• Finding Alaska: The Life and Art of Shannon Cartwright
    Finding Alaska: The Life and Art of Shannon Cartwright
    by Shannon Cartwright
  • Trapline Twins
    Trapline Twins
    by Julie Collins
  • Riding the Wild Side of Denali: Adventures with Horses and Huskies
    Riding the Wild Side of Denali: Adventures with Horses and Huskies
    by Miki Collins, Julie Collins
  • Dog Driver: A Guide for the Serious Musher
    Dog Driver: A Guide for the Serious Musher
    by Miki Collins, Julie Collins
  • Two in the Far North
    Two in the Far North
    by Margaret E. Murie
  • Alaska's Wolf Man: The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser
    Alaska's Wolf Man: The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser
    by Jim Rearden
  • Back Tuva Future
    Back Tuva Future
    by Kongar-ol Ondar
  • Cave of the Yellow Dog
    Cave of the Yellow Dog
    starring Batchuluun Urjindorj, Buyandulam Daramdadi, Nansal Batchuluun, Nansalmaa Batchuluun, Babbayar Batchuluun
  • Mongolian Ping Pong
    Mongolian Ping Pong
    starring Hurichabilike, Geliban, Badema, Yidexinnaribu, Dawa (II)
  • Making Great Cheese: 30 Simple Recipes from Cheddar to Chevre Plus 18 Special Cheese Dishes
    Making Great Cheese: 30 Simple Recipes from Cheddar to Chevre Plus 18 Special Cheese Dishes
    by Barbara J. Ciletti
  • Grain-free Gourmet Delicious Recipes for Healthy Living
    Grain-free Gourmet Delicious Recipes for Healthy Living
    by Jodi Bager, Jenny Lass
  • Cooking Alaskan
    Cooking Alaskan
    by Alaskans
  • Stocking Up: The Third Edition of America's Classic Preserving Guide
    Stocking Up: The Third Edition of America's Classic Preserving Guide
    by Carol Hupping
  • The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest: 150 Recipes for Freezing, Canning, Drying and Pickling Fruits and Vegetables
    The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest: 150 Recipes for Freezing, Canning, Drying and Pickling Fruits and Vegetables
    by Carol W. Costenbader
  • Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation
    Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation
    by The Gardeners and Farmers of Centre Terre Vivante
  • Dersu the Trapper (Recovered Classics)
    Dersu the Trapper (Recovered Classics)
    by V. K. Arseniev
  • In the Shadow of Eagles: From Barnstormer to Alaska Bush Pilot, a Pilots Story
    In the Shadow of Eagles: From Barnstormer to Alaska Bush Pilot, a Pilots Story
    by Rudy Billberg
  • Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun
    Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun
    by Velma Wallis
  • Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival
    Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival
    by Velma Wallis
  • Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life
    Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life
    by Nancy Lord
  • Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)
    Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)
    by Steve Solomon
  • Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables
    Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables
    by Mike Bubel, Nancy Bubel
  • Beluga Days: Tracking the Endangered White Whale
    Beluga Days: Tracking the Endangered White Whale
    by Nancy Lord
  • Fishcamp Life on an Alaskan Shore
    Fishcamp Life on an Alaskan Shore
    by Nancy Lord
  • The Snow Walker
    The Snow Walker
    starring Barry Pepper, Annabella Piugattuk, James Cromwell, Kiersten Warren, Jon Gries
  • The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)
    The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)
    starring Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk, Madeline Ivalu
  • Heartland [VHS]
    Heartland [VHS]
    starring Rip Torn, Conchata Ferrell, Barry Primus, Megan Folsom, Lilia Skala
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    Hunting * Fishing * Trapping * Gardening * Gathering Wild Edibles * Raising Livestock * Building by Hand * Homeschooling * Flying * Backpacking * Dog Mushing * Cheesemaking * Rock Hounding * Backcountry Living * And Other Old Timey Stuff

    Sunday
    Nov082009

    The old days

    My husband and his family are really one of a kind.  And they've got hundreds of stories to tell to prove it.  Not many pictures though... cameras are one of those commodities that don't survive bush life very well- nor the photos they produce.  So the few pictures that have survived the decades of porcupine, marten and bear taking up residence in off-season cabins are precious to say the least. 

    One such story that comes to mind, is one that Ben's mom tells about when he was just a wee one.  6 weeks after his birth, Debbie  flew back into the bush to the only cabin on their remote trapline... an 8x10 log job with a 4 foot high door and a dirt floor.  Ed had chopped enough wood to get her started, but wood goes fast when the temperatures drop below zero.

    She bundled up the little guy as best she could and tied him from the purlins in a Johnny Jump-up.  And out she went to get more wood.  There was something wrong with the chainsaw and she couldn't get it started... so she was armed with a bow saw and an axe.

    She picked a spruce tree not far from the cabin that looked to be easy pickins.  But it took most of the day to cut that tree and get enough lengths back to the woodpile to make a difference.  Every once in a while she'd duck into the cabin to check on her little one... usually to find him beet red and screaming... but also warm and safe.

    She was doing what she had to do to keep them both alive, and an unattended warm baby is better off than a frozen mother and child.  It was to be another 6 weeks before Ed would buzz the cabin and airdrop a cheeseburger to her, unable to land because of airstrip conditions.  When he finally got back from hunting, he got an earful I'm sure.

    In the midst of that first stint alone in the bush with a newborn, little Ben got sick with a high fever, and mama was worried.  There was no way to communicate with the outside world, and no way to get help except to spend a week walking out in dangerous ice conditions.  She chose to make a sign on the airstrip gravel bar out of driftwood stating SOS.

    Unfortunately there was no air travel through that valley... no pilots to see her message.  So she did what every good mama does, and did the best she could.  With careful assistance, little Ben got better and didn't need a bush flight out.

    Those were the days.  The funny thing is that nowadays its just as easy to get lost in the last frontier and live a life that is far removed from modern conveniences.  The cool part is that now we have satellite phones and take care to see that they are handy and in working order.  So its unlikely that I will face the same hardships in a remote camp with our kids.

    But you can bet I plan to stay prepared and ahead of the game.  You never know when disaster can strike... the possibilities are endless.  A wrecked plane, a satellite phone gets wet, incapacitating injuries or illness, earthquakes... yep, its worth it to keep your wits about you and be thinking ahead.

    There's alot of responsibility attached to the independence and freedom of this lifestyle, but living to tell the stories and hand down knowledge to your grandkids makes it all worth it.

    Saturday
    Nov072009

    Goat travels

    It seems like I can barely remember my life before goats.  I definitely remember sitting at the bar of our local roadhouse, while some neighborly friends talked me into buying a milking doe from their cousins.  And it wasn't but a matter of days before I brought GiGi up the mountain.

    Heh, I'd never milked a goat before... so I had to teach myself on the fly.  I mean, she had to be milked, and I had to be the one to do it.  Thus my milking style is different from anyone else that I've met... because I'm self taught.  It takes me two hands to milk one teat.  Crazy.

    GiGi was a good girl.  We had our share of rodeos though.  At that time, my cabin was only 8x16, so I milked her on a bench outside the front door.  I'll have to try to dig up a picture somewhere.  I'll never forget the time that a Cessna pilot buzzed the cabin while I was milking, and GiGi about jumped out of her skin... spilling the milk jar and leaving milk EVERYWHERE.  

    I was pissed and sped the 4-wheeler down to the local airstrip to give him a piece of my mind, but he'd left in his truck by the time I got there.  Word spread around the community though, so it got back to him... and I did, at a much later date, get an apology and a promise to abstain from future buzzing.

    GiGi went with me on a road trip to McCarthy, which is road accessible bush living at its finest.  It was excellent!  Each family I visited traded me free meals/lodging for fresh goat milk... a sweet commodity for both me and them.  One morning I woke up and she was gone though, she had followed a neighbor on his skinny skis back to his house... and he let her sleep in her entry way.  I can't tell you how nervous I was, following her tracks in the snow- not knowing what I would find or where I would find her.  

    Then there was the first time we took her down to the coast.  I guess it was a spring trip, to our remote camp on Prince William Sound.  She rode in the back of the truck down to Valdez, then in the backseat of our bushplane out to camp.  Ben couldn't bring both of us at once, so he left her there on the river bar with my father-in-law.  

    GiGi had to swim the river to get from the airstrip to the cabin.  That was the first test.  The second came when Ed didn't tie her up after milking, and she ran to the top of the waterfalls cliff behind the cabin and screamed and screamed until I got home.  Then came step three.

    We took off backpacking to one of our spike camps, and GiGi was trailing along like always.  We had to cross the creek (a small river, really) several times... and one of the crossings had a really fast moving deep channel that swept her downstream through a bunch of rapids.

    But she fished herself out, ran back to the crossing point, climbed up onto a huge boulder, made this fantastic leap across the channel into the shallower water... and came bounding up to find us.  Seeing her fly through the air like that is etched in my memory for sure.

    There's nothing like traveling in the backcountry with goats.  Its far finer than packing with dogs, thats without a doubt.  You don't have to pack their feed, they don't chase game or make a bunch of noise, and they don't try to shed their packs.  Plus the constant fresh milk, and the fact that they can carry alot...

    Yeah, I'm addicted to goats.  I can barely imagine life without them.  I don't want to.  Goats are great.

    Friday
    Nov062009

    About chickens

    Yep, another typical day in the life... 5 fewer chickens in the yard and 10 more bird feet in the broth pot.  I'm still a relative novice at fowl husbandry- I guess this is the third year.  I first ordered hatching eggs from an eBay auction when I was 6 months pregnant with my little girl... and its been a real learning experience from there.  

    That first year, my incubator hatch rate was pretty low.  Then when the chicks were about six weeks old, my sled dogs had a heyday and didn't leave too many survivors.  In fact, they killed every single one of the tiny meat chicks- and all but three of the pullets.  By winter, only one bird was left.

    We called him the Aviator, and let him roost on a beam in the entry of our cabin.  Needless to say, it was quite a surprise when we found a nest of his eggs the following spring.  Now that was exciting stuff... to hatch a chick from an eBay egg, raise her in the cabin, and have her go on to lay gorgeous green eggs.

    The Aviator is still with us... she doesn't lay many eggs anymore, and she's the closest thing to a jobless pet that we let hang around.  Her favorite roosting place is on the woodbox just outside the cabin door... though I'll probably forcibly move her into the coop when winter hits with all its fury.

    I liked the Aviator so much, that I ordered more hatching eggs from the same farm the next year.  And I've been really pleased with her sisters too.  One of them went broody this summer when I was roosterless, so I bought 8 guinea hatching eggs from a gal on Craigslist... and 28 days later, she hatched every one of those keets.

    Its my first year raising guineas, so I'm not sure how they fit into our lifestyle yet... but its been fun. Five remain, and are still growing.  I think there's 4 hens and a roo.  I intend to overwinter them, lock em up in the spring when they start laying, and put a big bunch of eggs under a broody chicken.

    I like the idea of raising gamier type birds, but haven't had a huge amount of luck so far.  I lost all the turkey poults I picked up this summer, when they escaped overnight never to be seen again.  And I brought home a dozen guinea keets just a little younger than my own... only to feed them for two months and have them disappear into the wild.

    Free-ranging livestock definitely has its challenges.  One would think that I'd have trouble with wolves, coyotes and foxes... but my biggest problem is with the hawks.  We live near a landmark string of cliffs with alot of nesting raptors, and it seems I lose around 25 percent of my flock to hawks.  

    The guineas sure put up a ruckus when low-flying predators are scouting the area.  And there's not much that draws my attention faster than the guinea alarm, and chickens running for cover.  Aside from having alot of range shelters, there's not much to be done about the hawks.  If I didn't choose to live in such a jaw-dropping locale, there wouldn't be so darn much competition.

    Of the 40 Colored Ranger day-old chicks that arrived in July, only 28 made it to harvest.  Some of those died early by accident or disease, but the lions share went to the hawks.  The ones that survived are some big birds though... tipping the scales at 8 pounds average dressed out.  And that makes a whole mess of chicken in the freezer.

    I started canning chicken this year too.  Bone, skin and meat all goes into the jars... with a touch of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of sea salt.  100 minutes later, the most beautiful broth and tender meat is sealed into those jars, ready for a quick meal.  Gotta love home canned chicken.  Wow.

    Yeah, alot of living and learning... this chicken adventure has brought.  Today's processing took only half the time that processing consumed in the beginning.  And that means more time to spend on other everyday chores... something like a penny saved is a penny earned.

     

     

    Wednesday
    Nov042009

    Stocking Up

    This is our inbetween season.  That block of time that comes every fall when the leaves are gone, the ground is frozen, the wind howls, and we're waiting for snow to make travel easier.

    Our main cabin is only a mile from the nearest dirt road, but its all uphill... and the longest commute between truck and porch took over 4 hours.  You'd think it would never take that long to hike a mile if you have two working legs... but think again.  

    I was working in town that fall of 1999, and between the time when I left for work and when I got home, we'd received almost 4 feet of snow.  I was using foot power to go back and forth... it was too cold for my four-wheeler to start and these were the days before I owned a snowmachine.  So the only way to get up the mountain was to walk.

    Without snowshoes, the last quarter mile was climbed on my knees to spread out my body weight.  By this time the snow was switching to rain, and I arrived dog-tired at my cabin door at 6:30 in the morning. 

    Fast forward a decade... and you'll find me at the same ever-expanding homestead.  Now married and with a toddler and satellite internet access- but life is much the same.  Yeah, we have snowmachines and the dogteam has dwindled to 4.  But the inbetween season is here again.

    Yesterday found me working hard to get the four wheeler started, so I could haul those last precious loads up the mountain before we play the waiting game.  Waiting for snow to make the snowmachines go.  Praying for trail padding to slick up the skis and provide braking for the dogs.  Wondering when it will come.

    So I did manage, with much ado, to add 240 pounds of livestock feed and 80 gallons of water to our stash.  And I really hope it tides us over until sleds travel easily up and down the mountain...

     

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