We woke up early this morning in the little house in the extensive woods, at least early for us. Crack of nine a.m.! We had a pan of brownies to make, or rather River did, for Tod was coming from town with his chainsaw to “buck” some trees for us, pulled from the stacks of cut trees down on Fern Gully road. River is afraid of chainsaws, and pretends she doesn’t know how to use them, and encouraged me to do the same. So it was up in the early morning to make a pan of gluten-free brownies out of heck of cocoa, six eggs, almond butter, butter butter, and a rounded coffee cup of Magic. The townspeople are a little afraid of River’s magic, the magic of the forest creatures who live in the woods and cut the smallish trees with their feeble yet agile bowsaws. The ruddy-faced locals, on the other hand, simply back their pickup trucks with trailers down the gravel road and “buck” up whole stacks of the felled lumber, eating it all up. It was a race that we were losing, so it was good that Tod volunteered his chainsaw skillz before all the wood at the head of our trail disappeared, enough wood for three winters in the little house.
While River made the brownies I focused on the pancakes, which were to be our breakfast. But first we stoked up the fire in the woodstove, the stuffy heat of mid-night in the little cabin having tempered down to a more breathable seventy degrees. The temperature outside, according to the window-thermometer, was a balmy ten-above. A mild spring day! Before mixing the pancakes I hauled the water-buckets down to the frozen slough, which stays thin and wet in the very middle all winter long on account of the hot-springs that run through it, and scooped up a few bucketfuls of clean white snow along its banks. The buckets would sit next to the woodstove to melt, or else in the big metal stock-pot atop it. Once melted we poured the snow-water through a cheap metal strainer, to strain out the very largest chunks of wind-blown matter. The rest, we drank.
Snow melting, I mixed the pancakes, which consisted, this morning, of Teff sourdough starter, brown rice flour, eggs, a few squirts of agave nectar, olive oil, baking soda, a splash of vinegar, and some dried cherries. If I put anything else in them, I have forgotten it. They bubbled agreeably and I poured them out onto the griddle, while River mixed the brownies, accidentally doubling some ingredients and tripling others, and having a hard time breaking up the brown-sugar lumps besides, finally shrugging, sprinkling their tops with slivered almonds, and sliding them into the oven. Checking my calculator watch, which is a ridiculous thing to have in the woods, I noted that it was nearly ten a.m., and so we were almost late to meet Tod at the trail-head. Stuffing some tasteless pancakes into our mouths, we gathered our woolen clothings and stepped out into the balmy spring morning. It had begun to snow, just barely, like a light dusting from heaven, and suddenly I had a feeling that it was Christmas, that it had been Christmas every single day since I had arrived. But maybe it was just the nativity scene that came with the property, which river had propped against the sauna, with the exception of the yellow-robed wiseman, who stands long-sufferingly on the edge of the slough, for target practice. We set out along the snowy trail in this endless Christmastime of the heart, a sort of bright and hopeful Christmas time, where there aren’t any cops or invasive species or very many roads and the bright sun stays out till nine p.m. I felt so grateful, then, to be living in this little house in the extensive woods of interior Alaska, with its mucky buggy forests and brittle frozen winters and trees too small to sell for money. I was safe from the active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes of Alaska’s southern coast from which I had come, and safe, in innumerable other ways, from the whole rest of the wide world. All one had to have, I had said to River the night before, when we were pulling our sleds along the wind-blown frozen river after a night of fried chicken and smoked salmon at a friend’s house, the northern lights a faint pink smear above us like light pollution from a fantastical, distant city, was a passion for the wintertime.
At the trailhead, where the trail to our little house met Fern Gully road, Tod was nowhere to be seen. The tall stacks of trees were still there, and before us the desolate stretch of gravel where they had torn up the forest, and in the distance we could here the buzz of chainsaws, the ruddy-faced townspeople with their pickup-tucks greedily bucking the spruce trees to pieces. No matter, there was a little stack of wood there for us, cut to stove-lengths by the tractor drivers, as an offering to the forest creatures. They even guarded it for us, and shooed away the townspeople when they ambled over in their trucks and eyed it greedily. That’s for the crazy white woman who lives in the woods, doesn’t have a chainsaw! So we went about loading our sleds with the last of this, and carting it down the snowy trail back to the little house, and stacking it in our wood-shed, which is a frame of rough-barked spruce poles nailed with a few rotting boards, rusted nails popping out, the whole thing leaning over into the slough. It has no roof, and will most likely wash away in the next flood, which might be in two weeks, when the frozen river breaks up.
After we finished our merry log-stacking, we checked the brownies. They were done, and had puffed up nicely, in spite of the absence of leavening agents, on account of the Magic. Magic is the best leavener! At the encouragement of River, I ate a small square of brownie, which was of course the best brownie I had ever tasted in my entire Life, not to mention the best gluten-free brownie of All Time, including all the time before anyone knew what gluten-free was, which was quite a lot of time, I am certain. I went on to eat a whole quarter of a pan, throughout the course of the day, and now the day is at its end, and I can tell you, I am lucky to still have my pancreas. But they were just that good, and I would do it all again. And I would do it again tomorrow, if we hadn’t given the remaining brownies to Tod, when he finally showed up. He showed up at one p.m. sharp on his snow maching, which is maybe ten a.m. Alaska Time, which makes Alaska Time officially less punctual than Punk Time, with which I am somewhat familiar, having not had a job for months at a stretch and spent countless hours just “hanging out”, with or without SLUG BEAR*, in urban centers stuffed with young people.
Tod is a ruddy-faced townsperson, with gleaming snow-machine and well-oiled chainsaw, and he is appropriately wary of us, although his sense of helpfulness and Alaskan goodness far outweighs his fear of our queer woodland magic. He is tall and stooped and brushy-mustached and wears a coat fit for a marine-corps polar bear, along with sneaker-mukluks, (google it), which are all the fashion in these parts, being the historic and thereby only footwear suitable for these unique conditions. I would like a pair of sneaker-mukluks, someday, myself, so that I might bound through the woodland snow-drifts in historic regional fashion. I was just reading, the other day, in my Alaskana Adventure book, of which there are many titles, available in fine tourist traps throughout the state, that the Athabascan people of this area traditionally did not make their own mukluks, rather they met the Inupiaq people of the north at a sort of no-man’s land between their two territories, many days’ dog-sled ride away, a trade zone where the two groups were free from their centuries-old rivalry. There the Athabascan people traded birch-bark baskets, wolverine furs, and chunks of red river rock for the Inupiaq peoples’ seal oil, salt, walrus ivory, and mukluks, which came in both waterproof and warm winter varieties.
As soon as Tod arrived he set to work, hauling logs to and fro in his great plastic snow-machine sled and bucking them up with his chainsaw. The dog was upset, of course, and had to be tied to a tree in the yard. The dog thinks only of things that can be thrown, and everything he gazes at he is only thinking that you might throw it, and perhaps he spied the chainsaw and was terrified because although he knew it was a horrible ripping thing, he could not help but want Tod to throw it at him. And so he trembled and his little knees knocked together, and he had to be tied to the tree.
After an hour or so of bucking and carrying logs and stacking them on the woodpile, which kept tumbling over because the woodshed is full of holes and besides sits on the sloped bank of the slough, we managed to lure Tod inside the little house for chicken soup and brownies, against his better judgement. Once inside his sat warily spooning stew in the rocking chair and eyeing our cluttered, stuffy cabin, his bushy brows skipping from the booshelf full of tinctures to the unwashed breakfast dishes to the galvanized metal tub that serves to hold the dog’s drinking-water for the next century. River made it extra weird by announcing that it was Christmas Dinner, which I thought was perfect, and there was, after all, turkey in the soup, although it had sort of cooked away into the rice and maybe disappeared. After eating he bucked up some more logs into rounds the size of coffee tables and left them in the snow for us, hopping astride his snow machine and rumbling away into the bright afternoon forest. We looked at them there, like a hundred barrels of oil in the sawdust littered snow, and wondered what to do with them. We were tired from moving wood and didn’t want to work anymore, rather we wanted to retreat into the stuffy cabin and eat some more food, and work on our blogs with the electricity from the solar panel, except we had forgotten to dust the snow off of it, so maybe it wouldn’t be enough to power our computers, at least not both of them at once. Let’s move the rounds tomorrow, I suggested. Yes, said River, although she was worried that Tod would come back in the morning to buck more logs and he would see these huge rounds still there where he left them, and think us lazy incapable woodswomen, liable to freeze to death come next winter or at the very least have a sloppy cabin. Then River said- Yes, in the morning. And- Let’s stack them against the sauna wall, cut-side up, but with spaces between the logs. We can put little things there, for decoration.
Yes, I said, squinting at the sauna wall. I was seeing it.
We can put our alter to Durga there, said River.
Yes! I agreed. And so in late afternoon our day’s work was done, at little house in the extensive woods, and the snow fell just so, and a quiet peace settled over everything, and everything was as it should be.
*SLUG BEAR is a phenomenon wherein you attempt to do any one thing with a group of more than two people, or with two people who are very scattered.