Attack on Paradise

I’ve been watching these reality shows about people who live off grid up in Alaska. A couple of the families focused on have some pretty well developed farms, developed over three generations of hard effort and sacrifice. The rest of them appear to be the kind of people who, while pleasant enough, are dumber than a box of rocks.

They all seem to share an innate cabin building skill. Watching them assemble their primary residence is actually pretty impressive. Starting with nothing but a few tools and way too few clothes and housewares, they barter for the wood it takes to frame, side and roof their homes. They go to a lumber mill and can usually barter some specific full trees for the wood they need to build their structure. So off they go into the woods and very selectively cut down trees with an eye towards forest maintenance and giving the mill what they asked for. At time, a huge mass of knots that looks like junk brings the highest value because of the number of people who use it for wood sculpting or making attractive grained furniture. Happy with a couple of loads of 2x6s, 4x6s, 4x12s and some outdoor grade plywood, these families make their way through miles and miles of brush to their homesite, and using the long, long days of summer, work a week of 16-18 hour days and just like that, they have a house. Then they might have to go fishing and catch a bunch of salmon or other desirable food fish to trade for used window sashes and windows, doors, and maybe a generator (that they will need to repair.)

Everybody works and there seems to be a closeness to these families that you don’t experience elsewhere. Perhaps that’s from piling 8 people into a single room 16 x 20 foot cabin. Their inventiveness is remarkable. Their skills turn metal junk into wood burning stoves that are efficient and easily maintained. They use the scraps from building as kindling for the first year while locating standing dead trees to fell and split into fuel wood. Their inventiveness also often will bring reasonably fresh water to their homestead, giving them potable water filtered using natures provisions like sand, gravel and water loving flora. The image many have of the smelly outdoorsman that bathes in summer creeks and smells like camel dung is the exception. Many of these people brave lower temperatures than I would to use a cobbled up shower that’s little more than a tub to stand in, a privacy curtain (or not) and a hose with a sprinkler head that gets gravity fed water from their uphill source. They’re a rugged bunch, but especially the teenagers have an interest in the opposite sex that motivates them to put their best foot forward.

The most of these folks are caring and neighbor conscious. If they haven’t heard from someone in a week, they will go visit, often toting along some food, wood, hay if they have animals and a show of concern. I’d like to think I’d get along great with their simple approaches to the black and white palette of their lives.  Up in the far north, a person’s word is their bond, and if they break it they can face people turning their backs on them, a sure ticket to fall prey to the endless dangers. The only thing they can do is go elsewhere, far enough the CB radio networks and AM radio stations can’t reach in order to start anew.

Alaska is becoming the new Seattle, with property prices skyrocketing along with the prices of everything else. You find two worlds where urbanism is taking root. One is occupied by the long time settlers and homesteaders, the other for the nouveau pioneers. Life stays similar for the long time residents and gets mighty expensive for the interlopers. Economics is really the only weapon available to try and maintain a wall against clear cut forests, new roads carved that destroy game routes, and the pollution that the consumer nature always brings along like Typhoid Mary’s that foul the water table and believe that wolves, moose and deer are a problem rather than salvation from starvation.

Back when I lived in Portland, one of my fantasies was to buy a Cessna 180 with amphibious floats and go carve a living as a bush pilot. A couple of my friends did just that, and make it just under the wire to get established before any idiot with six hours of flight time in a tail dragger came bursting in with a hundred more just like them. It was a bittersweet entertainment to see many of these quasi-intrepid people scamper back to the lower forty eight with an empty bank account and their tails between their legs. The firmly entrenched were able to build up their fleets with the fire sale aircraft auctions with pennies on the dollar. While I may have missed out on an adventure likely to make me happy to rise every morning, I did just fine keeping the home fires lit and made a few bucks on the side flying the abandoned customers to their destinations. Since I found my bride and raised three magnificent children here, I’m glad that this was the path I chose. If I wanted to feel like I lived in Alaska, I could fly around wearing a t shirt and disabling the plane heaters. But I’m not a masochist, nor do I have anything to prove to myself, and I admit to the contentment of life as it is. Although I’m hoping that global warming will shorten our winters to a week of piling 50 feet of snow on the surrounding mountains (to keep the rivers, creeks and lakes filled) and to generate hydropower we sell to waterless states at exorbitant prices.

Alaska is a land of adventure, and it is also one of hardship and continual self-challenge, but it can also be a beautiful place to live so long as we don’t let the newbies screw it up.



July 24th is Pioneer Day.  This day is set aside as a time to honor the Pioneers who traveled across the united states to Utah so that they could have religious freedom as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (mormons).  Many of my ancestors were Pioneers.  They joined the church in England and went through many hardships in order to settle in the west.
   I have often thought about the sacrifices they demonstrated and the courage they must have had.  My great, great Grandfather was Samuel Lane Crook from Apperly, Gloucestershire,England.  His family listened to the message of the missionaries and were baptized.  His sister Elizabeth Crook Panting  and Samuel were able to buy passage on the ship “Thorton” to come to America.  I have always been fascinated by their stories.  
     Here is a small account of Elizabeth’s story.
   Elizabeth Crook Panting was born 7 May 1855.  She married  Frederick Panting. He was considered the “town drunk.”  When Elizabeth joined the church he was quite upset.  Elizabeth secretly saved up enough money to buy tickets for her and her children to leave for America.
   As they boarded a train to begin their journey. Fredrick came looking for them. Elizabeth was scared of what he would do to them.  She prayed and asked God for help.  A thought came to her to exchange bonnets with the woman sitting next to her and ask another family to watch her children.  As her husband walked the aisles of the train before it began to move, he looked back and forth at the faces looking for his wife. He had a gun only half way hidden in his pocket.  He stared Elizabeth in the face and then walked on by unable to recognize her. The first of many miracles in her journey.

   After crossing the Atlantic Ocean and traveling further across their land of promise by steamboat and train, Elizabeth, Christopher (5), and Jane (1) began their handcart trek in Iowa City, Iowa.

Elizabeth was privileged to experience another miracle during her journey to Zion. She told the story of this miracle to her daughter, Jane, repeatedly throughout her life. As Jane (Panting Bell) grew older she told this story to her children and grandchildren:
As the Willie Company traveled along the plains, they had many trials which slowed them down considerably. Little Jane rode in the handcart and was very ill. Her mother didn’t dare to stop to take care of her as she pulled her handcart along. She would call to her son, Christopher, to ask if Jane was dead yet. When they reached Ft. Laramie, the expected provisions were not waiting, and they had to continue on with reduced food rations. On October 14, after another reduction was made in rations, Elizabeth went out to gather some buffalo chips to make a small fire to warm what little food was left for her children. She had on a long, full apron and had almost filled it with the buffalo chips when a man came up to her suddenly (and seemingly out of nowhere) and inquired as to the circumstances of the company. Elizabeth told the man that most of them were starving and were in great need. He asked her to follow him, saying perhaps he could help a little. Shaking the buffalo chips from her apron, Elizabeth followed the man. They went over a small hill out of sight of the camp, where he led her to a cave where a lot of dried buffalo meat was hanging. Elizabeth told her granddaughter, June Cranney Monson, that there were shelves of books on one side of the cave that looked like the Book of Mormon gold plates. She said they looked as if they were sealed. The man loaded as much meat in Elizabeth’s apron as she could carry and told her to share with the other people. Then he led her out of the cave and to the top of a small hill and pointed out the camp below, cautioning her not to get lost. As Elizabeth turned back to the man to thank him after she had looked where he had pointed to the camp, he had disappeared. She looked for the cave and could not find any trace of it, but she still had the dried meat. She went back to camp and divided the meat out to the ones that were in the most need, no doubt saving lives.
  The Martin handcart company were stranded in a place called Martin’s Cove, Wyoming. Many of the members never made it that far. the rest of the company were taken on to Salt Lake City. My great,great aunt eventually lived in Logan, Utah where she married and had nine more children.  
  Elizabeth has been a great example in my life. I have thought of her courage, faith, and strength many times in the last few years.  

  My own challenges seem small compared to what she faced.  As she demonstrated continuous faith on her journey, she was blessed. 
  I am so grateful to have such a strong example in my life.  Thank you Aunt Elizabeth.  Miracles do happen. God does bless our lives. He does know our needs.