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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Up North

Chapter 2


Settling In

   I had spent the previous night gathering firewood and putting together a small camp. I still slept a little nervous that night after my run in with the bear but other than something small running around in the brush during the night it passed fairly quietly. I think part of the reason it had passed quietly was because it had snowed during the night and when I came crawling out of the tent the next morning it was a sight to behold. There was a blanket of snow as far as the eye could see. The creek running through the snow made it look like a Christmas card. I think the one thing that surprised me the most was how quite it was. As I was cooking breakfast the loudest sound around was the crackle of the flames, no cars and no planes. Even camping in the desert you could almost always at least hear the sound of planes passing over head.

   I had a few tarps along with me and I used a couple of them to add a cover at the front of the tent. I was glad I did because it started raining as I was gathering more wood. I spent most of that day just kicked back by the fire enjoying the silence and watching the world go by. I saw two deer and one moose heading up the trail that day along with assorted squirrels some robber jays and a couple of grouse. Not bad for a first day. By the next morning the snow was gone and the rain had tapered off enough for me to do some exploring. I noticed as I walked along that there was a really good trail running by the creek all the way down to the river. Between the rain and the fact that most of the trail was across a gravel bar it was impossible to tell what kind of tracks were on it, but keep that trail in mind as we go along.

   I wasn’t going anywhere special that day just checking out the country side when I found something that I figured was going to save me a lot of time. About a half a mile down the river was a grove of spruce trees. It looked like there had been a beaver pond on the creek that ran through the trees. I wasn’t sure what happened to the dam but it was gone and the creek was back to normal. The part that was going to save me labor was that the trees on each side of the creek were all dead. From what I could see they had been in the water at least a foot deep before the dam washed out. Most of the limbs were gone but all the ones I checked felt firm with no rot except right at the bottom. The great thing was there must have been thirty or forty down that creek and if my calculations were correct that would be more than enough to build the walls to my cabin. I hustled back to the camp planning on getting started falling them that day. The problem with that plan was the large bear track I found on the way back. He must have come by while I was up looking at the trees. I knew they were fresh because one of them was on top of my tracks. At least this time I was kind of ready since I had both my rifle and pistol with me. I didn’t really want to have to kill a bear especially not a spring bear. For one thing they don’t taste very good for another he hadn’t been out of hibernation for very long which meant he didn’t have much meat on him anyway. However, if it came to who eats who I was planning on doing my best to have bear steaks for supper. About the time I got back to my creek I saw him across the gravel bar checking out the river. I was right, he was a pretty scrawny looking bear, big, but scrawny. I watched him for awhile to make sure he was headed on up river before I went back to the camp. Thankfully nothing had been bothered at the camp but I realized it was going to be safe just leaving everything lying around. I really needed to remember that I wasn’t in Oklahoma anymore and there were things in these woods that could and would hurt me.

    I spent the rest of the day packing most of my supplies into tarp packs and hanging them from trees. But the time I finished with everything it looked like a weird fruit orchard but at least they were safe. I gathered a huge pile of firewood because I was still a little worried about just sleeping in the tent. Not that I had much choice but that tent was going to be no protection from a bear. The next morning I got to work on a real cache to at least hold my food. I didn’t have a lot of it but having it up and out of the way would at least keep it from attracting bears. I didn’t want to cut any of the spruce trees I had found for the cache because I wanted to be able to use them all for the cabin. I headed back up the creek and managed to find four nice pine trees about twenty feet long. I knew they wouldn’t last as long as a spruce but I figured I could replace this cache with a better one once I had more time. I dug four holes and buried the butts down a couple of feet, leaning all four of the poles to the center. I put temporary cross braces across the bottom to hold them in place and because I’d forgotten about not having a ladder. I had to go find a couple more long pines plus a few short ones so I could build a ladder and be able to reach the top. I managed to get the four cross braces installed at the top of the poles and only fell off the ladder one time. I built a platform at the top using short poles. I was pretty happy with it when I got done. It was about four foot by six foot and had plenty of room to hold all my stuff. I didn’t build walls or a roof on this one because I knew I’d have to do a better one before winter and with everything up there and covered with a tarp at least I wouldn’t have to worry about bears.

   The next morning I took my ax and saw up to the spruce trees and started on the cabin logs. I spent the entire day cutting, trimming and stacking the logs. I figured I’d be able to get enough logs from that one stand to do a cabin at least fourteen feet by fifteen feet. Since most of the trees were between eight and twelve inches in diameter I should be able to have wall at least seven feet tall. I really wanted a peaked roof but I wasn’t sure what I would use to cover it. If I made a shed rood it would take a lot less material to cover. I spent more of that first day worrying about the shape of the roof than I did cutting the walls. At the end of the day came the hard part. The only way I had of getting the logs back to the cabin site was to drag them. I had some good ones that were a little over a foot in diameter that I wanted to use for the base logs so I wanted to take them back first. I tied a couple of ropes to four of them and looped it over my shoulders. Now those logs may not have been really big but dragging them across the ground through the brush down to the river then around the drift wood and across the gravel was rough. I made it a little over half way before my shoulders were killing me and I had to leave two of them. I made it up to the cabin with the first two then had to rest awhile before I could go back and get the others. As sore as I was it felt really good sitting by the fire that night with be beginnings of my home sitting there by me.

   I spent the better part of another week getting all the trees down. I had wrapped some cloth around my rope harness for pulling them. It sure didn’t make it any more comfortable but at least it didn’t rub the hide off me every time I pulled some. After the third trip of so I had a path worn out between the grove and the river at least that helped some. Plus I’d moved the driftwood out of the way. For a time there I had logs scattered all along the river bank. I’d always start out dragging more than I could handle and would end up dropping part of them. Every time I had a little extra energy I’d pull a couple on up to the site. Finally at the end of that week I had a stack of about sixty logs ready to work. I had only seen three more bears during the week two of which were on the other side of the river plus one moose that just stood in one place and stared at me. I guess I did look pretty funny to him dragging those logs along.

   I had built a couple of x frames so I could get the logs off the ground in order to peel the bark off them and be able to saw them to length. It doesn’t take a lot of thought while you’re peeling logs and I was running along on auto pilot one morning when I realized I didn’t want to just stack the logs directly on the ground. If I did it that way I was going to have problems with rot on the bottom logs and since I was planning on living there for years I didn’t want to think about trying to re build the cabin. After lunch I went over to the spot I had picked for the cabin and started digging out and area of about twenty feet by twenty feet. I had to dig sown about six inches to get rid of all the pine needles and roots. Then I took a couple of five gallon buckets and headed down to the river. The way the spring runoff works in the river there are a couple of separate gravel bars. The larger ones are closer to the river but above that was a layer of small ones that I would be able to use. I spent the next three days carrying that gravel from the river up to the spot and back again, god, what I would have given for a conveyer belt. Finally I had a layer over six inches deep. I had tried to tamp it down as I brought it up I must have broken at least three homemade tampers. It was great but at least I didn’t have to worry about drainage on the bottom logs.

   I worked half of the next day getting those first four logs down. I must have measured those thing a dozen time before I’d cut the first notch in them. If those first one weren’t square then none of the cabin would be. Plus there was just way to much work in getting those logs to take a chance on screwing them up. I’ll tell ya, there’s something special about laying the foundation to your own place. Even though I had only started and still had a lot of work to do I took a break, leaned back by the fire, had a cup of coffee and did nothing but admire those logs. I had them laid out so the cabin would be fourteen feet wide and fifteen feet long with the two side logs sticking out another six foot so I could have a porch. I was sure how I would build that but if I couldn’t figure it out later I could always cut them off. After all I was building this thing from some pictures I’d seen in a book.

   Once I got the hang of it the cabin wall went up pretty quick. It only took me four days to get the walls up to a little over seven feet and I figured that would be tall enough. I still wanted a peaked roof plus I really wanted that porch on the front. It took some trial and error (more error than I wanted0 but I finally figured out it I just kept cutting the logs back on the front and rear I could have a ridge at the top. I also put in two posts for the porch plus a log across the top of them so I could run the side logs out to it and make a porch. I was trucking along nicely until the third day when I wasn’t paying attention and slipped of a log half way up the roof. It didn’t really hurt me just kind of knocked the wind out of me and since I didn’t have a door or any windows cut in the side walls it was a little hard to get back out. The main thing it really brought home was how alone out there I was. Something like a broken leg would really be a bad thing. I’d been there for over three and a half weeks and hadn’t seen another person. I was going to have to start paying attention and be more careful.

   The roof peak is done and today I cut the hole for the door. There is still a lot of work to be done. There is no roof covering other than a couple of tarps. The porch is just the two side logs and the posts. It is covered with the same tarp as the roof. I will get the hole cut for the door but it is doubtful I will have the door finished today. But at least I’m going to be sleeping inside walls tonight. I have taken two twelve inch spruce logs and sawn them into boards about an inch thick. I will use these to frame the doorway and to make the door I already have two hinges I brought along just for this. I also have about thirty pounds of different size nails. I am planning on my door just being a slab out lined with board on both sides so the nails will come in real handy. I’m still working on the roof covering idea. I’ve thought about using moss. There’s a really thick kind that grows here which I think is more of lichen than it is a moss. Anyway you can cut it in sections and use it for roofing since it doesn’t need dirt to grow in. I saw a guy in Circle that had used it on one of his out buildings. What I’d really like to use would be spruce shingles. The problem with that is that even though I know how to make them one item I forgot is a froe to split them with. I did get the door opening cut and framed with the boards I had made. I moved everything into the cabin and headed down to the river to take a break and see if I could catch a fish for supper. My supplies were getting a little thin and a fresh caught fish would be a great addition.

   Last night I did manage to catch one fish for a really great supper. I moved ever thing into the cabin although I forgot about the fact I’ve been sleeping on soft pine needles for over a month and forgot how hard that gravel floor was going to be. Today I am packing everything either in the cache or the cabin and blocking it off as best I can because I’m headed back to town. I figure it’s going to take me about six days to make the round trip knowing that I have to paddle and carry the canoe up river to town and I remember what it was like coming down. I am really short on food so I have no choice plus I want to get the froe and take a shot at making the shingles. I’m a little worried about leaving everything as I have seen a couple more bears and one wolverine but I just don’t have the option.