Monday, January 31, 2011

Arctic Homestead

When I was growing up, my mother always started off our homeschool day by reading to us. She read us biographies and historical fiction mostly, counting it toward our history studies. I think I was 8 or 9 when she read Tisha to us. It was about a young woman who took a job teaching school in rural Alaska in the early 1900s.
I was fascinated.
I guess that was really the beginning for me, of wanting to come to Alaska. I re-read the book a couple of times in my teenage years too. As I was finishing college, I was contemplating getting dual certification (Alaska and my then-homestate of Washington have a reciprocal certification agreement) and I was going to come teach for a year or two in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, save up my money, and then go back south and get married. I was going to do what Tisha did...only Tisha found a spouse up in Alaska and stayed...and, well, if that happened that was ok too.
Only I found a spouse before I got a chance to go to Alaska and get rich. So I stayed poor and got married, and I'm not sure whether Alaska was still on my radar or not...I certainly wasn't thinking about it in any concrete way. But less than 4 years into our marriage we had an opportunity to move our family to Alaska, and even though we had never made serious plans to do so, we both jumped at the opportunity. Sometimes, something is so in your blood that you don't have to talk about it. I hadn't realized that my husband felt the call of the wild too, but he did, and we came.
And when we got here, we realized that it was home.

In the early part of our marriage, we had talked about buying a little piece of land where we could have a big garden, some fruit trees, and maybe raise some chickens or something. Now that we have realized that Alaska is home--more particularly that this region is where we want to stay for the long term (employment permitting)--now we have begun researching what exactly will be involved in creating an independent, sustainable, mostly-off-grid homestead for our family in this area. We've been getting books from the library, and reading up on everything from yurts and earthbag homes to cob houses and underground dwellings. We're learning about building with logs and how to use passive solar. We plan on heating with wood and geothermal energy, and will probably have a sod roof. We're reading about wind and hydropower. We know we'll need to build a greenhouse for our fruit trees and some of our vegetables. We're studying up on breeds of chickens and sheep to find which ones are gentle with children, which ones are hearty in cold weather, and which ones are the best for eating (and eggs, and wool...) The more we talk about it, the more excited we become. We know we need to sell our house down south before we can buy land here, and we don't want to buy land until we have tenure with a school district, so as to avoid what happened last time we bought a house (getting laid off and not being able to find another job within commuting distance of the place we owned!) So this is a 5 year plan at least...but it is a plan, and we are doing our reading, and it's exciting every time we talk about it.
Lots of people talk about things, but if the last few years are anything to go by, we are not just talkers, we are doers. We are the people who hold hands, hold our breath, and just jump already.

Recently, a fellow Alaskan friend recommended the book Arctic Homestead by Norma Cobb. She was another jumper. She and her husband took their five small children and settled in the wilderness north of Fairbanks in the 1970s. I admit I am not that daring, I have no desire to be that far north. I'll stay on my very sub-arctic peninsula thank you...but reading her story was inspiring, and reminded me of the reasons why I want to live off the land, with the land, in the land...and why I want to do it here. (It was also a thoroughly delightful read, so whether you have a homesteader's mindset or not I recommend the book!)

I conclude with a post from the book that seems to capture the way I feel about living in Alaska.

"There was breathtaking beauty in the howling of the wolves, the glisten and sparkle of new snow beneath lights, the splendid aurora borealis that never failed to fill me with wonder. It was as though God hung the great curtains of fire to fill space with myriad colors of dancing forms and vast spears and shafts of light flashing from one horizon to the next in a dazzling display of His power and majesty."

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