A Small Miracle

It’s hard to live so close to nature and not recognize the powerful hand of God in everything. I don’t know if it’s living by the work of your hands, or the recognition that everything that comes to you is a gift. I find myself praying alot throughout the day, mostly giving thanks and often giving praise for the wonder of everything in nature that He created.

Yesterday, Nate and I woke up early and the lake looked so smooth and beautiful, we decided to ditch our chores for the morning and go fishing.We went out in our big boat, and visited some of our favorite fishing spots. Nothing was really biting, but the nature all around us was amazing. Nate found a large blueberry bush on the bank where we were
fishing and dug it up and was anxious to get it back home to try and replant it on our property. I was still enjoying the peacefulness of being out on the lake on this beautiful day, so as he parked the boat, I transferred the fishing poles into the canoe, and set off on my own for more of this beautiful nature.

I drifted with the current that had picked up by now, hardly having to paddle at all. The current guided me along the bank and I casted the pole out, watching my lure in the water being chased by schools of very small salmon that have hatched in this lake this past spring. The water is very clear right now, and you have about 3-4 feet visibility, so
it’s fun to watch the fish (big and small) chase your lure. As we come closer to the end of summer, the weeds will grow to the top of the water, and silt from the glaciers will add some cloudiness to the water. For now, we have clear waters. I enjoyed this effortless canoe ride.

I came to the end of the small lake to a spot we call “Bear Alley” because the lake pretty
much ends, but there is a small creek that continues down to the Takhin River. This creek is only as wide as the canoe, and it snakes through high marsh. You can see spots where bear have been bedding down or eating. Nate and I have been back there a few times, but only with loaded guns. I didn’t travel back there today. Instead, I stayed near the banks of the end of the small lake. After a while, I decided to start heading back to the house. First, I decided to paddle, but I was having lots of trouble. The current was still flowing towards me, and it was so strong that I couldn’t even get the canoe to face frontwards to begin heading in the opposite direction.

Next, I decided I would simply try to and paddle perpendicular to the current and get to the other side of the lake, where I may be able to paddle up close to the bank, where the current might not be so strong. But with each paddle, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was dumbfounded as to why I couldn’t paddle the boat back against the current. It really didn’t look that strong. In desperation, I decided to put the trolling motor in the water and get some help. This didn’t work either. The trolling motor would only hold the boat in the same spot against the current. I tried adjusting the motor several times, as this was the first time I used it, and I thought I might be doing something wrong. All of my attempts were futile. I drifted to a calmer section of the back of the lake, and with the trolling motor still going, I did small circles in place while I decided what to do.

I knew that eventually, Nate would come looking for me in the big boat, but I’m not sure how long that would take. Maybe a few more hours? I wasn’t sure how long I would be gone before he would get worried. I thought about getting out on the bank and walking
back to the house by hiking along the shore and pulling the canoe, but I imagined this would be much too treacherous. I had done that before for a much smaller distance, and it’s much harder than it sounds because it’s all very rocky and high. So, I decided to wait for Nate to come. I got the fishing pole out and started fishing to bide my time. I fished for about twenty minutes then stopped and just enjoyed the sights and sounds. The gentle slap of the water on the canoe. The breeze blowing the trees, the birds. My thoughts turned to God, and I said, “Now, Jesus, you could help me out here. You could reverse the current so that I could paddle back home.” I kind of chuckled at this request. But, to my surprise, almost instantly, I looked at the water, and the current was now moving the other way. I almost couldn’t believe it. I turned off the trolling motor (which was pretty much dead by now, we think the battery was dead), and I put the paddle in the water,
and pressed against the water. I moved. I paddled again, and I was astounded that I was moving. I paddled harder and brisker, and the boat was really moving. I was elated. I couldn’t believe that the current had reversed. I sped along the banks, and at times, didn’t even have to paddle because the current was pulling me back home. I fished a little when I wasn’t paddling, but I mostly was in awe of God’s grace. And, His sense of
humor, and His readiness to help his little ones at any moment of our lives. All we have to do is ask.

As I was drifting back home, and thanking God, I joked, “Now, you can also help me catch a big fish to have for dinner.” I could almost hear God joke back with me, “Don’t push your luck, Missy!” As I neared our cabin, Nate was on the dock with the binoculars, looking my way. So, even if God wouldn’t have saved me, Nate would have been out shortly. I told him that I got into some trouble and that Jesus saved me. He thought I was chased by a bear again, but rolled his eyes when he found out I was just unable to paddle back against the current. I told him I didn’t know how long it would take for him to come looking for me. He said he was getting hungry and was ready for someone to cook his lunch–lol. Whether Nate believed a miracle happened or not, or whether anyone believes, I do. God is awesome.

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Rough Waters

We are still rookies at living this adventurous-treacherous kind of life. We are learning that there are many challenges to accomplish everyday tasks. One of our most challenging is traveling from our cabin to the boat landing where our truck is parked. We call it a “boat landing”, but it looks more like an uneven sand, gravel and rock slew.

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The boat ride from our cabin begins easy enough. We live on the back section of Chilkat Lake. Locals call it the “small lake”. There is a narrowing of the lake on one side, which gives the lake a large section and a small section.

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On our ride to the landing, we travel through the small and large sections of Chilkat Lake, basically from the end of the lake to the front of the lake. The lake can be smooth or very choppy. Every ride is different, and there is no way to predict smooth waters. In a few weeks, we will have some difficulty traveling the lake because it will be full of weeds. We will need to stop several times and clear the weeds from our motor. And, as winter approaches, the lake will begin to ice over and that will be another new adventure. It’s an 8 mile trip on the lake to Clear Creek. It can take us 10 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on what obstacles we might encounter. Clear Creek is a simple and smooth creek, easy to navigate. With its wide open marshes, it reminds me of the swamps in Lousiana.

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Clear creek is a short ride to the Tsirku River, maybe a mile or less. It is definitely the calm before the storm. The Tsriku is a challenge almost every time we are on it. As soon as we enter the river, we only have to take it down about 200-300 yards, then cross over to the other side, and we are at the boat landing. But, it’s an ever-changing landscape. Its rushing waters come from a glacier, and they are rushing down the mountain headed for the ocean, eventually spilling out into the Lynn Canal,
Lynn Canal is the deepest and largest Fjord in North America, and one of the deepest and longest in the world as well. The rough and changing waters of the Tsirku is the number one reason that more people don’t live on Chilkat Lake. It’s also the number one reason that people who have lived here move elsewhere. A local told us that he sees most residents leave around age 70. He says they get too old to want the stress of crossing the river. There are several couples on the lake who are that age or older, but they usually hire someone to drive them out to the lake. Crossing the Tsirku is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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This river changes hourly. It is a bed of silt and rock, sticks, and fast moving rapids. Where we park, the river is about 200 yards wide. Some sections are very shallow and rocky, maybe only several inches deep. Other sections are much deeper, but because of the silt in the water from the glacier run-off, the water is cloudy and so you can’t tell very well where the shallow sections are. Many of the folks who have lived here a long time have learned how to “read” this river. But, we are newbies, so we are still learning all of this. But, even the locals can be challenged by the Tsirku. With the exception of our first day here (when our bow line got sucked up into the boat motor and the boat had no thrust power), we have had pretty good luck on the river. But, we have also been blessed with great weather. All of the beautiful sunny days however, are now causing the river to rise from the melt of the glacier.

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Yesterday, we arrived at the river, and we had a little bit of difficulty figuring out where to park the boat. We like to choose a spot that is in moderately deep water, but out of the rushing current. We ended up parking further away from the creek entrance than we normally do. We ventured into town, then returned at dinner time to head back home. The river had risen a little while we were gone, but its rushing waters looked the same to me. Nathanael scoped out the river for a long time. He walked along the edge, trying to determine the best path to Clear Creek. He grew up driving boats and navigating swamps and lakes and rivers in Louisiana, so he’s a pretty damn good boat captain. The creek doesn’t scare him, but he definitely recognizes that it has a reputation for a reason. He respects its power and force, and the danger we face every time we cross it.

We wear hip waders when we travel in the boat because we are usually in the water, maneuvering the boat out of a rock bed. We store a collection of shoes in our truck so that we don’t have to wear our hip waders to the grocery store in town.

For the trip back home, we loaded the boat with our supplies we purchased in town, then we untied from our stake. I pushed off from the landing , climbed into the boat, and grabbed the oar, ready to help push the boat off of any rock beds. We started off just fine. Nate manuevered the boat down the small gulley we were parked in, and out to the rushing waters. He let the water push us out and down the river just a few yards as he surveyed the options of which path to take. He chose to drive up close to the bank of the landing just like we have been doing for the past few weeks. We made it about 100 yards, then we ran up on an all-rock sandbar. We had to get out in our waders in the rushing water, remove the rocks from the boat motor while holding the boat steady, then push the boat back into deeper waters. Back in the boat, Nate tried another path, but the same thing happened. We decided to go around to another gully and we were “beached” again. This time, we were in a current that spun the boat in circles and banged the boat up against the crumbling bank. A local was standing on the landing, motioning for us to go up the far end. His wife asked me if I was scared, and I told her that this was certainly an “adventure”. They both said to get used to this kind of fun because the river gets much worse. Nathanael let the boat drift back to where we were originally tied up, then let the current pull us out to the rushing waters again. This time, he maneuvered up the middle, then to the far end of the bank, then darted across to the landing side and back over again. We were almost to clear creek and I marveled at how masterful Nate navigated the boat to get us through the river. The boat pounded against the rapids, and my body slammed down on the front of the boat several times. I am usually sitting or standing on the bow with the oar to help maneuver the boat, but, when Nate is gunning the motor, I lay down on the bow so that he can see the rockbars.

When we finally made it to the still waters of Clear Creek, I was still laying on the bow of the boat. As soon as I could feel we were in safe waters, I cried. It took about 45 minutes for us to cross the river this time. I remember wondering why the former owner of our cabin wouldn’t bring his elderly wife and two daughters into town all together. Now, I know why. If you get into a challenge on the river, it can be very stressful.

Like the Tsirku River, nothing stays the same here. It’s kind of like changing seasons, but it happens every week, and sometimes daily. I grew up in the South where there are long seasons of the same weather. Summer is always hot, and you can expect mosquitoes at night. Winters are cold, but mild, and once in a blue moon it will snow. In Alaska, I am learning that the climate and landscape is ever-changing. It can feel like summer or fall or winter any day and any time here in Alaska. Some days, there are bugs (bees, wasps, mosquitoes, horse flies), other days, there are none.

When we first arrived here six weeks ago, I marveled at all of the beautiful wildflowers. I got a book at the library so that I could learn all of their names. I even did a blog entry called, “All the pretty flowers”, but six weeks later, all of these flowers have changed. It’s like watching God’s intricate design first-hand. All of the fields and roadsides were filled with yellow dandelions. Then, overnight it seemed, they all turned into white puffy balls, which blew in the breeze for days.

At the same time the dandelions were blooming, prickly wild roses dotted every green patch of woods. They are bright pink with a yellow center and simply beautiful. Now, the roses are shriveling, and changing into rose hips.

The dogwood flowers are withering away and in its place, bunchberries are growing. The pretty white and yellow blooms all over our property are developing into succulent strawberry patches.

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Along the roadside, Fireweed is blooming. It’s probably my favorite because of its bold purple colors and the number of blooms on each stem. It’s long green stem looks like a weed for a long time. In fact, I pulled up an entire patch of them in our yard and discarded them not knowing what it was. Alaskan’s say when the Fireweed dies, it’s the sign that summer is over.

The “Alaska Berries” book I checked out from the library is helping me to identify about 10 different small shrubs and large bushes on our property that are morphing their blooms into some kind of berry.

Today, I have been marveling at the small white round bloom that turns pink and then purple, then dies, all in a matter of a week or so. If you blink, you might miss all of this. The variety of wild flowers and berries is extraordinary. I truly feel like I am in the Garden of Eden. I wonder if people who grew up in Alaska know how special all of this nature is around them. I am excited to witness the changing landscape. When I open my eyes each morning, I can’t wait to go outside and see what is new on the landscape. And, on the days we drive into town, Nate and I both are continually pointing out what has changed in the roadside florals. Maybe there is this much
change going on in Texas, and I just missed it all, either because I mostly drove on highways, or I was too busy to take the time to notice. Maybe in the slowing down of it all, your body, mind, and spirit becomes more in-tune to the nature around you. Either way, I am enjoying the parade of life, death, and rebirth in all of the things growing around us.

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(Nate picked wildflowers for me for our dinner table)

Promises, Grub and a Bear

Now that “the PPP” was complete(Poo Palace Projet) we were gonna relax this weekend…..we went to town to get a few things, fished a little, and had a friend over for dinner. Having someone over for dinner is a big deal for us now. We go about 4 to 5 days right now before we see another human being. Just Jen and I. It seems like every time we get together with locals, the conversation will go to…winter. The biggest thing that Jen and I can take away from these get together with locals is knowledge from their experiences out here. Never are we shy about asking questions. It seems like the topic is always about that crazy, ever-changing river and winter. The two most sketchy things out here. During freeze up, Jen and I will be stuck on the back lake approximately 6 to 8 weeks. During this time, while the lake is freezing, you can’t get a boat through it, and it’s not thick enough to handle weight of the snow machines.
(The pic on the left we took in June, the pic on the right we got of the same mountain shot from our cabin in December from the former owner of our property)
We are trying to be stocked up so that we don’t have a need to go to town. Only one rule  this winter—no one can get hurt. The Coast Guard is the only one capable of getting back here, if needed. No police or fire rescue out here. Projects halt and we slow everything down for the winter, so hopefully that will be an easy rule to follow. So, the topic at dinner was, Jen thought we were dragging our feet on splitting our wood for winter. I promised her we were not running out of anything this winter, except  our sanity, of course. So, with that promise, we started on our fire stash. So much for relaxing… now this coonass might be crazy, but I ain’t no fool. I made sure to have a 22 ton log splitter on this adventure!
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Wood=Fuel. All of our cooking and heating the entire house will come from the burning of the sticks. So, we need quite a bit. We will slowly, one day a week, stack up 1 wall height, which we keep under the main house. the family that we bought the property from informed us that if we stack half the distance under the house, that we would have plenty of wood  for the winter. We will be doing the whole length of the house….I promise.
  Alot of people that we’ve been talking  to back home has asked how are we eating? What are we eating? I feel as though people think we’re starving. Believe it or not, we eat more out here. More “home cooked meals!  We don’t have the temptations of going out to eat, or running over to Chick-fil-A…Damn, what I wouldn’t do for some Chick-fil-A right now…lol. I love to cook, but Jen has stepped into the Queen bee and cooks literally 3 meals a day. Breakfast lately consists of pancakes,waffles, or homemade biscuits. We’ve been having fresh strawberries that we are picking from our patch out front. I have never had an abundance of fresh strawberries. The patch completely covers the entire property. It’s craziness!  The Alaska strawberry is a little different. It’s not as dark red as store bought, more pinkish, but super sweet.
Chicken and dumplings, meatloafs, roasts, soups, fresh dungenes crabs, the list goes on and on. Jen made a Coubion with Coho Salmon. “Coho Coubion”, my Cajun friends. Jen is always making cookies and breads to bring people that have helped us along the way. So, I could tell y’all we’re starving and it’s come down to us eating the only amphibian in Alaska. Lots of toads here.
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But for the record we are eating well. Come visit and we will feast!!!!
I worked the gardens this weekend also. With the long days things are busting out the ground.so are the weeds. We planted a pretty good patch of local potatoes. We purchased the potato sets from a lady found advertising on craigslist in Haines.
(The pic on the right shows the same potato plants about one week earlier)
Everything is doing well, mainly in part because I brought 4 – 55 gallons of my garden soil from back in Texas. Also combined with the compost I had been brewing for the last 2 years that I brought as well. Now, everyone laughed and said that was a waste of space in the uhaul, and I even got griff from the locals here. I left all 4 drums on the gravel pit. They were so heavy that they were the last thing we brought to the property. A local I met didn’t know they were mine and was telling me not to go over by those barrels that he thought they were some type of bombs or explosives. We moved them to the property very early the next morning. I’m telling you…it’s all I the soil!!
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We also managed to get sum more fishing in (we starting to freeze fish), and also go check the trail cams we set last week.
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To our surprise the bears were not lured in by my bait. Looked like the moose were more interested. We should not have any problems getting a moose I the freezer thus winter. We did capture a couple of big grizzlies on another trail up the way. It’s crazy to imagine these beast are all around us.

 

Clouds rolled in and hung around pretty much all week, but still breathless surroundings regardless.  It’s been a good week.

A Man, A Woman & their Buckets

The majority of everyone reading this has more than likely have always had running water in their house and plumbing for all of their lives. You don’t realize how convenient that all is until it’s no longer present. Not much of anything is really convenient out here. Like we’ve said in previous blogs, “everything is a process”. We don’t have the convenience of being able to flush a toilet or turn a knob and have instant water. When we orginally started visiting the property and checking out how our lives would dramatically change, we were both open to whatever challenges came our way. With that being said, meet the honey pot.
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Not many people reading this has ever heard of a honey pot or more or less used one in their lifetime, except maybe while camping. It’s the most rudimentary plumbing around, and it is very simple to learn to use…lol. Everything goes into the bucket. If it’s a liquid, it can stay a little while in the house but solids must vacate the building and be emptied into what I call “the shit pit”. This is a ginormous hole in the ground that will eventually in time fill up and then it’s time to dig a new pit elsewhere. If the hole is big enough you can get a couple of years out of it without having to move. Originally, the hole on the property was covered with an old rotten piece of plywood. Now this plywood definitely couldn’t hold a grown man walking across it, so I fortified the pit and made sure that no one could tragically fall into this pit. I also added a handy little dump bucket with a lid so that it was more functional than lifting a large piece of plywood.
I thought we were top-notch honey potter’s. Then just last week, out of the blue, Jen informs me that she is not a fan of honey potting and to my disappointment doesn’t want to be a honey potter any longer. She goes on to convince me to build her and outhouse. So with all of my excitement and enthusiasm, I began to make my way to China.
Utilizing only wood that we found on the property, I was able to construct a cool little building.
None of these projects or possible without Jen’s help.
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The more I sat in there, the more I realized that it’s not a bad idea.

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And you really can’t beat the view.
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I’m not sure if I’m ready to get rid of my honey pot, especially with the cold winters out here. Jen better not run out of toilet paper over at her poo palace when the snow is 10 feet high.But you know, most women want diamonds and shoes. Mine only wants an outhouse. I can only be so lucky. Overall, it was a fun project for Jen and I to work on.
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Now that I’ve given y’all a little insight into our high tech sewage system, let me go over my complex shower system. We have a custom “shower power 2000”. This Is a very unique system. You heat water up on the wood stove, add this hot water into the 5 gallon bucket. Inside the bucket, I placed a new boat sump pump and connected it to a shower head. This sump pump is connected to the batteries on the solar grid. A flip of the switch and, voila, you have a hot shower…. just not a long, hot shower. Our showers typically last around 4 to 5 mins tops. We’re both curious (or more like apprehensive) to see how these showers are in the dead of winter.
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Next in our luxurious plumbing line is the latest and greatest faucets. Now to Jennifer’s delight, this is the only plumbing on the property that doesn’t use a 5 gallon bucket. Instead we have a 3 gallon container that we fill up when doing dishes, washing hands, etc. We have the same set up in the bathroom as well. Just like the outhouse, dish washing also has a great view. The old man that lived here before us played a very mean joke and installed faucet fixtures for some odd reason. I can’t tell you how many times I continue to try to turn on the water. Honestly, we have grown accustomed to all of these practices and we are at peace. No longer are they inconveniences but more a way of life.

A Day Off!

Jen and I both work so hard at the tasks on the property that we catch ourselves not doing what we came out here to do– Enjoy the land and nature. We catch ourselves getting preoccupied in trying to finish and mark off as much as possible from our “to do” list. I am so goal-oriented that I would probably work nonstop until they were all complete, and then would sit back and relax. I’m so thankful to have Jen by my side to help encourage me to stop and take a break and do something fun. So when we awoke, she said, “Let’s go fishing!” And I agreed we did need a break…we started the morning off with fresh blueberry pecan waffles.
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Then, we hit the water to try our luck at a little cut-throat trout action. The trout aren’t in a feeding frenzy right now because the salmon haven’t made it back to the lake to spawn yet. Cut-throat trout love salmon eggs. The locals taunt us and say to catch as many as possible so that there are more salmon that hatch the following year. Salmon is and has always been the locals jewel catch around here. As we float down stream trolling the lakes, banks, and shallows, we had plenty of bites and small catches.
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Jen and I both caught some good keepers but she caught the largest of the morning. Looks like I’m on dish duty tonight.
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As we made our way down to the end of lake, we strapped on our hip boots and prepared to go set the trail cams back on what I now call “the moose highway”. We have been setting them out in 7 day intervals. We have gotten tons of moose and several grizzlies on film. We will be posting about these pictures in the weeks to come. We should be getting the mother load of grizzly picks on this next set. Knowing that last night was the longest day of the year, I knew we could get some good daylight shots of the bear we’ve been spotting on the cams. So there we went, into the woods with 2 zip lock bags of fresh dungees crab scraps and dead fish from the night before. This made jen feel a little uneasy. She already doesn’t like going into the woods, but we have to watch each other’s backs out here. It’s funny to hear all the songs we come up with as we’re walking through the woods. They say this is going to scare away the bears. I think if a bear understands English we’re screwed! Jens yelling, “hey bear, hey bear, we just coming in with crab and fish scraps so we can take pictures of you”..”don’t come out till were done!”….you literally just say aloud what’s in your head, like thinking out loud. Really loud! In hopes that it does work scaring them off. I tell Jen, I don’t scream. I’m a frontiersman. I just pull triggers! So, we make it to the spot where we got the shots last time, and there’s plenty of signs. Nice bedding areas where they have been lying down and scat everywhere. As I start clearing branches and strapping up the cameras, Jen spurts out, “Did you here that?” I paused briefly but neither one us heard anything. I’m strategically hanging the bags above the cameras in the tree so that we can get the best shot. Jen, again says, “Listen. Did you hear it?” This time I heard something really large sloshing through the marsh and it sounded like multiple animals. Typically this would be a moose because bear don’t really travel thru the water, but it was big and coming towards us. I’m envisioning a group of bears B lining for the scent we just strung up. At this point, Jen and I were both running on top of the water back to the boat. Then, “Damn it!” In our haste to vacate, we forgot to turn on the camera!  Now, if we were hesitant to come into the woods before, Lord knows this frontiersman didn’t want to go back. But, we had to go back. At this point we were both singing songs from “Westside Story”, which Jen made me watch the night before. Now this frontiersman was hurrying through the woods singing from the top of my lungs, “I’m so prety”. We made it back to the boat fine and off we went. Not more than a hundred yards from the shore my guess was comfrimed. I spotted a large cow moose and 2 babies swimming across the lake. I was highly impressed to see the distance they swam and what great swimmers they were. We watched for a minute and then they scurried off into the woods.
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Next on our “day off” list was an “outhouse tour”. Jen has me building her an outhouse because she doesn’t like using her honey pot. As her husband, I must provide my wife with an outhouse…lol. For some reason, she thinks this will be better.
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(This is not our outhouse. Those pics will come next week when it’s finished)
We first stopped at an abandoned cabin that was hit by an avalanche. We found an amazing door that we could salvage for the outhouse.
After that, we took off to some of our friends’ cabins on the larger lake to inspect their outhouses. After the outhouse tour, the locals are going to think ours is an outhouse palace when I’m done.
Along the way, we saw how unforgiving nature is out here. As we watched, a mother swan swam by with 3 baby swans, an eagle flew by and scooped up one up right out of the water. An amazing feet of nature right in front of us.
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While we were on this side of the lake, I wanted to go check out another unforgiving nature spot where weeks before we spotted a bear shredding and consuming a dead moose carcass. It was dragged 300-500 yards from where we first spotted it. This was a big moose so it really demonstrated the strength and power these bears have. The wolves and eagles had their share when the bears were done and stripped the bones clean.
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The moose bones were so huge, it was like holding something prehistoric.
Finally, we made the long trek into town to attend the greatly anticipated Fisherman’s Salmon BBQ, a big to-do in Haines every year.  We sampled some great salmon. The whole town showed up for the feast (yep, everyone’s here!)
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Enough playtime, I’m going to catch up on my beauty sleep…
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Putting Sticks Together & Constant Change

20160616_164124.jpgYou never realize the abilities that you might possess until you actually try something new. I’ve always been good with my hands and wood, but never have I had to build so much on my own. Back in the lower 48, I would more than likely have paid someone to do the task that I’ve been completing, either because I didn’t have the time or just because I didn’t want to mess with it. Out here, you have all the time in the world and no one you can pay to come out here to do it for you….

We started several new projects this week. First, we made doors for the fuel shed and added some lighting windows. The old man prior to us just had an old tarp hanging over the entrance way. We have been super resourceful using two window boxes we found in Austin on the side of the road. I originally brought them with us because I thought I could use them as growing boxes for germinating seeds. All the other wood was from around the property.

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Next, I wanted to install a cover on our porch so that I can work on stuff outside and be protected from rain or snow. Now all this lumber had to be brought in on the boat. way different coming from living across from a Home Depot back in Texas. At this stage in my life, I have really gotten used to carrying around a notepad and pen. You have maybe 1 trip a week to town and if you forget something, that means you have to wait till the next visit. When you’re so close to finishing a project and this happens it’s not as easy as riding up the road to Home Depot and getting  what you need. It’s really aggravating. So, making lists has become a big part of our lives. With Jen’s help, we knocked out the patio and are pleased. Next project will be a smoke house for the salmon and Jennifer wants a new plush outhouse…lol

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Snow on the mountains is fading more and more every day. We are in a continuing change of surroundings. Flowers bloom, then fade away, and a new species follows in their place. One week the Sitka spruce is releasing so much pollen it looks like smoke from a fire on the mountainside. The next week cotton wood is pollinating and there is so much cotton floating in the air that it looks like snow is falling. One week you will see moose cows with their newborn and the next week you will have a Sitka Grouse and 6 baby chick’s feeding in your yard. Big changes are coming to the lake in about 2 more weeks. The first run of salmon will be entering the lake to spawn and then die.  Bear are literally using the roads to make their way to the lake. Jen witnessed this first hand. It’s amazing how they know the exact time when the salmon show up.

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The weather is always changing continuously.  This week we will have the longest days of the year with the summer equinox and full moon approaching. June 21st will be the longest day of the year. With the sun rising around 3:30 AM and setting at 11:00 pm. This will make for about 19 hours of daylight. I can’t wait for this to change. I’m ready to see a night sky with some stars and northern lights. The bugs have been bad due to the higher temperature, but then the next day the wind will blow them out and they won’t bother us for a couple of days. This week, we have seen big, gorgeous dragonflies. The changes go on and on. Maybe these earthly changes have always been around us and we have been just too preoccupied to observe  them. Now that we are out here, you really notice them. We feel more and as time goes by that this is the natural balance of God, life and nature that we are supposed to be experiencing. But please God, turn off the lights!!…lol

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The Klondike Gold Rush 

img959286-1.jpgThis week we had the pleasure of going over to the next closest town to us, Skagway. One of our newest buddies was kind enough to offer to play tour guide and take us up there. He is another one of these “open arms, wants to do anything to help you Alaskan guy”. He owns a small cafe up the road from us at mile 33 on Haines Highway. The 33 mile cafe..lol. it is definitely hands down our favorite place to eat when we go to town and indulge, and the best food around as well. Check out his Facebook page here. They specialize in helli-sking, and snowmobiling in the winter. Very cool place. Anyways, Skagway is positioned at the very end of the Lynn Canal (North America’s largest fyord). You must take a 45min boat ride from Haines to get over there.

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This is no ordinary ocean boat ride…along with the stunning mountain views around you, the sea cliffs are covered with sea lions.These are very interesting creatures.some of the bulls must have weighed close to 1000 lbs.

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We also ran across a huge whale. He popped up out of the ocean twice about 100 feet from our boat, blew air out of his blow hole then dived to the deep leaving us with a big tale slap on his way down. Once arriving in Skagway, they had 2 cruise ships docked, so this was the 1st time in 5 weeks that Jen and I have seen so many people. It was also the 1st time we’ve been in a town larger then Haines. This place was big time. It had a Starbucks…lol.

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It was neat to see the town I’ve always been fascinated with in Alaskan history, and this was the spot of the Famous Chilkoot Trail. It was used by all the hopeful gold miners when gold was found in the Yukon Valley….it sparked the great Klondike gold rush! If you have ever seen the old magnificent pictures of a complete white out mountain with a single file line of men and equipment going straight up and over this is where that photo was taken. I’m always in awe when I think how tough all those pioneers where back in the day trying to tame this wild country. But when your chasing a dream not much can stop you!

 

Running on Mars

Since moving to the mountains, I have been challenged to find good workout space. I have exercised since my youth, and I am accustomed to going to the gym everyday, and running several miles a couple of times a week. I enjoy working out because it makes me feel so great, and I like the challenge of pushing my limits to see what I can achieve. Our property is not conducive to running. Our cabin sits on a hill, and there is only rocky, steep terrain all around us. There are several small grassy plateaus, and I have set my weights in one of them. The area overlooks a steep edge and has a beautiful view of the lake and mountains. It’s so breathtaking that the view is almost distracting. I also have incorporated a short running track around the house. It begins at the bottom of the lake, comes up the hill, goes around the back of the house, and across the back of our property, down and back one small straightaway, then back down the hill on the farther side of the property. It’s probably 1/4 mile. I try to do 10 of these laps, then my weight training. It’s not a bad workout, but much caution must be observed. It’s very uneven and anything that’s flat is also slippery.

I also get lots of exercise just doing daily chores, and lugging items up the hill. Every time we go to town for provisions and supplies, I like to be the one to cart the items up the hill from the boat. It can be quite challenging, like when Nate brings home lumber or bags of concrete mix, but I enjoy this challenge. I have also been bringing in large river stones from the boat landing. I load up several five gallon buckets with stones, then bring them to our property on the boat. I carry the
stones up our hill to outline our walking paths. The buckets can hold about ten stones each, so I can bring 40-50 stones per boat trip. I carry these up the hill two stones at a time, for about 20 trips up the hill. It’s a fun workout that accomplishes something creative.

These methods are all good and fine, but I have missed my long runs and long bike rides. I like the mental release of a long run or ride. So, I came up with the idea of running down Porcupine Creek Road. When we go to town, there is a 4 mile stretch
of road that goes from the boat landing to Haines Highway. It is a beautiful, winding one-lane road. It is mostly woods on each side, although there are a few mailboxes along the road, suggesting dwellings somewhere behind the woods. And, at the 2 mile mark, sits Chilkat Valley Farms, a local flower and vegetable grower. They have rows and rows of growing beds along this road, and folks always working these fields. There is also an entrance to a Christian commune called, “Covenant Life”. They have several buildings and residences on a beautifully landscaped lawn. The road seems safe enough and convenient to run, as Nate could drop me off on our way back from town. I could run to the landing, and he could go on ahead of me and tinker with the boat or truck for a bit, or take a nap until I get there. It seemed perfect.

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The first time I tried this run, the weather was amazing, and it felt so exhilarating. I don’t know if it was just the way the day was so beautiful, running with such an amazing view of the mountains, or the excitement of running after being cut-off for so many weeks, or maybe it was the rush of adrenaline because I was a little scared running alone on this near-desolate road in an obscure, unfamiliar place. It felt like I was running on Mars.

Because I was a little afraid of encountering a bear, Nate agreed to drop me off, drive to the landing, then get on his bike, and bike back down the road to meet me halfway. (Our bikes are stored under a tarp and locked to our boat trailer near the landing). I felt better knowing that I would at least have company at the halfway mark. And, he had a gun. My first run down Porcupine Creek Road was perfect and non-eventful.
I wouldn’t be so lucky on the second run.

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It was another perfect weather day, and on the way back from town, I decided to try this run again. The sun was high and it was a warm 78 degrees, which is practically a heat wave in Alaska. In town, everyone was complaining about the heat. The weather was perfect to me. There was a nice, cool breeze, and I welcomed the warm sun on my face and skin while I ran. The run began quite normally. The first part of
the road is a one-lane bridge that crosses the Chilkat River, so it’s a very pretty scene to take in.

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After the bridge is a hill. If you turn right after the bridge, there is a famous road called The Dalton Trail that was a route that gold miners and suppliers
used during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Gold was discovered on Porcupine Creek, nine miles down this road, and this mine produced over 40 million dollars
in “placer” gold and is still actively being mined today. The mine is owned by the Schnable Family, made famous by the Discovery television
show “Gold Rush”, and is now called, “Big Nugget Mine.”

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I stayed straight on the road, focused on settling in for a peaceful, rejuvenating run. I was travelling at a slow, easy pace. On my first run down this road, I was very careful to follow what all the books say to do when traversing in bear country: I sang and made noise. I clapped my hands alot. This second run, I was a little more complacent. I didn’t sing. When Nate dropped me off, he commented that it was probably too
hot for bears to be out. He surmised that they would all be bedded down somewhere in a cool, shady spot. I agreed, ignorantly. I padded along, enjoying the sun. At
mile 2, I ran past Chilkat Valley Farms, and a young man was pruning bushes along the road across from the farm. I wondered if the bushes he was pruning were blueberries, and my mind wandered as I was considering what and why he was pruning. About a half mile up from the farm, I came around a corner, and about 35 yards in front of me, I saw a grizzly bear in the road. I froze. His whole body was on the road, but his head was facing into the woods and he was walking that way. He turned and looked straight at me. Then, he turned his body and started running towards me. I was very afraid, and I didn’t know what to do. I know that the books say not to run, but all I could think to do was to run. So, I turned and ran.

I looked back again before turning the corner and I could see the bear was still running in my direction. A million things rushed through my mind. I thought if I could run back 1/2 mile to where the young man was pruning bushes, I could find safety. I was considering this was probably my best bet, but I kept second-guessing myself because
everything I have read says that you can’t outrun a bear. My only hope was that the bear lost interest in me when he lost sight of me around the corner.I couldn’t see if he was still coming. I didn’t know if I should run faster or slower, or walk. I just kept moving, and I can’t remember how fast or slow I was going because the adrenaline rush was so overwhelming. At one point, I thought I should go into the woods and hide from him. In retrospect, this idea seems so absurd. The mind thinks funny things when it is in “fight or flight” mode. I turned around, expecting to see the grizzly bear hot on my trail, and to my happy surprise, I saw a red truck instead. I almost cried at the sight of it. It was a like a dream— an angel sent to save me, driving a red truck!

The driver came closer, rolled down his window and said, “Uh, ma’am, you don’t want to go that way”. He had just seen the bear. He said he drove right by it, and it
wasn’t afraid of him or his truck. I told him that I knew about the bear, that I had seen it, and knew that it was coming this way. I asked if he would give me a ride to the boat landing. He obliged, and I offered to ride in the back bed of the truck. His vehicle was a two-seater, and he had a friend with him. I learned that the driver’s name was Larry. He also owns a cabin on Chilkat Lake. His friend’s name was Tim. “Tim and Larry”—they sounded like “Veggietales” characters to me.

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(“Larry and Bob” are from Veggie Tales-a children’s Christian cartoon)

I smiled at God’s sense of humor. I was so grateful. I thanked them for saving my life. I’m sure they had a great story to tell their friends that night about how they saved some crazy lady from Texas from a grizzly bear attack, and wondering why on earth I was running down that road by myself.

 

Never again, that’s for sure. I will run with a pack of people or with Nate and a big gun from now on. I am learning that “bear country” is BEAR country, and you must
respect that this is their domain. You will encounter a bear here, and you must be prepared. In retrospect, I think the grizzly I saw was more curious about me than
anything. I want to believe he was trotting towards me with the notion of wanting to check out what I was. I don’t think he was charging towards me to attack, but I could be wrong. I might have ended up dying a gruesome death, or I might have had the most wild encounter of my life. Either way, I am glad that all was averted, and I was saved by an angel in a red truck.

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Trail Blazing, Workouts & Gardening

Jennifer is an exercise  maniac. It’s funny and amazing to see all the different ways she’s finding out how to have a productive workout on the property. From running up and down the hill, to moving logs and stones. Her dedication is above me, with all the projects at hand the last thing I want is to workout. She is definitely gonna out live me.
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This week has been full of more productivity. We got the raised beds up for the vegetables. Due to the cooler Alaska temperatures, we are gonna experiment..we will have several traditional rows and several raised beds. We think the raised beds will have the most advantages. We built tunnel cloche with clear plastic.”cloche” is french for “bell”; early designs were often bell-shaped and made of glass but now more often clear plastic. These allow you to have warmer soil and create more of an individual micro-climate in each raised bed. Also these will help detour curtain pests easier.
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The trail behind the house has begun, and this is quite the job. Because we sit on the north side of the mountain, we get maximum sun exposure. This means our side of the mountain is a jungle! My plan is to connect our property with an existing trail on the larger lake. It sits approximately 9 to 10 miles northeast of us. The highest elevation point is directly behind our property. Going from about 200ft to 1500 ft within about 1mile. Once over the ridge and down on the south slope, it becomes a more open forest with large hemlocks, spruce, and birchwood trees. I consider this a crucial project because with this route we will have access to get off the lake by land and not locked to riding on the lake. This is especially important because it will take some of the stress away in the winter time from having to ride on top of the frozen lake. This is turning out to be the most challenging for me due to the thickness of the woods and the elevation. Every week I try to focus on getting 300 to 500 yards chopped away. I’m thinking maybe I’ll be complete by next summer hopefully. In the fall, the woods open up when foliage starts dying off, so hopefully it will be easier then.
  It’s been raining for the past 3 days and life must press on. We will be going to town tomorrow and we are a little worried about how high the water may have risen on the river, but we learned the 1st week we were here…you just have to stay calm when navigating the river.

All the pretty flowers

wp-1464811688918.jpgI didn’t know that Alaska had such beautiful flowers!  I guess the extended hours of sun and this fertile soil makes it a perfect place for everything that grows. I thought Texas had beautiful roadways blooming with Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush, but Alaska gives quite the summer display of color, not only along the roadways, but even growing wild all over our lake property. We have had fun scouring through plant identification books, and have discovered that we have numerous wild strawberry patches on our property. These will provide luscious berries in July. I can’t wait to see what kind of a harvest they will bring. I’m imagining my freezer full of strawberries. We have been on the lookout for blueberry patches. We don’t have any on our property that we have found yet, but they are everywhere along the lake and roadways, so we are hoping to do some transplants and bring them in. I have started weeding all of the wild flower areas on the property and hope to further cultivate all of the pretty flowers. There are so many varieties, it is a flower gardener’s heaven.