I asked someone whose opinion I value what my next blog post should be on, and then I gave her a list of topics.
She said she liked them all, but what she'd really like was to "hear about how hard your life is--i.e., use propane to power what? Do you have lanterns like camping? You don't have a stove or oven, right? How do you get heat in your house--wood stove? ....How you have learned to co-exist with very dangerous animals. Stuff like that."
(She also asked about how we've adapted to the weather, but that deserves it's own post. Also, I don't think our life is all that hard. It just doesn't have a lot of luxuries. The ones we have, we appreciate very much.)
Okay, Nancy, this one's for you.
My propane usage is limited to a cookstove, which means just the burners since the oven is currently out of order. I also do a lot of cooking on the woodstove in the winter, and always heat water on it for shower and dishes, etc. Others use propane for hot water heaters and regrigerators. The problem with propane is that you have to cross a dangerously unpredictable body of water to get it. For a while my dad operated a propane hauling business in his boat. He wound up in some pretty treacherous weather, and it was a physically brutal job.
Another problem is that the man who now operates the propane supply is only there a few days of the week. Lining those days up with good weather is a hassle. Occasionally, we've called over when we were desperately low and he was kind enough to make a special trip into town (he lives out) to meet us at the propane depot and let us fill up our tanks.
Then there's the fact that propane is heavy. And we only have man and woman power to haul the tanks in and out of the skiff (or boat) and up a ramp to the propane supply. My dad tackled this issue by monstering up his handtruck. You've heard of monster trucks? Well, this is a monster handtruck. (See opening image.)
He's now the envy of all the local guys and more than one gal. They look at his ghetto-epic (as my nephew Sterling would say) handtruck with jealous, covetous eyes.
Some people have camping style lanterns, mostly for backup these days. I grew up with kerosene lamps and it wasn't until the '90s that I switched over to 12-volt lights and a battery-inverter system. We also run the generator for four hours every night to recharge the batteries and keep food in the freezer frozen. When the genny's on, so are my regular houselights, which is nice in the long dark days of winter. In the summer, when the sunset blends with the dawn, lights are rarely needed.
Wood heat all the way. I've been hauling firewood since I was four or five years old. It's hard to lose muscle tone when you haul firewood approximately three-quarters of the year, often every day.
When we were kids we got tired of the regimen. My evil genius older brother, Jamie, taught us how to hide the pieces of firewood all over the beach. My dad was none too pleased when he saw that the amount of wood in the woodpile was half what he'd sawed, chopped and sweated over.
Needless to say, we were sent out to recover every single piece of wood, making twice as much work for ourselves. The moral: Crime doesn't pay. (Or was it: Don't listen to big brothers?)
We lived next to a major salmon spawning creek when I was growing up so bears have just been a fact of life for as long as we've lived in Alaska. To keep us kids safe my parents tried various ideas: Telling us to sing loudly wherever we went to scare off the black bears (since we lived on the mainland we had both black and brown bears; on islands it's either/or); hanging open bottles of amonia on the trees around our house; teaching us kids a "bear drill;" teaching us how to shoot.
A few years ago we had a rogue grizzly breaking into homes. It broke the window in the cabin my aunt was alone in--ironically while her husband and local men were out hunting the bear. Fortunately, the little beagle she had with her was of a lunatic turn of mind and had such a fit at the intrusion that the enormous bear beat a hasty retreat.
I had an encounter with it on my morning walk. I stepped out of the woods and had gone about thirty feet when something made me look over my shoulder.
At the rogue grizzly.
It was about 25 yards away, looking right at me with nothing but level, unobstructed beach between me and it. Worse, I was upwind of it and a breeze was blowing my scent toward it.
I froze, remembering the hurricane-like damage it had inflicted on several houses in the area.
The grizzly lifted it's snout, sniffing. Then wagged it's head in a ponderous, unhappy way that might have been comical in other circumstances. It gave a short, stiff-legged hop on its front legs. All signs of mounting aggression.
I had three choices, as I saw it, since I didn't have a gun with me. I could run and have it catch me in seconds. I could drop and play dead and see if a rogue grizzly would play by the rules that I'd been taught as a kid and not eat me. Or I could move slowly and non-threateningly back into the woods.
I chose number three. I watched it with riveted attention (to say the least) as I eased backwards, feeling my way over rocks, grass and drift. The bear made huffing noises and bounced again on its front legs in a way that wasn't exactly heartwarming.
I made it into the edge of the woods. As soon as I was out of sight, I booked it for home. I'm pretty sure I broke a few landspeed records.
When my dad and I came back with his .416 the bear was gone.
I spent the rest of that year packing a gun everywhere.
Photos: Top, the epic handtruck; 2nd, the locals watching my dad unload propane tanks; 3rd, my mom's collection of kerosene lamps, now mostly decorative, but always ready to be pressed back into service if the generator dies, or we run out of fuel; 4th my dad doing what's second nature at this point, sawing up a log on the beach. Note the cane: he has bad sciatica, but it doesn't stop him from getting the job done; 4th, bear damage to a local's house; 5th, my dad shows how tall the rogue grizzly was. You can see the smudges of its paw prints on the window, the framing of which it tore away. My dad is about five ten.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)