This is the first part of a chapter called “Lost!” from Kris Drumm’s as-yet unpublished memoir “Open to Entry, An Alaskan Adventure”, her experiences as a woman homesteading north of Talkeetna in the 1970’s. The story is read by Sandra Loomis. Kris currently lives on Long Island with her son Judah Mahay and his wife Lorien in order to help raise their son Cedric.
Our home was finally built. Sure it was a bit crude by modern standards but it was ours, so it had a dirt floor, we poured blood, sweat and many of my tears into.
Now that the hard work was done it was a good time to explore. September in South Central Alaska was known for clear beautiful skies and crisp cool weather. From up on the ridge where our cabin sat you saw a long ways out over the Susitna River, now that we had a hard frost and the leaves were covering the forest floor.
The Alaska Range sparkled in the morning sunlight standing out in full glory. The new fallen snow white and vivid on the mountains stood out in stark contrast to the deep blue of the sky. Basking in the quiet stillness of the forest that surrounded me letting the peace of the wilderness soak into my soul I felt prepared for another day.
Filling our backpacks with supplies for a week we headed out along the back trail to Clear Creek wondering if any salmon were still running upstream to spawn. I was even looking ahead to cooking over a campfire again.
Brut, our trusty lab leads the way chasing after leaves swirling in the breeze on the game trail we followed. Our neighbors talked about the old homestead road we were following back to the creek. There were at least a dozen families who staked out Open to Entry property just as we did that lived in the area. We already had met some families and were eager to meet more, make new friends and see what each had built for a home.
It was a seven mile hike from our cabin to the stream that became a tributary for the Talkeetna River. It was such a fresh, brisk day for a hike that even with loaded packs on in fewer than three hours we were at Clear Creek.
Late run Pink salmon were in abundance and a simple catch with just a string and hook. Even Brut jumped in and fished. As I watched him play in the stream I laugh at his antics chasing after the fish, and catching them in his mouth spitting them out, made me want to join in his fun. Oh but the stream was cold, just cleaning our catch turned my hands blue; that water had to be close to the freezing point. Even though it was swift flowing and tumbled over the many rocks in its path I was surprised ice hadn’t formed along the edges.
By the time the fish was ready to grill our campfire blazed in the waning light. We set up the pup tent on a little rise above the water on the game trail that leads along stream. It was a peaceful, quiet, serene evening, a time to soak in all the sounds and scents of the wilderness that surrounded me.
I smelled the spawned out salmon that gave their lives to come here where everyone hatched to complete the cycle of life. The scent of fallen leaves was pungent as the slight breeze wafted throughout the camp. The water gurgled a song to the wind as it lured me to sleep dreaming of a dance with ravens soaring overhead.
Clouds were forming high overhead as we broke camp the next morning. A fresh smelling breeze played with the leaves on the trail ahead leading the way up the creek. Brut was eager to go and ran far up the trail, yet coming back often to check our progress.
By mid-morning we found an old mining road that the game trail we followed blended into that led away from the creek, made by heavy equipment, wide and smooth, good enough for a vehicle to drive on; I saw some tire tracks to prove it was used. It made me wonder how anyone could get a vehicle way out here to use the road.
After following the tracks for three hours we came upon a cabin that stood on the bank by a small stream. Finding the door unlocked, curious we went in to take a look around. The cabin was about twice the size of ours, a high roof with a room sized loft over half of the open living area. In the kitchen was a beautiful green enamel antique wood cook stove that reminded me of grandma Durfee’s woodstove that was used on the farm. It had six lift out lids, a good size wood box, an oven a warmer shelf and even a water reservoir. It made me homesick for my grandma. Maybe someday when we build a bigger cabin I may get grandma’s stove up here.
Heading up the trail as it crossed the small creek behind the cabin, we noticed fish feeding on the bugs that lit upon the water. Out came our trusty little rod. Grayling were abundant as we caught one after another and releasing them back into the stream to feed again. Eating a small lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we sat for a time watching the grayling rise to feed.
The trees began to thin out as we climbed the old trail leading up a ridge. It was almost a meadow under the large birch trees surrounding us, reminding me of the forest on the farm I wandered through many times. I felt at home here, as if I belonged to the land I was traveling over.