This was my view yesterday morning as I sipped my coffee. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty, I decided I needed to put my cup down and go be a part of it! I paddled over to the other side of the lake and marveled at the colors surrounding me. As I sat there in the quiet, I heard a bull moose grunting, looking for a fight, way off in the distance. I practiced my moose call for a bit, trying not to giggle. That always ruins it. The swans on the back lake must have heard me because they flew over, making a wide arc. Of course I had to talk to them, too. I asked them if they were flying south for the winter. I was given a single “honk” as my answer. I wasn’t sure what that meant. A little while later they were back, but this time they had three babies with them. I am convinced they brought the cygnets over to show them to me. I suspect that we will get to see some flight training over the next week or so as they all get ready for the long trip that lay ahead of them.

People often ask me why in the world I would want to live out here, off-grid and off the road system. Why would I not???

We have a male pine grosbeak who has been hanging around. He isn’t scared of us one bit. Almost every morning he flies up to our window and hovers, looking in at us. He does it again and again…going on two years now. Sometimes Shon or I will stand at the window while he hovers. If it is me, I talk to him. When we are sitting in our chairs on the front porch, he flies up to the bird feeder like he owns the place, not bothered by us at all.

He has a female companion that we call Wilma. She’s a bit more skittish so I haven’t gotten a good picture of her. It looks to me like Fred has been trying to tell her that we won’t bother her. We were sitting in our chairs a few days ago, enjoying the Alaskan beauty, and here comes Fred. He eats a bit from the bird feeder. I laugh about him not being scared of us. All of a sudden, Fred flies right at me, makes a turn, and flies in front of Shon, missing us by only about a foot! We both pop our heads back, totally surprised!

Friendly Fred

In just a few minutes, here comes Fred again, this time with his lady friend, Wilma. He has convinced here, apparently, that we are no threat. I’m not sure what that conversation was like, but she is now making regular appearances at the feeder, even when we are present! I’m convinced I’m going to get a good picture of her soon!

A few days ago, Shon and I canoed across our lake. We took a short hike across the hill to what we call the “back lake” which is actually named Dog Leg Lake. We were checking to see if the lake was ice-free. We are waiting for a friend to come to pick us up in his floatplane. He is not able to land on our little lake, but the back lake provides a bit more room for his plane to land. We were happy to see that the ice was moving out! I was also happy to see my swans, Orville and Amelia. With the backdrop of Beluga Mountain, I had to stop a moment and take in the view.

Beluga Mountain and Dog Leg Lake

We marked the runway with 3-foot stakes with black trash bags tied to the top during the fall.  They helped make our frozen airstrip more visible.  At the beginning of breakup, the stakes were stuck in the deep ice.  A couple of weeks into our warmer weather, Shon went out and picked up the ones he could.  He got a little nervous about the condition of the ice on the east end, so those markers remained.  Saturday morning Shon and I decided we needed to try to get the remaining stakes.     

We have been watching the lake lose its snow and ice slowly over the last five weeks, watching the markers tip over and fall as the ice finally gave way.  About a week ago, we took the canoe out for the first time, but could only paddle around the west end of the lake.  Now that over half of the lake was ice-free, and much of what was left looked rotten in places, we thought we might be able to navigate to the runway stakes that were floating along the still-frozen runway.

It has taken us about four years to travel in the canoe without arguing over our paddling, our lack of paddling, paddling on the wrong side, not paddling hard enough.  We have developed a system over the years that seems to be working, finally.  I sit in the front of the canoe, Shon in the back.  I paddle from the right side.  I can’t even think about paddling from the left side because it messes everything up.  Shon steers from the back and paddles from either side, sometimes using the paddle as a rudder. 

The challenge of maneuvering through the ice tested our skills like never before.  We had to communicate like a team, discussing where the floating ice looked like we might be able to get through.  We identified a course of action, then paddled like never before to try to break through.  It was reminiscent of the game “Red Rover” we played as children.

Sometimes we were successful, other times we found my end of the canoe on top of an iceberg, with Shon’s end still in the water, which wasn’t nearly as painful as being unsuccessful at “Red Rover” as a nine-year-old.  We tried the scoot method, trying to shift the canoe enough to go up and over.  That never seemed to work.  I had to dig my paddle into the ice and push backward, freeing the canoe.  When we were both floating, we had to find another passage.  One time we hit a section of ice and tipped the boat a bit to one side, eliciting blood-curdling shrieks and screams from me.  Shon said nothing until we had righted ourselves.  Then he calmly stated, “That would have been really cold.”

We finally found our way through the maze of ice to the edge of the frozen runway to retrieve the floating runway markers.  We paddled home, proud of ourselves. By the end of the day, the lake was free of ice. If we had just waited a bit, gathering our markers would not have been as challenging, but not nearly as fun!

Shon in the canoe
Our icy runway

We had two moose waiting for their birch buffet this morning. When we drove up to harvest another tree for firewood, they both took their places out of our way. The first one found her spot under a spruce tree about thirty feet away and laid down. The chain saw didn’t even seem to bother her. She knows that when we leave, she gets to eat. The other one is still a bit skittish. She got a little farther into the forest and hid behind some trees.

We worked with one eye on the moose. We know they are dangerous, but they are enjoyable to watch. Not very often do we get to see one relaxed. While the hubby cut a tree down, I took pictures and enjoyed seeing the cow twitch her ears and look around. When the tree fell, the moose got up for a moment, turned around, then laid back down facing the opposite direction. There for a second, I thought she was going to come right over for her breakfast!

It gets lonesome out here in the wilderness of Alaska. I haven’t seen another soul except for my husband, Shon, in over a month. I do my best to make friends with the wildlife. I fed the chickadees all winter and were excited when the pine grosbeaks showed up! We have that one bird, Fred, who flies into our window each morning to say, “Hello!” I talk to the trumpeter swans, Amelia and Orville when I see them. I even got as close as I could to Melissa the Moose. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw a cute little bushy-tailed squirrel on our front porch!

Suzie the Squirrel

The squirrel found the little pieces of bread that I had laid out for my birds. She grabbed a bit, took a few nibbles, and scurried away. In a few minutes, she was back! This time she was taking her time, so I grabbed my camera. I was snapping a few pictures when Shon walked into the room. “I have a new friend!” I exclaimed. Shon took one look at the squirrel and said, “That squirrel must die! Can you imagine the damage that thing could do if it got up into our attic?” My heart sank.

I was in our room a little while later making up the bed when I saw the squirrel scurry by the window, headed for another snack. I heard Shon in the living room, getting his gun. “RUN, Little Squirrel! Run for your LIFE!” I shouted in my head. Several shots rang out. I knew that squirrel must be zig-zagging, taking cover when possible, avoiding every bullet. Shon is an excellent shot, so I knew that my new friend must have some serious skills.

After the shooting stopped, I removed the bread from the front porch, hoping to avoid another confrontation. I’m afraid Suzie the Squirrel might not be as lucky next time. As of today, my new little friend still lives, but Shon’s rifle is reloaded and ready to go. And Shon keeps looking out of the window with a murderous gleam in his eye.

Iditarod 2020 on the Yentna River

We live about 3 miles from the Iditarod Trail between the start in Willow and the second checkpoint in Skwentna. All up and down the river people come out to cheer for the dogs and mushers on their 1000-mile journey. We like to go to the Northwoods Lodge gathering every year where Eric does a great job building a terrific bonfire. He’s even upped his game with Swedish Candles.

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