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.

 

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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.”

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Reflections

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  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.)

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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

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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…

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of holidays, family visits, weather, and sleepless nights. Our Christmas was quiet and simple with just Joe and I out at the lodge. While often, it’s a struggle to focus on the true meaning of Christmas in the madness of holiday shopping, presents, family and food, this year the celebration of the greatest gift ever given was on the fore front of our minds. On a quiet, snowy Christmas morning, we read Luke 2 and gave thanks for God’s gift of his son Jesus. We kept the tradition from Joe’s family and had homemade ravioli for dinner, which frankly, was delicious! We had planned on going sledding in the afternoon, but a blizzard rolled in and we lost our motivation. It’s not as fun to think about going outside when you have to wear goggles just to make it to the outhouse. (Hmm…how bad do I actually have to go???) We spent the next few days shoveling and re shoveling our paths to and from buildings, since once we were finished the wind would drift snow back into all our paths. It felt a little pointless at times. I watched once when Joe was shoveling the deck and as he threw a shovel full of snow over the railing the wind blasted it all back in his face. I was torn between laughing and feeling sorry for him.

The cache all decorated with lights. We have to start the generator to enjoy the lights.
The cache all decorated. We have to start the generator to enjoy the lights.

Once we got our paths in order, it was time to haul water. When Joe went down to make a snow machine track to the water hole and get things uncovered, he sunk into the 6 inches of slush and water under the snow. The weight of the snow on the ice had pushed water up through the ice hole and all the cracks. Since  there was still a foot of ice underneath, and two feet of snow on top the slush and water, we had a mess. When I went out to take Joe another shovel and help out, I noticed Howie sitting on the porch. This wouldn’t be abnormal if Joe wasn’t down working on the lake, usually Howie is right beside us anytime we leave the lodge. I got down to where Joe was working and he just looked at me and said, “ I am not going to say anything because I want to swear!” I quietly went to work and looked enviously at Howie on the porch. You know you’re in a bad spot if your lab doesn’t even want to hang out with you. After, a few minutes of shoveling slush and water, as it seeped into my boots. I realized I was keeping my mouth shut with the same disgruntled look on my face as Joe. Well, no one ever said life out here was easy! We eventually got a path cleared and waited a couple of days to haul water to give it time to freeze.

Shoveling the slush
Shoveling the slush

New Years rolled around and we spent the day prepping for Joe’s brother, Zac, and his wife, Alyssa, to come spend a night with us. Zac and Alyssa own the lodge, so the boss man was coming!!! Joe and I snow machined out and met Zac and Alyssa at the trailhead and then we all snow machined back into the lodge. We spent the time having important business meetings and getting things ship-shape…. just kidding, we went sledding and played like kids. It was so nice to have some time with them, just enjoying the beauty all around us and planning and dreaming for the future of the lodge. The next day, after a hearty breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we all snow machined back out to the trail head. Joe and I put on 50 miles of trail in 48 hours, we were pretty exhausted by the time we got home.

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The last few nights have been filled with sleepless nights as the northern lights have danced overhead. We had every intention of going to bed early each night, only to become mesmerized and end up staying up all night. Last night, we actually made it into bed before we saw all the activity out our window and climbed out of bed to watch. Its been worth every sleepless moment.

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Yesterday, we decided to go out and explore on the snow machines. It all started out wonderful, we saw three bull moose and the day was clear and sunny. However, things quickly headed down hill after Howie cut his paws up on the ice and had to ride behind me. Then, Joe’s snow machine steering broke and we had to tow his machine back to the lodge, dumping it over twice, while trying to navigate a hillside without steering, and almost running over Howie who had fallen out of the basket. I was so relieved when we finally pulled into the lodge, it was one adventure I was ready to see end!!!

The three bull moose walking the ridge line.
The three bull we spotted on our snow machine trek.

So, its been a month filled with celebration, family, struggling against the elements, and earning a little more of that sourdough grit that is required for life in the Alaskan bush.

Spirit of Adventure

As long as I can remember, the term “Spirit of adventure” has been said in my family. Many times our old station wagon could be seen bouncing down a rutted, old logging road in the backcountry of northern Idaho. My mom clinging to the door handle, with a white knuckled, death grip, dad grinning from ear to ear as he jostled the steering wheel, and us girls in the back seat shaking like little bobble heads. Mom would always beg dad to turn around and he would laugh and say, “Where is your spirit of adventure?”.  My Dad was a firm believer that if a vehicle had four wheels on its frame, it was 4wheel drive. I grew up believing a “spirit of adventure” was something you were either born with or never had. My mom always informed us, in no uncertain terms, that she didn’t have a “spirit of adventure”, while my dad seemed to have more than enough for the both of them. “Spirit of Adventure” took the blame for quite a few of the scrapes my Dad got us into over the years. Hunting with my dad meant getting up before the sun and hiking into the mountains while it was still dark to get into a place to wait….which also led to us getting lost, because nothing looked familiar after the sun came up, but when our little legs would start to get tired, Dad would remind us it was an adventure! My sister and I took to grabbing chunks of charcoal as we hiked through burned areas and marking trees along the way, at ages six and nine, we told my dad we were playing “Indians” , but on the way home we always looked for our marked trees to make sure we were headed the right direction.

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My dad pretending he caught the big one.
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Fishing, the perfect stress relief, just like my dad taught me.

I came to grips with my fate, one summer day, after my older sister asked me why in the world I had just scrambled across a rickety ladder placed precariously between the branches of two trees. As I looked at the ladder, all I could think of was “spirit of adventure”. That’s when I knew, I had inherited my dad’s “spirit of adventure”, that restless, uncontrollable desire for excitement and adventure, no matter how big or small. As it turned out, all of my sisters would, in one way or another, inherit my dad’s spirit of adventure. For me, I loved the wild things and wild places. I ran around scratched and scraped from trying to tame feral cats, and even ended up getting bit by a raccoon, who wasn’t interested in being tamed. My poor mother would sigh as she patched my pants again and removed another tick.

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Now in my thirties, I am, perhaps, in the middle of my greatest adventure yet. My husband and I recently moved into the Alaska bush to work as caretakers and hosts at a remote, fly in lodge. As I look out my window, all I can see is a vast expanse of wild and untamed country. In our first weeks here, all I wanted to do was explore, to crest one more hill and take in another view. My husband, who is not spontaneous, has given up sighing when I pop into his meticulously, organized shop and say, “Lets go exploring!” He no longer asks me where are we going, because he knows it doesn’t matter, but with each trip his backpack gets a little heavier. He is always prepared for anything that might possibly come up on our trek, first aid, food or shelter, he has it all in his backpack. Somedays I almost expect to turn around and see him marking trees with a piece of charcoal.

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Joe trying to keep his backpack dry under his raincoat.

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Recently, we had a guest who was a city girl and very nervous about her first backwoods adventure. After a few days of hiking, watching bears amble across the tundra, and soaking in the breathtaking views, I saw her begin to transform. It was her voice that asked to hike further, her eyes that wandered to a distant hillside. That’s when I discovered, “spirit of adventure” rests in all of us, its a living, breathing part of us, it needs only to be awakened.  I don’t know what lies down the road or where it will take me, but one things is for sure, adventure will always be right around the corner.

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Note the backpack, and this was just for a walk on the river bed.

Dog Days

The days have shortened and the sun is hanging lower and lower, but Fall stubbornly refuses to give way to winter’s snow. As the warm weather hangs on, (warm being relative of course, the fact that it is staying above zero at night warrants a warm spell around here) I find my dog Howie sleeping in random spots around the grounds soaking up the sunshine. I can’t help but smile and think what a rough life for a dog. IMG_7485IMG_7898

When, we made the decision to move up here, I knew Howie would be in heaven. He has become such a larger than life character here at the lodge, photo bombing and entertaining guests with his tricks. I once heard a saying, “Whoever said diamonds are a girls best friend, never owned a dog” and well, I completely agree. IMG_7810Picture 121 Howie came into our lives after a long search for just the right dog, basically cheap and healthy. I grew up with black labs and Joe grew up with a German Shepherd, so we both got a little of what we wanted with Howie, who is a lab/shepherd mix. When we went to pick out a puppy, he was the last male left, while I was drawn to one of his sisters who was sweet and calm, he was a restless ball of energy, rummaging around the place with the biggest pot belly I had ever seen on a puppy. IMG_0076  IMG_0047 IMG_0075 IMG_0136_4 From the start, he was full of personality, lovable, restless and way too smart. He inherited the labs love of water and retrieving, and the German Shepherd’s vocal tendancies…. not barking, but vocal grunts and groans. He gives a clear indication of his feelings, while physically obeying, he lets out long groans that let you know he is unhappy about it. The other lab trait that he inherited is a little less pleasing, there is no other way to put it then he is a gluttonous, pig. As a puppy, I once found him splayed, all four legs out, on a pile of dog food eating, (he had ripped open the bag). Another time, he ate every single dandelion out of our yard, which at first was exciting, then he threw them all up in a disgusting pile. He occasionally sneaks into the compost pile, but he always tells on himself immediately. I look at him and he melts and slinks to his dog house, and I know he is ashamed of himself. Howie also tries to trick Joe or I into feeding him a second breakfast. Our rule is whoever heads out to the outhouse first feeds Howie breakfast, but he will try and trick the next person out by going and sitting by the shed door as if he hasnt been fed… sometimes stooping as low as to bring us his dish. Luckily, we are onto his scam, but it doesn’t  stop him from trying. Frankly, not once in his five years have we ever forgotten to feed him, he would never let that happen.

"Did you forget something?"
“Did you forget something?”

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In October, Howie turned five years old, sometimes I think he will never grow up or slow down. His energy is endless, even as a puppy we taught him to run on a treadmill because we could never wear him down. On hikes he is always ready to go further, he will play fetch until he falls over (literally), runs along side when we bike, and will catch anything you throw at him for as long as you want. He has never been one to wander or run away, he loves spending time with us and there is no such thing as “personal space” when he is around. When, I am sitting up on “Bear Point” glassing for animals, he tries to get as much of himself touching me as possible, at times getting tangled in the straps from my binoculars. He shamelessly uses me to block the wind for him, but I let him since his black coat provides an extra bit of warmth.

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Owning a dog like Howie has been a lot of work, but his unconditional love has rewarded us a thousand times over. I am greeted with excitement everytime I walk out the door. He is convinced that something wonderful is about to happen, even when all I do is walk to the outhouse. He is gentle and kind, loves everyone, and never tires of hugs and affection. Howie is quirky and his antics fill us with laughter. Life in the bush, at times, can be harsh and cold, tiring and mundane, but Howie’s constant enthusiasim reminds me life is an adventure and you never know what lies around the corner.

He still lets Joe pick him up like this….only he is a lot heavier now!
He still lets Joe pick him up like this….only he is a lot heavier now!

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On days, when it is quiet and lonliness starts to creep in he slips his nose into my hand as I walk or rests his head on my shoulder and the world is a warmer place. Some may prefer the cold, brilliant sparkle of diamonds, but as for me I prefer the warmth of my dog’s copper eyes. IMG_2482

Ice, Ice Baby

Well, its that time again…. Time to haul water for the tanks. We have no snow, but the lake and the spring are frozen. So, we get to dig a hole in the lake ice and haul water. First, we have to check the ice on the lake to ensure it is thick enough for us to walk on.

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The boys (Howie and Joe) are obsessed with the ice. Its all I can do to get them off of it at the end of the day! Joe loves hatcheting the ice and Howie chases the pieces that fly across the lake.

We found a good spot to place our hole with easy snow machine access  once the snow falls. For now, its the long drag across the lake.

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Today, we loaded the sleds with our buckets and harnessed Howie. He is learning that life here isn’t all fun and games. He loves to play, but when it comes to the work, lets just say he is a little less enthusiastic. We are easing him into learning to pull a small sled.

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It took about three trips with all the buckets full to fill the tank, the hardest part being hauling the buckets by hand up the hill to the lodge and then up the ladder to the tanks.

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Its time consuming and we are all exhausted after the venture, but we are happy to have it done. The effort it takes to get the water has helped us become masters at not wasting water. Its funny how precious something becomes when you labor for it. At the end of the day even Howie got a little break.

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While the ice has added to our work, it has also brought new amusements. Joe made a little ice rink for us and we dug out our skates and tested it out. Joe started getting pretty fancy by the end of our skate time. I think I better get us some hockey sticks and a puck before he learns how to do a triple lutz!

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Now, that our chores are done we get to settle in with some hot cocoa and enjoy the warmth of the fire. (Though, someone keeps asking about oatmeal cookies, so maybe I will bake  cookies first.) Our most basic needs   take a lot of work and effort out here, but our lives our so simple that we are never in too big of a hurry to stop and have some fun.

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"I don't want to be a sled dog!!!….wait are there treats involved?"
“I don’t want to be a sled dog!!!….wait are there treats involved?”

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