Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Katie's Cabin

So, the other day - Labor Day, in fact, when I had a day off - my friend Katie and I were looking for some kind of mischief to get into. It was a beautiful day - sunny and warm, with just the lightest of breezes to keep things interesting and disperse the last of the summer's biting insects. There have been all too few gorgeous sunny days this year, so naturally we decided to go do something outside. Maybe hiking in Hatcher pass, maybe coffee on the patio of one of our hangouts, maybe a trip to Talkeetna for lunch - hey! Talkeetna! That's not far from Katie's cabin! Let's go there!

Katie's cabin is the stuff of legend for me. I've been hearing for about the last three years (from various sources, none of which include Katie herself) how totally cool her outhouse is - AND that she built it with her own hands. I don't know why these two items are always presented together, but there you are. (I'm also not quite sure it's possible to understand, from the point of view of an Outsider, the peculiar passion Alaskans have for a good outhouse, but it is definitely something esteemed of many. Discussions as to what constitutes a good "Necessary" can last for 30 minutes or more, with much judicious nodding and vigorous debate about just what IS the most comfortable and thermally beneficial surface upon which to settle one's naked posterior when the ambient temp falls below - 20 degrees Fahrenheit. And, of course, there are many other considerations, ranging from the likelihood of encountering local wildlife whilst in a compromising position, the potential insect and arachnid count, and of course - an important consideration - the view from that particular perch.)

At any rate, once the idea of Katie's cabin came up, it was a done deal. There was no way we were going to go anywhere that day that did NOT include Katie's cabin. So, I gathered up some likely snacks, my camera, some water, and my boyfriend's dog (whose turn it was for an outing, since I cannot put all my dogs in a vehicle at once), loaded into Katie's truck, and off we went.
Now, I believe I've mentioned that it's been a cloudy, cool, rainy summer. One of the consequences thereof is that there have been few chances to see The Mountain. ["The Mountain" means Denali, The Great One, often known to those from Outside as Mt. McKinley, tallest peak on the North American continent... but up here, often referred to simply as The Mountain, with capitals implied.] However, evidently the Gods were smiling upon us on Labor Day, since she was visible nearly the entire way (barring times when curves in the road and other intervening terrain hid her from view temporarily.) Even on good clear days, you may not be able to see her, as she makes her own weather from on high, and may veil herself in cloud. But not today.

Now, the trip to Katie's cabin takes about two hours. The second hour is pretty much comprised of trundling slowly over rutted dirt roads, many of which should not be attempted without benefit of a vehicle with a good high clearance and 4 wheel drive. There is one point where you have to drive through a stream (an endeavor undertaken with the greatest care, not so much because of worries of stranding yourself, as in consideration of the fact that this is a salmon-spawning stream, and though the fish have long since completed that part of their year, it is important to disturb the rocky stream bed as little as possible.) There is in fact a bridge, but it is a great deal more frightening than fording the stream is, and in fact might not be possible to drive on, even with a 4x4. Flooding a few years ago caused it to cant at about a 30-degree angle to the downstream side, and sufficiently uprooted the moorings to the shore that even with the hubs locked it might not be possible to mount the leading edge of it without either high-centering the truck on the peaky upward jut of it, or else jumping the "kerb" so created and rocketing your vehicle over it and into the river, possibly on its side (due to the pronounced slope of the bridge itself - which, by the way, is distinctly holey and rotted-through.)

The beaver lodge

After the stream crossing, we weave through some curves, past a pretty little open meadow that contains a beaver lodge (and what looks like some good moose browsing habitat), and down a set of steep, tight, sandy switchbacks that would make many a person decide to get out of the truck and proceed on foot. Katie, however, is made of sterner stuff, and negotiates them with aplomb. We pause at her favorite currant bush and snag a handful of currants on our way by. And the next stop is Katie's cabin.

Currants on deck

One of the reasons Katie built where she did is, as you can see, the view. That's her, Denali, The Mountain, The Great One. She and her massif pretty much comprise 50% of the view off Katie's deck (although it's also possible to see Mt Susitna - AKA Sleeping Lady - and a number of other peaks from the top of the ridge where the cabin is perched.)

Denali and willow bower

Naturally, after an hour of kidney-bouncing roads, the next stop must be the famous outhouse. Well-ventilated and carefully screened to exclude squirrels and other small invaders, it is situated to get at least some benefit of passive solar heating (which I grant you isn't going to help much when it's midnight in December, but is still a consideration in a general way.) It is solid and square and neatly organized inside, with shelves for supplies (which are completely squirrel- shrew- and rodent-free.) I must admit, I am impressed with Katie's carpentry skills. She shrugs and says it wasn't that hard (although evidently stripping the logs was a bit of a pain). I begin to imagine how adorable will be Katie's chicken coop (currently in the planning stages.)

The Necessary House

Anyway, we spent a little time wandering through the woods and getting harassed by gnats (the mosquitoes have pretty much packed it in for the year). If anyone is wondering, wild bears DO crap in the woods, and I have photographic evidence (which, in the interests of good taste, I will not reproduce here.) Moose, pretty much the same deal. Pepper - the BF's Border collie - showed more restraint, spending her afternoon sniffing interesting things, patrolling for squirrels, urinating on likely bushes, and lounging at her ease in the sun on the deck (with occasional hopeful eyes at our bison jerky.)

Katie sweeping the deck of squirrel midden (pine nut hulls)

Unfortunately, both Katie and I had things to do the next day, so we didn't stay the night. All too soon it was time to head back down the trail, so we snugged the cabin back up, re-loaded the truck and made our way back over the ruts and obstacles. The colors are starting to turn, and we made our way back through the high-bush cranberries (which are not cranberries at all, despite the red and tart nature of them.) I'm given to understand that you can make a good meat sauce from them - although I just pretty much eat them off the bush, myself - as well as a beautifully-colored and tasty jelly... although evidently it smells as if you are boiling used gym socks rather than making something that you might want to put on toast or pancakes. The cranberries are best after the first frost, which we have not yet had, but the rose hips were ready to eat, slightly wrinkled, sweet and tangy. We had a few on the way out, spitting the seeds (not so much as a re-seeding effort as because the seeds will in some individuals cause something we shall here euphemistically refer to as "tummy upset". I do not know if I am one such individual, but I prefer not to find out.)

High-bush cranberry

So now I'm kind of thinking: Hmmm.... there was that open lot next to Katie's.... I wonder if I can talk her into building me a nice outhouse....?


MaskedMan said...

Mmmm... Currants.

AKDD said...

Veeeeerrrry tart! But tasty. The rosehips were sweet and tangy.

Cavewoman said...

You have currents? I'm jealous. I love current jelly.

MaskedMan said...

Mmmmm... Tart currants.

Man, I've got some uses for those... I'm thinking of pork chops and tart currants... :-D

AKDD said...

I admire you for having the restraint to make them into jelly. I can't stop just eatin' 'em right off the bush.

On the plus side, a client brought me homemade strawberry jam today. Yummmmmm.

Pork Chops and tart currants? Great, now I have to go buy pork chops...! (since Katie gave me some dried currants...)