Saturday, February 01, 2014

House of Alaska III

In the garden of the House of Alaska flourished lettuce, peas, cabbage, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower, welcome additions to a frugal diet in which Pilot Bread and tinned kippers often figured. It was also an abundant source of pig-weed, which one could drop off at the barn.

The House of Alaska was built on the lip of a great bowl-shaped valley, facing the Wrangell Mountains. If one traipsed out to the end of the driveway to the Edgerton Cutoff on a walk, the road appeared as a thin slate ribbon dipping through steep terraces, down, down through the trees until it seemed to lose its way somewhere in the direction of the mountains.

Yellow cinquefoil clung to the gravel on the side of the road. Cottongrass announced the presence of water: a small creek, flowing through a culvert near the driveway. Crouched down, my sister and I would creep through the echoing culvert, collecting pebbles, listening to the echoes of our steps and observing water-bugs. When we struck the edge of the culvert with a rock, it yelped with a strange, guttural chime.

On the other side of the Edgerton, Keith Murray's place was visible. Our closest neighbor had opted to erect a small cabin and several tar-paper teepees from fire-kill, the local version of tinker toys. Keith's goats found shelter either in the cabin with him, or in the teepees. The goats, bells a-tinkling, and Keith wandered out each morning between the aspens to forage. His scruffy beard nearly matched that of the billies. Nubs of wool sock-clad toes peered out through the fronts of his worn-out tennis shoes.

More hippies began to arrive at the homestead. They found an abandoned cabin on the Old Road, the dirt version of the Edgerton, and decided to haul it, log by log, back to the farm, and chose a place with the best view of the majestic Wrangells, directly above the cleared field, as its new home. The House of Alaska was bursting at the seams. The lucky ones were spending their nights in a turquoise Mexican schoolbus fitted with bunk-beds.

During the days, the men and bandana-clad women persisted in their labor in the fields. Tree-roots were pushed by the tractor into burn-piles that smoldered all summer long. Everyone assisted in the assembling of the new-old cabin, digging a root cellar in the silty sand, cribbing it off. Even we twins helped press the bits of insulation--chinking--into hot tar between the logs.

If we needed to wash our clothes, we'd drive over to do laundry at a lodge near the green-grey Tonsina River. There, a temporary camp had sprung up for Pipeline laborers. Someone there had sprayed the entire exterior of a trailer with urethane. It looked like an extremely ugly mushroom. But it was the way someone had managed to survive the bitter cold.

When the nights grew shorter and the valley glowed from the changing leaves of the aspens, it was decided that we needed to pack our sleeping bags and head back from whence we had come. We were not yet ready to spend a winter in the bush.

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