the Cook Inlet.  The Kenai River is world famous and people come from all over the world.  If there were fishermen on Mars, they would have heard of the Kenai River and longed to fish from its shores.

We put in just down from the lake where the water is slow and meandering.  Our two hour trip was not intended for the thrill seeker, as the rapids are further down towards the ocean.  We were in it for the peace, the serenity, the front row view of the combat fisherman.

We are in the middle of the first run Sockeye here at the confluence of the Kenai River and the Russian River.  That means the Reds (Sockeye) have reached the Russian and where the two rivers converge, the river bank becomes a madhouse until they’ve all gone by…at least until the next run sometime in July.

We passed between the fisherman lined shores like Indiana Jones as he exits the cave, idol in hand, dodging arrows coming at him from all sides.  Fly fishermen have little patience for tourists floating by with cameras and the hooks just keep on flying.  Nobody was catching, that we could see…but they seemed to be having a good time trying.

We’d been instructed not to scream out if we saw a bear and we practiced calm voices.  Luckily we didn’t have the opportunity to exercise our skill, as we didn’t see a bear.  With the way my group screeched in anticipation of a tiny bird on a branch six hundred feet down river, I’m afraid a bear sighting would have gotten us banned from coming back, as there was no way we could have abided the ‘no screaming’ rule.

Truth be told, I spotted more wildlife on the drive through Ninilchik this morning, than I did on the wilderness adventure raft trip…but that was okay by me.  I’ve seen bears before…even had one steal my fish…and I can spot hundreds of eagles just taking a walk on the beach by my house.  It was the companionship I was after.  Time spent with good friends, old and new, powered by nothing more than the strength of our guide, the natural flow of water and thousands of years of churning river that carved its way through the Alaskan frontier.

Fuller Lakes Trail

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 of the highway. With no background, no information aside from the neatly carved sign at the trail head reading, “Fuller Lakes, 2.9 miles”, we donned our day packs, a few water bottles, two guns and my ever present camera and off we went.

Now let me explain what we discovered later with a quick trip to Google, which would have better prepared us for what lie ahead. Fuller Lakes trail may be only three miles long, but in that three miles it climbs about 1400 feet. That’s right, a quarter mile elevation rise in a three mile stretch. “Not for the faint of heart,” the website read. EEK!

So as we walked and climbed and climbed some more, the trail kept going up, and up, and up. Around every corner we thought, “Surely it will level out soon.” News flash…it doesn’t!

We acted like it was nothing, the sweat dripping from our brow, whenever we were passed on the trail. About half way up a bubbly blond college girl  hoofed it past us at twice my speed with a cute little bounce in her step. Her pony tail swaying as she climbed, pink t-shirt unmarked, her tan legs never stumbling on her way past. For just a second I visualized her battered body lying at the bottom of the ravine to my right and felt my arm twitch towards her, but I held back, smiled politely and let her pass.

 We saw few people on the trail and were, as always, stunned by the lack of bear protection most people carry. We come equipped with a 44, a 45, and a monster size can of pepper spray. We saw not one gun being carried by anyone else on the trail.

With fresh piles of poo and massive scratch marks ten feet up several trees, it seems clear to me there were bears around. It’s Alaska, for gosh sakes. One guy we talked to said he had a weapon inside his pack. I’m sure it will be in pristine condition when they find it still in his pack as they haul his families remains back down the trail. Stupid, stupid people.

After two hours of taking photos and taking turns giving each other CPR, we made it to the top of the trail and came out on a lovely lake. Surrounded on all sides by wilderness, three miles up the side of the mountain, we stepped from the trees to find a metropolis of people lakeside. What was even more interesting is that of the six groups of people we encountered that day, we knew two of them personally and a third we discovered is actually from Ninilchik, where we live. I guess there is no escaping small town life no matter how far into the forest you climb.

We looked around a bit, feasted on backpack jerky and peanuts and shared an ice cold bottle of water in a quiet spot on the edge of the lake before heading back down the mountain. As it turned out, going down was much, much nicer than climbing up. About halfway down bobbing pony tail girl in the pink shirt ran by, giggling, her makeup still intact.

I may or may not have stuck my boot out in front of her dainty feet as she passed. Oops, sorry college girl.

One Night On Tustumena

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 source, or came across the Harding Ice Fields from Seward on walking trips that must have taken weeks or months to complete.

I try to imagine the courage it took to set out, no maps, no predestined results, to go by. When I come here for three days I bring a boat load of gear. They filled only a pack with what they could carry and strapped it to their backs. There were no coordinates, no GPS to mark the way, just a determination for a better life; some escaping, others searching, all on the same journey for truth.

It’s why I come here, too.  Just to remember myself, at my most basic.  Out here, I am the best part of me.

They built cabins, these people so long ago, not with chainsaws and generators to power their tools, but with handsaws for cutting and no blueprints to guide their way.  They surely must have built their cabins in the summer months, for the winter would have been too late. Logs, uncured and fresh, would have shrunk through the seasons as they dried, creating leaks and cracks between. I picture bearded men, bundled in fur, stuffing moss between the logs with calloused hands.

Some of these cabins still stand, refreshed and rebuilt by a well-meaning government that may not understand the aesthetic and historical value of decaying logs and dirt floors. They’ve become recreational cabins, now, instead of landmarks of our past. One can no longer picture the way the cabins used to be, only the polished results of ‘progress’ stand in their place. I wonder why society thinks everything has to be ‘useful’, or not exist at all.

Small flames dart among the coals in the pit. I douse the fire with water.  I can hear the wolves speak to each other across the water.  A moose laps lake water nearby.  The campsite darkens. I’m tempted to check each child’s tent.  But I know they are safe and well.  At home, inside my walls, I worry.  Out here, on the lake, I just know.

Without A Paddle

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, that is…

We’d pulled the boat across a shallow section where the island connects to the main land to avoid going all the way around.  Well, I pulled and Sandi took pictures.  We eyed the weather and the water, and shot out across the 27 miles long wide open waters, the glacier in view and clouds thinning to blue.

Thwump…slam…urrrccchhhh…the boat came to a dead stop. Instinctively, I hit the key and shut down the engine, leaving us bobbing and silent in the chaotic and unpredictable glacial waters of Tustumena Lake.

“What the….did we hit something?”

It seemed impossible we could have hit something so far out into the deep waters of the lake, but possibly a floating log.  Or the Loch Ness Monster.  I looked around expecting the slithering head of a sea creature to appear. When none did, we lifted the motor to inspect the prop. Nothing. We’d hit nothing.  I restarted the engine, engaged the shifter.  Nothing.  She wouldn’t shift into forward or revers.  I shut her back down.

The silence of the dead motor was accentuated by the slosh of small waves against the side of the aluminum boat, rocking it gently back and forth.  I surveyed the situation, eyed the distant shore, and licked my finger to check the wind direction…because I’d seen it on television and it made me look smart.

Sandi, the coolest Eskimo I know, calmly smiles and says, “I’ve harpooned whales in smaller boats.  We’ll be fine.”

I expected her to whip out a harpoon and skewer our lunch, but she whipped out her I-phone instead and called for help.  Apparently her Eskimo survival skills have gone modern.

While I was busy freaking out, Sandi dug out the paddles. I swim like a cat and I’m not a big fan of hypothermia.  My stress level doubled when she held up a paddle that looked like it had been chewed in half by piranha.  Mental note…check the boat for paddles prior to crossing a 27 miles long lake.

After five minutes of maniacal laughter followed by some deep breathing and tear wiping, we scanned the area all around us to judge which shore would be less work.  We chose the nearest destination…which as our dwindling luck would have it was against the wind…and we started paddling as fast as we could.  Which was really more like the pace of a dead snail.

Have you ever seen one of those hallways in a movie where the further you go, the longer it gets?  This was like that, only the hallway was an  icy ocean and the shore was a tiny dot on the horizon.  We paddled, the wind blew, and we switched off to compensate for the broken paddle so we didn’t just turn in circles.  We thought that was bright.

Eventually we made shore, tied the boat off to a tree and looked around.  The area around us had been burned a few years back in a forest fire so we could see far enough to know there were no bears nearby.  Regardless, I harnessed my 44 on my side and prepared myself for battle.

Sandi headed up the embankment, camera in hand, to shoot some wild roses and I stood guard.  She screamed.  I went for my weapon and nearly took the mighty hunters head off as she was attacked by a viscous bee.  Well, I didn’t actually draw, but we did make a pact that she not scream and I wouldn’t shoot her.

Content that help was coming and a little disappointed we didn’t get the chance to write SOS in rocks or build a shelter and forage for food, we rested on the warm rocks to wait.  We took turns photographing each other doing weird things. Well, not that weird.

 

Soon our ears picked up the roar of an engine in the distance and we knew we would be saved.  Weak from hunger and longing for civilization…(oh wait, that’s another story…) Stuffing our faces with cheese slices and snicker-doodles, we watched our rescue boat arrive, waved cheerfully from shore and said goodbye to our little piece of Gilligans Isle.

 Tied off to the back of the rescue boat, we climbed aboard, opened the sunflower seeds and kicked our feet up on the dash to enjoy the free ride home, glad to have good friends, good food and good fun.  After all, any day on the lake beats any day at home.  Any day at all.


The Pilot Fell-A-What?

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 sticks, goes down…we’ll just float gently into the tree tops, a bruise here, a scratch there …like landing on a ball of fluff. No problem.

 


I was headed to a village on Prince of Whales Island in south east Alaska, outside Ketchikan. I’d spent the night in Ketchikan, done an adoption interview with a client the night before, and rose early to catch a flight to the island for another client interview. This part of Alaska is basically ocean with occasional dots of land so everything is water oriented. There are more boats than houses and even the airport is accessible only by way of a ferry ride. (P.S.…it’s not a road to nowhere, it’s a road to the airport…fairly important considering the only way in or out is by boat or plane…duh!)
The small plane I took from Ketchikan to Craig was a six seater. That means they haul four people and shove the rest full of mail, groceries and our gear. Saying the plane seats four is being generous, based on those four being anorexic dwarfs. The plane really only holds one, average sized person. But I digress…
I love the co-pilot seat. I’ve sat there before, always feeling a mix of anxiety and power at the idea that if something happened to the pilot, the other three people crammed into the back are reliant on my total ignorance of the dynamics of flight for survival. I like to look around when I first take the seat, take some notes and ask questions of the pilot prior to take-off, just to give the poor folks in the lesser important seats a slight sense of comfort, knowing I’ve got their back.



So there I sit, all excitement and glee, at having pushed my way in front of the old lady with the baby to get the desired position of control…the co-pilot seat. I don my giant earphones and settle in. The plane is on floats, which means it’s a water take-off and landing. It also means if you have to ditch the plane in the tree tops, the giant floats will work like a barrier between me and the branches, so I feel super safe. The pilot shoves everyone’s gear behind the net in the back. I twist around in my harness to try to get a view of my laptop, now buried beneath a heap of mail bags.
The pilot climbs inside the tiny compartment and pulls the flap door shut, twisting the lock in place. I’m wondering who he’s locking out. He’s an older fellow, white beard and weathered hands. I’ve always been more secure with older pilots. I figure they’ve been flying since the bi-wing days and have proven themselves. When the guy who didn’t have to shave that morning climbs behind the controls, I get nervous. I like my pilots old. Or at least I did prior to meeting this fellow. All secured, we taxi across the water, the engine revs up to speed and we float into the air with ease. I love it.

 



From Ketchikan to Craig is a pretty short flight through a mountain pass, across a lot of water, and then a quick dive down into the bay at the base of a mountain where Craig is nestled into the trees. Beautiful place. Rain begins to fall and the wind picks up as we hit the mountain pass. We’re low to the trees, so close I could almost make out a birds nest off to my right. The valley below is thick with trees, interspersed with brilliant blue lakes, meandering creek beds and an occasional cabin.
I watch out the window, snapping photos through the foggy glass with my camera, hoping to pick up some sense of the wonder I’m feeling as we soar above God’s greatest creation. The plane tilts to the left, the mountain top is in view and I glance over at the pilot. Holy crap. His eyes are closed. I stared, hoping they would open, as if it were just an extended blink. No such luck. Still shut. Huh.



Just when I’m thinking seriously about screaming, his eyes drift open again, he rights the plan, and all is well. I look back at the people behind me, obliviously smiling back, assuming my eyes are wide with excitement, not sheer terror. I turn back in my seat and resolve to not take my eyes from the pilot for one more second. True to my assumption, not a minute later, his eyes drift closed again…like a baby being rocked to sleep by the gently sway of his mother’s arms…only different because he’s not a baby and we’re 800 feet in the air.
At this point I’m unsure what to do. Oh, you readers are wondering why I wouldn’t just grab his arm, lift his headphone from the side of his head and scream…but it’s not that simple. Have you ever jarred someone awake? Ever notice what their arms do when they are startled? Yes, they fling outward. Well, this guy has both his hands on the control module of the tiny airplane in which I am a potential victim. One false move could send us into a tail spin from which we could not escape and no fluffy soft landing for us. The plane is level, the trees are still a good distance away, the side of the mountain is to our side, not in front of us, so I bide my time. Meanwhile, the pilot’s eyes ease open every minute or so, he groggily looks around, then eases them shut. 
I whip out my cell phone and begin to text. “Sandi,” I type, “the pilot keeps falling asleep.”
“WHAT,”she screams back in text caps.
I repeat my previous statement…it seemed self explanatory and I wasn’t sure what other words I could use to describe it. I threw in the “F” word for emphasis.
“ARE YOU F-ing KIDDING ME?”
Always good in an emergency, cussing seems to help. I told her I was indeed not kidding.
“HIT HIM IN THE ARM!” She texted back.
Clearly she did not understand the dynamics of arm flinging upon waking. I shut my phone. I was on my own.
I stared at his face, alternating between that and keeping an eye on the distance between us and the earth’s surface. As soon as I saw his eyes flutter open again, I flung my left arm around as if I were swatting a fly, hoping to get his attention. It worked. He looked around, saw I was watching, and reached over to fiddle with his radio. I assumed at that point he was trying to keep himself awake by adjusting his music choice. Or maybe he could read the fact that I was about to scream and he was cranking his music so he could sleep through it. Hard to say.

The pilot kept his eyes open the rest of the short flight. We made it to Craig alive and I did my job. The next day I was ecstatic to see a different pilot come to pick us up, even if he was about sixteen years old. I’ve now readjusted my pilot prerequisites from old… to old and awake. Seems like a good combination.

Going Backwoodsier…Our Off-Grid Dream

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 be chewed on by a grizzly…not even a little bit…but my whole life I’ve wanted to live somewhere so wild…so remote…that anything can happen.  And I’m finally getting my way.

This week my family has purchased forty acres of land with nothing on it but hundreds of tall spruce and birch trees and a view to live for.  Surrounding this land is hundreds and hundreds of acres of Native Association or State of Alaska owned land that should never….hopefully…be inhabited.  The nearest privately owned home is a mile away.  We’re just seven miles from my kids school and a mile from the nearest power pole.  We’ll be providing our own power via solar and wind and creating a world for our children where they will learn the value of a subsistence lifestyle in as much as we can do that…and still eat a Dairy Queen blizzard once in a while.

No shortage of firewood…and millable lumber…

Yesterday we walked the land for the first time.  Now…let me explain.  This is land that has not been touched in many, many years, if ever.  Other than a handful of old stumps where someone must have at one time harvested some of the larger trees for a home, the land is essentially untouched.  Old windfalls litter the ground like pick-up-sticks, hidden under tall grass that has since weaved its hold.  Walking is treacherous and slow.  And yet the thrill of making our way across its depth for the first time is difficult to explain.  It was…to say the least…a fantasy being realized.

Our home will be here…

Our place…I like the way that rolls off my tongue…sits on the edge of a gentle slope, overlooking Ninilchik in the distance, the Cook Inlet beyond that and a snowy mountain range across the water where we should be able to see no less than three volcanoes from our front deck.  About 600 feet into the land, along that western edge, sits a natural clearing that runs down the hillside providing a partial view.  We will have to clear some trees to encompass the vast sites.  Just up from that clearing we’ve found the perfect home site. We hesitated at first…thirteen hundred feet of depth and we’re only going in just under six hundred?  But the view…oh, the view from that spot…it’s the only logical place for me to live. Not just on that land, but in the whole world.  Standing there, it just makes sense.

The path for the driveway…
Marking the driveway

Today we weaved our way back in, stepping over another wet pile of bear sign and singing loudly about Jesus as we went…so as to have an edge over the bear who surely must be an atheist…and stood again on the place where we will a build our home.  We came equipped this time with bright pink ribbon.  Not with which to mark our way out, but to mark our road home.  We started at the view and worked our way out, choosing the least obtrusive path on which to push through our road.  By the time we emerged from the thick woods, we had somehow managed to plan out a gently curving road that would not take out a single tree…as if it were meant to be.

From the road, you can better see the view we’ll have when we remove some trees…though it will span wider…

This week we plan to get our dozer up there and start pushing the road through.  Gently, at first, because we don’t know if there is gravel on our land or not.  If not, we only want to barely break the surface…and leave the tightly woven mossy topsoil in place so we can bring in gravel to cover.  If we have gravel on our own land, we shall be singing praises about all the money we will save.

I’m not sure of the timeline of this project. I’ve never been one to wait on anything.  Poor Dan may go to work his shift and come back two weeks later to find I’ve sold the house and moved all 7 kids into a their own individual tree forts with connecting rope bridges.  It’s been known to happen…

But please…travel along with us on this journey as we attempt to move our family off-grid…build a house out of empty pockets…and find in those thick, bear-infested woods, a dream we’ve waited for our entire lives.