24 May 2009

ladies dropping in at late hours....

so, this was friday night around 10:30 pm...

a young female moose (referred to as a "cow" in the vernacular, as opposed to "bull" or "calf"....but you'll never hear this cat use that term to refer to any woman....dumb, mayhaps, but not stupid; some wisdom I have gleaned...) appeared in front of my cabin...

just wandered in....went down to the lake; got her drink on, got her munch on....then looked up, saw us in the window and realized things had gotten weird....and shuffled off into the woods...

a pleasant sun-set closed out that lil' event, round 'bout 11:02....all in all, an entertaining evening in the AK....

11 May 2009

mungo jerry days

john henry days

so, I've tried a few times to write this particular post.  

I haven't really been able to put anything together that didn't degenerate into ranting and a string of expletives.  so I'll try to keep the writing to a minimum and let the pics do the work.

the basic story:  early days of "The Big Melt", no one in the area save Mike and DK, and the sole focus for the first few weeks is to haul as much wood as possible into the lodge before we lose the snow altogether.  

3 tasks within the "get wood" framework: 

Task 1: yell "timber", fell tree, trim tree of branches, cut tree into 17 foot logs, drag logs to lodge.  
equipment for task : 2 chainsaws, 2 snowmobiles, 1 sled, 1 rope, 1 stick with a hook on it 

(this last tool is referred to as a "peavey" in the timber industry, after it's 1857 inventor, Joseph Peavy.  "you see that stick with a hook on it Joe's using?  what's he thinking?".....seriously though, you really can't go a-loggin' without one.)

end result: 54 logs in 5 days, 1 broken back 

(not really......but this is what I was referring to....when I try to go into detail, I start bitching about snow, and pain, and 12 hr days, yadda yadda....and right at this moment I'm looking out the window at sunshine, the snow has disappeared, the world is 
becoming truly verdant, and I want nothing to do with the demons of  days past....also, we never do yell "timber"....)

so, this is what a bunch of logs in the back yard looks like:

task 2: drive snowmobile around the woods in what appears to be aimless wandering, but is really spotting burls;  harvest said burls;  drag burls back to lodge.

equipment for task: 2 chainsaws, 2 snowmobiles, 3 sleds

end result: a sh*tload of burls....300 or so, I lost count on day three....they do look pretty cool piled up though....

which brings us to task 3: re-stock the woodpile.  

this particular task obviously ranks much higher on the "basic human survival needs in the AK" scale than the previous two.  it's also usually accomplished with 4 or 5 people.  

equipment for task: 1 Chainsaw, 1 snowmobile, 1 sled, 1 Ten-Pound Maul (this is the axe in the very first photo, used to split the log sections into firewood, the "10 Lb." refers to the weight of the head...that photo was taken on Day 3 of wood-splittin')

the basic workflow: Mike drops tree, cuts it into sections w/Chainsaw, goes to next tree....DK hauls sections to woodpile, splits them w/Maul, goes gets more....repeat....repeat...repeat....repeat...for SEVEN DAYS.....

here's what it looked like midway through day 1:

the tarp-line is where we started from....the woodpile holds 19 rows, each row is about 2.5 cords of wood, it takes about two trees to fill a row...when we started, there were three rows left in the pile....we also had to shovel out space as we went, as the snow had not melted yet...good times. 

the photo below is during Day 4.....signs of progress....and signs of madness setting in.

you really need to stay Zen throughout the process....one more axe-swing, one more axe-swing, one more axe-swing....."getting mad at it" would burn you out long before the task was done, and trying to measure progress/gauge how much was left to do would just depress you into immobility....

this might be the point where you ask, "don't they make hydraulic & mechanical log-splitters to do this?"  and while this is true, one that could effectively split the size & quantity of logs we're processing would be prohibitively expensive....

and besides....ain't no machine made gonna beat a steel-drivin' man.....one more axe-swing, one more axe-swing, one more axe-swing....

which will eventually bring you through the mountain....or kill you.

in this case, it brings us to the Day 7  mug-shots below:

it's a lil' bit of wood.  

and I'll ramble on about it no more.

as I mentioned earlier, my world looks a whole lot different today than in the photos above - no snow, everything's green, the swallows returned from Capistrano yesterday, the first float-plane will drop in soon...."The Big Melt" is over.  

good f*cking riddance.

and if anyone needs a dramatically effective exercise regime, I've got just the thing.....

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04 May 2009

this is how it began...

so….as I alluded to in my last post, we are in the middle of “break-up”.

this is the portion of my year I like to call “The Big Melt”….and for me, the first true sign is when the trees reclaim the patches of ground they have been sheltering from wind, ice, and human travel all winter.

but “break-up” is the term ingrained into the minds of the AK populace (in reference to the frozen rivers “breaking up” the millions of tons of ice that had them locked down for too many months, and ushering in summer)…….and as hep as I am, I don’t think I’ll be able to get “The Big Melt” into the vernacular……c’est la vie.

for the inhabitants here on Trail Lake, there are two defining points to the official beginning of “break-up”….. when we declare the lake no longer useable as real-estate, and thus, landing a plane on it is not a possibility….combined with the fact that we can no longer travel farther than a mile or so from the lodge on snowmobile (and even that mobility will disappear in a few weeks…the snow on the ground will be gone, and the only mode of transportation will be my dancin’ shoes…..in the ’09, that particular point was today.)

at the core, this means:  I can get to no where & no one…..and perhaps more importantly, no one can get to me.

when break-up begins, I know that for the next month or so, there is no way I’ll see anyone else except my fellow lake inhabitants…..and that, for all practical considerations, any situation outside of a 1 mile radius of where I am standing on the planet at the moment is a moot point. 

it takes about a week or so for this to truly both physically & mentally sink in (mind and body must be one, grasshopper)…..but when it does, the freedom this allows is…. fantastic….and impossible for me to properly describe…

but pig fever has no part in the equation, I can say that.

sunrises get earlier and sunsets later….until in a few weeks, they both will be rendered moot points as well.

labor, both mental and physical, is confined to that one mile radius….and thus can be directed only on the problems, projects, and opportunities at hand.

and all problems can only be solved with the resources at hand….so a bit of extra care is taken around chain-saws and their ilk.

360 degrees of snow melts away….at one point, the world becomes the consistency of water-ice (imagine walking through a 100 million gallon tub of Rita’s Lemon Ice, except this really doesn’t taste delicious..…ahh, Rita’s…I do miss you so…)….and then, spots of sweet terra firma appear. 

new species of bird are returning to the lake by the day…cranes, redpoles, woodpeckers, swans, gulls, geese, swallows…loons soon enough….a 7 am that was dark, cold, and silent as the grave two weeks ago is now sunlit and awash with an absolute explosion of sound.  some might liken the sounds to a cacophony, others a symphony…..but it is an explosion, without debate. 

for this guy…it is truly a joyous noise made unto DK.

bears are coming out of their dens hungry and beginning to roam, we anticipate seeing one wander through here any day now….and later, when the world is even warmer and more mellow, my personal favorite denizen of the AK, the porcupine, will stroll through….at the most relaxed pace a living being can have.


in The Big Melt version 2.009, the inhabitants of Trail Lake consist of the woodland creatures, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 21 chickens and a total of two human beings….myself and my brother-in law, Mike.

my sister flew out on the 17th of April, as she had to be in civilization for the next month…we needed to find a summer apartment in town, her daughter would be graduating from UAA, our sister would be graduating from UAF, and our mother would be arriving in the AK to witness said events and hang out for a month…so she had things to do.

interruption for a solar update – Helios just set as I was typing this, 10:01 pm

we had already lost snowmobile travel at that point, and that was the last time a plane actually landed….the lake was getting sketchy, but still useable for a bush pilot with experience.  and cajones.  

so a friend of ours who had both (and a plane, obviously) popped in and whisked her away.

we didn’t officially declare the lake finito & pop the break-up champagne until the 20th of April, when it was clear that no one would think of landing on that mass of slush…...so 4/20 was a good day…..go figure.

but in reality, since the 17th, Mike and I have been the sole scientific observers for this part of the globe. 

that will remain so until somewhere in the middle of May, when the lake is ice-free and suitable for float-planes.


two men, all alone in the wilderness….what shenanigans might occur?


I’ll answer some of that question in the next missive…. disturbingly similar to the love that two men in an 8X9 cell together can share, the first couple of weeks could be described with two words ….Wood & Pain……but no worries, kids…..this is the emerald forest, this ain’t OZ….