I promised myself that I would add one of these stories here every time I told one. I tell them at one point or another throughout the summer. There will be no chronology - not yet anyway - nor will there be much of a schedule. You never know; I might add a story every day and I might not. This is my life. Every day is an adventure.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lessons in People

A couple years after we moved here, this huge grizzly mama would come by bringing her cubs. We could tell she was around; the dog would go out to pee and her nose would go up and she'd be on the alert for the rest of the day, even when she was in the house.

This sow cased the place for a day or two, and then she would show herself at the far edge of our clearing, off in the tall grass and brush. All we could see of her was her head and shoulders. She'd stay there, calm as can be, while her cubs came on into the yard to explore.

At the time, and until a couple years ago, I had chickens, and at that time, I had a couple ducks too. These cubs really wanted to 'play' with those interesting smelling creatures in that little house. Now, at that time, I happened to have five roosters, and since it was time for the hens to be sitting on their eggs, and since the roosters would bug them unmercifully, I had left them out in the pen during the night. They were perching on a rail about four feet off the ground when the cubs managed to break down the gate to the pen. They were after the ducks and they got one.

During this hoopla, the roosters were very quiet, but as one of the cubs ran back to mom with his prize, one of the roosters shifted and fluttered. It was enough to get the attention of the other cub.

Now, to make this story even more humorous, I have to tell you a side tale. My roosters varied in size. They were all bantams. I'm not good with weights so I'll have to give you dimensions. I handle all my roosters so they were quite gentle for the most part. The smallest was barely more than a single handful; he was simply all feathers. Because of his size, the others always picked on him, fighting with him every time they saw him and running him off from anything he was eating. It got so bad that I was hand feeding him. I mean, he was so cute and so little.

Back to the bear cub. It was the littlest rooster who moved, and now that he'd been noticed, he jumped down from the perch and started to run. He ran like I'd never seen a chicken run, dodging and darting this way and that, staying just out of reach. The cub was doing his best to catch this seemingly easy target, after all, it didn't fly away, it had to be easy, right.

We were watching this little drama from our window; it was the commotion concerning the duck that alerted us to trouble, and remember, momma was standing out there on the edge of the yard, just watching. Don, in an effort to save my favorite rooster AND not kill a bear, cub or not (to kill that cub would have been so much trouble 'cause mama likely wouldn't have left at all then), was trying to get a bead on a point really close to the cub. He could have been writing cuss-words in cursive with the barrel of that rifle, that's how fast and convoluted the cub was moving.

Finally, he took a shot and succeeded in kicking some dirt up, scaring the cub away, breaking off the chase. The cub went crying to mama. He wasn't really crying but he did need a little consoling, then there was a duck prize to play with as they left. This year's lesson in people complete.

Back to my littlest rooster. Well, he'd run off a real bear. None of the other rooster could say the same. They had all stayed hidden on their perch during the entire ordeal. Never again did the other roosters get away with picking on him. He was cock of the walk after that. He was the one who did the picking. It was really funny seeing him face down his bigger brothers.

Now, notice the title once again, notice that it is plural. Mama Grizzly came back several different times. These cubs came back at least one more time, and she brought another pair of cubs by too. One visit each time; she was never an obnoxious visitor and she herself never ventured too close, nor did she ever come by alone. She did, however come close enough to mark one of our trees. One morning we discovered claw marks - the bottom of the scratches were nearly a foot above where the tallest of us could reach.

Her cubs never made it into the chicken house or it's pen again, though not for want of trying. We never had to shoot at them again either. It's as if mama brought her cubs by for a lesson on people, and as soon as they were bored with the lesson, she'd lead them away.

I haven't seen her for many years now.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lessons in Bear

One day, a friend of ours talked us into taking a dog someone she knew was going to send to the pound. I guess they had this dog and one of her puppies but they could only have one dog. Tilly was an Australian sheep dog. She was a nice dog, and I think she did her best to please. I was her person, though I swear I don't know why, maybe because I'm the one who doles out the chow on a regular basis.

After we got Tilly out here, we discovered that being a good bear dog doesn't always come naturally. Being a sheep dog, she was bred to herd and was very happy to keep pushing my ducks around whenever she saw them. Course when she cornered them, she really wanted to do so much more than just herd them. "No" generally had to be enforced, but giving up wasn't one of her strong points.

When her first bear wandered into our yard, I firmly believe that Tilly panicked. Never before had she seen another animal bigger than she was, and if she had, it certainly wasn't that big. She didn't bark. She instantly turned tail and beat feet for the house. Nor did she stop to scratch at the door. Like a battering ram on four short legs, she rammed into the door, which fortunately for her, doesn't have a latch.

It took us a couple minutes to figure out why she came in so fast. It really was so funny.

But then a black bear came around and this one kept coming around. Since this bear was properly shy, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try to teach Tilly what to do when a bear (or moose) comes around. After she came blasting in the house, I took her back out with me. I stood in the middle of the yard and barked at the bear, and the bear ran off. I felt like an idiot, but it was obvious Tilly was doing a lot of thinking. She'd look at the retreating bear and then at me and back again.

The bear came back a couple days later and I did it again, winning a timid "woof" from Tilly as well, and once again, the bear left. Ooh now Tilly was feeling pretty important.

Now, you must understand, I have a rule when it comes to bears hanging around, I had a family here and bears that kept coming around, especially when I was so careful about trash and garbage, were trouble bears. If they go away, that's fine. If they keep coming back - third time's it.

Well, said bear came around yet again and this time was it. I took my 30.06 out with the dog. Apparently, the bear had a three time limit too. It was no longer frightened by my barking and of course Tilly wasn't very bold in the barking department yet.

I'm not a bad shot with a rifle. The bear was down after one shot. I was a little concerned about Tilly's reaction to the gun, but it was another thing for her to think about "Big bang = dead scary thingy". She was right by my side as we walked up to the bear.

Unfortunately, I never learned whether her lessons were learned. Very shortly after that, she bit my husband over the duck. He was trying to stop her from killing the duck and she bit him. He has no tolerance for a dog who bites a member of the family and neither did I. It could just as well have been one of my boys. Tilly never saw another sunrise, or even the end of that day for that matter. She was gone by the time I got home from work.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Unsuspecting Family

My brothers, Jon and Mike, decided to come visit us one fall, only they wanted to surprise us. It seems they found a map somewhere that showed a road coming out here. I don't know where that map was, but believe me there is no road out here and won't be one any time soon. The closest thing that qualifies as a road is about 3 miles long from one end to the other and is located 15 miles up river from here. The end of car civilization, or even 4x4 truck-ability is over 60 miles down river from here.

I'm not sure how they managed it, but they got a hold of our neighbors. Our neighbors are only 3 miles away. Not far, you say. No it isn't, but it is through totally undomesticated wilderness. Now, this is nothing new to Jon; he's trekked through a lot of uncharted wilderness around the world, but still, Alaska wilderness is not some place you just hair off into. At any rate, our neighbors talked them out of the surprise and we picked them up from the plane.

I think for them I was still 'little sister', and all I could do was ride a horse bareback. When they brought home a bunch of trout and I set those golden brown, fresh caught fish in front of them for supper, they were surprised. Wow, little sister can cook! I cooked up every fish they brought home that day, cause trout doesn't freeze well. Two trout per plate - those guys went to bed soundly stuffed.

I get ahead of myself a little. Picture this: my house is very small, but then it was even smaller - we've added a bedroom since they were here. At the time our house was 12'X20' with a short loft on each end - one for each boy. The boys bunked together in Christopher's room and Jon and Mike took the other. With two extra, full-grown men in the house, there wasn't much room to move around any more. Fortunately, my brothers were interested in learning about our life which meant going outside.

Don gave them the tour of the yard and they talked saw mill and lumber, snowmachines, boat motors and ATVs.

At the time, I had a bear head plus the hide in the freezer. I don't remember why I had left the head in the hide but I decided that since my brothers were here, I'd get the thing out and finish skinning out the skull. Yeah, I wanted to show off for my brothers. I could do more than cook trout. Since it was frozen, I hung it from the rafters to thaw and unroll. When they came home from fishing, it was mostly unrolled but still too frozen to do anything with. I think they were stunned but I can't say for sure. I mean, how many of you can say your little sister can skin a bear? Ultimately the claws were set in silver and gifted to family members. My mom had certificates made up to go with each claw saying I shot the bear. It wasn't true, and she knew it, but it sounded good. I still have that skull.

One day, shortly before they left, we decided to take them on the walk they had been planning to take when they came. It would have been easy. There's a size-line between us and our neighbor's place - a cut in the trees, straight as an arrow. Getting lost wasn't what our neighbors were worried about.

Not far from our place was the first obstacle - a shallow ravine, not impossible to cross, but there's an easier way. This is the way the boys take with a snowmachine so, even though it's the height of summer, somewhat of a trail remains, plus, much of the way is a game trail anyway. Outside of that, grass, fireweed and assorted berry bushes and brush is all six foot plus tall and of course the trees are close together and towering. Almost all of us were armed. Don, myself and Donnie all had pistols on our hips, and a 30.06 was passed around to whoever wanted to carry it at the time. I think Jon and Mike were expecting a bear to jump out of the underbrush at any moment. I wasn't too concerned. We were making enough racket to drive any self respecting bear far away, but there was no point in pressing luck.

At one point along the trail, the boys succeeded in getting their uncles hunkered down close over one of the many freshly dug mouse holes. I couldn't hear what was being said, but whatever it was, Jon and Mike had been sucked in and they were all looking at this mouse hole. Then suddenly both Jon and Mike jumped back as if a giant something had just exploded out of this little hole and Donnie and Christopher were suddenly splitting a gut. They had pulled a fooly on their uncles with complete success. Watching from a short distance away, never in my life have I seen two men jump so far so fast. It was hilarious. I've been told what all was said but to this day, it's the vision that has stuck. I think we all laughed about that for at least the next mile if not longer.

By now we had to leave the size-line and go around a big swamp. Now we were dependent on the remains of the snowmachine trail. Course, even in the summer, we'd all driven it enough, we could recognize the different trees and obstacles along the way, plus there was a path along the ground.

Not much longer after coming back to the size-line was our next big obstacle, crossing a small creek with dry feet. All in all, it was a small problem since the water wasn't very high. It just called for a small detour.

Not very long after crossing the creek, the trail got interesting once again. Trees became further apart and the size-line wasn't so easy to spot any more. Long about then, the path we needed to take diverged from the size-line anyway since that line ended in the river that had come into view through the trees off to the right.

The next, and last, ravine we had to cross had been carved by our neighbor to make a snowmachine trail through it, so it had somewhat of a road winding down it and then back up the other side, but since it was a winter use thing, it didn't really look like much of a road. One machine wide and you didn't want to get in any kind of trouble on that part of the trail. It made for a rather easy crossing on foot though. That place was really quite steep and deep. Without that little trail, crossing it would have been very difficult if not impossible, at least at that point.

From there, it was a matter of knowing where to go cause finding the house that wasn't visible through the trees was interesting. Patty and Mike, and their two girls were expecting us and there was no little laughter shared over the plan to surprise us. Jon and Mike were very glad they had been talked out of it. We were all very tired when we got back.

On another day, Don took the guys fishing and then he came home less than an hour after leaving and he came alone. He came for dry clothes for Jon. Apparently my brother can walk on water.

They had stopped at a river-neighbor's place - at the time they were a small store - to buy some tackle. Jon pushed the boat off and was standing on the bow when Don put the boat into reverse. Jon wasn't as ready as he thought and the boat simply moved out from under him. Jon landed in the water (of course) - glacier water is VERY cold - less than a heartbeat later, Jon was on the bank, shedding clothes and heading for the store. He didn't even get his hair wet. The next day, Don poked an oar down where Jon went in, and even with a long oar, he didn't touch anything down there. Yeah, my brother can walk on water.

We took them to the plane a couple days later and saw them on their way back to civilization. The very next morning, the water had dropped enough that if they had not left when they did, they would have been forced to stay here through freeze-up. The boat was going nowhere. It was time to get the come-along out and pull the boat.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Getting ready to move out here, I had no idea how I was going to do the boys' school, so I got on the phone and did a little calling around. I found out that the state offered home schooling kits which included books, and teacher's manuals as well as lesson plans. Woohoo, one hurdle conquered. I sent off the application and then we moved.

I had the space in one bush plane, and not a big one either, to fill with all our worldly possessions, giving away or abandoning many of my bigger things. Anything with a plug was also left behind. Having visited, I knew a little of what I was getting into, but the whole school thing was one of those unknowns; I'd have to close my eyes and jump off that cliff when I came to it.

A friend of Don's with a snowmachine brought us a load of boxes long about Christmas time. Merry Christmas. Time to start school. Three big boxes full of books for each of the boys. When they said they'd send everything, they weren't kidding. There were of course the books, both what the boys got and the teacher's manual for each one. There was also any extra help papers and workbooks, extra project equipment should one or another of the subjects call for it. I've seen such things as a dehydrated fish for a dissection project - course the kids had both caught and cleaned quite a few fish by then so that package never got opened. There was calculators for math, a small globe for geography, test tubes for something in science, assorted reading books, I can't even remember all the extra cool little things they sent.

It took me a whole day to figure out what I was supposed to do with all this stuff and organize it so it made sense and I could find it when I needed it. My oldest, Donnie, was in 3rd grade and my youngest, Christopher, was in Kindergarten. The first day of school was really quite interesting. I had two boys in different grades and no idea how to handle that. So I started with Donnie. This is when I discovered that he could scarcely read. He could, but he need lots of practice. He tended to sound out the first letter and guess at the rest. So, to give him practice, I required that he read his assignments out loud to me - I'd help as needed. Then, just to make sure he was understanding the material, I'd read it to him before he did whatever homework that applied. It made for a very long day. Donnie was stubborn - just like me, and the only 'recess' was when I had to fix lunch or supper. When we finally waded through Donnie's subjects I moved on to Christopher's courses. They were much simpler.

Just as the grades were different, the boys were different too. Donnie would stall and lag about doing his work or doing it well enough to satisfy me, while Christopher wanted to soak up the new information like a sponge. Needless to say, where the teachers in town had only so much time to spend on any subject before they simply had to move on to the next, I had all the time I needed to wade through school with the boys, but even so there are only so many hours in a day.

There was a lesson all by itself in all this. One day, Donnie's lessons were quick and simple, done and over with in two hours - until then the typical school day for him was ten hours. I closed the last book and said, "OK, you're done. Go play." and reached for Christopher's books. Donnie sat there for a full minute. "Really?" he said. He was totally disbelieving that he was done with school and it was still light outside. I said, "Go. Go play." I think he ran around like a headless chicken for some time before he found something to do with his time. Never again did our school day last ten hours. Donnie learned that if he buckled down and got his work done and done right, he was off for the rest of the day.

The next year, we were invited to enroll the boys in the Skwentna school. That's where I learned how to deal with different grades in a one room school house. It was so simple. All the students did the same subject at the same time - Why didn't I think of that?

The next year, we home schooled again because we have moved upriver about thirty some odd river miles.

Then it was back down here again. We tried to run the boys up to school every day but it was so hard to get anything done at home and making the trip twice a day burned a lot of gas, so we bought a small boat with a 25 horse Johnson on it. I took the boys to school, hung around and helped out as I could and then brought them home.

Those trips were a story in themselves. We'd leave as soon as we could see, which got later every day. Fog on the river is frequent that time of year and more than once we'd attach a four-wheeler headlight to the front of the boat. In my opinion, it didn't really help all that much. Those mornings the tactic for driving was a series of drifts - drift to one side until I could spot some familiar landmark, follow that until I needed to be following something on the other side of the river, then drift over that way until I could identify something there. And if it was thick enough, one of the boys would lay on the front of the boat and watch for floating obstacles I really shouldn't hit.

Many is the times when I'd be driving along with the boys sitting side-by-side in front of me, hunkered down against the cold, rain, or fog, Christopher would doze off and start to tip sideways (no danger of falling out of the boat), his brother would reach over and grab his life-jacket and pull him back upright. It was nice seeing that. They've watched out for each other all their lives and still do.

Once our goal was reached, we'd park the boat, and then there was the three mile walk to the school house. A couple of the families (all two of them) had trucks, even the school had a truck but none of them were allowed to transport any but their own kids to school; the insurance wouldn't allow it. It was done though, sometime, it's just that there was seldom anyone with a truck where we were when we arrived and the shortcuts we took didn't take us past anyone's lane.

By now we had a snowmachine, but I wasn't so good with one of those so after freeze-up Don took them to school. Once again, that was too much cause he really couldn't stay the day; he needed to get firewood in and such. So, as soon as Donnie could start a machine and we were confident he could handle the drive, he drove his brother to school. We'd keep track of their progress by radio. We had a CB - most everyone on the river had one then. The boys were suppose to call when they got to school so we knew they arrived okay. The distance was too great for our radio to reach all the way to the school, but a neighbor who lived midway could talk to the school and to us, so they'd relay the message, either way if necessary. The good thing with snowmachines is they could drive straight from home to the door of the school.

Since we were living on a shoestring, we were constantly fixing and rebuilding various boat motors and snowmachines, so it wasn't too surprising to us when the boys would help some other student get their machine going at the end of the day either by doing some tinkering or simply being strong enough to pull the machine over enough times to get it going. Too bad the girls didn't seem to appreciate it as much as they should have. More than once, they stopped along the trail to do the same thing. I'm very proud of my boys.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cat Fishing

Everyone knows that cats can be very comical creatures. They chase most anything that moves and will go to great lengths to keep what they catch. Now, mix an avid fisherman with said cat and you have at least an hour or two full of giggles.

The first kitten we had was my first introduction to cat fishing. My husband cut the hook off a lure he called a coho fly, usually used to catch red salmon or cohos. However, out of season, say during the winter, they work great for cats too.

At the time, we lived in military housing and the only carpet was on the stairs. The living room was hard wood and the dining room and kitchen was linoleum. Since I really liked the hard wood floor, I didn't have any rugs.

Now, fishing for cat takes only a little patience and not a lot of skill but both will enhance the experience. Casting across the living room without taking out a light-bulb or knocking something off the coffee table takes some precision, not that I ever kept much on the coffee table but most any surface tended to collect something.

The clicking of the reel usually brought the desired target within a couple casts and the hunt was on. The optimum point of contact was right at the bottom of the stairs, and then, as soon as the catch was made, it was a hasty tug of war. Would the cat make it to the carpet before the fisherman could close the bale and retrieve the lure? Or would she be pulled, sliding, claws scratching and digging, fighting every inch of the way, across the hard wood floor.

But there was always the next cast, and sometimes she made it to the carpet, then the fight was truly on. With claws digging at the carpet and her teeth firmly sunk into the hair of the lure, she gave it all she was worth to keep what she'd caught. Her goal was to make it as far up the stairs as she could. My husband's goal was to reel her in, drag clicking away as he pulled at his pole just as if he were fishing for a lively trout.