This year in a nutshell

For some time now, I have been planning to post a blog, but I have been struggling to find some way to sum up the year. This has been an incredibly difficult year for Joe and I, as well as our families. (the understatement of the year!) Many of you are aware, but for those of you who aren’t, Joe and I were pregnant with twin girls. They were born very premature, 22weeks, after a long ordeal in the hospital. Isabella passed away at birth and Sophia survived three weeks in the NICU. It was a miracle to get the time we did with Sophia and to witness her feisty little personality. We have been so loved and cared for by our friends and family through this time, there are no words to even begin to express our gratitude. Difficult times show the quality of your friends and family, we were amazed at the beautiful people who kept watch with us during this time. (It wasn’t just us that thought so either, even the doctors and nurses commented on it) I know many of you have been wondering how we are doing now that we are back out at the lodge full time, and the busy season is over. If there was one thing, above all that our time with the girls taught us it was to be fully in each moment, it might be all you get. The time I spent with Sophia in the NICU, with all her complications, became a celebration of moments. We couldn’t look forward to days, weeks, or even years, but we took each moment together as a gift. We always seem to be rushing ahead, eyes on the future, instead of taking in the moments before us. A while back Joe and I were talking about how we have changed through this and what we wanted to hang onto long after it, and for both of us it was being in the moment. Strangely, our grief has come in moments as well, over all we are doing well, but there are moments when the grief is overwhelming. It’s a slow journey, it will be a part of us for the rest of our lives. There will be a thousand moments that we remember, grieve, and even celebrate moving forward. Down the road, as I have had more time to process, I am sure I will tell more of the story and our journey through it, but for now we are upheld by God’s grace and filled with hope for the future.

We began construction on our cabin this spring, the culmination of all Joe’s hard work and planning. My dad came for a month and helped Joe with the framing, which was such a big help. It was almost impossible to get them to quit after a twelve-hour day. I was actually thankful for the rainy days that made them slow down a bit and get some needed rest. The cabin is livable now, but still unfinished, hopefully once we can start hauling in supplies on the trail this winter we will be able to get it finished up. I have never dreamed of a big fancy house, for me this is perfection, a cozy little cabin by the lake, with the kind of view that takes your breath away. (one of my favorite perks of the cabin….wait for it…..flushing toilet!)

Winter is here, kind of, it’s been another mild one so far, which we are hoping will not last. We need more snow to be able to get our winter firewood and haul supplies. It’s been a slow start, but we still have several months of winter left. We are Alaskans, we want winter to be cold with several feet of snow! I want to have to shovel a snow tunnel to the outhouse! (you might need to remind me that I said this later in the winter)
This year brought a lot of changes for our family, one of the more exciting ones was that Zac and Alyssa moved out to the lodge with their girls Chloe and Eiley. They are now living up at the lodge and Joe and I are nestled in our cabin at the edge of the property. Its been a lot of fun having our partners out here and being able to run the lodge together as a team. (This has always been the long term plan, so its exciting to see it taking place) Alyssa and I spent the summer in the kitchen, and it was so nice to share the work load instead of having to take on all the cooking and cleaning alone. (it was also super nice to have the company, its not so interesting talking to yourself. You just end up looking a little crazy) Zac put on a lot of miles guiding hikes this summer, so Joe could focus on getting the cabin finished up. Chloe and Eiley are quickly becoming great entertainers. Chloe is mastering the art of storytelling, though we might have to reign in the embellishments just a little. (Chloe “we saw two moose”….the guests smile, unimpressed. Time to take it up a notch, “they were fighting!” she states emphatically. Suddenly, the guest perk up and are interested. All of us adults look at each other, we did see two moose, but they were not fighting or even in the same spot. I can’t help but smile, as Alyssa corrects her information, the girl has got it, she knows how to capture an audience, she will be a great story teller one day.) One of the girls favorite thing this summer was to pick blueberries, Chloe is a very good at picking and Eiley is very good at eating. Eiley and Howie seem to be competing for who can consume the most blueberries in one season. I saw them both wipe each other out trying to get to some blueberries. It takes some skill to actually knock Howie over, not sure how Eiley managed it. The other favorite activity is wading in the lake and throwing rocks, all of us adults took turns collecting rocks and sitting with them while they played. Its good to be a kid!

Christmas is just around the corner, we finally got out to find a Christmas tree. I think its our best one yet. Zac and Alyssa and the girls are down with Alyssa’s family for the holidays, so Joe and I will most likely have a quiet Christmas out here at the lodge. After a hectic year, full of ups and downs, winter has ushered peace and calm, time to reflect and process, the perfect way to close out this year and gear up for whatever new adventures lay ahead.

 

White Christmas ?

 

Christmas is just around the corner and I am faced with the realization that once again all my good intentions of keeping up on my blog over the spring, summer, and fall have fallen flat. There seems to be one season out here that gives me the time to sit by the fire and hammer away at the laptop keys in a fit of inspiration.

Joe is out on the lake dragging a runway for a supply load coming in this weekend. Its been a cold freeze up with almost no snow. We got about 7 inches two weeks ago, but the wind that followed left everything pretty bare. We don’t have enough snow to do the snow machine trail, in fact we had a pretty rough go of things just trying to get a christmas tree. Each year brings new challenges, reminding us that life out here means always adapting to the weather patterns and rolling with whatever comes our way. It seems like after a few years we would begin to run out of firsts, but every season brings a new set of them. This year has been no exception.

We had our busiest tourist season yet, Joe and I barely had a moment to catch our breath. As always, we met wonderful people from around the world who made us laugh and shared stories of their lives, reminding us that we are not all as different as we think we are and that common ground isn’t hard to find……. no matter where you come from. While we were beyond thankful for a good season, by the time October rolled around we both were exhausted and dreaming of the quiet and calm days of winter.

This Spring, I did my first stay alone at the lodge for a few days, while Joe headed out to fish the copper river for our winter meat. I found a certain thrill in knowing it was just me out here in the vast wilderness, and that I had to figure everything out on my own. Howie wasn’t very good company during that time, since he got bitten up by noseeums (apparently herbal dog bug spray doesn’t work in Alaska!) and took to hiding in the shop. Not to worry though, Wilson turned out to be a very good companion……on second thought maybe too much time out here alone isn’t such a great idea! Thankfully, we ended up with plenty of salmon…….. nothing makes me happier than blackened salmon sizzling on the stove on a winter evening. (Joe doesn’t share my love of salmon, he would take a moose burger over salmon every time, but he never complains about how often it appears on our dinner table……smart man!)

Another first we had this year was that my dad finally made his first trip out to the lodge. It was funny as the plane was taxing towards the dock, I knew my dad was in the front seat because I couldn’t see his head over the dash. (now I know how it looks when I ride as co pilot!) Those of you who know my dad, know he is a pretty excitable guy, he was so excited his first day here I was a little worried he was going to give himself an asthma attack. Few people have as deep of a love of nature, fresh mountain air, and roughing it as my dad. I don’t have to look very far to know where I get my love of the wilderness. Joe’s dad came out for a while too, he had a moose tag so we were looking for a nice bull for him. Dad and I spotted a bull one morning and spent several hours just watching him, he was too far to go after, but we really enjoyed watching him. It was early in the rut, so the bull was starting to collect a few cows. Not many people can sit and glass for long periods like I do, usually even Joe and Howie get board with me and start exploring or playing with sticks, but with my dad I found the perfect companion…. we sat on the tundra for long periods watching the wildlife around us. For me, its therapeutic, as I scan the tundra all my tiredness just ebbs away, trying to find an animal is like a treasure hunt. (It’s weird to some people, I guess, but then again I think its weird to camp out on a side-walk outside of Best Buy so you can fight a person for a new television.) Dad’s time here was short, but we packed in as many adventures as we could, canoeing, hiking, glassing, he even got to see the northern lights. Hopefully, he will be able to make another trip out here before too long.

Now as winter settles in the sun barely peeks above the mountains before it begins its decent, but we don’t mind, we curl next to the fire with a steaming cup of coffee and read another book, watching the skies and dreaming of a white Christmas.

 

img_3144
Denali

Unfit For Passengers

 

I clearly remember my first time handling an ATV, mainly because my dad and sister have never let me forget. My dad was out working on irrigation ditches, and my older sister and I were tagging along, the main benefit being that we all got to ride around on a 4wheeler. My dad has always loved to teach us how to handle new thing and situations, which led to Jenny getting a chance to learn to drive the 4wheeler, and then eventually came my opportunity. All I can remember being told was push the black throttle down, in my mind that meant push it all the way until it stops. There may have been other instructions, but at six this is all I heard. My sister is still convinced it was an attempt on her life, but what happened next was the start of my driving experiences. I pushed the throttle down as hard as I could with my little thumb, and the machine roared to life, leaving my sister and dad yelling, and hanging on for dear life as we raced forward, completely jumping an irrigation ditch. I don’t know how long it took for my dad to wrestle the steering away from me and bring us safely to a stop, probably a matter of seconds after clearing the ditch, but for a moment the wind whipped my face and I felt the thrill of power. Never mind that no one let me drive anything for a long time after, and to this day they continue to remind me of how I almost killed them on a 4wheeler. I think it was a steady piece of driving, since we jumped the ditch instead of crashing into it or flipping over. Needless to say, neither my dad or my sister offered to let me drive anything until I was old enough to go through drivers education and had learned to drive with a stranger. As it turned out, I am a decent driver in a car, no accidents or tickets, cautious, but not timid. That aspect of my driving has never been a problem, but once we moved out to Caribou Lodge, a whole new world of driving opened up to me in the form of snowmobiling (or as alaskans refer to it, snow machining.) Once again, I got to enjoy the thrill of the wind at my face and power at my fingertips. Joe is a good teacher and undaunted by my appetite for speed, of course he is sitting safely on his own machine, not clinging on behind me. Over the past year, I have learned to drive a snow machine pretty efficiently, traversing trails and the backcountry with ease. However, there seems to be a consistent hitch in my ability to drive…….passengers. The first time, I buzzed across the frozen lake with my sister in law hanging on the back, we were laughing and enjoying the ride, when suddenly as I leaned into a turn……there was a whooosh of snow pants and she was gone. I looked back to see her laughing and laying in the snow. That was only the beginning of my problem.

Recently, we had our first winter guests. While we have had our share of summer and fall guests, winter guests was a new adventure for us. As the plane dropped down onto the snow covered lake, we jumped onto our machines, with sleds in tow, to bring our new guests and their luggage back to the lodge. It all started out great, introductions and getting loaded up, the plane taking off, and then everyone got on the machines for the ride back to the lodge. I had two passengers, a father and daughter behind me, as Joe had the older son and luggage. As we tried to turn and make our way up the hill, I found the steering nearly impossible, we made a wide turn but as we headed up the hill to the lodge I felt us begin to slide sideways. As if in slow motion, we slid and the snowmachine tipped over dumping all three of us in the snow bank. As it was happening, all I could think of was the unsigned snowmachine wavers sitting on the counter in the lodge. All of us were unhurt and Joe came and helped us get the machine up and back on track and up the hill. As it turned out, our wonderful guests had a sense of humor about the whole affair, though I think they will probably be more selective about their drivers in the future.      Needless to say I have come to grips with the reality that I cannot drive passengers without dumping them off. So far, I have only one passenger who manages to stay on when I am driving, my dog Howie. Somehow, he has managed to perfect the art of riding with me, its a mystery, since he can’t actually hang on, not that it has been helpful to my other passengers. Sometimes as we bump down a rough trail, I look back at him and see him scrunched and wide eyed in the basket, other times as we fly along he leans into the wind and seems to smile. Regardless of our ride, he is always ready to go again. When we load up machines and I lay the cardboard down in the basket he climbs in and is ready for an adventure. He knows he is on his own back there, if he dumps out, he is in charge of getting back in whether I am moving or not. He also knows when things get tricky, its his job to bail out in order to stay safe. He can catch up with me and jump back into the basket while I am moving before I even know he is gone. He is the only passenger that I don’t have to worry about, he is also the only one with the necessary skills to stay on. In acknowledging the fact that I am unfit for passengers, I have decided a special insurance waver is necessary to ride with me. It will go something like this:

“ I _________________, hereby acknowledge that in selecting Bonnie Bramante as my driver, I take full responsibility of my own fate. I will be liable for any injuries sustained during my dump offs and or bail outs, as well as any sustained in my attempts to catch up and remount moving transportation. I assume full responsibility as a passenger to keep and maintain my seat and safety for the duration of the ride. I also acknowledge should other transportation be available to me, it is in my best interest to take it, as current driver is unfit for passengers.”

IMG_0144

Reflections

IMG_7740

As I sit at the computer, my gaze keeps wandering to the dining room windows where the lake is stretching out smooth as glass, perfectly reflecting the surrounding mountains. All summer long we wait for the lake to grow quiet, so we can get some great pictures, and it never seems to grow completely calm, but as we have moved into October it seems to be a regular occurrence. A strange quiet seems to cover the landscape, fall is over, but winter hasn’t quite made an appearance. Our busy season has come to a close, leaving us with time to catch up with friends and family, or just sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. September 2nd marked our one year anniversary here at Caribou Lodge and with it came a lot of reflecting on the past year, the highs and lows of our first tourist season.

IMG_3159

One of my favorite moments of the day with guests was when we all settled around the dinner table together……. Suddenly, people from different countries became family, laughing and passing food around the table. At times I would just sit back and watch, something about it was so different and special all at the same time. Every guest was different and each group had a different dynamic. Some loved to stay up late laughing and talking on the deck or playing cards, while others would sit quietly up on Blueberry hill enjoying the solitude. Sometimes we would do an evening hike up to Bear point and all sit and watch the sunsetting on the Alaska Range.

IMG_8721

I loved these moments, since for me they were few and far between, most of my day being spent in the kitchen. This summer, my days started early and ended late, it seemed like there was never quite enough time to get everything done between cooking, cleaning, gardening, and laundry! As our season came to a close, all I could think about was how much I was looking forward to being able to sit and enjoy drinking my morning coffee as opposed to trying guzzle it down between cleaning, only to end up downing cold coffee.

IMG_8534 IMG_3448

Howie loved everything about the tourist season, from the time guests get settled in their cabins to the time they leave, he charms them. He is convinced they are all here for one purpose alone, to pet him and throw his ball. Somehow he ends up convincing them of that too, even the ones who claim they don’t like dogs. Truth be told, Howie was more popular than either Joe or I could ever dream of being. This is not an exaggeration, a family wrote in the guests book addressing it to Howie and his “helpers”. He would sit with his head resting on their knees as they sat on their deck or be laying on their deck in the morning to greet them when they woke up, he entertained them with his berry eating antics, and chased every ball or stick thrown for him, and even a few frisbees not intended for him at all. When the guests leave he mopes around, apparently only two “helpers” is insufficient.

IMG_3513

  For Joe, this first season held a true test of his knowledge of the Alaskan wilderness, answering all kinds of questions on plant and animal life while guiding hikes. For both of us, there its a constant learning curve of new plants, birds, and animal behavior, as well as a lot about other countries politics and cultures. After a summer of non-stop large meals, even Joe became sick of food and big meals, a huge deal for a food loving Italian. (Not too worry though, after a couple weeks of simple food, its back with a vengeance) While Joe enjoyed entertaining and making all kinds of new friends, now that things have quieted down he is embracing his real love ………“projects”, most of which include something with wood. (Chopping, stacking, or building things.)

IMG_8836 IMG_8715 IMG_2902

As we look back over our first year and tourist season, we see a lot of opportunities to grow, to better serve our guests, but I think we all are breathing a collective sigh of relief and thinking “we did it!”. Now, we look forward to this next season with an air of excitement and confidence knowing that it will even be better than this year! (But first, for Joe and I, comes the long winter…stay tuned!)

Howie and I doing one of my favorite things. Glassing for animals on Bear Point.
Howie and I doing one of my favorite things. Glassing for animals on Bear Point.

Welcoming Spring

As the ice slowly fades from the lake and the willow ‘s bud, Joe and I have entered into a whirlwind of springtime preparations. Guests will begin arriving in a couple weeks, and despite the long hours of daylight we still find ourselves problem solving projects and planning as we crawl into bed at night

.IMG_2496

For the last few weeks, we are awakened almost every morning by a robin singing in the tree outside our bedroom window. Joe thinks she sounds like a complaining old woman, I think she sounds like spring. The air seems to be a constant serenade of bird songs, the most notable is the gold crowned sparrow. Its distinct three notes can even be heard in the middle of the night. The Ptarmigan are everywhere, even Howie is loosing interest in them.

IMG_2585 IMG_2595

We seem to be getting more and more visitors passing though, in one day we had a moose walk through the back yard, another moose with twins walk down by the lake, and a black bear wander onto the property. (Which Howie promptly chased away, I have never heard him sound so vicious!)

IMG_2690 IMG_2703

I have been putting my limited gardening skills to the test, all the vegetable plants and flower seeds I started are coming along nicely. The dining room table has begun to look like a jungle, and I am beginning the process of getting plants moved out to the green house. My mom always loved her garden and as a kid, having had to do my share of the weeding, I hated gardening. I am now experiencing how rewarding it is to grow your own food, I love cooking with fresh herbs from my little herb garden.(A fresh lemon, basil cream sauce….yum!!!) There is a new appreciation when we sit down to a meal and we taste the fruits of our labor.

IMG_2546

Joe is constantly in motion, tackling projects left and right. ( I have to smile as I write this, because at the moment, he is crashed out on the couch beside me.) He got the spring line up and running, so exciting, no more hauling water for a while!!! Laundry has become a breeze! His big project this spring has been redoing the guide cabin. We have three regular guest cabins, but wanted to make the guide cabin ready for guests as well. He did such a nice job, I think its my favorite cabin now. I told him I wanted to move in there, not only does it look good, but I love the smell of wood. (Especially cedar.)

Joe insulating
Joe insulating

IMG_2659

We are re-staining decks, raking, leveling steps (the ground frost heaves terribly, so everything has to be straightened and leveled as it warms up), and working on the walkways. The next big project is digging a new outhouse hole.

Sanding the deck down.
Sanding the deck down.

We are trying to learn a good balance of working and playing. Its easy to spend seven days a week tackling projects, since we don’t have work hours and we live at our workplace. We have started trying to set one day aside on the weekends to relax, hike, and re-energize. During the week we try to sneak in jaunts up to bear point to glass after dinner, or to sit on the deck soaking in the sun as we eat our lunch. I am learning to savor the simple pleasures in life, the moments that suspend and become memories. A few nights ago , Joe and I were up on the hill watching two beavers, we must have watched them for an hour or more. We saw one dive down and come up with a bunch of mud and then go plop it down on its dam, watched them eat their dinner, then one of them ( I thought it looked like a boy showing off) scrambled onto the hillside and ran around in a crazed, surprisingly fast, fit of some kind. No idea what it was doing, but we both laughed so hard, and as we sat there watching them while the sun went down, I was fully aware that this is the good life. Yesterday, we saw a newborn moose calf taking its first wobbly steps, as its mother frantically tried to distract us. One day, when I am old and gray, these are the stories I will tell….. days filled with hard work and laughter, sweat and tears, tales of life in the alaskan wilderness.

IMG_2563

What has Howie has been up too?…..finding places to nap.
What has Howie been up too?…..finding places to nap.

The Reluctant Sled Dog

My last article from Last Frontier Magazine, to continue reading the article click down on the bottom where is says view original.

Last Frontier Magazine

10854344_10152534121099290_4452405932474764468_o

As I stand on the runners of the dog sled trying to catch my breath, I look down at my dog sitting in his harness, facing the sled, just staring at me. There is no jumping enthusiasm, no barking, or straining—in fact, he looks annoyed. Somewhere along this journey things went terribly wrong. What started out as a relatively simple plan to teach Howie to pull a small sled, turned into a seemingly insurmountable feat.

About five years ago Howie entered our lives—a rowdy lab and shepherd mix puppy with endless energy. Even from his earliest days, our challenge has been trying to wear him out. We taught him to run on a treadmill, go on bike rides, hikes, and runs with us, and even carry his own back pack. Nothing really seemed to tire him out for long. My brother-in-law, commenting on his tireless energy, said, “You should…

View original post 699 more words

Free Time?

People always ask us what we do with our free time in the winter, with tourist season over I think they imagine us spending our days sitting by the fire, reading books, and sipping coffee. Well, not to say that we don’t occasionally get to indulge in those wonderful activities, but I find there is less “free time” than I thought there would be. First off, you are a slave to weather, if it snows you shovel, (want to go the bathroom, shovel a path to the outhouse!) if the wind blows, you shovel the drifts, if it warms and the snow starts melting you shovel slush and fix trails. Then, there is getting firewood. This has always been one of my favorite activities, I have a lot of good memories of getting firewood with my dad. Its a little more fun out here, mainly because we go out with the snow machines, pulling sleds. I am finally learning how to use a chain saw!

IMG_1655 IMG_1677 IMG_1684

Also, winter is one of the best times to haul supplies in and out. Recently, we got all the new mattresses for the cabins hauled into the lodge. We had a great crew of friends and family that helped out. Joe and I have spent a lot of days on the trail the last month, between supplies and visitors, but we are so thankful to have both.

IMG_1617 IMG_1612

Winter being our slow time for guests, also means its the time to repair and spruce things up for tourist season. When I sit down to make a list of what needs done for the day, I find there is always more than I can complete in one day. The most surprising thing of all about winter, I am always sore. Winter has made me use muscles I didn’t know I possessed. My left arm is sore from using the chains saw, my right arm is sore from using the axe, my neck and shoulders are sore from snowmaching on a rough trail, my back aches from shoveling, and my ribs, who knows why they are sore. This may sound like a pity party, but in truth, I love it, because I know with each new ache and pain, I am getting a little stronger. At the end of the day, when I crawl into bed, my mind and body tired, I know its been a good and productive day. Now, in case you start to think winter is some kind of hellish nightmare for us out here, let me just say, in spite of all the work, we do get to enjoy some down time. Some days when the winds howls outside, we get lost in one of our favorite activities. For Joe, it is working with wood in his shop. I used to say I wouldn’t see him all day if he didn’t have to come in from his shop for food, but here recently I noticed he took a candy jar out to his shop for snacks, so maybe I won’t see him at all! Anything Joe does, he perfects. He even sewed himself a leather apron for his wood shop. The other day he came in and informed me it needed pockets for his pencils, and he spent the evening sewing them. I am always amazed at his ability to design and create things, and his persistence in perfection.

IMG_1379IMG_1378

In my free time I am a little less practical and resourceful, I love to ramble with my dog on my snowshoes, soaking in the outdoors. I sit and scribble down my thoughts or get lost in a good book. I also love to make messes in the kitchen, trying out new recipes. As for Howie, he spends his abundant free time playing with sticks and bumming rides off people. Occasionally, he does his job and lets us know about the coyotes across the lake or that there is a snow machiner on the horizon, but mostly he hunts for sunny spots to nap or someone to scratch his belly. IMG_1333

Howie would rather ride than run, even if he gets a face full of snow.
Howie would rather ride than run, even if he gets a face full of snow.
"So, is someone going to pull this thing or what?"
“So, is someone going to pull this thing or what?”
Howie scammed a ride from his new best friend, Jake. Even got to ride in the front seat! Not sure which one is happier.
Howie scammed a ride from his new best friend, Jake. Even got to ride in the front seat! Not sure which one is happier.

Winter is passing quickly, the sun stretching a little higher each day, the birds have been singing in the bushes as if it were already spring. With each extra moment of daylight, we find another chore that can be completed before the sun goes down. IMG_1491