Thursday, September 15, 2011

Up North 5

Chapter 5

Taken a Break

   After seeing the sow and the cubs the day before I decided to spent a day working on the door lock. I was pretty proud of it by the time I got finished. I had carved the body from a single piece of spruce and the latch and handles from separate pieces. I had also carved out a recess in the door frame. After I attached the lock to the door and installed the handles you could push down on the handle which would raise the latch from the recess and pull the door open. I had installed the door so it would swing into the cabin; keep that in mind for later because I would be changing it. The door handle even had a lock on it not that it would keep a bear out but it made me feel a little better. I had carved a short piece of wood that would act as a lever to hole the latch down unless you used a key (Ok, the key was any stick but the bear didn’t know that).

   My next big project would be the fireplace. I had a large pile of rocks stacked at the rear of the cabin and I was waiting for the cement. I had finally met another person on the river. For the next few months it seems there were going to be quite a few people passing by. It seems that a guy from Circle had a charter boat that he would use to take people on a fishing trip between Circle and Fort Yukon. I guess he’d been by several times but I just never noticed him before. He knew there was another homesteader living on the river but wasn’t sure where I was so we kept missing each other. I was standing on the bank one day when he went by and seeing me he pulled in to say Hi and see if I needed anything. Over a cup of coffee I happened to mention that I wanted to build a fireplace but I was going to have to wait until I made another trip to Circle so I could get some cement. He ended up offering to bring it to me on his next trip down.

   Since the cement wasn’t there yet and to be truthful I was kind of tired of working on the cabin I decided to take a break and go exploring. I had been here at the cabin for close to two months and I hadn’t been over a half mile in almost any direction so I wanted to see what was out there. I loaded up my pack including a sleeping bag and gold pan since I was planning on being gone at least a couple of nights and headed up the creek. I had only gone about a mile when I found my first surprise. My creek had a waterfall. It wasn’t flowing as much as when I had first came to this spot but there was still plenty of water coming down off the rock. The falls must have been at least eight feet over all with a shelf about half way down. It was really pretty to watch the white water tumble down into a clear pool. Not only was it pretty, there were trout in the pool. I had one of those collapsible fishing poles in my pack and it only took a minute to dig it out. Those fish may have never been fished before because it only took me a half dozen casts to have two nice size ones. If nothing else happened at least supper was looking good for that night. I worked my way a couple of more miles up the creek and found a spot where it was flowing across a large section of bedrock. I decided to make camp there and use the last of the daylight to see if I could find any color in the bedrock. It was looking like it was going to rain that night so I cut some poles and made a lean to for my tarp which would at least keep me dry through the night. I drug a couple of good size logs to the front of it for the base of my fire then stacked as much firewood as I could. I hung my trout from a tree limb, dug out my gold pan and set out.

   I dug the sand and gravel out of the cracks in the bedrock until I had a pan full. One thing I noticed right off, even though the days might be getting warmer that water sure wasn’t. I found a tiny bit of color in that first pan. Not much more than to show me it was really there but the fever was on. I forgot all about my cold hands and I even took my boots off so I could wade out a little farther. I must have run fifteen to twenty pans before I realized I was getting rained on. I had been so wrapped up in gold panning I hadn’t paid and attention to what was going on around me. I gathered up my stuff (including my gold of which I had enough to at least see) and beat it back to the camp. Luckily it hadn’t been raining for long and I was able to find some dry tender and after a few tries I had a nice fire going. It’s not hard to keep a fire going in the rain as long as it’s not a downpour you just keep adding more wood. I had to hop back out in the rain to grab my fish which I had forgotten were hanging in the trees. I shoved everything to the back of the lean to and raked some of the coals from the fire under the tarp. I had fresh trout and beans that night laying under that tarp listening to the rain. That’s one of those nights you could wish would go on forever.

   I was going to head back to the cabin the next day but it was still raining the next morning so I decided to spend at least one more day. I hung out around camp feeding the fire and killing time for awhile until I got bored. The rain was tapering off so I thought I’d go back to the creek and try a few more pans. So far I had found about forty dollars worth of god and I was looking forward to finding some more. I’d only been on the creek for an hour of so when I heard something moving in the brush behind me. I was afraid it might be another bear but when I looked around it was a cow moose with her calf. I stayed as still as I could and watched them walk by. I’m not too worried about a bull moose except during mating season but you never know what a cow with a calf is going to do. She may just take off running as soon as she sees you or she could charge. It is really surprising at how mean they can get sometimes. This pair just gave me the evil eye a few times as they wandered on down the creek. I got back to panning as soon as they were out of site and by the time I decided to call it quits I had a few more penny weights of gold to add to my stash. By the time dark fell I had wondered on up the creek a ways, found another hole and caught a good size trout. I was back at camp having supper by the time it got full dark. I really wanted some more gold but I knew I still had work to do at the cabin so I decided to head back the next morning.

   Big surprise when I got home. There were five sacks of cement laying in the middle of the cabin. Looks like James (the guy with the fishing boat) was true to his word so now I can get started on the fireplace. He also left a trowel for the cement (I forgot to ask him about one but I’m really glad he thought of it) and a couple of cans of coffee. I appreciated that because you can never have too much coffee. I’m going to have to try to catch him next time and see if he can sell my gold for me so I don’t have to make the trip to town. I figure I have about a hundred bucks worth from the creek trip. However much it is I should get at least ¾ of the value which should be enough to keep me in supplies for awhile. I want to make a couple of more trips farther up the creek and see if I can find where it’s coming from. I’m not sure I can because what I got was mainly fine gold with just a couple of “pickers” which means it’s traveled a long way in the creek. For now the first thing I need to do tomorrow morning will be to try and figure out a fireplace. I have the idea of how to build one from books and the main thing has to be for the smoke to up the chimney instead of out in to the room, how hard can that be?

   It was still really hard to cut a hole in the wall of the cabin. No matter how many times I measured it just the thought of all the work I went through to get those walls up just makes you hate to do it. But after worrying myself crazy over it I finally ended up with a four foot by four foot hole cut right in the middle of the back one. I dug out the part of the gravel floor under the cabin wall and put down a double layer of flat rocks to form the base. That was it for the first day as I had to wait for the base to dry before I could add the walls. If I got things right the firebox would stick out into the room by about six to eight inches. I already had a spruce slab cut for the mantle which would be ten inches wide, four inches thick and a little over four feet long. The next day was wall building day. You know it’s hard to build a wall using river rock that are straight and plumb. I spent more of the day trying to pick out rocks that were flat on the top and bottom so I could use the least amount of cement. By the end of the day all I managed to have done were the side walls. Now I had to figure out how to put a top on the thing. I came up with a plan while I was sitting there staring at what I had done during the day. I could lay planks across the inside at the top and put rocks across it to make the top. Even better I could carve a rounded top piece so that when I put the rocks on top the firebox would have a rounded top. I spent most of the night getting the rounded top ready and the next morning when I tried it, it worked fine. Now all I had to do was wait for the rocks to dry and remove the wood form to see if it held.

    When I pulled the wooden form out surprisingly the top held up just fine. Now I had a fireplace that was nicely rounded at the top with just a little bit of an angle to the back. After that it was just a matter of stacking rocks up the back side of the cabin wall to make the chimney and that was not easy! I was trying really hard to keep the inside of the chimney as smooth as I could. I didn’t want rocks sticking out inside to catch the soot. Then I had to walk the river for over two miles just to find one flat rock big enough so I could put a rock on each corner and have that one cover the opening. I added a few more rocks to the inside to make a smooth spot for the mantle. I waited four full days for everything to dry before I lit the first fire. When I got the fire built up it was time to celebrate again. The fireplace worked like a charm. The smoke was going up the chimney just like it was supposed to and the warmth was coming out in the cabin. For a person that had never built one before and only had a vague idea of what they were supposed to look like I felt pretty proud of myself. I even fried my fish supper over the open fire just to show off.