I love bringing friends to the Cabin, especially that first time. There is something exhilarating about seeing everything through the eyes of someone who is seeing it for the first time. When the four of us were making regular trips as a family we didn’t really have space to have visitors as a rule. But there were exceptions as I recall…
The full bed in the center of the floor is an old hide-a-bed that has had the back and arms removed. It once had the ability to fold up like any normal hide-a-bed. However, it was such a lovely target when jumping from the top bunk that it soon developed the “ability” to fold up all on its own – unexpectedly! It had become a kind of a giant venus flytrap. This was inconvenient (and startling!) of course, but it provided a great opportunity to play a joke on a visitor.
An old school friend of Dad’s came out with his wife to visit us at the Cabin one afternoon. We giggled and planned (okay, maybe Dad didn’t giggle…) and when they arrived, we got Mrs. M to sit in the exact spot that was known to trigger the folding of the bed.
The new bunks I put in last summer - The mattresses came up the next weekend
We sat and bounced on the other side, my brother and I somehow trying to bounce on a bed and still act nonchalant!
We even dove from the top bunk, trying to hit that sweet spot that we knew would fold the bed.
Nothing happened, other than having to finally explain what we were trying to do. As I recall, we never did succeed in folding Mrs. M up into that crazy couch.
Dad eventually nailed the feet of the bed to 2×4 rails so that it is now just a bed. No more hijinx! Of course after 40 years it is doomed to soon be hauled away. It will be replaced by something that can once again fold up out of the way and provide seating (stable and non-folding!) for guests.
I know that Mom in particular is worried that I’ll be making a lot of changes to the Cabin, but I suspect even she won’t really miss the hide-a-bed!
Back in them old days, before we worried about Giardia and amoebic dysentery and fun things like that, we used to get our drinking water from a little fresh spring that ran down the hill some ways down toward the far end of the lake. Dad rigged a “spout” that he shoved deep into the moss above a little clear pool so that instead of seeping, the water actually flowed in a tiny clear stream down into the pool on its way to the lake. Every other day or so, we gathered up our empty plastic jugs and tramped down the trail to the spring to fill them.
One bright day, Dad handed me the empty jugs (I was about six years old) and told me to start down the trail. He was going to run up to the outhouse and then cut through the woods and meet me along the trail to the spring.
I should mention that I was a little spacey even then! I was probably singing or doing my best raven impression or talking to myself as I walked along when I realized there was an obstruction in the trail. I stopped a few feet from it, thinking that this bush hadn’t been here before and had I gotten on the wrong trail somehow? Suddenly the bush shook itself and proceeded to lumber across the trail and disappear into the brush. Yikes!
Scary monster if you're 6 years old!
The part Mom thinks is funny is the fact that I didn’t notice the porcupine until I nearly tripped over it, not to mention my hysterical reaction afterwards. I (allegedly) screamed at them that they “shouldn’t make a little girl walk by herself in the woods!” Possibly just a touch melodramatic! Neither of my parents ever passes up an opportunity to tell the story to friends!
Since that day, although I’ve seen plenty of porcupines along the highway (both dead and alive), I’ve never seen one anywhere on our property. Possibly the echo of my screams has been passed down through their generations as a warning to beware of daydreaming children!
The last few years my trips to the cabin have been mostly solo. I am always careful on these excursions to be extra aware of my surroundings and extra cautious when I go hiking or boating. So I was more than a little alarmed two years ago to find a pile of scat that I was pretty confident was bear. (I’m sorry, I wish I had thought to take pictures of it to share…) The pile was largish, dark and lumpy, and more importantly was located on a game trail far from any of the horse trails. (Horse piles can sometimes look like bear scat.) My heart rate increased considerably as I considered how close the pile was to my cabin and closer yet to the outhouse trail!
I later reported my find to my Dad who scoffed. He reminded me that there has never been any bear activity on our side of the lake. I was forced to admit that other than the one pile of scat, I had seen no other signs: no tracks, no clawed trees, no evidence of digging, no smell. But I couldn’t come up with any other explanation for what I had seen. Last summer I found another pile in the same area and was able to point it out to him when he and Mom came to the Cabin. Like me he was puzzled, but still adamant that it couldn’t be bear.
In August I joined several friends for a symposium called Becoming an Outdoor Woman. It’s put together by our Department of Fish and Game and if you have a similar program in your area I HIGHLY recommend it! There were classes on everything from fly fishing to handling a chainsaw. I took one called “What’s In the Woods.”
You see where this is going right? Sure enough, in the course of our hike, the instructor picked up a moose nugget and naturally we all identified it correctly. But then he went on to inform us that this was last winter’s nugget – composed of wood and bark from their winter diet. In summer, the moist diet of pond grasses and leaves produces a completely different type of scat – darker and lumpy and unformed. Sound familiar?
You're never too old to learn a new nugget!
Sigh… I really hate having to admit when I’m wrong but I’m REALLY glad it wasn’t a bear after all! The only consolation is that Dad has over 60 years of moose experience in Alaska and he didn’t know either!
It is an Alaskan habit to “clock watch” at sunrise and sunset each day as winter’s long nights gradually fade into the long days of summer. I missed a week of work, recovering from shoulder surgery, so today’s drive to work was noticeably brighter than last Tuesday’s drive. At 8:00am the mountains to the east of town were not only visible as silhouettes, I could actually see topographical features poking through the snow pack. Best of all, the clear blue sky is not necessarily a sign of bitter cold as it often is in January.
Temp this day was minus 22F !!! Photography at that temp is mostly out the car window!
I have given some thought to how I will deal with the short daylight in winter when I’m living remotely. Of course, not having to go into a windowless office and sit at a computer for 10 hours will make life infinitely more pleasant regardless of the amount of daylight! I hope to have a brisk little business in craft bazaars to keep me busy up until Christmas. January might be a welcome relief after toting goods into town several times! I can spend it resting and making the next year’s inventory of jewelry and other crafts that I sell.
Snow removal has also been on my mind lately, even as I enjoy the longer days. Record snowfall this winter has taken its toll on roofs in southcentral Alaska. I don’t mind shoveling a driveway or pathway now and again, but we actually ran out of places to put the stuff this winter, and it’s still coming! Some folks had roofs collapse due to the excessive weight. I want a peaked roof with a metal surface that sheds snow, but I will have to consult with my builder when the time comes to plan a roof that won’t dump its load in such a way as to block a pathway or – worse yet – a ventilation area. Another good reason to keep the new cabin small – less roof surface area to manage!
So many factors to consider!
Sorry no pictures this time, but stay tuned…!
My big news of the week is shoulder surgery on Tuesday. I had a badly torn rotator cuff and a significant bone spur. Recovery is going well…I chose to have this done sooner rather than later in order to have my rowing muscles back in full use by June/July ! However it does cramp my writing style a bit since my dominant hand is completely unusable for a few more days.
Thanks for hanging in there with me. I promise there are lots more Cabin stories to tell…
The last few years I have gone to some trouble to take my cat, a big yellow tom named Mr. Chitters, with me to the Cabin. When he came to live with me, he was already well over 11 lbs and I thought he was full grown. Today he is closer to 20lbs (an extra pound or two this winter due to our wretched cold temperatures keeping him indoors.) Though declawed as a kitten (NOT my doing!!) he was already an outdoor kitty and a highly successful hunter by the time I got him. He loves to go for walks (like a dog) so after my first trip with him I let him out of his carrier and carried him to the trail head where I set him down and began the hike to the Cabin. He often disappears briefly off the trail so I learned to be patient and keep walking and calling him to come along. Once at the Cabin he settles in fairly quickly. Sounds easy right?
Chitters with his best friend, Shortie (who is in doggie heaven now)
Last summer, things were a little different. My arrival at the camp was a little earlier in the day than usual and kids were hooting and hollering all over the place. The swimming area was in full swing and youngsters were dashing back and forth from the camp buildings to the shore. As a result, I carried Chitters a little farther than usual down the trail before releasing him. Actually, I would have carried him even further, but he was a bit freaked out and squirmed away, taking off up the hill. Believing that he would follow me as he had on previous trips, I walked on down the trail, calling him, forcing myself to keep going and not feed his fear with any panic on my part. I got halfway and still hadn’t heard or seen him behind me, so I dropped my backpack on the trail and headed back toward the camp.
The larger four-wheeler trail that passes above our Cabin
I spent the rest of that evening walking back and forth on that trail, convinced that he was holed up somewhere close by and would eventually meow a response to my constant calling. My friend who has a cabin several miles up the highway, came to help me look for awhile. Every trip I brought another load of gear back to the cabin from my car so that by the end of the next day I only had a couple of large water jugs and some tile for a flooring project to haul by boat. I stayed for the whole ten day vacation, walking all the trails between camp and Cabin at least once every single day, rain or shine. Most days I went out at dawn and again after the camp had settled down for the night. I tried to think like a cat, finding likely hiding spots and then planting myself there for awhile to call and listen. By the time it was time to go back to Anchorage, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
The very next weekend I was back. I was armed with a can of cat treats to shake and signs to tape up on my car window and anywhere that I thought the camp director wouldn’t object. I began expanding my search into the camp itself, walking the network of dirt roads between the residential area, the recreational buildings and the bunkhouses.
Back at home, I haunted the shelters and posted repeatedly on Craigslist. I made up a poster with several photos and contact information and distributed it around the camp in person during my next weekend trip. I knocked on doors throughout the residential area of the community and taped the poster to any that didn’t answer. Two people thought they might have seen him, but their descriptions were iffy. Still I went back to Anchorage Sunday afternoon with a feeling of real hope.
That night at 11:30pm I got a call. “I just saw your cat. Do you want me to try to call him?” Jubilation! Her name was Carrie and she wasn’t able to catch him, but I thanked her for trying and got information from her on where she lived and where he had been spotted. Thursday couldn’t come soon enough! I packed my car Wednesday night, went to a meeting after work and left from there to make the drive back to the camp. It was 10pm when I left Anchorage and the sun was just setting. As I got into the mountains, the rain began and quickly became a torrent. When I pulled into the camp road, the sound of the rain on my car deafened me to all other sounds. It was close to midnight and I couldn’t go shouting over the rain in a residential neighborhood, so I decided to sleep in my car in a gravel lot near Carrie’s house. By sunrise (about 4:30am) the rain had mostly stopped and I was up, tiptoeing around the neighborhood, calling softly and plinking the pull-tab on a can of cat food. Nothing. I walked the length of the camp road – about a mile – and bushwacked through some empty property behind Carrie’s house, getting well and truly soaked by the wet grass. When I finally felt it was an acceptable hour to knock, I went to her door and introduced myself. She stepped out and pointed to where she had seen him. “I know he’s eating, because my outdoor cat’s food is disappearing!” I got her permission to poke around the property. A pile of lumber and tires covered by a blue tarp was the first thing I checked. Still plinking the cat food can, I lifted the tarp and called “Chitters?” A little mew and a nose pressed against my hand.
- Happy to be Home !!
I can’t describe the feeling. Relief? Yes of course. That and so much more. Who knew a little creature could inspire so much effort and emotion? I knocked on Carrie’s door one last time with Chitters squirming in my arms, thanked her profusely for her help, and left for home. I never even went to my Cabin which meant that the cat carrier I had left up there wasn’t in my car. I broke a personal rule, driving all the way home with him on my lap, in my arms, meowing and purring by turns.
This summer, I am taking him in the old-fashioned way, in his carrier every step!
The weather here in Anchorage has been warming up a bit. After subzero temps for most of the last three weeks, 30F is balmy. I know it’s only February, but the more I write about the Cabin, the more I look to the longer days and the warming weather as indicators of spring coming. Sigh…Phil already predicted another six weeks of winter. Little does he know…in Anchorage we can double that.
Frosty afternoon on Cook Inlet
The above photo was taken on a recent trip to Kenai to visit my parents.
I have embarked on a huge project of scanning old photos and negatives into my computer. I hope to be able to share some shots of past Cabin trips with my family and friends soon. Meanwhile here are a few winter shots to keep me grounded in reality!
Moose on Funny River Road - taken two years ago on a road trip. This placid lady looks like she may be expecting. She was unconcerned about the car stopping next to her and soon went back to munching the willow branches. The temperature that day was between 10 and 20 degrees below zero! mmm...frozen willow sticks...my favorite
Alaskans get used to having their shrubbery “pruned” every winter by our ungulate friends. We had a little bull moose camp out in our back yard a month ago. A rotted pumpkin had been left on the flower box and that’s like a special treat for a moose. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me at the time!
Hoar frost on the brush - Funny River Road
Until the next post…stay warm!
So, as I said before, the Cabin is only 13 feet square. Picture if you will a medium sized bedroom and fill it with the following: a double bed, a set of bunk beds, a small dining table and benches, a wood stove, a tiny counter supporting a two-burner propane camp stove, and a series of crates and wooden boxes that serve as cupboards. Don’t forget a box for firewood and a wooden trunk that hold tools. You’re right…there is no room to move! But wait, there’s more…add a family of four (and various pets) together with gear and food for a 10 day stay, Dad’s guitar, coats and raingear, a rifle, games and books for rainy days…whew! When I think of us staying there as a young family, I am amazed. Even when I’m there by myself, I sometimes feel a bit claustrophobic and restless if the weather is inclement.
Hand made dining table and "kitchen"
You may have noticed the lack of plumbing mentioned in the above paragraph. We have a nice little outhouse built by my dad a couple of hundred feet behind the Cabin itself. For bathing, we have a large metal washtub – just like real pioneers! Mom and I washed each other’s hair down by the lake shore with a bucket and a dipper and a bit of courage for that first dipperful of icy water! More recently showers can be had (quickly!) on a little cinderblock platform behind the cabin. Water heated over the stove is poured into a heavy duty camp-shower bag with a shower head attached. This is then hung off a hook on the eaves over the shower area. Washing dishes is less complicated. Hauling water up from the lake is the most cumbersome part of the whole chore. Hand-washing is done with a small basin of filtered water that lives in a corner of the deck and is changed frequently as the water becomes cloudy with soap.
Our old fashioned wash tub has to live outside due to lack of space
No electricity is no problem. Kerosene lamps, a Coleman propane lamp and a candle lantern provide lighting. Dad provided music on his guitar in the evenings. Books and games and family were all the entertainment we needed indoors. Outdoors, if it wasn’t pouring rain, there were – and are – trails all over the mountain for exploring, the boat for access to trails on the far side or at the end of the lake, blueberry patches for picking in the fall, firewood to be gathered and cut, water to be hauled up from the lake for washing or potable water to be laboriously gathered from a tiny spring several hundred yards down the lake.
Cast Iron pot belly stove provides heat, but we cook with propane. Note the counter "support"
While I am nostalgic about the past trips and the camping out lifestyle we enjoyed, I have already begun tweaking things for convenience. I have a “Hot Water on Demand” that will provide a lovely new way to take showers. I have a composting toilet picked out and soon to be on its way.
And of course a new cabin someday…