Winter Solstice Thoughts

I think one of the important draws to living out in bush Alaska is that we are a part of something bigger, raw and real, without guard rails keeping mother nature at bay. Both of us like challenges and the visceral reality of life lived in concert with nature. At the whims of tides and wind, we love the slower pace of life at home. Our interpretation of modern-day subsistence living causes us to simplify and to develop and hone skills at a very concrete level, while literally living the big picture. Sometimes it seems our life is a macro view in a panoramic landscape. If we had millions of dollars, we would still choose to live where we live.

As we ready ourselves to head to our remote home, we look forward to shedding some of the “necessities” of modern urban life like cars, phones, and television. However, we aren’t purists. A few of civilization’s offerings do go with us in the boat when we have room for the extra weight. Staples, maybe unchanged since pioneer times, allow us to build our meals from scratch. Seasonings, baking supplies, cheese, coffee, mayonnaise for Tollef and dark chocolate for Adelia are regulars on our pantry shelves. We make sure to bring all the tools, parts, and supplies from lists we made previously, and hope we haven’t forgotten anything critical. Removed by 60 miles of open ocean from any kind of store, we live by a couple of old family depression-era mottos often repeated by Adelia’s mom: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” and “Waste not, want not.” When we come up with a way to get by with what’s available, making sometimes very creative repairs, when in the city we’d unthinkingly just go to the store and buy new stuff, we feel that our forebears would approve.

Living on limited alternative energy power forces us to be efficient, to pick and choose what we use electricity for. Instead of a power hungry electric toaster, we use the broiler in our propane oven, and there’s no clothes dryer in our world. In order to save time, we do have an old beat to hell and back washing machine that lives outside under an overhang by the woodshed. Its gray water is biodegradable soap and filters eventually under the garden. Mostly we have enough sunny and/or windy days to dry our clothes, but scattered showers sometimes provide an extra rinse, with the wood stove inside providing back up for the last drying needed, making our home smell so clean and fresh.

Learning new skills and becoming better at those we do have is built into the grain of this kind of life, keeping us engaged and mentally limber. There is basic stuff like figuring out electrical wiring or carpentry or gardening, but troubleshooting is maybe the most needed skill. When an outboard lift motor goes out, is that the motor itself or a blown fuse or a chafed wire? We’ll use a multi-meter to assess what is broken and what isn’t, picking up knowledge and experience along the way. Our food depends on learning what we can do to prevent pests like deer or slugs, or to encourage plant and tree health with compost, kelp or wood chips. For this aspect of life, we have a big library on Alaska things and a few wonderful people to consult, but we would be remiss not to mention that the modern touch of an old, glacially slow satellite internet connection helps us greatly in learning about our projects.

Admittedly, it’s a life that asks us to work long hours and to perhaps forgo some creature comforts. But, to our minds, it comes with a built-in sense of balance. Working hard, we look up to stretch our eyes miles into the distance, across glistening ocean and serrated mountains, or focus closer on deer, eagles, or foxes in our backyard. Morning sun on our faces warms our cells, just as it warms the plants around us. Many an animal takes sunny micro naps - they don't have the rules and constraints of an 8 to 5 job, 5 days a week – and we follow their lead. For pleasure, we hike the mountains without trails to explore our environment, for exercise, or to hunt for meat. On a wet day, we’ll read or cook or putter on projects inside, warming ourselves by the cozy wood stove, raindrops tapping a soothing rhythm. Hearing the rain on the roof, not muted or muffled by floors and attics above us or by city noise, is like a relaxation of long tensed muscles, a deep sigh of relief. We are looking forward to being home!

Tollef Monson