Yours truly butchering a quarter of moose!
Nate showing how he expertly cuts a Chum Salmon
Winter Cabin can be seen in lower right corner of photo
Winter came swiftly this year. Our fall was the busiest time of the year for us (as always) and we had a productive season. Our fishing and hunting season went well and thanks to Nate’s skills we have plenty of meat for our family this winter. We also canned salmon for ourselves and hung salmon for our huskies. Running the fishwheel and processing salmon is a full time job for the whole family!
The last King Salmon of the year, and the girls holding up the Wolf pelt that I tanned!
Just a few of Nate’s favorite knives after butchering the entire Moose alone!
Our Fishwheel on the Yukon
Grabbing a fish from the basket
Our heroic Nate has hauled enough firewood to get us through most of the winter, and we spent about a month winterizing the cabin, repairing dog houses, remodeling the girl’s room, organizing our winter food supplies, training puppies and spending lots of time drinking tea and eating baked goods. The fall was so crazy, with such a time crunch imposed by the inevitable dropping temps and snow flurries, that once the season of “freeze-up” arrives its time to slow down and finally relax a little. Freeze-up, for us, means that travel to town is impossible. We live on the opposite side of the river from Eagle and the only way to get to town is to wait for the Yukon river to freeze, and then we take either a dog team, or snowmachine into town from our cabin. Its 12 miles round trip from here to town and back. Next winter it will be more like 60!
Vieve and Nate posing with, you guessed it, a small Black Bear!
About half of our Winter food storage! Organized, labeled and color-coded!
Nate is trapping downriver this winter, and we are preparing for dog tour season to start next week! Our dogs are in great shape and are loving life out on the trails. I have been on the dogsled myself quite a bit this winter and have been having so much fun. My teams are much smaller than Nate’s of course. 5 dogs is good for me. I have been doing shorter runs with or 3 puppies and 2 adults right around 10 miles or so. We also reached a huge milestone a few days ago. Nate and I took the girls down to the slough and we all 3 rode in the dogsled around the slough! The girls loved it and cannot stop talking about it. We came home and they went to work right away harnessing stuffed animals with scarves and making their own sleds! They are also learning the command “Gee” and “Haw” for right and left. I was having such a blast that I failed to take pictures, but rest assured that pics will come soon because the girls are hooked!
Thats Ruby on the Runners!
Ruby harnessing Hot Lips!
Nate heading out to the trapline with a 10 dog team!
We are still very much loving life on the Yukon and are also busy making plans for next fall/winter which will find us building our first home on the land we purchased downriver. I am planning chicken coop designs and researching food storage. At night Nate and I stay up drawing designs for floorplans, garden layouts and dog yard arrangements. There is so much to consider. Its great fun and exhausting work. We would not have it any other way.
Our Christmas was lovely and it was the most exciting Christmas since my own childhood. Our families both spoiled Nate and I and of course the girls! Nate, the man of my dreams, made me (with his own hands) two pairs of sterling and ruby earrings! I am one lucky girl and have been so thankful for my beautiful little family.
Happy New Year to all!
I am thankful for my family. But what does family mean to me? Surely this must be something slightly different for everyone.
For me it is the innocent and beautiful smiles of my daughters who have, and continue to teach me and remind me of the beauty of life. The goofy jokes of my brother, to whom I owe so much. The unconditional love of my Mother, who arms and hands hug me from thousands of miles away. The support, understanding and priceless memories of a family FULL of true characters. Aunts and Uncles who are never far away, and always in my heart. I am thankful for a childhood that was pure and idyllic and created in me a necessity to dream. I am Thankful for the chance of meeting my love, my Nate, the heart of my heart. You have pulled me through.
Thankfulness and remembrance for all the love and cherished memories of friends and family who have gone on. Bob. Katie and Aunie. Grandpa Floyd and Grandma Helen. Grandpa Scotty and Grandma Jeanne. Sherry Beckwith. Ed Ferguson. Jack Ainsworth. David Romprey. Dave Hunt. Tony Hauth. Jackson Muldoon. So many voices gone. I live in honor of all those I have loved. Of all those that I miss so deeply.
Dad. I think of you every single minute.
I thank you all, wherever you are for honoring me with your friendship. It is one of the greatest blessings this girl will ever know.
When I walk outside, into the Arctic evenings, I see 18 pairs of blinking eyes. The dogs that have made this life possible for us deserve a book all of their own. Until then, I thank them and praise them with the same unending love and devotion that they have given me. They are Family too in so many ways.
I am thankful for the chance to be inside our story while I am writing it. This life, adventure, love, beauty, poetry, danger, peace, and the welcoming smiles of those closest are the reasons. Sharing good food and happy times with a nice fire in the stove and a contentment in my heart are the rewards. I am the luckiest person alive. Thank you.
Our Peggy Mama had 6 pups, and they were quite the bunch!
- Nate with Orca’s pups. The two pups on the right are Rocky (female) and Rambo (male). Rocky and Rambo, cute right?
(this photo was taken off our new front porch in Chicken)
Genevieve and Grace at our property on the banks of the Yukon
Pictures are worth a thousand and one words, so for this post I will stick mostly with that. We had a fantastic summer that went by really fast and we all worked really hard in Chicken, as well as on our property on the Yukon. Nate’s brother Ryan was here for 2 weeks in July and he was an amazing help in Chicken, at the homestead and everywhere in-between. We also had two beautiful litter of happy and healthy puppies in early Spring. We had 9 pups altogether, and ended up keeping 3 to become future sled dogs. The others went to good homes, some destined for sled dog greatness as well. We had so much fun raising those pups and the girls had such a blast chasing, and being chased by them. Nate took the early spring off work and built a beautiful log home for us to live in during our summers in Chicken. It is spacious, well made and surrounded by lovely Alaskan views. Just off the kitchen and front porch there is a nice little pond that shelters waterfowl, billions of frogs, and the neighborhood Moose come to munch on the water grasses that are abundant. It’s so nice to walk outside on a calm, warm July evening and see a moose cow contentedly eating! These are the highlights of our summer. Enjoy!I love these treeless tundra images. This is taken from atop a mountain near Chicken. It’s a world of moss, rocks and Bears up there!
Love our Uncle Ryan!
Me and my sweetest. Our new truck and trailer are loaded and ready to head downriver for groundbreaking!
- Genevieve practicing on her new bike in front of the new cabin in Chicken.
The girls in front of our first Alaskan garden!
The kitchen area of our Chicken cabin
- From the top of Taylor Mountain. Midsummer.
Warmest day of the year! 90 degrees and playing in the creek!
- Grace and Genevieve’s bedroom
The building site for our first cabin!
Nate admiring his handiwork.
There are so many reasons why Nate is my hero (and should be yours too!)
This photo shows one of them!
Standing on the homestead with the Yukon in the background.
One of our star dogs Corky is joining us!
From our boat landing looking North (or downriver).
Ryan says this picture was taken around 11 pm. Alaska really is the land of the Midnight sun…
I know what you’re thinking. And you are right. It’s about time I got this done. I have missed our little blog terribly and will do my best to bring everyone up to speed. In my defense, most of our spring/summer was spent without reliable internet for which I will do my best to never repeat. Not to mention that Nate and I both worked our tails off all summer in Chicken without much of a break. So now, back at the Winter cabin, life is returning to a slow steady routine. We are taking measure of our summer accomplishments as well as goals for the next year, and simply enjoying a simpler and calmer way of life here on the Yukon.
Starting where I left off is probably the easiest. This is part one of three installments.
Grace and Genevieve’s Third Birthday Party!
Grace, Genevieve and I took a trip out to the 48 at the end of March/April. We traveled to Oregon, Iowa, North Dakota and Montana before returning to Alaska after Easter. It was an amazing trip and was so wonderful to see all the family and friends. My Uncle Tom and Aunt Kelly hosted a birthday party for the girls, and thanks to my Mom’s organizing superpowers, it was a huge success! So many good people attended, some of whom I have not seen in ages. It was a dream come true, and thanks again to everyone who came!
Walking the Cedar Valley Nature Trail with Mom, Andy and Nick!
Our time in Oregon was short and we had a lot to button up there, but we did spend time with Bill and Judy, Terry and Diane, Cousins Joey, Elijah, and Jade, Jill of my dearest Salem, Kristen, Lena and Liam, and a very special Coffee House Cafe reunion with cherished friends Susanna, Meri, and Emily. Many good memories were made and relived and it was so wonderful to see everyone…Special thanks to Kristen for all of the help and encouragement, and for giving my little black cat a safe home.
Our drive to North Dakota from Iowa was one long day for the girls, but we made it to Hettinger late that evening and were happily surprised to find Ryan there, as well as Ken and Rita. The next morning was Easter, and we had a fine day meeting Nate’s family and friends as well as enjoying a beautifully prepared meal with loving company all around. And two fantastic matching white coconut bunny cakes for dessert! Easter evening we dyed eggs with Grace and Vieve. The girls were feeling a little sick so we postponed their Easter morning activities until the next day. They awoke to have the classic outdoor egg hunt, as well as indoor basket finding. It took them a bit to get the hang of it, but they enjoyed it very much.
Easter with Nate’s family in North Dakota! (love this picture)
Then off to Montana, where we spent an evening with Ed and Linda near Billings. They were the most gracious hosts and fed us wonderfully prepared delicious meals, and let the girls play with the abundance of their toys that belonged to their Grandson. We had a very nice visit and I am so glad to have met them as well! It was hard to leave but the next day we drove into Billings where the girls and I departed from the airport for our journey back to Alaska.
Back in Fairbanks we were greeted by our dear friend Robin who graciously hauled us back to Chicken for a few day’s stay at her place and another visit from the Easter bunny, and then on to Eagle. Driving down the hill into Eagle, I knew I had come home. Nate was out in the road waiting for us and I got out of Robin’s truck to the hugs of my man, and the loud greeting of 18 my very excited huskies. For the remainder of April we were blessed with an opportunity to work in Eagle (Nate) and a beautiful Cabin in the heart of town to stay in. Nate built 2 cabins for a friend and during that time the girls and I visited friends, went to the library daily, kept a watchful eye on the River, and generally had a fabulous time. We also had another birthday party for the girls. Our friend Sonja attended and brought 4 of her children, and Matt, Nate and myself we also in attendance. We had nachos and fruit salad for snacks and the cake was a decadent Coconut pound cake with a unbelieveable frosting. The kids and adults alike had a blast and it was well worth the effort.
Eagle is such a mysterious and richly colored little community. The history of Eagle is visible everywhere and nobody tries to hide it or make it look fancy. A log cabin community on the literal edge of civilization. Plain and simple, yet underneath there are so many layers. I am only beginning to appreciate this myself and look forward to many years of being fascinated by the charming, and barren qualities of this place that has held my heart for so many years, long before I ever had the courage to come here.
One of the greatest things I have witnessed on this planet Earth is the breakup of the frozen Yukon at Eagle. It is definitely in my top three favorite moments of all time. The power of this event is the indescribable and unbelievable. First of all, the river itself is huge. So big and deep and wide and unyielding, that when it freezes, it can take months. Only at sustained temps of -30 does the Yukon freeze enough to travel upon its surface. All winter the silence permeates and settles into the land and the wild things living upon it. It gets under your skin. The dog’s notice it as well, and every movement, breath, flicker of light or shadow, and wisp of smoke takes on a meaning of its own. The Yukon sleeps under its blanket of jumbled ice, making life and travel possible for the winter inhabitants of the country, as well as sheltering life beneath its surface.
When the spring rushes in, the river ice thins, and everyone thinks of the breakup. It’s on everybody’s minds and all the talk around town is about the Yukon. When will it break? Has it moved at Dawson? What about Circle? Will the ice rush out all at once, or will it jam? People make several trips to the river every day to see if it has moved. The day the river broke, we spent the morning at a friend’s place overlooking the river. We were able to watch a wall of ice slowly work its way downriver from the Village, but around noon it stopped. We all decided it could still be a while before it broke so we went our separate ways and started the day’s chores. Thirty minutes later I was at the well house getting water and I could see a giant wave of swiftly moving water rise up from the frozen surface of the river and sweep across the jumbled ice and Belle Island. The water traveled so fast and the ice started to follow so fast that I had a hard time registering what was happening. I drove back to the cabin where Nate was working and yelled “Its happening! The ice is going out!” I parked the truck and we ran down to the river. It was the most awe-inspiring event I have ever witnessed and the just the amount of power and energy released in those moments is hard to put into words. Ice chunks the size of football fields float by near the middle, while along the banks huge thick icebergs bob up and down being pushed and pulled by the sudden power of the river and the crushing weight of the ice and water behind them. It is so suddenly loud and savage, and the peace and stillness of winter is abruptly shattered and swept away in one swift moment. And then its spring. The ice continues to flow for a week or so, slowly becoming smaller chunks and the water slows down from its initial whoosh and rush, to a slower and deeper churning. The river is still quite dangerous at this stage and sometimes large groupings of ice will come down the river from places in Canada that broke later than we did. To be safe, no one plans to travel on the water for a couple of weeks at least. I wish I could describe in accurate emotional terms what this experience did to me, but alas, I cannot. I know without a doubt it was one of the most entrancing, hypnotic and bewildering feelings. Standing at the edge of the world with a small group of people watching an event that has happened unchanged for at least 10,000 years. No television cameras or swooping helicopters. Just the sound of my own breath escaping me. And the layers of river sounds as it breaks its sleep.
2.5 million acres of National Preserve in North Eastern Interior Alaska about 50 miles below the Arctic Circle. Its called the Yukon Charley National Preserve. Being one of the Nation’s least visited (statistically) parks or preserves, it encompasses over 120 miles of the legendary Yukon River. Many smaller rivers and streams are incorporated, including the entire Charley River, which is on the National register of Wild and Scenic rivers and is considered by many to be the most spectacular river in all of Alaska. The preserve shelters myriad numbers of flora, fauna and fishes. Bears (both Grizzly and Black), Wolves, Lynx, Dall Sheep, Moose, Caribou, Fox, Wolverine, Beaver, Otter, Marten, and Snowshoe Hares make up most of the animal population that call the preserve home.
The entrance to the Preserve at Calico Bluff.
Expansive. Wild and desolate yet teeming with life. Human history in this part of the world has an intimate relationship with the Yukon River. From a historical standpoint the Yukon has sustained Native cultures for thousands of years. This part of Alaska has paleontological evidence of humans using the river for transportation and life-sustaining fish 10,000 years ago. That is some deep history to be floating by when you enter the parks boundary at Calico Bluff. The history embraces you and envelops you. You are drawn into a way of life that has remained largely unchanged since time out of mind.
But to me, the biggest and deepest connection I have with this part of Alaska is the emotional and largely unattainable dreamlike quality of it. People from around the world have a love affair with the far northern woods, and especially with the Yukon River. I admit to having been one of those dreamers for much of my life, and will continue to be. As I hike to the frozen river’s edge or gaze out at the surrounding mountains into Canada, I get the feeling that Walt Whitman would have been most comfortable in this wood. I can imagine his fluid prose surrounding me as I walk. I can also imagine during a sunny afternoon walk that I could at any moment stumble upon Tom Bombadil singing and frolicking along a mountain path. You are surrounded by an extraordinary landscape and unmatched solitude. As I have begun to become comfortable in this world, I have also realized I could never call this place home in the traditional sense. To call a place home implies ownership in some way, and as much as I love this country it will never belong to me, nor anyone. Even living and breathing in its safety and drinking its waters and eating its game, I feel that somehow it is beyond anyone’s ability to grasp it too firmly. As I have rode down the Yukon on a dogsled I have often felt like an observer. Even in everyday life the intense beauty and pure natural wilderness that surrounds me is almost mythic; and I have trouble placing myself in a story that does not offer some element of legend or fantasy. As most of you know, this has been my lifelong dream. Now that I am living it, it seems even more of a dream that I continue to awake to every morning.
The Yukon Charley National Preserve is completely inaccessible. Unless of course you happen to travel by water. In the summer that means a boat, and in the winter that means either by dog team or snow machine. The Yukon river itself is the road and it is about 12 miles downriver (north) of Eagle to the preserve’s boundary. Another 18 miles downriver, in the heart of the preserve lies a very large island unofficially named “Wood Island” by the locals. That name dates back to the days of steam-powered ferry-boat travel on the Yukon which occurred between 1867 and 1955. Wood Island is a place where the steamers, on their way to and from Dawson City, Yukon would stop to refuel.
Landing at the property with Montauk Bluff in the distance.
It is this very place where Nate and I are attempting to embark on the greatest adventure of our lives. We are in the very slow process of buying a plot of land directly to the north of Wood Island, right on the Yukon river. It is 100 acres and will be split up among several friends and family. We will choose 20 acres for ourselves and build a cabin. Hopefully, if all goes as planned, next fall will find us camping there. We will score the trees for our cabin, clear a building site and get a couple of good trails in. There is so much that goes into planning an endeavor of this magnitude. So much of which we only have a vague idea. But its the adventure and the challenge that beckons. Nate and I both realize that setbacks may happen and it could be several years before we are in a position to build a cabin, but this is what we both want more than anything and we are in it for the long haul.
View looking South towards Canada's Ogilvie Mountains.
Inside the Preserve, there are 2 families that are year round residents. Think about that. 2.5 million acres. 2 neighbors. The closest neighbor is 11 miles away. How is that for privacy? During the summer months the park has a small influx of water seekers, traveling the park by canoe or even floating the Charley river that is widely known for its spectacular whitewater experience. In the fall, there are groups coming into the park to hunt Moose as well. But that is the only traffic on the river aside from the occasional park ranger. It’s about as secluded as you can get and still be a US resident.
We know this is a huge undertaking. Our dreams are big but we plan to start small and not get in over our heads. Nate and I are both dreamers in every sense of the word and we both love this landscape. Our chosen lifestyle would not be possible without our dogs, and to them we owe so much. A life of devotion in exchange for a life of devotion.
Here’s to finding what you love and being able to hold onto it…
Nate and I explored the property on a fine day last fall.
Now that the temps have come up and the SUN has come back we have been getting the girls outside as much as possible. I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to feel the sun’s rays on my face for the first time in what must be 7 weeks. I lived in Oregon’s rainy Willamette valley for much of my life and it was sunless and gloomy there much of the winter, but you always had a vague feeling that somewhere behind all those heavy blue clouds the sun was there. Here at the top of the world its a different feeling altogether. The sun vanishes completely. There is ambient light, of course and it is not nearly as dark here as I thought the winter would be. But after being lost from the sun for so long, the anticipation grows each day until that joyful moment when the sun peeks over the hills in the distance for just a moment and then vanishes again. It is enough. The sun will rapidly begin lifting its arc above the hills every day, and both the dogs and humans look to it for warmth and hope. To me, the darkness of deep winter is a welcome quiet and calmness. After the summer of the sun never going down, and the heightened activity of every living thing it seems like the hush of winter is a welcome rest.
We took advantage of one beautiful afternoon by doing some sledding down the trail right in front of the cabin. It was great fun, and they girls enjoyed it very much. We did some sledding on some smaller slopes around the cabin before we moved up to the big hill. The girls were timid the first time going down, but after that they wanted to keep going. We had a wonderful time and boy were the girls wiped out that night. They walked up the hill several times by themselves!
The next afternoon was sunny and perfect. The girls and I plus one of our puppies went for a walk. It was so nice to get out with the girls and frolic in the sunshine. The girls made snow angels and had fun tramping through the deep snow. I had fun getting them to pose for all kinds of great pictures! The vastness of the landscape that we live in cannot be captured in photographs. If you can imagine things 10,000 times bigger, broader and more beautiful than the pictures show, it might be an accurate estimation.
These are the words I woke up to a couple of weeks ago.
The thermometers we’re bottomed out at -70.
On a day like that, no one does much of anything except tend the dogs, make sure they have straw in their houses, build a big fire in the stove, and eat popcorn while snuggling with kids and reading books. We had about a week of -50 stuff but this was the coldest day of my life.
In all honesty, it is not as bad as it sounds. You must be smart about it as well as being well dressed. I would never expose my children to such temps, but there are certain chores that must be done outdoors regardless of what the weather is doing. Nate and I tackled the morning chores together, and we were only outside for about 15 minutes.
On very cold days we also try to rotate dogs through the cabin to let them warm up a bit. We have 19 dogs right now, so its tough to let everyone have a turn. But usually we get quite a few in to warm up and boy do they appreciate it! Alaskan Huskies have 2 coats as well as other traits to make them impervious to cold temps but at -70 they are bound to get cold. We have some dogs who never go into their dog houses, and who never seem to be bothered by cold temps at all. They lay on the ground, curled into a tiny ball with their tail covering their face. This is how wolves in the wild sleep, and how Huskies have slept in the Arctic for thousands of years, sometimes burying themselves in snow to create a cocoon of warmth.
The cold snap was over as suddenly as it began, and within 4 days the temps had risen to 35 above. That is over a hundred degrees difference! Regardless of the extreme temperatures and unpredictable nature of the country, I believe interior Alaska to be the world’s best kept secret. Let everyone think that it’s so cold and miserable here. I’ll be happy to have it all to myself…
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…
This is a photo of one of Nate’s most impressive Ice Beards so far this winter! I love the little twig…
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…
The day after Christmas 2011.
Nate and I are still rummaging through piles of new clothes, coloring books, toys, the occasional wayward sock, candy wrappers, half dressed dolls, and stocking stuffers that made their way into various nooks and crannies of the cabin. Every once in a while a ribbon or gift tag will get stuck to our slippers or somehow get tangled in the girls hair. Bits and pieces of wrapping paper still turn up from under rugs or pulled out of the girl’s toybox. It will be a least a week before the cabin recovers.
Christmas Eve the girls and Mom made sugar cookies for Santa and ourselves thanks to a delicious recipe from fellow blogger and good friend Jillian. Mama also got to take a nice walk to the Yukon with our 6 month old pups. We had a fine afternoon. I also made some adult Irish Cream for grown up coffee in the morning. We listened to music, put the finishing touches on the tree, skyped with several family members and opened gifts with Nate’s folks and brother in North Dakota.
Christmas morning the girls slept in until nearly 8! Which of course means that Nate and I also slept in, and it was so nice. Finally I got up to start the coffee and I could hear Grace stirring. I poked my head in on her and she was peeking out at all the presents. I told her she had to wake up Genevieve before she could come out and see what Santa brought. It took a few minutes, but eventually Genevieve woke up and realized what was happening. When they came out of their room, they went straight to the bench where Santa put all of their toys. They kinda just stood there for a few minutes, stunned I think. Slowly the excitement started to build, and by the time I got the stockings down they began shrieking and laughing.
It took us all morning to open gifts. There is something about having Christmas in a little cabin in the woods that you just don’t want to rush. I made my Mom’s traditional Christmas morning french toast. Nate and I enjoyed our coffee with irish cream. I allowed the girls some candy from their stockings, of course. We all recieved many wonderful gifts, and are completley spoiled. Around 1pm we went to Wayne and Scarlett’s cabin to spend the rest of our Christmas with them. We shared an amazing Christmas dinner, lots of fun and conversation, and to top the night off we all took a nice relaxing sauna.
Nate worked tirelessly to give the girls and I a perfect Christmas. All in All it was indeed perfect or least perfect for us… By the end of the day we were happy, rosy cheeked girls with full tummies and glad hearts. We still have a few boxes from various sources still en route, but such is life in the middle of nowhere. Some things just aren’t predictable out here and that is one of them. Lesson learned.
Today was a recovery day. We hauled water and firewood. Nate went for a short run with some dogs and is now replacing the runners on one of his sleds. Leftovers for dinner with with few additions. I went to help Scarlett wash dishes and clean up, and when I returned Nate had done all of our dishes! Tonight we are relaxing and the girls are happily playing with new toys and reading new books. The biggest hits of the Christmas toy selection are the Wolf and Chipmunk puppets from Santa, but the girls are really enjoying all of their new gifts and toys and books. We’ve got a ton of activity books, craft supplies, drawing paper, crayons/markers. Lots of stuff to keep little hands and minds busy during the winter ahead.
A huge thank you to everyone who made such a splendid Christmas possible for us. Our families are always close to our hearts, and never far from our thoughts.
Preparations for the dog tour season is in full swing. Nate’s first client comes in Wednesday night. Lots of odds and ends of cabin life to tie up before he heads out onto the trail. Tonight we will bring in the last Moose quarter, and another Snowshoe Hare. I want to get all of the meat cutting done before Nate gets really busy. Hopefully by tomorrow afternoon the Moose quarter will be thawed enough to get it all cleaned up.
I guess thats about it for now. I hope all of you have had a wonderful Holiday and continue to bask in the warmth of good memories and companionship. Signing out from 6 Mile Bend.
I found out this morning that Ruby had started this Blog while I was on the trapline. At first, I was slightly skeptical. Not sure why . . . . I guess fear of the unknown or some other clicheic excuse. I decided to make my way to the site and see what she had created. As is testament by the fact that I write now, it is safe to say that I liked what I saw. I cant promise a lot of entries from me as this is Ruby’s creation and her outlet, but she is kind enuf to allow me the occasional post. I doubt that my writings will be as inspiring or uplifting as hers, but I am quite certain that within my otherwise nonsensical ramblings you will find a healthy dose of witty satire and self-depricating negativity. Not to mention, being grammatically correct.
The girls have just laid down for their nap. Tonite is sauna nite which usually means a late bedtime for those of us under under the age of 30. At least once a week we head over to Wayne and Scarletts for a delicious meal, stimulating conversation and of course, the highlight of the nite – a sauna. It takes quite a while to shuttle three groups of people thru the sauna which usually results in a later then would be preferred bedtime for the girls. To offset any emotional trauma that they might incur upon Ruby and myself in their sleep deprived state, we make sure that the girls partake in a lengthy nap on sauna nites.
The dogs are getting a day off today (as are the mushers). I returned yesterday from four days on the trapline and both beast and master are in need of some R and R. The dogs did great. I took with me two of the most promising puppies I have ever trained and at 9 months of age performed as well as I could have expected. While they did get a day off in the middle, they ran, by far, their two longest runs to date and came thru no worse for the wear.
I am not running a trapline of my own per se. The previous 3 winters have found me trapping on the other side of the Yukon in the area of American Summit. With the new land acquisition at Wood Island nearing completion, the ‘old’ trapline might as well be on the other side of the world. It simply wouldn’t be feasible to commit long term to a trapline that takes two days to get to so I am shifting gears and helping a friend run his trapline on the Tatonduk River about 20 miles North of hear and five miles South of Wood Island. Next year sees him moving to Fairbanks to embark on his racing career and I am going to take over his piece of ground. My main purpose on this last trip was to locate and open up a trail that ostensibly existed between the Tatonduk and Wood Island. All I had to go on was fact that I know two people that said the trail exists, a dotted line on an old map that use to belong to one of those people and a lead dog who I assumed had been on said trail. Long story short, we met with what could only be described a raving success. Once I took Gecko (afforementioned lead dog) out of lead and replaced her with Blackjack, we were slowly able to weave our way through the boreal forest occasionally mushing past signs of previous human travel – limbed trees, old, faded pieces of flagging, sap oozing from scarred trees and the infrequent marten trap. The next day saw Matt and myself setting traps on that trail in hopes of catching an unsuspecting marten or wolverine.
Life is good here. Everyone should be so lucky. We get to live the way that we want to live. I spend all day in nature. I answer to no one other than my dogs (and Ruby when she get mad (or the girls when they throw a fit)) and I am a better person for it.
So long for now. I hope this finds you all well.
Nate, Ruby and girls
The last few days here on Last Chance Creek have been filled with excitement, delicious food and anticipation of the coming Christmas. Grace and Genevieve are in awe of our small, but beautiful tree. Putting up ornaments sure was a chaotic experience with two toddlers scrambling for space, branches, and the perfect ornament. Nate and I finally had to finish it on our own with the children watching in approval. Our tree is a black spruce. The kind that is iconic in imagery of Alaska. And boy, does it make the cabin smell wonderful!
On Monday, Nate put out some Rabbit snares in hopes that we might catch one to supplement our normal fare of Caribou and Moose. Not twelve hours later we had a nice big Snowshoe Hare in a snare. I skinned her myself and made a delicious stewed Rabbit with herbs, butter, cream, Yukon potatoes and white onions. Never had I eaten rabbit before, let alone skinned one, but now that I have I’ll be hoping for a few more rabbit meals this winter.
Wednesday was the highlight of the week for me. I got to go out for my first solo dog sled ride! Nate only gave me three dogs, and the three steadiest at that. I was a little nervous because I had not been on the back of a sled since last February, but it was just like riding a bike. It is, however, an incredible amount of work. You have to work with the dogs most of the time, instead of just riding on the runners. There is much running, kicking, pulling and pushing the sled, navigating deep snow, untangling dogs, showing the dogs what you want, and so much more. Before I ever set foot in Alaska, let alone a dogsled, I guess I thought that you kind of just stand there and give commands, but the Musher is a part of the team too and the dogs can’t work without the Musher working with them. There are times when the trail is packed down and smooth, and you can ride on the back and just enjoy the air, mountains and trees. Even then though, it takes incredible muscle control to learn a new center of balance that is constantly shifting and changing. When you are going down a steep hill with fresh dogs, its all you can do just to hold onto the sled, even with both feet on the brakes! Our trails down to the river take us through a dense forest. The dogs know all the trails by heart, which makes them want to go faster and at times it can be difficult to slow them down. The excitement of flying through the trees on the snow cannot be described in words. Sure it can be dangerous. So is walking.
I look forward to many more sled rides this winter, and many more puppy walks to the river. The more Winter descends, the better I love it here and the more energy I have. With Christmas approaching, I have held a vigil in my heart for loved ones who have passed on. They will never know the contentment that has found my Family. To have seen the joy on my Dad’s face at the life we have created would have made it all feel complete somehow.
John Prine always says it best…
Well I once knew love
I knew how love felt
Yeah I knew love
Love knew me
And when I walked
Love walked with me
And I got no hate
And I got no pride
Well I got so much love
That I cannot hide
My first entry is written on the morning of Nate’s departure for the trapline. His first trapline adventure of the season. His absence is noticed among the remaining dogs in the yard, and they have been howling sadly since he and the team left. I have been well prepared, and am actually looking forward to some time alone in this very small cabin that rests in a very large wilderness. The snow continues to fall. Temps are staying right where we want them, between 20 below and 10 above. Those kinds of temps may seem cold, but when you are bundled in layers and working outdoors or hiking rough trails it is optimal.
The children are quietly sleeping in their nook. The fire slowly crackles with fresh cut spruce. Happiness has settled over our lives after the busy rush of fall. Making preparations for winter is a full time job, and it took all of our energy and resourcefulness to accomplish. The coming winter, indeed the winter that is already upon us, will bring time for reflection. Cuddling with the girls and Nate is at the top of my list… Followed closely by baking, crafting, and playing with dogs.
I will attempt to log our daily adventures and give accounts of what true life in the “bush” is really like. The excitement and challenge is the driving force behind all we do. And the love for our dogs… I hope you all enjoy what I share here, and get to appreciate Alaska’s beauty. As well as the humor involved in raising two wild and beautiful girls in a wild and beautiful world…