Life and Times of an Unwilling Alaskan Woman

My Old Cabin

My Old Cabin

(Written in 1988)
I was devastated by the sight of our new home-to-be. There it sat, a gaunt, homely house with 3 or 4 bare leafless trees on a barren hillside. Slightly above it was a large old barn and a pole corral. Nothing looked alive, including the horse standing hipshot in that corral. She was a nondescript whitish grey that blended in quite well with the dusty sage and dirt. How could we move from the perennially green and vibrant rain forest of the Oregon coast to this dead looking place and only a couple of days before Christmas? Even worse, I only had one semester to go until graduation from High School. Nobody moved after 11 ½ years in one school, before completion of term. Forget that I left behind only one friend made in all those years. Forget that at 17, I had only gone on one date and that was a fiasco. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t know how to ride a horse and now was expected to become a cowboy, overnight. Well, Daddy had been disappointed before, he was about to be, again.
I was born 9 months, 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor, so it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what brought me about. My father wanted to leave behind a male heir when he went off to fight. I didn’t turn out to be male and he didn’t get to go fight. He never quite forgave Uncle Sam or me.
We lived in a small town, across the road from the school, until the year before I was to start school. Then we moved 14 miles from the nearest school, most of it up a twisting rut on the side of a steep hill that passed for a road. There we lived for the next twelve and a half years. It was beautiful, a wild area, one thousand acres of prime timber land surrounded by a National Forest. Once school was out in the Spring, we usually never saw another human until school started in the Autumn. My younger brother and sister knew no other life. It was heaven for us, no neighbors to complain about us, no matter what outrage we committed. Our mother worked like a slave to keep everything in order. There were no modern conveniences. No electricity, no telephone, no running water other than the water we ran and carried from the spring. No radio, no washer, dryer or refrigerator. She spaded our two large gardens by hand, every Spring, canned and cured the produce and meats raised by her own hand. If we didn’t grow it or kill it, we didn’t eat. This was all “woman’s work” and my father was not about to do any of it. Why should a man have to do anything like that, when there were women? She scrubbed all clothes on a scrub board. She did not know how to drive so there was no running to the store for groceries. Life there was very hard on her, but for children, it was marvelous.
School was difficult. I did not know how to make friends with other children. I loved to read though, so books became my life. My mother usually read to us in the evenings before bed, she would read as long as her back was being rubbed. I got very good at rubbing a looooong time. As I grew older and started doing chores before and after school, I seemed to always have a slight barnyard odor that the town kids never had, so noticed immediately. This increased my distance from possible friends, in a literal sense, you might say. When every drop of water used in a home is carried by hand and heated on a wood stove, water is used sparingly.
My mother was very artistic and always encouraged any drawing I wanted to do. Then, when I was 13, she and I took up taxidermy. That was my training as an artist.
My father would disappear days and weeks at a time, leaving us stranded with no means of help in an emergency. After my brother had a bad accident, my mother decided to learn to drive. She and I learned together.
Shortly after learning to drive. My little world was turned upside down when my father decided to get out of the timber industry and traded our lovely timberland for a ranch. We had raised a few cows, sheep and goats, but they were fairly tame animals that could be herded on foot. No horses required. Now we were to have several thousand acres of nothing but sagebrush, some juniper and scant grass that wasn’t even a decent grass colored green. On this mean looking ground were several hundred head of cattle with dispositions to match the look of the land. Someone was going to have to ride horses and work cattle,, on a large scale. Guess who.
I didn’t want to be a cowboy. I wanted to be the one having a good meal waiting for the crew when they came in at the end of the day. Didn’t think I was going to get to do both, help get the meals and be one quarter of the crew.
I should have known that the safe stereotype woman’s role wouldn’t be available. As far as my father was concerned, a woman’s place in life was to make life easy for men. I never had to contend with lack of opportunity to work at traditionally male jobs. His idea of my having an easy time of it was to let me leave the hay fields a half hour early to prepare the noon meal for the hay crew. Everyone would eat. The men would relax on the lawn in the shade while the women cleaned up after the meal. then it was back to the hay field. I got off early again, to fix the evening meal. After the evening meal, the men relaxed after their hard days’ work The women cleaned up, did the baking for the next days’ meals and the laundry. The boys got paid $250 a month but since I didn’t work as long in the fields, I got $35 a month.
Since I didn’t know how to drive heavy equipment, I operated pitchfork, up on the stack, arranging the loose hay to make the stack water resistant. The men sat on their butts on the big tractors all day and not one volunteered the information that a tractor is not much different than driving a pickup or car.
After one summer of this and several heat strokes later, I decided to change things a bit. An elderly man that worked for us agreed to teach me to operate the Farmhand tractor. This was the one essential piece of equipment for the haying operation and my father had to pay premium wages to the man that could operate it. I not only learned how, I learned well and improved on it. One of the neighbors offered to hire me at top wage when he saw that I could stack without the extra person needed on the stack to arrange the hay. My father wouldn’t allow me to work for the man, but I never had to operate pitchfork again.
My learning to operate horse didn’t turn out as well. Everyone kept telling me I was supposed to be smarter than the horse. I don’t think so. We owned 28 horses and all but one threw me at least once.
My father bought $25 horses at the dog food factory, when good horses were selling for $250 Those horses were usually there for a reason. It was not their good nature.
I not only was thrown from 27 of our horses, but 2 of the neighbors’ as well. It wasn’t that I didn’t learn to ride, it was just that there were so many opportunities.
I finally learned to stay on most of the horses. My own horse was a beautiful golden palomino mare. I painted a portrait of a neighbor’s stallion in exchange for stud fees from his Appaloosa. That Spring, I would take my soon to foal mare out along the highway right of way to eat the fresh early grass. I not only could ride, I was downright cocky about it. I would saddle her loosely and use only a halter to make it easier for her to eat. I would lie along her back, my head on her rump, my feet crossed under the saddle horn and read a book while she ate. We spent many pleasant hours this way, over several weeks.
One day she stuck her nose into a bush for a particularly nice bit of grass and found a roadkill rabbit. She shot straight into the air, I didn’t fall off. My feet were stuck under the saddle horn. She bucked along the nice soft roadbed, up the driveway to the edge of the pavement. I finally got my feet loose and fell off over her head. I landed on the back of my neck and top of my shoulders. Her front feet came down on either side of my face, pulling hair and pinching skin beside my ears. Her hind feet hit my backside and we went back down the driveway with me curled in a ball rolling under her big belly, being hit front and back by her legs. She never stepped on me the whole way down.
My grandmother was watering the front yard while this was happening. I don’t know how much she saw of it, but as I lay there, still seeing stars, she asked me if I was okay. I said “Sure, I’m fine.” I couldn’t move for several minutes and my back and neck have never been quite the same. I had landed the same way on frozen gravel a few months before. A car accident that separated the muscle along one side of my spine didn’t help either. I had to wear a full body brace for a year after that one. I was told I would need to wear it for life, but they didn’t know me. I did, but for pregnancies only.
We learned to doctor sick animals, forcing huge pills down tiny calves if they had scours, brand, mark, give shots for assorted ills and dodging irate mothers while doing this. Most cows are very protective of their young and to have several hundred pounds of mad cow stomping on you as you try to repair their darlings is not fun.
It’s even worse to have to doctor one of the cows in the field. One evening my sister and I were dressed to go to a dance, but decided to check a heifer one more time before leaving. Our father was drunk, so we couldn’t depend on him to watch out for her. She had wandered from the area we thought she was in and it was dark by the time we found her. She had bogged down in an irrigation ditch, in labor, but had about given up. She was half drowned and if we went for help, would probably not survive until we got back. My sister held the heifers’ head up out of the water, I worked the calf’s front feet free and started pulling. The heifer started giving some help and the calf came with a sudden whoosh of amniotic fluid. I landed on my rump in the ditch with the calf on top of me. The heifer knocked my sister back into the mud also, so we were both muddy and I was also bloody and gooey. Sis and I had to do some major cleanup before going to the dance.
The seeds from Foxtail grass work into the flesh under the tongue or in the throat of cattle, causing pus pockets to form. We would have to catch the animal, lance the infected lump and clean it out. With no anesthetic, they do not take kindly to this treatment. I can’t blame them, but my brother, sister and I didn’t get anesthetic either, and were doctored the same way. Luckily we were all a sturdy lot and survived in spite of our self-doctoring. So did most of the animals.
Not only did we become cowboys, our neighbors were real Indians. The family living near us were Klamath-Modoc and French. The kids were about the same ages we were and they had lots of cousins. Even though some of us (me) were of the ripe old age of nineteen, we still played cowboys and Indians on horseback. The slight twist to this was, the Indians usually played the cowboy parts. Several other kids would join in and we would ride like banshees over the hills. We certainly livened up several tourists vacations and one new family moving into the area from the east coast. They had been expecting wild Indians from the time they crossed the Mississippi. There were about 40 of us the day they thought they were under attack. We didn’t even know they were there, until we saw some silly people dressed in suits and dresses diving for the bushes and the full irrigation ditch. What a first impression we made on each other. I haven’t changed mine, of them.
By this time, we had learned how to ride, brand, castrate, earmark and doctor anything needing it. Fair warning.
The new school had turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. That year it was the smallest public high school in the State of Oregon. Everyone was friendly. All the students had chores to do, no one noticed if anyone smelled a bit barn-ish. We did have electricity, a phone and running water through pipes into the house. Bathing was a much easier task and all of us were a little prune skinned from indulging long and often. To top it all, there was a paved highway, less than a half mile from the house. No more leaving at quarter to seven in the morning and returning at six at night to go to school. Money was a scarce commodity for all the students, so whenever there was a dance or movie, most of the Senior class could fit in one car and attend. I had never done any of these things before and loved it.
I didn’t know it, but my childhood would give me the skills I would need to thrive in Alaska, ten years later.
Home Ec was supposed to help teach girls homemaking skills and what to look for in a husband. I must have been absent the day they covered telling toads from frogs. I didn’t just kiss the damn toad, I married him. Being too stubborn to admit a mistake, I kept trying to treat him the way I wanted treated so he would become the loving, kind prince that would love and care for me and our children and we would live happily ever after.
By the time I caught on, I was pregnant. By the time we had been married 3 years, we had 2 children, a girl and a boy. Poor kids, it’s a wonder they weren’t pollywogs.
Somehow I was convinced that a child needed it’s natural mother and father, no matter how unnatural either parent might be. I had the example of my grandmother staying with my grandfather, even though he drank himself under the table too many times and beat her at least once. Toad thought he could do that, also. I waited in a chair beside the bed with a hatchet in my hands, until he woke up sober, then graphically described what would happen to him if he ever hit me and his chances of surviving if he ever turned his back or went to sleep, afterwards. There are no social drinkers in my immediate family on either side, that I know of. They are either drunks or teetotalers. I made up my mind when I was about 10 that I was not going to be one of the drunks. Then there was my mother, putting up with my father’s drinking and girlfriends. Years later, I found that I knew more about his girlfriends than she did. I thought all men were like that. The male of the species was Lord and Master, no matter if he were barely capable of dressing himself or getting his shoes on the right foot. Other women must have liked that though, he always had another woman on the side.
We moved 19 times in the next 6 years, usually late at night. I got to be very fast at packing and learned to put all the important things in the first load. Usually it was the only load. The Toad had an aversion to work but was not about to have HIS wife work, unless he got her the job the day after she had all her upper teeth pulled, then she could cook in an upscale restaurant. One year our total cash income was $236.00 and I still have the tax return as evidence. It was a good thing I knew how to can and preserve garden produce, meat and fruit. I was also a good shot. We didn’t starve, but it is a wonder.
A long term friend of my parents came to visit, from Alaska, while we were there. In an off-hand remark, they mentioned if we were ever in Alaska, to drop in and spend some time at their place. If they had known my husband at all, they would never have made the offer within his hearing. But the poor dears thought they were safe and went happily back to their home in Wrangell, Alaska. The Toad cured them of ever making any kind offers to anyone. We moved to Alaska, into their tiny 12’ x 18’ cabin. Everyone learned the true meaning of togetherness.
Five weeks later, we rented a trailer house. We went back to Oregon to get our pickup and household goods. The Toad flew back to Wrangell and the kids and I packed all I could into the bed of the old pickup and started out to catch the ferry in Seattle.
The rear axle broke on the freeway in Portland, Oregon. We finally got it repaired but the delay was just long enough that the ferry was still in sight on the horizon when we pulled in to the dock in Seattle.
Being always short on money, I thought maybe I could catch the ferry at Prince Rupert in British Columbia and still be able to have the family together. (Never said I had much sense, did I?) I didn’t have a map, so turned onto any road that sounded like it was going the right direction. We crossed the Canadian Border at some little outpost, just before the changing of shifts, one morning. I had no proof of ownership or insurance for the pickup. I had built the rack and packed everything loose. There was a 23 cu. Ft. freezer full of meat (mostly venison). Layers of clothing and blankets cushioned all the canned goods I had put up at my parents, just before starting North. Rifles and pistols were on the bottom of the whole load. The Border Guard wanted to check my load, so pried some nails loose that held the tarp down over everything. He peeked inside, said, “OHMYGOD” and nailed the tarp back down.
He looked at me, missing my front teeth (due to an accident with a wringer washer) my children’s white faces, my cat hiding under the seat (no health certificate for her) another look toward the back of my pickup and told us to hurry up and get going. I assumed he meant North, so I drove on into Canada. We stopped at each and every service station and rest stop along our way as we were suffering from a nasty bout of possible food poisoning.
We parked on the dock in Prince Rupert and watched our ferry chug on by. That was not a stop on its’ way. The one for the next day had run aground on an island. The one for the day after, was in dry dock. I livened up our stay in Prince Rupert by having a miscarriage. The first words my Toad bellowed at me from the dock as we pulled in to Wrangell, were, “Who you been messing around with?” Don’t I wish.
The people the Toad had made the same offer to, in Oregon, started arriving and soon our 2 bedroom trailer housed 5 adults, 3 children under the age of 5 and the cat. We moved to a larger house in town, most of them moved with us. More moved in. A year later, we moved to Fairbanks, Alaska. Two of our household moved with us. They stayed a few months and went back to Wrangell. I wanted to go back, too. Our move to Fairbanks was prompted by a conversation the Toad struck up with an unsuspecting fellow on the ferry. Another person that learned the hard way, not to casually invite someone to drop in, if in the area.
I hated Interior Alaska. We arrived in October of one of the worst winters ever recorded, 1970-1971. There was snow on the ground when we arrived and it kept increasing until there was over 145 inches. Where we ended up living, in a swampy area off Badger Road, the temperature dropped to minus 82 degrees. Although the official temperature was less, in town, but did drop to minus 81 up at Prospect. As far as I was concerned, all the tales of the frozen North were true. Anyone would have to be a fool to live here. Well, I never claimed I wasn’t, did I?
My parents sent us the money to come spend the Holidays, a couple of years later. I went, fully intending on never coming back. After 2 days in Oregon, I was more than willing to come back and never leave Alaska again. I had conveniently forgotten the Toad’s family. They still lived in Oregon. Toad’s idea of spending half the time with each family, was, nights were spent with my family and all waking hours with his. If you have never seen a family of screaming fighting toads, you’ve been very lucky.
I also had forgotten how small towns are. Everyone thrives on knowing everyone else’s business, true or false. False makes better stories.
I loved the easy going lifestyle of Alaska. As long as you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you, should have been the State Motto. Now it has changed a lot and not for the better. The small town mentality is creeping in. suddenly everything has to be studied and regulated to death. I’m glad I got here soon enough to still find what I needed. A spine.
Finally, after 13 years and a few thousand miles between my family and I, so they wouldn’t know of my shameful admission of failure, I left the Toad. It was either leave him or kill him. A friend of ours had a vacant apartment and having learned a few of the Toads’ bad habits, I asked if I could move into it. He said yes. He saved the Toad’s life.
I immediately started work as a cook at the hospital to pay for a divorce. It had to be paid in full before the attorney would even file the papers. If I could have hung in there another year, do it yourself dissolutions became available.
Six months later, I finally got up enough courage to tell my parents I had left the Toad. As he and the children had gone back to Oregon, I figured maybe I should tell them before they ran into him. The return mail had a letter from my mom saying, “Congratulations, what took you so long to get smart?”
My landlord offered me the summer at his mining camp and I quit my job in a flash. We had a perfect summer. His youngest son and I both learned to operate dozer, I was hooked.
The mining camp consisted of a small ancient log cabin, a tiny bunkhouse and zillions of mosquitoes. Charlie owned a small dozer and made a set of riffles for an antique sluice box that we lined with carpeting. The floor of the cabin was pretty bad, so we put a layer of carpet down in it, too, As the summer progressed, the layers of carpet built up until the swinging door could not be closed. So a rotting screen door, held together by cardboard stapled inside is all there is between us and the bears. My talents as a housekeeper leave a lot to be desired.
Our first summer consisted of a series of trial and error attempts at finding the perfect setup for our mining. Some worked, a lot didn’t. We needed a small scale setup with low overhead. We settled on a small pond with gravity flow water (which is no longer legal) coming through a pipe under the dam. A valve on the pipe controlled the water flow. We set the sluice box with a slope of 1 inch per foot drop. The dirt was simply pushed over the side of the dump box; the water washing it down over the slick plate and through the sluice box. The dozer, carpeting and us were the only things different than when this area was mined almost a hundred years ago.
Maybe I never learn or else I finally got smart, but we got married the next year. Maybe I finally learned to tell the difference between frogs and toads. Mostly this one is a Prince although in a few instances, he has displayed some toad tendencies.
The third summer, Charlie had a job offer halfway through the summer. He went to Prudhoe Bay and I stayed at the cabin and finished the mining season by myself. I didn’t do this without some apprehension. It was still wonderful, but without someone to show the nuggets to, I quit picking them out of the box. Gold is fun, but it is still just pretty rocks.
When I started a garden site in a nice spot near the cabin, I was amazed at the amount of junk I found in the ground. I found lots of large heavy pieces of metal that some poor soul had thought was important enough to pack in from the Yukon River at Rampart to the north, or, later, from Manley Hot Springs on the Tanana River to the south. I had no idea what most of it was used for but I use it to hold the tin on the sod roof of the cabin. We never find much gold, only what the old timers left, but always have a beautiful garden.
My days settled into routine after Charlie left for work. The dog would wake me to go out, unless there were bears around. Then he could wait all day. He was a large German Shepard that was supposed to be our watchdog. That’s what he did, too, he watched. He knew he wasn’t brave and never pretended to be. His name was Dum-Dum and he earned it, repeatedly. He was probably the only dog in the world afraid of mice in the house. My blind cat, Missy, would let me know if there were bears around.
After feeding the dog and cat, Dum-Dum and I would walk up the creek to work. I would start the dozer, push a small amount of dirt into the slick plate and then open the valve to let the water start washing. There was usually only about 15 minutes of water pressure enough to actually do the job, so I didn’t overwork. As the dirt washes out, I push small amounts in. when the pressure starts to drop, I stop pushing and let the water clean out the box. Hopefully, the gold has dropped into the carpeting under the riffles in the sluice box. I shut off the water, push the tailings away from the bottom of the box into the previously worked area. The silt and much that accumulate in the first settling pond is spread over the gravel tailings. By next season there will be fireweed growing on it and wild rhubarb starting. Within a few years the willow and aspen are as tall as I am and excellent moose browse.
We had a water tank hanging from the eaves of the cabin, to catch rain water. The sun would warm it during the day and I would take my shower out there, listening for the sound of an approaching motor so I could make it indoors. One day, as I was finishing rinsing my hair, wrapping a towel around my head as I turned to go into the cabin, I saw feet. There were a pair of unfamiliar work boots, just visible under the edge of the towel. I hadn’t considered pedestrians. Not something that usually wanders by 142 miles from town. I kept the towel around my head and over my face and walked right on by the feet, not acknowledging his presence. I figured he had already certainly seen the rest of me, but I didn’t have to let him know I knew it. I went on into the cabin and did not look back out or try to see who it was, but we did build a shower house right after that. Charlie still walked nude from the door of the cabin to take his showers until the day the new neighbor’s sister and young son came to visit and went to the sound of running water in the shower house instead of to the cabin door. Don’t know what they expected, but I guess a naked Charlie wasn’t it.
I am not sure whether the moose or the bears startle me the most. Each can do a lot of damage to a person. There have been scares as well as fun. Some involved moose, some were people and some were bears. One summer there were 6 different bears that I saw, at the cabin, within a 5 day period. One finally had to be shot. He stayed around the cabin for 3 days, never quite in sight, but always pacing through the brush near us. My daughter was 8 ½ months pregnant at the time and staying with me at the cabin. Every time we left the cabin, whether it was to work, to the garden or to the outhouse, he was there. The sound of his teeth clicking together was an unnerving accompaniment as we walked. Never out where we could get a clear shot, though. We tried yelling and firing shots in the air, that bear would not leave. Finally, one morning about 4am, the blind cat jumped on my daughter on the couch and woke her up. The bear was in front of the cabin on the road. Both pulled my covers off, to wake me. If they were going to be scared, I could be awake and share it with them. We turned the radio up full volume and the bear started for the door. Don’t know if he didn’t like our choice of station or what, but his fur raised and his teeth were clicking. I started to open the door to shoot him, my daughter was getting a bit more than excited and I thought we were going to have a home birth, right then and there. So I shot the bear through the screen door.
Our cabin is 14’ x 20’ and with the door closed, the sound of the pistol was something else. The cat hated me for hours until she could hear again. The door is a false sense of security at best, being the old rotten screen held together with cardboard to keep the breezes and some squirrels out.
Usually the bears that come around the cabin are black bears. But the only people ever hurt or killed in our area have been by black bears. The grizzlies usually don’t come back after they discover smelly humans in the area. A young man was killed as he stepped out of his pickup and partially eaten by a black bear, near one of our old trailers many years ago. Black bears can be any color phase, they are still called black bears and are all possibly dangerous. Being in direct competition with grizzlies here, they have to be aggressive to survive, unlike the Lower 48 black bears that all the aggressive ones were killed off a few hundred years ago.
My daughter scrupulously washed every food container and dish, we burned all trash and still the bears come around. At least they don’t seriously try to get in, or they would succeed.
My worse scare with a human was the man that shoved the door open and knocked me down with a shove in my chest about 2 am one night. I had a shotgun in my left hand and was raising and cocking it as he was reaching at me again. I don’t know what he intended on doing, but I wasn’t waiting to find out. He did recognize the sound of the hammer going back, because he stepped back and started yelling at me to get out, they were moving in. That was the first time gold had reached almost $900 an ounce and they were planning on just moving in and working my claims. I told him to check with the State Division of Mining before he made a fool of himself. These were legal claims. There were 3 more men with the trucks and equipment in my yard, which is what had woke me to start with. A very good thing I was a fast dresser. He was still yelling that they would be back with the Troopers since I pulled a gun on them, I told him I would be right there. Never saw any of them again.
I spend about half of the summers by myself, mining. I am basically a lazy person, so have worked out the easiest ways of doing everything. No job is too small to put off until tomorrow. The things that just can’t be put off, are done with the least amount of effort. This way, I manage to raise a large garden, do the mining and still go gadding about.
I find myself living in much the same manner that my mother did, but without the hardship of it. I pack water, but use the pickup to do so. I raise and can or cure a lot of our food, also because I want to. I butcher, can, cure and make sausage from bear, moose and caribou in season, because I like knowing what type of chemical is being added to my food. I do all these because I enjoy it. I also have a generator, if I want electricity. I can take my laundry to town, if I want instead of hauling washing machine and generator to the stream. I don’t HAVE to do any of this to survive. Quite a difference from earlier times.
Instead of walking through the brush marking out claim lines by hand, I paint one pad on the dozer track. Then I measure the distance for that line to come up again and figure how many times that painted pad must come up to equal one claim length. Then I sit on a nice soft seat, run the dozer around the claim and have the lines marked. See? Basically lazy.
There are three layers of carpet in the cabin now. Four in some high traffic areas. When the house or cabin get to be a health hazard, I’ll sort things out a bit. Not too much, though. I keep house in town the same as at the cabin, I ignore it.
I can find any number of reasons and excuses not to do housework. I read and comment on proposed changes on Laws and Regulations in the mining industry, trapping, hunting and gun industries. It may not do any good, but I can’t gripe and complain if I don’t at least try. I fill out affidavits of annual labor for myself and some of my friends that mine or own mining claims. There is always something more important than housework.
I had tended to be more than a bit anti-social before I met Charlie. I preferred solitude and animals to most humans. Of course, a person that would marry a Toad isn’t hitting on all cylinders anyway. Charlie taught me a lot more than how to operate a dozer and a road grader. He also encouraged me to actually talk in front of other people. There were folks that had known me for years and never heard me speak. Probably thought I was mute. Now they wish I were. He is my best friend, too.
We have been married a little over 12 years now and still even like each other, besides loving each other. Instead of going away on vacation, we go mining. We probably spend a lot more at that, than we would on vacation. But we both love the lifestyle.
It is exciting to look out the cabin window and see a cow and tiny calf moose walking through the garden. The calf is as curious as any baby is. It pulls up every row marker as it comes to them, carrying it in it’s mouth until it reaches the next one and pulls that one, too. Who is going to shoo them away? Not me.
To walk out to the garden for a fresh salad and have three huge bulls and two cows moving as silently as ghosts through the birch and willow behind the cabin is wonderful. It is also after hunting season.
I love walking up the creek to the area we are mining and see the moose standing in the pond, eating the browse along the banks. The cows seem to feel safer raising their calves around a human dwelling.
As summer draws to a close, the nights become dark again as our daylight hours lessen. The aurora shows in all it’s splendor, far from the lights of any town. The occasional satellite wanders through without notice.
This small mining venture was planned to be our retirement plan in a couple of years. The way the mining industry is being attacked, we will be extremely lucky if we are able to mine at all by then. I have lived all of my life in close proximity to the out-of-doors and wilderness and am probably more qualified than someone fresh from a city and college to relate to my surroundings. I am very conservation minded, but I also believe in common sense. Forests that are not harvested or managed, degenerate and die. So do animals. It is amazing to me that areas that have been mined extensively for almost a hundred years without any restrictions or regulations can leave an area so unharmed that it is selected as a Wild and Scenic River by the Federal government. Then all mining promptly shut down on it so that no damage will occur. Does that sound like common sense to you?
This country was founded as a Republic, not a democracy. It was founded on the belief that a person should be able to keep what he or she has worked for, to improve their lot in life. It was not founded on the principle that everything belongs to “The People”. That is Socialism. Socialism is not even working in the socialist countries, why are people trying to make our country that way? If I have the courage or stupidity to risk everything I own in an attempt to better my circumstances, that is up to me. I do not want nor need someone telling me not to. It is my risk, let me live with it. Whatever happened to good old hard work, earn it by yourself, for yourself? What happened to being responsible for our own actions? Everyone seems to want someone to do it for him or her. Television entertains them without having to think or use their imaginations. A book at least requires forming the pictures in the mind as the story is read.
Tune in, in another 45 years and I’ll tell you the rest of the story. April, 1988

Post Script:
It is only 12 years later, not 45, but I will bring you up to date on the most important happening since I wrote this.
My dear Charlie died of a massive heart attack on his way to work, December 28, 1988, one day after filing for early retirement. He did not get to enjoy one single day of what he had worked all his life for. He died about 8 months after I had written this and I still miss him. September 2011

This is a totally biased opinionated version of my life, told strictly from my point of view. If I have offended anyone, too bad, get over it.

Home Again

JMillerVWallaceEngaged1912
Yay, home looks wonderful even though there was a slight frost here while I was gone, so the poor zucchini look pathetic. Then it rained last night and has been heavy cloud cover all day and not hot.
I think if I ever decide to take in another family reunion, I’m going to play little old lady needing help and ask for a wheel chair at the airports. I think they are trying to make sure everyone gets enough exercise by putting arrival and departure gates at the opposite ends of the huge terminals on purpose. The weather was hot and muggy and I thought I was going to melt into the tarmac as we were allowed to walk from the plane to the terminals in both Portland and Seattle. I swear I hiked miles, dragging along my carry-ons as there isn’t a weight limit on those so they almost equaled my body weight or felt like it by the time my daughter picked me up in Fairbanks.
The flights were very rough with turbulence bad enough that the stewardesses remained fastened in their seats the entire flight. It’s probably a good thing I’m not prone to motion sickness. We dropped and slid sideways once as we were landing in Seattle and I am really happy we still had enough elevation to handle that without going splat.
It’s good to be home.

Almost the Edge of Nowhere

FMPretty

Almost the Edge of Nowhere
After my husband died, I finally decided I had enough of living in town. I grew up off grid and wanted to go back to it.
I sold the house and bought a parcel of ground 50 miles beyond power/phone/mail delivery systems. FedEx and UPS do not deliver out here, no matter what their ads say.
I lived in a tent the first summer here, while building driveways and building pads with my Mothers Day present, from many years before, an old military surplus dozer.
With grizzly bears and black bears wandering around I slept very lightly that summer. I also planted a garden on top the hill above my tent. By putting pallets on the ground and plywood on them under the tent, I stayed nice and dry and never had a problem with water in the tent during the late summer storms.
A now ex-boyfriend built the first floor of a supposed to be 2 story house, ignoring all advice on building in a northern climate and we moved into it during a snowstorm. He soon left for the Lower 48 and I tried to keep from freezing to death in an uninsulated shed he called a house. He sent some money up to a friend in town to buy some insulation, finally, and the fellow brought it out and dumped it.
I spent the next 12 hours insulating the walls and ceiling and putting some plastic over it for vapor barrier, but didn’t have enough. Ice started building up in the walls and ceiling at a pretty good rate over the ice already there from heat indoors without a vapor barrier and insulation, earlier on. Water would freeze on the table near the heater. I expected to freeze every time I went to sleep. Waking up was an adventure.
It was a lovely winter.

Guys, Gotta Love ’em, Can’t Just Shoot ’em – Part Two

Me Woodshed

Okay, it has been suggested I would actually like to BE a guy. Uh, wrong. I really like being female and can only think of 2 reasons that I ever might have considered that guys have an edge. One is fairly obvious, giving birth. Guys certainly get the easy part of procreation. My second reason is just a little bit different and seems to hit the worst when I am working outdoors in mosquito weather or in the middle of minus 40 degrees and still no bathroom in sight. The very thought of having to undress almost half my body for either the mosquitoes to attack or frostbite to threaten sometimes does give just a twinge of envy. Other than that, no way, I like being female.
The lack of an extruded appendage has not hampered my career, whether it be mining, operating heavy equipment, building a house or cutting firewood. I can do any or all of those things and it never has made a difference. I have seen where that same appendage could be a liability when someone got hit wrong. I’ve never had to worry about that.
I am even trying to learn to be just a bit helpless once in a while and accept help.
Of course the main thing I would love to accept help on, housework, is never an option. No one ever comes by and says, “Oh, that is such a hard job. How about I step in and give you a hand?”
Oh yeah, I hate housework. You do the dishes, you make the beds and 6 months later, you have to do them all over again. With all the new technology, a self cleaning house would be wonderful. Of course, it would have to be an off-grid self cleaning house, since I don’t have electricity or running water.
I do like to cook. I also like to eat well. The best way to assure consistent good eating is to learn to be a good cook. Most things in my life, I have learned because I always have more time than money. My Mom collected dolls, so when I moved to Alaska, she wanted authentic Alaskan dolls. I priced them and went home and made her a whole family of Alaskan dolls. I want a picture on the wall, I draw or paint one. I want a home in the woods, I build one. You are only limited by your imagination. Mine has always been in overdrive.

Guys, Gotta Love’em, Can’t Just Shoot’em

FavToyOnRoad

Okay, lets get one thing straight. I am NOT looking for a guy. I love guys, guys have been my best friends most of my life and I usually work with guys. They are wonderful as friends. I have had the good fortune to have married a wonderful guy and we had a very good marriage for 12 years. Then he died. I should have let it go at that and just been happy for the time I had with a wonderful man and not expected the good fortune of finding another one. But NOooOoo, I had to jump in a couple of years after he died and tried to find someone I could love again.
I think love is like a drug. Once you have had it, you keep looking for it, yet again. That may work for some people, I just don’t seem to have the right gene for it or else I have “Sucker” writtin on my forehead and only toads, trolls and ufo’s (you don’t want to know what that stands for) can see it and flock to me. I still like to think the best of people so dumb me, I always believe everything they tell me.
So, after getting all of that out there, I will say once again, I am not looking for a guy. I am actually enjoying the single life and since my idea of housework is, you wash the dishes, you make the beds and 6 months later, you have to do it all over again, I think it is better this way. I can be as lazy as I please and nap until noon, stay up until whenever and no one is after me about my hours.
I just bought a new (to me) 4 wheeler and am enjoying just running it around at 1 am, if I want and not even feel a little bit guilty for neglecting something else needing done, instead.
Then there is the small matter of age. I am 70 years old, soon to be 71. Why should I clutter up my life with another person? There just isn’t enough hours in a day nor enough energy in me for that. Today is a good example. I did some dozer work on my driveway then build a section of wall for my grandson’s cabin. Later, I built another small section of wall for an octagon cabin we are building as a guest cabin. I then came home and had a fine dinner of potatoes, onions, bell peppers, sausage and eggs. I have spent a couple of hours this evening writing on a book I have in the works and no problem of having to care if I am neglecting someone else’s ego. I am tired and will soon just go to bed, after shutting off the generator I run a few hours each evening. Yes, I have become selfish and only do what I feel like doing. It feels great.

Chapter 1 – Alaskan Alibi

MeBearsSepia

Chapter 1
“So, are you having fun yet?” asked a man’s voice from behind me, as I knelt beside my old truck, fixing the flat.
Well, I was trying to fix the flat but whoever tightened the lug nuts had used an air wrench and enjoyed his work.
I’m not a little girl, so I stood on the star wrench and rocked back and forth, then jumped from side to side and eventually, it came loose. Only 5 more to go. Damn. At least I have them loosened.
I turned around to see who thought he was a comedian and decided he probably could be whatever he wanted, he was just that good looking.
“Okay, so are you offering to help or just stand there and watch?” I sorta snarled back. It is hot and I am already tired. This has not been one of my better days and it doesn’t appear to be going to get much better as it goes along.
The client I was supposed to pick up at the airport didn’t show and when I called the contact number for him, a lady answered saying he was unavailable. If I got my hands on him, he certainly wouldn’t be. Not getting a refund, either.
Did he think I would enjoy a little trip to town from hunt camp during my busiest season? Who wouldn’t enjoy taking a 150 mile road trip on a gravel road in hot weather with all the dust and rocks? Probably a good thing he didn’t show, if this was an example of his common sense and thoughtfulness for others.
Back at the flat tire, my audience decided he would lend a hand and the rest of the lug nuts just gave up and practically fell off. Yeah, not my day.
My spare is low on air, so I will have to head directly to a tire shop. Then the guy introduces himself and says my no-show sent him in his place. Okaaaay. I ask if he has the rest of the payment for the hunt and where is his gear? He says his friend was supposed to send the rest of the payment. When and how? He doesn’t know.
“Uh, you do know there is no hunt with no payment, right?”
“You can just let me come on out now and the money will be here when we come back in, can‘t you?”
“No, it don’t work that way, sorry.” I start to climb back into my pickup and he grabs my shoulder. Big mistake.
He looks up at me from under my foot and asks politely for his arm back, please?
Oops, first rule in camp, don’t touch me. Second rule is, don’t touch me.
I let go of his arm and he slowly gets up and brushes himself off.
“How did you do that? That first lug nut must have been on there a lot harder than the rest.”
“Of course, did you think I hadn’t already loosened all of them before taking one completely off? Do you have a vehicle or are you hiking?”
He grabs his backpack and throws it and a duffle bag into the back of my truck and I head for the nearest tire shop.
While waiting for service, I check my laptop to see if No-Show has sent anything. Nope, nothing. I turn the screen so the Flat Changer can see his buddy has ignored sending any notice about him or cash for the rest of the hunt.
“If you are planning on going hunting, you better contact him and get it settled or you are not riding on out with me.” I tell him.
He looks all hurt that I don’t trust him for the money and pulls out his cell phone. Soon it sounds like he is getting the same answers I got from the guy’s Secretary, Personal Assistant or whoever she is.
Finally he says something to her that gets her attention and soon he is talking to someone else, but still not the man he wanted to talk to.
While he is talking on the cell, someone changes the channel on the TV in the tire shop waiting room and we hear the name of the man he is trying to get in touch with, mentioned on the News.
Well, it seems we won’t be getting the balance due on the hunt from him, he is dead. Then another picture flashes on the screen as someone they would like to talk to and my Tire Changing guy is shown, big as life and twice as handsome, right there, on the screen.
His plane ticket is sticking out of his jacket pocket, so I sorta just ease it out to see when he got here and where he came in, from.
According to this ticket stub, he came in last night and left from the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, sometime during the day, yesterday. So he isn’t guilty of his friend’s death. The news report is saying it happened sometime during the night and he was found in his office this morning.
I suggest this guy go directly to the State police here in Fairbanks with his ticket and get the police in Texas looking for someone else besides him. He agrees and then gives me a hard look for having his ticket in my hand.
He didn’t have to leave the tire shop, having given his name to the person in Texas, they evidently called our police and they were already here to talk to him. Whoever the man in Texas had been, he must have been important to someone.
I still have his ticket when the police grab onto him and cuff him. They read him his Rights immediately. I recognize one of the police officers and ask to speak to him.
We step outside and I ask why they cuffed and read him his Rights, thought they only wanted to talk to him from the report on the news.
Officer Reed tells me he can’t talk about the case. I ask if he knows when this guy got here, when he left Texas and when the victim was killed. He says he has only the last part of that information, so I hand over the ticket I have. He looks at me and asks how I got it, so I tell him. He hands it back after looking at it. He did write down the information on it to check and make sure that really is when this guy got here. I would imagine there is a hotel listing him as an overnight guest somewhere here in town, also.
When we walk back in, Officer Reed tells the others to let him go. He has a pretty good alibi for the time involved. One of the men snickers and makes a rather crude remark about me and the guy’s alibi, I take a step toward him. His eyes widen and Officer Reed tells him he WILL apologize and immediately or he will let me teach him some manners. He apologizes.
Tire Dude tells him to just pat me on the shoulder and snickers. Officer Reed gives him a hard look, too.
Okay, Tire Dude has a name. He is Cary Lowny. His deceased friend is none other than William Garrison The Third. Everyone always spoke of him in capitols. Didn’t help, he is still dead. When he made the reservation for our hunt, he just said Will Garrison, so I didn’t even think The William Garrison The Third would be booking a hunt with me.
I don’t advertise full service hunting trips, I just advertise primitive hunt camps and the chance to see a bear. No promises on getting one. Usually folks like The Third want better facilities and practically someone to pull the trigger for them, which I don’t do, either. Okay, that isn’t fair. I never met the man and have preconceived notions. Not nice, even, he can’t defend himself.
After the police leave, Cary pulls out his wallet and asks how much is still owed for the hunt. He doesn’t even blink and just starts signing over travelers checks. The shop guy comes in and says my pickup is ready to go, so we head on out to it.
I pull in at my bank and deposit the travelers checks. They won’t do me much good out in the Bush.
I pull out the standard guide client form and waiver for Cary to sign and also take him in to buy his license and tags. He signs the hunt contract I have to turn in to the State, also.
He is laughing as he reads the waiver I have included at the bottom of the client form. I tell him it isn’t so funny when some snooty client wants to sue me for getting his butt bit by bugs while using the outhouse. So I try to cover all bases in the waiver.

Chapter One, from “Stikine”

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Chapter 1
What an awful odor and her head is feeling like it has been used as a punching bag. Oh, that’s right, when George came home last night, he did take a swing at her and that was the last thing she remembered until the smell woke her up a few moments ago.
She starts to get up but realizes she is tied firmly to the bed frame she is laying on. Now that is just the last straw. If George thinks he can get away with treating her like this, he has another think a’coming.
She tries to open her eyes but feels there is something across her face that she can’t move away from. So she methodically starts trying to work her hands free and to rub her face back and forth to move whatever is across her eyes.
As she works, her hands become more loosely bound but not quite enough to pull free when she realizes she is hearing the sound of a motor slowly drawing nearer. She works faster on her hands and finally slips one free just as the motor shuts off.
The sound of footsteps coming nearer, makes her decide to pretend to still be tied and unconscious so she slides her hand back into the loops behind her back and lays still.
A door is pushed open across the space from her and someone says it looks like the woman is still out. Someone else mutters it will probably be better that way, just leave her and she won’t know anything. Some more mutters and the door is shut again.
She quickly pulls her hand out again and reaches for her face. There is a cloth tied around her eyes so she just pushes an edge up high enough to look out under without removing it entirely. She looks around the area she is in and it looks like one of the old cannery shacks near the beach where they used to process fish many years ago. This is miles from her home and no roads out here, only boat access.
She quickly checks and she is still wearing the clothes she walked in the door after work in, just before George hit her. Since there is no heat in this building and it is never all that hot most of the time in Southeast Alaska, she is glad she still has her coat on, even if it is summer.
She carefully removes the ties around her ankles and sits on the edge of the bed frame a few minutes, trying to get her body responding correctly again. There has been no sound of a motor leaving and she doesn’t know where the men are, so it might be best to just play passed out all the time they are here, unless she can see a clear means of escape. She didn’t recognize the voices, but then, she wasn’t allowed out except to work, and there were no men working there. So she really didn’t know many people around here.
George was so insecure that he kept her practically under lock and key, so she was used to having to escape from different situations. He would go through spells of allowing her some freedom, but if anyone stopped to talk to her or asked him how she was doing, he was positive they were messing around with her and then back to being locked up again.
She had loved him once, but his actions certainly didn’t nurture love or allow it to grow. Now she felt a growing contempt for his continued adolescent behavior and punching her out last night, if it was last night, was the final straw.
She slowly and carefully starts walking around the small room she is in, looking for some way to see outside and maybe be able to tell if the men were close or somewhere farther away.
Partway around the wall, she stumbles over something on the floor and finds George. The room is so dark, she doesn’t realize just what it is, until she stoops down and feels a face, then the familiar whiskers and overweight body. She smothers back a scream as it finally dawns on her that he is probably dead.
She drags him carefully back toward the bed and after many tries, manages to get him up on it in her place and ties the cloth around his face like it was around hers. Anyone just looking in quickly might think it was her, if she gained a hundred pounds and grew whiskers, but she was hoping they just glanced in and left.
She hears voices again, coming toward the shed and she moves over behind the door, picking up a piece of metal that must have been a part of a boat frame at one time. It is solid and at least makes her feel a bit better to hold it in her hands while her knees are shaking.
The door starts to open and someone calls from farther down the beach. The person opening the door just glances in and sees a shape on the bed and closes the door. There is the sharp odor of gasoline and the whoosh of fire as he walks away.
The motor starts back up and revs, then fades away and she now has to find a fast way out of this flimsy shed. The door is already leaking in smoke and too hot to touch. The window is boarded over, but fear adds strength and she manages to pull the frame loose and push the plywood off the window.
She looks around quickly to see if anything is handy that she could use, runs back over to check on George and yes, he is really dead. She pats his pockets and grabs the lighter and knife. His hat and heavy coat are on the floor so she grabs them as she goes by, and manages to only slightly scrape away some skin as she goes out the window. The smell outside is terrible and she finds sign of an illegal fish trap having been run from the old site.
There is still a fresh fish on the cleaning table and she grabs it as she goes by. Fish is not a favorite meal, but it might be her only meal for quite a while. This camp is a long way from the end of the road and that is a long way from town, for someone walking.
None of the towns around here are attached to a road system, just the short stretches of road that people live along that go a ways beside the beaches.
The only way to travel is boat or airplane, so most families have boats here. She and George were not one of them.
There is a broken handled shovel leaning against the side of the burning shed, so she takes that, too. A bit farther out and she finds a torn burlap bag that has been discarded, so she stuffs the fish into the bag and ties George’s coat around her waist, the hat on her head and she now has almost too much to carry as it is bulky, not heavy.
She moves into the heavy trees and puts her load down so she can check and see if there is anything else handy that she might be able to use, on her trek back to town.
So far, she has not seen anyone but she is not sure where they have gone and if they are coming back. Having set the fire, they must not be intending to use this site again. But she can’t be sure, so she inches along, trying to see everywhere at once.
The shed is fully engulfed in flames so she says a brief prayer for George. She might not still love him, but anyone deserves a better end than that.
She inches along, trying to blend in and become part of the scenery. She finds a fillet knife someone has dropped and a discarded pack with a broken strap. She drags it behind her as she scoots along, trying to find every little thing anyone may have dropped or thrown away. When she finds the can dump, she quickly grabs a large juice can and a couple of the empty stew cans. They can be used to cook in. Some pieces of wire will have many uses, so she grabs it, also. She might try to dig down through the pile and see what else she can find, but she hears a boat motor again, and grabs her supplies and fades back into the trees.
Southeast Alaska is the perfect place to hide, all that has to be done is hold still under some brush and there is always some brush. Just as long as no Devils Club is in the way, everything is okay.
From her spot under the brush, she watches a boat pull up to the makeshift dock. The two men in it are arguing and one is sounding extremely angry.
When he sees the smoldering remains of the shed, he gets even angrier. The shed has collapsed and is a mound of burning lumber and some timbers from the roof. The rusty tin roof is twisted and practically glowing.
One man is shouting about the woman was supposed to be left alive and turned loose, she would be the perfect one to pin her husband’s death on, since they had stupidly killed him. But he was not supposed to be killed. People turning up dead tended to bring investigators. Everyone in town knew he didn’t treat her well. Look what condition she was in when they brought her out here. Some of the people in town would probably have given her a medal for getting rid of him. Thirty years ago, she wouldn’t even have been arrested for it. Kill an illegal fish and go to jail, kill a mean husband and they helped plan a party, practically. Women were not plentiful in town.
Now, she would possibly get arrested, but they probably would let her go after listening to folks around town. He called the other man all kinds of names and the other man was slowly getting really angry. The more man #1 kept on, the more man #2 was almost steaming.
When he reached into the boat for the fishing spear, she almost yelled out a warning, but was afraid she would be next. Guy #1 must have heard something because he turned around just as the other man shot the spear and it almost missed him. His shot from his pistol didn’t miss man #2.
The spear was still sticking out of his side where it had creased along his ribs but caught in the coat fabric and didn’t do as much damage as it could have.
The wounded man stumbled a bit getting back into the boat, but he managed to get it turned and headed away again. She stayed crouched a bit longer then walked back to the can pile to see if she could quickly find anything else of use before starting her long walk back to the end of the road, if she could manage to get that far.
Anya found a couple of bottles with lids and she could rinse them out to carry water in. Even though Southeastern Alaska is a rain forest, it is hard to find clear drinking water.
A lot of the water looks like brewed tea and is colored from running through rotten vegetation among other things. It is usually foamy around the edges also and not the best flavored drink in the world. Any clear fresh water is to be treasured and carried along as much as possible. Of course there is always the ocean nearby.
It looks so tranquil and can be mirror smooth as no waves or breakers roll in past the outer islands. It is like living beside a large lake that fluctuates in levels with the water rising and lowering twice a day for the tides. In stormy weather, it is choppy whitecaps, but still no real waves.

My Old Cabin Door

My Old Cabin

My Old Cabin

That screen door was amazing. It was all that was used for over 30 years as a front door. It was very old, made out of wood with a screen portion where most have a window. The inside door was just boards nailed together but no latch or hasp on it and as the cabin settled, it was stuck in the open position and probably became part of the front wall support as the cabin is actually slowly falling down.
It was a lot too breezy with only the screen instead of glass, so we stapled cardboard from a stereo carton inside the door as partial insulation and to keep out most of the breezes as the wood pieces were rather wide apart, also. We used a hook and eye latch on the inside and a hasp and lock on the outside if we were gone. That was more to let folks know we were gone than to keep anyone out as the wood on both ends of the hasp was rotten.
We never had a problem with bears tearing into the door until a couple of years ago, one demolished it and trashed part of the inside of the cabin. Now the cabin has a handmade door but it isn’t the same and has no character.

My First Book & Why It Is

ChainsawCoverDone

My first book was “Don’t Use A Chainsaw In The Kitchen”. It started out as many things do in my life, by accident and as an example of being a very lazy person at heart.
As my children and stepchildren grew up and left home, the requests started coming in. “Mom, how do you make—-” and the list just grew.
So instead of just writing it down for each one, I typed it up once and made copies. The pile of recipes got out of hand. I organized them into some semblance of order. Then friends wanted it.
By this time, there were over 400 recipes and assorted how-to directions, on butchering, making sausage, building a trappers cabin, tanning hides and my autobiography at the back of the book.
It’s not professionally edited or even carefully proofread, but it has just about anything you want to know about living out on your own and making do.
The title? That is a whole different story involving a gift of frozen pork loins at minus 40 degrees F. and my aversion to going outdoors to cut them up. Major cleaning job required in the kitchen after that and I really dislike cleaning house.
https://www.createspace.com/4043866 Don’t Use A Chainsaw In The Kitchen