"What did you say?" My sister Megan looked at me like she couldn't believe what she was hearing. As if I'd morphed into a monster (or our older brother) right in front of her. It was just one hour into her visit up here to Alaska this summer and already she looked like she was regretting it. Actually, she looked like she was about to hyperventilate, meltdown, and possibly die. "What do you mean your French Press is broken?"
She stared from the package of ground Starbucks' French Roast in her hand and then to my apologetic face and shook her head. "Nooooooo. That's impossible!" She sounded just like Luke when Vader tells him the truth about his parentage.
"I've got another one coming in the mail," I said soothingly.
Fat lot of good that did. She knew perfectly well that we get mail once a week by floatplane, weather permitting--a whole week, possibly longer, without coffee? I could see she was about to faint, or her head explode, or both at once, so I thought fast.
There was only one thing to do: It was time to pull out my wilderness life-hack super powers!
"Now don't go dying on me," I said encouragingly, in my best Jim Carrey voice. "I've got it covered."
Daring to hope, since her big sister had never let her down and had even saved her from lynchings, stranglings, and other older-brother mayhem in our childhood, Megan watched trustfully as I compiled what I needed on the kitchen table.
I unearthed the cup filters that I used in the winter when I melted snow for drinking water to filter out pine needles: the Styrofoam cups I had on hand for when water got low and dish washing wasn't possible; and--most importantly--the otter coffee mug that an otter-obsessed reader of my blog had sent me.
With the knife I pierced holes in the bottom of a Styrofoam cup, stuck the filter in it, poured in some of the ground coffee and held the cup above the mug as I poured hot water over the coffee. Voila! Megan was saved!
Unfortunately, there were unforeseen consequences to my life-hacking super skills. As it turned out, the coffee in the mug was about 5 ka-trillion times stronger than any coffee Megan had consumed before.
The next thing I knew she was out on my floating walkway jump roping like mad, water splashing in all directions. Then she had a sledgehammer and was pounding on a foam-filled tire (usually used for dock bumpers). A manic gleam in her eye, she ran to me, panting, and said, "I need more otter coffee! Otter coffee! Otter coffee! I need more otter coffee!"
A litte worried about what was happening, I nevertheless gave her more otter coffee.
Off she went, running back and forth across the beaches, leaping rocks, climbing cliffs (in her rubber boots no less), and racing after whales. She is now known as Runs With Whales.
"Otter coffee! Where's my otter coffee?" she howled.
Frankly a little fearful now, I gave her more otter coffee.
She starting flinging flour and yeast around and made maple bars, using some very old maple flavoring that had, unbeknownst to me, turned into pure alcohol. The Booze Bars combined with the otter coffee and exploded inside her. She tore off into the teeth of a gale, laughing like a maniac as I followed, more than a little frightened. As she stood on the cliffs of insanity, taunting the waves, I wondered how to wean someone off otter coffee. Maybe, if I could get a good signal, I could Google it?
Before I could do so, she turned to me, with the waves pounding and bursting around her, blonde hair whipping in the wind, and yelled, "I need more otter coffee. By the way, where's the machete?"
I slowly backed away. "Otter coffee? And a machete?" This did not strike me as a good combination.
I was wrong. It was an inspired combination! For the last few years since I started my blog and column the only way to send them off with pictures attached is to go to the one beach where there's a good signal. I have to wade through a sea of entangling salal brush to get there. When it snows or rains I get soaked when I struggle through it.
Well, once Megan had juiced up on the otter coffee and snatched up the machete, she went at the salal brush like Alan Rickman goes after the bad aliens in Galaxy Quest. Before I knew it, as she hacked, tossed, and hacked, I had a hallway through the brush that I could stroll through easily.
This time, when she came up for air, eyes wild, I was the one who suggested, "How about some more otter coffee? Oh, and by the way? I could really do with some kindling stocking up. Feel like cutting some?"
"Otter coffee. Kindling. Otter coffee." She nodded, her hands jerking spasmodically.
It was the best wilderness life hack so far! By the time she left, I was set for the coming winter like I'd never been set before.
This blog is dedicated to my otter-obsessed friend. I couldn't have done it without you! It is thanks to you that we got so much accomplished and filmed this summer that we've managed to put it on Megans YouTube channel, you can view it HERE.
(Disclaimer: Do not do this at home. I'm an experienced wilderness life-hack expert.)
I decided to put up a new category called Re-Purposing after I went to do a blog post on the subject and realized I had way too much material for one post. Re-purposing is a way of life in the bush where it's hard to get access to materials, especially on the spur of the moment. Besides, no one in the bush likes to throw anything away if they can possibly give it new life as something else.
Take, for instance, the picture (above) that I'm going to use for all of my "re-purposing" posts. My mom loved her charmingly old-fashioned alarm clock, so when it unexpectedly flat-lined and couldn't be resuscitated, she decided to re-purpose it as a picture frame and put in it a not so American Gothic moment between her and my dad when we first moved to Alaska. I think it looks terrific.
For myself, I recently realized that I needed a mobile, smallish bookcase that I could put my library books in. Usually they're stacked on the table, or next to my bed, or wherever I can find a clear space for them. But I wanted them all in one place that was easily accessible and could follow me wherever I needed them.
Looking around, I spotted a battered suitcase that I was getting ready to throw out.
Suitcases have a rough time of it in the bush. This poor thing has been hauled in and out of skiffs, wheeled up and down steel-grate ramps and the warped planks of docks, and been soaked in salt spray. On one memorable return trip, after landing in the village via floatplane, a local offered to give me a skiff ride home. When we got to where the tide rips get bad and started bucking into eight and ten foot waves, the local decided he'd had enough.
Instead of returning to the village with him, I asked him to let me off on the nearest rocks with my luggage. I had so much that I had to do a relay hike over the rocks: Walk ahead so far and drop them on the rocks, then go back for the rest, and repeat--for over an hour. This suitcase got dragged and bumped over every rock, barnacle, and weathered chunk of drift wood in the area. But it survived to travel another day. ( In addition, my Maine Coon Katya made her displeasure at my leaving known by attacking the case with her claws whenever she got the opportunity.)
Because of its faithful, uncomplaining service I was loathe to destroy it, but since its zippers no longer worked, there was a hole in the back, and the front was Katya-clawed, I didn't know what else to do with it. Until it struck me that here was my mobile bookcase!
All it took was an hour of sawing a 1x6 piece of spruce into sizes that would fit inside the suitcase as shelves, nailing them together, fitting them inside the case, and then spray painting them black to match the luggage. And voila! I had my mobile bookcase to shelve my library books in.
The painting in the background is my sister Megan's art. For more of her paintings go to www.madartdesigns.com.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)