Friday, October 25, 2013

Heat Waves and Cold Snaps

We woke up on Wednesday to a 26 F morning, one of the colder mornings we have experienced out here.  Then on Thursday morning we awoke to 13 F outside and 57 F inside on the main floor of the house.  When I went up to my office to get some work done around 10 am I dressed in fur lined boots, a lightweight down jacket, wool cap, fingerless felted wool mittens, two pairs of socks, long underwear and pants.  Knowing I would be sitting most of the time, therefore not creating any real body heat I felt I might have overdressed.  A few hours later I added on two blankets and refilled my tea pot.  
We have been blessed with an unseasonably warm fall which has kept our firewood usage down to a minimum and has allowed for an easy introduction to heating a 2300 square foot home solely on wood

  We awoke this morning to a thin blanket of snow, a narrowing river edged with thin sheets of snow covered ice, and slushy icebergs rafting swiftly down the river. It wasn’t until the ice started flowing in the river that we really got an accurate sense of the speed at which the river rolls along.  It has a smooth surface, almost like a lake, but the water runs deep and wide, carving its way along the taiga forest banks, finding its way to the Copper River.

      I find I am mentally trying to wrap my brain around the mind-numbing cold this place is known for and the perpetual darkness that December brings.  I’ve spent time this far north in the winter before, for short trips to The Cabin in Denali State Park, which sits right around the same latitude as The Moose Lodge.  But never anything below -20 that I can remember.  Tales of -50 below zero winter weather that can last for days or even weeks.  Temperatures have been known on occasion to dip lower than -50.  Which makes me shake in my 
not-nearly-warm-enough boots

    During the winter of 2009, the coldest official temperature for Tok (which is  our closet "town"), was -63 F, though at an  
amatuer weather station in Tok, the lowest recorded temperature was -80 F. Though we've been told by neighbors that "it's much warmer here in the winter compared to Tok or Glennallen", I take that to mean -40  F when Tok reaches -60 F, we'll see.

We made another trip to “Town” a couple weeks ago and were gone for three days.  Since we have no secondary heat source (i.e. oil, propane, etc.) at the present moment, the temperature in the house dipped lower and lower as the days went by and as the outside temperature dropped to 20 degrees, per the nearest DOT weather webcam.  When we returned home it was 46 degrees in our house, and 30 degrees outside.  Robbie Cat seemed slightly irritated, but mostly relieved we returned home and promptly took his place atop the cat tree next to the wood stove while we got it going.  My mom had joked that when we would got home we would find Robbie Cat frozen in place, a kitty cat popsicle. Thankfully that wasn't the case.  Our days of leaving home and heading to town as a whole family may be over until we figure out our heating situation, unless we want to come home to a cat popsicle.  I don't think I could take that.  

Woke up to a frosty pair of forgotten bogs on the front porch. 

Proof of the unseasonably warm
 temperatures we've been having. 10/16 
Exhausted from our three-day adventure in town I came inside the house after unloading the truck and washed my hands.  The water felt as though it had ran through a river of ice, before finding its way into the plumbing of the house.  I could feel the icy mountain air swirling around my fingers as I tried to wash my numb hands and stood there in amazement at how cold the air and water felt, through it was a relatively warm 46 F inside.  

The big topic of conversation this month is: 

“How will we stay warm this winter?”

     The wood stove we purchased to serve as our primary stove is not throwing the kind of heat we’d hoped for, and as a result we are exploring “plans 
b, c and d”. Parke has been shouldering the research end of things, reading through some literature
 our friend Gregg provided on this exact topic.  Times like this make us especially thankful we have friends with big libraries, years of experience, and the generosity to share information with us.    

      Sometime last week a Craigslist search unveiled a wood fired furnace in The Valley (a 5 hour drive) that was made in 1983, the same year as The Moose Lodge was built and coincidentally the same year of my birth.  The cost of this used 30 year old furnace was thousands of dollars less than the cost of the new furnace so we decided
to give it a go and Parke made a short trip to town and back, with an overnight at my parents house.  

The night Parke was in town I spent the majority of it lying awake, tossing, turning and listening to all the things that went bump in the night.  Which is to say I heard everything in a 3.6 mile radius.  Honey sensed my unease and did her best to help by growling angrily at the front door, which did nothing by frazzle my tired and not-so-tough nerves.  At least she tried.  Because of the modern conveniences this place offers: electricity, indoor plumbing, wood fired heat, and high-speed internet you don’t feel so far away from the world.  

All of that changes when the wind starts to blow and night falls, and your husband is away from The Lodge.  Of course within an hour of Parke’s departure the wind started to howl and I started to feel like we had moved a million miles away from everything and everyone.    
      I called my mom in hopes of soothing my mini-anxiety attack.  It helped, but it was one of those moments where I realized the totality of what we have done moving here,              so far away.  That thought led me to listen to Carole King, brew a pot of tea, then assume the fetal position beneath my Unique quilt.  I laid there and thought about things for a while. 
Made with bandanas my dog Unique used to wear, she died on 4/18/13.

The kids were busy doing arts and crafts and watching Milo and Otis for the 4,052nd time and since the bed is within arms reach of the dining table where the activity was going on, I was physically present, despite feeling a million miles away in my head. Deep breaths followed and then came the renewal of my faith and determination.  Relief. 

The space we (currently) primarily occupy is our living/dining room, kitchen, first floor bathroom (a simple toilet and a sink), and the arctic entry way.  Sure our “stuff” occupies about 75% of the available floor space throughout the entire house, but we physically spend most of our time on the main floor.  A twin bed for George has turned the couch into a square with a hollow center.  A small patch of carpet, and an obstacle to overcome in order to find comfort on the couch, or what is also being used as Maya’s bed.  
   Kitchen and Main Entry

Dining Room/Living Room

These photos were taken before we moved all of our stuff in...

\ Our king sized bed is in the dining room, our night stand is the kitchen counter and a TV tray housing my mass of Lodge essentials: three hats (lightweight running hat, thin cotton hat, warm winter hat), a thin pair of running gloves, fingerless felted mittens, bag balm, lip gloss and a touch light. Underneath the TV tray I have three pairs of slippers. Two pairs of wool socks. A pair of compression socks. And my knitting.  Wool, double-thickness, boot liners that I am working on finishing. They will be felted, and super warm.  The assortment of various hats, gloves, socks and slippers serves an important purpose.  Layering.  As the temperature comes up in the house with the manning of the wood stove, I can wear thinner hats, gloves, socks and slippers.  As the temperature drops, I pile on the layers.  

Our home is a densely packed space, with small trails around the main living floor.  An obstacle course of boxes, dog beds, furniture, and kids toys.  If we didn't bother to clean up the mud and slush that the kids keep tracking through the house we could charge admission and hold a “Tough Mudder” here inside The Moose Lodge.  This arrangement challenges both my allergies and my propensity for order and the importance of things in their proper place.

The real trick of navigating the maze that is our main floor comes in the middle of the night.  This house went without commercial power until 2006.  2006.  Just seven years ago. 

        Back when me and Parke met and were brainstorming our wild dreams about non-electric power tools and rustic living, The Moose Lodge was our dream before we knew it existed.  

     This house went without commercial power before 2006, there was a generator in use, but I suspect they kept it as limited as possible.  Proof of this exists in the lack of outlets, light switches and overhead lighting throughout The Lodge.

      A generator fire and subsequent power outage reminded us that we aren’t quite cut out for such rustic living, not yet anyway.  The lack of outlets and light switches makes navigating this space nearly impossible, even for me and I am known for my cat-like nighttime vision.  If you’re smart enough to remember to carry a flash light with you at all times it isn’t such a big deal, but I am not well-trained enough yet and so a quick look at my feet and shins will tell you the story.  I stumble around this place, trying to find my way, persistence and determination fueling my journey to the bathroom at 3 am.  Where the $%#! did I put that touch light? $!% @!*# @! 

We had a power outage for work that needed to be done to keep the power on for good.  Thankfully it lasted an hour and didn't give me heart palpitations like  the last outage did when the community generator burned to the ground in: What Would Laura Do?  This message was delivered by Maya via the school bus driver.  It has been sent to the school via fax.  I feel likeI am in the dark ages out here, just a little.  Fax? 

I haven’t taken you inside The Moose Lodge yet until now and for good reason.  Where does one begin?  There is so much to say, do, and consider when working on this place that words and rational thought process hold little to no value in a place like this.  The “as is” presents a series of cobbled together MacGuyver-like feats that made me smile with appreciation at the ingenious ways in which this house was brought together, and in the same breath make me shudder and shake wondering what we have gotten ourselves in to.  

Then I remember the breathtaking sunrises....10/17
And the gorgeous sunsets.  I snapped this photo (L) at the end of an incredible 4 mile trail run on 10/23 
That incredible trail run sent me through the woods, over the frozen swampy tundra, through semi-frozen mud and muck puddles, around the big lake, back through the woods to the creek, then along the creek and back home to the rivers edge just in time to capture the tail end of the magic sunset.  The skies had been less-than-spectacular for much of the day, some sun, but nothing to indicate a spectacular sunset was in our future. As we headed back to The Lodge the sunset took a sudden unexpected turn for the epic.  The skies were painted in apricot, gold, and orange, then the layers of blues and pinks.  I was standing on the edge of a clearing and could see the sky from
The Mentasta Mountains all the way around to the Wrangell
 Mountains, then out towards Glennallen.                                                                                                                  

Mt. Drum sits behind the first range, bathed in 
golden sunlight. 10/23

Wide open spaces. 10/23
Same spot as above but with Parke on the ATV and the Kids in the trailer.  I did my trail run with them and ran with the dogs.  The kids get a kick out of that.  It's just like having your very own aid station, cheering squad, and sag wagon all in one.  Which is to say it's totally awesome!  10/23

Multi-layered sunset through the aspens. The "home stretch" of my run that night.  10/23

      Remembering the magic this place delivers up on a daily basis, everything gets put back into perspective and it all seems manageable again.  The many daunting house projects no longer feel like weight on my shoulders, but instead it's absolute freedom.  Everything comes at a cost.  Our cost for freedom was: cold and acceptance.  Living somewhere that gets really cold is an exercise in respecting the cold and accepting what you cannot change.  
The cold (and darkness).  

      Living in an unfinished log cabin that was the work of the original homesteaders lives requires respect for what was accomplished, appreciation for the ingenuity it took to put this place together, and a calm acceptance that it will take time to figure this place out and make it Our Homestead.  Again it comes down to cold and acceptance.  Cold because we haven't got our heat situation figured out and it is almost November.  Acceptance of the fact that house projects are like life, you have to take it one day at a time.  It is going to take time to get this place figured out and move forward in the right direction for us, for this place.  I am breathing and giving thanks for this adventure, taking it one day at a time, sometimes moment to moment. 

     Living in the moment.  It's a totally new way of life for me.  I have never been able to live in the moment before while being still.  Running and cycling were the gateway for me to experience what it was like to be in the moment.  When you are running really hard you have to be in the moment. You have no other choice but to focus on the task at hand.  As you start to realize you have exceeded your V02 max and you can feel the lactic acid filling up in your calves you must be  In the moment.   

     Through endurance training for triathlons, half-marathons and one marathon I began to crave that feeling.   Running, biking and swimming until I had experienced all the being in the moment I could handle.  Endurance sports were the only vehicle I had to get me there, to that blissed out, living in the moment frame of mind.  Until I came home, to The Moose Lodge.  Being here it is easy to be in the moment and you don't have to be doing a damn thing to get there.  You just have to sit and be.  Even my mom who struggles to be in the moment more than I generally do, made that observation as well.  She could just sit. Be. It comes easy out here.