Trip to Denali

Nenana River Ice on trip to Denali

Denali National Park and Preserve closes down each winter becoming a ghost town. The shops are all boarded up along the boardwalk. The hotels, restaurants, and camp grounds closed. The thousands of seasonal employees have all returned to whatever state or country they’re from. Thankfully, it’s now the end of May and the park has started to come alive again. Rachelle and I decided to celebrate our anniversary with a trip to Denali on the opening weekend.  

With the cabin build, we knew that time this summer would be limited so while there was still ice flowing in the Tanana River, we decided now was the best time to escape to the Park.

We left Fairbanks on a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun was already high in the sky, the temperature was well into the 50’s, which is just about perfect t-shirt weather after months of below zero temps. With some road snacks and a playlist we hit the highway for the 130 mile drive.

We have previously camped inside the Park and have stayed at the Denali Cabins. The experience is vastly different with each but always enjoyable. This time I reserved a room at the Denali Park Village and we weren’t disappointed. Check in was quick and simple and after dropping our bags in the room we checked out the trail that runs along the Nenana River. The river, running high and fast from all of the snow melt, was free of ice finally but large chunks sat on the banks glistening in the sun.

We had read about the Dinner Nite Theater, a combination of Alaskan cuisine, storytelling, music and humor. The show is interactive and very entertaining, the seating is family style, and the food is plentiful. We found most of the people at our table were tourist which led to lengthy conversations, mostly about Alaska. The couple seated across from us was from Florida and were really into fishing so we found ourselves sharing our stories and photos of pike and salmon fishing.

With full stomachs and enough socializing to last a few days, we spent some more time walking the river together as we made our way back to our room for the evening.

Check out our next post for our hike along Savage River during our trip to Denali.

Getting back to Camp

On the riverbank

This is a continuation from our last post, Our Future Home. Please check out that post to get the full story.

Approximately a month after our initial visit, we were able to return again. This time it would only be for a couple of nights but we were excited to get back. We had established our camp at the families old camp. only been there one long weekend, it looked very welcoming when we arrived. Rachelle had spent a lot of time cutting back the rose and other brush during that first trip so we were able to quickly get camp setup. Most of that first day was spent improving the campsite.

The rose bushes had been cut down and piled up as well as branches and small trees thatRose had died and fallen over. Our second trip started out with our moving these piles further away from camp and then continuing to rake up all of the old dead leaves that carpeted the entire area. It was fire season and this dry ground cover was like a powder keg. We needed to get it cleaned up and pushed as far away from our fire pit and our camp as was reasonably possible.

The mosquitoes were bad this trip but we found that a good fire and several “PIC” mosquito coils burning made them all but vanish from around the camp. That evening as we sat by the fire eating a dinner of steak and fried potatoes we watched the river drift on by and listened to Keith Morrison, from Dateline NBC’s Podcast tell us about someone’s misfortune. It was another wonderful end to a day full of hard work where we could just sit and observe our how much we had accomplished all the while, taking in the beauty all around us.

If you’ve been following our podcast, you probably already know that Rachelle really does not like bears. We haven’t been able to determine where this fear comes from since she’s never actually had an encounter with a bear. Nevertheless, in spite of a good hard days labor, every noise that occurred within earshot of the tent that night brought her wide awake. In order to make sure I was just as concerned as she was, she would wake me as well. In her defense, the forest floor was covered in old dried leaves and the two squirrels who were trying to take advantage of the long summer days to replenish their food stores, sounded much larger as they bounded across the ground between trees.

So after a pretty restless night, I found myself sitting at in my chair beside the fire waiting on the coffee to percolate. Campfire CoffeeThe sky was blue with only a few white clouds here and there. It was going to be a beautiful summer day and were going to take advantage of it. Once Rachelle was up, we enjoyed a breakfast of hard boiled eggs, Spam and toast before packing up the tools to head to the cabin site.

In order to get to the cabin site, we had to walk along the shoreline to the point where we had cut a trail. We spent the first part of the day continuing the work we had previously started. The brush and trees around the build site were cleared giving us plenty of room to work and store materials. The day grew hot and the mosquitoes thick and we decided to take a lunch break to eat and rehydrate.

During lunch, Rachelle mentioned that it would be much better if we had a trail from the campsite to the cabin site. This would allow us to move tools and materials much easier and also allow us walking access even when the river level rose and the river bank disappeared. After our break we picked up our machetes and started blazing a new trail. We opted to run the new trail right along the top of the high bank. It provided a beautiful view as you walked and there weren’t as many fallen trees to cut/move. We didn’t know it at the time but this would, much later, turn out very advantageous when the water rose dramatically and the sandy beach walkway was under feet of water but we could not get the boat close to shore in front of the cabin site. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll save that for a much later story.

By dinnertime we had a beautiful well defined path that took us from our campsite to the build site.

We sat watching the fire eating our dinner and talking about all that we accomplished. There was a feeling of incredible satisfaction with the work we did even though we did not yet know just how much time and effort having that trail would end up saving us.

We woke early, enjoyed a breakfast of hard boiled eggs, corned beef hash, and toast and then got to work. Today we would have to leave again but wanted to get as much done as possible since we just never knew when we’d be back.

While I began marking out the footprint of the cabin and digging to set the footings, Rachelle kept clearing. By lunchtime she had a very large portion of the area in front of the cabin location opened up. We stopped to admire all of her hard work. It had been another successful trip and real progress had been made. Rachelle suggested we setup our camp on our next visit in the newly cleared area. This would save and energy moving back and forth between our existing campsite and the build site several times a day.

It was the end of another visit and we reluctantly packed our stuff back into the boat, drenched the fire pit in water and pushed out into the river for the ride back to the truck. As I took in the beauty of the river and the surrounding miles and miles of Alaskan wilderness I looked over the woman standing beside me in the boat. Rachelle stood staring out, a look of peace on her face. It was obvious that she was right where she loved to be.

The river

Thanks for coming along with us on our journey. Next time we set the footing and get the beams and subfloor started and a bear pays us a visit.

Our Future Home

Campfire Coffee

When Rachelle and I set out on this adventure a few years ago our intent was to provide useful and informative articles about living in Alaska. For those of you that follow our podcast, you know that like many of you reading this, life took a turn that we just didn’t see coming. Firstly, the pandemic had huge impacts on us both on a personal level as well astronomically increasing demands on our professional lives. This left little time for much else. The times we were able to sneak away were few and brief.

As we entered 2023 Rachelle, and I made a commitment to each other that we were going to take back our lives and get back to enjoying all of the incredible adventures that Alaska has to offer and to working towards our ultimate goal of living in the cabin that we are trying to build. We would love to bring everyone who might be interested along on this journey with us. This is not one where we’ll just show off the successes.

You will get to experience everything from the planning (and sometimes re-planning) to the challenges, the things that don’t go right (it’s never really a failure, just a chance to learn another way something shouldn’t be done…) as well as the successes. We’ll talk about the lessons we learn throughout the process. We anticipate literal blood, sweat, and tears when it comes to many of the things, we plan to take on but we’re ready and we’re committed.

Our First Trip to Camp

For years Rachelle and I have been searching for a piece of land to build on. My goal for as long as I can remember was to have a remote cabin and be as close to self-sufficient as one can be. I have been incredibly blessed with an absolutely amazing wife who not only supports me in my vision but wants this as much as I do. After years of searching for the perfect place, we actually learned that Rachelle was already named as an owner of a piece of land that had been used by her family for generations. We first visited the location in 2019. The only access to the land required a long drive and then a boat ride. This was Rachelle’s first visit in over 25 years and my first time ever.  The old Smokehouse

This had been the site of the family’s fish camp. A location used for generations by her Athabaskan family to catch and process salmon. The old smoke house built by her grandfather was the only structure. It stood tall and proud, the poles that made up the frame of the smokehouse looked as solid that day as they probably looked the day it was built, a testament to the care taken in the preparation and construction of the nearly 15-foot-tall smokehouse.

Nearby we found the remains of an old picnic table, the fire pit, an old sink used my Rachelle’s grandmother, and what was left of a two by four and plywood platform that her dad had built to put their tent on all those years ago. The area had become overgrown with the wild Alaskan Rose. The rose is a beautiful flower, but the stems are covered in wicked thorns that often puncture even the best leather gloves. At this time, we didn’t know that this would become our future home, but I could see in Rachelle’s eyes the connection she had to this location that day. I knew that this place was special to her, and we would likely return.

In the Spring of 2021, Rachelle and I were married standing on the point overlooking the Minto Flats.  It was a beautiful day surrounded by our friends and family.Our Wedding Rachelle had spent nearly a month making her dress out of traditionally tanned moose hide and I had made our rings from the leg bone of a moose. The moose is incredibly important to the people of Minto, and we wanted to include this in our celebration. The ceremony was followed by a reception at the Tribal Hall and included many wonderful foods to include moose and beaver.  Friends had called in a band and many hours of dancing followed.

Days after our wedding, and having learned of Rachelle’s ownership of the land, we decided to spend a four-day weekend at the old fish camp. The trip was mostly just opportunistic. We were both away from work and all of our other obligations at the same time so we chose to escape someplace that we couldn’t get recalled easily. 

It was a smokey Friday in the interior of Alaska. Something we have, unfortunately, grown accustomed to every few summers. Forest fires in the interior of Alaska have become something we just live with. We quickly packed up the wall tent, the coolers, and camping gear, hooked up the boat and left Fairbanks, excited about what the weekend would hold. After an hour on the road discussing our plans of what we would do immediately upon arriving at camp, we made it to the boat launch.

Rachelle, Dawson, and I in the boat on our way to camp.

A quick change into our XTRATUF boots and we began transferring gear into the boat before pushing out into the river. The bright summer sun was dancing off of the ripples of the river’s surface as we worked our way along trying to avoid the shifting sandbars of the Tanana River. About an hour and a half later and a mile from camp, we spotted a bald eagle flying along with us as if escorting us on our journey.

Arriving at camp, the first priority was a security check. This is most definitely bear and wolf territory and there’s nothing worse than to start offloading your stuff only to find a curious bear who’d like to see what you’ve got. They just don’t have much of a gentle touch as they paw through your gear tasting everything to see what might be edible. Thankfully, there was no sign of anything but a pair of squirrels around the camp.

Camp Before and After

The Tanana River is long and fed by many creeks and rivers which can cause some very dramatic water fluctuations throughout the year. Because of this, the camp sits high on the bank well above the water line. Most of the trees are balsam poplar with some black spruce and birch scattered throughout the area. Since the camp was overgrown with rose bushes, the next task at hand was to clear the area to setup the tent.

The old tent platform built by Rachelle’s dad was looking pretty rotten, so we opted to clear a new location to setup the canvas wall tent. Once the tent was up, it was time for a fire and some food. I hauled up a load of sand from the riverbank to put in the bottom of the old fire pit. Rachelle lined the pit with large river rocks and lit a nice fire that quickly dispersed the mosquitoes that were lingering around the camp. A wonderful meal cooked in camp, seated around the fire with an incredible view of the river and the most incredible wife sitting beside me. Things were perfect.

Rockhounding on the Tanana

Day 2

There is just something that I can’t quite explain about that cup of coffee from the percolator while in camp. It is the absolute best cup of coffee each and every time I experience it. That next day was spent improving and clearing our camp site, we also took a few hours and rode upriver a couple of miles to a gravel bar to do a little rock hounding. We love to get out and look for agates when we’re on the rivers. While no agates were found this time, we did get a number of other beautiful rocks that would be taken home to be tumbled.

Upon returning to camp, we walked the riverbank as far up and downriver as we could in order to see the property lines. We also walked back into the woods away from the river looking for possible cabin locations. As we sat around the fire that night was discussed the options and finally settled on the area that made the most sense to us. The hard work would begin the next day…

Day 3

Our future cabin site

We walked the shoreline to the area we had chosen. Several times, we climbed the riverbank and walked into the tree line to scout the area until we found the spot that spoke to us both. We had walked about 100 feet from the river and located an area with many large balsam poplar trees. The area was overgrown with willows and small trees and more roses. There were also quite a few large trees that had fallen over time. Clearing this area was not going to be easy but as we stood there together, we both knew this was the spot of our future home.

Rachelle by the campfire

With just machetes we began clearing out the underbrush immediately. By lunch time we had most of the small brush and bushes cut and a large pile started. We made our way back to camp to take a break and get something to eat. We both ate quickly, excited to get back to work and then returned to the site with additional tools including the chainsaw, mosquito coils (PIC) and camp chairs to allow us to take more comfortable breaks.

While I ran the saw, Rachelle expanded the cleared area nearly doubling the space we had. One of the great things about Alaska in the summer is the never-ending sunlight. You can get so much done. One of the bad things about Alaska in the summer is the never-ending sunlight. You find that you JUST KEEP WORKING without realizing how late it is. We were making so much progress. Our breaks were spent envisioning how things would be setup. It was late when we finally realized just how hungry and tired we were. We gather up our stuff and made our way back to camp where we made a quick meal and then it was off to a much needed sleep after a very long day of strenuous activity.

Day 4

The final morning was a tough one. It was almost painful knowing that we had to pack up and return to our jobs with no idea of when we would get another chance to return. But now we knew there was something out there for us. There was additional motivation to return soon and keep the momentum going. We told ourselves that the break would give us an opportunity to pick up additional tools and materials that would help us be more efficient on the next visit. It didn’t really make leaving any easier though. We took down the tent, packed up our gear and loaded the boat for the ride back to the truck. We pushed the boat out into the river, looked at camp and promised each other that we’d return as soon as we could get another few days free.

Make sure to check back to hear about our return and the start of the build and maybe even a little bit about our late-night visit from a black bear.

Also check out our podcast in the side bar or wherever you get your podcasts. Rachelle and I discuss the cabin site and our plans.

The Many Uses of the Mighty Birch Tree

As a kid, my dad would peel a little bark off of a few birch trees and make small canoes that he’d give as gifts or sell. I’d heard of birch being used to make furniture and knew the bark could be used for baskets, writing on, and made great fire starter. Years later I would learn just how valuable this tree truly is. It’s true that birch bark has been used for generations to make baskets and the wood has been used for furniture and dogsleds, snowshoes, and canoes. But there are many uses of the mighty birch tree.

Birch Water

Last spring, about late April and early Rachelle Tapping Birch TreesMay we tapped several trees and collected birch water or birch sap. This was our first time and were quite surprised by the quantity we were able to collect. In some trees we collected as much as a gallon per day. The water/sap typically runs two to three weeks depending upon the weather each year. The water should be clear and taste slightly sweet. If you get discolored water from a tree you should discard it, pull the spile and find a new tree. When the leaves appear it’s time to pull the spiles as the sugar is gone from the sap.

Birch water carries the nutrients for the tree’s growth. According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, those nutrients include: Fructose, Glucose, small amount of sucrose, Fruit Acids, Amino Acids, Vitamin C, Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorous, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, Sodium, Iron

Birch water is refreshing and we often drank it as we were collecting it each day. We transferred ours into a glass pitcher that we kept in the refrigeratorBirch Tree Water and drank it regularly. When we collected too much for the pitcher, we began using glass mason jars but found the even though we only tapped a half dozen trees, we couldn’t drink it as fast as the trees were giving it to us. Since birch water is perishable it must be kept below 41° Fahrenheit and out of the direct sunlight, I initially stored our excess in a five gallon water jug buried in the snow on the north side of our house. We then used this to water to make ice cubes and fill water bottles which we froze for later use. We used the birch water to make coffee and tea and used the ice cubes when making smoothies.

Rachelle and I have seen and talked with others who use their birch water for making syrup. The birch water has a sugar content of around 0.8 to 1.5 percent so it takes approximately 100 gallons of birch water to make one gallon of syrup. While I am confident we could have collected the 100 gallons the process of making the syrup is lengthy and requires near constant attention over a couple of days. Most use propane burners or wood fires outside to concentrate the sap. In the end, Rachelle and I decided that while it would be fun to make birch syrup, it would be far less expensive to buy it than make it ourselves. I’m sure that if we were to do this on a larger scale we could make it cost effective and potentially turn a profit but at this time, we’ll just enjoy drinking the cold and refreshing water we collect. Birch water can also be used to make beer or wine.

Birch’s Medicinal Uses

Birch has anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, antiseptic, and astringent properties. The birch leaves can be infused in apple cider vinegar for four weeks to make a tonic that is rich in vitamins and minerals. This infusion helps to strengthen the immune system. Add a tablespoon to a glass of water to relieve your headache. The leaves can be used to make a tea which can eliminate urinary tract infections and help dissolve kidney stones. The tea is reported to help with joint health, steoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, growing pains, rickets, osteoporosis, broken bones, and tooth decay.

The Finnish discovered that birch trees contain a sweetener called xylitol. Xylitol kills bacteria and helps reduce cavities. Natural toothpastes, mouthwashes and gums are made from the birch’s inner bark.

Birch leave and branches contain a resin-like substance that has a wintergreen aroma. They can be used to make a tea, decoction or as a compress for pain relief. A steam of the leaves can help clear sinus congestion.

The birch buds can be collected in the springtime and infused in oil to make a salve or balm for inflamed skin.


Birch Tree Chaga MushroomChaga is a parasitic fungus that is found growing on birch trees. It has been long used in folk medicine and is believed to fight inflammation, lower blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, alleviate arthritis and even prevent or slow the progression of cancer. Chaga is rich in fiber and essential nutrients including vitamin D, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese and calcium. Chaga also has a high level of melanin which lead some to believe it can boost your skin’s naturally occurring melanin to protect it from sun damage. Chaga is removed from the tree, dried and then either broken into chunks or ground for making tea. The tea has an earthy flavor. Some add honey to the tea to bring out its slightly vanilla-like essence.

The birch tree, from hot burning firewood to beautiful cabinetry and baskets, canoes and medicinal uses, few trees are as truly versatile. Rachelle and I are Hand drawn Fox on Birch tree Ornamentblessed to have a good mix of trees on our property to include many large birch. If you have a birch that has been recently cut down, take advantage of the opportunity to harvest the tree for all that it offers. Rachelle has even used cut rounds for her artwork. The next time you find yourself standing beside one of these incredible trees, grab a handful of leaves and twigs for a cup of tea (see recipe below).

Birch Tree ornaments
Birch Tree ornaments

Birch Bark Tea Recipe

To make a wintergreen-flavored tea, cut some birch twigs in small pieces. Cover twigs with boiling birch water. Let it steep for a minute or two, then strain out the twigs and sweeten tea to taste. Some like to add cream or hot milk.

*Birch bark from stumps and roots is considered best. Use a knife or a carpenter’s wood scraper to remove the outer, dry layer and then peel off the inner bark. It peels best in the spring or early summer. If this is cut in small pieces and dried at ordinary room temperature, then sealed in jars you can have Birch Tea throughout the year.

Use boiled water when birch water is not available. The wintergreen flavor is very volatile, and easily driven off by too much heat so never boil twigs or bark in making this tea and never dry bark in too warm a location.

If you found this article interesting, check out our other postings on Spruce and Labrador Tea.

The Black Spruce

Black Spruce

For nearly twenty years the first weekend in December was the time we took the families out into the mountains of Southern Oregon. It was a full day of sledding, snowball fights and a cookout in the snow. The day was wrapped up by finding our Christmas Tree, usually a beautiful, tall, and full Douglas Fir. After moving back to the Interior of Alaska, My son Jake and I decided to continue the tradition. We hopped in the truck and drove out of town, spending the day driving the highway and back roads, wading through waist deep snow looking for that perfect Christmas Tree. We would discover that the sparse boughs of the black spruce of interior Alaska are nothing like those of the Douglas fir. Eventually, we would find a satisfactory tree, cut it down, haul it home, and with the help of lots of ornaments and tinsel, we celebrated a wonderful Christmas. Our spruce trees here may not be the most aesthetically pleasing of the fir trees but the spruce has so many other incredible uses that it more than makes up for its looks.

From cabin logs to firewood to food to medicine, Alaskan natives, for generations, have taken advantage of all the black spruce has to offer. Today, it’s still the wood of choice for log cabins and firewood in the Interior Alaska Native Villages. However, for a variety of reasons, the other uses of the spruce seem to be practiced far less. Instead, a cabinet full of over-the-counter medications alleviate the same conditions as this amazing tree.

The spruce’s tips can be brewed into a relaxing tea that is high in vitamin C. Folks often put honey, cinnamon, orange or lemon slices in their spruce tea. A wonderfully light jelly can also be made from the tips. (see recipe below) Spruce’s inner bark has also been used as a survival food. The inner bark can be eaten raw, boiled, or dried and ground up into a flour.

We recently enjoyed a wonderful spring day out collecting spruce tips for our tincture. We walked among the trees, wading through the rapidly melting snow that comes with the mid 40’s temperatures. A welcome change from this year’s harsh winter. The sun was out and the sky was such a bright blue. We moved from tree to tree taking a few of the fresh green tips. It was easy to tell the new growth from the old by the difference in the shades of green. We picked a few from each tree and moved on, careful not to take too much from any one tree. Along the way I also picked up from spruce pitch to have on hand as well. We filled our bags and enjoyed the changing of the seasons, some fresh air, and each other before heading back to the house to prepare our remedy.

Food uses of the Black Spruce:

Tea – relaxing and high in Vitamin C – add lemon or orange slices, cinnamon, cloves, or honey
Inner bark – traditional survival foot – eaten raw or boiled or dried and ground into flour
Jelly – The spruce tips make a very light jelly that many say pares well with meats, cheeses and crackers.

Medicinal uses of the Black Spruce:

Spruce Tips

Tea – Spruce tips have an antiseptic property that helps relieve symptoms related to pneumonia, whooping cough, croup (lung congestion). The tea also a wonderful boost to the immune system.
Steam – Boil the needles and inhale the steam for sinus infections and lung issues.
Syrup/Jelly – Spruce Syrup can be taken to relieve a sore throat. (see recipe below)
Tincture – A couple of droppers full of spruce tip tincture dripped under the tongue can support the immune system when the cold season hits. The tincture can also be applied externally to joints and muscles to ease aches and pains. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation. A few drops of spruce tip tincture in a glass of water can be used as a mouthwash to treat gingivitis.
Salves, Creams, Oils and Poultice – Spruce tips prepared in these manners can be used to treat joint and muscle pain, improve blood circulation, reduce inflammation, and when combined with spruce pitch can treat eczema, boils, and acne.

Inner Bark:

Tea – The tea of the black spruce’s inner bark can be used to treat sore throat, upset stomach, ulcers and mouth sores.


The spruce pitch has been used as a cough lozenger to relieve the discomfort of a sore throat. Because of the trees antiseptic properties, the sap can also be used to protect wounds, cuts, and abrasions.

Below are our recipes for Spruce tip tincture, syrup and jelly.


So what’s the advantage of a tincture over a tea or decoction? The short answer is that a tincture has a very long shelf life, is highly concentrated, easy to apply, and portable.

Spruce Tip Tinctures

Several handfuls of Spruce tips
80 Proof (minimum) alcohol such as vodka
Airtight jar

Gather several handfuls of fresh spruce tips and rinse them in cold water to remove any debris.

Place the tips in your jar so the jar is full but not crammed. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of honey and fill the jar with alcohol until spruce tips are fully covered. Seal the jar, give it a good shake and place in a location out of direct sunlight for approximately six weeks. You should shake your jars frequently. We try to do this each day.

At the end of the six weeks, open your jars and strain the mixture to remove the solids. Your tincture will now have a dark color to it. While you can leave it in the jar you used to make the tincture in, we have purchased 2 oz green glass bottles with eye droppers for ours. In either case, be sure to label your bottle with date, what’s inside, and the type and proof of the alcohol used.

Spruce Syrup

Spruce Tips

There are two methods for making spruce syrup. The first is the traditional method uses equal parts spruce tips and sugar. These are layered in a jar and then placed in a sunny location for 2-4 weeks. This process extracts water from the spruce tips and creates a syrup. At the end of this process, simply strain and bottle. This has an approximate 5 month life when refrigerated.

Another method, for those that just can’t wait a month for their jelly, is to cook it up.

Chop up approximately 2 cups of freshly picked and rinsed spruce tips. Add these to a pot with 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water. Bring this slowly to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the spruce tips and bring the mixture to a full boil. Pour into sterilized jars and process them in a water bath for 15 minutes for long-term storage. For immediate use, pour into bottles and store in a cool location or your refrigerator.

Spruce Jelly

3 Cups of Spruce Tips
3 Cups of water
4 Cups of Sugar (or to taste)
1 pkg Pectin
6 Tbsp Lemon Juice

Give your spruce tips a quick wash and remove any debris. Roughly chop the spruce tips before adding them and the water to your pan. Bring to a boil and then remove it from the heat. Allow the tea to steep overnight. The longer your tea steeps the stronger the flavor of your jelly will be. Alternatively, you could simmer for 40 minutes and continue making your jelly.

Strain the tea through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and heat the pot on high heat. Stir in the pectin and lemon juice and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the sugar, whisking to prevent clumping, until it reaches a full boil. Let it boil for two minutes and then remove it from the heat. You can use a spoon to skim off any foam that may develop.

Place a small amount of the jelly on the back of a cool spoon to test. It should have a syrup like consistency. If after cooling on the spoon it is still too thin you can bring it to a boil again and then retest.

Once the jelly has reached your desired consistency, pour it into sterilized jars and then process them in a water bath for five minutes.

Coming Next

This is the first in a series of articles on our foraging. Please subscribe to our blog to get all of our updates and information. You can also subscribe to our podcast here or find us in your favorite podcasting app.

We will be sharing more about the wonderful birch tree including all the details of the birch water that we are collecting right now. Additionally, we will be talking about the cottonwood (balsam poplar), willow, old man’s beard (usnea), Labrador tea, and a plenty more so join us as we continue to take advantage of what our amazing state has to offer us.

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can send us a message from the website. We enjoy hearing from everyone and appreciate the feedback.

We’re Still Here

We're still here.  We had Great intentions of keeping up but fell behind.

Well, we had great intentions of getting out two blogs and two podcasts per month and we were keeping up. And then the world changed seemingly overnight. Because of a direct contact with a positive COVID-19 case, Rachelle and I ended up quarantined for two weeks. We came out just in time for the Stay-at-home orders, school cancellations, and runs on the grocery stores. Thankfully for us, our families, and friends (even those that tested positive) we are all healthy today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has contracted the virus and their families along with those that have lost their jobs.

While I may have dropped the ball on getting the podcasts and articles posted during these hectic and uncertain times, we have continued with our trapline, got the garden seeds started, and continued our foraging. Our next blog post will be on the spruce tree. We’ve been able to harvest the fresh spring spruce tips and we will discuss the value of this amazing tree. We will also have a follow-up podcast to include a discussion on the Spruce and catch everyone up on the trapline. (Spoiler Alert: We did catch several more…)

We apologize for the silence over the past few weeks but now that we’re adjusting to our new “normal” we should be able to get back on track so watch out for our article on the spruce, our next podcast and then we have a lot more content coming your way including, seed starting, Labrador Tea, willow, birch, old man’s beard, and lots more.

-David & Rachelle

Collecting Labrador Tea

Labrador Tea

Sometimes you just get lucky and stumble onto something. This was the case when Rachelle and I were out checking the trapline. I had walked into the treeline the previous day to set a couple of snares in the trees. When Rachelle and I went to check them I spotted Labrador Tea under the snow along the trail. We took advantage of the opportunity and collected a handful of the very fragrant plant.

Labrador Tea grows throughout most of Alaska in boggy areas. Though some prefer to pick the leaves and flowers in the summer, it can be picked year around. If you are picking be aware that the poisonous Bog-Rosemary looks very similar to Labrador Tea. The difference is that the bottom of the Labrador Tea leaf is orange or rusty, Bog-Rosemary leaves on the other hand are white underneath and and are missing that very distinctive fragrance that Labrador Tea has.

Alaskan Natives have used Labrador Tea for generations. The leaves are broken up into pieces to release the oils and then boiling water is poured over them and allowed to steep. The tea can be drank as is or sweetened with honey. The teas medicinal properties are used for a variety of ailments to include stomach aches, colds, coughs, sleeping problems, heartburn, and arthritis. Labrador tea can help reduce pain and inflammation.

In addition to using it as a drink, you can also make it into a tincture, oil, or poultice. Labrador Tea can also be used for culinary purposes in place of bay leaves for your stews, sauces, and soups.

We’ll be sharing our recipes, uses, and experiences with Labrador Tea soon so be sure to subscribe to our blog for those updates. You can also follow our adventures on our podcast which you can find in your favorite Podcast app on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Spotify, and TuneIn. You can also listen right from our website.

It’s STILL Winter….

The calendar is telling us that spring is near. We just adjusted our clocks to “spring” forward but this year I don’t think Mother Nature is listening. This has been reported to be the coldest winter for the interior of Alaska in 44 years and while it WAS cold, the temperatures didn’t fall to levels of even just a couple of years ago where we had nearly 70 degrees below zero in Minto. However, normally, it gets cold for a few days and then warms up for awhile, then gets cold and we see an ebb and flow throughout the winter. This year it got cold and just stayed cold and then to top it off, it just kept snowing.

For the record, I love the snow. I love being out in it. I love seeing the way everything contrasts against it. It can be absolutely beautiful. However, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve shoveled the roof of the camp trailer, the deck, the driveway or cleared the work area around my saws this year. I have definitely been getting plenty of exercise shoveling this winter. Rachelle keeps showing me ads for snowblowers and I keep thinking, “It’s just got to be over now.” I’m sure as soon as I commit to the snowblower it will be….

In the meantime we will continue to take advantage of the snow by keeping the trapline going. We finished fox season without catching a single one. Rachelle was pretty disappointed but we did get an opportunity to really observe the behavior of the fox in our area throughout the two months we were out there. I feel strongly that next season we will be able to close the deal. The last week of the season we really noticed a lot of their tracks around our sets so some of the new bait that I put together at the end was certainly enticing them.

We ate or shared all of the rabbit meat that we had caught early on and were fortunate enough to have just caught two more this week. Now that we’ve found where they’ve moved to we put out several more sets to try to increase our catch while there is still time. We did post a video on the website and on Instagram of me checking the line.

I spend every other week in the village of Minto for work. Minto is an Alaska Native village approximately 135 miles northwest of Fairbanks. This is the village that Rachelle is from and that I lived in for a couple of years. During my time there I was given permission to trap and hunt on their land.

This past week I was asked to work a couple of my days off in the village and Rachelle was able to travel with me. During my downtime, I showed her my old trapline and we were both amazed by the amount of activity. I had brought the remainder of our trapping gear just in case the opportunity presented, and IT DID! We set out nearly a dozen sets in the hopes of closing out the season strong.

Wolf print next to David's foot
One big pup

On my return to the village this week I spotted tracks in the middle of the road just a few miles from the village and stopped to check them out. I knew there were wolf in the area but was surprised to see the size of this one. I think next season we will pick up some snares and see if we can get few of these guys. There are a lot of them in the area and they have been decimating the moose population. We’ll have to step up our game if we’re going to go after wolf though.

In spite of the fact that it continues to snow we are preparing for our spring gardening. We’ll be discussing our planting selection beginning with the herb garden. We are planting multi-use (culinary/medicinal) herbs and will be discussing their uses and our plans for them next time. We also talk about collecting and using birch water, so please don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to ensure you get all of our updates.

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A Day on the Trapline

Check out this short video of me out for a day on the trapline. We’re working on a few more videos of both Rachelle and I as well as one detailing the building of the cubby sets we used.

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40 Below Adventures


And the cold just won’t go away…. It’s now the end of January, which IS typically cold but it has been sub thirty below now for what seems like the whole month. It did warm up into the negative teens and Rachelle commented about how nice it was to be able to take off her mitts on the trapline without instantly freezing.

Rachelle's Snare

I love Alaska and I love winter but when it’s this cold outside, getting things down takes more effort and more time and that includes just getting ready to go outside. Once outside you find yourself in one of two situations. One, you have a packed snow that is as hard as concrete and slick as ice or two, a very fine powdery snow that is equally as difficult to walk through. While I have been shoveling snow from the driveway and around the house all winter in the hopes of minimizing the amount to water near the house come spring, I definitely couldn’t keep up with the snowfall. I should still be able to remove the snow from the area around the sides and back of the house which little traffic to compact it but the driveway area is solid and there to stay until breakup.

Our Moose

Speaking of the driveway, I walked out of the house recently and found myself staring at moose who had decided the willows in the driveway would make a nice late morning snack. I’d say we had a lengthy conversation but it was really just me talking and her standing there munching away and occasionally glancing my way. After about 15 minutes, she finally decided to head down the hill behind the house and I went about my day. A couple days later, I opened the front door and spotted a fox running down the driveway. While many may consider all the wildlife in the yard a nuisance, we see it as a blessing. The opportunity to witness so much beauty right from our front door, is one of the things we love about living here.

On the subject of wildlife, we have had a pretty successful couple of weeks on the trapline. We’ve bagged five rabbits already in spite of the temperatures. One of the fox sets has tracks all around it but it’s being extremely cautious. After skinning and processing the meat from the rabbits, we added a few leftover parts to the back of this fox set to help entice it into the trap. Hopefully, in our next posting we’ll be able to tell you that it worked.

As I mentioned, we skinned and processed four of the rabbits. The pelts are nice and full. We went ahead and put them in a bucket with our tanning solution. We have a total of eight hides in the solution and in the next couple of weeks should have enough ready so that Rachelle can start working on the mittens she’s been planning. You’ll have to make sure to come back to hear all about that project.

We did make a big pot of rabbit stew and shared it with Rachelle’s 88 year old uncle. He said he grew up eating rabbit but hadn’t had any in years so he was really excited about getting some now. We have shared much of the remaining rabbit with others as well. We strongly believe in sharing our bounty and believe it comes back many times over.

Rachelle got a chance to skin her first rabbit just in the last couple of days. She has watched me do it numerous times but with me out of town for work, she took it on and now has a nice pelt on the stretcher. She’s a fast learner and you wouldn’t be able to tell it was her first time skinning by looking at the hide. She did an amazing job on it and I couldn’t be more proud.

So next week is FINALLY supposed to warm back up with highs nearing zero and we are planning to get out and extend our trapline. We still have a number of traps and snares and with fox season closing at the end of February we need to get busy. Rachelle’s primary goal of the season was to catch her first fox and we’re running out of time to make that happen.

Since you are reading this, you obviously know we recently launched our website and blog but you might not know that we also launched our Roaming Alaska podcast. It took some time with the technical stuff but it’s live and on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, so please subscribe to follow along on the adventure. You can also find out latest episodes on our website.