National Geographic : 1973 Jan
fall freeze. Soon snows mark it with ever changing ripples of wind drifts. The dark, drooping evergreens that shadow the lake's swampy fringes seem as grotesque as a thousand witches in summer. But they appear graceful and soft when skirted by un tracked snow in winter. They are especially lovely by moonlight just after a new snow, when each crystal catches the glow and spar kles it back to me. The beauty of the wilderness does much to reward us for the unending hard work of mere survival. To keep warm and fuel our cookstove, we spend hours cutting and haul ing sledloads and armloads of firewood. Cooking on a wood range is a challenge, since there is no way to gauge heat output precisely. Baking needs even temperatures, and my oven gets hotter at the left rear corner. I have to remember to keep turning the cakes or loaves of bread. I discovered a pressure cooker useful in quick-cooking beans and meat stews; otherwise I would be stoking the stove all day. Another time-occupying chore is hauling water from the lake. In winter we maintain a water hole yards out from the lakeshore, using an ice chisel to break away the frozen crust that forms each day over the opening. Experience has taught us to shovel snow on top of the skim ice as insulation to keep it from freezing too thick to break easily. We have also learned to mark the location with stakes or spruce boughs. Several times the hole has been lost beneath drifting snow, and hacking a new one in four-foot-thick ice can take a full day. Harlow, by then 5, was playing out on the lake last winter and fell into our water hole, even though it was marked. We heard him scream and rushed out, just in time to see him scrambling from the hole. Pete let him walk back to the house by himself, cold and crying, hoping that his misery might teach him to be more careful next time. Careless dealing with nature can be fatal in this wilderness. WITH WATER so hard to come by, doing the laundry can be sheer drudgery. In summer I find it pleas ant to spend a morning at the lake scrubbing the clothes. But in winter lake water must be hauled to the cabin and dirty water must be lugged outside. We wear our clothes as long between washings as decently possible, and I do the dishes only once a day, often BOTHBY JOHNMETZGER ALL THE WATER we use at home must be drawn by handfrom Ermine Lake. Pete fills a five-gallon can from a hole in the ice. By using the same hole each time, we have to chisel away only an icy crust. Mount McKinley, highest peak on the continent, dominates the skyline. BATHING IN A PLASTIC BOAT, Pete gets splashing help from Vin. None of us enjoy carrying the water from lake to house, so we use as little as possible, letting one tubful serve the whole family.