Aurora Freaking Borealis

I had just fallen asleep tonight, when my cell phone rang. It also acts as my alarm clock, and my first thought was “Nooooo, it can’t be 6:30 yet! I just closed my eyyyyyyyes!”

Instead, it was Libby telling me to look out the north window. Without my contacts in or glasses on my face, everything is blurry. But what I saw was a bright green sort of blurry. Skippy and I suited up (it’s 13° right now, at 10:50pm), and went outside.

I’ve never seen the northern lights before, so this was an amazing, first-time experience for me.

I managed to capture some of it, as you can see, but a lot is still missing. It was moving very fast, with the fastest bits turning red before disappearing.

About 1/4 of the visible sky was green, though most of it was just hazy. All the action was happening just above the trees.

I had just woken up, was wearing glasses (makes it hard to look through the viewfinder), it was 13°, and I found that the best shutter speed for capturing the action was around 45-55 seconds. My camera’s slowest built-in shutter speed is 30 seconds. I had also left my remote shutter release back in the house. So I got to stand there, holding the shutter button with my exposed hand, counting seconds out loud, while trying not to shake the camera. I think I’m going to have to prep my equipment before going to bed, so I’ll be better prepared next time. But, I think I got some decent shots despite the sub-optimal circumstances. :-)

Some Canadian pictures

One of the places we saw on our move to Alaska is Muncho Lake. The lake is gigantic, and sparsely populated. We passed a campground, the only one we had seen in about 20 miles. We kept going, though, wondering if there was any sort of town or just a grocery store where we could get some food. We rounded a blind curve, and found The Northern Rockies Lodge. We dined in their German restaurant, and setup our tent in their campground. It was late, but I managed to get a couple of pictures out of it.

On our way out of British Columbia, we encountered several herds of wood bison along the road.

We also stopped by Liard Hot Springs. I had been to some hot springs in California, but it was extremely crowded and apparently only “mildly warm” springs, so I didn’t get in. Liard is much smaller, and much much hotter. You can actually see the source of the hot water, as it boils up from underground. It’s quite a hike back to the spring, so I didn’t take my camera. It would be really cool to visit in the dead of winter.

In the parking lot, I did spy a squirrel doing cute things in a tree.

I kept snapping photos of it, and it kept letting me.

And then it decided I had taken enough pictures, and climbed further up the tree. But not before giving me some decidedly American sign language.

A night without heat

About a week ago, Libby suggested we rock our fuel oil drum to gauge how much heating oil we still had. Like everything else we should do and don’t do right away, we forgot. Libby left on Thursday for a weekend in Anchorage. Saturday morning, our heater sputtered as the last of the oil dropped through the feed line.

The fuel drum on the side of the cabin:

Fortunately, it was a warm day. Actually, it was around 25°F, and cloudy. I spent much of the day giving free technology tutorials to Mac users in town, while Skippy cleaned the cold cabin. Libby arrived home late that evening, with a truck full of dog food (see previous post) and said we could open up the filter cover on her tank and take a few gallons to tide us over until she could get the oil company to come fill the empty drums behind the cabin.

That seemed like a lot of work, especially after dark and in the cold, so we decided to tough it out for the night. Flannel sheets, 3 blankets, socks, sweatpants, and hoodies kept us warm for the night. One of the cats, Jacques, stuck close all night and spent most of the early morning under the covers.

I got up around 8:30am, and found the outdoor temperature to be 15°, with the indoor temp. hovering around 42°. It was cold, but definitely better than any morning I’ve had while winter camping. I promptly fired up the toaster oven to make crescent rolls, the skillet to fry up some soysage, and the water boiler for coffee. After breakfast, our cooking brought the indoor temperature all the way up to…48°.

We could see our breath

After dog duty, I went to see about moving the two empty drums up the hill, so they could be filled later. The first one I tried to tip over was frozen to the ground. Or so I thought. It wouldn’t tip over because it was very heavy. It was actually still half full of fuel! So I rolled it over to the main fuel drum, and used a hand pump (made in Indiana!) to transfer the fuel. The other drum was mostly empty, but I went ahead and added it to the half full drum.

At least, I tried to. Have you ever picked up a metal 55 gallon drum, with 7 or 8 gallons of fuel still in it? When it’s 18° outside? It’s difficult. After managing to spill a gallon or so, I set the drum down and started to rethink the process. Apparently Libby had been watching from across the dog yard, because from behind me I hear “You might want to ask Skippy to help you with that…”

So I did. She was on the phone with Katie, and had to hang up to come help me. Sorry Katie! Together we managed to get the fuel consolidated, and then Skippy pumped the rest of fuel out while I braced the pump to keep it from sloshing around in the tank.

And then we had heat again. Skippy rolled the empty barrels up the hill, and the oil truck stopped by today and refilled them.

The ordeal did teach us a number of things. First, we can be comfortable in much colder temperatures than even we gave ourselves credit for. We’re now turning the heater down to 50° at night (its lowest setting), and between 55-58° during the day. Second, fuel oil does not come out of clothing very easily, even after 2 wash cycles, so try not to get it on you. Third, being dependent on an oil truck sucks. Fourth, an iMac, a toaster oven, an electric burner, and a water boiler do not raise the ambient temperature very much at all.

The Pain

Big post tomorrow. Tonight, it hurts to move my fingers. On top of the normal daily hauling of multiple 5-gallon buckets of food and water, I:

  • Lifted and stacked roughly one hundred 40lbs bags of dog food
  • Moved two 55 gallon drums of fuel oil (part of tomorrow’s post), one half full and the other 1/5 full
  • Lifted the 1/5 full drum and attempted to pour it into the half full drum
  • Gave up on that and got Skippy to help me lift and pour the now 1/8 full drum (most of it had gotten into the other drum, honest)
  • Hand-pumped ~25 gallons of fuel oil into our tank
  • Lifted twenty 75lbs blocks of frozen meat out of a truck and placed them into a freezer

That’s it for me. Me and 2 Aleve tablets are going to drink a beer and listen to The Arcade Fire. Good night!