Alaska Adventures- Wilderness Life : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Greetings from Alaska!

I recently had the wonderful experience of spending four days on an otherwise uninhabited island near Kodiak, sharing in the pioneer life of two nuns of St.Nilus Skete. Here they live completely off the grid with only CB or VHF radio to communicate with the monks across the bay, who can relay messages by marine radio into the small town of Kodiak.

Staying with them was excellent practice in simple living skills, and I kept some notes to share with you about some of their ingenious traditional practices. Here it is Practice Day every day! I did not find the simplicity a deprivation at all, but rather had a deep experience of richness of life and connectedness to the extraordinary natural beauty, the sometimes wild weather, and the abundance of the natural harvest. I liked the feeling of being a squirrel putting away the harvest for the severe winter to come, and it made me happy to help these quiet women in their tasks.

To give you a picture, the main building is a one room shack about 35 feet square. The wood stove is in the center, raised on a bed of small stones. A very big pot of water is always on to heat whenever there is a fire. Laundry drying lines are hung around from the ceiling. On one side are two tiny rooms, called cells, partitioned off with bookshelves and woolen blankets, and a storage corner for food.

The front of the building faces the bay, with two big windows over two tables. One is for eating, the other a work table for the intricate prayer ropes the nuns make to support themselves. In winter they must have kerosene lamps lit most of the day to see well enough to do this work, as there are very few hours of daylight. (We are hoping to get them an Aladdin lamp to see better.) Thermos carafes of hot water for tea, prepared when the stove is lit each morning, stand ready on the dining table all day.

The third wall has a big window, a prayer corner, and a work space, plus the door and a woodbox. On the fourth wall is a shelf, a propane stove, a counter, and the rest of the pantry corner. Along the back of the stove is a simple high table for dishwashing, with wood storage underneath. We had a lot of dishes to do because of all the food preparation and storing. The dish drainer was angled to drain into the waste water bucket. All clean wash water is rain water collected off the roof into a metal box and 5-gallon white plastic buckets.

In one corner stood a bean box lined with styrofoam cut to the shape of the bean pot. Beans or rice are brought to a boil, simmered slightly, and placed in the box to finish cooking.

Every window is festooned with strings of drying mushrooms picked on the island. While I was there we picked many gallons of mushrooms to dry, experimenting with other methods. Old window screens had been salvaged, and one of my major efforts there was to build ceiling racks to slide the screens into because surface space is so limited. We dried some on pieces of sheet metal, taking them out during sunny periods, and bringing them back in when it rained.

The monks from across the bay have a fishing skiff, and one night they brought us 21 fine big salmon. We had to drop everything to clean, fillet and salt the fish. Late at night the nuns, after two hours of church services, hung the fish by their tails over boards in the little smokehouse. Several times in the night Mother Joanna would arise, chop wood, and tend the smoky fire. We decided that a headlamp might be more practical than holding a flashlight in her teeth while chopping.

Never have I eaten such salmon as I did there! Salmon is prepared in three ways for the winter. It can be salted with rock salt for 4 hours and smoked for 3 days, then cut up and packed in oil. Some is smoked three days and then line dried to make salmon jerky. The jerky is lightly oiled, laid loosely in a box and covered with a sheet of newspaper. A third method is to pressure can the salmon, dry packed, for one hour and 40 minutes at 15# pressure. Sometimes fish is smoked only one day before pressure canning, making a very light, delicate taste. The nuns learned many of their preparation methods from local Aleut natives.

The nuns have a garden with such cold climate vegetables as cabbage, swiss chard, 3 kinds of lettuce, arugula, beets, mustard greens, chives, leeks, broccoli, Russian kale, carrots and turnips. They make delicious rhubarb jam and wild berry jelly and jam, and dry mint and other herbs for tea. To make compost they drag in seaweed to add to more usual components. In this part of Alaska the soil is very thin, and is underlain by volcanic ash from the last big eruption on the Katmai Peninsula in the early1900s, so each bed must be laboriously built up. In summer the day length is very long, but the growing season very short.

What really struck me was how much physical work we did, roaming miles after mushrooms through the deep moss, chopping wood, cleaning fish whenever a catch was brought in. There is much satisfaction in storing ones own food, but it also puts a lot of pressure on one to do the work. It sure helped to do work together!

The silence, the weather, and the isolation were refreshing, but could also be a little scary when it was dark and stormy. Walking to church in the middle of the night, I had to be sure not to slip and twist an ankle... no one would be along for a long time.

I found it a transformational experience to get away from media, e-mail, man-made environments, and machine noise. Baldly put, when you clear away the worldliness, it makes room for the spiritual. I found it very refreshing.


Donna (Seraphima)

-- Seraphima (, September 14, 1999



Fascinating stuff. You are indeed privileged to get a chance to do something like that!

I lived on a small island on the Great Slave Lake in the North West Territories Canada. We were fishing up there.

Here is a link to a site I created in regards to living in the arctic during the winter. This was written just after the Quebec Ice Storm so it doesn't reflect my current fears about Y2K but it would be an unusual read for most folk.

I loved the 24 hour daylight during the summer. Sunsets over the water were technicolor.

 Chop wood haul water

-- Brian (, September 14, 1999.

Hi Donna! I too have been to Kodiak. I spent a summer there right out of college. (couldn't get a job) I worked as a commercial fisherman fishing for black cod, one of the last seasons it was allowed I think, and then for Salmon. One of the most incredible experiences I have ever had or expect to have...suffice to say that it truly is... "God's Country". Very hard work in a very beautifull and spiritual place. I hope to return one day soon to show my wife and kids...

Thanks for the memories:)


-- steverino (, September 14, 1999.

Thanks Donna,

I was there for a moment, just a brief wonderful moment. I've lived in the bush a couple of times in my life. Also cooked at a lodge in Moose Pass, and fished the tributaries outside Wassila. Though I've never been on Kodiak, I had at first planned my bugout to Prince of Wales Island, very similar. My brother and I staked out a 200 acre gold claim there, called The Godsend claim. The story is not for this venue, but the experience is never far from my thoughts.

These life experiences give me a better than average chance of surviving, whatever the future may bring. IF the SHTF and I make it though the inland passage, and I end up in Kodiak, I'll ask about, and look up your friends. Just to relay this coincidence, and tell them hey from Donna, with your permission of course.

Respectfully; Michael

-- Michael (, September 15, 1999.

Wow! What a flashback! I also lived without the basics for eight years when we were first married. We lived about 100 miles north of Valdez off the Richardson Highway. Wouldn't trade those memories for anything. Even hauling water...2 cans of water (about 35 lbs. each side) a kid in a backpack and one in my belly following my husband through calf-deep mud in the spring. LOL!

All three babies born in the Alaska bush. The oldest gets married next week....

-- eubie (, September 15, 1999.

Inspirational thread! [ & congrats, eubie ]

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, September 15, 1999.

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