Friday, May 28, 2010

A Fast Picture History...

For those who didn't know about our blog or weren't able to follow it this is a quick picture tour of the project. A more detailed description of our summer adventure can be seen by clicking "newer posts" at the bottom of each entry. That will take you direct to the next entry. Or for surfing the blog index month by month is located near the bottom of the right hand column.

The finished driveway complete with an adolescent moose keeping an eye on us. Moose were frequent visitors early in the project.

We are positioning the picture windows to overlook this view.

The cabin dried in. We departed south the next morning.

Now back to the regular blog sequence from May 2010.

Great, …. No, FABULOUS weather here for May. We have had 76-78 degrees for three days. Yesterday afternoon Paulette took a camp chair and sat by the river overlook with a book. Migrating ducks swam past, and other smaller birds hopped around looking for a meal. She commented several times about the awe of the place. The well is now drilled. The fellow who drilled it made an unsolicited comment about the lot. He said, “You have a premier property for Gustavus.” And went on to comment about the quality aspects of it like water table being better than other areas, along with the river frontage and view. I know it is redundant, but I feel blessed. I never dreamed we would own such a beautiful place. Most cabins around only have a view of tall trees. A few can see the mountains. And very few can see the river and mountains. I learned from a neighbor that there is a spring on our property. Sure enough, I found it. But in very dry periods like we are experiencing it has reduced to only wet ground. That spring will probably mean our water is excellent.
I ordered lumber for the cabin yesterday. It should be here in a week or two. Freight is about 30 % of the cost but my spreadsheet projection for total cabin cost is coming in pretty close to estimate. Some items, like the well, are more expensive than I thought. So is lumber freight. Other items are coming in for less money. They tend to even each other out. Today I hope to start setting up preliminary lines for foundation forms.
We walked out to the dock last Sunday afternoon for a stroll together, and were in awe of all the snow capped mountains around us. Kids were fishing from the dock. The sky was overcast but the temps were very comfortable. A bald eagle sat on a piling at the end of the dock. I took his pix but must have moved the camera so his magnificence didn’t come through and the photo wasn’t a keeper. Perhaps next time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 22+

Saturday, May 22.
Elm (the guy’s name. He insists his last name is not “Tree”) came this morning with his excavator and pulled the stumps and filled the ditch. He also moved all the slash piles to the clearing by the river where we plan to put the cabin. We now have a true mountain of limbs, branches, deadfalls, stumps, and roots waiting to be burned. Mid week we must have had a mosquito hatch. Our location by the river is buggy right now. Plus mosquitoes there don’t seem to know how to tell time. Mosquitoes are usually out early or late in the day. These seem to find us any time we stand still too long. This is the first trip I have experienced more than an occasional mosquito in this part of Alaska. It’s not a big deal, just a small glitch in what is otherwise fabulous country. Update: This morning a local fellow informed me this is normal when one cuts down trees and disturbs the ground. Mosquitoes apparently live in the three inch thick moss on the forest floor, and we have disrupted their habitat. He assures me the problem will diminish with time.
Gustavus is the rustic weekend get-away for a few folks from Juneau. I stood by the river with an Alaskan neighbor from Juneau who is building two lots down from us and we watched fingerlings flash the surface near a partially submerged log. He told me last summer he tried casting there and caught a salmon in no time at all. I am told folks will occasionally fish the river, but have never witnessed anyone doing so. The saying goes that good coastal Alaskans don’t eat salmon if halibut is available, and that has been our observation. The river has cutthroat trout, rainbows, dolly varden, steelhead, in summer pink salmon, and in mid-September coho (silver) salmon make their run. That’s a lot of variety at our front door. Plus halibut a short distance off shore.
The sense of community out here is thick. If someone is going into Juneau they often ask if others need anything. Folks seem to fall into two groups, those who try to help each other and those who do not. Joe describes it this way… there are those who are running to something and a few who are running from something. Not that the last group are criminals. In some ways I feel like a little of both. I love the feel of the place, the raw, wild, deep primeval forest with some civilized refinements like electricity and propane. And the peace: I am refreshed not being bombarded by the media with negative news. I enjoy a man’s word being his bond instead of needing a signed contract and a deposit.
Every so often we get a glimpse of what pioneering must have been like and wonder how long it took first-comers to clear 92 trees with an ax instead of a chain saw, or hack logs into a cabin instead of using sawn lumber.
The Point Adolphus whales are back from Hawaii. It was perhaps the breaching whales that affected me most about this place.
Paulette made a fabulous dinner tonight. I don’t know how she does it in our limited space.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Moose On The Loose

Thursday, May 20. Several ancestors of the original homestead families from the 20’s live here. This town has some street names that honor those pioneers. We are building on Parker Drive. Wilson Road and Rink Creek Road also reach back 90 years to some who homesteaded there. Then there are the other street names I like; Grandpa’s Farm Road, Glenn’s Ditch Road, and Same Old Road. It is all part of the mystique of Gustavus.

We have been living in the front 16 feet of the toy hauler for four weeks now. We dance a delicate dance to get past each other. I was tempted to remove the building supplies from the back to obtain more room but don’t want double handling of those items and have no way to transport the 16 foot roof panels except with this rig. If all goes well we will have the 5th wheel on our property in about a week to ten days. Then again perhaps that is optimistic. I am at the mercy of the excavator to get the stumps out. I have turned my attention to getting water (drilling or driving a well?), getting electricity, and implementing some sort of septic system. We made a LOT of progress in ten days; not one down day due to weather. I am pleased.

This morning I chanced to see a cow moose and her calf in the river. When they saw us they stared a while and then backtracked out of sight. Something in me said to be cautious so I had Paulette pack up her stuff and move toward the truck while I made two trips to the vehicle with chainsaws and tools. About ten minutes later Mrs. Moose was eye to eye with me on our property at about 60 feet. I didn’t take time to look for the calf. Instead I immediately ducked behind a slash pile where I was out of sight, saw Paulette coming back to me from the truck, and we both retreated with one eye on our back-trail. Just being careful! The moose didn’t show themselves again and neither did we. When I returned with the well digger three hours later there were tracks right where I had seen her. The tracks wandered up the “Avenue.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Last Three Big Trees.

Wednesday, May 19. A bit of light rain last night but the day was clear and sunny. The birds singing woke us about 3:30 but we fell back asleep. We did get the three big trees down today. My saw is 18” and they are larger in diameter than that so I don’t want to get into the middle of cutting and not have the saw able to complete the job, thus leaving a dangerous situation. So we cleaned up the trees I cut down yesterday by the top creek-bed. That took all morning. After lunch I cut the lower limbs from what we call “The Avenue,” our nearly 300 foot long driveway lined by trees a few of which reach a little under one hundred feet into the heavens. Joe came over late in the day with a bigger chain saw and dropped the remaining three with me. (He cut, I drove wedges). About 1PM Paulette said let’s count how many trees we have cut and removed. We both did a count. To our surprise our numbers came out higher than we estimated. She counted 110 trees including the little stuff. I counted 92 trees over four inches in diameter! Whew. That was quite a bit more than I estimated. At the end of each day my pants are covered with spatter of tree sap, and our gloves are heavily coated with the same. BTW… Flowers are blooming everywhere here right now. Many open spots are a carpet of yellow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hawkeye Strikes Again

Tuesday, May 18. I was cutting up a log on our property when Paulette yelled, “MEL, MEL.” I looked and she yelled, “There!” But I couldn’t make it out over the noise of the chain saw and thought she yelled, “Bear.” I looked the direction she was pointing and there stood a moose in the river, perhaps 200 yards away. He heard her yell and was intent on our position, but soon went back to grazing on willow shoots along the bank. Paulette grabbed the camera off the ladder and I zoomed in for this picture.
I measured one of the logs with a tape measure.
The log pix doesn’t show it but the bottom of the tape is even with the bottom of the log. We have three more over 18” trees to fell, perhaps tomorrow.
Paulette found what may be a redneck Alaskan satellite dish. (a 5 gallon bucket lid a neighbor uses to feed the birds his old bread).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday May (not sure of the date) 17?… We don’t have either radio or television reception out here, a reminder this is frontier. We ran out of propane in one tank during the night, and woke up cold about 6 AM. The clear dry weather and brilliant blue sky of Sunday translated into less humidity to hold the night temp up, and when Paulette went to take a shower in the morning we realized the 100 foot water hose from the house had frozen again. So much for a shower. That was a freak surprise as days are getting longer and longer. Darkness arrives about 10:30 PM and it starts getting light again about 4 AM. We have tin foil on the bedroom windows to help simulate darkness for sleep. If my 62 year old body would cooperate (it doesn’t) we have a lot of daylight in which to work.
We work ourselves hard. Today I would fell, cut into pieces, and stack and load the firewood while Paulette picked up and piled slash. If one of us gets ahead of the other we shift over to help. We now have five jumbo piles of slash to burn. Several stacks are 9-10 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Paulette packed a lunch so we sat on our promontory overlooking the river and ate. She commented, “First meal on our property.”A few bugs showed up today in the warm mid-sixty’s temps. Mostly mosquitoes and a few flies. We hardly noticed them until we would took a break. Then they would locate us as a stationary target. I have not counted but suspect we have dropped and swamped (a logging term for cleaning up brush) about sixty-five trees. Only a bit over a dozen more big ones to go. Some days if we are dealing with monster trees (70-80 feet tall) we can only do three in a day. Today we did mostly smaller stuff, 5-9 inches in diameter and 30 to 40 feet tall. They have less slash than the big sentinels so we conquer 7-8 a day. Either way we are beat at the end of the day and sleep well. We both feel this may be the hardest work we have ever done in our lives. We only have 2-3 more days of this... but three of the biggest trees yet to deal with. I am not looking forward to felling one of them as it is hard to detect any lean. The other two will be easier… I hope. (They don’t call them “widow-makers” for nothing.) A twelve inch fifty footer we did today started to go the wrong way and Paulette and I both put our backs into it to try to redirect the fall while it was still almost vertical. Amazingly, after several tries it did a partial pirouette and went where we wanted. I promised Paulette I would not do any of the monsters when I am alone. A decade ago if anyone had told me we would be felling 80 foot tall spruce trees I would have thought they were crazy. By the way, I got Paulette behind the steering wheel of the truck for the first time a few days ago. I felt it was important that she know how to drive it.
No more moose by the RV but we see fresh tracks each morning on the property. The chain saw noise probably keeps them away, which is a good thing while we are working. Geese migrating north stop and feed by the river. And some beautiful black and white ducks like an adjacent sandbar, but they take flight when we come to the edge to observe them.
In the pix with Paulette and the chainsaw you see a wall of mostly small trees and three twelve inchers behind and to the left of her. All those trees are now removed. I paced it and we have cleared 280 feet fifteen feet wide, as well as most of a 100 foot diameter circle at the end for the cabin. Only peripheral trees and those that hinder the view remain.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lumberjack progress

The top pix is the view we should get from our cabin front windows. The next pix is of the landing craft approaching Gustavus with our 5th wheel trailer aboard. You can see the snow covered mountains and a few houses along tree line. Finally the Raptor and truck loaded on the landing craft ready to put to sea.

Wednesday, May 12. We started a little earlier today amid a few sprinkles. Temp was 42 degrees when we got on the property at 7:30 AM. But within an hour the weather cleared and temps gradually came up to the low 50’s, which is good working weather. With this hard work I sweat at fifty degrees and have to un-layer. When walking off the property at the end of the day Paulette commented how excited she was about the project. We work together step for step, and are both beat at the end of each day. She mentioned how she has a new respect for pioneer women.

Thursday, May 13. Early this morning while Paulette was getting ready I fixed the old chain saw on the kitchen floor. A good day overall. I think we felled and cleaned up eight trees. The new driveway area is now 240 feet long. There are still about thirty trees, seven or eight sizable, to be dealt with. The big ones are up to 20 inches in diameter at the base and reach anywhere from 70-80 feet tall (my best guess). I can feel the danger when cutting one down. I make sure Paulette is well clear. Most trees lean slightly this way or that. The ones I don’t like at the ones where you can’t detect any lean. Mixed sun and clouds again today. Perhaps 60 degrees for a high. I was down to a tee shirt.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gus in Gustavus

WE ARRIVED!!! Address is P.O. Box 227, Gustavus, AK 99826-0227

Monday evening I was adding a little to this daily narrative and saw a movement outside our 5er bedroom window. There stood a moose, about seven feet high at the shoulder and perhaps twenty-five feet away. I must say that a moose at such close quarters is a magnificent creature. Paulette came up to watch with me. It sauntered past, sniffed the truck, and walked on. I realized my camera was in the truck. One does not go outside under such circumstances as moose can be unpredictable. Folks up here consider an enraged moose to be among the most dangerous animals in Alaska. After I figured Mrs. Moose was a safe distance away I ventured out and grabbed the camera, only to see her hind quarter disappear into the forest. It’s Alaska.

Saturday May 8 was a glorious day. I awoke at 5:30 AM to the vibration of four diesel motors pushing the vessel with our truck and trailer to Gustavus. I climbed the ships ladder to the pilot house and beheld an almost cloudless blue sky with a background of the Fairweather Mountains dressed in pure white in the morning alpenglow sun. Paulette flew over in a small airplane. We were invited to park on a friend’s lot between thick forest of spruce trees. By 2PM we were on our property looking for boundary markers. Somewhere along there I realized I brought the wrong survey tape (colored plastic stuff you tie to markers and trees). I brought bright lime green. The trouble is everything up here is green, and in spring lime green and spring green don’t offer much contrast. We confirmed we have cell service at our property, though we do not have cell or internet where we are staying as it is farther out of town. I found two hubs which identify the northernmost property boundary. We are going to have to scrounge for the other borders. At one point I caught Paulette crying. I asked if everything was ok and she choked, “It’s so beautiful.”

We sleep very well. Nights have been cool to cold but days see the temperature swing 30-40 degrees. Sunday morning we turned on the faucet and had only a trickle. The reason is the hose from the house almost froze. It was 27 degrees when I got up briefly at 3 AM. After a few minutes of running the flow came up as the ice in the hose melted. Spring is here, but back in this thick forest the sun hardly reaches the ground. They say spring comes five miles from the ocean a month later than it does closer to where we will build. We notice the temp on our property is warmer but I’m not sure how much.

Up here in winter sunlight is valued more than trees. I wanted a forest feel but Joe urged me not to spare too many trees, especially to the south so the sun can shine in windows as much as possible. That was good counsel. He has lived here 19 years and built several houses and is a wealth of Gustavus savvy. They invited us over to dinner our first night and he wanted to see the house plans. He asked many questions, among them, “Can you see the Fairweather Mountains from your property?” I never thought of that. I realized we need to look beyond the trees and meadow.

I called Kent, who came up here with me three years ago, from the property on Saturday and he asked me whether I felt the same about the property as when we first saw it. That was an excellent question. I have to say I actually like it better. And to see Paulette’s reaction made me happy. Joe drove his motorcycle over Sunday afternoon and we walked the property boundaries together. I wanted his input on where to put a cabin. He trumped my idea about putting it on the meadow. I won’t say where he would put it until I can post pix of the view. But once we clear the trees it may be a fabulous front yard. Time will tell.

Monday May 10. Happy Birthday to April. More great weather today. Probably hit 60 degrees. Good working weather. Mom and I began the task of cutting down trees on the property. We are both beat tonight. We have a slash pile about 8 feet tall in one day. But the view is worth the work. This morning we tried to get a P.O. Box number for snail mail. But they require two forms or ID and we only had one. So we will have to go back tomorrow. I broke the pull start on my chain saw this morning. It’s the old one. So I am having to use Paulette’s chain saw, much to her chagrin. I can fix the old one given time. The mouse pad on my laptop seems kaput. The mouse pointer goes crazy. No problem if I plug in my external mouse.

Tuesday AM. Another cold night back here in the forest, and when I peek out the window I see a gray sky instead of blue. Paulette and I cleared more trees, this time doing a 12 inch diameter spruce tree that stood 60 to 70 feet tall. Playing lumberjack is hard work. The cutting is fun. It’s the cleanup of the slash that goes slow. Lots of walking dragging limbs to a slash pile.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dyea and the Blue Canoe

While waiting for the ferry south we had a morning to kill so visited the old site of Dyea, the 1890's jumpoff place for miners before they climbed Chilkoot Pass in the gold rush days. In 1898 there was an avalanche on the pass which swept many miners and even a few wives to their deaths. This cemetery was the interment place for those who perished in that avalanche. There are approximately thirty graves, almost all marked the same day in 1898.

While hiking back from the old Dyea townsite we came across this bear track in the path. It may have been there when we hiked in. The track measures about 7" across. We were the only tourists out there so I asked Paulette if she thought we should purchase some Bear Deterrent Pepper Spray. She didn't hesitate.

Our ferry, aka the Blue Canoe. All the Marine Highway ferrys have white superstructure and blue hull. Hence the nickname. As you can tell from the background the scenery was majestic, especially evening with the setting sun illuminating white snow capped mountains.

Today I took a little personal excursion while Paulette was checking the backs of her eyelids for holes and this is what I came upon....

Yup, it's a porcupine eating willow buds.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tueday, Day 5 Alaskan Adventure

We did not have internet for a few days so this post will bring you up to date and may be a little longer than normal.

We pulled out of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory Sunday AM amid light snow flurries and headed for Skagway, Alaska. Mid trip the scenery became majestic. Again, the road was mostly deserted for the 125 mile trip. As we climbed the pass to drop into the Alaska side of the mountains snow intensified, and everything around us was almost totally white. I figured we had to start the descent soon and wasn't too concerned because the roads, though wet, were clear. At times the cut banks revealed eight foot high snow from winter. That fog looking cloud up ahead is falling snow.

When we reached the summit the road narrowed and tall poles lined both sides of the road to show the snow plows the roadway when the snow is deep.

The downhill was steep and curvy and I held our speed at between 25 and 30 mph. When we pulled into US Customs and I opened the window to talk to the agent I could instantly smell brakes, but the brakes performed fine even if they did get hot. A few questions later and we were back in the USA. Now to find a campground in Skagway. We chose one from a book and drove directly there. True to form it wasn't yet open for the season. So we backtracked and found a less nice site for one night. What the site wasn't the owner was. He was a great help and very nice to us. He was busy with other tasks so told me to just stick some cash under the office door when we left. In many ways that is the mentality in these small towns. Twice I have taken my credit card into a station only to be told to pump the fuel first, then come in and pay.

As we walked through downtown Skagway suddenly we were startled to see an advancing traffic jam in this village. I realized a ferry was in and releasing cars. Our schedule indicated the next ferry was four days away, so we rushed to the truck and drove to the ferry terminal to inquire where they were going and whether there was space available. A helpful young man named Drew said they were booked solid but took our info and the next morning found us a spot on the ferry that day, a day the book said a ferry wasn't operating. Consequently we were in passage down the fjord to Juneau last evening. Backing the 50 foot 5er/truck combination on the ferry was part of the adventure of getting here.

A few hours later we picked up more vehicles and passengers in Haines. Paulette and I decided to spend a little time relaxing in the lounge. A young man sitting alone in the corner of the near empty lounge caught Paulette's eye. She asked me, "Is that Tim?" I said I didn't think so. She persisted and so did I. Finally I was out of argument, got up, and asked if he was Tim Ewing. Yes he was. For the next day Hawkeye loved telling me (with a smile) how I was wrong and she was right. Tim, Paulette, and myself sat together and laughed and talked and enjoyed the view for the next three hours. The funny part is I have known Tim since he was a teenager, perhaps 20 years. I may need new glasses.

The ferry pulled into Juneau around 1 AM. We were both beat after a long day. Because our rig was first on we were practically last off the ferry. We camped in Camp Safeway (Safeway supermarket parking lot) until dawn. In daylight we were able to find a RV park. The weather today was fantastic. We are ringed by snow capped peaks and I am walking about in a tee shirt. Much nicer than the cold days we endured driving the interior.

We have a punch list of things to do before the rig gets barged over to Gustavus. Because we are here three days early we are not pressed. Tim advised that the local Home Depot has a bargain bin. I planned to buy a cheap mud room exterior door here, and a dormer window. On a cart marked 70% off was a special order door. Someone bought it and returned it we were told. It was too narrow for a normal front door so they kept making it down. I got out a tape measure. The door was exactly the width I wanted for the mud room. After all the blessings of appliances, hardware, etc. I hardly expected any more windfalls. We now have a custom door for the price of a cheapie. I stand in awe of the continual blessing of God in our lives on this project. Oh, we did have to pay retail for the dormer window. But it qualifies for the tax credit.

The first cruise ship of the season pulled into Juneau today. We beat the rush! Speaking of beat... I'm going to bed early.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saturday May 1, Day 3 Alaskan Hwy

A vista heading into the western side of the continental divide. (click on any pix to enlarge it).

One of many frozen lakes along the route on Friday & Saturday

The signpost forest in Watson Lake. This was started by a homesick worker on the Alaskan Hwy back in the 40s with a single sign saying the name of his home town and the distance to home. Today it covers a country block. There are thousands and thousands of destination signs from all over the world. We found signs for Hesperia, and San Bernardino.

Paulette taking a stretch break along the Hwy. The 5er is pretty dirty with road grime. Hard to tell in the pix but that lake between the rig and the Mountains is frozen.

Ice breaking up on one of the rivers.

We are as far north as we will get on our journey. Tomorrow we turn south for Skagway and depart Canada. I got a lesson in how far north we are when I looked for a RV campground here in Whitehorse, Yukon. The first one was closed; not open for the season yet. That has been the case for most RV campgrounds along our route yesterday and today. The second was open, and though a bit spendy I took it. Once registered and paid for I went to hook up and found the hard way there is no water or sewer service. I walked to the office and asked about it, and said the rates were pretty high for only electric hookup. She said I could have my money back if I wanted, but they are the only RV park in town that is open, and went on to explain that the reason is permafrost (her term, actually it isn't permafrost this far south). The ground hasn't thawed enough yet to turn the water on or to convey the contents of holding tanks to a septic system. I guess I'm thinking like a Californian, not Sgt Preston of the Yukon. Consequently we are parked for the night at the only game in town as the Wal Mart parking lot is full. They do have showers in the main building we can use. I wondered if we came too early, but in actuality we are right on the cusp for up in the interior, so down at lower elevations should be perfect.

Today was fantastic viewing (again). We only had 270 miles to traverse so took our time. We went through snow covered mountains, along frozen rivers, and beside many frozen lakes. The animal count was down today, at least I think it was down. We came upon a small herd of caribou, but they were back 100 yards (ok, meters here in Canada) from the road in the trees and I only managed to count a handful before we were past them. There were many more. It was like the forest was slowly moving. Plus one traffic jam for a black bear. A traffic jam up here is when there is one car pulled over taking pictures. In this case it was a tourist in a rented RV. We both laughed. Bears aren't in any shortage up here. I guess it was the first one they saw on their trip. The roads were better today and the hills less severe.

We crossed the venerable Yukon River today. One thinks of Jack London stories and the gold rushers of yesteryear. A few hundred yards from our camp is a huge sternwheel from an old riverboat.

Tomorrow we drop down to sea level and warmer temps... and thawed ground. Then wait a few days for the ferry. We'll be back in the USA so I'll have the phone turned on.
Mel & Hawkeye