A young moose blocks my way to the job site on Wednesday; its twin was eating willows in the slough to the right.
Winter 2019-2020 seems to have dragged on forever. We are finally turning the much anticipated corner into spring. I understand, for some of you, briar & tick season leaves you feeling itchy over the upcoming season, but up here in the Far North, I’m more than ready for spring. Without any hockey, we might as well melt the ice.
Spring officially arrives early this year. We have not seen a spring this early on the calendar for 124 years. Looking at the snow still on the ground here in Fairbanks, only the warmer temps signal any sign of spring.
Here in Fairbanks, we have finally pushed over the 12 hour mark for daylight. We gained 6 minutes, 44 seconds from yesterday. That makes both the moose and I happy.
Forty Below brings calls about frozen pipes when you work construction. I’m not a plumber by trade, but when Fairbanks hits a cold snap, there are not enough plumbers or heating guys in the north for all of the calls. I don’t go out of my way to do these jobs, but if one of my regulars tracks me down, I’m not going to give them the cold shoulder.
The pictured cat belongs to one of my regular customers, and she does not like to be ignored. This was not the first time I’ve ignored this cat, only to have it leap upon my back, or shoulder, or use my leg as a scratching post. A thick work shirt is required here.
The cat is a curious creature: always fascinated with the work I’m doing, the tools of the job, and the materials needed. A newly opened wall is an invitation to a new adventure, and a ladder, of any kind, causes a race to the top.
The house also comes with a dog. The dog is not curious. In fact, the dog is a bit of a coward. Any work I do, sends it off shivering to the farthest corner of the house from where I’m working. The shivering often comes with a lot of whining. In the summer, I can let the dog outside, but at Forty Below, I’m stuck with the high pitched soundtrack coming from the corner.
First time in my life I find myself less of a dog-person.
A recent job had me “installing” a phone booth outside a customer’s home. The booth is complete with working pay phone and light. I have not had many requests in the past to get one of these back in working order, but I do like to diversify.
Good things to keep in mind for a future install: A pay phone weighs 55 pounds, so shipping to Alaska is quite hefty; a phone booth, can, with difficulty, be moved by one person with an appliance dolly, but it also slides like a blunt bobsled on the fresh snow.
Possibly one of those only in Interior Alaska moments.
I spent one day this week, out in the sun, finishing up a rope bridge that I was commissioned to build. The decking of the bridge had been completed last fall, and now I was back to add the rope-work for the “railings”.
I heard the moose munching on willows long before I saw it. They are not quiet eaters. A shrub or tree would move, but it took quite some time for the moose to show itself. Oddly enough, it was when I was out on the bridge weaving the manila rope into place that the moose reacted. It kept snorting at me.
At first, I was a bit offended, taking the snorts as commentary on my work. However, I came to the conclusion, that the moose simply did not like me hovering in the air, at a height allowing me to look down on the moose. As I continued to work, the snorts were then followed by hoof stomps and another snort. It really did not like me out there on the bridge. Eventually, the moose had enough of my bridge building, and I heard it splash about in the pond behind the house. It had gone for a swim. It was a warm 75F degrees, and I couldn’t blame it.
Unfortunately, the pictures are pretty poor, as I only had the cellphone with me on the job site, and I’m shooting into the sun on top of it. I watched it swim around, and splash about the pond for a good 15 minutes, before I had to force myself back to work.
Cabin life alongside the Chatanika River; Camera: Widelux, Film: Kodak Ektar 100
I have worked every day since last Thursday, attempting to get a jump on a large project. Early on Friday, I will have put in 80 hours this week alone. Luckily, I do see the (head)light at the end of the tunnel. I am close to passing the job onto a subcontractor for next week, which will allow me to get back to a more normal schedule.
Until then, I’ll think back on lazy days on the river as silent motivation.
What an Alaskan does upon returning from a month long sabbatical:
The view from Murphy Dome in black & white
Spend the morning fixing a customer’s plumbing problem. Like most plumbing problems, the job took two trips for fittings. Like all seemingly easy jobs, the customer added two new problems upon arrival, which had previously “slipped their mind”.
Buy potting soil.
Order flooring for a job that is two weeks away.
Buy tomato, pepper and squash plants.
Set up rain barrels for customer. Repair barrels where customer broke fittings. Reinstall water pump for garden from their pond. Let out their dog and chase it around the yard for a few minutes. Scratch their cat, so it doesn’t feel left out.
Stop by post office for mail, and Fred Meyer for just a few groceries.
Load truck with tools & materials for the next day’s job.
Uncover 1 ton work truck, that has been parked all winter. Hook up battery tender.
Take phone call from customer that wants me to hang several bird feeders. I caution customer that bird feed, especially black sunflower seeds, attracts bears, which she has had several visit in the past. Bird feeder job remains in limbo, as no decision was made.
Remove door to Rover hut for the season.
Unplug refrigerator to defrost, before restocking. Plug in the Rover’s fridge to substitute for the next 24 hours.
Hike out to back 400 pond with Leica to check out the nesting trumpeter swans. The sun is wrong for good pictures, but the reward of watching the swimming pair from the brush is still high.
Haul out deck chairs; put away snowshoes.
Drop window awning, because cabin was 86 degrees when you returned home this afternoon.
Crack open a beer and grill a chicken breast and zucchini.
Contemplate that tomorrow is really going to be a hectic day.
We have had a fairly mild winter so far in Alaska’s Interior. There have been a few nights in the -20F range, and little to no -30. As we pass the half way mark, my wood pile, much to the resident weasel’s delight, has well over 50% remaining.
On Saturday, the high temp barely made it to -25F, and Sunday morning it dropped down to -36F. For us, that isn’t drastic cold, but we’ve been spoiled of late, and the drop has people chattering. It also caused the phone to start to ring. Like natural disasters, cold weather brings work for the contractor. A call requesting exterior work was met with a chuckle, and the response: “Not until it warms up”. A call on Saturday night about frozen pipes required a schedule change. I don’t enjoy dealing with frozen pipes, but at least they are not my pipes.
As the forecast stands, there will not be much of a break in the cold front for a week. Next Sunday, we may near single digits below zero, and we currently don’t have positive temps on the agenda until Monday.
The blueberry season this year in the Interior wasn’t anything to write home about. They were out there, but you had to work for them and cover some serious ground doing so.
The raspberries this year have been another story. They seem to be everywhere. There are plants around my cabin that I didn’t even know about, and they are loaded with berries. Anytime I want them, I just go outside the door and fill a bowl.
The raspberry patch in the photo I have known about, but the wasp nest came as a bit of a surprise, although it probably shouldn’t have. In the same area of the “yard” last year, wasps had completely encased an old bird feeder with their nest.
This summer has not been a “bee year”, as I have not had any issues on any job sites at all. I usually get chased down the extension ladder once or twice in a normal building season, but that has not happened this year. In an actual “bee year”, that has been known to happen several times a day.
It is wise to never limit any one of your senses when hiking in Alaska.
This comic reminds me of a time I went for a walk with my dog after a miserable day at work. I was not far from town, but my mind was focused on the terrible day I had, and not on the trail.
My dog and I came around a corner, and spooked a large bull moose. It should never have happened, there was plenty of opportunity for me to spot the moose long before I did, but I wasn’t paying attention. The moose lowered his massive rack, and charged directly at me. I was within mere feet of that mighty bull, when my yellow lab charged the moose, barking up a storm. The bull turned his charge, and my dog sauntered over to a bush to lay down his scent. His job was done, disaster adverted, it was time for more important things.
The entire event lasted only seconds. The bull stood by the forest edge, giving me the stink-eye. My heart was pounding through my jacket, and my Labrador wanted to know why we were flushing moose and not grouse.
It was a lesson I never forgot. If you can’t keep your mind on the trail, stay home and burn your dinner instead.