Thursday, December 15, 2011

Been away

A half-hour ago I was shoveling snow while snow fell, a futile effort at best but one I was compulsed to complete to restore order after being gone for what feels like weeks. Then, the skies lifted, lightened, a melon-colored sun burst through the grey-blue snow-heavy sky, and the world lit up. I stood in awe, finally feeling at home again.
I do love my little space in the world, but this week, I have been away. On another planet, sort of. An island, anyway, in a world I've never experienced before. This week, I traveled above the Arctic Circle to Kotzebue, one of the places I cover for the paper, to get to know the town a bit, meet some people, take some pictures, etc. I've been stumbling in an attempt to understand what was so impactful about this trip. There's no way I can roll it all into a neat little package - it was a collection of moments and other-worldliness that is hard to describe.
Here's a moment - a writer friend who lives up in Kotzebue took me out on his Skidoo - they call them snow-gos. I sat behind him as we zipped out onto the ice. The wind bit my face, the air felt different, and around me, there was so much space. A sense of joy welled up in me, and I don't really know why. We scrambled up a snow-packed hill, rising to the top of a point from which we could see for miles and miles. Rolling hills of tundra were dazzled with the unexpected appearance of a golden sun. The wind zipped by us, cleaning the ground and everything around it till grasses came through. It felt wild and peaceful all at the same time. It felt otherworldly. I could not stop smiling.
Another moment - a storm blew in, and winds zoomed through the town. I came out of the post office and was smacked by a wall of wind so hard that it nearly knocked me over. I laughed at the silliness of being an ignorant human in a place like this. Everyone around me was doing their normal thing - just dressed a little more warmly. Goggles, for example, were standard wear. They didn't even drive in cars - they took snow machines and four-wheelers everywhere, even in the storm. Their lives were not built around avoiding any experience of their surrounding environment. How novel.
A third - a midnight walk through the town - I would have walked out on the ice if I had had any idea how to keep from getting lost beyond lost. The moon came out against the midnight dark sky, the air stung a bit, but only in a teasing way. I was alone, but not afraid. Somehow, solitude fit here perfectly. I walked, breathed, thought. I could have gone on forever.
A fourth - sitting across from my friend while he sliced narrow strips off a caribou leg as casually as if he was spreading peanut butter on some white bread. Eating muktuk and seal oil and berries in bear fat. Food from the land, whether grown or harvested, feeds my soul. It's my religion. I was so grateful.
It is always enriching to get away from your world, experience another one, but this one seemed to fit for me in a way that was surprising. I expected to be impressed byt the Arctic, but I didn't expect to fall in love with it at first sight. I did.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

High tunnel reaches new heights

This was a major weekend for the great high tunnel adventure. I sent out an APB on Tuesday night to see if some folks would be able to come help wrestle rafters into place and low and behold, we got a bunch of folks interested and more showed up unexpectedly and it wound up being just enough to get through the tough part of figuring it all out and on to the production mode of getting these huge rafters up and into place.
It was hard to figure out what to do at times - there were so many unknowns, and things did not fit in place seamlessly by any means. Lots of muscling steel things that did not want to be muscled into place. The first day, we got five trusses into place, including the two we already had set up with purins. Mike's strategy was that rather than setting the whole thing up based on one perfectly-level truss, we would attach the purlins to two trusses and hoist them both up at the same time. We did that, and it went fairly smoothly except that the posts had become slightly bulged at the top when we hammered them into the ground, which was fine except that the bolts weren't long enough to deal with the bulge. Luckily, my neighbor Craig showed up with his grinder and ground down all the rest of the posts on day 1 and after that, it was much easier to get everything flowing.
So after getting five joists up, we called it a day, and that night, it poured and rained and blew and it was crazy outside. When I got up Sunday I opened the door to find the water tank had rolled through the yard and was perched near my front door. Yikes. That's a storm, right?
Anyway, didn't figure any of the people who had pledged to come back the next day would but I was wrong - they all showed up and by 1:30 we were running at full steam, having figured out how to assembly-line all the little jobs (inserting sleeves into the top pieces of the rafter to keep the chevron from collapsing when it was tightened, putting on the cables on every-other rafter, etc.
On day 2 we also had use of two 12-foot stepladders that were hugely helpful for getting up to the top parts of the structure, which is 14.6 feet high. Tall, brave people climbed up those ladders all day today, and I never did - I'm a chickenshit, I know, but I prefer to think of it as having a healthy respect for gravity.
We put up the bottom row of purlins on each side as we went and, with three people (one on the ladder holding the center, one on each side, we hoisted the truss up and over the lower purlin and then onto the top of the post. An extra person on the first side is helpful to get the bolt in while holding the end of the truss in place.
Then the second side is hoisted onto the post, and the person on the center lifts their piece into place, and bolts go in, and tada - you have another truss up. There are 19 of them, and at first it seemed impossible, but by the end of day 2, it was going pretty smoothly. Our trusses already had cables attached to them to keep the sides from bulging out. Some people did every third one, but we got a screaming deal on some cable, so we did every other truss with turnbuckles. We put each truss on a jig that Mike made that was exactly 30 feet across at the bottom and then fitted the cable on. That worked well in keeping things moving smoothly, but putting up the trusses with cables on them was a little more difficult than the uncabled ones - you have to watch where you put your ladder or the cable gets in the way, and you have to thread the cable through the purlin, but still, not too bad.
The only other complicated part of doing it this way is that you have to put a new purlin in every fourth one, but you can't put it in when there is nothing else to attach to because it will be hanging out there too far, so we put one truss up without the purlins to support it and then backtracked while holding the truss up with boards from below and attached the purlin to the connecting truss and the new truss at the same time. Then we added two more trusses and did the whole thing all over again.
Not sure if that will make any sense to the reader, but I'm writing it all down because I have googled the installation of Farmtek's Pro Solar and found no one who has written about it and by the time I get too far into the week, I'll have forgotten myself.
Other things we found - when you run into a purlin that doesn't seem like it will fit, try loosening the bolt on the connection of the truss to the post, then repositioning, and tightening again. That seems to be easier than trying to persuade it with brute force.
I'm beat from two days of not only putting up a tunnel, but also kid wrangling (the kids did a great job of entertaining themselves for four hours plus each day while I worked outside - applause to them) and feeding the masses. I feel like I've run a race, and I suppose in a way I have, and what a sweet prize this time. Pretty soon, I'll be ready to sit and look through catalogs and plan what I'm going to plant. That will be quite fun, I believe. Quite fun.