The Last Frontier

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bushrats' Trip to the Big City (and a few rabbit trails)

Now that we’re back from our semi-annual shopping trip, I should be able to post more often. But, with things heating up by the moment in the Middle East, and gas prices (and prices on everything else, for that matter) soaring, I think we’ll still have to limit our computer use even after we get our new inverter in a few weeks.

If you’d rather skip all this gab, scroll down for lots of pictures. The Rabbit Trails are labeled in bold, and some of you may prefer those. But for those inquiring minds who want to know how bushrats spend their time in the “big city”, here’s a play-by-play. I don’t know why I get asked so often about what we do in town. I supposed we do about what everybody else does, only we do it all in a few days instead of each week throughout the year. We shop, visit friends and sometimes play. Well, we play a lot in the bush, and visit bush friends out here, but we do more of the visiting in town, and of course, that’s the only time we have to bother with shopping.

Looking for the airstrip
Looking for the airstrip

The weather here at home was beautiful the day we flew out, but when we arrived over town, the clouds were nearly on the deck. The first picture shows us flying sideways over the airport (mostly a bush plane airport) looking for the airstrip where small planes on skis are supposed to land. Our pilot had never landed there before, and my boys were a little green around the gills by the time we found it. All went well, despite the dubious “up to the minute” weather reports of a 1000 foot ceiling and visibility of 2 miles. I wish those weather guys would look out the window from time to time.

Our friends were waiting for us and pulled up to help unload the plane.

Unloading in town
Unloading the plane in town at the airport

Overall, this trip into town was fun because we were able to stay with friends who live in a rural area, rather than in Anchorage. Don’t misunderstand me. We’re always very thankful for our friends in Anchorage who welcome us into their homes and let us borrow a car to go shopping and run errands, and it’s always fun to visit with them. But it was a relaxing change this time to be able to let the boys play outside with the dogs, meet and go sledding with neighbor kids, and feed the horses and chickens.

View from the deck - Kodiak
View from the deck

The first day, our friend took us to Anchorage to get our Costco shopping out of the way. We stopped at the chainsaw place for a bar and couple of chains for my new-to-me little chainsaw that I’m learning to use, and then went to the craft store for some knitting needles. I’m really not schizophrenic, although that last sentence might have you wondering. I enjoy knitting beside the woodstove in the evenings, but I also love the feeling of self-reliance that I get from being able to bring in the wood we need for cooking and heating (without dependence upon my husband, should something ever happen to him).

Rabbit Trail #1:  I know what you’re thinking. One of the first things I mentioned today was the chaos in the Middle East and the gas price increases, and now I’m talking about gas-powered chainsaws? How incongruous! We’re planning to get a load of gas flown out very soon, and I suspect that it will be our last for a very long time to come. As long as we can get somewhat affordable gas, it makes our lives much easier. However, the next skill on my list is learning to fell trees with only manual tools. I’m sure I could do it now if I had to, but I really need to learn how to be safe with the tools and get in better shape for that. I feel certain that the time is coming when that will be a necessary skill, among many others.

Rabbit Trail #2:  We all do a lot in the bush, but there’s always much more to learn. It is my goal to learn to do everything necessary to live independently out here, if at all possible. I’m not sure that my goal is even attainable, but I am sure that I have a very long way to go. It’s a bit discouraging sometimes to think about that, but when I look back on how far I’ve come over the years since moving to Alaska, I’m encouraged to keep plugging away, one step at a time. It is satisfying.

Here are some pictures of our trip. Our friend has a mini-horse, Rosie. We sometimes took her and the dogs for a walk down the road to visit with neighbors.
Jed and Rosie
Jed and Zeke loved playing with our friend's mini-horse

Visiting friends
Taking the horse and dogs down the road

We enjoyed the fresh eggs for breakfast, and feeding the chickens. I’d love to get chickens out here again, but feed is too expensive, especially to fly out.
feeding the chickens
Feeding the Chickens

Zeke feeding chickens
Feeding Chickens

My boys had never been around horses before, so this was quite a treat for them.
Playing with Kodiak
The boys got to play with horses for the first time.

Jed and Kodiak
This was a big treat for the boys

Horses at Sunset
The horses at sunset

Patsy and Copper
Two of our friends horses

A moose cow and her calf browsed by each morning. This is a picture of my son in the snow watching the moose and horses from the deck, and then another shot of the moose.

Jed watching moose and horses
Jed watched the moose and horses in the snow from the deck.

moose and horses
Moose in the woods behind the horses

We’re very thankful to another of our friends and her son for taxiing us all over town one day to finish running errands. She was sick and had a fever, but didn’t let a little thing like that spoil her fun. She even took us back to her house so that we could see her menagerie. My boys’ favorites were the geese. She has beautiful sled dogs, some with impressive backgrounds. I am hoping for one of her pups soon.

Rabbit Trail #3:  We always begin taking a mix of vitamins and herbs a few days before heading to town to avoid getting sick when we see people. I suppose we’re kind of like the Indians when the Europeans arrived. Their immune systems were not able to fight off diseases they’d never been exposed to, and they didn’t know what to do when they came down with those horrible, strange illnesses. When I lived in the city years ago, I rarely got sick. Now, if I don’t take the vitamins and herbs while in town, I get to feeling rotten within a few days.

It seems that we have to do more and more these days to stay well. It used to be that I’d take a capsule with a mixture of Echinacea, Goldenseal and Elder twice a day while in town, and that would be plenty to keep the bugs at bay. Now it’s more complicated with many more herbs like garlic, wild chives, wormwood, rosemary, sage, oregano, comfrey, as well as vitamins C and D. Even with all those, the boys and I still ended up with a mild sore throat and the sniffles. Not nearly as bad as most folks in town. None of us even got a fever. I suspect it is (in part) because of the overuse of antibiotics causing these strong, resistant infections. I won’t go any further with that thought right now. End of Rabbit Trail #3.

One of our stops was the sporting goods store. Last summer, my boys made several bows and arrows from sticks, and then shot rubber ducks off stumps. This trip we looked at more “high tech” bows. The guy at the store was very helpful, and the boys had fun shooting a real bow for the first time in the back of the store. I took an archery class last spring, and now I’m hooked!
Jed testing a new bow
The boys were excited about shooting a real bow.

Once we got our required stops out of the way, we had more time to play. Here’s a picture of my boys sledding with a new friend.
Sledding with Friends
Sledding with a new friend

The dogs and boys kept each other entertained for hours.

Jed playing ball with Dakota
Keeping entertained

Another moose in the yard.

Moose in yard
Another moose browsing in the yard

We hope to get a few more goats very soon. They are the only animal we’ve found that can totally feed themselves out here. Without grain, the does don’t produce as much milk, so we’ll need to have more, but as long as they can survive well on browse, that’s great. They are stronger and healthier than animals raised on hay and grain. While in town, we stopped by one farm. Now I’m trying to coordinate everything to get some Toggs.
Checking on Goats
We'd like to get a few of these goats

Cute Goats
Mama and her kid

Jed loves goats and they love him
The boys are looking forward to getting goats again.

After checking on goats, we decided to take a drive through the pass on the way back to our friend’s home. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather! My boys have begun standing in their sleds as they zoom down hills, so it was a surprise for them to see real snowboards.  
Jenny and the boys at the Pass
The boys and I at the pass

Road into the Pass
After seeing the goats, we went for a drive through the pass

Snowboarders at th Pass
The boys had fun watching snowboarders at the pass
Time for the trip home. The wind was screaming in town and at our lake, so I was a little uneasy about the flight. But the winds were coming straight down the airstrips in both places, and the pilot said it would be “not too bad” once we got out of town. He was right. We bounced around a little, but not too much. Here are a few pictures from the plane as we neared our lake and came in to land.
Almost Home 1
Almost home

Almost Home 2
The mountains beyond our cabin

About to Land 1
Approaching the lake

About to Land 2
About to land

About to Land 3
Almost there
The welcoming committee! They were so happy to see us they almost jumped in the plane as soon as the door opened.
The Welcoming Committee
The welcoming committee
Once we landed, we unloaded the plane, put the boys and as much stuff on the sled as we could, and then Chuck and I road on the snow machine pulling the sled. This machine is very tippy anyway, and really too small for both of us to ride, so it took a lot of time and determination to get to our cabin. We didn’t have any trouble on the lake, but the high winds caused snowdrifts on the trails --- or what used to be trails. The boys howled with laughter every time the snow machine tipped over on us (they remained upright).

We’ve had over 13 feet of snow this year, so we didn’t get bruised up too bad. The snow had a bit of a crust, and every time I tried to pull myself out, I’d break through and sink again up to my neck. Chuck was holding onto the handlebars, so he could get out pretty easy. Lots of alder under the snow, so we were able to find branches with our feet and push off enough to grab onto the snow machine. After about the third time of getting dumped off the machine, I swam through the snow to the sled and retrieved my snowshoes. I don’t usually find this kind of ride very amusing, but I was so happy to be home that I was laughing right along with the boys.

Once we finally arrived at the cabin, I started supper while Chuck hauled the rest of our things back from the lake.

Rabbit Trail #4:  Bush life is so much simpler than town life. I love cooking on my antique woodburning cookstove. In town, I’m always forgetting to turn on the stove, and then, once I finally remember an hour later and the food is done, I forget to turn it off. At home, if the house is warm, that means there’s a fire in the stove and all I have to do is put a pot of food where I want it, either on top of the stove or in the oven. When the food is done, I take it off the stove. That’s it. I add wood to the fire as a matter of course, but I never have to concern myself with preheating an oven or remembering to turn it off. I just close it down good before leaving the cabin for the day or going to bed.

In town, I stare at all the buttons on the dishwasher until someone notices my bewildered look and shows me what to do. In the bush, washing dishes is pretty straightforward. Pour water in the metal dish pans, place them on the stove until the water is hot (no need to turn on the woodstove as long as the house is warm and there is a supply of wood). One pan is for washing; the other for rinsing. Then the dishes drip-dry on towels. Much more intuitive than a computerized dishwasher!

Thankfully, there was already some coffee in the pot our first morning in town. Trying to figure out that coffee maker would have thrown me over the edge. I’m so glad to be home. End of Rabbit Trail #4.


  1. Always a pleasure to read about your trips to town. The gas prices are going to change our habits, too. Already, I drive less and less. I hope you can keep working towards the goal of independence. I am sure that would be a good thing for more of us to work towards. Blessings to you!

  2. Wow, Jenn. You're fast. I just posted this a few minutes ago.
    Blessings to you and your family, as well. Keep in touch! :)

  3. Great images, thank you. It looks great where you are,wish I were there! Still, can't complain, not as cold here & not as much snow, but it is a nice place and all ours.
    Fuel costs high here too, and food costs rising. We have got to do some serious work on our gardens!
    Take care.
    Regards, Le Loup aka Keith.

  4. I admire your desire for self-sufficiency - I think it is a goal that should be aspired to by more - even in small ways.

    A trip to town is a good way to appreciate what you have when you get back - there truly is "no place like home!"

  5. Not sure if this would help you keep chickens, but they do very well on any kind of sprouted grain.
    I really enjoy reading your blog - a big hello from Northern Maine!

  6. Hi, Jenny,

    What an interesting and fun post--thanks! I loved all the photos and the "slice-of-life" descriptions. I used to work at a guest ranch in the Colorado mountains and grew to love the relative simplicity of that lifestyle (though not quite as rustic as yours). I miss it. I appreciate your goal to be more independent, and I can't help but think what a gift this is to your boys.

    I hope the gas prices will stabilize enough so you can keep posting! :-)


  7. Thanks for stopping by and leaving the thoughtful comments. Keith, we need to do a lot more with our garden, too. Every year we expand a little.
    Definitely no place like home. When we first arrived at our friends house, my boys were saying how they like this or that better, the house is bigger, that is better. But after a few days, they were more than ready to get back home, and said they'd rather be here than anyplace else. :)
    Teresa, we've read about sprouting grain for chickens, but need to look into it more. Can you direct me to a good website, or provide more information --- What kinds of grains are good? How much per chicken? We'd need it during the winter months from about early to mid September to mid May when the snow melts.
    Thank you,

  8. Hi Wendy. Sorry I missed your comment at first. Thank you very much. Sounds like you had a great experience in CO. I was raised in Atlanta, so not at all a good background for this lifestyle.
    Best wishes to you,

  9. Jenny. Thanks for the photos, looks like heaven. Wish we had stayed.


  10. I loved reading about your trip to town. Did you get to send out Flat Stanley? We are noticing more illness around here too. My kids got the flu for the second time this year. The photos are wonderful as always. We are very aware of the gas and thinking about how to buy only American made products.

  11. Great post love the pictures.. I was going tosay that chickens dont need just grains. I actually spend very little on chicken feed. They are scavengers and need meat too. Anything left over from hunting/butchering could be given to them along with sprouts. A couple of chickens would not be hard to keep. Also milk and milk products is something mine get on a regular basis. Actually all of the kitchen scraps go to them plus they free range during the day. I dont know of a website I have just picked up info here and there. We do give them some grains but not much at all.

  12. Hi R! Good to see you here! I wish y'all had stayed in AK, too!
    Hi Dawn and Tonia. Good to see y'all here, too. Dawn, I am SOOOOO sorry. I flat forgot about Flat Stanley. I will get it out today so I can remember to send it back to you. Some folks will be out here in a week or so for Spring Break, and I'll send it back with them. So sorry!
    Tonia, thanks for the suggestions. The big problem we have is that we don't toss out any leftovers. I find a way to eat all of them during the winter, except the meat scraps, which go to the dogs. Food is way too valuable to throw away. When I was in town, I was amazed at how much people waste. They were giving food to their dogs that I'd have been thrilled to have. Stuff like perfectly good halibut and salmon that had been in the freezer nearly a year and didn't taste perfectly fresh. Oh what I'd do for such good food! Yet folks in town throw it out. Anyway, back to the chickens. It's extremely rare to have any fresh food leftovers to toss to chickens. No fresh produce unless we go to town or someone brings it to us. We can or dry most of it. We do have potato peels, but that's it, for the most part. In the summer when there are plenty of bugs and wild plants for the chickens to free range on, we don't have to worry about feeding them. Thanks for the suggestions, though.

  13. Hi Jenny - Here's a link to a description of how to sprout grain for chickens. There's probably more out there, too. Of note, sprouts make pretty good mid-winter food for people too and we can eat virtually all vegetable seeds except tomato and othe nightshade related plant seeds. Small seeds such as alfalfa are easy to transport,etc, too.

  14. Thanks for the link! We eat sprouts during the winter. My favorites are brassicas.

  15. You are very welcome. They (brassicas)are good aren't they? Maybe you could raise some redworms indoors for the chickens too (not sure how much room you have to do such things). The kind you use for composting.

  16. Here's a link about growing worms fo chicken feed;

  17. I'm glad you're home too! I really like your blog. I did nominate you for the stylish blogger award. I only have 13 followers so it doesn't account for much, but I really enjoy your site.


  18. Thanks, Teresa for the link. I'll look into that. Chuck and I were going to look into that for composting when we get our inverter so we can spend a little more time online, but hadn't thought of it for chickens. Great idea!
    Hi Anna! Good to see you ! ! ! Thank you so much for the thought on the award. Judy at Consent of the Governed (the line is in my sidebar under blogs) gave me the award while we were in town, but I haven't been able to hunt for other recipients yet. When we get the inverter, I'll be back at it.
    Thank you, again,

  19. Chickens are great. You could try raising your own worms to feed the chickens. I think it is called vermiculture. Yogurt is their favorite treat, once you get goats... bantam chickens don't eat as much and some are good layers. I noticed your friends had seabrites, my seabrite has hatched eggs twice. The little thing is the best mama!

  20. Hi Beth. Which ones were the seabrites? I knew that some were silkies, but she didn't have any idea what kinds of chickens she had. :-) We used to have banty hens and a little rooster. They were fun, and so friendly. None of our regular chickens would set, but the bantams were good mamas, as you said. Once, my husband put a marten (sable) carcass in the chicken house for them to peck for extra protein. One of the banty hens rolled the cleaned skull into her nest and tried to hatch it. She got all out of sorts when we removed it. :)

  21. In the winter when you butcher a cow or ? I give my chickens a slab of fat. They also get the moldy hay that the horses don't eat to pick through.


  22. Seabrites have the black tipped feathers and silver or gold coloring. Their eggs are quite small. Always looking for solutions, you could feed winter squash to your chickens. Plant extras in the garden this year. My butternuts are happily resting in my kitchen pantry, which is much warmer than it should be and not one has gone bad. I dont know how much sun you get in winter but check out the solar heaters made from black metal screen and plastic sheets. I think the how to is in mother earth news. It would help keep the goats warm too. Good luck!

  23. I specifically asked my friend about the seabrites. They were so sweet and have such pretty feathers. Glad to know the butternuts will keep so well. Our pantry is much, much cooler than the rest of the cabin, but not as cool as a root cellar, so that would be perfect. Even our potatoes do fairly well in there. This summer we're going to finish our root cellar and do more on our new cabin, so we should be able to use the root cellar. I haven't ordered butternut seeds, but I have others that I forgot, so I'm going to order some this week. We've expanded the garden a little (we do that most years), and I'm growing beets this year. My boys love them, and I've read about using beets and carrots to make ketchup that is gluten-free. They're also good pickled. I wonder if chickens will eat them.

    That's a neat idea about the solar heater. I will look at that. I'm going to have to get back into trying to figure out how to raise chickens out here now that I know there are a few possibilities. I'm still not totally convinced, but I sure do want them. I'd about given up on the idea, but thank you for bringing it back! :)
    Take care,

  24. Hi Jenny! This post was neat that your boys were able to have so much rural play time and space!

    I've never had to fell a tree with an axe, just split them into firewood, and even that required me to be really careful so I didn't hurt my back/neck. I've sawed small trees down w/Nathan (2-man saws) only. I can imagine you'd need to be in good shape to bring a larger one down w/o a chainsaw.

    I love goats! What great pictures of all your trip and all the creatures you encountered! I hope you'll be able to bring some (goats, chickens, sled dogs) home with you and get it all figured out. You do have so much to consider! Bryan (my oldest) is trying to decide where he wants to settle in the next couple of years after he finishes his AAS degree (May 2012, he has some time still!). He'll need to find a patch of land suitable for a sheep operation, wants to raise them completely on grass, no grain. Wintertime he'll purchase extra hay as needed. There's a decent market for the grassfed meat in most large cities, he just has to really research where those are and learn about the areas around them, and figure out where he wants to live. Exciting questions, and exciting times! We suburbanites are absolutely on step one of this learning ladder...I'm always amazed at the knowledge you've acquired.

    I enjoy food cooked on a woodstove, there's just a blending of flavors that happens that I think is unique to it :-)


  25. I really enjoy reading about your life.

    The boys looked like they had great fun.

    Some magical photos.

  26. I LOVE this post, and love all the photos! the moose by the horses was so cute!

    Conni in Fairbanks :-)

  27. Thank you all for the kind comments. Good to see you, Connie. Sound like you've settle in well to Alaska life. A few weeks ago we had some decent Northern Lights, at least for this area. They're rarely even visible here, so even a glow in the sky is impressive to us. I'll bet you had a spectacular light show up where you live. I sure do miss living in the Interior of Alaska and standing outside at 60 below watching those Northern Lights swirl colors through the sky. I want to come visit you next winter when it's good and cold! :-)

    Lori, good to see you, too. Sounds like your son is off to a great start. I wish him all the best. Sorry I didn't reply sooner. We finally got an inverter and hope to get it hooked up next week. I'll be able to go online a little more, but still hoping for sunny weather this spring and summer. Gas is too expensive now to take up the slack when the solar panels don't provide the electricity.

    Thank you, Sticks65. My boys always get so excited about trips to town, but after a couple of days of city life, they're more than ready to get back home so they can run around and enjoy the freedoms of this lifestyle.

  28. Great pictures and story. Your friends place from the back looks prettier than from the front. I love the open space.

    I forgot about them shooting the bows... lol Must have been the fever..hehehe.

    Hmmm...When I get this place set up so you can stay here I will have to leave you to make the coffee.

    Seriously, your little one looks to be a natural with the bow. He has great form.



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