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Monday, September 19, 2011

Up North 7

Chapter 7

More Work

   Everything was going fine at the cabin. The garden was growing pretty good even thought I’d had to gather driftwood from the river and build a fence around it to keep the rabbits out. I was looking forward to cold weather when I’d be able to have a nice rabbit stew for supper. The temperature was up in the 70’s which I think surprised me the most as I wasn’t expecting it to be there this far north. One thing I did need before the weather turned cold was to fix my cache. It was working pretty good with my stuff stacked on it and tarp covering it but I was planning on using it to store meat for the winter and I needed something a little more substantial that a tarp. I had the existing platform just a little over fifteen feet above the ground. Since the tallest claw marks I had seen so far from a bear was about ten foot I figured I’d be ok at that height. I over laid the platform with another layer of logs to get it out to eight feet by eight feet and built another cabin on top of it.

   This was a whole lot easier said than done. I had to carry each log up the ladder one at a time and fit them to the walls. I had over half of them done when my home made ladder decided to break as I was half way up with another one. I didn’t get hurt from the fall other than my wounded pride but I did have to stop and build another ladder. Once I had the walls and the roof completed I had to build one more ladder because I forgot that the one I had wasn’t long enough to reach the top. At least I was able to carry a bundle of shingles up at one time which saved a lot of upping and downing. It was a real pain to chink the logs that high though. I had to mix the mud and straw one bucket at a time and was only able to work as far as I could reach from the ladder. I’d already fallen the one time and I sure didn’t want to do it again.

   I finally finished after four daylight to dark days and was relaxing on the porch when I decided I’d build a root cellar. My plan was if I built the cellar I could keep any veggies I might have in that. Then the cache would only have to be for meat which was the main thing I was worried about the bears getting. Plus I wouldn’t have to climb the ladder for the little stuff. I knew that digging one wasn’t going to be all that easy but really how hard could it be to just dig a hole in the ground. Let me tell you not easy was a huge understatement! I had never really dug a hole in Alaska before. The little bit of scrapping I did for the cabin floor was nothing compared to this. I found out real quick that after about twelve inches of loose stuff the ground was still frozen and this was in early July! I worked my tail off that day and all I had to show for it was a hole less than two feet deep. My plan had been for the cellar to be at least six feet deep because I figured I’d have to have a flat roof on it and I wanted plenty of head room. I might have to rethink that plan.

   I had it started though and I wasn’t about to give up. I worked away at it for the next several days finding along the way that I was better off working in the afternoon when the sun had thawed out the dirt a little. Early in the dig I had even tried building a fire in the bottom of it to see if I could thaw the ice. By the time I had dug all the resulting muck out from that misadventure I looked like I’d been working in the coal mine for three straight days. Now here’s the thing about being dirty in Alaska. You can take a pan and heat water over the box stove. That’s good for a general cleaning and for shaving but the one thing I did not have was a bathtub. That means that at some point no matter how much you might hate it, you’re going to have to get in the creek. My bath place was up the creek at the waterfall I had found on that first trip. There was that nice deep pool right below it and it was a real pretty place to go but no matter how good it sounds that water was cold! I’m talking ice water cold. Down home we used to swim in cold creeks and rivers. If you stayed in them long enough you would eventually get use to the water, not up here. I don’t care if you could stay in that creek all day long the only thing you were going to get was hypothermia.

   I finally got the cellar hole dug even though it took me until the second week in August. I didn’t dig on it every day because I still had a lot of other things to do like getting firewood stored up. I roofed it over with two layers of pine logs then piled all the dirt I’d dug out back on top of it. I used spruce planks for the door, frame and steps and I put a couple of shelves in it to hole the veggies. I was kind of proud of it once I got it done and even got a surprise when I went down into it after it had been finished for about a week. The interior of the walls had re-frozen. I left my thermometer down there for a day to check it out. It was a cool 30 degrees, just right for a nice cold storage and I was looking forward to having if full of potatoes which were growing well in the garden.

    Another thing I did just about every day was gather firewood. I had heard enough from the old timers and read enough to know it was going to get mighty cold where I was. I was to find out that I really had no concept of what cold was really like. I ended up with wood stacked two rows deep along both sides of the cabin plus I had built a wood shed that was twelve by fifteen feet and had it stacked completely full. I even had a log pile at one end of the porch I was planning on staying warm.

   I had started catching a lot of salmon by this time so of course I had to build a smoke house. At least this one wasn’t too hard since I use the left over side cuts from making my planks; I ended up looking kind of like a log cabin stood on end. The first time I used it I tried to just hang the fish at the top and build a fire at the bottom. First thing it did was get way to hot and I ended up with salmon charcoal. Next I tried sitting right there by it with a bucket of water to keep the fire down. That kind of worked but I would have to sit there at least every other day to handle the fish I was catching. My last plan actually worked pretty well. I dug another hole about six feet from the smoke house with a trench running into the house. I covered the trench with logs and dirt. Now I could start a fire in the hole and get a nice bed of coals built up then throw a bunch of cedar chips that I had soaked in water on top of them. I could then cover the hole and it would smolder and smoke for most of the day. The trench would channel the smoke into the house and all I had to do was stop by every once in awhile and add more chips. Now I could fill the house almost from top to bottom with fish without worrying about them. Of course every time I fired it up I did have to worry about those fish stealing bears. I had been pretty lucky since that first trip. I knew they were around. There wasn’t a day that went by without me finding tracks. Had I have thought of it I’m sure I would have realized that the well worn trail next to my creek did not happen on its own. For the looks of the tracks on there it must have been a major bear highway. I even came back from a full day of fishing and found a bear sound asleep on my porch. I went back for some more fishing and thankfully he had left by the time I came back.

   After all the work I did on the cellar I’m not going to be able to use it, at least not till the fish stealing bears go into hibernation. I smoked about fifteen fish and they were looking so good! Nice color really nice glaze. I was proud of them. I believe I would have been able to sell them in any store anywhere. I finished them just after dark and being the lazy person I am I decided to put them in the cellar instead of climbing all the way up to the cache. I got up the next morning and walked out on the porch to have my coffee and welcome the world. The world didn’t have a very good welcome for me when I glanced over at the cellar. The door, frame and all, was pushed off to one side. I knew what I was going to find but I had to go look anyway. Sure enough there were bear tracks all around the entrance along with pieces of my gorgeous fish. One of the shelves was laying on the floor and every single fish was gone. I tried using the cellar again during that summer but at least one of the bears had decided it was his personal grocery store. I tried everything I could think of to block the door but every morning it would be laying off to the side. I finally just gave up and left the door open so at least he would destroy it. I came stomping out one morning expecting to find the door laying off to the side, instead I found a bear laying on the porch again. Now that cabin was only fourteen feet wide and the door was in the middle that put me way closer to him than I really wante to be. Back in the cabin I went dropping the latch and sitting on the bunk for a nervous hour holding my rifle and waiting for him to try coming in. It got to the point that I had to drill a peep hole in the cabin door so I could look out and make sure there weren’t any bears on the porch then poke my head our and check both ways.

   One good point on the wild life front. I had been seeing quite a few more Moose during my wandering around. I liked seeing them because my ultimate goal was to have one up in the cache during the winter. Having a Moose up there would be the difference between whether or not I would be able to make through the winter.