Fall is such a busy time in Alaska. Last chance to finish the summer projects, moose hunting season, berries to be gathered, dogs start training. I have always found the fall to be a manic & satisfying time; with the pressure of shorter days and the impending snow of winter. At the same time the feeling you get when as each additional tasks get crossed off, the freezer fills, and the dogs grow stronger.
This year I find myself reflecting on our connection to this place we call home. A connection grown over a decade of carving out our lives in this place. There is a real sense of satisfaction when in the middle of winter I can go in the freezer and pull out bags of delicious berries for a home baked dessert. Thinking back to the fall days I spend on my knees in berry patches so think you could pick gallons in an afternoon. I have my special super secret awesome berry spots, and then the awesome but close enough to the trail I share them with friends berry picking spots. The rhubarb we planted in 2004 is now a huge hedge flanking the entire side of the woodshed. It makes me happy to make Dan a PBJ with his favorite Bluebarb jam I make from the rhubarb and blueberries here. The perennial beds flowering each year safe in the knowledge that this is their place to shine. And the wild strawberries that gradually have spread out each year giving us more of the amazingly sweet tiny fruits.
Since we first looked at the property in ’97 I loved it. But it has been in the act of living here that the relationship has grown. It is with a somewhat arrogant pride that I feel connected to this place, I earned the right to call this home, I understand it in ways people just walking through for a weekend can’t. Over the years I have become familiar with the cycle of the seasons. The muck that defines the delightful Alaskan season we call break-up. The wild ferns which are always the first to pop through and start the greening of summer. The swallow that come back each year and take up nest, raise a family, and eat lots and lots of mosquitoes. Houses we built for them years ago hang on the garage and always attract tenants for the brief summer season.
I have seen this place change over time. The Boundary Fire of ’04 ripped through the Chatanika valley changing the landscape forever. Our “cabin in the woods” was barely saved, but we lost our garage with every tool we ever owned, all our mushing gear, firewood, winters worth of fish for the dogs, sauna, greenhouse, oh drat so much I do not want to even list it all as it make me depressed.
And now we have a little cabin with a nice big 3 acre lawn*. The lynx moved out as small game was scare after the fire. The small game came back first and it took years before we saw lynx again. Areas that were charred and burnt are now growing back, but the landscape wears the scars of that massive wildfire to this day.
*I use the term ‘lawn’ pretty loosely here: if it is green, grows, and I can mow it, I call it lawn.
It is this relationship that also makes me very protective. Not always sure I like people here. I have seen the trail slowly erode, as quads get bigger and people get lazier. Sorry but that is what it seems like from where I sit. Each year more hunters come and take bigger quads up into the Whites, some so bold as to drive trucks. Tearing up the trail, and then crashing through the tundra to create new trail around the horrible pot holes and ruts the create in the trail. Each year I gather a pile of trash off the trail; beer cans, shotgun shells, candy bar wrappers. It offends me that people would be so rude. Always makes me sad. Not just for the problems it causes us in fall training. But quite frankly, I have come to think of the entire White Mountains Recreational Area as ‘my back yard’ and it makes me sad to see people tearing it up with so little respect.
Now let me be clear here, I am not delusional enough to think of myself as some sort of model of modern homesteading. There is a selection of box stores throughout Fairbanks that are only an hours drive away. An unsuccessful hunt does not equal starvation. I could buy fruit all winter in town. My life is an easy one compared to the Alaska Natives who made this place their home for generations prospering in this harsh arctic, or the first men and women who came here in search of get rich quick gold. This post is not about me being some kind of modern pioneer (although I know that is very popular right now). I choose to do the things I do because I enjoy them and they add value to my life, not because I have to. But I would argue that these things I do that make me feel a part of the micro-world I live in have taught me to respect what it has to offer, have made me feel more involved in the food chain, and given me many amazing memories of this place I am lucky enough to call home.
To see more of the property and the local projects I have been up to this summer check out my photo album ‘Summer 2013 ~ Dew Claw Kennel‘