Civil twilight ended on Sunday morning in Fairbanks. Monday was the first time since May 16th, that we have not experienced civil twilight at night. All night. Basically, during civil twilight, the sun is just below the horizon, which allows for most outdoor activities to take place without artificial lights. As if to punctuate that fact, when I returned home from the working-fishing trip, my security light came on for the first time in months.
Fairbanks community wood pile
I needed one more truckload of firewood to put me over the top for the coming burning season, so I went the easy route and picked one up. The wood has now been hauled, split and stacked. It’s a good feeling to have all those BTU’s piled up outside the cabin. I’m ready for a cold winter, but if we have a mild one like last year, I’ll have quite a bit left over.
Fireweed past bloom
Fireweed is our unofficial harbinger of darkness. The plant blooms from the bottom to the top. When we reach the peak of the fireweed blossom, like we have right now, residents of Interior Alaska feel a natural sense of apprehension. Summer is nearing its end; winter is close at hand.
What about autumn in the Interior? It’s beautiful, and to be honest, September is my favorite month up here. With a little luck, autumn could last a good 3-4 days.
As I loaded the truck this morning for today’s job, I caught a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. I stood still, watching and waiting. Sure enough, a hyper, yet timid weasel showed itself from my wood pile. It made a rush at me, stopped halfway to size me up, then ran back to the stacked firewood. I kept watching, and the weasel became bolder, venturing out further and further from the wood pile. Eventually, I was ignored completely, and the weasel went about its morning activities, hopping onto a railroad tie, and then slipping down into the marsh.
I assume it’s a least weasel, and not the short tailed variety, due to its small size. It’s coat has already changed to all white, with the exception of it’s black-tipped tail. At approximately six inches long, the weasel is a little bundle of energy. I’ve never had a weasel in my wood shed, and I always felt like I was missing one of the most important aspects of burning wood for heat. I’ve had friends with a resident weasel, and Dick Proenneke famously wrote about his, which he named Milo, in his wonderful journal: “One Man’s Wilderness”. Of course, with a home territory of several acres, the weasel may have just been visiting the wood pile. Still, I’m hoping it takes up residence, even if that multi room condo will be decreasing in size as we progress through the winter months.
Weasels can be ferocious predators, and will take on animals much larger than themselves. With their high metabolic rate, weasels need to consume roughly 40% of their body weight daily.
The hardest part about leaving Alaska’s Interior in the winter, is returning to the Interior in the winter. Especially, when you rely on a wood stove for your heat source.
It was in the vicinity of -22F outside when I unlocked the cabin door. My ride from the airport was in a car with a thermometer that stops at -22, and my outdoor thermometer finally gave up the ghost around September.
The thermometer inside the cabin clearly read -15F.
Get a fire going in the wood stove.
Start the truck, and let that warm up.
Add firewood and plug in the stack robber.
Drive to the store to pick up enough groceries to get me through a day or two.
Return to a slightly warmer cabin, add firewood, turn on the heated mattress pad, then walk over to the neighbor’s for dinner.
What actually happened:
I left Alaska in such a hurry that I forgot to have kindling ready.
First step was to put on a hat and warmer gloves. It was 6pm.
Second step was to split some spruce for kindling.
Once the fire was going, I went out to start the truck, but my neighbor did not plug it in like I requested. For the first time, my Chevy did not start.
Plugged in truck.
Returned to cabin to add firewood and plug in stack robber.
Walked over to the neighbor, and casually mentioned my truck did not start.
Borrowed neighbor’s warm car to drive to town.
Returned with groceries to a cabin that had warmed to -5F. Progress at 8pm.
Walked over to neighbor’s for a strong cocktail, and dinner.
Returned to my cabin at 10pm to add firewood and crank up heated mattress pad to a level I’ve never experienced before. The cabin was now at +20F.
Went back to neighbor’s for another cocktail.
Returned to my cabin at midnight. The air temperature was +55F inside the cabin. Tolerable. I filled the wood stove, and went to bed exhausted. I had been up for 23 hours. Love travel days.
Was awake by 7am. The cabin was now 65 degrees. The water jug on the counter was starting to thaw; those on the floor were still solid blocks of ice.
It total, in took 36 hours for the cabin to truly heat up, reaching all nooks and crannies, and for walls, furniture and a fully stocked wood pile to stop radiating cold.
Chevy starts up immediately after being plugged in overnight.
It’s the first week of May, and this Alaskan’s thoughts turn to…. Winter.
Winter never seems to really leave us up here in the north; we are either in the middle of it, or preparing for it.
My sole heat source for my time in Fairbanks has been firewood. My cabin uses 4-1/2 cords, on average, during the winter months to heat my place. If I have 5 cords stacked, I know I won’t use it all. So every autumn, my goal is to have 5 ready to go. Sometimes I hit that mark, and sometimes I don’t, but I do make an honest effort to have those five.
I stopped by another contractor’s shop this week and he had a beautiful stack of birch logs out front. His goal was to have it all cut, split and stacked by the end of Memorial Weekend. I had a serious case of Birch Envy, but I also had some logs of my own to deal with.
I had cut up some nice spruce for a customer last year, and had hauled the rounds over to my place, where they sat all winter. I had also cut down several trees for a neighbor last fall, and they too, sat laying on the ground all winter. With a couple of off days this week, I cut up the down trees and stacked the firewood in the woodshed. Today, I went after the pile of spruce rounds with the maul.
The first week of May, and I figure I have 2/5 of my needed BTU’s for the next winter. This is why I rarely have time to fish for salmon unless it’s January.
“If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the weekend in town astride a radiator.”
Interior Alaska had another 5.0 earthquake on Monday. Due to my incredibly full summer, I’m just now getting around to my own needs, so I was hauling and stacking firewood when the tremor passed underneath. I’m proud to say I actually felt this one.
When the shaking stopped, I wheeled over another load of wood to the woodshed, and found that the first row of stacked firewood now had a pronounced bow in the middle of the row. Since I live outside of any city limits, my wood pile is not subject to inspections by the city seismic engineers. I can build any type of woodshed I want, and stack it any way I please, without any governmental interference.
Now some people would claim that the bow in the stacked row of wood after a 5.0 earthquake just goes to show how we need seismic engineers inspecting our woodpiles before some sort of firewood tragedy happens. Of course, those people live in Anchorage, or locales further south.
It may be true that my stack of firewood would not pass the seismic engineers inspection. Each log is not tied to the other with structural ties; they just kind of lie there on top of each other, in a now, somewhat wavy wall of birch & spruce. The way I look at it, the wall may have a bit of a wave to it, but it survived a 5.0 shaker. How many wood burners in Minnesota or Iowa can say that?
So I made an attempt to push the wave back, then put up two more rows of stacked wood to cover, and theoretically support, the wavy row. I go into this new, wood burning season, with full knowledge and understanding, that if we get another 7.9 like the 2002 Denali Quake, I’ll be picking up and re-stacking some firewood.