Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Anyway, it's a gigantore snowshoe hare that has started turning white for the winter... ears, tail and feet are white, but the body is still gray-brown. We literally have hundreds of these guys around our property. I had a disturbing Alfred Hitchcock moment the other day when crawling around under the deck and felt something watching me, only to turn my head and find about 10 of these critters lined up at the edge of our clearing just staring at me. Creepy. If I hadn't been under the deck, I would have grabbed my .22 rifle and had some fresh hare stew for dinner... ah, maybe next time.
So far, Sonja has 6 kills (all inedible of course) and we have none. But there are plenty of spruce hens and ruffled grouse, as well as the hares, on our property... so one of these days we'll get around to plinking off a few. That is if the HUGE horned owl that lives on the corner of our lot doesn't pick them all off first... he got the ermine that was nosing around the tent the other day. Needless to say, we don't let Charlie out on the deck after the sun starts setting!!
We have no idea where she picked this log up, or how it got stuck in her chassis, or even how long it had been there before I noticed it.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I'm currently in Fairbanks for the day, since we need some more stuff including our battery array from ABS Alaska. The drive in was incredible, even at the slightly higher than likely safe speeds I travel at. The hills and mountains are covered in an icing sugar white at the tops, and as you drive along you see "glass" tree's that are covered in ice and look just like glass. Its awesome, one of the many magical things that Alaska has re-opened my eyes to, and it's easy to forget to stop every now and again and take a look at the nature here, and the beauty.
Anyway, Trucks re-oiled for another 3k miles... Off to find other merchandise to make our lives easier and more comfortable.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
And the difference a single week can make:
Meet Burnie - he's supposedly a "maximum temperature oven mitt safe for even campfire cooking". Um, yeah, right -- NOT! I think Burnie has aspirations of becoming a Hand of Glory. After weeks of service above and beyond, and many self-sacrifices (including spontaneous combustion), we've retired Burnie and are now using his littermate, Burnadette, to stoke the fire. Hopefully she'll hold up until we get a better (longer) tool set.
Once the water is hot, the cleanest person wets themselves down with the washcloth using the small basin and begins lathering up… you have to repeat this process several times since it’s so hot in the tent that the soap starts to dry on your skin. Wipe, wring, wipe, wring in the small basin until you think you’ve got most of the soap off. Then you stand in the big basin while your partner holds the camp shower reservoir up and hoses you down for the final freshwater rinse. Towel off and then kneel over the big basin on the bath mat and douse your hair with the teeny bit of water left in the shower – shampoo while your partner refills the shower reservoir. Then use an entire gallon to rinse your hair several times (this is the biggest water usage in the whole ordeal!) while your partner holds the shower reservoir up. Repeat process for next person reusing the soapy water in the small basin from bath #1 to lather and fresh water for the rinse; douse your hair with the shampoo water from bath #1 then shampoo and fresh water rinse. Voila! All clean in just 1.5 gallons. Then you both stand as close to the stove as possible until your hair is dry so you don’t catch a chill. This is the perfect time to soak your feet in the warm, soapy water and drag a pumice stone around your calluses.
Our little camp shower (a 6 liter Platypus Water Tank with hose attachment) is also great for general hand washing, etc. It’s our equivalent to running water. For general use, we have the reservoir fastened to one of the angle braces on the tent frame. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite work out so well for showers, since our ridge pole is 9+ feet high… but we may eventually rig a pulley system that lets us heft the water up and save our partner the ache of holding a gallon of water above their head for several minutes. Additionally, we have a large, round, vertical water cooler with a push-button tap that we use for drinking and cooking, and the occasional rinse of a coffee mug. All the gray water is collected in a basin which we empty once or twice a day – if you’re just washing your hands you can dip your hands in the dirty (coffee) water for the first lather up, don’t need to waste fresh water for that step.
Dishes are also a lot of fun. First step is to scrape as much off the plates and flatware as possible. Then get the fire going to heat up some water, as well as to boil off anything baked/dried on to your cast iron or other pots. This is the perfect opportunity to sweep the floors. Next, fill the small basin with about a quart (1 liter) of warmish water (water jacket isn’t really hot yet) and soap and wash all the dishes, placing them in the drain board still relatively soapy. If you have any stainless steel pots that are done bubbling off the muck, wash them last. Wipe down the top of the stove and warming shelf (quickly!), and any other grotty surface, then go outside and fling the dirty dish water. Wipe and rinse out the basin, then fill with about a quart of hot water. Rinse the soapy dishes, then dry and put away immediately (before you get ash from the fire or dirt from the yard on them). Go back to the stove and use your bristle scrubber to clean the cast iron which should be bubbling away nicely by this point… NEVER use soap on cast iron or you’ll have to re-season it! Go outside and fling the dirty pot water, rinse with fresh a couple times, dry thoroughly then put back on the warming tray and apply a thin coat of bacon fat or vegetable oil.
Your hot rinse water should have cooled down enough to use for general cleaning (like mopping) since it’s just soapy enough to cut dirt and grease but not soapy enough to need a fresh water rinse afterwards. Voila! Clean dishes and clean kitchen in just over half a gallon of water.
Socks, undies, washcloths, dish & hand towels are easy to wash by hand in a large kettle (1 gallon to wash, 1 to rinse) on the stove with a little soap, wring them by hand, and hung to dry on a rack by the stove. Shirts are a little more difficult, but you can do one or two at a time in that same big kettle and hang them out to dry on hangers inside or outside.
Washing jeans, linens and towels requires some creativity if you don’t want to spend hours plunging and scrubbing. On dump, water and mail day we’re currently putting them in a large rubber tote, adding a little Dreft & Borax, pouring in hot water until 3/4 full (about 3 gallons) and snapping on the lid. Then we stick the tote in the back of the truck and let 30 minutes on the bumpy trail and road do our scrubbing for us. We pitch the soapy water into the trees when we get to the well house, and fill the tub up with fresh (COLD!) water while we’re filling up our Aquatainers and let them rinse while we continue on in to town to check the post office box. Stop back at the well house to pitch the soapy rinse water and fill the tub up with fresh water for the final rinse, then drive to the Washateria where we wring everything out in the wash sink and then spend $2-4 on the dryer while we check the Internet via the Tribal Council’s wireless network (or we might cheat on bath night and take a 15 minute hot shower at the Washateria).
Needless to say, we’re getting very comfortable wearing clothes until they are really dirty. On any given week, we have 2 pairs of jeans… the dirty “work” jeans, and the mostly clean “town” jeans… at the end of the week, the town jeans become the work jeans and the work jeans go in the laundry. Same goes for shirts, except we have a short sleeve and long sleeve of each category. We might use the same linens and towels for 2-3 weeks depending on how funky they look and smell. Socks and undies might last 2-3 days depending on the weather and work load.
Yes, I know – we’re positively FILTHY by modern standards.
Other hygiene tips and tricks:
- Baby wipes work great for a quick freshen up after your morning constitutional and help you not smell so rank when you catch a whiff of your privates during the day
- Antibacterial hand wipes are a must even though you don’t use them often; but when you’re out in the bush, you WILL put your hands in something completely disgusting that you want off RIGHT NOW (like porcupine poop or slimy fungus!)
- If you get a cut, especially on your hands and feet, stop what you’re doing, go wash it with soap and apply a heavy-duty adhesive bandage. If it’s deep, you might also want a thin coating of antibiotic cream. Same goes for burst blisters… in fact, you should check your hands and feet for cuts, blisters and calluses in the morning and before bed. A bandage and moleskin can keep a blister from popping or tearing, and some petroleum jelly at nice and a pumice stone on bath night helps soften and remove calluses before they become painful.
- When brushing your teeth, swirl your brush in the cup to rinse it BEFORE you rinse and spit… you use less water that way (less than 1/2 cup for both of us). It also helps to set the water near the stove for a couple of minutes since the water is just above freezing and hurts even the least sensitive teeth!
- Cotton swabs are the only way to get sooty, dusty, mucky gunk out of your ears. Flush them with warm water and hydrogen peroxide once a month to minimize ear infections from foreign matter and wax build up in the canals.
- Blow your nose in the morning and before bed, even if you don’t think you have too… trust me, there is soot and dust in there that will turn to concrete if you let it sit.
- Have three washcloths – the face cloth, the body cloth and the “ass rag” – keep them separate and different colors (make sure your partner knows which is which!). When the face cloth gets dirty it becomes the body rag, body cloth becomes the ass rag, and the ass rag goes into the laundry
- ALWAYS have a pair of work gloves on you or within reach. Better yet, get several pairs and stash them in the truck, in the shed, on the back porch, etc. Trust me, the one time you don’t have your gloves will be the time when you have to pick up something muddy, or nasty, or sharp, or prickly, or worse!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Poles made from felled timber on your property can be used for a multitude of things. Sizes can range from 1-2 inch diameter saplings all the way up to huge lodge posts. In our location, we have many smallish white and black spruces, which range from 4 feet to 20 feet high. Due to the unique growing season in Alaska, most of these trees are very straight and very fine-grained. This makes them excellent for smaller building poles. However, spruce bark is gnarly and chunky, and tends to flake horribly – this kind of mess is fine for a quick outdoor shelter or shed, but wretched for use indoors or near the house. There’s also a horrible problem with bark beetle infestation, so peeling and burning the bark is recommended to interrupt the lifecycle (eggs are laid under the bark in the late summer and fall, hatch in the spring and the larvae bore into the tender sapwood, killing the tree).
I highly recommend using a drawknife on poles larger than 6 inches in diameter. This tool is essentially a blade with two handles that you “draw” towards yourself with both hands. They can usually be found at finer woodworking stores, but you can sometimes still find them in the more old-timey hardware stores. They come straight (which is slightly curved) or rounded (which has a more pronounced curve) in several different lengths. I prefer the straight blades because I can control them better, but it’s a matter of personal preference and you should try out both types if you have the opportunity. However, this post is going to focus on using a fixed blade knife (like a survival knife) to peel smaller, green, softwood saplings since these are much more prevalent and are just the right size to make all sorts of nifty stuff for your home, garden and shop.
SAFETY FIRST! Make sure your knife is sharp. A dull knife is a deadly knife… plus, you’re going to break your body trying to shove a dull knife through bark!
Once you have felled and cut your poles to length, organize them in a clear workspace to begin peeling. Depending on the length you’re working with, it is entirely too easy to get hung up on something, knock something over, and potentially brain or stab yourself with the pole you are working on! So take a few moments to make sure your work area is free of obstacles in as much of the radius you will be working in… yes, even behind you.
Wear denim or heavy canvas pants, and for those of you who sometimes don’t know your own strength or have trouble controlling a blade, I’d also recommend either leather chaps or at least a piece of heavy leather to cover your thigh(s). While a long-sleeved shirt isn’t mandatory for safety, you will get covered in sap and bark shavings so you might want to wear one anyway. Thick leather shoes with a high ankle and good gripping sole are also recommended. Heavy leather gloves are essential since you WILL be gripping the blade at one point or another, and softwoods are known for knots which can easily make a blade jump right at your other hand. Eye protection is optional, but recommended… a pair of sunglasses or eyeglasses is adequate since you’re only keeping dirt and bark bits out of your eyes, not warding off high-ballistic missiles like those created from chainsaws and power tools.
If you have many poles to peel, you may want to consider building a jig at a comfortable working height with stops at the ends to hold your poles in place, and simples “dogs” (loose clamps) to keep it from rolling. Otherwise, I’ve found it easiest to sit on a stool with my knees slightly higher than my waist and then use various parts of my body as my stops and dogs. G-man finds it easier to sit on the stool, but to have blocks anchored at appropriate distances to act as blocks (i.e. not use his body parts). The following details are how I’ve found it works best for me… it’s not a Bible, just an example. Once you understand the concept, experiment a bit to find out what methods work best for you.
First, I peel the bark off the ends by placing one end directly out in front of me, using my foot as an anchor, and then paring (towards myself) about 3-6 inches off the end that is facing me using the same motion that you would use to cut an apple in half… placing your thumb on the butt and then using your fingers to draw the knife (gently) toward your thumb. Keep the blade angle shallow, or else you will cut into the harder wood beneath… we’re peeling, not whittling! Once the outer bark is removed, you will need to scrape the soft inner bark and sapwood (pith) off the exposed section. With your hand in the same position, flip the blade of the knife away from you so that the flat of the knife is angled almost exactly even with the blade’s bevel (almost parallel to the pole). Now, grasp the point of the knife loosely with your other hand and pull with both hands back toward yourself to scrape off the pith, rotating the pole until you have denuded the entire diameter.
Once you have cleaned both ends, it’s time to start on the middle. Depending on the length of your pole, this may only require a single pass, or may need to be done in several passes. A single pass is the maximum distance you can achieve with a blade stroke without leaning forward or back too much (back strain!) or extending your elbows or wrists fully (repetitive stress injury & loss of blade control!). If seated on a stool as described, an average comfortable pass will be from breast height to just below the knee if you have the pole angled in front or behind you; if you have the pole angled across yourself, it will be from just below your shoulder to just below your hip. (I don’t recommend cross-wise passes as they are somewhat awkward and hard on your wrists). Remember, each pole can easily take up to one hundred strokes to completely remove the bark and pith so be kind to your body and don’t over-extend your passes… especially if you have, say, 20 poles to peel for your project!
First, examine your pole to see if there are any obvious knots and whether they grow predominantly in a single direction. If you’re lucky, there won’t be too many knots, and most of them will be in one direction… knots wreak havoc with your blade pass because they interrupt your stroke. If you have lots of knots, any larger ones, or they grow in all directions I would advise you to hack off the offenders before trying to remove the bark. I’ve found that smaller knots are easier to remove if you strike them downward/away from you with a slight chipping motion in the direction of growth, whereas thicker knots are easier to manage if you strike them upward/toward yourself with several short, two-handed yanks. Some tenacious knots may need to be sawed off, and a survival knife with a serration either on the back side or the hilt-side third work well for this purpose (I prefer a blade with hilt-side serration myself because I don’t have to keep flipping the blade over and I can safely use my other hand on the back of the blade for added pressure). Making the effort to remove, or at least reduce, the knots ahead of time will make debarking much easier since you have a higher probability of achieving a long, smooth, unobstructed blade pass that takes off a maximum of bark with a minimum of effort.
Next, determine which way you are more comfortable removing the bark keeping in mind that you will be exerting some force on the blade and it is likely to skip if you encounter a knot. I’m a magnet for blade-related injuries, so I prefer to cut down and away from myself with a single-handed stroke… don’t be dumb, cut toward your chum, not your thumb. However, if you aren’t comfortable with a single handed stroke, or have better control cutting towards yourself with a hand on either side of the knife, it is still effective as long as you are careful. In fact, I tend to alternate my stroke to avoid hand fatigue if I’m peeling several poles even though I tend to cut just a little too deep coming up than going down (Gungnir has the opposite issue). Just keep safety at the front of your mind at all times. Cutting down away from yourself you have your heavy pants and boots to protect you, cutting up towards yourself it’s very easy to slip and cut your less protected arms or throat. Remember, every knot you encounter is a possibility that your knife will slip out of the wood or even out of your hand!
OK, assuming that you are cutting down away from yourself, place one end of the pole on the ground and anchor it with the foot corresponding with your knife-hand. If the pole is short, place the other end on your non-knife shoulder and hold it with your hand. If the pole is long, it may be easier to anchor the high end under your arm-pit and use your non-knife for stabilization as needed. Starting roughly breast-height, begin your stroke keeping the blade angle shallow… you’re only trying to remove the bark, not cut into any of the harder wood beneath. Apply pressure cleanly until you get to the end of the bark (you might have to lean over a bit at first) raising the blade up slightly as you reach the end (almost a flick, like shooing a fly) to separate the bark strip. Continue rotating the pole until you have removed the bark from the entire section.
Then lift the butt end up, anchored on your knee, with the back end down anchored beneath your other knee (you may need to spread your legs, or also anchor the pole on the ground with your foot). Flip the blade over and scrape the pith as described above. Leaving the pith on while you remove the bark from the entire pole lets it dry out too much and it becomes a horrible sticky mess that is very difficult to remove; if you have a long pole, it’s best to remove the pith in sections as you go even though this means teeter-tottering the pole and repositioning it.
As you move up/back the pole, the butt end will be moved farther and farther from you, which will reduce the angle of the pole. Eventually, you may find that it is easiest to anchor the high end between your elbow and waist, the crook of your thigh or between your knee and elbow. Whichever method you use, just make sure that you can keep the pole from rolling while you remove the bark. On a very long pole, it is likely that you will not be able to reverse the angle to allow you to scrape down towards yourself. At this point, leave the pole in the barking position, bracing it in your arm pit, and scrape up towards you. On very long poles, I often find that I must brace the butt against my breast bone and scrape up towards my chest… but that’s only for the very last section.
When you’re finished with your poles for the day, promptly collect all the bark and pith shavings and dispose of them where they aren’t a fire risk… a small backyard bonfire is an excellent idea if infestation is a problem in your area! Clean your knife well to remove the sap and embedded bark flotsam… a rag dipped in kerosene or turpentine will work, but Hoppe’s #9 Solvent seems to work best. Sharpen your blade, oil it, and return it to its sheath and happy home. Lay your poles out to dry side-by-side, they will be sticky with sap so stacking them can sometimes make them stick together… if it looks like rain, cover them lightly with a tarp. Go inside, peel off your sappy clothes, and scrub yourself with the same solution you used to clean your knife… tomorrow you’ll have pretty poles to build with :)
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The vet said her prognosis wasn't good and he agreed that it would be terribly stressful for her to endure another 4 hour truck ride into town... especially considering that the kindest thing to do would be to end her suffering. This is one of those harsh realities of wilderness living... we had to shoot her ourselves with my 9mm. It was extremely horrifying and difficult to do, but I didn't want her to have to endure the misery of her condition any longer just because I was being a twit about it. I won't go into any more gorey detail, since I'm sure none of you need that vision stuck in your head like it's stuck in mine :(
As promised earlier, here are some photos for your viewing pleasure:
(and me being a lumberjack cutting down "deadites" [dry standing trees] for firewood)
No frigid outhouses for us -- one morning sitting on a frosty seat outside was enough!
Anyway so, one of the things that made this a little difficult to perform is that my Mom was diagnosed with cancer at the end of last year, had surgery, scanned seemed clear, and currently is undergoing additional testing since something is not 100%. As yet it's undecided as to whether the cancer has returned, or not. Thus having that email exchange may seem a little uncaring or dismissive of her condition. This is not the case; indeed as I mentioned my psychologists, having this exchange would likely cause them to do the Snoopy happy dance, although I'm sure that even they would think that the timing could have been better.
So what has this to do with life, and death I hear you ask?
Well it's this, since I have a family member undergoing treatment for cancer, which I think currently is considered by many people as a terminal condition, I'm sure many people are wondering why would I have a heated exchange with someone in this situation? Well it's this. In some moments of enlightenment both recently and over the past months I realized something quite profound...
I can guarantee that (barring an amazing medical breakthrough) in 100 years everyone who is reading this blog will be dead.
There I said it, we're all dead men walking, it's just a matter of time, life is a terminal disease. Now that applies to both those who skydive, smoke 3 packs a day and drink a fifth of vodka a night between mainlining heroin, eating large quantities of red meat, bacon and eggs, and pure lard, and those that run 10 miles a day, eat only self grown organic vegetables picked minutes before eating, and purified water with accurately added additional essential minerals to the microgram, and everyone in between.
This seems like a very nihilistic view on life, however I'm surprisingly liberated by it (since it is in some part one of the reasons we decided to do what we're doing). You see we all have various processes happening right now in our anatomies that will lead to our demise, it might be today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, 10 or more years from now, but those processes will catch up with us, and that'll be the end. Now, my Mom's process, is being tracked and treated as well as can be right now, and it's a mostly known quantity, however everyone else (unless they're in a similar situation) is just bumping along until something goes wrong, and that could be it, and it could be in the next few seconds, we're all rolling the probability dice all of the time. Oh and by the way this completely ignores any kind of accidents.
So the big question is why isn't this nihilistic? Well it's simple, why the hell are we all so miserable when we only have a short window of time on the planet? Why are we all so scared of it coming to an end before we're ready? I don't know about you, but I don't think I'll ever be "ready"; however, what I can do, and am doing, is realizing that by doing the things that I want to do, over the things I think others expect me to do (others being family, friends, co-workers, the government, the medical profession, financial institutions, etc. etc. etc.) I'll be a lot happier and I'm currently acting on these realizations and guess what, I am a lot happier! You know when my lightbulb finally burns out, I may not be ready, but I won't be regretting not taking that vacation in Cancun this year with my family because work got in the way, or thinking that if I only had a couple of more days/weeks/years then I could "sort everything out I needed to". Do any of you in any way relate to that potential regret? If so, maybe you want to think about that.
So as I have an audience here, lets do a little thought experiment. Right now this moment are you doing something that if it was the last thing you did, would you be happy that it was your last deed? What about the rest of your daily life, and life in general, would you be content that you'd done the right things, let the right people know the right things, feel content that everyone who your life had come into contact with had taken away something that you wanted them to take away (yes even that idiot that you punched in the face in high school)? If the answer to these questions is anything but a resounding yes, then maybe you'd like to at least begin to look at ways to make that more likely in the near future. Have you done something to make yourself happy today? If not what can you do tomorrow, and I'm thinking reasonable things, I don't think that Hugh Heffner is going to give you a spontaneous call to come visit the playboy mansion, but even if he did, think on whether you'd accept depending on your circumstances. For instance 2 or 3 years ago PlicketyCat bought me some kites, since I'd talk about flying a kite on a windy day, I haven't flown them yet, maybe I should try to get them to fly on the next windy day, I know that it would make me happy to try, and likely make her happy that I tried and that the money she spent, the thought and the effort wasn't wasted, double win.
Anyway, time to go for today, back to playing solitaire, which while not my favorite thing to do (I play very badly) it gives me time to think on things while I completely space that red 5 on the black 6. This could turn out to be a successful survival trait though, if I ever get lost in the bush, since you know that someone is going to pop-up and tell me to put that red 5 on the black 6, I can then ask them for directions.
Since I wrote this, yesterday Celine, our Calico kitty needed to be put to sleep, because of an aortal clot, we had her at the vet on Monday in Fairbanks after she was displaying symptoms of a stroke (which she'd had because of the clot). We called the vet yesterday morning, and the vet recommended to us that she be put down, the vet we saw on Monday was a locum (the practice owner was out hunting) had he seen her then he'd have recommended this on Monday since apparently this is not uncommon in cats, but pure strokes are, although he did tell us that she likely wasn't in pain. Unfortunately since we are about 150 miles away, we had to do it, which was extremely distressing.
However although for us this was upsetting, considering her in this it was the best thing, she'd lost control of her hind legs and bladder, and was confused, I'm not convinced she was hearing correctly or seeing well (she was unresponsive to most sounds and was scanning when being petted). Thinking about from meeting her back in WA (she was my wife's cat before we were married), the trip through Canada, and the first weeks here, she had a very good life with lots of laying in laps, being petted, sitting in sunbeams, watching kitty TV (looking out of the window), giving me or Plickety the sleepy vibe (where she'd send us to sleep, I think it was her cunning plan to take over the world, now if only she'd had opposable thumbs), trying to lick any Bengay, Deep Heat, Biofreeze or similar ointment off you when you needed it, looking stoned and salivating all of the time, and polishing her pads on various interesting surfaces. I kind of taught her to talk (she was a nearly silent cat before I arrived, unlike her brother Odin who used to give reports when you came home), then wished I hadn't since she'd wake me up at 6:00am whether I liked it or not to be fed. She didn't play much, but did love lying in shoeboxes even when she was much too big for the box. It's really sad to see her go, especially as Plickety has said many times when I met her cats for the first time if they didn't like me I was gone, fortunately for me they did, both Odin (who died in October last year and was the picky one) and Celine did like me so in no small part did these two play a huge role in my life. I'll miss her, as I still miss Odin, and other previous pets, but somehow I feel both Odin and Celine were very special little critters.
So to tie this back in to the original posting, sad though I am, the only regret I have about our little Calico is that she never got to live on our land, where I know she'd have loved the surroundings (and upgraded kitty TV), but not the current accomodations, she knew she was loved, and showed she loved by her actions. So my regret is for something that was out of my control, while I was thinking about her yesterday there was a bunch of "if onlies" for a while (if only we hadn't stressed her with the move, or the drive or...) until I remembered someone very wise once said to me that Home is a person not a place, Celine's Home was Plickety, and then Plickety and me, so while we moved location she was still home.