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 South Fork Salcha Fire as seen from Quartz Lake
Fairbanks hit 90 degrees on Friday, which broke the record of 87 set in 1957. It was also the second earliest date, Fairbanks has seen the temperature reach 90. That record is 28 May, which was set in 1947. 90 degrees, is just too damn hot for Alaska, and those temps can stay in Texas. Luckily, temps are dropping down to a more Alaskan-like 75 for Saturday.
Lightning caused the South Fork Salcha fire, which has closed the Richardson Highway tonight near Birch Lake. The lightning strike occurred Thursday morning, and by Friday evening, the fire had reached 3600 acres. I noticed the scent of burning black spruce Friday morning, as I drove to the jobsite.
Summer has reached the Interior.
Dog days of winter?
I arrived back in Alaska on December 7th, and today was the first day that the temperature rose above zero since my return. I have no idea how many days it was below zero prior to my return, I’m told that it had been weeks. I do know that we have seen quite a few -30’s of late.
I knew something was off around 4am, when I woke up due to being too warm. It was -8 at 6am, and by noon the temperature had risen to a balmy +12F. Suddenly, my hat is too itchy, my coat too heavy, my feet too warm in the mukluks. It was invigorating!
The talk is for temps in the 20’s for Saturday, and I’m practically giddy.
Sometimes, it’s all about the simple pleasures in life.
A stack robber, or heat reclaimer, has been a popular heating accessory for decades in Alaska’s Interior. When I outfitted Alaskans for a living, I sold hundreds of these every year.
They install in the chimney pipe of either a wood or oil stove. The only difference between the two units, is that a wood stove reclaimer has the crimping going down towards the stove, and a reclaimer for an oil stove has the crimping going away from the stove.
The heat reclaimer has a series of 10 tubes, which the exhaust from the stove travels around as it makes its way through the chimney. The units are thermostatically controlled: At a certain temperature, a fan in the back kicks on, and blows the warm air out into the room. When the stack temperature drops to a certain level, the fan kicks off.
I do not run mine all of the time, but it’s quite the space heater when temps drop to minus forty or minus fifty. Since Alaska has some of the highest electric costs in the Nation, my bill definitely goes up when I plug anything in. Like anywhere, there is a price to pay for comfort.
The rod in the front, pulls a plate over the ten tubes, and clears them of any creosote that has built up.
As with any wood stove, what matters most, is burning dry wood. I have never had a creosote problem in either my chimney piping or in the stack robber, with dry firewood. There is no short cut here; I usually burn wood that has been seasoned two years, at the minimum.
It’s been a warm week here in Interior Alaska. 90 degrees hit Fairbanks, although I’m not sure if that was official “Airport Temperature”. It was over 90 on the roof I was replacing, let me tell ya.
How warm was it in the Far North? Deadhorse hit 85! Deadhorse!
This is what Deadhorse normally looks like.
Deadhorse lies at the Northern End of the “Haul Road”, or Dalton Highway if you prefer. It is just short of Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean. 85 degrees was an all time record high for Deadhorse. In fact, it was the warmest temperature ever recorded within 50 miles of Alaska’s Arctic Ocean coastline. The average temperature in Deadhorse at this time of year is 57 degrees.
Even Eagle, the little community on the Yukon River, hit 85 degrees.
I’m not complaining, mind you, even if I was hauling shingles and as wet as a good bird dog during duck season. The last time Fairbanks hit 90 degrees was in 2013. So far in 2016, Alaska’s average temperature is 9 degrees above normal.
Even at 85 degrees, it’s good to remember that bears like to wander around Deadhorse. As well as caribou, musk oxen, etc.
The 80 degree temperatures that hit Fairbanks last week set a couple of records. Officially, at the airport, it hit 79 degrees on Friday and 82 degrees on Saturday, both record highs for the two days. The 82 degrees on Saturday broke a record that had been set in 1915.
How warm was it? It was so warm here on Saturday, that our low temp of 59 (also a record) was warmer than the high temp of 47 degrees in Chicago.
On average, our high temp this time of year is 60 degrees.
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.