Going into our 3rd year in Alaska, I feel as though I’m in a constant boxing match with mother nature. I’ve never been in a place where you have to constantly fight against weather, animals, and the forest! I have never lived in a place where the woods actually fight back—-where if you go for a stroll in the forest you have to always be on high alert for man-eating bears, or a place where if you’re not dressed properly and the weather changes, in an instant you can be in real trouble.
Cutting trails and paths around the mountain has been a regular monthly duty. This will make hunting, foraging/berry picking, and hiking much more pleasant around the lake. So we set time a side for this about every month. The more exploring and trail blazing we do, the more I realize the fight with the woods is futile, and that this is Alaska!
As I chop through an impenetrable patch of Alder bushes, they literally start fighting back with me. Constantly, with every swing of my machete, on immediate contact with one branch, another branch from behind will smack me in the back of the head. This will go on all day as I’m cutting. Now surely the branches and limbs are just getting snagged and are snapping back at me as I’m walking along!?! But, it seems so strange sometimes, like they really are hitting back. At times, the woods have no remorse. I have had them take some low blows at me. Occasionally, I will step on a limb and, immediately it will shoot right up at waist height, making contact right in the man parts. When this happens I’m usually forced to my knees to catch my breath. Then, another limb hits me in the face out of nowhere and I fall back. As I lie there in disbelief, I tell myself, “I can’t believe the woods are beating me up like this!” And, how is that even possible?? As I cut away more and more, I start to feel like I’m gaining the upper hand, and now this round is mine! With every slash of my blade, I anticipate the counter whip coming from behind me, and I turn and grab it inches from my face.
I guess all those switch whippings as a child has given me ninja-like reflexes. Years of trying to block my dad’s fury as he was trying to whip me with the switch is now paying off as an adult. As I’m chopping along and feeling that I’m gaining momentum, I suddenly come into a “Devils Club” patch! No this isn’t a bar on Bourbon St. These are evil little plants that really can work you over.
Once Jen and I were hiking though the woods and she decided to start down the mountain on her own trail instead of following me. I’m sure she regrets this now. As I sat waiting for her on the edge of a devil’s club patch, I realized she had made a wrong turn and was now right in the thick of it . I could see the tops of these plants moving around and could hear murmuring coming from inside the dense patch of briars!
As she got closer, I could tell the murmurs were more cursing then anything else. Cursing is rare for Jennifer, so I knew she was getting beat up pretty badly. As she emerged, she looked defeated and started crying. The devil’s club had whipped her with its spiked clubs and she had thorns all over her clothes. She also got attacked and stung by some sort of Alaskan wasp. The woods had definitely beat her up.
Now, there are a lot of names of species of animals and plants out there that really are spot on! For example,
“The Kingfisher”…a native bird to Alaska and all over north America, that lives near ponds and river banks and thrive on catching fish….hence “King Fisher”… or “salmonberry”, another Alaskan native, it’s a bramble plant that fruits beautiful red berries similar in color to the flesh of salmon…hence “salmonberry.” Pic below courtesy of Alaska Floats My Boat
But, of all the names of all the species out there, I think “Devil’s Club” is the most accurate! If ole Lucifer had a club that he would carry around and beat poor deserving souls with…..well this would be it! The Devils Club!
As I continue my trail blazing, I notice that the woods have stepped up it’s game. I’m blocking swings from the bushes, but the hits are getting more painful. But, as the end of the day approaches, I realize that real progress was made, and we now have a safe pathway through these brutal woods! I feel as though maybe I put up a good fight after all.
Mother nature this year has had some major mood swings with the weather as well. We would have 2 days of negative temperatures followed by high 40’s and rain. This is particularly aggravating because the 2 feet of snow on top of the frozen lake has melted from the warm air and all the rain. This creates 6 inches of water on top of the frozen lake. If you have anything sitting in this water and it freezes again over night, then it will become a permanent fixture stuck in the ice until spring arrives. I have found a pretty neat solution to this problem. I call it “pulling the plug”. I drill an 8 inch hole in the ice and drain the water just as if I had pulled the plug in the bathtub.
When I think that I’m putting up a good fight, mother nature will take a another swing and knock me back down to humble me all over again. 3 days after draining the lake, we were hit by an 8.0 earthquake in Anchorage. Although we didn’t feel any tremors, something must have shifted in the earth on our property. It was as if the earth was crying and started releasing water from the side of the mountain behind the house. Temperatures dropped below freezing, so the water started to freeze. It continued this process until a huge glacier formed and slowly moved down the hill. It looks like this is a fight I just can’t win. I have to watch it travel down the hill and just hope for the best!
On top of all the weather and forest battles, I have to mention a little about the animals. We all know about the bears in this part of the country and how easily they can harm you, but I never knew that the birds could go around and around with you as well. As I settle in to take a nap one afternoon, I heard the chickens going crazy outside. I looked out of the window and saw a huge Falcon on the doorstep of the chicken coop. It then disappeared into the coop. I quickly threw on my boots and ran out to the coop. I looked in and I could see the falcon had a chicken locked in its talons. This was a huge bird, just a little bit smaller then an eagle. Now for whatever reason, at that moment, I thought, “Here is my chance to catch a falcon and make him my pet!”
I had some delusions of walking around with this huge bird of prey perched on my gloved arm. I would make a squawking sound commanding it to take off and fetch rabbits for me.
In a split second, I jumped into the coop and closed the door behind me. I thought “ha, now your trapped!”..but at that very moment, the falcon looked up at me with his black/red beady eyes and cocked his head to the side. It looked as though he was saying “oh, hell no! Now YOU’RE trapped!”. He released the chicken and flew right at my face. My switch deflecting, ninja reflexes kicked in and I was able to grab the two legs of this big bird inches from my face. There I was, gripping his huge talons as tight as possible, while he was continuously swatting me with its huge wings, pelting me in the face. All the while, I’m backing up, trying to get to the door. Then, I tripped on a couple of frantic chickens underneath my feet and I fell on the ground.
I thought, “awe, he’s got me now!” I didn’t know where this killer pterodactyl was at this time because I was crawling as fast as I could towards the door. That’s when I felt it jump on my back. It started pecking me on my neck and on the back of my head. I panicked and all I thought to do was, “Stop, drop, and roll.” So, I rolled all the way out the door. I’m not sure who flew out the door first, me our that evil bird, but as i jumped up to my feet, I was in amazement that the bird was swooping down still trying to get me!
As I was running, I realized he was out for blood and wasn’t about to retreat. I reached the porch and grabbed the first thing I saw to help detour this crazy creature from clawing more of my bald head. There leaning on the porch was my machete. I grabbed it and sporadically swung it as I spun around not even knowing if the bird was diving back down on me. As I was spinning around everything was in slow motion. I saw this enormous bird about a foot from me suspended in air with his talons out in front of him and wings all the way stretched out behind his body. He was going in for the kill!!! My blade must have made contact with this large bird deflecting him to the ground because he made a loud squall and fell right to the ground . He regained his composure and flew away in an instant.
My heart was racing and I was all banged up. I didn’t recall hitting him with the machete because I didn’t feel much of an impact against the blade as I swung around. Plus, I had shut my eyes to protect them from getting clawed out. I didn’t see if I even hit him. That’s when I realized that maybe after losing the whole round against this bird, I still might have won the bout. I felt horrible but realized I lobbed off one of his feet!!
There on the ground was a large bird foot. I felt so bad and thought surely he flew off and would die. But I spotted him two more time since this run-in occurred. It was a couple of days later and he was perched up in a big Cottonwood tree on the property. Clearly standing on his one foot. I’m positive he’s waiting for his moment to dive down and peck my eyes out for taking his leg.
As I was walking back from the outhouse the other day, Jen thought it was cute to stick her head out the window, and start screaming..”Watchout!!!! The falcon is coming!!! As she was waving and pointing behind me. I panicked and took off as fast as I could, swatting the air above my head as I hauled ass. I ran right into a porch column as I was looking up and almost knocked myself out. I wasn’t the least bit amused and she has been warned that her day will come.
I think the bird is just hanging around looking for an easy meal of a chicken. But, from now on though when I step outside the door the first thing I do is scan the tree tops.
No matter how many blows mother nature throws at me, I’m determined not to give up and give it my best. I’m willing to go round after round with her. I wake up each morning anticipting a new adventure, and saying, “bring it on”…I have the eye of the tiger! And the foot of a bird….