Monday, December 29, 2008

"The dump tourist" vs "the dump shopper"

The wind has been brutal. With the air temp in the minus 20-30 range, any wind results in a significant wind chill. We've been facing a wind out of the north that slices exposed flesh like a razor, prompting one to cover up as much as possible.

Today, when I went out to feed my dogs, I was adequately protected from the arctic blast, except for that little place between my eyes. As you may imagine, that unnamed place was cold. This weather will likely continue for a few days.

In our village, as in many others, there is no trash pick-up service. Residents either burn their garbage in a barrel (a filthy habit which pollutes the neighborhood and stinks up the town; see older post about this heinous crime against humanity), or, like myself, they take their garbage to the dump.

A village dump can be an "interesting" place; you never know what you'll find. Dump scenery may include a few dozen ravens, smoldering heaps of trash, dead dogs in various states of decay/consumption, seasonal items such as fish heads in summer, moose hide in the fall, etc. (this is trapping season so you'll often see marten carcasses; they look a lot nicer with their clothes on), and human waste; the previous contents of the infamous "honeybucket".

Today, when I went, I saw the ravens, the remains of my old sled, partially burned, lots of charred cans, and one "tourist". A tourist is not to be confused with a "shopper". This tourist visits the dump numerous times per day. He's a loney old man who's favorite pastime is riding around the village and checking out what every one has been up to. So naturally he makes semi-hourly dump visits.

He saw me driving in to drop off my garbage, so he waited out on the road. As I unloaded and set fire to my refuse (this is the approved procedure as it discourages foraging by stray dogs and ravens) the tourist attempted to appear disinterested, pretending to focus his attention on something else. But I know better; I'm familiar with his intelligence gathering techniques, as I have been for years.

When I finished and drove out from the dump, he drove his snowmachine in. He clearly did not have any trash with him, so he was not here on official business. This was a recon mission. I smiled as I watched him in the rearview mirror and drove away. The rapidly spreading flames were thwarting his investigative efforts.

If you find it...amazing, or dumb, or completely trivial, that a guy would actually drive by the dump simply to see what every one is throwing away, and that he would do this numerous times per day, I completely agree on all counts. What can I say; that's village life.

Now, as I said earlier, a dump tourist is not the same as a dump "shopper". As the name implies, a shopper visits the dump hoping to find a "bargain". Since we are a long way from Home Depot, recycling can be a good way to go. For example, in the next week I will be making a hitch/tow bar for a new sled. The materials will be reclaimed steel, originally part of the "bleachers" in the school gym. I got these "supplies" when I was at the dump a couple of years ago, so you could say I was a "shopper" on that day.

One woman here has a collection of "stuff" she has salvaged. Many people get snow machine and four wheeler parts there. In the past I have reclaimed everything from used lumber to old moose heads (used for trapping bait; one was the key to obtaining a very nice black wolf pelt).

There is an art to dump shopping. You can't just go barging in like you would at a Wal-Mart. You've got to watch where you step (remember the honey buckets) and you must possess visual appraisal skills. That is, you must have a discerning eye to tell you what trash is "treasure" and what trash is truly trash. Without the visual appraisal skills a dump shopper is forced to rummage around in the dump like a stray dog or lazy bear; a somewhat hazardous activity that can also give you a bad reputation.

I'm reminded of my early days as a shopper when I was ignorant and unskilled. I needed some pipe (two inches in diameter) to fix my trailer. A visit to our local hardware store (that's the dump, in case you haven't figured it out yet) was in order. And I quickly found what I needed. There was a large plumbing apparatus that had been dicarded when they updated our water plant. Jutting out from the top was a length of pipe which would suit my needs. I returned with a hacksaw and got to work.

I found something to stand on so I could reach the pipe (it was 7-8 feet off the "ground", not really ground because we are talking about the dump here). I climbed up and started sawing. A few people passed by and gave me some quizzical looks, but no matter; I knew why I was precariously perched on rubbish with both arms over my head sawing away on the pipe. Eventually I was sucessful and returned home.

In hind sight I would definitely say that was not the work of a skilled dump shopper. Here's why:
-#1; Discretion, or in this case, the lack of. A veteran shopper operates with the skill of a Navy Seal, seeking to perform the required operation in secret. Balancing on a pile of garbage while sawing overhead is anything but discreet. Like I said earlier, bad for the reputation.
-#2; Poor location. The needed pipe was very hard to reach. A basic rule of dump shopping is watching where you step; climbing up on a garbage pile is out of the question for veteran shoppers.
-#3; Visual appraisal. This is where I really blew it. A savvy shopper would have accurrately assessed the situation and deemed this pipe unacceptable. As a rookie, I plunged right in, to my subsequent shame. The discarded plumbing apparatus of which my selected pipe was a part, had not been previously used for water supply. No...I can only wish it were so. The truth is, (and here I cringe just thinking about it) the pipe I salvaged was part of the sewage system. (And I thought the color was from rust; so gross!)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Things are looking up

Unless I'm mistaken, we had a wee bit more sunlight today. The Solstice is behind us so the days are now getting longer; probably only a few seconds, but we'll take what we can get. I didn't really notice much improvement; it was snowing pretty hard all day. I'm sure the sun was out there, somewhere, but I didn't see it.

Today I headed off across the river to get wood (firewood). With my fully functioning snow machine (one, at least) and a new chain on my saw, I drove off feeling like a kid on the way to my first day of school...but the vision was quickly shattered.

While driving "down the bank" (which means I was going down onto the frozen river) I met a guy who was also getting wood. His appearance was enough to strike fear into the heart of any "kid" on their way to their first day of school. Good thing I'm a grownup. My wave brought a smile; well, a partial smile. He has lived a rough life and some of his teeth have not survived the journey. His face told the tale of a scuffle, probably about 3-4 days ago. There were old abrasions and a so-called "black eye" which was anything but black. Red, purple, orange and a bit of green and yellow. All the colors you would find in a good Italian produce market. And those colors would look a lot more attractive there than around his eye. Alcohol doesn't wear well.

He was scrounging around for anything remotely resembling wood. On his make-shift sled rode some tree roots and pieces of a stump. He was pulling it himself; his life does not accomodate a snow machine for any length of time.

As I approached the island I came upon an oddity; a man walking. Odd for a guy to be walking a half-mile from town on a soft snow machine "trail". Suspecting a mechanical problem I stopped to inquire.

"What's goin' on Mo?"

"I'm stuck on the other side, in water."

"Where at?"

"Right where you go up the bank on the middle trail."

"How deep is it?"

"Not too bad (he illustrates with his hands) but I couldn't handle it myself."

"You want a ride back to your house, or do you want a hand getting it out?"

"I hate for you to get wet."

"It's not like I've never been wet before." (he smiles) "And I'll probably be getting wet again before too long." (he chuckles)

A mile ride and we're there. After 15-20 minutes of pushing, pulling, lifting, digging, shoving and sweating he's free. He waves as he goes on to check his traps and I drive off to the north.

A few miles later I come upon a BULL MOOSE; capitalized because he was BIG. I watched him chug his way up the lake through the snow, swiveling his head from side to side as he kept an eye on me. WOW! After all these years I still marvel at the size of those guys. A massive body of muscle, sinew, blood and bone, hide and horns. There's a lot of power jogging up that lake; his dewlap swinging pendulously as he goes.

A few hours later and my work is done. Two loads of drywood have been delivered; payment for the rough-sawn birch she gave me last month. She'll have heat for many nights and I have a new table. We're both happy. I threw in a fresh beaver carcass just to be nice.

(The photo was taken a few days ago with the sun at max height. It gives you and idea how low it is at this time of year. You can probably imagine why clouds are no fun right now.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Not really sure where this post will go. Usually I "feel" some kind of inpiration about a subject or a current event. Today I just signed on...hoping it will come to me.

Maybe I'll just tell you what I did today.

The day starts off a little weird. My wife hurt her shoulder at work yesterday and the pain kept her from sleeping very much. Most of her night was spent sitting up in a La-z-boy. She's tired, hurting and frustrated, so I pamper her a bit with a nice breakfast. Then, once I know she will be ok, I move on to other things.

One of my snow machines is now fixed...Ohhhhh-yeah! I got it running last night so today it's ready to roll. And roll it does!

I go for a ride (after stopping by the dogyard to prepare soup du jour for my dogs; Brazil and the others really appreciate it if I fill the empty spot once a day). I check out the trail in hopes of running the team tomorrow. Out of the dog yard, through the woods, across the little lake, more woods, more lakes, etc., etc. Not too cold (10 above) which makes it comfortable. Sun would be nice, but we're fogged in.

I follow some one's old trail* (*a "trail" is often nothing more than the track left by a previous machine. In a remote location such as this, most of the snow is undisturbed, which can make travel difficult; especially when the snow gets 2, 3 or 4 feet deep. Driving through untouched snow is locally referred to as "breaking trail"). So I follow the old trail up the local river to a logjam where the driftwood has been cut for firewood. This massive tangle of once-trees, now-fuel doesn't look too good to me; there's a lot of mud and sand on the logs which dulls the chainsaw. I continue on, in search of...nothing really, just cruising.

I enjoy the meandering ride upriver, the hoarfrost coating everything in sight, and the animal tracks. That's the great thing about snow; it tells the tale of all the recents happenings.

I see where the wolves came out of the woods to travel on the trail (animals have trouble breaking trail too, so like the rest of us, they take advantage of another's hard work and follow old trails). I can't make out how many there are; 2-3 is my guess. They go in and out of the woods a few times; one spot might be a good place for a snare (sorry, I don't mean to be a jerk, but trapping is a way of life up here. Wolf fur is used for parka ruffs and for memorial potlaches).

I also see innumerable fox tracks, some mink tracks and one that looks like wolverine, but it's unlikely considering I'm only a mile or two from the village. If snow conditions were different and the tracks fresher, I would be able to tell for sure. There is even an otter track (beautiful, amazing animals, but they can be a REAL PEST when they start raiding the fishnet).

Now I drive down to "Two-mile"; a likely place for me to turn the team around if we run tomorrow. At Two-mile there's a trail going over to "Two-mile Island".

"Hmmm...where does that go?" I wonder to myself. My woodyard is in that very direction, and not many people go down that way, so I'm curious. Raiding woodyards is for locals what raiding fishnets is for otters. I better check it out.

The trail crosses part of the river, then climbs up the sandbar to the island, but not much further. Some one has been getting driftwood on the island. No trail continuing on across the river, so my woodyard is safe.

I head for home, taking the trail back to the dog yard. After feeding them I go back to the house. Man, that was a nice ride; my first of the winter.

More pampering for the injured sweetie. I act like it's an inconvenience, but she knows I'm happy to do it. Laundry, a dinner of frijoles and fajitas (pretty good too, just sayin') and a quiet evening at home. These don't happen much on weekends, so I'm soaking it up.

'Till next time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I'm having a breakdown! I guess you could say it was bound to happen, considering all the stress and rigors of living here. If you know me and my situation you may have seen it coming. Perhaps you knew it had already started. Where were you when the first domino fell? You saw this coming and you said nothing?? Why didn't you tell me?

Oh boy; this is serious; it's a "major breakdown", leaving me immobile and seriously incapacitated. Not surprisingly, it affects my wife too. Actually, I guess you'd have to say it's a "total breakdown" because I'm left with no options, no alternatives. I have no way of getting back to life as I've known it until I deal with this situation...and it won't be easy. I hate mechanic work!

For the past couple of weeks the truck has been dead. I'm sure it's probably nothing more serious than the battery, but getting a new battery is complicated. It must be purchased over the phone from an auto parts store in Fairbanks, delivered to an air freight company who will handle "hazardous" stuff, and then, eventually, I'll get it here. That will likely be sometime between Christmas and New Years. (Sniffle-sniffle)

As I mentioned previously, I just got the four-wheeler repaired and back in service. Yesterday, while plowing snow, the rocker-switch burned up. The switch operates the winch, which raises and lowers the plow. Not only that; I can't even turn the engine on until I take everything apart or the switch starts smoking. That will be my first chore today, after it gets light outside. (Sob...sob...more sobbing)

My wide-track snow machine, which I depend upon; much like Zorro and his sword, Robin Hood with his bow, Tarzan and his...I don't know...his monkey? Or his knife, that's it. Well it's the same with me, winter and the wide-track. Well, it's down with a tranny problem. I took it apart a few days ago, and...uh...well, that's where we're at. Get the picture? (Boo-hoo)

Which brings us to today. Well, yesterday, actually. My relatively new "Tundra" (which is my other snow machine; it's basically a "Toyota" whereas the wide-track is a "Hummer") quit working. I'm not sure if it's serious (please Lord, no) or just a simple inconvenience (like the carb icing up). That will be my next chore (WAAAAAA-WAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!) .

So there you are; my complete and total breakdown. The only thing I have that works is my boat, which is covered with a foot of snow. I suppose my best option may be to combine all these broken vehicles into one hybrid that works!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


It's REALLY coming down! Snowing buckets out there; has been for about 24hrs. The weather wizards say it will keep up for another couple of days.

That's good news as far as snow machine travel is concerned. Bit of a bummer as far a shoveling is concerned, but I'll take it. Now we have enough to smooth out the trails and rough ice on the river. Enough for running dog teams ("Caveman"'s been doing it for a while, but what can I say; he's a caveman). Anyway, I'm REAL HAPPY I got the fourwheeler fixed and I'm able to operate the snow plow. Woo-hoo!

Tomorrow it looks like I'll be helping set-up trail markers. It's the way we identify the "trail" on the river, going up or down to "neighboring" villages. Tomorrow night a lot of our residents will take off to play basketball in the next gym down river, which is nearly 40 miles away. Driving a snowmachine on a river, in a heavy snow storm, in the dark...hmmm; I think trail markers are a good idea.

Well...time for me to turn in. Looks like a busy day tommorrow.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An even 100!

Whoa! Unless I'm mistaken, this makes the 100th post for northern eye. Wowzer, that's a lot of gibberish for an old guy who can't even type (ok, maybe I'm not so old, but it sure feels like it some times; like today).

I was thinking about "the glass half-full, half-empty" thing. If you know me you're well aware I lean ever-so-slightly toward the glass being on the empty side (quit laughing; you mean you think I understated that a bit. To that I reply "Pessimists are actually Realists and Optimists are delusional"). But in the interest of fairness, I will strive for objectivity in the following post.

Life in a remote northern village; the limitations are obvious (at least they should be obvious if you've been paying attention), but with everything considered, is village life a glass half-full, or half-empty?

First off, it's REMOTE. That is a plus or a minus depending upon your preferences. Perhaps you like the idea of unspoiled wilderness right outside your door. Moose, bears, eagles, wolves; would you like them for neighbors? Solitude just around the bend. Unlimited country to explore. Sound good? How's that glass lookin' now; filling up?

Or would you miss your Starbucks, restaurants and stores (ok, we have a "store", but get real; village stores are a joke). How do you feel about cutting your own hair, cause it's a long way to a Supercuts. You can't pick up dinner on the way home from work, so forget about KFC and Domino's. Ever try buying clothes and shoes through the mail? Odds are, most of the time it won't fit (Case in point: I just got three birthday presents; one fit, one doesn't, the third I have yet to try on...I let you know in a while). So, does remote = bummer? Is the glass running low?

How Do you like the idea of healthy, wild meat and fish? It's all available right here. You just have to step out the door and get it (limits and licenses where applicable). No preservatives, no hormones, low in fat, plenty of those Omega fours, fives and sixes (or whatever they are). Fish as fresh as it comes; right out of the water. Ahhh yes, the beauty of a nearly full glass.

Oh, what? Did you want something else? You're not a wolf you say. A salad??? Sorry, that's not in season. You can get your salad in July...if you planted it in June. problem. Here's the can opener. Fresh veggies? Sure, right out of a freshly opened can. Ben and Jerry's? Hmmm...I don't think they live here. A guy named "Jerry" comes every summer, but now that I think of it, he may spell his name with a "G". Oh, you wanted ice cream! No problem, we make it ourself. Crisco, Wesson oil, sugar and some boiled fish. You can add some frozen blueberries, if you picked them last summer. Yeah, that glass can get pretty leaky when food is the topic of discussion.

Let's try...transportation. You're gonna like traffic...EVER! No jam-ups. No rubber-necking causing a 45 minute delay to your commute. In fact, no commute, so you can stop feeling guilty for not carpooling. And no need for spendy insurance or registration. (oooo-baby; look at that glass filling up) No worries about washing the car. Maintenance is less because you drive so few miles*. This whole transportation thing is a win-win. Hey, what was that Asterisk for?

Glad you asked. Miles driven are less, but around here we get a lot more "bang for the buck" (well, for the mile, I guess). Did I mention we don't have paved roads? I'm talking about zero asphalt; it's all gravel, so when I say "bang" I'm talking about "BANG!"; one for every pothole. In a village, maintenance is a loss. Ball joints wear out, shocks break, tires suffer a high mortality rate, etc. Another thing you'll want to know; YOU are the mechanic. It's hard to find a Midas or Mr. Goodwrench along the river.

Sorry to drain your glass here, but it can't be helped. If you don't like cars, don't buy one. But you will need a snow machine, a boat and probably a 4-wheeler. Add that up and it will cost considerably more than the car. You won't burn a lot of gas commuting to work, which is nice, because gas costs $5-$10 per gallon, depending on where you live. If you like the idea of saving gas/money by just staying home in the village, I'll admit, that has it's benefits. You will save. One small problem though; that's kind of like saying you'll save gas/money by spending time in jail, because never getting out of the village starts to feel like being in jail. Hmmm, transportation is a bit of a trade-off, like everything else.

One more. How about...people. Do you think village life would be great because every one knows every one. The people are all friendly and live together in a close-knit community where every one helps their neighbor. No gangs, no crime. It's just like one big family. Just look at that lovely glass; it's nearly full.

Not for long! Actually, a village is one big family, since every one is related (except me) and families don't always get along; perhaps you've discovered that. A "close-knit community"? Yep. So close it's impenetrable. Just ask the State Troopers, which brings us to the "no crime"...yeah, like I just said, ask the Troopers. "The people are all friendly"? Village people are basically the same as every one else; some are nice, some are not-so-nice. And some are a major pain!

So there you are. You decide if the glass is half-full or half-empty. As for me, my perspective remains the same, and what troubles me is the glass looks like it wasn't very clean to begin with.

p.s. The third one didn't fit. One out of three is about the average.