Monday, June 4, 2018

Lessons I Learned in Alaska (from my Wwoofer)

Alaska, according to Shea O'Brien, 20, who grew up and lived her whole life on the east coast where everything is tame.  (Note:  she spent weekends hiking and time with another family....not just ours)

Really Alaskans are pretty crazy:  1.  to live here;   2. to STAY here.  Life is so much harder here.  There's a certain practicality and toughness of the people.  It doesn't work out so well for you if you aren't tough.  I value their moxie.  It's a git 'er done quality.

Alaskans really think they are better than every one else, even the term "Lower 48" says it all!

They all really like to talk about bears.  BUT, when you mention that fact, they bring out all sorts of other stories of moose, fish, and other vermin.

Another thing:  cracked windshields!  No one even bothers to change them.....the nicest cars can have just totally shattered windshields.

They believe they are their own country.  Everyone just kinda does whatever they want.

There's an outdoor culture here that's just wild.  A certain point at the top of every mountain that runs out of trail where there are no trees and you scramble up however you can.  Once you realize there's no rules and no fences, you just do as much as you can without dying!

Shea peeling logs

Shea conquers the cottonwoods

Bear terror is the worst---never mind the earthquakes, avalanches, high murder rate, moose, high cost of living, the snow and ice with extreme temperatures. Everyone just shrugs it off and eats a lot of ice-cream.

First of all, there are some really cool things about Alaska.  They have their own time zone AND the whole state is the SAME area code!  But they are still more than twice the size of Texas.

It's so strange that there's a near complete lack of amphibians, reptiles, and fireflies.

There's a strange lack of tree variety here.  They are, for the most part, all one color and all the same height:  tall.

It's crazy that you have to fly everywhere---most towns and villages have no roads to them!

The first thing I noticed about the buildings is that they are square.  I started calling them lego buildings---everything is a log cabin or legos!  There's a complete lack of architecture.

Pull offs are NOT NORMAL.  Why are people pulling over so much?  What is there to see, anyway?

Names of everything are so straight forward and literal.  The street names are funny enough (Denali, Northern Lights, but the creeks....we passed Mountain Creek....duh, a creek coming from a mountain; then goat creek, then 20 mile creek.  Hmmm I wonder how long the creek is?  At least the names are doesn't end.  No John Doe memorial street, or civil war battle field creek.  It's just very clear how everything got its name. I just can't stop:  there's a lake called Beach Lake with a little trail going to the beach.  Oh look!  There are a couple eagles flying around this river:  Eagle River.  So funny!

Mosquitoes are the size of quarters---you can see 'em and git 'em.

Lessons I learned the hard way:  
     1.  Bring a raincoat 100% of the time, especially if you are sure you won't need it!
     2.  Hiking boots means actual hiking boots, not work boots.  There's a difference. Whatever you THINK the weather's gonna be, you're wrong.

So if you are visiting prepared.

****Cindee Karns, scribe

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Is Silence Really Golden?

The last day of my 58th year around the sun turned out to be a whopper!  All was fine---despite the very unusual wind---until I lost cell service around 11am during a phone call with my mom.  Not to worry.  I have a land line and could call her back.  The winds started howling. The empty pots outside the door starting hitting the door and flying around in small tornados.  I made my way down to the greenhouse with 2 armloads of wood to split to start the stove.  I'm telling you, the wind was so cold, it was sucking heat out of the greenhouse so fast!  We are so lucky that the roof didn't blow off since last summer Curt fell off the roof putting the last screws in and decided to leave the last screws until this summer.

Anyway, it was nice sitting next to the stove.  But still, the wind howled.  By the time I got back up to the house, I had internet service again and thought I'd watch a TV show and wait for the wind to die down.  It never happened and my phone died.  Since I couldn't do much outside, I thought I'd go to town.  I needed my restless leg medicine. , I knew from experience I wouldn't sleep much that night without it.

I went down the 31 stairs to the garage and remembered ---after I punched in the code to the garage door--that it was an electric garage door and it wouldn't open.  So I walked back up the 31 stairs to check on the "speck,"  our junk car we keep for visitors.  Curt had just charged it up the day before so it would start.  I got in and no matter what I tried, it just wouldn't turn over.  So.... back down the 31 stairs to try the Suburban, our boat puller that we don't drive in the winter.  Curt had also charged up the Suburban.  What a crazy racket the Suburban made.  I'm guessing we need a new starter.  So.... I thought I'd go back up the 31 stairs to have lunch and think about my options.  Maybe the power would come back on.

An hour later----still no power.  I decided Curt would know how to open the garage door without power, but I had no cell phone battery left.  Choice one:  get out the emergency cook stove that has a phone charger on it, or go down to the car and charge the phone.  Back down the 31 stairs.  Yes, I started the car in the closed garage.  I did leave the man door open so the fumes wouldn't be that bad, but the kept wind slamming it shut.  Luckily, the phone came on before I lost consciousness (just kidding--it wasn't bad) and I called Curt.  He picked up and explained that there's some string next to the garage door motor.  I couldn't see a string by the motor, but there was a different string by the door.  I pulled and tugged.  I dragged a log over to stand on to get a better look, but to no avail.

What to do?  I got back in the car and started it again.  I blocked open the man door so I wouldn't die and I started watching You Tube videos to teach me how to do it.  I had already done what those videos said to do.  I tied a piece of wood onto the string to see if that would help me pull it.  Nope.  Then I glanced over to the other garage door and that string was different.  It had a loop.  I pulled it and VIOLA!  I heard a snap and pushed open the garage door!  I was FREE AT LAST!

Driving to town was no easy feat either.  The wind was pushing me all over the road---debris was flying.  I drove by a guy walking.  He had his elbow over his eyes and shirt over his mouth and nose, so I turned around.  I was going to pick him up.  By the time I caught back up to him, I saw he was carrying what looked like a whiskey bottle, so I left him walking.  I swerved around a tree that was down.  A truck in front of me (happened to be my neighbor) turned in there and later I found out, she had her chain saw in the back of the truck and cut the tree out of the road.

I made it to Carrs and luckily the generator was working so the cash registers could still work.  I went to the pharmacy and THEIR registers were not working.  I begged for my pills -- just enough for the night and I'd come back the next day.  She took pity on me and wrote an I.O.U. which I'll have to go and pay today sometime.  So with that, I ventured into the dark aisles with my cell phone flash light gathering the stuff I needed---not much:  milk, yogurt, salad, fruit and cinnamon.  When I started whistling, since it was so creepy in there, my neighbor found me (the one who cut the tree out of the road) and we went through the aisles together.  Just as we finished our shopping, the generator died.  That meant only those with cash (not even checks) could buy their groceries.  What?  I saw a woman in near panic, "I've GOT to have matches! We can't eat if I can't buy matches!"  Another said that Walmart was out.  Someone else told terrible stories of the carts going crazy over at Fred Meyers (since no one wanted to take them back) and they were damaging all the cars in the parking lot.  So..... I had to abandon my cart and drive home.  All that and no way to buy groceries.

When I arrived home, I decided to get out the emergency radio that I haven't used in 8 years or so.  I became so aware of how much I rely on noise:  TV, or music, radio, or books on tape, or podcasts.  All of that was not possible.  I made a mental note to start practicing working in silence.  So, I happily pulled down the wind-up radio.  Wouldn't you know?  You have to replace the batteries every 5 years or so or they won't take a charge!  What kind of an emergency radio is that?  So....I went on the hunt for batteries.  So lucky!  I had 4 AAs still in the charger that were charged.  Ah.....the sound of voices warning me that there's a wind storm out there.  Ahhhh.

So....what to eat?  I wanted comfort food and my granddaughter had just told me about the wonderful banana bread she ate.  So--because we have gas appliances,  I pulled the frozen bananas out of the freezer and let them thaw (no microwave to defrost things) and started mixing.  When I turned on the oven, it didn't sound right.  Then I remembered ...... no electric start.  So I abandoned my banana bread and made rice on the stove.  But to light the stove I had to find matches!  So funny!  My matches were totally dead.  They had oxidized or something.  They wouldn't strike on the box.  So I knew there were emergency candles and lighters upstairs in the bathroom, so I lit a candle and brought it down---even though the sun is setting at 9pm now and I didn't really need a candle.  It was useful to start the stove with anyway.

With warm rice in my belly, I wondered what I should do next?  Curt wasn't coming home until 10pm or so.  We usually watch a TV show or two and then go to bed.  Oh....yeah....bed.  All the sheets were in the washer and it didn't finish its spin!  I wondered if I should try and hang them on the clothes line or would they just make their way down to the river at the bottom of the hill? I left them in the washer.

It started getting cool in the house.  I decided instead of going outside to haul and split more wood to start a fire, I would go put my long johns on.  With no good book to read, or TV to watch, I curled under the blankets on the couch and listened to Public Radio.  The cat curled up next to me and it was very cozy.

When Curt came home at 10, he said HE had cell phone service, why didn't I?  Hmmmmm.  I re-booted my phone and, what do you know?  I had it too.  So.....we turned off the emergency radio and we watched "Lost in Space" on his cell phone.  Creatures of habit, I guess.

So today, while I treasure hunt down the mountain and in the woods for all the things that blew away, I'm pondering if I'm really up for a long emergency?  I take pride in being prepared.  But am I prepared for silence?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Homer's Natural Built Birthing Center

Curt and I took time to stop at the Birthing Center in Homer.  We were so impressed! 

The entry way. 

The waiting room/living room.

The guillotine --- cuts off the airflow so the heat doesn't go up the rocket stove leaving the bench cold.
The pizza oven above the wood input on the rocket stove.

 The top of the heat riser is a stove top in the kitchen

The rocket stove mass heater bench.
The clean-out for the horizontal chimney

The pantry----adding driftwood really makes it more natural.

Nice little wooded details added and then the extra detail of the whale tail!  

Clay TV stand----very artsy.   Fake fire place

The birthing bathtub---details of stone

Bottles adorn the wall between the entry and the bedroom.

Artsy Windows

Nice cubbies in random places.

Cindee with the head Birthing Lady (Doula?)

The walls are 8 inches clay-straw, 8 inches of clay brick in the middle and 8 inches of clay-straw on the outside.  The building took 4-5 years to complete and it is approved by the city of Homer. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

There's a bear in my Subaru!


The neighborhood black bear found us.

Cathy, my intern, and I were unloading plants from the Subaru and taking them down to plant in the orchard area, right below the driveway.  Cathy had just been up to the garage to look for a shovel.  We decided to use our hands to plant with.

Maybe five minutes later I hear something.  I decide it was Curt.  I call out to him, but he doesn't answer.  I decide that he has his ear buds in and is working in the garage.  Then....another noise.  I decide to go up and check it out.  I'm calling for Curt.  When he doesn't answer, I start calling for the neighborhood dogs to come to my rescue.  I walk slowly up the old garden steps next to the garage.  Since I'm still calling for dogs, I think it's got to be Curt working in the garage.  Just as I'm about to stick my head around the corner of the open garage door, I see garbage all over the garage floor.  I knew then, it was the bear.  Dang.

I jump in Curt's car and I call for Cathy to come up.  She of course didn't want to come up next to the garage, so she climbs up the cliff and jumps in the little mazda.  I lay on the horn.  What a dump horn that is---why didn't I jump in the Suburban---something with a substantial horn??  I roll down the window and we still hear the bear in the garage.  We can't see anything though---it's a black bear in the dark garage.  We start calling the bear out of the garage.  No luck.  I decide to open the 2nd garage door to see if that would move him.  Sure enough.  He moseys out of the garage and right next to Cathy's window that she is struggling to get up.  He's heading to the driveway.  Good, we think. bear picture

Then he takes a wiff at my Subaru.  I remember the cinnamon gum in there and more importantly, the bag of trash I should have emptied.  My last Wwoofer loved chocolate, so we splurged more than once on expensive chocolate bars and some reese's cups.  He comes back around and decides to check it out.  Bear Picture  Gingerly he steps into the back of the open Subaru and makes his way to the driver's seat.  He starts picking through the garbage bag that's on the passenger's seat floor!

Well, Cathy and I start up the Mazda and put it in reverse.  That of course did not phase the bear and we decide it wouldn't be able to get out the back of the car again. Who wants it going out the closed window?  So I get out of the car.  I call Curt on the phone---nervously--- to bring the bear spray down from the house.  By the time he comes down, Cathy and I are yelling at the bear to get out of the car and the bear is turning around in my driver's seat. He honks the horn with his butt. (The steering wheel was wet afterwards---let's hope it was slobber. The horn startles him some and he starts coming out of the back of the car. So nice of him to step around all my plants.  Bear Picture

Then, instead of running off like a good bear should.  It decides to go after Latte, who was just sitting there watching the whole spectacle.  She ducks under the suburban and the bear barks at her and pounces on his two front feet.  If you haven't ever heard a bear bark---it's a warning sound.  He claws under the suburban to try to reach her. Bear Picture We are all screaming at the bear to leave.  Reluctantly he leaves the cat and saunters to the top of the driveway.  But he stops and just looks at us, like "so what are you going to do, make me?"   Bear Picture  Curt, Cathy and I start moving forward, yelling.  Curt has the bear spray at the ready along with our house sign "Karns" because he couldn't get it untangled from the bear spray.  Too bad I didn't take that picture.  It looked like he was going to paddle the bear with the board.  Anyway, Curt had to escort that bear all the way down the driveway and across the road so he'd leave.  Bear Picture

We then practiced with the bear spray to see if it would have reached the bear.  That stuff only sprayed like 3 feet and so it might have just made him mad.  He kept about 5 feet away from us.

Anyway, he's been a real nuisance around the neighborhood (IF IT'S THE SAME BEAR).  A neighbor took this picture of him at the post boxes at the bottom of the hill.  Bear Picture

Needless to say our guns are loaded.  We would NEVER shoot a bear unless he were chewing on a leg.  It's just too dangerous with so many houses around.  But we DID go out and buy 4 new cans of bear spray.

Lesson learned:  even if you are working and talking right outside, always turn on the radio.    That was always my Wwoofer's job this year.  When he left, I just didn't do it.  Dumb.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Part II: Rammed Earth House

MAY 2017
House looks great from the outside----no one lives in it yet.

Finishing touches around windows and doors.

Nice color on the walls.  Some sheetrock.

Hard to plan all of the electrical and other wires ahead of time.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is the bubble bursting???

We moved into the Bioshelter 10 years ago and role modeled a different kind of western living.  We learned so much, but we also realize it’s not enough.  Curt and I are really taking a hard look at retirement. How do we reshape a system?  It’s so much easier to start over.  I think we should become Amish and go live in the woods at the cabin.  Curt isn’t so sure, but the system we are in, our culture, is really becoming more and more DE-generative and the possibility of something that’s regenerative seems out of the realm of possibility.  

If suddenly Big Ag can’t feed us there would be a crisis, so we’d be forced to change.  So how soon is that crisis coming?  I read 1491, a book about before Columbus arrived.  It seems the woods were abundant food forests that the indigenous cultivated.  Could we do that?  Maybe, but in a crisis situation, it’s better to have the life boat already built.  So how do you build the ark, if it hasn’t even started raining?

I think our culture is almost at the edge—the crisis is almost here.  It’s so hard to know.  We have to take exponential growth seriously. This video helps explain it.  Please watch it.  

   These days hockey stick graphs are everywhere and they seem to be getting worse every year.  




And the next hockey stick graph we aren’t really allowed to talk about:  too many people.  The UN put this graph together.

So how do we get these graphs to change?  How do we use less energy and have a better life?  How do we use less water and have a better life? 

I think oil consumption is my number one concern. If that bubble bursts we are in big trouble.

Thinking about our big ag system made me do some research.  This came from the University of Ottowa, so this might be Canadian statistics.  It takes 400 gallons of oil to feed one person for 1 year.  

  • 20% is the farm equipment; 
  • 16% is the transportation; 
  • 13% is irrigation; 
  • 8% is live stock; 
  • 5% are pesticides.  

I’m wondering how much it is to feed our Alaskan family?  How many gallons of gas do we use to go to Chitna, put the boat in, motor up and down the river dip-netting?  How many gallons do we use to pull the boat and a 4-wheeler to the mountains to get a caribou?  How many gallons do I use driving to town to get seeds, or to Palmer to get manure?  If there’s suddenly no more oil……Curt and I don’t know how to live without it.  And we are not very dependent on the Big Ag farms.

 It stresses me out to know that when the fictitious Beverly Hillbillys struck oil, they paid $0 to get the oil out.  Now we may be using a barrel of oil to get a barrel out of the ground.  Here’s the quote:  If we have energy returned on energy invested (ERoEI) = 1 then the net energy is zero. We use as much energy to gather energy as energy gathered.  

Here’s the historical numbers from the Energy Matters  blog site is:  “ERoEI for finding oil and gas decreased exponentially from 

  • 1200:1 in 1919
  • 5:1 in 2007. 

The EROI for production of the oil and gas industry was 

  • about 20:1 from 1919 to 1972, 
  • declined to about 8:1 in 1982 when peak drilling occurred, 
  • recovered to about 17:1 from 1986–2002 
  • declined sharply to about 11:1 in the mid to late 2000s.” 

So where are we now???  How much energy does it take to pull more oil out of the arctic?  According to Peak Oil, for things to keep going as we are used to, we must have at least an ERoEi between 5 and 7. 

Okay, I’ll stop now. I’m beginning to feel like Chicken Little. “The sky is falling.” Who wants to come to the cabin with us and live off the land??? ☺

Monday, January 16, 2017

Reflections on my Biome

 I’m so confused about my biome.  I can’t understand it.  Where are the boundaries?  It reminds me of OUR TOWN, the play.  Here’s the quote I’m remembering from it. 

I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America…Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the mind of God – that’s what it said on the envelope. 

So my address would be Cindee Karns, AlaskaBioshelter, RamValley drainage, Eagle River Valley, Anchorage; SouthCentral; Alaska; and then the rest and finally: the Mind of God.  The Mind of God is the coolest. 

Permaculture says to design from WHOLE to PARTS and to look for patterns.  What’s my whole?  If I work on designs for all of my biomes, will that thinking process of mine somehow seep out into other’s thoughts of their biomes?  Since Permaculture also says start with observations, that’s a good thing.  It gives me some focus, but then I get lost when I’m hearing a podcast about the similarities between Italy’s President and our in-coming president.  That’s a pattern and if you look closer at other countries you can see other similar patterns in leadership.  What pattern is that?  Do I have a responsibility for that Biome? 
And then I go out to shovel snow.  I don’t hear the birds that I know winter here.  I hear snow blowers all around me.  That’s a pattern.  Is that a sign of our pattern of oil dependency?  Or am I just observing that because I have a shovel in my hand and am feeling a little elite in my attempt to become part Amish.  J

Eklutna Lake
I often think of who might have come back to this valley in ancient times:  where was the glacier?  It’s still astonishing to me that Knik was the named because it was the END of the Knick glacier when the town was founded.  Amazing.  We still have a glacier hanging above us I think.  No telling when it will be gone.  Soon I fear.  It sends water down to us—on both sides of our neighborhood.  Many of us drink it right from the stream. 

I see cottonwoods everywhere---an awful tree to partner with in terms of a heat source, but they are responsible, along with the willow and other water-loving plants, that sprouted and grew really fast because of the water source.  All of those leaves over the years have turned this valley into a place of soil, a place that can be cultivated, albeit with LOTS of rocks throughout.

There are many animals up here, but they are also down in the valley:  moose, bears, coyotes, rabbits.  We could have warm clothes, bear fat and meat to eat, but I’m not sure we could feed the current population in our neighborhood.  We have plenty of year round birds to entertain us:  ravens, eagles, chickadees, nuthatches, and stellar jays, and my favorite:  the grouse.  Our nocturnal residents help us keep our vole populations down:  owls and coyotes, but unfortunately they eat the grouse too.   

 So, if I think of my ancestors, I don’t think they would have settled here.  Even though there’s fresh water, and SOME spruce trees, it’s 1 mile up on the side of the mountain.  They might have lived in the valley after the glacier receded. But not up here. 

It certainly makes me wonder if I should live here?  I rely on fossil fuel to drive that mile up and then another 10 miles to town.  We use lots of electricity and natural gas to stay warm.  We have to import our wood because we live in a cottonwood forest.  However, it all might be changing.  Our summers are now warmer and I see the cottonwood struggling, but so are the birch and the willows.  There isn’t enough water or snow melt.  Apparently this area used to be covered in PINE trees before the last glaciers covered our area.  Maybe that will be the new tree? 

The mind of God……up here in the mountains.  What pattern is that?