Cabin life / by Caroline Van Hemert

There are some old souls in this world. Born to do the things that typically come with old age (or at least retirement), an old soul will tinker, sit in a nice chair on the porch, and observe the slant of light on the mountains. Huxley is 4 going on 65. He has all the energy and curiosity of a preschooler, yet tends toward the geriatric in his interests. Left to his own devices, he’ll tie knots, hammer in the workshop, sort his carefully archived treasures, or walk in the woods immediately behind our cabin (with a thoughtfully selected hiking stick, of course). In the name of a good project, he persists with jobs that others might find unpleasant and tiresome. Haul brush the same size as he is. Tie the same knot twenty times before it comes out right. Trip over a trail of endless roots. He’s a boy in heaven at a remote cabin site. The only problems arise when someone interrupts his work to say that it’s time to eat dinner, or go back to the cabin, or put on his pajamas. “But I’m working on a really tricky knot right now.” Fair enough, but even an old soul needs to eat.

Dawson, on the other hand, is the embodiment of free-wheeling youth. Laugh hard, leap high, poke everything and everyone (including his brother) with sharp objects to see what will happen. Fortunately, Huxley seems to find many of these behaviors, minus the poking, more humorous than we do. Together, they make a good pair. Cabin life would be much more tranquil, but infinitely less exciting, without their company.

Landing at Glacier Point after a summer on the sailboat has definitely felt like a homecoming. It’s been quiet, but not dull. There’s so much to explore and see, even on the micro-scale that seems to be our range these days with the boys. A cozy cabin and endless beach and woods to roam have allowed all of us to stretch our legs and spread out after months of confined quarters. We miss much of the simplicity of Chaika, but being on dry land is also a welcome change. Since we arrived, we’ve been neck-deep in projects, which seem to define our existence out here. A few of the projects, at least for me, are related to writing and work. Most of them, however, attend to the basics of a remote, off-the-grid existence.

Modern homesteading, like sailing, depends on a large number of systems. Water systems. Power systems. Boat systems. And, because I’m trying to work from this remote site, satellite and computer systems. Every one of these is unconventional, finicky, and often assembled in an iterative process of learning from our mistakes. We conceived of many of these a dozen years ago, when we knew much less and had little money to throw at fancy equipment. As a result, most things work, but not without some serious muscle and a few magic spells. We have a mooring anchor with a running line but because of the fact that the mountains act like a wind tunnel here, we frequently have to haul our 18’ skiff onto the beach. Enter the trailer (hauled in pieces on the skiff), the ancient smoke-belching gas-powered winch, and the deadman log buried five feet under the gravel. We collect rainwater from the roof, which fills a 550-gallon tank sitting beneath our kitchen floor. Don’t look inside too closely or you might notice the green slime. We have a bathtub indoors, but it’s currently serving as Dawon’s bed. Instead we shower outside with a tiny on-demand water heater that is among the most modern of our machinery fleet, and the most reliable. Pat and the boys have almost finished setting up a bear fence to help keep our large, furry neighbors out of our compound. We charge our battery bank with solar panels and will add a wind generator this fall. There are a lot of moving pieces in our lives, besides a 2- and 4-year-old  

For years, we’ve battled various systems for getting phone or internet connectivity. Most recently, I had resorted to taking the half-mile walk to an old plywood boat that washed up many decades ago near the lagoon north of our cabin. This location, which we’ve dubbed the “phone booth,” offers spotty cell service, although sometimes sending an email can take two hours. We’d tried satellite once before; after following many complicated and confusing instructions from the local installer, we managed to wrestle the dish into place and pick up a signal, but the company folded just a few months later and the large dish we had hauled out there was useless. We’ve also employed various antennas and boosters, all without any success. This time, we needed a better solution because of my work and the fact that we plan to be here for much of the year. Plus, the “phone booth” had obviously experienced a hard winter and was missing its roof when we returned this season. So satellite seemed like a necessary evil again. We were surprised to find that the set-up was much easier than the first time, and we soon had a signal. After finishing, triumphant and now connected to the outside world from the comfort of the cabin, life suddenly seemed a bit tamer. But then Pat took a trip to the outhouse, scared a brown bear out of the woods, and the wild again felt very close to home, satellites orbiting above us or not.

We arrived here later this year than ever before, and many of the birds have already left, the beach strawberries have come and gone, and the first yellow leaves are dropping from the cottonwood trees. Fortunately, we weren’t too late for the fish, and caught a winter’s worth in a single morning. We use a small drift net (similar to commercial gillnetters, but only 1/10th of the size) to haul sockeye salmon from the Chilkat Inlet. After a day of processing, our freezer—powered by the solar panels—is stocked and we are rich in one of the best wild foods out there. Now we can join our old soul on the porch, watching the waves with full and grateful bellies. 

 

 Living large in Haines. 

Living large in Haines. 

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Thumbs up for pizza dinner.  

 Hauling a load to the cabin. 

Hauling a load to the cabin. 

 Boating is hard work.  

Boating is hard work.  

 Attending to the essentials. 

Attending to the essentials. 

 Pulling our skiff (“Tubby”) up the beach. 

Pulling our skiff (“Tubby”) up the beach. 

 Helping with rope management. 

Helping with rope management. 

 Watching the clouds go by. 

Watching the clouds go by. 

 Sleeping in a bathtub is fun!

Sleeping in a bathtub is fun!

 Sunny morning. 

Sunny morning. 

 Happy birthday Dawson! (we forgot the candles)

Happy birthday Dawson! (we forgot the candles)

 Happy to be 2!

Happy to be 2!

 Who’s in charge here, anyway?

Who’s in charge here, anyway?

 Workshop bath. 

Workshop bath. 

 Ready for work.  

Ready for work.  

 Building the bear fence. 

Building the bear fence. 

 Helpers. 

Helpers. 

 Buoys in the boat house. 

Buoys in the boat house. 

 Paddling to Hawaii.  “We’ll meet you there, Mommy.”

Paddling to Hawaii.  “We’ll meet you there, Mommy.”

 Going fishing!

Going fishing!

 Setting the net. 

Setting the net. 

 Salmon!

Salmon!

 A good haul.

A good haul.

 Cleaning fish on the beach. 

Cleaning fish on the beach. 

 Another fishing trip.  

Another fishing trip.  

 Moments before a face plant.  

Moments before a face plant.  

 Workshop at twilight. 

Workshop at twilight.