May 27, 2015
When my mom visited my Alaskan home for the first time, she looked around my 325 square foot one-story log cabin with a half loft and said “but where is all your stuff?” I could not help but laugh at her reaction. The joke of a cabin dweller is that you know you live in a cabin, not a house, when you can see all the possessions you own at once. From whichever spot you are standing in. She was in fact looking at everything we have, which in reality is not a lot. My dad’s reaction was by far the more hilarious one. He sat on my couch, taking inventory of our four 15-foot long walls, and said under his breath, “My God, Teresa.”
I have friends who gush about my perfect life, living the reality of the “tiny house” phenomenon. I just have to smile and do my best to not give them a reality check of what it is usually like living in a home smaller than my freshman-year college dorm room with another person. Although I suppose most of those friends’ assumption of a “tiny house” would at least involve a separate bedroom, a bathroom, and maybe even a “cutsy” lounge space for watercolors or crafting. I do not assume that they envision a 325 square foot cabin with no dimensions, doors, and only 4 corners.
I will admit that at times a small cabin is incredibly cozy and even has its romantic moments. Stringing up Christmas lights during the dark winter months makes the logs glow with warm light. Having a dinner party of six seems like a rambunctious affair. When there is space for only one loveseat (not even a full couch), there is no choice but to cuddle up to watch a movie. Although then the dog follows suit and someone usually ends up on the floor. It is typically not the dog.
For the most part however, a “tiny house” involves awkward arrangements of personal items and overlapping uses of space. My toothbrush lives on the shelf beneath the pint glasses. The dog’s crate doubles as a side table for the couch. Leaving dirty dishes out for the night is not an option, as they take up the only prep space next to the stove to prepare morning coffee. There are no doors inside the cabin, making the dramatic gesture of slamming the door in frustration quite difficult. Unless you were to physically leave the cabin in such a fashion, which is not incredibly appealing when it is dark and minus 30ºF outside. The thought reminds me of a favorite Mitch Hedberg joke: “I got into an argument with a girlfriend inside of a tent. That's a bad place for an argument, because then I tried to walk out and slammed the flap. How are you supposed to express your anger in this situation? Zipper it up really quick?”
At least I only have 325 square feet of floor to vacuum; there’s the silver lining. Needless to say, we are building a house on our 12 acres of paradise, and we are going all out. Two stories and 1,000 square feet. I cannot express how excited I am to have stairs.
May 19, 2015
Just because it is light out does not mean it is daytime. Just because it is dark does not mean it is time for bed.
It seems a common reaction of the average working individual to look at a calendar and double take: “How is it May already?” The reaction is not necessarily a surprised one (as the person is likely well aware of the month), but rather simple disbelief that time can pass so quickly.
In Alaska there is one sure thing that will remind you of the time of year – the sun. It makes larger arcs in the sky each day from the winter to summer solstice. It can hardly be said that the sun “rises in the east” and “sets in the west” in Alaska. In winter, the arc starts just above the horizon in the southern sky, and each day becomes a little wider. Eventually the arc begins and ends in the northern sky when summer arrives.
My cabin has big windows on all sides, and the sun rises and sets in each and every one of those windows at some point throughout the year. When winter takes hold, the sun only glows from behind the mountains out of my south-facing window. Twenty-two days after the solstice, not a day sooner, it will finally break through the low passes in the range, flooding my cabin with sunlight in five-minute spurts before disappearing behind a mountain’s peak. By February, I can no longer work comfortably at my east-facing computer desk in the morning. The dawn beams come streaming through that window rather than from the south. By March, it is impossible to block the glare on the TV coming through the west-facing windows in the evening. At that point, I know spring has arrived. The sun signals summer when in the early hours of the morning, still the middle of the night for that matter, the sun’s rays burst through my north-facing window. It becomes near impossible to sleep through the constant daylight shining right into my eyes. Even with curtains, the light will find the cracks and remind me that summer is here.
People often ask how I deal with the darkness in winter. What they should be asking is how I deal with the constant daylight in summer. Each pose challenges for the psyche, but I fully embrace both. It gives me energy to watch the sun work its way through the sky, making dramatic changes as seasons come and go. Winter offers peaceful twilight, allowing for quiet evenings in front of the fire. As daylight creeps back, the long to-do list that piles up starts being checked off. Why not chop wood at 11PM when the bugs are put to bed and the sun is still high in the sky?
Before I know it, the sun isn’t coming up until my drive to work in the fall. Soon I do not have to use my sun visor on the highway on the morning commute, which means winter is arriving once again.
May 06, 2015
“Fun Hog” month is how we refer to March in Denali. It is the long anticipated arrival of spring for year-round residents. Spring in Interior Alaska does not evoke birds chirping or tulips popping out of the ground; there is likely still over a foot of snow and nobody flinches if daytime temperatures don’t make it above -20°F. The arrival of spring here means only one thing for certain: daylight. The sensation of going to bed and rising with the sun is one that has almost been forgotten. For Alaskans, it is time to cash in vacation days and go play.
For my first winter camping trip longer than a weekend, I could have done without the -30°F thermometer reading when my musher, 10 sled dogs, and I hit the trail. The two-week adventure would take us from the entrance of Denali National Park to Kantishna and back. For someone who spends all summer inside the Park, it was an incredible thing to see Toklat River frozen rather than flowing, Eielson Visitor Center blanketed in snow, and an empty Park Road. For the most part, the winter skiing & mushing trail stays off the road, wandering its way through the river valleys instead. Every once in awhile, we would hop onto the road for a low, straight stretch. It was surreal to see a 30MPH sign sticking out of the snow, signaling cars that hadn’t passed that way in months.
I would have written it off as a ridiculous notion if three years ago someone told me that I would seek out and be thrilled by a winter camping trip where temperatures stayed below zero, 15-30 miles of skiing per day would be involved, and better yet, I would be sleeping in a tent in winter, not a cabin. But I found myself with a smile on my face, in nothing but a base layer at -10°F relaxing in the sunshine. I was looking at Denali with a bluebird sky backdrop eating a well-deserved Snickers after skiing up and over Stony Dome. I had spent the last several hours skiing after a team of sled dogs going faster than reasonable for pulling 500 pounds of sled, musher, and gear.
I have camped more nights than I can count in wilderness all over this country, but no trip quite compares to stepping out in the morning to rosy, snow capped mountains, frozen landscape, and nothing but deserted horizon.
It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.