We slept in one morning in early May and totally missed Spring!
It goes by in an instant here. Well, actually more like a week and a half. That is, in the time it takes for the water from the ice melt to dry up, the forest goes from looking completely dead to crawling with life. The roads go from slick and sloppy to dry and dusty and the fire danger goes from nothing at all to sky high.
All of the wild plants are back at it, testing out new places to grow while re-inhabiting their old favorites. Many of the familiar bird songs are again on repeat for the remainder of the season. I wonder what amazing things some of these little birds see as they traverse the globe in their perpetual quest for pleasant weather. One of my favorite things is laying in bed and listening to the loon calls echo off of the lake.
Projects around here have been rolling along at variable speeds. Some days we feel like we accomplish a lot. Others, it feels like we may have even gone backwards. But, as always, we keep the big picture in mind and know that minor setbacks are just part of the deal and are never that memorable anyways.
Pete is about half done with cutting the joinery for the storage loft in the garage. It is taking a bit longer than necessary to get this loft built because he is building it out of round logs and carving mortise and tenon joinery to tie to posts, beams, and braces together. He doesn’t have any plans drawn and is making it up as he goes along, so that too may be part of the delay. And, of course, we can only run the noisy power tools such as the saws when Baby Girl isn’t napping, which isn’t easy to plan for. Maybe we need to move the “log yard” a few more feet from the house.
It is great to be able to use the natural round logs with minimal milling because it looks amazing and the round logs also have considerably more strength than thinned out square beams. However, leaving them round makes them much more challenging to work with since no two logs are exactly the same size and, therefore, measurements are constantly changing. Not only that, but there are no flat edges to work off of so you have to get really creative if you are going to do this for the first time without any instruction. Because of this, Pete is investing a bit of extra time to make a couple jigs and some templates so that he can more “easily” build these kinds of structures again in the future. This way, not every piece needs to be individually scribe-fit, which is an even more tedious way to build. We still have many small structures to build around the property and it would be delightful if they could all have a bit of uniqueness and character to them. Not to mention the incredible strength structures have when built this way.
Another reason for the slow-moving loft project is because building a garden has now become a much higher priority than it previously had been. The past few months have put into perspective how distant, far away events can impact us in serious ways. I think we were lucky in that our day-to-day lives have been relatively unaffected by the recent on-goings in the world, but this is no time to kick back and plan for another 10-20 years of smooth sailing until the next major fiasco. We are taking this as a wake up call to make sure we have access to the things we need, regardless of what is happening down the road or across the ocean.
I read that with 1000 square feet of land, you can grow and harvest enough wheat in a year to make 90 loaves of bread <citation needed>. That’s a lot of bread and we have more space than that in the 10ft “buffer zone” where we can’t build along the edges of the property. We actually already have the perfect space for a garden; a portion of our property had previously been used as a cow pasture many years ago and still has a 6ft fence surrounding a little over 1/8 of an acre. This is more than enough space to grow an excessive amount of personal produce.
We knew of the potential resource this enclosed space could be when we purchased the property. However, it had been overgrown for many years - the willows grew thick, completely hiding the back half of the fence. Pete cleared out most of the small trees and brush last summer before we installed the septic system. Then, the soil had a fairly rich organic layer on top from being undisturbed for many years. Unfortunately, that organic layer quickly dissolved underneath all the heavy equipment used to put in the drain field for the septic system. Only a small portion of the drain field is inside the fenced area, but when they excavated the massive pit, they inadvertently spread out the glacial till which we live upon all over the field. After they were done, the ground was mostly hard packed gravel with rocks sized from watermelons to golf balls scattered everywhere you looked. The thought of turning all of it into a thriving, bountiful oasis seemed like a dream for another day. Although, we are now looking at it and realizing it will not help to put it off any longer.
When you think about how much food you eat throughout a year, it’s a lot. It’s hard to imagine what it would look like to see it all in one place. Surely, you eat a wide variety of things and it’s hard to know where to even begin when approaching this for the first time. Growing all (most) of your own food is a lofty goal and isn’t something we expect to do this year, and probably not next year either, since I'll need to starting growing a grove of cocoa trees to support my chocolate habit! But the first step to doing something new is to try, and so we shall. We will start small and expand as we learn. In the past, we have had small outdoor and indoor gardens which we did more as a seasonal hobby and experimentation. Maybe we would have fresh vegetables with dinner for a few nights in the summer, or even vacuum pack or preserve some things. In the indoor garden, it was fun to harvest some lettuce, herbs, celery, and mushrooms throughout the winter, but we have never done any growing on a large scale with the intention of living off of it. In addition, the climate here is, shall we say, “unique” compared to where we previously grew in the lower 48. You know, where it actually gets dark at night. There will undoubtedly be many quirks to figure out when growing a wide variety of crops in the unusually hot/cold/wet/dry/long/short days we have here.
Putting in some hard labor in the garden is something we can constantly be doing whenever we have a few spare minutes and between other projects. Picking rocks, hauling mulch, grass, and moose droppings from around the property, collecting livestock manure from neighbors, building compost, building an irrigation system, laying out what will go where, it is a big investment in time and energy. We are not actually having to pay money for much of it at all, but it is a lot of work. Sometimes, the price is denoted in number of days, rather than number of dollars.
As we approach the beginning of June, nights still get down to the low or sub-40ºF range, but we have had some very hot days already. The summer sun is very intense up here, and we remember it well from last summer. This year, however, we are fortunate enough to have the luxury of our nice, cool cabin to retreat into for breaks. The cabin is also a great escape from the pesky bugs, which also seem to be having a good season.
These hot, early summer days make for dangerous fire conditions. Before the rains come, all of the dead foliage from last fall lays exposed on the ground just waiting for a hot chainsaw to be set down in it, or a generator to be run too close to it, or an ember to escape from a burn barrel. We got an early reminder in May with a small (120 acre) fire just a few miles from us. Fortunately, it was quickly contained and no major damage was done. We also received a couple days of rain earlier this week which was certainly welcome. Once the new green grass and leaves grow in the old dead stuff gets covered up and it becomes less of a hazard. However, one of the fires north of us last summer, the Deshka fire, apparently burned all winter long deep down in the mossy ground and could still potentially re-ignite :o
Oh, yes, and a couple of more close encounters with moose! Particularly, a young male who has found our driveway to be a nice path for him to get to and from the lake. Him and the dogs have gotten into it a few times, but they only exchange words so far and no one has been injured. The dogs chase after him and bark as he passes through. He looks more annoyed than anything, but does still stop to munch on some fresh leaves even with the dogs barking all around. He has charged them a few times, but the dogs are quick enough to get out of his way and I think it is good for them; it keeps them spry and is a reminder that they live in a wild place.
The Loons are calling, and I must go!
Thanks for reading, Everyone!
Hello, I am Melissa, owner of Wild North Design. Recently, my husband and I decided to pick up and move to Alaska. This dream has been a couple years in the making and we are enjoying the journey so far. We love to learn and make all kinds of things. From wood craft, to painting, to vehicles, landscaping, building, exploring...we love it all! We are finding out that Alaska is a great fit for our restless minds and bodies! Excited for what the future holds for our expanding family!
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