Getting Ready

The past few weeks have been spent preparing for winter—a winter that two people who grew up in the south have no idea about. We have spent many days “downing” trees and cutting wood, and our wood storage area is almost completely full. Nate’s grandpa says cutting wood warms you twice: once when you cut it and then again when you burn it. But, I would say out here on our mountain, wood cutting warms you a THIRD time: when you are trying to get that very large piece of bucked wood to the log splitter for cutting!

Most of the trees we “downed” on the property were cut higher up than our home and fell down towards the lake. The steep incline meant that as we bucked the pieces of wood from the tree, we were challenged with how to move 100+ pound pieces up or down the incline to our cabin. Most of the pieces took both of us to move. If we went up the incline, we would flip the bucked piece over and over again on its side while moving it up the hill, then once we had it on somewhat flat ground, turn it over and roll it over to our property. This was quite tricky because there are two very steep sections that if we lost our grip while rolling it, the log would simply go rolling back down the hill all of the way into the lake. This happened quite a bit. For many of the very large pieces, we actually rolled them downhill to the lake, then loaded them onto the boat, unloading them again 25 feet over, more towards our property. Once the giant pieces were at the bottom of the hill by our boat dock, we could use our machine hauler to move the logs back up the hill to the log splitter. It sounds confusing, I am sure, because we are moving logs down the hill and then back up again, and believe me, we considered every possible way to move these logs, and this was the only way. After the last large tree was finished, Nate said he will try to choose thinner trees from now on.

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The above pic on the left is our wood cellar at the beginning of summer. The pic on the right is of our wood cellar now, with more than five rows of wood and counting!

As summer turns into fall and winter in Alaska, we are bright-eyed with wonder watching everything around us. Some of the trees have already begun to change. The yellowing of the leaves is so bright and beautiful!

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The locals say that when the fireweed dies, summer is over, and all of the beautiful firewood has been dying all around us now for weeks.

With the colder temperatures, the river is more tame without the constant glacier melt feeding it. The first snowfall on the tops of the mountains is another sign that fall and winter are fast approaching.

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We are getting to the point with our project list that we can only finish one or two more things before winter. We have filled our freezer to the brim with meats and produce, and other items we will need to make it through winter.We are also preparing to stock up on gasoline and propane. I finished the final set of steps leading to the house, so we now have about 30 steps from the boat dock to our cabin.

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We toured the land trail on our lake that the few folks that live out here use during the winter. We wanted to learn the path and check out the trail that we will use when the lake is not passable. We walked the 10 mile path from the beginning of the trail to the end. We both fell in love with the beauty of the woods behind the lake, and we returned the next day to play on the trail with the dogs, and pick blueberries and rose hips. We also returned another day and christened our four wheeler on the trail. It is a rough trail that needs constant attention. A few locals pitch in together to help clear the way. Currently, there is a very large cottonwood tree that fell last winter that is blocking part of the trail. It is so large that someone said they measured it and it is bigger than Alaska’s world record cottonwood tree (it was 32 ft, 6 inches around and also found in our area of Alaska.) Anyways, we have to help get this thing moved off of the trail before winter. Besides obstructions along the path, there are also several man-made wood bridges that need work so that we don’t get stuck in mud or fall through the ice and snow. We are still newbies at all of this, and we’re not sure how much we will use this trail and with what (our snow mobile or our four wheeler.) All that we know is that between mid-November and early January, the lake is not frozen enough for snow mobiles, and it’s too icy for a boat. Most of the residents on our lake live near the trail, with access by land from the back part of their properties, so they can use the trail to get to the river by the boat landing year-round; however, because we live on the small part of the lake (and we are the only year-round residents out here), we will have some special challenges. The trail doesn’t connect to us directly. We thought we might be able to build a trail from our house, but the mountain is too steep and too treacherous to attempt this now. We may be able to scope out a path better in the winter when the woods are clearer and we can see the potential areas for flat ground. So, in the meantime, we either have to hunker down in our cabin for those 6-8 weeks, or snow shoe out on the lake to the trail (and, we don’t even know if that’s possible!) If we are able to snow shoe out when the lake first starts to freeze, then we won’t necessarily be stuck out here, but it will require an 8-10 mile snow shoe trek to get to our vehicle on the landing, then another 8-10 mile trek back home again. All of this still remains to be seen. So, for now, we are checking out the trail and learning all of the possible routes to get ourselves out in case we need to.

Nate is harvesting the final fruits of his garden. Most of what he grew we ate right away as soon as it was ready. He grew beets, sugar snap peas, zucchini, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, romaine and mesculin lettuces, kale, tomatoes, and cabbage. Nate also transplanted raspberries and rhubarb, as well as miniature fruit trees.

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I had a small herb garden and was able to harvest parsley, dill, oregano, and basil. I also had some success growing flowers from seeds on our deck. The nasturtium was my favorite.

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I will be sad to see the flowers die off. But, in Alaska, many wildflowers turn into delicious foods! We have picked so many berries, and now the rose hips are ripe and plentiful all around us. Nate’s garden produced an overabundance of zucchini and potatoes. We will be able to keep and store the potatoes, but the zucchini harvest has challenged our creativity. We were able to freeze lots of zucchini to use for cooking at a later date. We also canned “Bread & Butter Zucchini Pickles”, “Zucchini Relish” and “Zucchini Pineapple”. I also experimented with lots of new zucchini recipes, including: zucchini soup, zucchini potatoes, chocolate zucchini bread, zucchini pancakes, and zucchini parmesan crisps. We have been on a “canning” spree, and have also made “Blueberry Maple Pecan Conserve” and “Alaska Wild Strawberry Jelly”. Nate has frozen a large lot of blueberries, which he hopes to make into jelly this winter.

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I have just started experimenting with Rose Hips. I made Candied Rose Hips, which I loved. I also dried some rose hips and made Rose Hip Tea (I liked it, but Nate has not been a fan of much of anything with Rose Hips). This week, I am making Rose Hip Juice and Rose Hip Jelly. It takes a few tries to get the canning procedure down, but once you have it, it’s easy and fun. I use the boiling water method more than the pressure canner, just because it’s easier.

The collage of pics above shows the wild roses (top-left) that turn into Rose Hips (top right). The bottom pics show the Rose Hips just picked (left), stems removed (center), seeded and dried (right)

The only downside to all of this work in the kitchen is the amount of dishes that need to be washed. At times like these, I do miss running water and a dishwasher. It’s alot of work. Because we cook three meals a day, I already have a heavy load of dish washing three times a day. So, any additional cooking, like canning or baking, which I mostly also do every day, requires additional dish washing. Luckily, I have discovered that our cell phone sometimes gets reception in the kitchen window, so I can chat on the phone with my sister to help pass the time. While she was visiting, she saw the endless cycle of dish washing and she found some kind of foot-cranked dishwasher she wants me to look at online. I am grateful for so many products that do not require electricity. Nate’s mom sent us a food processor that operates with a pull cord. I have tried the Euro Chopper and other such tools and found them to be useless, but this pull cord food processor is awesome. I use it every day, and given the choice between an electric version and the hand pull, I would choose the hand pull one any day.

We are going on our 6th month, so we have almost been in Alaska for nearly half of a year. It has been a great adventure, full of discovering so many new things. We were newlyweds when we arrived at our cabin on the lake, and I think every newly married couple should have to spend their first year in the woods together. We have learned so much about each other. Nate is an early riser and he has lots of energy in the morning and likes to tackle projects head-on first thing. I am a mid-riser (not late, but not early), but I like to enjoy breakfast, a cup of tea, and do some reading or maybe some writing first thing in the morning. I have the most energy in the mid to late afternoon when Nate is ready for a nap. Nate eats 2-3 meals a day, but I like to eat 4-5 times. Nate also assumes that I am much stronger than I am, but I enjoy the ways that he challenges me to work outside of my comfort zone. Nate also likes to blaze through a project lightning-fast, but I work slow, especially when lifting or carrying heavy loads or operating power equipment. He has learned to be more patient with me. Most of all, we have learned how to compromise. (Isn’t that what all relationships are about anyways?) Working on this property together, we have to get along at all times. There isn’t much room for fighting or sulking because we always have to work together and have each other’s back. If you get offended or get your feelings hurt, you’d better get over it real fast. There’s no time for drama. Maybe that’s why marriages lasted longer in the frontier days. We also have the luxury of having no outside influences. So, we don’t have any competing stresses on our marriage other than the elements and the rough terrain. Everything we do is as a team. I believe it is the key ingredient to making our relationship very strong.

The temperature has dropped by about 10 degrees (40’s and 50’s) and most days, the clouds hang low over the mountain tops. We are losing five minutes of light every day. We have a fire in our fireplace nearly every morning. It’s chilly here when the sun doesn’t shine. Nate purchased a new solar inverter for the house. The old one was acting up, and not allowing us to charge it with the generator. In the winter, when there is little to no sun hitting our solar panels, we will need to power the inverter with a generator in order for us to have some electricity in the house. We may also replace the 16-year old batteries that are used in the solar system. We are making sure we don’t get caught with a broken solar system this winter.

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It seems funny to be thinking about winter in September, but here on Motes Mountain there are tell-tale signs that it’s right around the corner. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting the coldest winter in several years, so we are bracing for the worst. We ordered all of the parts needed to make sure our snow machines are in tip top shape. I have my snow shoes ready, and I am scouring the local classified for a set of cross country skis. The dogs have never been in snow, so we’re not sure how they will react, but they already avoid going outside if it’s raining or too cold. They love the fireplace and spend most of their days curled up right next to it—hopefully, we will be as warm and cozy as them this winter!

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