During the last two weeks our internet service has been really off and on. This is due to the fact that our Satellite does not function well at temps below -40. Today is day 4 of -50 to -60 degrees. Needless to say, the girls have not been allowed outside, but they do not seem all that bothered by it. Indoor activities having been keeping everyone busy. We are really enjoying all of the projects and crafts sent to us by family members. The girls have plenty of workbooks, stickers, crayons/markers, and the like to keep them entertained for quite a while. We have also been watching portions of animated movies once every couple of days or so. Their unanimous favorite so far is Shreck. Thanks to a friend in Chicken, we now have all three and also a special Christmas Shreck! For the longest time, the girls showed no real interest in cartoons or television in general. But to Nate and I’s relief they are to the point where their attention can be held by animated shows, and that gives myself and Nate some much needed quiet. In a very small living space, you just get used to the noise. The background noise of battery operated toys that I have learned to tune out, the girls mild chatter, occasional outbursts of jealousy and of course the inevitable squabbles of siblings.
Our cabin is 127 square feet. Yes, I said 127. Keep in mind that much of that space is not usable floor space, but rather storage for food, water, clothing and other supplies that need to be kept inside. When I say I water, what I really mean is 14 five gallon buckets full of Dog water, and 4 five gallon buckets full of People water. You have to remember that anything that cannot be frozen has to have space inside the cabin, and that includes water for everyone that is hauled up from the creek 2 or 3 times a weeks by Nate. The rest of the cabin doubles and triples in function everyday with a rotation of chores, except for the girls bedroom which is one whole corner of the cabin. The kitchen table is the most multi purpose space we have. We sit down and eat meals there. We have also butchered all of our meat there. That is also where the girls spend the bulk of their time, including bathtime when I fill up a large galvanized tub with warm water and lift them into it. I was doing baths on the floor until it got really cold, now the table is working well.
I also use the table as a food prep area, and that is where I knead my bread. I have two counters to work with in my kitchen, but the table is the easiest because its such a large surface area. On the counter next to the table is where I have my wringer attached for doing laundry. Laundry is a pretty simple task, but without running water or a water heater or a machine it can often turn into a multiple day endeavor. The wringer’s purpose is to remove as much water as possible before hanging the clothes above the stove to dry. The washing process is basically filling up our galvanized “bathtub” with hot water, adding a bit of mild soap, and then finding the cleanest dirty clothes and adding them.
I let the clothes soak for a while and now and then I go by and plunge the dirt out with a good old-fashioned rubber toilet plunger. After plunging and soaking several times I wring out as much water as I can by hand and then run them through the wringer. Our clothes get relatively clean, and I don’t use very much soap because the dirt is removed by plunging, so that means I don’t usually rinse the clothes, which means saving water!
If the first batch of clothes were not super dirty, I usually try to use the water for another load of dirtier clothes. By the time that second load is done the water is usually black and its arc of usefulness has come to an end.
Cabin life is treating us all well, and I especially love this teeny, tiny space. It forces simplicity, but also creativity. I have had some people ask me about Cabin fever. I have given it some thought. Cabin fever is upon me, but the kind of fever that makes your heart race and mind sing. Seclusion, Wild animals, Beautiful Children, Laughter and Washing my hair in a soup kettle…
Home Sweet Cabin…
Life on the last frontier has been a whirlwind these last few weeks! I am finally able to update the blog because the temps have warmed up. For a little over a week we were getting between -50 and -60 temps. Today it has warmed up to a balmy -10 and it feels great! Nate left this morning on a tour, taking almost all the adult dogs with him. I have a lot of catching up to do, so I will start with one short post, with another soon to follow.
Before the cold spell, Nate and I were able to have a day to ourselves thanks to Matt and Alyssa who graciously offered to watch the girls for a day so Nate and I could have a bit of adventure. We decided to head off to town with two dog teams, and visit with some friends and run a couple of errands. It’s a little over 6 miles into Eagle from where we live, and on the back of a dogsled that can mean between 30-60 mins depending on trail conditions among other things. The trail is the frozen Yukon river. It was a bit of a windy day, but we had a fantastic time! It was the first time we have ever had all the adults out together, and they all did wonderful.
We spent the afternoon visiting a couple in town. It was great for me to get out of the cabin and meet some new faces and socialize a bit. But by the end of the afternoon I was ready to come home to my girls and our little cabin. I still have much experience and confidence to gain on the dogsled, but overall I did pretty good. One small crash was all!
Going to the store and the post office was a treat for me too. I have not been into town since the 2nd week of Oct. Walking into our tiny grocery store in Eagle, I immediately realized there was a television on somewhere. It was very surreal. I felt like an alien, but in a good way. I do not miss the TV ever, but sometimes my Nate does. The only time I have seen a TV since we moved to Alaska was in October when we stayed in a motel on our supply run. I am happily contented not raising my children with television, but rather with books and hand selected movies.
We traveled home that evening in the lengthening sub-arctic twilight of 4 pm. The colors of winter here are indescribable with words and even less with pictures. I can say that the color of twilight is a deep indigo that glows and radiates behind the clouds. Often the clouds themselves appear to glow. The colder it gets, the more this effect seems to happen. Everything is muted yet somehow brighter. Not boldly brighter like at midday, but brighter because of some inner light that undulates beneath the surface. These are the times that I love best. Being an artist, I appreciate the beauty with a different eye, yet I know it is impossible to capture. The fleeting nature of such scenes are what make life exciting and unfailingly beautiful to me.
This trip into town was also the test run for the new ruff that I sewed for my parka. It is made from the fur of a Black Wolf that Nate trapped. It was a huge learning curve for me, as I have no experience working with leather, but the end results turned a good I think. It keeps the wind off my face and my nose and ears safe from frost. Plus it looks pretty sharp. The parka itself is a family heirloom of sorts. It first belonged to my Uncle Frank, and was given to him by a friend in the Marine Corps. Frank used this parka during brutal cold weather training for the Marines, high in the Sierra Nevada’s. When Frank and Sherry moved to Arizona, he gave the parka to my Dad. It hang in the basement of my childhood home, and during the winters I remember my Dad wearing this parka to shovel our driveway out from under deep drifts of Iowa snow. Now it is mine and I am so glad to have it. It is one of my prized possessions and now with a nice wolf ruff its warmth is unmatched!
Nate has been using his new mitts that a friend from Fairbanks made for him from another wolf he had trapped. The girls had fun trying them on one night! Our friend Amanda does AMAZING leather and fur work. Someday, if I am half as talented as she is, I will be content. Until then I will continue to practice. Next year I want to make little Mukluks for the girls.
I better go get the dog cooker going.
Nate is off on his first of many dog tours of the winter season. Needless to say he was very excited to get back into the swing of things. We have several pups who are showing remarkable spirit and Nate took 2 of them on this tour. Orca and Corky. They are not quite a year old and we are all looking forward to seeing how their first winter as sled dogs turns out. We have very high hopes for our younger batch of 6 month old pups as well and we can hardly wait to get them into a harness and see what they can do!
Since Nate has been gone the girls and I have been busier than bees around the cabin. We took down all the Christmas decorations, which was a day long process in itself. I have been cleaning and organizing and just generally taking advantage of time inside. Temps have started to drop again and they are hovering between 20 and 40 below. Tonight is especially cold. It could get colder still.
fortunately our cabin is snug. I like to keep it around 75 inside, just because it takes a lot of heat to keep the floor warm. The heat is also helpful in drying clothing and mitts and hats, as well as keeping the area in front of the door thawed out from constant snow being tracked in.
Our stove is efficient and I use it everyday to cook and heat water as well as heat the cabin. We always have at least 5 gallons heating at any given time.
Each night before bed, while tending the fire, I fill out water kettle so that in the morning I have hot coffee water waiting for me. The surface of the stove does not get hot enough to do a lot of actual cooking, but its perfect for heating up leftovers, toasting bread, and making pancakes (hopefully waffles soon too thanks to Aunt Judy!). I have a system for proofing my yeast and bread dough that involves stacking my wood cutting board on top of a large kettle of water and then placing the proofing bowl on top of that. The ambient heat is perfect for allowing the yeast to activate and dough to rise. Soon I plan to experiment with baking small loaves of bread in my very large dutch oven. I have tried making standard size loaves, but I just cant get the stove hot enough without making it miserably warm in the cabin.
You would not think that a cabin in the dead of winter near the Arctic Circle could possibly become too hot, but it has happened several times. It’s usually when I let Nate stoke the fire before bed (love ya Nate!) and we wake up at 3 am barely able to think straight it’s so hot. Thats when I get up and prop the door open for 10 minutes or so. Even then, if the stove is really going it goes right back to being hot.
I have read stories about folks who have put up blankets over their doorway for this very reason. That way you can regulate the temp inside the cabin without it getting drafty. Not sure I want to go that route. I’ll just stick to tending the fire myself and we should be fine…
The girls and I walked to Scarlett and Wayne’s house yesterday for lunch. I had some fresh vegetables mailed in by a friend who traveled to Fairbanks, and I made a salad to share. Fresh produce is the biggest luxury this time of year, and when we do have some its always nice to share because it is such a welcome treat.
We had a fine lunch, and afterwards I help Scarlett and Wayne take the dewclaws off their new puppies. My task was to mostly keep Nugget (the Mama) calm so that Wayne and Scarlett could get the job done. It went really smoothly and the girls enjoyed watching us return the puppies to their Mama.
After lunch, we returned home slowly, while playing in the heaps of fresh snow!
The girls enjoy the snow so much, especially with their new snowsuits. It makes playing outside warm and fun for them, and easy for Mama too.
New Year’s Eve I let the girls stay up late and we cuddled on the grown up bed and watched Shreck 2. We even had popcorn! The girls enjoyed the movie and cuddle time with Mama, and after the movie the fell asleep within 10 minutes. It was 9:30 and I think that is the latest they have ever stayed up. I stayed up late too watching the film Pearl Jam Twenty. It’s amazing to think that its been 20 years. I found it beautiful and emotional. It surely was not what I was expecting in a music documentary, but nonetheless it was extremely satisfying to watch. I have loved their music for 20 years and find their philosophy inspiring and refreshing. Especially among so much negativity in the mainstream pop-culture these days.
As always… Cameron Crowe never fails to deliver thought-provoking entertainment in a way that connects to your inner, vulnerable self. Here’s to another 20 years of PJ, and may I live happily to see them…