Watching our frozen ice field become a lake again was an amazing experience. It took about 4 weeks from the time the ice became too weak to travel on until it was completely thawed and we could put the boat back into the water. It was miraculous to see the large sheets of ice coasting by our dock in front of our cabin. The melting process is surreal and powerful.
As soon as the lake thawed, we were excited to get into the canoe and go bear watching along the shore. We got down to the end of our lake and we spotted a large brown/grizzly bear. We stayed there for a few hours, waiting and watching for more bears. Finally, we decided to boat back to our cabin. As our canoe neared our dock, Nate said, “Look, there’s a bear!” It was another large brown bear, but this one was in our front yard, digging in our garden. Nate had just planted 150 onion sets in the ground. These little bulbs were too tempting for the bear to resist. It is ironic to think that we were canoeing all over the lake trying to find some bears, while one was having a picnic in our garden. As we approached him, he was tearing up the onions. As soon as the bear heard us, he ran away, up the hill, behind our property. We were kind of spooked, so Nate got his gun and crept around the property on high alert. We were extremely vigilant as we navigated around our property. About twenty minutes later, we heard a banging noise coming from the cabin two properties over from us. We knew that our neighbors were gone for the day, so we were intrigued about what was making the noise. Nate headed in that direction, toting his gun. I followed closely behind him, holding my gun. As we neared our neighbor’s property, Nate crouched down, looked back at me and motioned for me to get down and stay still. I stopped in my tracks and looked, but I didn’t see anything. He whispered, “There’s a bear in their yard. It looks like he killed their horse, and he is hunched over eating it.” Nate stood up, shot the gun in the air several times, and the bear ran away, up the hill. I was hopeful that the horse might still be alive because she was pregnant and was almost ready to give birth. But, unfortunately, she was dead, as was her baby. When our neighbors returned that evening, we shared with them the sad news about the loss of their beloved horse.
We fell asleep that night in awe that we had seen three brown bears that day, with two of them being close encounters on our property. We awoke the next morning to a jolt…a 6.1 earthquake hit our mountain at 4:30 a.m. We were a little disoriented, and at first, we thought it was an avalanche. When I was still half-asleep, I actually thought a bear was shaking our cabin. When we came to our senses, we realized it had been an earthquake. There were several aftershocks, then at 7:30 a.m., there was another earthquake. This one was 6.4 on the richter scale. And, several aftershocks followed this one as well.
In February, a young couple came to live on the lake at a property that is contiguous to ours. They are also planning to live here year-round, like us. It’s kind of funny that in this remote area on our part of the lake, we were the only people living here. Now, there’s another couple, and they live within walking distance to us! At first, we weren’t sure how we were going to like having neighbors, especially so close, but it has turned out to be quite a blessing. We couldn’t have asked for anyone more perfect to live by us. They have very similar goals and values to us, and we have enjoyed getting to know them. We have relied on them to help us out several times (like when our 4-wheeler sunk into the lake), and we have also been able to be there for them when they needed us. I now have a different understanding of the word, “neighbor”. Back in the lower 48, I had lots of neighbors. Some of them, I knew by name. Others, not. Out here, it’s different. Neighbors truly are there for each other. You can depend on them, rely on them. We have high tech walkie talkies (thank you, Duke Gambino!), and so do our new neighbors, so its easy to communicate with them, when needed. The walkies are especially useful since cell phones are not reliable here.
Our new neighbors brought a herd of goats to their property (along with chickens and miniature horses). They offered us two goats, which we gladly accepted. We built an enclosure, which they proceeded to break out of constantly. Three or four times a day, Nate and I would be carousing and cajoling goats back into their pen. We finally tired of trying to keep them penned up, and Nate created long tethers and attached each goat to one with collars and a short leash. This seemed to work better. The goats were happier with room to roam. Unfortunately, one evening, one of them died. The neighbor brought us two more goats, so now we have three. For now, they are helping us to clear some land on our property, and we hope to eventually breed them so that we can milk them.
Nate has become like the pied-piper with these goats. He now takes them up the mountain every morning, and lets them graze freely. Then, in the afternoon, he calls them down to their pen, and they come running to him. He sits with them and they love to be petted by him. They each clambor for his attention. He has given them some fun nicknames…Blackie, Midget, and Luda May. They are all girls. Nate enjoys spending time with his girls!
Our neighbors have been spoiling us with fresh goat’s milk, yogurt, and fresh eggs from their chickens. I have discovered that if I have an endless supply of milk and eggs, I hardly need anything else. Our neighbor taught me how to make cheese from the milk. I was excited about how easy you can turn a gallon of goat’s milk into 32 ounces of delicious mozarella cheese (in about 30 minutes!) Hopefully, by this time next year, we will have our own milking goats and some chickens too! Our new neighbors live a much more agrarian life style than we do, so they are in inspiration to us. We are excited to learn from them.
Where we live, there are lots of maple trees. Our neighbors showed us how easy it is to hammer in a small tube into the trunk of these trees, attach a plastic bag, and gather maple sap.
To make maple syrup, you have to boil the sap down 100 times. I wasn’t all that interested in working so hard for such a small yield of syrup. Our neighbors made some Maple candy, and that was really good. It tasted a little bit like a pecan praline. We also discovered that the plain sap makes a great, natural energy drink. It tastes a little bit like watered down sugar water, but it’s one of the most refreshing and healthy drinks, like coconut water. And, it’s free and ready for the taking all over our mountain, not only from the maple trees, but from the birch trees as well. The only catch is that all of these trees only produce this harvest-able sap during 2-4 short weeks after the last snowfall. You know the trees are ready to be harvested when you see the first mosquito. Next year, I might gather as much as I can if I can learn how to store the plain sap safely, or we might just drink all that I can gather each day. It’s exciting to be able to harvest a free energy drink out of a tree that’s just been standing there, hanging out on your property that you never gave much thought to.
In anticipation of hunting season, we set out our game cams, and although we didn’t capture any large bears, we were excited to see that we caught a pic of a wolverine!
Spring in Alaska just started, and we are already off to an exciting start with our encounter with three bears, two earthquakes, and adventures with our new neighbors. Nate just got his license and tag to be able to hunt a black bear, so stay tuned. I have a feeling our next blog will be a gruesome tale.