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.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Home Sweet Home

The home where I now live did not come easily, nor did it come quickly. When we first moved out here, we came with the clothes on our backs and what we could stuff in a small bush plane - not much when you consider two small boys too. My husband had been working out here for two summers now, and he was here when the rest of us came, but that didn't count for much in the possessions of a family. He'd been working for one of the lodges here and had been able to negotiate a lodge-sitting job for the winter - supplies once a month and a roof over our heads. The job required us to be there and little else. It was a start. It got us all out here. After that we hopped around the area, moving from cabin to cabin as opportunity permitted, and going as far as roughly seventy miles up river so Don could work out of his boss's place for a year. We even spent some time in Skwentna so the boys could go to the one-room school there. Now that was a learning experience, for me anyway.

We came by this piece of property through my husband's boss. They had claimed four plots of land, one for him and his wife and one for each of their two boys. Three of those plots they had been able to develop but one of them was down here at Lake Creek and far from the others so they just never got around to doing anything with it. They were about to lose it back to the state but we bought it for the price of the survey. Couldn't tell you what that price was but I know it was a lot cheaper than if you were to go and buy such a piece of land on the market.

The plot was 20 acres, but other than that, we had little more than a map and a compass to help us find the place. Now, they had marked this place once before, but we discovered that they didn't correct for magnetic north when they tied their little markers around, so we had to pace it off and tie new markers. So once we found our landmark, that's what we did. With a compass and a fifty-foot rope, Don pointed the way and me and the boys walked the rope along inch-worm style - so many fifty-foot passes one way, ninety degrees and so many passes another direction and on around until we came back to the beginning. Then it was call the surveyor to come out and put it on the map. Turns out we did pretty good. The surveyor was pleased with our efforts to make his job easier, cutting bushes and branches out of the way if need be. As it turns out, we got real close to 20 acres - 19.something-er-other so close it's not worth mentioning in casual conversation.

As we were trekking through this uncharted wilderness, we happened upon a small clearing that was more grass than trees. I was looking at the grass and thinking yard for the boys, and Don was looking at the trees and thinking lumber for the house. During the course of the summer we started carving a path from the river to our little clearing and making the clearing into something somewhat shorter than six foot tall. Yes, wild grass here grows upwards of six feet tall and there's plenty of other plants and bushes who do as well. Our weed-eater and chainsaw saw a lot of work before we spent the first night here.

Before we could stay here, we needed somewhere to stay. Don built us a visqueen house out of small spruce poles nailed and tied between slightly larger trees. In it we had room for Don and me to sleep on the ground and the two boys had cots. We had a wood stove for heat, a TV and a single light. At night we were a beacon in the dark. One night military planes flew over on their way to some night-time training exercise further north and I swear they circled around to check out the strange light in the middle of nowhere. I suppose it's possible it was just a second wing passing over but I've never noticed them doing that since.

Before we actually built anything, Don went around the 'yard' and cut any trees that looked like they might hit the house should they decide to fall. Several stumps were left behind but what couldn't be milled into something useful was turned into firewood and that too was useful. At first, he'd cut a tree down and then cut it up into usable pieces while the boys and I hauled off branches and piled up what he cut. Though we had picked a clearing, there were still many trees around and it wasn't long before Don was merely cutting the trees down to be dealt with later. I could only watch with sympathy as he'd cut a tree and then look around tiredly, and then he'd sigh as he spotted yet another tree that could potentially endanger the house.

It took us a week to build the floor. Don milled the beams from trees in the area and then posts were cut and treated to set in the ground. Shortly before we moved here, a neighbor wanted a cabin torn down. We could have any of it we wanted if we'd come do the work. We picked that building clean, leaving very little behind, taking even the nails if we could salvage them. The lumber from that building created three of our walls, cutting what we needed to mill by a lot. All we had to buy was the plywood for the inside and outside, and the insulation and vapor barrier. Oh and we can't forget the windows but they came later.

While Don was nailing lumber together, I was hauling it up from the boat, the boys helped wherever they could. That was a chore. Where we can park the boats is at the bottom of a hill, and at the time, there was nothing but a foot trail up it. Once on top, I had a three-wheeler and a sled I could haul whatever I loaded the quarter mile to the house. But that hill was, is, and always will be, a killer. One sheet of plywood at a time or a couple boards at a time and up the hill I'd go. The boys, bless their little hearts, helped however they could. They were hard workers.

Roughly a day per wall and another few days for the roof and we had a shell. Then it was stuff it all with insulation and cover it with plastic. We were rushing - winter was coming. Take my advice, never move into a house you haven't completed. It's very difficult to complete it once it's filled with all your possessions. We've lived in this house for over 15 years now (I think) and the upstairs still isn't finished. But, at the time, we didn't have a choice. As soon as the place was built enough to do, we moved all our possessions in and piled them in the middle of the floor to be sorted out later; daylight was gone and it was snowing outside. The boys claimed their bedrooms upstairs and moved enough of their stuff up there to sleep. Don and I parked our little mattress (twin size by the way) at the back of the house and then, while Don lit a fire in the stove, I cooked supper. Home sweet home.

The next morning I looked outside. The visqueen tent we'd been living in was only a few steps from our home-made front door. Our construction site had a fresh clean blanket of snow over it but one more night in the tent wouldn't have been a happy one. The roof had come loose and the middle of our ex-home now had a pile of snow dumped in it. We had to laugh. We squeaked in under the wire by the skin of our teeth. We spent the rest of the day taking down what was left of our tent-house.