Sorry that it has been so long since I wrote on the blog. I’ve been a bit discouraged by the progress that Summer and I are making here at the homestead. It hasn’t been for a lack of effort. It seems that, during this winter, it has been three steps forward and two and a half back. The house leveling has continued. The more I work at leveling it the more certain I am that it cannot be permanently leveled without some major construction. The house sits on 5 beams that are in turn perched precariously upon wooden pilings. A 7.0 earthquake 3 years ago moved the house sideways and partially off the pilings. Another later 4.6 moved the house a little further off the pilings. I was planning a solid concrete footing with treated 6×6 posts under the front wall of the house. I got the 40 feet of form in place and then it began to rain and rain and rain. All of this water washed a few tons of dirt from under the house. This loss of dirt has made the house even more precariously perched on the edge of disaster. When the rain, finally, stopped the form was completely covered in dirt. It was an emergency situation because the weather was beginning to turn cold. I hand dug individual holes for concrete footings for the new pilings that I placed under the existing beam. The original plan was to install a new beam under the outside wall with 8′ 6″x6″ pilings and 18′ wide by 16-18 inches thick, steel reinforced concrete footing. The individual footings were steel reinforced concrete but since they are not connected to one another they are able to move individually. Individual movement defeats the whole purpose of stabilizing the house. However, had I not installed the new pilings I’d likely be writing this from a rental house somewhere. The old house would be a pile of debris in the hole we had dug so as to make the foundation improvements. The hole is now filled with about two feet of ice as the drain line has frozen. For a while I had nightmares about the house falling over into the hole. Not so much after I installed the new pilings. I’m still worrying about an earthquake sending us sliding into the abyss.
Last Fall, I cut 8 cords of spruce logs into rounds and then split them all. Most of that has been burned by this time. We had both tents full of wood at the beginning of winter. We have a bit over a cord left and 6-8 weeks of cold or cool weather left this winter. I really don’t like cutting it this close so next winter I’ll put up 10 cords. This has been a weird winter in some respects. Snow, then rain, more snow, then more rain, then a crap load more snow. It has not been particularly cold this winter up until this morning. The temperature when I got up at 7 AM, to stoke up the wood stove and make coffee, was 2.9F. As the sun was rising the temp fell to 1.2F. I don’t remember when it was that I began to think of any temp above 25F as warm. Now any day above 35F is a veritable heat wave.
The geese and the ducks have been residing in our garden in a hastily constructed edifice cobbled together from two large packing crates, a couple of sheets of damaged and mostly useless plywood and a few old wooden pallets. They’ve done well, in spite of the hasty construction. We had intended to move the old boat house (the superstructure off a neighbors skiff) but winter caught us before we could move it. It was frozen solidly to the ground by the time we were able to find the time to move it. The original plan was to move it next to the new pond and then fence the critters in. That project will have to wait until the ground thaws in late May or June. The chickens have been living in the greenhouse all winter. Their home was not remodeled due to the lack of time or, perhaps, the misuse of time.
That old saying “When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remember that the plan was to drain the swamp”. That has been an apt description of our 3 1/2 years here. It has been something pretty much every time you turn around. The tractor is axle broken, the water pump has quit, a pipe has burst and we lost 500 gallons of precious water, the kitchen sink cold water is frozen, the bathroom commode water is frozen, the bathtub water is frozen, the sewage line is clogged. the sewage line is frozen, an eagle got a young goose, the spring box water supply has dried up., the pond is nearly dry, the tractor battery is dead, the Rover battery is dead, the lawn tractor died, the small trailer has two flat tires, the big trailer had two blowouts and destroyed both rims while hauling firewood logs, too much rain, not enough rain, a moose walked through the garden fence and the chickens and geese had a holiday feast, a bear was in the old chicken house, a bear wandered into the yard and on and on and on. Makes me tired just remembering all of the trials and tribulations. Through all of this and more, Summer and I have persevered. While we have admitted to being discouraged at times, we still have the will to continue. At 76 years old, I can still lift and carry 80 bags of concrete. It hurts, but I can still do it. Maybe this summer, I will get the solid foundation and pilings under the front wall of the house, the chickens moved to a permanent home, the geese and ducks into a permanent home and the 4500 gallon water tank installed to catch the rainwater coming off the roof of the house.
A few days ago, whilst walking head down paying close attention to where i was putting my feet on the icy ground. I almost walked into a moose’s rear end. The knucklehead was standing in the middle of the road and I was as previously stated no paying attention to my surroundings. Fortunately, the moose was unperturbed by my proximity and continued to snack on the small branches of an alder bush. I had walked up to about 10 feet from it before I noticed this 800-1000 pound critter. I backed away to about 20 feet and then hightailed it the 30 feet to my Conex (shipping container) workshop. After I saw that this young moose wasn’t going to do anything but eat Alder stems I did go back outside and try to take some pictures. Looked at my phone later and there were no pictures. Don’t know how that happened. I mentally butt kicked myself several times to remind me that I needed to be more careful as moose kill more people in Alaska than the bears of all three flavors. 7-8 more steps and I’d have collided with the moose’s hindquarters. That as Martha might say “Would not be a good thing”.
This week I spent about 6 hours jacking up the Conex in an attempt to level it. I raised the back end of it about 24 inches. It is almost level. Almost because I want some drop from end to end to shed the rain water and snow melt. We purchased a 1000 gallon water tank (cistern they call them up here) last summer. Another project that didn’t get finished. The point of jacking the Conex level is to install the 1000 gallon tank and move the existing 550 gallon tank into the Conex. I will frame up a fully insulated room to house them inside the Conex. This should do three things: One is the added water capacity so as to not run out of potable water every two weeks; the second is to insure that the water supply lines do not freeze; the third is house all of the pump and filtration equipment in one relatively warm, easily accessible location. I’m giving up 12 feet of workshop/storage for some wintertime peace of mind.
I have two admit that I am sick and tired of the snow. Last fall I was looking forward to and could almost not wait for the snow. While I have continued to work on one project or another all through the winter, I am looking forward to ‘Breakup’ and Spring time. The snow and the frozen ground has put a great deal of needed work on hold. I’d like to get to it while I’m still on top of the sod rather than under it. One of my projects for this summer is to get the downhill side property line cleared. I know where the corners are but can’t see one from the other due to the trees and brush. My downhill neighbor is adamant that I not cut anything on his property, but I’m not quite sure how I will know what is on his property and what is on ours. I one conversation he did not want me to remove a rotten log lying across the property line. I’m not sure what his logic is but I just cut the log off at the line. It’s seems irrational behavior but it is Alaska.
Well that’s it for me. I will attempt to do a better job of keeping you updated in the future.
One thought on “Dad’s Alaska”
Missed you and your words
I’ve been where you are and I think every Alaskan that does not live in “civilization” (aka apartment or house in a normal city) has been on this road a time or two. Don’t surrender that devastated feeling will pass.
In my 14 years on the homestead I’ve had many a dark day/week/month when
everything goes wrong…..
Hang in there
and savor the fact that
you live in a land touched by the hand of God.