Monthly Archives: March 2012

It’s Spring…errr…break-up

Oh my goodness, April is almost here!  (Thank you for sticking with me!) 

It’s officially windshield wiper fluid season here in Alaska.  We all have a spare gallon or two of the stuff in our garages, ready for the road spray from the melting snow.  This is a good time of year to be a car-wash operator too!  Although the clean look rarely lasts all the way home, we keep washing them to keep the damage from the chemicals on the roads to a minimum.  Mornings we wake up to below freezing temperatures and icy roads and go home in the afternoons in 30-40 degree weather with water coming at our cars from all sides and the danger of hydroplaning. 

Even cleared, the drains don't keep up very well

Anchorage residents are worrying this year about where all this snow is going to go.  At work we have stocked up on sand bags to stave off the annual flood in our basement due to backed up storm drains on our street.  City workers armed with huge plumbing snakes and ice choppers are already attacking the slush and ice that clogs the grates.     

That tiny dark spot is the hole they drilled through the 7 foot high snow berm to access the storm drain!

Folks who live in snow country will appreciate that our “spring” is also known as “break up.”  We even have an annual wager placed statewide on when the ice on the Nenana River will officially “break up” and begin sending its ice floes downriver.  It’s known as the Nenana Ice Classic and tickets cost $2 each.  You fill out your best guess as to when the tripod will fall and start watching the weather reports.  Don’t get too excited just yet…we have another month at least before it’s likely to go. 

At the Cabin, break-up means a few weeks of not being able to cross the lake.  The ice will be too rotten to be safe, but not quite rotten enough to allow for a boat.  Trudging in and out by way of the trail system is easy in summer, but will likely be a messy and dangerous workout in slushy, rotten, and very deep snow, so I and my wimpy knees will stay away for the time being. 

No, really...don't park here!

Meantime, my adventurous little gang of girlfriends is gearing up for the first road trip of the season this weekend.  We’re going to Homer just for the joy of being able to drive in daylight and on relatively ice-free highways.  We are very likely to see Dall sheep, moose, snowshoe hares, and eagles,as well as the remote possibility of coyotes, wolves, or lynx.  I will be sure to post some shots from that trip next week – current shots for a change!

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Fatso gets to stay…for a while longer anyway

I went to the Alaska Home Builders Association spring Home and Garden show this last weekend.  My friend stopped at remodeling contractor’s booths for info on a future kitchen remodel, while I talked to folks about building and heating a remote cabin. 

I really amused one gentleman who sells wood stoves and fireplaces.  I described the little cast-iron pot belly stove that we currently have and he was so tickled by its antiquity that he had trouble going into his sales pitch!  Apparently those have not been made since long before he got into the business.  He called it a museum piece several times in the course of our ten-minute conversation. 

Apparently a museum piece!

At any rate, we finally got down to brass tacks and talked about BTU’s and blowers that operate without electricity and weights and measurements.  There doesn’t seem to be anything on the market quite as petite or charming as our Fatso, but the efficiency of the newer units is going to be very welcome.  No more roasting of the guests!  Larger pieces of wood will fit in them and will burn slower depending on what setting I use. 

Also they all come with glass doors now, so there will be light and a pleasant aesthetic factor as well.  Weight is comparable between the new units and the Fatso.  The lightest was 300 lbs and promises to be a chore to get over the lake.  Sounds like a snowmachine project for my brother!  (and a couple of brawny friends to get it up the hill and through the door!) 

Costs start at around $1800 and go up to whatever you want to spend.  Things like this keep chipping away at my savings plan for the new construction…sigh. 

I guess I’ll have to stick with the Fatso in the current Cabin and wait to purchase a stove until I have a new cabin in which to install it.

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When I was five and a half years old, my Ganny told me one day that Mom and Dad were bringing home a baby brother from the hospital.  I promptly went and hid my new pack of gum!

My brother was (and still is at 40+) all boy from the word go.  Rough and ready and smart and big hearted.  If today’s standards of watchfulness were in place back then, my parents would have been questioned regularly over his many scrapes and bruises.

Because of the difference in our ages we didn’t have a lot of years at the Cabin where we actually played together.  I do remember a really good hike that we took, just the two of us, before summer jobs kept me from going with the rest of them.  We took the boat across the lake, pulled it out, scrambled up the steep bank and just explored until suddenly we were on the edge of a deep gorge overlooking a big, fast running creek.  We found a trail down to the creek and splashed around some and then made our way back up and out of the woods to the lake.  I have tried twice to find that trail again and still haven’t managed it.

A favorite camera subject at the Cabin

We spent a lot of time down on the dock, though the water was cold for swimming even on the warmest days.  One day I gave up on catching sticklebacks and swimming and was just sitting on the dock.  My brother was wading, slowly getting used to the cold so that he could swim.  He was probably about 5 or 6 years old.  I would taunt him about taking so long; he would retort that he wasn’t going to give up like I had.  This went on for awhile before he did give up, climbing out onto the dock beside me.  We were both shocked to see that the lower half of his body was covered in tiny little leeches.  He had gotten into a nest of babies apparently and they found him tasty.

Mom remembers me screaming “GET THE SALT!  GET THE SALT!” over and over again as we raced up the hill to the Cabin.  I was sent inside and ordered not to look while they stripped him down right there on the deck and salted him.  In my pre-adolescent innocence the salt made me think to say “mama mia, thatsa spicy meatball” after some TV ad. 


Hysterical child, smart mouthed big sister and parents choking between laughter and sympathy!

Sorry dude!  Hopefully it’s funnier for you now than it was then!

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The Iditarod is wrapping up today.

I remember my first year of college being so excited to be living in Anchorage and able to go downtown to watch the dog races during Fur Rondy and the ceremonial start of the Iditarod.  Now, thirty years later (!!) I avoid downtown altogether during the crowds of Rondy, and I listen for Iditarod updates on the radio and call it good.  (I was able to go to Nome several years ago in time to see the last few teams come through the burled arch.)

We watched the musher spend a lot of time loving on everybody after they were all settled into their straw beds.

A perfect day for a ride. My musher was a sixteen-year old who very patiently took each of us around the 2-mile loop. It combined fun for us with training and exercise for the athletes (the dogs)

I have friends who raise dogs and race them and have even been lucky enough to go for a ride in the sled on the local trails, but frankly that’s the limit of my ambition where mushing is concerned!  Until I saw it up close, I had no real idea how much work and worry is involved in the sport.  Animal rights activists who decry the treatment of the animals have not spent a great deal of time with real mushers.  These are some of the happiest, healthiest dogs on the planet and a tremendous amount of effort and expense is involved to keep them that way.  Of course there are bad apples in the sport, as there are in any activity known to man.  In general however, the mushing community is a conscientious group.

However much I laud mushing as a sport, I am still happy that there are no major kennels near my Cabin!  There is a noise level associated with mushing kennels that I wouldn’t relish having next door!  (I should report however that my friend has a 26 dog kennel in the heart of Anchorage and has worked with them so that they are pretty quiet most of the time.  It’s a charming exception when they perform their sunset/after dinner/happy dog song, all howling in unison for about two minutes before settling in for the night.) 

I would love to have a dog when I live up there full time, but one is more than enough work – and noise – for me!

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Bathroom…um…Outhouse Remodel

I have an appointment to pick up a new toilet on Saturday!

Regular readers may recall that a composting toilet has been on my wish list for the Cabin.  I have done my homework and decided that Nature’s Head ( is the best – cleanest – easiest, but have hesitated to order it due to the likely hassle and expense of having it shipped to Alaska. 

(For those of you who live “outside” I should explain that shipping is something Alaskans NEVER take for granted!  There are few cheap options, especially for larger items, and we frequently come up against uneducated folks who insist they can’t ship internationally!  Once we convince them that Alaska is actually part of their United States they often tell us that the shipping costs are double whatever the website claims.  And “free” shipping?  Forget it!)

nature’s head composting toilet

The Nature’s Head weighs about 28 lbs so I figured freight could be as much as $100 or even more depending on the packaging and the preferred shipping method of the company.  I was therefore delighted to find that there is a local dealer who loves them so much she sells them out of her garage and at the website’s advertised retail price of $875 (no shipping costs!)

Through the years we have had a couple of outhouses at the Cabin.  The first one that I remember was quite a ways back in the woods and was basically an open A-frame over a log that was propped up over a hole.  Dad nailed a tarp over the A-frame for protection from the rain, but you had to trust the geography of the location to shield you from sight.  Potty trips were mostly done in pairs by gender! 

The current one is quite nice with a door that latches, a roof of corrugated plastic that lets in light but sheds snow and rain, and a real toilet seat.  But the hole is nearly full and no amount of ashes from the woodstove completely kills the smell anymore.  (Oddly I don’t have pictures of either of these backwoods bathrooms!)  The new toilet will live in the old outhouse, but Dad and I plan to move the little building itself closer to the Cabin first and then bury the existing hole.

I can’t wait to … well … to try it out!  Let’s be honest after all!

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A Magical Morning

Many years ago, I worked at a photo lab with several other outdoorsy women.  (This was before digital photography!) I had recently gotten my own set of keys to the Cabin after not having gone for a few years, so I enthusiastically convinced two friends to join me for a weekend in late August.  The 90 minute drive was closer to 3 hours with three photographers in the car! 

Along the way, I realized that I didn’t have the right set of keys.  I broke it to my friends, but they were game to go on.  We all had sleeping bags and plenty of snacks and the weather was glorious so we camped out on the deck, drinking wine and enjoying the quiet of the lake as the sun went down.  In the morning coffee was prepared by means of a tiny camp stove that one of the girls always carried in her backpack.  We breakfasted on the remainder of the crackers and cheese and then decided to go up the hill to check out the view.  The weather was still cooperating, actually unseasonably warm and dry for August.  We huffed and puffed up the nearly vertical path to the blueberry trail above the Cabin.  There we paused to rest perched on the random boulders that litter the hillside. 

View from about halfway up to the blueberry trail

The view from that trail is beyond spectacular.  The whole valley lays before you framed by purple mountains, ice blue glaciers and the dark mirror of the lake.  The foreground is idyllic as well with white quaking aspen trees marching down the hillside before us, their silvery leaves fluttering in the breeze.  The forest floor is done in a thousand shades of green accented with orange and red berries of kinnikinnik and cranberries.  We burned several rolls of film between the three of us and then just rested quietly enjoying the early morning view. 

Colorful foliage

White columns of Birch and Aspen are more dominant as you go higher. This shot was taken in September of last year

The acoustics of an alpine lake are unique.  Although the camp is nearly a mile away from where we were perched on the mountainside we could hear occasional voices as people made their way to church.  Services were announced with a pealing of bells from their bell tower and then a perfect a capella chorus of Amazing Grace drifted up to us.  We were rendered speechless. 

That was nearly twenty years ago.  Since then I have listened every Sunday morning that I’ve been up there and have never heard them singing.  It was just simply a magical moment, never to be repeated.

Needless to say I didn’t have any trouble convincing those girls to go back to the Cabin.  One of them has since passed away and I’ve sadly lost contact with the other one.  But for a few years we made regular trips, not only to the Cabin, but all over the road system of South Central Alaska.  There are a number of great road trip stories that will make it to this blog I’m sure!

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