Sunday, January 22, 2017

Deep Cold - Grin and Bear It


It was -36 F (-38 C) this morning, and is -20F (-29 C) now.  The whole week has been like this. Brrrrr!
What are the practical aspects of life in such weather, both inside and out?

INSIDE:

We heat our two room cabin with a woodstove.  At such temperatures, we are burning about 50 pieces of aged, dried birch logs per day.  Last MONTH, which was warmer, we depleted our wood corral by more than 1/2 cord ( 4 x 4 x 4 ft.) This WEEK - probably the same amount!  In milder months, we let the fire go out during sunny afternoons to empty cold ash from the woodbox to a metal storage container we stow in the snow.  This week, we dare not let the fire die, so we shovel hot embers into the metal bucket and carefully carry it outside, hoping that the walls won't rust and perforate from the heat... for a few more weeks.

Even with a vigorous fire, the cabin is cool.  The kitchen area measured 46 degrees while I made breakfast yesterday.  Cooking oils had congealed.  The juice and tea that I store by the front door (away from the fire) floated ice flakes.  The snow we track into the door mats takes an hour to melt. And this chilly interior occurs despite my husband's dogged night time efforts to pile on additional logs every few hours while I snuggle under a down comforter.

Even though the windows are double paned,  we close the lined draperies as a third line of defense.  Every window interior is rimmed with ice until the sun hits half of them, mid - afternoon. The metal of screws and hardware INSIDE the doors is coated in hoarfrost.

Sunshine makes an enormous difference, psychologically and physically.  Our view is lovely and bright with reflection off the snow covered lake and yard.  It looks deceptively warm.  I don't mind puttering around the house for several deep cold days, working in sunny nooks on one project or another.  But my husband, more energetic than I, gets cabin fever.  He longs to go outside and do something... until he does, and then returns faster than he intended, for some hot tea and warm cake I have ready and waiting.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Winter Solstice Day at an Alaska Cabin

Everyone's life undulates with daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms, determined often by routine tasks.  At our remote home, winter chores are determined by weather and prioritized by heat, water, and food.

Below is a sample winter day, at this off-grid, off-road home in the boonies of Alaska (with notes about the subsequent -2 and -22F days that followed).

Dec 21 (+17 degrees)

HEAT and POWER:  When my husband is home, he gets up several times a night to stoke the fire.  But yesterday he flew out to attend a meeting in Anchorage.  Since I am a sound sleeper, I awoke to a chilly interior temperature of +47F. The power had gone out during the night, too, darn it. Naturally, at latitude 61 at 6 am, it was pitch black - and would stay that way for another three hours.  I donned my winter-usual attire: two shirts, two socks and a pair of lined sweat pants, as well as a headlight that I keep by the bed, to venture down the circular stairs to the main room, where I started  a fire in the squat little wood stove from the tinder, kindling, and log boxes lined up by the back door.  While it caught, I moved the all important coffee pot onto the propane stove, and bundled up to walk back through the woods, to the power shed, about 450 feet above and behind the cabin.  It was snowing lightly under a hazy, quarter moon.  On the way, I emptied the chamber pot into the outhouse.

I am not a morning person, so I hate having to face the cold and yank the generator pre-dawn, before coffee.  But December delivers miserly amounts of solar and wind power, so we supplement with two hours of generator to provide interior phone, lights, and Internet.   At the shed, I checked the voltage meter's record when the power conked out.  Hmmm, it is higher than I would wish at these temperatures. I hope the batteries aren't dying.  I tugged futily on the generator rope five times before it roared to life. Pleeeeeease connect!  My glasses fogged up from the exertion.

Motion detector lights illuminated the snowy path as I return past the woodshed,
food shed and outhouse to the cabin.  The buildings look pretty - the steep angled roofs and the log or green painted walls.  I spied animal tracks,  sharply outlined by shadow, mostly hares and voles diving below the insulation of snow covered bushes.  I reflect on the hungry black mink I saw yesterday, bounding through snow to close the distance to a gray hare twice its size. On the back porch, I grab an armload of logs, and step inside, smiling at the orange fire and the welcome scent of coffee, which I sweeten with dried milk and honey from our bees, and scoot under an alpaca blanket to read the Internet news and emails.   I always check weather first, which determines tasks I can or should do that day. Today is supposed to be clear and in the teens, followed by a deepening cold snap that I don't look forward to:-2F and then -22F.  Those will be days for indoor projects.  

Obviously the number of logs we burn depends on the external (and internal)
temperature.  In the teens, we use about 15 logs per day to warm the two room cabin.  At 0 F, the number doubles and at -15F triples. This number of logs heats a two room cabin to the 50s and low 60s.  As you can imagine, my most important winter task is to haul plastic sled loads of aged, dry birch wood that my husband has felled, chopped, cut, aged and stacked during the prior two years, from the roofed wood corral to the back porch, and then, on a daily basis, fill the interior bins with bigger and smaller wood.  Let's just say that I never postpone this chore.