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.

 

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Denali

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!

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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.

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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.

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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

“Going to Town”

As I write, I am sitting in the lodge, sipping coffee and soaking in the sunrise. For the first time in weeks I feel quiet and the scene before me soothes away the stress and chaos of the last few weeks.

In Alaska, when most people talk of “going to town” they are talking about anchorage, in the bush however, when we talk about “going to town” it means going to any town. A town being anything with a store and more than five people, Talkeetna can be town!

In November, we made plans to go out for Thanksgiving and Joe’s sisters wedding. A lot goes into planning a trip away from the lodge. First, finding the right caretakers, mainly someone who won’t burn down the lodge and likes our dog. Then, coordinating a flight in for them and a flight out for us and someone to pick up and drop off at the Talkeetna airport. From that point on Joe and I were in a whirlwind of preparations, filling water tanks, updating caretaker’s notes, making supply lists, cleaning, laundry and packing. Lastly, since Joe was in his sisters wedding and needed to look respectable, I gave him a hair cut. He was starting to look a little bushy! He just about froze since I cut his hair out on the deck to use the light, and it is only the second time I have given him a hair cut, so I wasn’t particularly fast.

Giving Joe a hair cut, trying to look respectable!
Giving Joe a hair cut, trying to look respectable!

On the wednesday before Thanksgiving our friends Josh and Bailey flew out to caretake for us. They brought their dog Cinder to keep Howie company. He was beside himself with excitement and I think he scared his new friend! Nothing says “welcome” like 90lbs of muscle flying at you jumping and barking, and racing around like a lunatic.

After a quick walk through with Josh and Bailey, we loaded up our gear onto the plane. It was a tight fit with all of our stuff, my bag tried to take over my seat the whole flight back to Talkeetna. One of my favorite things about our life in Alaska is flying in a bush plane, I absolutely love it. It was a clear and beautiful day for flying.

David from Sheldon Air landing on the lake.
David from Sheldon Air landing on the lake.
Gear loaded up and waiting.
Gear loaded up and waiting.

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Flying into Talkeetna, the Alaska Range with the beautiful Mt. Mckinley
Flying into Talkeetna, the Alaska Range with the beautiful Mt. Mckinley

When we got into Talkeetna, we loaded our stuff into the car and headed for Palmer. While, Joe and I love life out in the bush, there are a few simple pleasures that both of us miss from town. Our first few stops were to indulge a few of those guilty pleasures.

My first latte in three months!!!
My first latte in three months!!!
Joe's favorite burger!!
Joe’s favorite burger!!

The next two days were filled with family, food, football and friends. It was so nice to enjoy time with family and watch the Seahawks play on tv, instead of listening to the game on the radio. We even made it to the movie theatre with the family. Saturday, was Carleigh and Jake’s wedding and reception, lots of laughter and tears

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Sunday, Joe headed back to the lodge with a friend, while I hopped on a plane to Denver, Colorado. My beautiful niece, Aleena Grace passed away just before we flew out from the lodge. It was a bittersweet time with my sisters, I always love spending time with them, but standing at Aleena’s grave saying my final goodbye was heartbreaking. I spent a week with my sister and then flew back to Anchorage.

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We had enough snow to snow machine back into the lodge, so Joe and Ben met us at the trail head in Talkeetna.  Joe’s parent’s and I had supplies, so we loaded up the sled and Ben and I swapped places. He headed back to Palmer with Joe’s parent and I started my first snow machine trek back to the lodge. I felt a calm begin to settle in as we raced over the snow and the familiar mountains of home began to come into view.

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Our time with our families was special, playing with nieces and nephews, catching up with brothers, sisters, parents and friends, celebrating new life and marriage, grieving losses and saying goodbyes, but as we crested the ridge and dropped onto our lake and headed up toward the lodge, I felt like I could breathe deep for the first time in weeks.

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We are always excited for our trips into town, for time with family and friends, but nothing is sweeter than coming back home.

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