A January Day in Uganik: 24 Hours of Remote Alaskan Life
A starry sky surprised me one morning as I stepped outside. The night before had been rainy and the forecast was for more strong northeast winds bringing wet with it, but the stars foretold a beautiful sunrise and a wonderful start to the day.
This break in the weather called for a little outing, something to get us away from breathing the insulation dust that infiltrates our senses as we work on making our floor warmer, and to give us a mental rest from finessing the interior paneling on a small room we call the “guest/crew room” but which also houses tools and storage food like our canned goods. Indeed it was time to enjoy our beautiful surroundings!
After coffee and our typical “speedy breakfast” of homemade yogurt and canned raspberries that we picked and preserved last fall, fortified with peanut butter, I timed the sun peeking around the southerly mountain ridge at 10:18 am as we set off. It wasn’t a good day to go high, since we knew a storm was heading our way bringing winds to the mountains first, so we opted to hike the valley behind our house. On either side of us rose 2,000-foot peaks topped with snow. Not a cloud blurred sky, but we could see spindrift lifting in white spirals off the ridges to our north and were glad to be down low.
Below the snow line, we tromped through frozen grasses and bare salmonberry canes, avoiding alders and willow thickets, crossing partially frozen swampy ground, our feet crunching loudly. Deer, sunning themselves on this rare calm, dry day, kept popping up in front of us and bounding away. As we got closer to Little River Lake, gnawed beaver sticks and dams became more and more common. We kept an eye out for the busy animals, but not one appeared. An orange fox lush in her winter coat made an appearance at only 30 yards. At the halfway mark atop a small vantage point, we stopped for water, adding a layer against the rising cool breeze, appreciating the calm and stillness of this interior part of the island, a place neither of us had ever been to before. At the lake, our agreed upon turn around point, we could see tracks in the ice where days or weeks ago a ski-plane pilot had done a touch and go above where sockeye salmon eggs were laid, waiting for the spring warm to return. Aside from that, no human traces marked our surrounding wilderness.
Clouds, which had been building up to the north gradually became denser and darker on our homeward journey, and by the time we were back in familiar territory and in view of the ocean again the sky was uniformly gray. I could feel the humidity building along with the wind, but we slid and scrambled down the hill fast enough to beat the weather coming in.
Rain started pattering against the house just as we sat down to lunch. We enjoyed a massive salad of kale, collards, and chard which had survived in our greenhouse due to the very mild winter Kodiak has had, boosted with sprouts we'd started a couple days ago, all topped with lots of our own canned Coho salmon from last fall’s catch, along with the last tomato that remained from supplies we’d brought out from town. Well fortified, we popped outside to make sure everything was put away that shouldn’t get wet and brought in a few armfuls of dry firewood to last us a while, since the forecast was for a long storm.
With the early darkness of January settling upon us and the wood stove popping and crackling, we worked on some indoor projects – painting and putting in more electrical outlets - and then decided to make soap out of the deer fat we had rendered down last fall and stored in jars. This soap is a nice cold-process bar soap that we’ve made before; it is so soft on our skin and miles different from the store bought stuff. We've even made laundry detergent with lye and deer fat with great success, albeit with different scents!
As the aroma of rose and sandalwood soap perfumed the house, it was time to get on to dinner. Venison felt appropriate. I opened one of our pint jars and tipped it in a cast iron pan, added a bit of tomato paste, brown sugar, and lots of balsamic vinegar, along with some water and pepper, and let simmer away. Delicious! We ate it on the couch, lit by our year-round Christmas LED lights and candles, while watching YouTube videos of far off destinations we might travel to, courtesy of our satellite dish and powered by our solar panels and battery bank.
After washing dishes and tidying up, we luxuriated in the sound of rain on our roof with a warm hearth inside. The longish hike brought on the sandman easily, but later the wind came up as predicted, waking us with big gusts shaking the building and loud waves crashing on the beach - not soothing sounds to our inner fisherman. Rather than tossing and turning in bed, it was more comfortable to light a fire, make hot cocoa (before coffee), and read on the couch, reveling in the change from crystal starlight 24 hours ago to the wild beauty of this winter storm.