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.

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

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.

“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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