Feeling Manly

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“The Man”

I felt as though I had follow up to Jennifer’s “Feeling Pretty” blog…

As I sit in my chair in the cabin reading her blog, I’m sparked with all kinds of emotions. I start to contemplate…..Hmmm, when was the last time I’ve even taken a bath?….and with that thought I yelled, “Darling, I need to feel pretty! Fetch my bath water!” With that said, my pot of water was boiling away on top of the wood fire. I proceeded to pour the water in our 5-gallon shower bucket….as I’m pouring cup after cup of hot water on myself, making sure not to get carried away, ’cause I only get about 18 cups per 5-gallon bucket….I’m projected into an old spice commercial…Wrestling bears and slaying salmon, while flying on an eagle….as I near cup #14, I realized that my shower had been as short as a commercial. I step out and the cold autumn air coming in from the window hits me and for some reason I don’t feel any prettier. Instead, I feel more more manly!!! I guess we all have different struggles living in a remote cabin in Alaska.

My struggle lately has just been trying to learn the new skill of bear hunting. How manly can one man feel than when he is grizzly bear hunting, one-on-one with a man-eater, in his backyard?!!! Having the privilege of growing up in southeast Louisiana aka.”Sportsman’s Paradise” has been a blessing. I was also blessed with a great father and grandfather that forged the skills of hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation into my soul. They passed down and taught me the basic knowledge of hunting and to respect all of God’s creatures. So, I was confident that I’m manly enough to go hunt this beast.

I’ve always felt at peace and in my element while being in the woods, however, I’m learning that no hunting I have ever done growing up has prepared me for hunting in Alaska. Not only are the animals different here (They are alot larger and they can kill you), but the mountainous terrain is equally as challenging. It has definitely been a struggle to feel manly and be at peace in the Alaska bush while hunting north America’s largest predator. I’ve enjoyed viewing these magnificent creatures from the safety of my boat, 15-feet from the shoreline.

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“The Beast”

As brown/grizzly season approached, I spent countless hours cruising the shorelines and spotting bears…. watching their patterns, their reactions to me, and how much and what they are feeding on, times, etc. I’ve also been keeping logs on the times of the day when I see them. I’ve actually been able to get one large sow that has two 1st year cubs get pretty accustomed to me in the late afternoons. She no longer scurries off with the cubs when she sees me. I can sit for hours now and watch the 3 feed without them fleeing. I feel as if they have now conclude that I’m not a threat. It will be fun to watch the cubs grow up over the next 3 years. 90% of all the bears I’ve observed on the lake were big sows followed by 1 or 2 cubs. I saw only a handful of boars in the last 2 months. Most of the time, I was looking through binoculars, watching 15-foot bushes spread apart and shake as something very large walked right through them. This would go on for hundreds of yards down the hillside. I always hoped that they would eventually come into an opening, but it never happened.

I was getting discouraged about hunting for a big grizzly boar on the lake. I realize now how exact the local “Tlingit” natives are about describing their land. I’ve heard that they call this lake “the land of sow and cub”. I have a theory that all the big boar bear were all closer to the fast moving river and streams where the fish are still silver and full of fight and life, as if the big grizzly was kinda manly and only wanted to be near the action, and that the mommy only wants to stay as far away from the big grizzly bears as she can to protect her cubs, thus pushing them over to the lake.

I was shocked to learn that a male grizzly will eat 30 to 40 cubs in his lifetime. I’ve learned that they do this so the female can go back into heat and he can breed with her again. That sounds pretty manly! The fish that make it to the back lake have made it to the end of their long journey and to the end of their life so they are more lathargic and are easily picked off by the young cubs.

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“The Cubs”

But, I have seen males and females everywhere and I’m no biologist. It’s just an observation and a theory.

As the season opened on the 15th of Sept, I’ve come to the conclusion that I think I’m manly enough to go stalk one of these monsters in the woods. Although I never hunted a creature of this magnitude, I sure have become an expert on bear attacks. In the last 2 years, being here, I’ve read every bear tale and bear attack book published. With story titles like, “Come quick, I’m being eaten by a bear”, “Bear attacks of the century”, “The grizzly skull cracker”, and “Dinner bell bears”(I could go on and on), you would think these books would be counter productive to building up my manly courage to go after these animals, but something deep inside was drawn me to read these stories. Maybe it’s in my genes from dodging predators with large teeth eons ago. I don’t know, but I have gained a lot of knowledge on what to do and what not to do if I was ever attacked.

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“The Terror!!”

I also learned a lot about the mistakes people make and actually provoke an attack, and what mistake they made during the attack. I also really love recanting the stories to people as if they were my own, and seeing that same fascination and disbelief in their eyes..and hearing that proverbial “woooow!” Needless to say, I have gained ultimate respect from viewing these animals in the wild and researching them. With that I decided I had to leave the lake and make my way to the river near the bottom of the mountain in the Porcupine Creek area. If I wanted a big boar, I was gonna have to go live in the bears’ domain. Manly enough, right?

My plans were to take enough food for 3 to 4 days, an air mattress, plenty of blankets, and a little stove. I planned on hunting in the morning and evening, and sleeping overnight in the back of my truck under the safety of my cab. I thought I would feel safer than being in a little tent. I told Jen to stay home and stay pretty. I’m not coming home till I get a bear!!

So as I’m leaving the cabin, the “Stupid List” comes into my mind. The “stupid list” is like “it’s stupid to drive a car without wearing a seat belt”, or “it’s stupid to ride in a boat without a life jacket”, but in Alaska #1 on the stupid list is: “stupid is going hunting by yourself”! I didn’t care. I took a 5-gallon bucket shower that morning and I was feeling as manly as ever!! Nothing was gonna stop me. I was on a mission!

I secured my boat to the river bank and drove about 20 miles to a place where 4 different salmon streams merge and where chum salmon litter the shallow waters…it was a bear buffet! Fish were everywhere. As I pulled up to park, there was a young sub-adult feeding 100 yards from me, and I knew this was a gonna be good spot. I backed the truck up and started to make camp, so I wouldn’t have to do it in the dark when I got back from my hunt.

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“The Bait”

But, as a began, I saw about 4 piles of bear scat and tracks heading right to the salmon stream from behind where my truck was parked. I picked a spot that was a direct trail from the forest behind me to the creeks across from me. That’s when I thought maybe I’m not so manly ’cause I ain’t sleeping in this bear path. Jeremia Johnson might have been disappointed, but this coonass wasn’t getting eating by nothing! Not tonight, not never! So, I commenced to packing back up and decided to just move when I get back from the evening’s hunt.

With gun loaded, binoculars, warm clothes and a full ghillie suit, I crept into the woods on high alert. I was amazed and intimidated at how many bears were in the area. They had been feeding on all of the chum salmon. The air stunk of dead salmon. Chewed up, torn caucuses were strewn about everywhere.

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“The Ghillie Suit”

I now positioned myself with my back against a tree in hopes that the bear would come from the forest that I’m facing and not from behind me. I’m totally concealed in the ghillie suit and pretty confident that no animal can spot me. As I’m not worried that the bears can see me ’cause they have poor eyesight, but more worried about my scent. Bears have amazing noses, so for a week I’ve been soaking clothes in scent killer in preparation for these hunts.

As I sit on the ground, I wish I had a tree stand so I could be 20-ft up the safety of a tree, instead of being on the bears’ arena floor. I start to reconsider this whole manly thing. After sitting for about an hour, of course, growls and roars start coming from behind me. With every snap of a branch and whoof from a bear, I sink and morph into the tree. I’m praying that I’m so camouflaged that the bears will just walk right passed me and not even notice me. Hoping that he doesn’t want to for some odd reason just take a bite out of a random tree. At this moment, my feelings of manliness turn into feelings of stupidity. Just as I’m remembering the “stupid list”, I’m calling myself “you stupid son of a …”  2 large objects appear from the tree line. It’s 2 large bears at 75 yards. They were walking down into the stream, and they started chasing and grabbing salmon. They recover their catch and retreat from the stream to eat on dryer ground. Just as I’m glassing the 2 bears, trying to choose which one I’m gonna take, my manliness kicks in, and, of course, it says “go bigger!” Us men always seem to want big!… Big trucks, big guns, big TV’s…what is this manly “big thing” I ask myself? All of a sudden, another bear pops out of the bushes to the other side of me. Great, now my exit to the east is blocked by a large bear and my exit to the west is blocked by 2 larger bears. The salmon stream they are feeding on is in front of me and the thick brush that they are all are coming out of is behind me.

I watched the 3 bears for over an hour and I saw several others in the far distance. I was very thankful they were keeping away and that I was only trapped by 3 bears at this time. As 7:30 pm approached, the sun started falling quickly behind the mountain. I thought surly the darker it got the more bears are gonna come out. All of the sudden, the 2 large bears to the west of me break out into a brawl over a fish. It was super-intense to watch. I think to myself, I’m definitely not going that way!! I get up and head towards the single bear, although I don’t want to shoot this one for he was the smaller of the 3, and my manliness is telling me that I have got to get a bigger bear.

The state of Alaska allows each resident to harvest a brown/grizzly bear every four years in my area, so if I have to shoot this smaller bear, I can’t get another till 4 years later. When I say small bear, I’m talking 5-foot, 400 lbs, can easily maul me! As I get closer to this bear to pass him, I notice he is preoccupied with catching fish and hasn’t even noticed me 50 feet away. Every time he looks up I freeze in place. I felt like I was in a Caddyshack movie or a cartoon. Because I was in a ghillie suit, i looked like a big bush. So, I would move slowly with both eyes on the bear and when his head came up, the bush  stopped moving. This went on for the next 10 mins even though it felt like hours. The camouflage and scent lock worked, and the bear never noticed me, or at least didn’t seem to care. I think maybe he just didn’t feel like eating a bush that night and much rathered the salmon.

Once out of range from the bear, my manly pace picked up to a brisk walk. I didn’t want to scare off the bears so that I could have good hunt the following morning, so I was scurrying along as quietly as possible. At this point, it’s pitch black and I can only see about 5-feet all around with my headlamp. For some reason, the “stupid list” keeps popping into my head as I’m darting out of the brush, in complete darkness, in bear country. Right then, the truck comes into view. I’m moving towards it as though it’s a ribbon at the finish line of a long race. As I make it to the truck, I hear bears splashing and roaring as if they are fighting in the streams over fish. I start to laugh out loud. Then I look in the truck and see my big spot light sitting on the passenger seat. In my manly state of mind, I decide I’m going to go over to the creek and spotlight them in the water, just as I used to spotlight for little bullfrogs in the swamp back in Lousianna. Thank God at that very moment, I had an epiphany—
manliness and stupidity…..I think are the same thing!

Now that I have been awakened by a miracle and I didn’t run down that stream with the spotlight in hand, I get out to higher ground. I move down the road about 10 miles. As I park the truck and kill engine, I get out and hear bushes breaking and branches falling. Something big is running hard through the woods. I had got out of the driver side and left the door open and walked around to the front of the truck over to the passenger door when I heard the crashing in the woods. I never once stopped my stride. I didn’t have to stop and listen to see what it might be. I just kept walking right passed the passenger door around the back of truck and slid right back in the driver seat. I felt like I was in a Chinese fire drill.

From an arial view, it would have looked like I stopped, got out, ran around the truck real fast, and then took right off. I finally decided that 10 more miles up, I can sleep right on the highway next to 3 roads and 2 bridges. That’s gotta be less bears right?Last year, Jen and I were told of all THE places in our town, that one was the place where a local saw the biggest bear of his life, which was odd ’cause it’s a wide open gravel pit with a little pond, and quite a few cars pass on all the roads and cross the bridge frequently. And, there is so much construction with the completion of the new bridge going on, I thought that no bear would be around for miles.

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“The Final Campsite”

One thing I was shocked about is how hard it has gotten for me to drive in the dark. I hardly every drive at night because we live remotely, and you can only get to our house by boat, and you have to cross the river to get to our lake, and that has to be done all before nightfall. That’s why I had to sleep out if I was gonna make an evening hunt. You can’t cross the river at night. It is too dangerous. Actually, this was the 3rd or 4th time in 365 days that I have driven a vehicle after dark.–Funny thought–

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As I pull up, I step out into the mud and I look down at what I’m stepping in. Of course, I see the largest bear tracks I have ever seen! the top paw measured 10 inches across. They say for ever inch of paw print that’s a foot of bear. Now the paw print is an impression left behind from the pads on the paw that contact the mud. There is another inch to inch and a half of flesh on each side of the pads which is the bear’s feet. This was a 10 to 12 foot bear and the mud was fresh, so it passed thru this spot early that morning.

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“think i need a bigger gun”

I felt like I had no where to go to get away from these bears. After all, I’m in bear country. At least I can see 360 degrees, 100 feet in all directions at this location. I make a huge fire and trust that I will be safe in my hard shell cab on the back of my pick up. Still, I know I won’t be able to sleep well. This is when I hate myself for reading all those bear attack books. It seems like a majority of attacks happen at night and a lot were in tents. Surprisingly, I slept very well. When my alarm went off at 4:45 am, I told myself I would stay in bed till 5 then get up. Exactly 15 mins after the alarm went off, I hear a steady slow thumping! I immediately knew it was a bear! This wasn’t the small pitter-patter of running on rocks that a wolf or coyote would make. This sounded like an elephant walking, and Alaska is not known for elephants. I could tell the bear was coming to investigate the truck, maybe he even caught the scent of a protein bar wrapper I had in the main part of the truck.

At this time, the blazing fire I had going had long went out some time around 2am, so it was pitch black. The steps were getting so close that I could hear individual rocks slide out from underneath the creature’s paws from its weight. Time stood still. I think I was literally able to stop my heart from beating for about 5 seconds so that there wasn’t a sound on earth around me! That damn “stupid list” popped in my head in those 5 seconds “stupid is leaving your .338 rifle in main part of truck ’cause it’s too long and cumbersome, and sleeping with only a glock 40 cal instead”. They say a bear of that size attacks you and if that’s all you have, you’re better off turning the gun on yourself and make it quick. All I know is, I’m gonna unload every bullet in this bear before he eats me.

Then I hear a loud, deep, “RUUUUFFF”!!! It felt and sounded like 2 feet away.  I’m thinking that the only thing between me and a monster bear is 1/2 inch of fiberglass. I immediately turned my flashlight on and started banging on the roof of the cab with the glock, and I start yelling “HEY BEAR!!!” with the flashlight scanning back and forth along both side windows and large back window. Everything was condensated and fogged up. I felt like I was in a coffin freaking out or in a scene from Jurassic park. It took all my manly emotions to swing open the back window and to bring on what I thought would be a grizzly flying in to devour me. I dropped down the tailgate and fired off 3 rounds in the air, hoping to scare it off. I sure was awake now! I turn the truck on, all lights on the inside, headlights, turned radio on, heater full blast, and I even turned on the windshield wipers to make more noise.

Now it’s 5:30 am. I had to make my way in the truck 10 miles up the road. It was so foggy and I could only see about 20 feet in front of the truck as I was driving. Out of the darkness and fog in the middle of the road, appeared a large running grizzly bear. I was so shocked, I put on the brakes and came to a complete stop. It kept running and disappeared back into the darkness and fog beyond the high beam’s reach. I progressed forward. The figure came back into view further up the road. I stopped and again, it never slowed down and disappeared back into fog. This was a very big bear and I thought this was the bear I scared a few minutes earlier at camp and now started down the road.

..Or, I should say, “the bear that scared me at camp”?, but that wouldn’t be manly. The 3rd time I caught up with him, I didn’t stop. I positioned myself about 10 feet on the bear’s heels. I looked down at the speedometer and I was doing 35 mph. I was amazed at the size of this animal. I was checking out the size of his pads on the bottom of his paws, every time he left the ground, with each gallup. He turned in full stride and looked back at me. I could see his mouth open and he growled back at me just as a huge wad of slobber flew from his mouth and landed of hood of truck. I was amazed he was not darting off into the bushes on either side, left or right. Finally, after about 2 miles, he disappeared into the bushes on the right and that was it. I tell you what, I felt pretty manly chasing down that bear. He’s lucky I didn’t run his ass over for scaring the shit out of me at camp, but then again it would have destroyed my truck.

Now that I was feeling manly again, I was ready for my morning hunt, but not until the sun was up completely. I stepped out of truck at 7 am and started to walk up the salmon stream. At 7:15 am, I walked up over a mound and at the same time a nice 6-year old male boar walked over to meet me. We stood about 50 yards apart staring at each other. At that moment in time, all my instincts kicked into motion and I knew this was a good bear to take. After 2 months of scouting and hunting, I was ready. I instantly made a clean kill shot!

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“The Hug”

I know that I joke about feeling manly in this blog and by no means taking this amazing and beautiful animal made me feel anymore manly. Instead, I feel grateful and humbled to have had the opportunity to hunt and be surrounded by such a awesome beasts. I live in a country favored by the biggest carnivore that walks the earth and feel more and more connected to this country every day. The grandeur of this country is beyond description. Everything came together to make this a truly special experience!

NOTE:  I spent much time reading about and researching these animals and felt confident that I could accomplish this hunt alone. I don’t recommend anyone to ever hunt these animals alone. I set out to prove my manliness to myself and I suggest no one be as stupid. Thanks for reading about my struggles to feel manly!!!!

Feeling Pretty

 

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This website is supposed to be about chronicling our adventures in remote Alaska. This particular blog, however, is about an inward venture. I won’t be detailing a near-close encounter with a bear, or telling about how I survived a four-wheeler crash in the frozen lake. This adventure is more poignant than thrilling. It’s about an inner journey I have experienced since moving here. It didn’t happen all at once, but, instead, has been a succession of small moments that have rolled into one giant “ah ha” moment where I’ve pieced it all together and discovered something about myself that I never even set out to learn. At the crux of it all?  Feeling pretty.

To some, especially members of the opposite sex, the concept of “feeling pretty” might seem trivial or even silly, but, to a lot of women, feeling pretty is an essential part of a network of complicated layers that make up the full labyrinth of what it means to be fully feminine. To be fair, the concept of “feeling pretty” is different for every woman. For some, it might mean the simple experience of having a fresh shower, clean skin, hair and nails. For others, “feeling pretty” might mean wearing makeup or new clothes. And, still others might require more advanced techniques like tanning, teeth whitening, manicures & pedicures, hair color, Botox, or even plastic surgery.

I’m not necessarily talking about vanity here. More simply, I’m defining how specific things make a woman feel good about herself. It’s a little different from self-esteem which remains somewhat constant over a long period of time. “Feeling pretty” is a roller coaster of ups and downs that women try hard to maintain on the upswing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “feeling pretty” as I have had to pick and choose what few basic things I require to maintain my positive well-being.

As I prepared for the transition to live remotely in Alaska, I knew that I would have limited access to things that for as long as I can remember have been part of my regular routine of things that make me feel pretty. Some things that I have given up were easier than others. Some things I freely relinquished, like painting my fingernails. Other things which I thought I couldn’t live without took some time, but I have let go of them. Others I have fought tooth and nail to keep.

When I lived in the lower 48, and worked a full-time job, I was able to go to the hair salon, tan, workout at a gym, shop for new clothes, and eat an abundance of healthy foods. In remote Alaska, I have had to learn to do without most of these in some kind of way. I had grown accustomed to the way all of these things worked together to make me “feel pretty”and healthy. (For me, feeling “healthy” is something that feeds into my psyche of feeling pretty.)  What I have learned is that the common denominator in things that make me feel pretty is one thing: an endorphin boost. So, how would I get my endorphin fix in my little cabin on on the lake?

To be truthful, some of the items on my list could be acquired in our small town of Haines, or through a short 30 minute plane ride to Juneau. But, we came to this lake to live a different kind of life, and without the regular monthly salary that comes with a regular, full-time job, the funds don’t exist for “extravagances.”

Since shopping for new clothes or slipping on something brand new can give many women that endorphin high, I have resorted to periodically “going shopping” in Nate’s closet.  Even though his warm up pants and flannel shirts are a little too big for me, I’m amazed at how rejuvenating just putting on something different can make me feel.

I have purchase a total of THREE new articles of clothing in the last 18 months: 2 pairs of leggings, and 1 shirt. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to get used to. Most of the clothes I owned before moving here are still packed in boxes in our attic. Skirts and high heels don’t work well here. My daily attire is heavy-duty work pants with leggings underneath, layered shirts, and slip-on, rugged boots. To be certain, it’s hard to feel pretty in this outfit, which is why I am a big fan of lip gloss.

Several years ago, I read an article about a young woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was scheduled to have a double-mastectomy. On the morning of her surgery, her anxiety was very high, and one of the few things that brought her comfort was putting on lipstick. To her, this was a way of being able to maintain her femininity, amidst the assault on her womanhood. Although I have never had to survive such an ordeal, I do know firsthand how beautiful lip gloss can make you feel.

I wear makeup everyday, but I’ve discovered that I could probably do without all of it–everything except mascara and lip gloss, of course. My hair has been more of a challenge. When I lived in the lower 48, I went to the hair salon every six weeks, spending about $200 each time. Not only is that figure not part of our Alaska budget, but the nearest location to have such a service completed would be in Juneau, which would require $240 in roundtrip airfare and about another $200 for overnight accommodations and incidentals, in addition to the fee for the salon service. I did this trip once, last year, and in the end, decided it was too cumbersome, too expensive, and a waste of 3 days. I’ve opted instead to do my hair at home, by myself, with a box of L’oreal hair color. It costs me about $13. My hair doesn’t look as great as I think it used to, but I’m happy that I can maintain it myself, and I’ve learned to live with it.

My hair is naturally wavy and unruly, so my hair dryer and curling iron are a necessity. Both of these appliances require a lot of energy usage, more than our solar panels generate. So, to use either one of these tools requires the use of our generators (and, gasoline!)  I try to only use my hair dryer once every 2-3 days, but the curling iron is needed daily, if not more than once a day if I wear my hair down. Needless to say, there are lots of days when I have learned to be happy with my hair up in a pony tail, or wearing a hat.

I very rarely wear jewelry any more. I have never taken off my wedding ring, but I’ve learned that jewelry, especially earrings, are not suited well for this climate or lifestyle. In the frigid temperatures of winter, wearing jewelry is like putting a piece of frozen pipe on your bare skin, no thank you. When working outside, you also don’t want anything that could get tangled up in a piece of machinery or an earring that could get caught on something and rip your earlobe off. Jewelry does, however, have a way of making me “feel pretty”, so sometimes when we take an overnight trip to Haines or to Canada, I will pack a pair of earrings and some bracelets. When I put them on, because I haven’t worn them in so long, I feel like an egyptian princess, or a little girl playing dress up. It makes me laugh to think about how such little things can make me feel so magical.

I miss having a beautiful bronze glow on my skin in the summer. Getting sun-tanned has been a challenge in Alaska, since the sun hid from us most days this summer, and it’s not convenient to go to the one tanning bed that’s available in town on the days when we are there. Happily, Nate knows how much the sun makes me feel beautiful, so on the dozen or so sunny days that we had, he encouraged me to spend the afternoon on our sundeck, which I did. I got enough of a base color that I felt glowing.

The one thing I have been able to keep up which gives me the ultimate best endorphin high is exercise. Now, I don’t mean taking a walk or a hike. I don’t even count working on our property as exercise. To me, an exercise “high” comes only from being breathless for about an hour. Whenever I work out hard enough that I am gasping for air, I have an incredible sense of euphoria afterwards that ultimately feeds my “feeling pretty” emotions. Before working out, I can look at my face in the mirror and decide that I need Botox or a facelift; however, after sweating for an hour, I can look in the mirror and be extremely content, even happy with the skin on my face. I don’t know if it’s the endorphine high clouding my eyesight, or if the extended perspiration on my skin improves its elasticity, or maybe it’s a combination of both of these things. The one thing I do know: I look better after a workout. I also feel better.

Even though I have incorporated hour-long workouts into my daily routine, I do miss a lot of the specific equipment at the gym. Without access to a leg extension machine, inner/outer thigh machine, and a smith machine, it’s more of a challenge to build or sculpt specific areas. I have learned to improvise and be more creative with free weights. I also do more full-body workouts which are probably healthier for me anyways. I alternate weight training with cardio and plyometric DVD’s. I am also diligent about getting a run in every time we venture to town. This can be challenging, but it helps me keep my workouts balanced. It’s not convenient to get in a 5-8 mile run on the way into town, then try to “washcloth” shower in the bathroom at the library, and spend the rest of the day in town feeling dirty and spent, but I’ve come to accept that the emotional rewards are greater for me than this little bit of discomfort.

In our little cabin, we only have two mirrors. One is a half mirror that is in the bathroom where the lighting is not very good. The other one is full-length, but it is also in a dark area, propped up against a wall where you naturally don’t walk in front of it, so you have to go out of your way to see yourself in it (or not see yourself because there’s no light there!) Mirrors lie anyways, right? I read a story of a lady who had a near death experience and she talked about her spirit/soul coming out of her body and looking back at her physical body. She described being surprised by her own beauty. It was the first time she had seen herself in 3-D. I read another story about a woman who decided not to wear makeup or look at herself in the mirror for a full year. She concentrated her efforts on things that made her feel good, like taking yoga classes and eating healthy foods. She said during that year she never felt more beautiful, and people regularly commented on how her face “glowed”. She had more men ask her on dates than at any other time in her life.

What I have learned through all of this is sort of cliché: what makes us feel pretty is what comes from the inside…the adrenaline and endorphin rush that comes from things like working out, and feeling happy and content with your life— all of which shows on your face. I notice the lines on my forehead, in between my eyebrows, and around my mouth are more pronounced when I am sad or stressed. But, when I am at peace, the lines seem either like they turn upward, or their lose their depth. I’ve learned that feeling beautiful is a state of mind. They say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but I believe that true beauty begins in the mind and spirit behind the face, not in front of it. Making your eyes or your skin glow is something that comes from treating your body well, feeding your soul, being gentle with yourself, loving others, feeling peace, and finding joy in simple things.

 

 

 

 

Summer, Salmon, Bears & Waving Nate

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Summer in Alaska: Gardening Woes

We were excitedly looking forward to our 2nd summer in Alaska. After months of cold and snow, we were looking forward to working in our mountain’s rich soil to grow a plethora of tasty, fresh vegetables, and beautiful flowers.  We started hundreds of seedlings indoors in February and March. Unfortunately, in our excitement, we had begun the growing process too soon, and many of our little seedlings were being suffocated in their small pods inside, while we  were waiting for the ground outside to thaw and for warmer temperatures to come. We waited and waited, and eventually, we planted lots of seedlings too early and they struggled to take root in the cold temperatures and lack of sunlight. Some vegetables did fine, but others, not so well. We started another batch of seedlings indoors, convinced that even though they were started late in the growing season, they would do great.

 

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2nd set of seedlings started indoors; First batch struggled in the cold temps and lack of sunshine.

When we finally started moving seedlings for planting outdoors, we ran out of space quickly. Nate made four new terraced bed areas, and dug out a wide spot to the side of the house for planting potatoes. We spent weeks digging in the dirt, and hauling dirt into the new terraced beds.

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This was the scene outside our window for most of the summer.  The weather forecast every day: “Partly cloudy, chance of rain”

We kept waiting and waiting for the beautiful summer we had last year to arrive. But, the gray clouds, cooler than average temperatures, and drizzling rain continued.   Everything in the garden struggled. The vegetables that are doing well are ripening very slowly. Even the flowers have tarried with the lack of sunshine. We cultivated our wild strawberry patches this year, and they brought in a good harvest, although about 6-8 weeks behind last year’s crop. Last year, it seemed that the blueberries, salmon berries, and high bush cranberries all fruited about the same time and we spent hours, days, and even weeks berry picking. I haven’t seen one blueberry or salmon berry yet this year. I recently picked all of the high bush cranberries on our property and I am noticing them fruiting around the lake and around town, but I think they are in much smaller quantities than last year. The wild flowers that were so beautiful last year tried to start blooming in May, but most of them died quickly, and the wide variety and succession of differing varieties never came. Last year, there would be miles and miles of dandelions on the side of the road. These would die and then another wildflower would bloom and die, then another and another, until the beautiful blooms of Fireweed would appear as the final act. In Alaska, they say that when the last Fireweed bloom dies, winter is coming. Unfortunately, we only saw two or three successive wildflower blooms, and the Fireweed appeared in early July and was all dead by August. Lets hope that the folklore about the Fireweed is not true or that would mean winter is coming now.

We were able to harvest some lovely vegetables from our garden, including a variety of lettuces, beets, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and onions. We are still awaiting the final ripening of our garlic, potatoes, carrots, and edamame.  Rhubarb grows great here. I don’t think anyone has trouble growing Rhubarb.

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Fresh from our garden: lettuce, peace, cauliflower, broccolini

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Kale, wild strawberries, zucchini, broccolini, wild mushrooms

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Tray of wheatgrass

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Farmer Nate, shelling fresh peas

With an eye toward the future, we also planted about 150 berry bushes, 50 of each blueberry, raspberry and blackberry. Bramble bushes do very well here in this climate. We also planted 4 cherry trees. The transplants have done well so far, but they won’t be ready to fruit for a few years. This year is an “establishment year” for these berries.

4 Days of Summer

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When I was just getting used to the fact that this doom and gloom will be our entire summer, the clouds lifted, and the sun came out to remind us what summer feels like. We had four beautiful days of high 80 degree temperatures. We put on our bathing suits and drove around the lake. Our neighbor had a party, and there were tons of boaters on our lake. (You have to understand that 5 or 6 boats in one general area is a “ton” here!) That weekend, about 20 people were swimming in our lake. Nate jumped in, but he drank more beer than I did. It was probably 50 degrees. The news reported that we broke all kinds of records for high temperatures during those 4 days, including one for 88 degrees and one for 89 degrees. The Chilkat bridge reported a reading of 93 degrees. Those kind of temperatures are unheard of here.

After 4 days of summer, the clouds returned and have remained since then. Our gardening friends with greenhouses are the only ones who are reaping a really good harvest. We do have “build a greenhouse” on our to-do list for this summer, and we are learning first-hand how important this will be in the future.

Construction Projects

We have many other building projects on our to-do list to get done before winter. Most of the summer has been spent on new construction projects.  Our first project was building a new boat dock, including a fish cleaning station and storage area with a roof. Our old boat dock was 4 ft wide x 20 ft. long. The new one is double that, 8 ft. wide x 40 ft. long. 14 feet of the new dock is covered and partially enclosed. This project was a major undertaking, and I was amazed every day to watch Nate’s ideas take shape. The way that this thing came together is incredible to me. Nate cut down 4 large trees on the property, cut them to 40 ft. long logs, then tied them together, put a frame around them, filled in any gaps with large styrofoam, then built the dock on top. Nate cut down 2 100 foot trees on top of the ice, with the idea that he would float them over. Once the ice melted, he floated these down to the dock place on the water.  It was mind-numbing to watch Nate calculate and build it. I am in awe over the carpentry skills he has amassed while living here. It’s hard to believe he never built anything before moving to Alaska (Although he did build a pretty cool chicken coop the last year we were in Texas.)

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Two 100′ trees cut down during winter to build our new boat dock

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Tricky balancing act: Framing the new boat dock

 

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New 40′ boat dock base completed

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New dock, complete with covered fish cleaning station

 

We are finishing up the addition to our cabin, which will be a first-class work out room. We also put a large deck with stairs around the workout room, connected it to the house, and started building a wrap around deck in front of the house.

 

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We also added another sundeck in front of our hot tub.

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One of the difficult things about undertaking so many construction projects, is getting the supplies to our property. Every piece of wood, bag of cement, bag of screws, aluminum roofing, and more has to be purchased in town, transported to our boat landing using our truck, then loaded into the boat, driven on the lake to our property, then unloaded from our boat dock up the hill to our house. Since I am the grunt construction worker apprentice, most of the hauling of the supplies up the hill to our house has been my job. I don’t mind getting in a little extra workout this way, but some of those 16 foot pieces of wood are cumbersome, and the bags of concrete weigh 60 lbs! Our physical labors being what they are, we typically require a nap every afternoon. It has become a requirement that we have “quiet time” every day between 2-4 pm. We stick with this schedule, even when guests are visiting. We just let them know ahead of time that they are welcome to rest in their own quarters during this time, or do something quiet on their own (basically, leaving us alone to re-energize at that time.) With this late afternoon power nap, we are able to continue working outside until around 8pm in the evenings. (For most of the summer, it doesn’t get dark until midnight.)

Our to-do list before winter includes cutting lots of firewood, building a greenhouse, and replacing the roof on our guest cabin. We re-painted the aluminum roofing on the guest cabin last year, and we were heartbroken when the snow and ice melted off of it and took the new paint right along with it. It was alot of time and money to repaint that roof last summer to lose it all in one winter, so we have decided to simply replace the aluminum roofing, and fix it for good.

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Last summer, we painted the guest cabin. Here it is nice and pretty!

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The winter snow and ice took its toll on our little guest cabin.

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Side view of the guest cabin shows the peeling paint

 

While we’re showing pics of “out with the old, in with the new”, it feels like we should mention that the borough replaced the bridge that we cross from the main highway to our little Chilkat Valley Road. Our quaint little steel bridge was replaced with a more modern cement bridge. Our small road also leads to Porcupine Creek Road, which takes you to the famous Gold Nugget Mine. We’ve heard that the new and additional mining being done up Porcupine Creek Road necessitated the building of the new, stronger bridge. (Although the official news report says that the old bridge had structural issues.)  Maybe Nate and I should be panning for gold out here in our spare time!

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New bridge on the right: Old bridge on the left

Summer Guestbook

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Although we have been busy with lots of home improvement and garden projects, we have made time to host lots of guests this summer. My daughter came for a week. Nate’s friend, Supa, came for a week, and Nate’s mom and boyfriend came for 2 weeks. We also hosted a couple that lives in town that had never visited Chilkat Lake. We have also made time for enjoying the outdoor life. During the “salmon run” Nate netted silver salmon (sockeye) in the river, and caught 30 large ones in a short couple of hours. They are so big that the meat has almost filled our freezer completely.

Salmon & Bears

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The silver salmon begin molting when they reach our lake. They return here every year to spawn and die. It is amazing the numbers that return every year. So far, the fish and game counting weir station has counted 20,000 salmon returning to our lake to spawn and die. They pool in shallow areas, which makes them excellent bear bait. They pool in large numbers on the banks of an area we call, “Bear Beach”. Nate says it looks like a coy pond where these bright red and orange fish pool together.

Needless to say, Bear Beach is a great place to see a bear (or two, or three)…

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Nate is also still hoping to tag a brown bear and a black bear during the second season for hunting. He has his tags ready, and he is confident that he will meet up with some brownies and blackies soon. Our friends were able to secure moose-hunting tags this year, and we will accompany them on their annual moose hunt—a weeklong camping trip in the woods by a river. It should be fun watching them hunt for a big moose.

Waving Nate

When Nate’s friend, Supa, was visiting, he remarked at how Nate waves to every passing boat, truck or car whenever he is driving. Supa says he does this incessantly, even though lots of people don’t even wave back. It doesn’t deter him. Supa says in a few years, Nate should run for the mayor of Haines, and when he does, his campaign slogan should be, “Vote for Waving Nate”

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Living with Nate and Jen: My Alaskan Adventure by Guest Blogger, Chris (Supa) Battaglia

 

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit my good friends Nate and Jen. Traveling to their remote location on Chilkat Lake was no joke. I had to take three flights, one ferry, an hour-long drive, then a 35 minute boat ride. All of this was so worth it just to see my good friends. When you get there though you realize you are in a part of the world that is still untouched. As we pulled up to the dock on their property, I was greeted by two barking dogs, Tucker and DeBeau. These two dogs seem to really love life out there, and Nate says they also deter bear on the property.

The property looks very nice and is well-manicured, with steps in place to walk up the hill from the boat dock to the house. There is also a path along the garden with beautiful rocks leading you to the guest cabin. The guest cabin is absolutely beautiful and quite spacious. It has all the things one would need to feel at home. A very comfortable bed, a couch, a sink and stove, and of course a nice deck with a million dollar view overlooking Motes Mountain. The big house is also very comfortable and very spacious. The big house has solar power and fresh water that comes straight into the house. On the outside of the house they have a nice covered deck overlooking the beautiful mountains and lake. Next to this nice deck is the Alaskan hot tub, which is a wood fired hot tub. Behind this is a very fun shooting range which has many different targets of all sizes and distances. My personal favorite target was the cowbell, while shooting it with a red rider BB gun one handed. We did a lot of target practice while just sitting up on the deck having a cold beer or two and just enjoying the wonderful view. Nate and Jen also have an open deck down below from the main deck, and down the hill on the left are the three goats. They are in the process of finishing up a new boat dock and Jen’s workout room. There gardens are growing with plentiful options from potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, peppers, raspberries, strawberries, onions, garlic, and many more.

The weather was a bit cold and rainy on my first couple of days, but was still absolutely beautiful. The weather here can change in the blink of an eye. One minute it is cold and rainy and then boom the sun comes out and its warm and clear. The lake is the same, as it can be smooth as glass one minute and then white capping the next. On one or two days we were actually in the clouds. You could not see any mountains and the clouds were literally 100 ft above the lake, but the lake was smooth as glass. On clear days it is just so majestic. The mountains are absolutely the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. As you are sitting on the deck you are constantly scanning the mountains for any wildlife. You will do this all day as you just can’t take your eyes off them. On my third day, we saw a large moose on the mountain standing in a field. This moose was approximately 2,000 yards away from us on the mountain. We were looking at it through Nate’s periscope and noticed markings on its face and stomach. As we were looking at this moose we whistled a normal sounding whistle, nothing too loud. Then five seconds after whistling, this moose would turn his head and look right at me while viewing it through the periscope. For me, this was absolutely amazing that he could hear this sound, being so far away. The wildlife is just so abundant here, and not a day goes by you don’t see something new. As I never saw a big grizzly the entire time of my stay, I did see many other wildlife on a daily basis. Just sitting on the porch one morning a group of trumpeter swans flew right by me, making their way back to the lake. And then there were the bald eagles that I was fortunate to see everyday. I think not seeing a grizzly bear was a good omen for my first visit to this untouched land.

Most of my stay here consisted of looking at the mountains from the porch, and also taking off in the boat on little day adventures. Seems everywhere we would go was called Bear something. For example, there was Bear Beach were I did get to see a small black bear hanging out. Bear Beach was a really cool spot just to hang out and look at all the terrain. You could see eagles flying, ducks hanging out by the water falls, and then the largest mountain called Flower Mountain. This mountain just seemed like its own thing. Sitting in the middle of the lake views so it was impossible for it not to be in the backdrop of every picture I took. And it seemed to have more snow and ice on it than any other mountain. Also we got two buckets of pay dirt from Bear Beach to mine back at the house. Now getting this dirt meant we had to get out of the boat and walk on Bear Beach very close to the start of the tree line. I kept thinking at any time a bear could walk right out of those woods. Fortunately we were able to get our dirt and go, and then after panning one bucket found out our dirt was not so good. We did find a flake or two of gold so that was cool. Some other things we did was get out of the boat and walk into the woods. Now we both had to be armed and ready as these woods have large bear. Most of the time you need to climb out of the boat because all these places started off with climbing rather than just stepping off the boat and walking. So after you would climb up to where you were on a more manageable area, you were now being very quiet and very alert for bear. Since we were actually trying to see bear, we were being very quiet rather than being loud to deter them. After finding a spot where we could look out onto the woods from a spot up above, we would just hang out and wait to see if anything would walk past us. This for me was kinda scary, thinking a large grizzly could walk by at about a 30 to 40 yard distance. Unfortunately, we never did see a bear, but just sitting in these woods listening to all the beautiful sounds of birds and water running was terrific. This area where Nate and Jen live is called Chilkat Lake. They live on the back side of this lake towards the end of it. Everything around their house and property is just so great and beautiful. Both have put in very long days of work to get it this way.

As for life on the property, I just have to say that these two great people have done so much great work. This place is just like any other place in regards to modern amenities. They have hot shower, accessible water, lights, gas stove and oven, fridge and freezer, and my favorite is the wood fired hot tub. We sat in this hot tub every single day and it was so great and relaxing. A typical day here consist of waking up around 8am and having coffee and breakfast. Then since Nate was taking the week off from working, we would set out on an adventure till about 11am. From 11am to 12pm we would mess around on the porch utilizing the shooting range and a couple cold beers. Lunch would be around 1pm and then there would be a nap from 2 to 3. This would conclude day 1 and the start of day 2. See each day has 18 hrs of sunlight so the days are really long here. So to make things seem easier and normal, Nate and Jen call them day 1 and day 2. For me this was awesome, because we could do so much in day 1 and then do so much more in day 2. So after the nap we would wake up and start day 2 by going on another adventure in the boat. We would go to Bear Alley which is at the back of the lake and see if we could spot any bear or moose. This spot was really cool and very calm water because it was right up against a mountain that would block the wind. At this specific spot I saw a large moose, trumpet swans, duck, and many eagles. Then usually after a couple hours of exploring the lake, we would head back to the house to hang out on the porch and enjoy the views. But mostly Nate and I were shooting guns down the range. After hanging out for a couple hours just relaxing, dinner would be ready around 6pm. Usually before dinner was ready, one of us would get the wood going for the hot tub. So after dinner around 7pm we would all get in our suits and robes and head to the hot tub. This was a good spot to relax and stare out onto the mountains and lake. After the hot tub we would all sit on the covered deck and just relax some more till about 830 or 9pm. Then it was time for a movie to end our evening. After a movie and desert it was around 10pm and the sun is just now setting and its time for bed. I would grab my flashlight and pistol and walk down to the guest cabin. Flashlight was for when I would get into the cabin and not for the walk to the cabin. There was still plenty of light at 10pm. Once in the cabin I would light both lanterns and usually head out onto the porch to have one last look at the mountains. Then around 11 pm it was bedtime. So that was a basic day on the homestead. I would like to point out that every meal was made fresh. Jen is such a wonderful cook. She would have fresh pancakes, cinnamon rolls, eggs, bacon, toast, you name it. Each meal she cooked was absolutely out of this world. I kept joking that they were going to eat me at the end of the week.
So, as I could write on and on and on about my week with Nate and Jen, I chose to just give a brief summary of my experiences living with them. All in all, Nate and Jen have a piece of heaven that they have slaved over to get it the way it is now. And they have many more plans for the property and how to enhance its experience. I truly miss them both so very much and am so blessed and thankful that I could make this trip. Thank you to both of you for going above and beyond to make my stay a trip of a lifetime. I can’t wait to go back and explore this untouched world some more with my two great friends.

 

P.S. Vote for “Waving Nate” 2020

 

I have included a 3 minute video of my trip. It is pretty much a video from when I got there till when I left. Notice at the end of the video how the boat is sailing away from the sun. For four hours I watched as we were leaving the sun. The sun being my two friends and where they live. To think they get that much more daylight than Juneau . Anyway it was a great experience to see firsthand. Hope you enjoy the video

 

Summer Camp & Internship Opportunities

20170325_124325We are excited to be able to offer summer camp opportunities and internships for anyone interested in experiencing life off the grid in the most beautiful place on earth.

Opportunities for rising high school juniors and seniors:

Students will work 4-6 hours each day. Work consists of gardening, clearing brush, construction, painting, and other general labor duties.

All other hours of the day, students are free to enjoy many of the areas activities, including, hiking, canoeing, fishing, wildlife viewing, and more.

Student camps are available on a weekly basis, with a 7-day minimum stay. During the 7 days, students will work part days on 6 days of the week, and may have 1 day off for free time fun.

Cost is $1,500 week, including transportation to and from downtown Haines and three home-cooked meals daily. (Students will provide their own transportation to downtown Haines).

Students will be regularly supervised by mature husband and wife team.

The student will not have access to the internet, phone, or television, but may receive and send one daily text message to his or her parents or other loved one using the owner’s cell phone service as it is available.

Opportunities for Internships:

Internships are available on a weekly basis (7-days).

Interns should be 18 years or older, preferably in college or career preparatory classes, but not required.

Interns will work 4-6 hours each day. Work consists of gardening, clearing brush, construction, painting, and other general labor duties.

All other hours of the day, interns are free to enjoy many of the areas activities, including, hiking, canoeing, fishing, wildlife viewing, and more.

Internships are available on a weekly basis, with a 7-day minimum stay. During the 7 days, interns will work part days on 6 days of the week, and may have 1 day off for free time fun.

There is no cost to the internship. In return for work provided, interns will receive transportation to and from downtown Haines, and three home-cooked meals daily.

Interns will not have access to the internet, phone, or television, but may receive and send one daily text message using the owner’s cell phone service as it is available.

Accommodations

Students and Interns will stay in their own guest cabin, complete with a queen bed. The guest cabin has fresh water access, and is located close to the outhouse. The cabin is also equipped with a bathroom honey pot if guests prefer not to use the outhouse. Meals are offered family style in the main cabin. Guests are allowed to bring their own snacks.

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Getting to Haines, AK

The best way to travel to Haines is to take a major airline (like Alaska Airlines) to Juneau, AK, then to take a puddle jumper (www.flyalaskaseaplanes.com) to Haines. Travel can be tricky to arrange, but with a little bit of searching, you can usually find a flight that will match the puddle jumper schedule so that you don’t have to stay overnight in Juneau. A roundtrip ticket from anywhere in the US to Juneau typically runs $700-$1,000.

Get to know all about us by reading our blog at www.motesmountain.com

For more information on staying with us, text or call Nate and Jen at 512.539.8239 or email us at motesmountain0920@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

Three Bears, Two Earthquakes & One Neighbor

Three Bears

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.

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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.

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In memory of the horse I nicknamed, “Princess”

Two Earthquakes

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.

Earthquake in the News

Neighbors

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.

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Nate with Luda May

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!

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Nate with his girls, Blackie, Luda May & Midget

 

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.

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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!

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Wolverine pics caught on our game camera

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Live Without

It’s been almost a year since coming to live this remote life in the beautiful mountains of Alaska. As I reflect on all of the things I have learned over the past year, one of the most poignant things has been learning to do without things that I used to think were so essential.  We brought a two year’s supply of provisions with us, and as we begin to run out of things (sooner than expected), we question whether that item needs to be replaced, or whether it is something that we can now learn to live without. It has been an interesting challenge to both Nate and I in different ways.  I have been surprised how most things are quite easy to do without, with just a little push to challenge your way of thinking and living.

When the nearest store is not on your way home, or just around the corner, you begin to question whether or not it is something you really need. In the waiting time between running out of something and the possibility of acquiring another one, you have already learned to live without it. In many cases, I discovered that I never really needed it to begin with and will never buy it again. This is especially true of paper towels.  I probably used 2-3 rolls of paper towels each week before we moved here. During our first year, we rationed our usage and initially were able to go a month or longer with one roll. When we ran out, we just got used to living without them, and now I am sure that I could have a nice fat retirement nest egg if I hadn’t bought paper towels my whole adult life.  The only thing we determined requires a paper towel is dog throw up.  So, whenever we eat lunch at a restaurant in town, we always bring home a few extra napkins for this purpose.  We have also tried to limit our use of plastic bags. I now use storage containers for anything which I would have used plastic bags for in another life, and when I do use a plastic bag, I try to clean it out and re-use it as much as possible.

Before moving to Alaska, I was kind of a “clean eating” snob.  I turned my nose up to anything fried or processed, or full of sugar. I ate lots of fresh veggies and fruits, and preferred fish, and non-meat substitutes, like tofu,  beans, Quinoa, and the like. I tried to avoid anything containing animal proteins, except for Greek Yogurt.  Eating this way has proven to be very challenging in remote Alaska. For one, it is difficult to make separate meals for just two people. We used to eat out a lot which can accommodate different tastes.  While Nate has grown to like my veggie burgers and no-meat chili, he loves meat and potatoes.  I have learned to compromise somewhat. I justify that some of the things I now eat are okay because they are homemade, and therefore, healthier for me. This may not be true, but it makes me feel better.

When we first came to our cabin in the woods, our days were very long. We worked long hours trying to get settled in and prepare for winter.  We were so tired that meals became a welcomed treat and respite from our work. I made lots of comfort foods. We ate big breakfasts of homemade pancakes or waffles and eggs with homemade biscuits and gravy. Lunch was usually a grilled sandwich with homemade bread. Dinner was lots of meat and potatoes, and I think for the first few months, we ate cornbread with every dinner.  While I still cook everything homemade, we are now making better choices, especially during the winter when our work day is reduced significantly, and we aren’t burning through the calories as fast.

One of our biggest challenges with food this winter has been the fact that we ate most of the vegetables we grew in the summer right away.  We managed to freeze and can a lot of zucchini, cabbage, and berries, which we used up very quickly, and that left us with little or no fruits and veggies for the winter. We did have lots of store-bought canned versions in our provision supply, but canned vegetables lose their appeal rather quickly. We both started to miss fresh fruits and veggies. In the winter evenings, we regularly watch a movie, and we would oooh and ahhhh about any fresh food that we could see in any of the movie scenes. It was really funny.  I never realized how nearly every movie has a scene with a fresh fruit bowl in it.  Early into the winter, our stock of canned fruit started to diminish quickly. It seems that the fewer cans we had, the more Nate and I craved them. To make matters more interesting, the 2 twenty-year old relatives who stayed with us in December and January also were craving the canned fruits. So, we had to ration them in order to make them last. It is interesting to learn what becomes valuable out here in the middle of nowhere. When the young guests were with us, we regularly played dominoes or a marble game called Wahoo in the evenings, and we liked having a prize for the winner (It helped to cure the boredom of l-o-n-g winter evenings). Each player would offer something for the winners “pot”.  Usually, the item was a chore or a favor, written on a piece of paper. Since Nate was the “keeper” of the canned foods, he would often offer a can of fruit. It was hilarious to see everyone get so competitive for the prize pot that included a can of peaches or pineapple.

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Playing scrabble

With our quest to eat anything fresh, we tried our hand at ice fishing this winter.

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Ice auger for drilling a hole in the ice for fishing.

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Fishing in the one open spot on the lake that never freezes.

 

As a result of doing without fresh food during the winter, we are excitedly dreaming about this year’s garden.  We are planning a big one, with lots of opportunities for storing fresh stuff away for next winter. We pulled out our collection of seeds and organized them, planted our first seedlings indoors, and have now begun transplanting the young plants outdoors.

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Getting the garden ready

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Warming up the soil

We are looking forward to a summer filled with fresh vegetables and lots of wild berries. We do, on occasion, buy apples and bananas from the grocer in town. When I have one, it’s a real treat. Before I moved here, I had an apple and a banana every day.  That’s not possible now.

In addition to making changes in our diet, we have learned to appreciate what we have and use our resources sparingly. Even though we have an endless supply of water flowing naturally down our mountain, it’s a lot of work hauling it around, and so we use our indoor water very wisely.   When we have guests, I sometimes cringe when they turn on the water at the sink. We have a 3 gallon container there, which takes some work to fill. It’s interesting when someone comes to visit, especially if they come from a house with running water. Guests will sometimes turn our sink container water on and let it run out completely,  oblivious to the fact that all of the water is just running down the drain.

A big chore at our cabin is laundry. Running the washing machine requires using the gasoline-powered generator, as well as lugging up 20 gallons of water and loading it into the washing machine. So, we try to wear our clothes as many times as possible before washing. Nate will now hand me a pair of his dirty work pants, and proudly say, “I have worn these for 7 days!”  Before coming to live here, I never would have worn something more than once without washing it, but in reality most of our clothes can be worn multiple times before they actually get dirty or start to smell funny.

We are continuing to perfect the art of balancing our use of energy.  During the winter months, we rely on the generators for electricity because we only have 4-6 hours of daylight, and no direct sun. So, we run the generator in the evening for a few hours, and cram all of our energy usage into that short time period. In the winter, our cabin is buzzing in the early evening as we scurry about to do laundry, vacuum, watch a movie, and operate my hair dryer in the few hours we have the generators on. But, as our days are now getting longer and our solar panels are receiving many hours of direct sunlight, our energy usage times change. I am now doing laundry and charging anything electronic during the day at the times of greatest sunlight. This method eliminates our need for generators at all during the evening hours.

There are many things that we have learned during our first year in Alaska, and I am most proud of the ways we have learned to do without some things, and to be wiser about our energy usage. It feels good to be aware of how we use all of the resources at our disposal.  We have also learned not to take anything for granted. In many ways, these lessons all add up to learning how to live a simpler life, which is the primary reason we came to live here in the first place.

 

 

Mishaps & Misfortune

Becoming complacent can be hazardous out here.  The weather and the terrain change regularly, so it can be dangerous to assume that however you traveled the day before would work for today. “Traveling” refers to everything from getting from our cabin to a friend’s house on the lake, going to town, or even walking to the outhouse.  In fact, some of the most dangerous terrain I have encountered has been on the walk from our cabin door to the outhouse. From waist deep snow to large slabs of slippery ice, traversing our property on foot in the winter can be quite treacherous. And, like I said, you never know what you are going to encounter, so you had better be ready for anything.  Nate and I have both taken tough falls on the ice, but luckily we haven’t had any broken bones yet, just lots of bruises!

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Two feet of snow and it’s still snowing!

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One of the walkways to the outhouse

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The outhouse is just over this mound of snow (note the patch of slippery ice on the left)

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Deep snow covering our guest cabin.

Traveling on the frozen lake in the snow has required us to both learn how to ride snow mobiles. We have become somewhat proficient in snow machining. We have mastered riding in the snow, and hooking up a sled to pull cargo behind the snow machine. We’ve learned how to get “unstuck” when the machine plunges into deep snow. And, we’ve learned how to let off the gas in wet water snow so as not to snap the belt.

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My only complaint about the snow mobiles is that they are very tough to start. The pull start mechanism is a little like a lawn mower starter, but one hundred times harder. I can barely pull it, and if you can start one, you will probably have to put one leg up on the foot rest, and throw your entire body back into the pull. Nate had a sore shoulder when he first started them, but now he has mastered it. I tried and tried, but the only time I was able to start my machine without Nate was when my daughter and I pulled the start tether together.  Eventually, I gave up trying to start it by myself. I just don’t have the upper body strength.  Having Nate start my machine isn’t that much of an inconvenience since most of the time when we are riding the machines we are together, however, my reliance on this would prove to be somewhat catastrophic.  We had taken our snow machines to a friend’s house, and when we got ready to leave, Nate started his machine and moved it down the hill onto the frozen lake. He started my machine and moved it to the top of the snowy hill, facing down to the lake. Because it was on an incline, he put the emergency/parking brake on. When I mounted the machine, I simply pushed the throttle and enjoyed the rush down the hill in the snow. I didn’t think about the brake being on because when I parked it, I didn’t put the brake on. We started heading home. It was cold and getting dark, so we both rode fast. About 500 yards from our friend’s cabin, I looked down and I could see flames coming from the engine by my left foot. I squeezed the brake to stop, but there was no response. I waited for the snow machine to slow down on its own, all the time looking down to make sure my foot didn’t catch on fire. Just as the machine started to slow, Nate pulled up alongside of me and yelled for me to jump off. When it was safe, I jumped.

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Note: This is not a pic of our snow machines, just a stock image to add to the drama of our story!

Luckily, I wasn’t hurt, but the brakes on the machine were fried. Luckily, Nate knows how to cut melted-shut brakes out of the system, and we were back up and running in no time. (Note: This machine is now for sale!)

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Nate fixing the brakes that got fried

 

When the snow is melted and the surface of the frozen lake is a sheet of ice, we usually take the four-wheeler if we want to traverse long distances. On one particular night, we had arranged to bring dinner to some friends. Nate made a cornbread-stuffed pork tenderloin, and I made roasted potatoes. I secured these to the back of the four-wheeler, and we headed out for the big lake to our friends’ cabin. As we neared the narrow section of the lake where the little lake and the big lake converge, Nate told me that the ice we were riding on top of looked very sketchy. Three seconds later, the ice beneath us broke and we both plunged into the icy lake. When my head came up out of the water, I grasped at the ice to get out, but the ice was fragile and every attempt to climb out just broke more ice around me. Nate had found a thick section of ice and was up and out of the water in a jiffy. I struggled through a few attempts, and then finally found a section of ice that was strong enough for me to carefully pull myself out.  We had traveled approximately a mile from our cabin, so we walked briskly back home to change into dry clothes and warm up. Once we changed, we went back to where we had sunk the four-wheeler to assess the situation. It was evening and the sky was growing dark. We noticed that the depth of the lake where we broke through was reasonably shallow, maybe 12 feet deep. The four-wheeler was upside down, but the tires made it buoyant and it was floating. (Dinner was no longer attached to the machine, so we assumed it was forever lost in the bottom of the lake.)

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Our 4-wheeler upside down in the lake

We solicited the help of a neighbor friend who is new to the lake, and we tried lassoing the four-wheeler to try and pull it out by hand. Working this close to sketchy ice was hazardous, and all three of us broke through and fell into the cold water at different times. As nightfall closed in on us and impaired our vision, we decided to tie the other end of the lassoed four-wheeler to a tree and retire for the evening and reassess the situation first thing in the morning. The next day, Nate and our neighbor friend cut a path in the ice with their chain saws and dragged the four-wheeler through the water to a very shallow area. Nate jumped in the frigid waters, flipped the four-wheeler right-side up. This way, we were able to pull it onto the hard surface of the ice by pulling it with a rope tied to the snow machine. We were then able to tow the four-wheeler back to our cabin with the snow machine.

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Pulling the 4-Wheeler out after it cracked through the frozen ice.

 

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Nate took the four-wheeler apart, cleaned and dried out each part, replaced the oil and the gas, and remarkably, it started right up.  We thought it was pretty remarkable, but a good testament to the quality of a honda machine!

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Nate fixing the 4-wheeler

 

Before we sunk the 4-wheeler into the lake, we got it stuck in the snow!

 

With all of our machine challenges, I vowed to get mush dogs for traveling next year!

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Our water comes from a small waterfall that runs down our mountain. We have a dam near the house and a hose that brings the water (via gravity) close to our cabin. It’s constantly flowing, even in the winter. However, some debris got caught in our dam strain, and we didn’t notice it for a little while. As a result, the water trickling through our hose froze solid. I was concerned that we were going to have to haul water all the way from our dam, but Nate came up with a quick fix for our problem. He disconnected the 300 yards of hose, rolled it up, and brought it inside the house so that the ice could thaw. The next morning, the hoses were thawed. We reconnected them outside and, “Voila!”, we were back in business with our water.

 

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As the winter turns into Spring on Motes Mountain, we have entered the time called, “Breakup”, when our lake is not stable for travel. The ice is too weak to support a snow mobile or four-wheeler (or even a person on foot), and there is too much solid ice to be able to have a boat (or even a canoe) in the lake. And, so we are in a holding pattern, waiting and watching. The locals tell us that “breakup” is different every year. Some years the ice is broken up by mid-April, other years, not until late May. And, the breakup can happen over a 7-10 day period, or it can take 6 weeks. While we are “stuck”, we plan to prepare our garden, and do work around our home and property. We have moved beyond the short winter days and now we have lots of beautiful sun, beginning at 5:30 am, and lasting until 8:30 pm. So, while we are stuck at home, we are busy working, enjoying the chance to be working outside on these beautiful days which will be characteristic of our entire summer for the next 4-5 months. The air is full of butterflies and bees. The squirrels and woodpeckers have returned to the trees. All manner of birds can be heard and seen. Greenery is peeking up from under the newly uncovered earth. We are carefully and cautiously aware that moose and bear will be on the move, searching for food. We are happy to say goodbye to the mishaps and misfortunes of winter, and we are anxiously awaiting all of the miracles that spring will bring.

 

Avalanches & The Gunakedeit: The Wonders of Living in Alaska

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Our first winter in remote Alaska has been truly spectacular…beautiful and crazy even beyond our wildest dreams. We are “cheechakos” (newbies to Alaska, a term born from the Gold Rush days) so, we have been in a state of “wonderment” for the past four months…

-I “wonder” how much more wood we are going to need to chop to last through the winter

-I “wonder” if the frozen lake is strong enough to ride my four-wheeler on

-I “wonder” what kind of crazy creature is making all of that noise in the lake, far beneath the ice

-I “wonder” if we will ever see the sun again

-I “wonder” where is that avalanche that I hear rumbling and echoing like thunder around the lake

-I “wonder” when the bears will wake up

The answer to the wondering question about wood has been a tough nut to swallow. We stuffed the complete wood storage area underneath the house back in November, and we continued to cut down trees and split wood, but we came close to running out of firewood in January. We did have some unexpected visitors in our guest cabin for nearly two months, and that ate into our wood supply. So, we have been like lumberjacks downing trees and splitting wood to get us through the rest of winter and to fill back up our supply, some for this year, but most already in preparation for next year. We estimate we probably need double the amount of wood that we stacked last year. Although we did a fair amount of cutting over the summer, it was difficult to transport the bucked pieces. We have discovered that winter time is great for cutting wood. We are able to down trees and transport the bucked pieces using a sled trailer pulled with the snow mobile. Nate also came up with an ingenious way to get the bucked pieces of wood up the steep hill to our house. He rigged up a pulley system, with one end of a rope tied to a sled trailer, and the other end tied to the four wheeler. The center of the rope is on a pulley that is attached to our cabin. Nate simply loads up the sled trailer with a few of the bucked log pieces, then he backs up the four wheeler, tightens the slack on the rope, then as he backs up further, the rope pulls the sled trailer up the hill to the top of our property right near our front door.

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The answer to the wondering question about traveling safely on our frozen lake is complicated. Since mid-December, our entire lake is frozen solid. If you cut through the ice, with a chainsaw or an ice auger, you will see nearly 2 feet of ice from the surface down to the water. This makes the lake strong enough to ride almost anything on top of. Nate joked that he could probably drive our truck on it. Although the ice surface of the lake is super strong, we are still challenged by the day-to-day weather for transportation options. The snow mobiles only do well if there is lots of snow. The engines are cooled by the constant stream of snow flying off of its main track. So, if there is no powder for it to push, then the engine will overheat, and fast. So, the snow mobiles are great, if we have lots of snow on top of the ice. When we don’t, we have found that the four-wheeler works great. We are able to ride it anywhere and everywhere on the lake. But, the four-wheeler doesn’t do so well in the snow. It will get stuck in more than 10 inches of snow. The only other challenge we have is when we have several warm days back-to-back. Whenever the temperature rises above freezing, the surface of the lake starts to melt. Several times, we had nearly a week of 40 degree temperatures and lots of rain. When this happens, the top 2 or 3 inches of the lake melts, and while the ice underneath it is still strong enough to drive on, its a slippery, slushy mess. The snow mobiles and the four-wheeler will both slip and slide all over the surface. We tend to stay home when the surface is this kind of a melted mess. Even if we walk on it, we have to wear our rubber boots! We make sure that we move everything off of the ground during these conditions, otherwise, when the temperatures drop, your item will be stuck in 3 inches of water that is now frozen solid.

 

One day, Nate and I were walking on the frozen lake, and we heard a loud, deep thumping noise coming from underneath the ice. It reverberated all down the lake. It sounded like a giant creature underneath the ice, trying to break through. The Tlingits are local natives, and I read about one of their folk tales about a giant water creature, called the “Gunakedeit ” (Goo-na’-ka-date). From what I understand, it is very similar to the Lochness Monster, but it brings luck to your village! I joked with Nate that the sounds we were hearing underneath the ice was the “Gunakedeit “. We have come to learn that the loud noise we are hearing is simply the large blocks of ice shifting underneath our feet, and the constant release of air and gasses from the water gurgling up and being released out of the holes in the ice.

 

For the past four months, our days have been short. The sun was rising around 8:30 a.m., and setting around 3:30 p.m. That doesn’t sound bad, except that our cabin is surrounded by very tall mountains. On these short days, the sun hangs low in the sky, and unfortunately for us, it never rises above the mountains. So, we haven’t seen the sun since November. Around mid-February, we woke up and saw the sun peeking up over the mountain across the lake from us. A small sliver of sunlight shone on the icy lake and it glittered like diamonds. You would have thought that diamonds were falling from the sky. We took pictures, and had to go outside and feel the sun on our skin (even though it was still only 22 degrees!) For the next couple of weeks, we watched in awe and wonder as the sun rose higher each day, and that sliver of sunlight on the lake became wider and wider. We would go outside and chase the sunlight until we could no longer feel it. Today, we had sunlight for nearly 4 hours, and over the next 4 to 6 weeks, our sun will become brighter and stay longer. By mid-March, we will have sun from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m.  And, the days will just get longer and longer, until we hit the peak of the summer soltice in July when the sun will rise at 3:30 a.m. and set at 10:45 p.m. We have missed the sun. We’re glad it’s back, even though soon it will be back with a vengeance–we can’t wait!

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As the sun shines on the tops of the mountains, the snow is beginning to melt and roll down. This is perfect avalanche conditions. We hear lots of them. They rumble down the mountain, and it sounds like a continuous rolling thunder, and it echoes back loudly. They usually only last a minute or two, and it can be hard to spot them. But, afterwards, you can see an avalanche spot really well. The balls of ice and dirty snow track sometimes pushes down to the very bottom of the mountain, and spills out onto the icy surface of the lake. The resulting sculptures are beautiful!

 

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Throughout the winter, we have continued to have some good fishing. There is one area of the lake in front of “Bear Beach” where a small patch of water doesn’t freeze. We continued to catch Cutthroat Trout there in November and December, but beginning in January, we starting catching a new fish that we haven’t seen before. At first, we thought it was a Cutthroat Trout, but it has speckles all over its entire body and it has a reddish stripe down its side, like a Rainbow Trout. We have scoured through Alaska fishing books and can’t figure out what kind of fish this is. A local lake neighbor says it must be a “Cohini”, which he says is a moulting Coho Salmon. Whatever it is, we think it must be some type of moulting fish because its flesh is pinkish and doesn’t taste very well. They are a nice, big, fat fish, and fun to catch!

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Most of the wildlife has been very dormant this winter. We only saw one moose with her calf in November, but we haven’t seen any moose since. We also saw bears climbing up high in the mountains in November, but no signs of any bear since then. Some locals have said they have seen bears canvassing the ground near Bear Beach in January and February, but we haven’t seen any signs yet. They can sleep as long as they like, and that’s okay with me! I have enjoyed not having to constantly be looking around for a potential dangerous threat. We have also glassed a few solitary wolves and bobcats. Spring should be here soon, as the first Trumpeter Swans have returned to the lake.

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We are blessed with so much awe and wonder living in this vast wilderness. We never tire of admiring the beauty and majesty of the mountains all around us. Although this is all so new to us, we feel “at home”, and can’t imagine living anywhere else at this time in our lives.

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