Long Day Done

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The first call came from friends, standing at the murky water’s edge. Our cabin-house on the Copper was about to fall into the river. First: “the cabin is 20’ from the river”; next, 5 hours later and with a bit more excitement, “10 more feet of bank has sloughed off”, and the next day with alarming urgency, “it’s a goner if you don’t act fast.”

The Copper house is prone to be whisked off its foundation and
catapulted into sludge brown waters, heaving itself into the delta that merges
with other streams and rivers, and finally, bouncing off into the sunset,
riding the ocean current with all our cherished memories and labors etched deep
inside its walls. Luckily we found a mover nearby who was happy to take our
business. Friends salvaged the metal fish table, wood benches that ringed the
fire pit, and a giant birdhouse I gave to my husband the first Christmas we
spent in the house after completion.

The Copper is ferocious, with a silt load second only to the Yukon and rising velocity from glacier run-off. This year, frozen ground, a late spring snowfall and a piercing sun that melted the ground much faster than usual, caused ice jams upriver and severe flooding; the most extensive flooding in the local elder’s memory.
We found a mover, got to work, and are now heading into our second week of building forms, pouring concrete, and erecting foundation walls.Saved by the skin of our pants and non-stop laboring.

We built this house out-of-pocket and board-by-board over a five-year period. During those times when you’re 20 feet up on a ladder nailing tongue and groove on the ceiling, or negotiating icy scaffolding during an early winter, you wonder.

You wonder, why at this age (in our sixties), are we doing this? You wonder, how many more years before we shouldn’t be climbing ladders, hauling bags of concrete, and nail-gunning 12’ boards into place?

Though I didn’t make my occupation by way of physical labor, I always liked working outdoors, sweating while getting a job done, and feeling sore muscles the next morning, proof of a good day’s work. I’d done Forest Service work in the Dakotas, hiking through ponderosa pine forests and marking trees to be cut; and experienced invigorating round-up work in sunny Wyoming, roping cattle in preparation for branding and castration.
Dust devils. The smell of horses. A never-ending vista of cloudless blue sky. And the camraderie with real cowboys.

Retired now, my occupation as a speech therapist trumped that of an imagined rancher’s wife, because admittedly, my idea of physical labor is a highly romanticized version.

I’ll work outdoors though, until I’m no longer able. And the answers to all my why questions are simple: Catching red salmon in a fish wheel on the Copper, filling the freezer to last all winter long, and gifting food to friends is a yearly ritual that
has engraved a current, deep as the river, in my bones. A connection to the
land is honored and appreciated, like a gardener’s immersion in cultivating her
home-grown food and flora.

When the work is done, we’ll again sit for hours, sipping a beer and doing nothing but watching the river roll by, but in the meantime, a lot of work can be done in the 19 hours and 46 minutes of daylight we are blessed with today.
This is the year of records. The flood of 2013…the most extensive in the local’s living memory.

And another long day, done.



0 thoughts on “Long Day Done”

  1. If I read this right, you're moving the cabin to a safer location on the Copper? You know Steve and I would be right there working beside you if we could, John Deer tractor in tow. Be safe, my friend. Can't wait to see you in August!!

  2. We moved it back 200' from the river, out of harm's way. That should last another 20 years…fingers crossed! See you at the bunkhouse real soon…oh, where has June flown off to?

  3. No complaints. Many people lost their permanent homes in the villages along the Yukon. Temperatures in the nineties are melting the glaciers, keeping the rivers high and fast. And the fish are in!

  4. I'm truly enthralled the the landscape you photograph and the world you write about. That's not to say I don't love/ appreciate the beauty of my life in the exurban climes north of NYC. Maybe it's that I marvel, in a way, at what it takes to be closer to that thing I think of as wilderness.

  5. I understand your distinction. Beauty is everywhere, and I point my camera there wherever I travel, city, meadow, or town. The rolling green hills of Iowa, where my husband is from, has its own brand of beauty. But wilderness is something else altogether…there is a palpable sense of freedom in wild places, like anything can happen…and it does.

    Anne Hanley (past Alaska State Writer Laureate) says: Alaska is a place where people are not categorized when it comes to creativity. I have a friend who creates artwork, raise chickens, has a job at the university and is a serious dancer. People put together a blend of things to define themselves here; there is far more stratification or segregation of the arts in the Lower 48. I concur with her observation. I think this is a place where you can re-invent yourself pretty easily as well. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Deborah. You always make me think!

  6. I was up very early this morning and discovered the flooding in Calgary – 100K people evac'd there. Unfortunately, most of them don't have the option of moving their houses. I asked a friend there if late snow/early melt had contributed to their river rise as well as rain – it seems as though the answer is a provisional "yes".

    I smiled at your "Iowa is nice, but…" comment. I understand it perfectly, having been born and raised in that state. The family is buried there, and I took my mother "home" for burial next to dad just two years ago. I love the state, although I'd never consider moving back. The memories are rich, but the ties have loosened. Besides, the values that tie me to those years can be lived out anywhere.

    I'm glad the house was safely moved. After Tropical Storm Allison set up shop over Houston, most people got to rebuild instead. 😉

  7. Lucky your friends gave you enough warning so you could get your cabin moved in time – what an experience! Floods are very scary and I suppose there will be many more of them with climate change advancing. I love working outdoors, too, but I've never done so in a breathtaking wilderness setting like yours.

  8. In 30 years, we've seen glaciers recede substantially; it's quite obvious when you no longer see big bergs of ice on glacier-fed lakes. I think climate change is most evident in the arctic, and whalers have told me they used to go out on the ice, 20 miles out on snow machines, but can only go out a few miles now as the ice has melted. Thank you, Barbara.

  9. Very few people could tell this story of building and moving an entire house. I admire your fortitude–to enjoy doing physical labor this much. I like wood splitting but am unsure if it would be fun to build a whole cabin. Feeling the energy of the Copper flowing through this blog.

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Welcome to the creative playground of Image, Sculpture, Verse.  I live in a river town nestled in the Chugach Mountain Range of Southcentral Alaska.



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