One morning out my window.
I am so glad I have kept it harvested all summer as things ripened. Just a couple of days ago, I transplanted some lettuce I started late, kale and mint. It was now protected on my sun porch. I set it up with some LED grow lights I was checking out that a friend had sent me. My little solar panels were also on the porch in the windows and charging the batteries on any clear day.
I gear up and go out to care for the goats. They are enjoying the snow, at the present. I think after a while they may get tired of it just like most humans do. At present, I am thinking it may be saving us from some unpleasant encounters with town folks. Maybe by the time they decide to head this way, they won’t have fuel for the trip. Right now, the only way they could reach us is by snow machine and they would have to be hauling extra gas for the trip.
Late afternoon, the guy on the snow machine stops back by to let us know the latest news from the other direction. He found everyone warm and cozy and at Kara and Rose’s they were even happier.
Their family in town had rounded up some motorcycles and trailers right after the earthquake, loaded up all they could find and came home. They got to the place just before the snow hit too hard. They said the bridge was out just north of town and they came through the river. The next bridge was cracked and they went over it one at a time, being very careful, the lightest loads first. Then at the last large bridge, they again crossed in the river as the bridge looked like it was not safe.
Town had been hit harder than the reports stated. The underground
utility tunnels under the Bases and under downtown Fairbanks had all collapsed and no utilities were working. The runways were all buckled and broken. No flights could enter or leave, except helicopters and only if they had enough fuel in the tanks as the tank farm was on fire. The roads going south from Fairbanks were clogged with traffic thinking they could drive somewhere and get away from the disaster. No one was headed north but them.
Both of Rose’s great-grandchildren made it out with their parent. Their community had increased, but Rose and Kara both planned on them being there in emergencies, anyway. Some of the little extra cabins were just for each adult to have their own place. The “adopted” ones were also welcome and also had been planned for. They hadn’t exactly planned on the one grandson bringing both of his girlfriends out, though. That could get interesting in the days ahead.
We shared our meal with the man and he accepted another bag of rolls and some bread to take on his ride home. He left soon after and we were glad he had stopped by. That was the best load of firewood we ever delivered.
Noah and I sat and tried to figure out exactly what was going to happen next and how to deal with it. We know we could survive out here, if we are left alone. It sounds like Wasilla may now be ocean front property. So the coastline has changed drastically.
I am wondering how Interior is going to change if the ocean levels are rising or have risen. Most of the Yukon and Tanana valleys are not very much above sea level. What if we now could catch ocean fish just down in our valley? We will probably have to wait until the coming summer to find out about that.
The next morning, I awaken to the sound of the goats in a panic and loud barking from Pal. I jump out of bed, grab a gun and head for a window toward the barn. I look out and see a very large grizzly trying to tear into the barn. I am so glad it has rock lower walls. I open the window and sight carefully. I gently squeeze the trigger and the bear slumps down. He starts to rise, then slumps over again. I will wait a bit before going to check. Noah comes racing around the corner of the house pulling on his coat and hat. I unlock the front door and he comes on in. “What on earth…?” he starts. I just say “Grizzly.”
After a few minutes, we put on some wet weather boots and heavy mitts and coats and go check to see if it is really dead. As we wade through the snow, Noah asks if this is a usual occurrence. “No, actually I have never shot a grizzly before,” I answer.
We walk up on the bear from behind with guns at the ready. If the bear even twitched, it was going to get shot a whole lot more. It didn’t twitch. I poked it’s eye with the rifle barrel, no response. I think it is dead. We drag the bear over away from the barn a ways, and spread it on it’s back with legs out. I pull out a quick change utility knife to start skinning. Noah asks why I use that. I tell him they stay sharp, only have to twist the handle to change blades if they get dull and they work very well.
I make the first cuts to make a nice shaped hide when finished and then start skinning. Noah starts on
the other side and it does not take us long to skin the bear. It is an adult male in very good condition. There are no bad odors, only the usual butchering odors, so it must have fattened up on blueberries. I will cure and smoke the hams and maybe try making bacon if there is enough meat over the ribs.
I bring out some large clean totes and we start trimming fat off the body to render for lard. I cut down through the fat over the ribs to the ribs and find it is over 2 inches thick. I will try making it into bacon. I cut both sides off, peeling it down to the ribs. And place it in the tote with the picnic shoulders, hocks and hams to be cured. The ribs and back and brisket will be used as roasts, BBQ ribs and maybe corn the brisket.
We soon have the bear cut into nice cuts of meat and take the totes to the sun porch to keep them cooler than in the main house. The hide will be worked on in the evenings. I did skin the head and feet out before they were cut from the body. That is easier to do at that time. But I will still have to flesh it out better and salt the hide. I cut the head from the body and consider trying brain tanning the hide. The neck has a lot of meat on it so maybe make mincemeat from that. I sort through the gut pile and remove the heavy fat deposits through it all and around the kidneys. This adds a lot more fat to the pile to render for lard.
After the bear is butchered up. The gut pile is dragged over as far as we could get it from the house, with all the snow. We took care of the goats and let Pal know what a good dog he was for barking at the bear. He showed no interest in going after the bear, so he is a smart dog.
When we get back in the house, I check the meat and it is cooling nicely. I mix up the cure to put on the meat and start by putting a layer in a tote, then a layer of meat, and another layer of cure. The heavy hams go on the bottom and the thin bacon slabs go on top all covered in a thick layer of dry cure. The first totes used are rinsed out and set to dry. I put a towel over the meat in the other tote so nothing gets into it. The extra cure mix is left beside it to be added the next day when the meat is turned and checked. The hams are very nice shaped and should be good.
While I was doing that, Noah filled my woodbox and started breakfast. We worked together all through the day, clearing snow off roofs where we could and shoveling trails around the yard. I finished harvesting the greenhouse and the garden. The large tomato plants I brought in last week, are doing fine on the sun porch. It isn’t warm enough for them to grow, but all the green tomatoes on them would slowly ripen and we would still have fresh tomatoes into at least January.
The late zucchini would be great fried and as soup or as bread. I placed them out on a shelf on the sun porch, also. It is more of a walk-in fridge in winter than a sun porch, but it is nice to have the fresh veggies most of the winter.
The extra fat we had cut off the bear, I coarse ground and set on the back of the wood heater to slowly render into lard. It would be a welcome addition to the food stores and make excellent pastries and doughnuts. I only had a small fire going in the wood stove, to keep the chill off the house, so didn’t have to worry
about the lard burning as it rendered. I set the leftover stew pot on the stove to reheat while we worked, also. When we came in at lunchtime, it sure was nice to have it ready and the water hot for a drink. I keep a large pot of water on the wood stove all the time for wash water and to do dishes or bathe. When I am working outdoors, I also put the teakettle on the wood stove to have it ready for a hot drink.
Noah was used to having running water and electricity, so this was going to be a learning experience for him. The good thing is, he seems willing to learn and go along with it.
The rest of the day, we work at making sure everything is as ready for winter as we can make it. In some ways, I hope this doesn’t last and that we get our usual Indian Summer but knowing the possibility of hungry people heading out from town if the roads clear, makes me selfishly wish this was the actual start of winter. There is nothing I can do to help all the thousands in town. I can help the folks in my immediate area
The next day, we build in the room and hay ricks in the barn. All I can hope is that I cut enough hay to last the winter, for the goats. I have never raised goats so am not sure how long it takes to gestate or how long until the young are weaned. I don’t know how much to feed them a day, even. I better start reading my books and see if I have the information there. This will be a learning experience that I will have to learn and fast, no room for mistakes. It starts snowing again, late in the afternoon and continues into the evening. Maybe winter has set in early.
We settle into a routine, of shoveling snow, packing firewood and caring for the animals. The meat is curing nicely and soon we have to go find some alder bushes for wood to smoke the meat. I hope it isn’t too cold to take a smoke well. The bacon sides are cured first, so I hang them to dry. The lard rendered out very well and I use the leftover cracklings as flavoring in a batch of cornbread. I heat the lard to boiling and pour it into hot jars and seal. After they are cold, I will store them in the pantry in a cool dark area. After the hams are smoked, I will try sharing with Rose and Kara and also with Will and Shari. Best if we all keep helping out, I am thinking.
The hams are finally cured and I have found a nice stand of Alder brush near the roadway to cut and peel for the smoke. Noah and I finally have enough peeled that it should do the whole batch. I sewed some cheesecloth bags to hold the hams in and we will place the bacon sides flat on screen, so they hold their shapes. It seems to be warm enough during the day to smoke and I bring them to the sun porch at night. It only takes a few days to have them with enough smoke to consider done.
We decide to try our hand at snowshoeing over to see Rose and Kara. By the time we are about halfway there, we realize neither of us are in shape for this. So we turn around and go home. At the rate we are going, it would have taken us all day just to go a couple of miles. If this were a needed trip, yes, but not just to visit and share some hams.
Will and Shari show up a couple of days later. They have a plow on the front of their little 6 wheel ATV and have made a small road to each property. They said they realize gas is a premium item now, but if we can keep some sort of trail open it will be better for us all. Will shares the latest news from his radio. None of it is good.
The entire world has been affected by the quakes and no cities are left standing, anywhere. Ones along oceans have slid into the seas, civilization has just stepped back in time a few hundred years and not a lot of the current population have any idea how to live in those times. The only hope is that there are people with the knowledge to make and operate old fashioned tools and equipment.
Even a lot of the Amish folk now hire or rent modern tools and equipment, just as long as they don’t do it themselves. So not even as much knowledge with them on old farming practices. Much of Southeast Alaska is apparently bare hillsides since the giant tsunamis washed through. Most of the Pacific Northwest is the same.
The after shocks are so bad in some areas that what buildings did survive are unsafe to go into. More people have died from cave-ins in apartment buildings and underground facilities. The huge volcano expected to erupt somewhere near Yellowstone seems to have dissipated by flowing into large unknown faults running along the east side of the Rockies and passing through near the former site of Denver. All the government underground facilities there are now full of lava. Washington DC is under water, so is New York City as far as anyone can tell. Florida is a few small islands. The new inland sea that used to be the Mississippi Valley now has dolphins and whales. South America and North America no longer join. Europe, Asia and Africa are the same, now separate continents, separated by oceans. No one has heard from Australia or New Zealand.
The early snows of the Alaskan Interior have reached far down into Canada. People that survived the earthquakes are succumbing to the cold. The fear of outbreak of diseases has escalated because of the inability to bury the dead. Rodents, the usual carriers of disease, run rampant in the ruins. Looters are being shot on sight. So far, there does not appear to be any organized raiding.
After all this unhopeful news, we visit a bit and Shari is nervous now about the birth of her child soon. I offer to help but tell her to ask Rose as she is closer. I will be happy to help, though. She thinks she has enough clothes for the baby and did buy a lot of disposable diapers for the first few months and then will switch when she runs out to the cloth ones she already purchased. I will make a small Arctic hare fur bunting for the baby.
When they leave, they take their ham and one each for Kara and Rose. I divide the bacon up and share it for each household, also. I smoked the hocks, so they would be good seasoning for beans and shared those, also. I don’t volunteer what type of meat it is, and they didn’t ask.
The bacon is a little different but acceptable when we try it for breakfast the next day. I will have to practice cutting it thinner.
As we are eating breakfast, Pal starts growling at the door. We look at each other and head to the window to see what is out there. I see a large black bear out in the trees heading to the gut pile and Noah sees 2 guys, also sneaking through the trees, unaware of the gut pile or conflict of interest about to happen. The guys are only watching the house and have guns drawn and pointing toward us. This is something I consider offensive, so I grab the rifle leaning against the wall near the window.
As I start to open the window, the bear decides these hairless bipeds are after his meal and steps in. He takes a swipe at one and practically takes his head off, at the sound, the other one turns and pulls the trigger at the same time. His 1st round goes high and wide and then he fires again, directly into the bears belly. The bear already thinks the guy is a thief, now he is enraged with a belly ache, too. The bear takes another swipe with his paw and tears out the man’s throat. Then I shoot the bear.
Even though he has saved us a lot of problems in the future, I really don’t want him as a neighbor and once a bear finds food anywhere, they always come back checking just in case there may be more. At this rate, we are only going to have my least favorite meat for the winter. But I can’t pass up free meat, so we once again spend part of the day skinning and butchering. There is nothing to be done for the 2 men and I recognize them as the 2 that came out with Royal to harass Shari. I’m pretty sure with all this snow before freeze-up, that we can still dig graves for them.
We drag them and as many parts as we can find up out of the woods and straighten them out so they don’t stiffen in bad positions. I don’t want them in my yard, so we walk out to the roadway. There is a small gully over on one side of the road, with a nice dirt bank above it and we decide to just cover them there. I really do not feel too sorry that they are gone. I just wish I knew what happened to their leader. I would have preferred the bear took care of him.
We drag the men out to the gully, push them in and start knocking the bank down over them. We try to at least make it deep enough with dirt and a lot of rocks, to deter scavengers from digging them out. It should freeze solid soon and that will help over the winter, anyway.
In the snow, the yard now looks like a bloodbath has taken place here. The grizzly at least had a bit more snow after we finished with him. It is cloudy, so I will pray for snow tonight to cover this mess up also.
I think we enjoy the bear meat more after it is cured and smoked, so I start this curing again. This was a large very fat old male, so he has enough fat over his ribs to again make some bacon. It is very fatty bacon, but will be all we will ever see again, unless someone out here has hogs. I have not heard of any, that does not mean there aren’t. I doubt if any of the folks on up the road know I have chickens and goats.
As long as the weather stays near freezing but not too cold, I can still smoke the hams and bacon after they cure.