Summer Project Summary

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009


We had a great summer–nearly three months of sunny days with up to 80F temps. We’re long overdue for some R&R–here is Martina and her niece Alex (visiting from Munich) canoeing in our slough at high tide. Doug’s got that work ethic so he’s off building projects:


First, after delivering and schlepping 5000 board feet of lumber up the beach, I cut it up and finish the boardwalk–now totaling over 300′ in length and crowned by our gazebo in the saltchuck, where the canoe photo (above) was taken.


The diesel shed, begun two years ago is finally cleaned out, sealed and painted, then the upper structure framed in and skip-sheeted to match the woodshed. And a roof–what a concept. Now I can contain any oil spilled and recycle it.


Our greenhouse worked fantastic. Here we’re about mid-way through the summer. We must have harvested 500 tomatoes and they are still ripening. We also grew dozens of cucumbers and more lettuce than we could eat. Outside, we did fairly well except for beans. We’ll keep you posted on the harvest in the next blog


The guest house was the biggie. We began with new floor beams which allowed me to lengthen the porch to a full six feet. Next was a new roof, then we gutted, insulated and paneled the interior in yellow cedar with red cedar bunk beds. Add a nice bamboo floor and a spiffy (and expensive) Norwegian Jotul stove. Finally, we clad the exterior with waterproofing and shingles. We’re open for visitors….


Here’s the woodshed–finally full of dry wood and skip-sheeted to keep out the snow drifts. We extended the floor, raised the log splitter (it’s on the left), wired for electricity and tied it all together with the boardwalk. Whew! I’m getting tired just writing about it.


It’s time to climb Petersburg Mountain–shown here clouded with smoke from BC fires. It tops out about 3000′ above our house. We’ve been looking at this mountain for four years and it’s time to ‘knock the bastard off’ in the words of Sir Ed.


Our USFS crews have built a marvelous staircase up this thing–it’s about half done and you rarely touch ground.


The only problem I have with this trail is it destroyed the forest you walk through–here’s the clearcut. These trees are over 250 years old! That’s the Alaska mentality. If they’d cut the rest down, the view would be terrific…..


But we prefer to hike for our view–here’s Martina on the summit ridge–nice relief with the Baird and Patterson Glaciers across Frederick Sound looking north.


And here’s a 180 degree view (south) to Petersburg, airport and all. The Wrangell Narrows runs south to Sumner Strait about 30 miles distant separating Mitkof Island on the left and Kupreanof Island on the right. Here’s a close up showing our property:


You can faintly see three buoys #58, #56 and #54 (with a little boat southbound) just to the left of the tree-top. Our little point is to the right on Kupreanof Island–our dock is almost white in this telephoto.


Descending, we find lots of Chicken of the Woods (Sulfur Shelf) mushrooms–we carefully cut off about 1″ off the border allowing it to continue producing mushroom. We fry it up like you would chicken tenders and add it to pasta and season with garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese! Stay tuned….

Celery and Chopin (How to Build a Greenhouse)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009


It’s finally spring (anything seems like spring after Barrow) and we plant our garden. I build racks that fit into the window frame so I can play Chopin and watch the Celery grow (Broccoli and Beethoven?). It’s still below freezing at night so we start early. Martina went nuts in the Fairbanks garden center and bought about a million seeds–so we’ve our work cut out for us.


Here is where we started two years ago with an overgrown field; we bring in Reid Bros. Construction and their humongous excavator and begin to bury the old foundation reserving the soil to the surface:


Once it’s level, we’re ready to build a greenhouse–look at this beautiful black soil:


Our soil is very acidic and many areas of SE Alaska don’t have any soil at all. We live on a point formed by a huge drainage area which is fortunate for us. But wear gloves–it will take off your fingerprints and make it hard to play the Chopin….


Here I lay out the foundation for our greenhouse: 12′ X 24′ and about 9′ high. I use untreated yellow cedar 4″ X 6″ X 12′ beams double-stacked and spiked together in a rectangle. Inside this frame, I construct four equally sized raised beds using 2″ X 6″ X 12′ planks fastened with 4″ teflon coated fasteners. This whole process takes me less than a day.


So what’s the first thing that shows up? Deer of course–and we haven’t planted a thing! The deer fence is not complete and they know it so I hurriedly enclose the garden with herring seine from our local dump.

The frames are constructed flat on the ground, on top of each other for consistancy, with the same yellow cedar 2″ X 4″. I install them on 4′ centers which is the width of most panels (actually 48 1/4″ but you’ll need the extra width for the ends). I strengthen the elbows with plywood gussets using quick-drive fasteners. This whole phase took me less than a day–and it was pouring rain. Martina helped me upright the frames on the foundation and voila! we have a greenhouse frame. Here is the whole layout with the Bavarian garden on the left and the vegetable garden on the right–we’re ready…..


And here’s our first season but only with temporary plastic covering:


Our seasons are exquisite! Colors are rich and the the summer growing season, while short, has a lot of solar energy. The clear cladding for the greenhouse is ordered from Laird Plastics in Seattle but is drop-shipped from PolyGal who manufactures it. It’s an 8mm thick extruded plastic, UV protected double wall construction (triple wall is available) and can support my weight it’s so strong. The whole installation process took me just two days–using a battery powered driver. I put a 2″ eve over the vertical walls to divert rain out of these channels and into an internal sprinkler system storing the excess in barrels for dry times.


Total time–6 days and under $3000 and what a beauty! This photo was taken mid April and already it’s capable of storing 85F temps inside. Time to move in our starts during the day:


Got my shelves up, hooks for hanging plants, radio for tunes. What more do you need? Chopin!

Two in the Far North

Saturday, April 4th, 2009


We’re off to the cold North for the month of March–Brrrrrr! The temps dipped to -37F and we flew 13 separate flights from our home in Petersburg to Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Barrow, Point Lay (left on this map), Barrow, Nuiqsut, Deadhorse, Barter Island (Kaktovik–right on the map), Fairbanks, Seattle, Ketchikan and finally home. Mt. Redoubt threw a wrench in our flight plans forcing us all the way to Seattle before we could return north. Remember Barrow from or 2006 blog?…


We work for three days at Samuel Simmonds Hospital learning the ropes, then head west to Point Lay; possibly the windiest place on earth (after Antarctica). It’s nearly the equinox so the sun is rising and setting at opposite horizons and at this latitude, 71 North, it rises sideways. We choose a Cessna Caravan–the aerial equivalent of a Toyota Landcruiser.


Point Lay is just a smudge on the horizon when we approach. Fortunately, the wind has subsided and we can see the town:



Sitting next to us on the plane is the preferred Beverage of the North–and our job security…. But this is just half the picture–one needs solid food too and here is the main diet:


This is one of several candy stores–usually run by village elders or perhaps the schools themselves. On our clinic walls are horrible pictures of meth-mouths but frankly, I do not see any difference between meth-mouth and candy-mouth. Drugs, whether alcohol, meth or candy, are a huge problem here in Alaska. There was one suicide during our North Slope stay and one fatal drug overdose in our town while we were gone.


Here’s the sunrise–the sun enters the picture at the closest telephone pole–then moves to the right. On March 20, everyone on the planet gets the same amount of sunlight. And this is what town looks like….about 9 months a year!


The population of Point Lay at this time of year is about 120 and typically half the population is 15 years old or younger. Much of the culture of the Eskimo people is fading fast with the language nearly gone. Yet, North Slopers are politically correct with Inupiat Braille signage in our clinic:


Forget about the Braille; I couldn’t find anyone who could pronounce it. Martina sets up our clinic.


Here is Martina of the North in front of the Native Store. On this sled is a case of Pepsi and the hind quarter of a caribou–it is towed by a snow machine. During our “Did Not Keep Appointments” or “DNKAs” we walk around town and take pictures:


Hanging out at the corner of Okpik and Takpuk….



It’s 25 F below zero!


Don’t forget to roll up your windows….


Right after our arrival, the wind picks up and no one goes outside–it’s blowing about 60-80 mph at temps -30F which adds up to a huge wind-chill. We are staying in the firehouse and have to walk across the street to the clinic. Due to the weather, no one shows up Sunday for our clinic; when the Eskimos stay inside, you know the weather’s bad.


Back in Barrow, we team up with a dog musher, Geoff Carroll, who runs a very smart team and even took it to the North Pole in 1986 with the Steger Expedition. They were the first to make it to the pole without airdrops or resupply.


I can’t resist temptation and take a ride out on the Chuckchi sea ice. Commands to dogs are “Kiita” which is Inupiat for Go, ‘Haw’ is Left, ‘Gee’ is Right and Whoa to stop–but the steel brake helps that command as dogs will take off with an empty sled. Another weekend diversion is visiting the Inupiut Heritage Center which is a must if you find yourself in Barrow.


These are the traditional whale hunting boats although today they’re made with better materials than driftwood and sinew.


Here’s the seal skin being scrapped, cut and sewn together… this is traditional, especially the smell. To make the skin waterproof, it is rolled up in fat, then buried in the ground to ferment for several months. Believe me, you will not forget this smell and it won’t forget you either.


Check out this stitchwork–these seams are sewn with braided caribou sinew which is strong and water tight.


Our last village is Kaktovik where we work 10 days straight. Kaktovik is located on Barter Island on the Beaufort Sea about 250 miles east of Barrow and only 90 miles from Canada. The Brooks Range is only 60 miles south. This is ANWR and everyone here has an opinion of it’s fate. About half the people in this town want oil drilling to occur and half don’t, which is the typical Alaska split on just about every subject.

Note the sea ice that has separated from the shoreline and blown offshore creating miles of open water. The ice has also thinned making tough going for Polar Bears. During our stay, a polar bear wanders into town–these are hungry bears and are attracted to human habitation much like the Yellowstone bears were drawn to garbage dumps. Also, Brown Bears are now competing with Polar Bears in this area. These are beautiful animals but people still kill them for rugs….


….which is exactly the fate of this bear four hours after we take this picture. It was shot from the back porch of a house in Kaktovik at 10:30pm and skinned for a rug. We would encourage people to write their representatives in congress to protect these animals from all humans. And if you believe in Karma, check out this article on CNN’s website posted 10 days later.

In Kaktovik, we meet Robert and Jane Thompson who run Kaktovik Arctic Adventues. They take people on guided trips into the Brooks Range through ANWR–and do it right. They have an 11 day float trip from the Brooks range to the Beaufort Sea.

The title of this blog Two in the Far North is also the title of a book by Margaret E. Murie. Here’s a photo of Mardy and Olaus in the Brooks Range painted by ‘Rusty’ Heurlin that hangs in the University of Fairbanks Museum:


No two people deserve more credit for protecting ANWR. Mardy and her husband Olaus, skied up the Porcupine and Sheenjek Rivers in the 1920s and did the early field biology of that area. Mardy was the first woman to graduate from the University of Alaska. She and Olaus both received the Audubon Medal; she from President Jimmy Carter and he from John Kennedy. I met Mardy when rangering at Grand Teton National Park in the early 1970s and stayed in touch with her until her death in 2003 at 101.

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