Okay, I know, I know–I’m a little obsessed. It is time for my yearly ode to snow. I just love it so much that I can’t help myself. In reality, it is so much on my mind over the last few weeks that I can’t think of much else to write about! It all starts with or comes back to snow. Living the rural life with a fair amount of land, not too many indoor options for kids, and a lot of driveway means that a lot of snow results in a lot of work and play!
Happy New Year and New Decade Farmgirl Friends!
It’s been a big time for change and newness around here as we get settled into our new (to us) house, new routines and new part of town. I’ve been asked approximately 4.3 million times how we are liking our new house, if we are all moved in, etc. etc. My usual reply is–yes! It’s great and yes all of our stuff is in the house. Note: I did not say we are all moved in :). It’s proving to be difficult to “move in” with all of this newness happening with young kids around. I’m generally okay with this and try to find the humor in it…but there are times of darkness and turmoil! (like when I decided to collect and organize ALL OF OUR SHOES).
Happy Holidays, Farmgirls!
Hope you are all doing well during this busy and cheerful season. We’ve had an eventful few weeks up here in the North. It started with a girls’ trip that Ava and I took to Seattle to visit Ava’s cousin and have some sister-free fun!
Hey Hey Farmgirl sisters,
How are you all doing? I’m having one of those uninspired (or perhaps unmotivated?) snaps in life, a writer’s block if you will. If I recall this is normal for me during this time of the year, during the break between harvest season and celebration season. There’s a stagnancy in the air. As strange as it sounds, I believe it’s good to be uninspired sometimes. For me it’s a feeling of contentment in that there is nothing that needs to be bettered, accomplished, pursued or created. I can just go about with the daily rhythms of life and the demands of various responsibilities without daydreaming about what I could be doing or feeling down on myself for not accomplishing all of the things.
Although dinners have been a bit boring. Sorry, family.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
Just kidding, it was just regular times—most of them great! We just finished up a two week trip to Minnesota to attend the wedding of my little brother. It turns out he isn’t so little anymore, and I couldn’t be happier for him and his new wife. It was a beautiful wedding on a lovely Wisconsin farm. The weather didn’t cooperate but it helped prove that their love conquers all! After six years of getting to watch them grow in love and life, their marriage is sure to be a great one.
Summer is trying to come to an end here in Alaska, but the weather isn’t cooperating. I’m finding some conflicting feelings come with the unexpectedly warm and dry days. We’ve enjoyed so much outside play with very little prep. The ability to get three kids outside without warm layers or rain gear is amazing! It’s too dry for mosquitoes to hatch. The lawn is growing super slowly so not as much upkeep on that front. Heat loving Alaskans have had a great time this summer.
There I was, standing chest deep in the ocean, wearing children’s waders and getting beaten by huge waves that poured over and into the neoprene legs and booties.
There I was a week later, several hundred miles away from the previous spot, slip sliding through mud, again wearing children’s waders, trying futilely to rinse the silty, thick muck from my arms and clothing
There I was 36 hours later squatting on a muddy grassy lump (again in children’s waders), feeling my thighs burn while cigarette smoke from a woman nearby wafts into my nose.
Now, here I am, at home, with a sore body but also with a freezer full of beautiful Alaskan sockeye salmon fillets and another 12 fish to process. I caught all of them in a freaking net! How cool is that?
Claiming to be a fisherwoman would be a loooooong stretch for me. I grew up lake fishing once in awhile in Minnesota. Truthfully, it was always a bit boring to me. I’d end up reading or writing poetry in the boat, tired of watching my little white and red bobber that never seemed to bob. Plus, I didn’t like to eat fish! Even through college and young adulthood, I had plenty of friends that liked to fish but I never got into it. Again, I would go along to be on the water in beautiful areas, but I’d always have a book and a journal. I was fishing for thoughts or something, right?
Since moving to Alaska, I’ve gone fishing a handful of times—the first time going on a halibut charter with my dad. It was thrilling and beautiful and rejuvenating! After that trip I thought to myself, I could be a person who fishes. All I needed was a forty five foot yacht, a handsome deckhand to bait hooks, maintain equipment and clean fish, and a captain to drive said boat. Not too much to ask?
Earlier this summer my dad visited and we went on another fishing trip—this time to hook king salmon on the Gulkana River, a tributary of the Copper River, where world class salmon are caught and shared with the world! I hadn’t used a rod and reel in a LONG time, but luckily we again had a guide who had really nice fishing poles and taught us how to use them. My dad got a 25 pound beautiful king pretty early on in the trip, so that was encouraging; however as the day progressed I was convinced that I wouldn’t catch a thing. I did lose one fish, but in the end I didn’t get one. There were a couple hours in there where I reverted into my old “fishing” habits, saying to myself I wish I had a pen and paper to write poems….I wish I had a book to read all the while furiously casting and reeling in line after line after line after line. My thoughts were turning toward this is the most expensive sunburn I’ve ever gotten…Why in the world do people fish for fun?….I’d rather be doing anything else with my time right now. The negative thoughts faded very quickly after eating some food, but the longing for writing or reading stuck. In the end, it was a lovely day on a lovely river and a great adventure with my dad. Plus, we had king salmon for dinner!
Again, after the salmon trip, I thought, I could be a fisherwoman. Our guide gave us really good pointers about the behaviors of salmon and other fish. Now I was intrigued! Maybe my grandpa and others shared their fish behavior knowledge with me as a kid and I just didn’t care; but I bet we just went out fishing and didn’t really talk about the why’s and what’s of fish habitat. As a dirt worshipping nature lover, this is what I found hooked me on the idea that fishing is, in fact, not just for suckers. Maybe I could give this fishing thing a try.
But, first I just wanted to get a lot of fish.
Let’s take a step back here—it’s been awhile since I’ve written! One of the reasons I’ve missed posts is just a general sense of overwhelm in our day to day right now. It was a rough first half of this year with loss and not getting jobs that I’ve really wanted because I’m not willing to work full time. I’m not working on the farm this year because I couldn’t justify childcare and getting work done with them in tow is incredibly stressful and inefficient (it would be different if it was my own operation) and just the general exhaustion of having three young kids is enough. I was starting to feel pretty worthless. I know, I know I’m doing the world’s most important job or whatever, but that doesn’t hold a lot of clout when your down and out and live in a time and place where money is king and worth is often calculated by your salary. My logical brain knows that what I’m doing is important, it is finite, it is magical in many ways; and I am so SO lucky to be able to stay home with kids. So, I’ve tried to focus on ways that I can provide for my family outside of endless dishes and piles of laundry (and also beyond the fairly consumptive activities to enrich childhood!).
We planted a fine little container garden with tomatoes, zucchini, sweet peppers, kale, cucumbers, potatoes, strawberries, herbs and a few other yummy things. I intended to also get out some peas, carrots and other greens; but it didn’t happen, and that’s okay. The are all doing quite well! This was all great, but I wanted to get some protein into our rotation, and livestock isn’t an option with our current rental situation. So, I turned to the sea!
Dipnetting is a method of catching fish without a rod and reel. You literally just put a net in the water, wait for a fish to get caught in it, drag it on shore, dispatch the fish and continue! My friend, Amanda, is my adventure buddy. Earlier this summer we went on a thirteen mile adventure run, crossing hip deep frigid rivers and bushwhacking through miles of unkempt trail. It was awesome! Last week we ventured four hours south to the mouth of the Kenai River. We got our tent set up at 2 a.m. and woke up at 6:30 to stand in the beating waves with other Alaskans. It is a fascinating cultural experience! A bunch of people standing in nearly arctic waters, staring out at the water, side by side, cheering other dip netters on as they flip and drag their huge five foot nets on the end of 10-20 foot poles to shore. It was my first time and I felt that familiar you aren’t going to catch anything pull on my brain as everyone around me dragged in fish after fish. One of the guys next to us pulled in at least six fish before I got my first one.
But my first one came! And then another and then four more. Not too shabby for a first timer, I think (for perspective the guy next to us who obviously knew what he was doing got 35 fish in the time it took two of us to get 11!) . The fish were pretty big, 10-12 pounds and beautiful silver with bright red flesh. Dispatching them isn’t pretty or easy, but I got the hang of it. I always say thank you and sorry to the fish before I whack them….Other people who heard me must have thought untoward things, I did hear whispers of “mumble mumble soft these days mumble mumble.” Ha! If being reverent and grateful for your food makes you soft, I’ll take it. We could only fish one tide before we had to head back north, but now we know what to expect for next year.
This week I’ve been fishing on Fish Creek which is about 45 minutes from my house. It only opens to dip netting when a 35,000 fish escapement is projected. This year it was only open for five days. One morning I went and caught eleven fish in an hour and last night I went and caught two fish in three hours. The best part of last night was watching a guy next to me lose fish after fish after fish. He lost several after he had them landed and they squirmed back into the water! Amazing. He finally caught a fish that didn’t get away and it was the smallest salmon I’ve ever seen (it might have been a trout?). Really hilarious to watch, probably not great to be him. It is a variable life, this life as an outdoors-person (which I wouldn’t consider myself…yet)!
So, we’ve gotten nineteen fish, mostly sockeye (also called red) salmon. That’s probably plenty for our family, but I’d love to get more for parties and gifts. Alaskans are allowed to get 25 fish for head of household and then 10 more for each additional member in their household. Sooooo, that means we could get 46 more fish…which seems excessive and definitely impossible with our time and resources. However, I’ll go one more time next week at the mouth of Kasilof river. Hopefully we’ll get a couple more to round out our catch.
I’m looking forward to all of the yummy dinners, fish tacos and ceviches in our future. I’m equally excited to learn about smoking and canning. My friend also gave me a super easy method to make lox. Gotta love lox and bagel, smoked salmon, salmon dip…mmmmm.
And now it’s time to gather berries! Gotta love what nature provides.
Until next time Farmgirl friends, Take it easy!
Sending Peace and love from Alaska,
Alex, the Rural Farmgirl Continue reading
Thank you for your patience since my last post. The main reason I missed it was because my amazing, kind, wise and witty grandfather passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was shocking to face a world without his presence. I wrote a post about him that never officially made it up, but you can see it in my chain of posts if you want to know more about the OG Alex!
Since then, I’ve grieved a lot, worked a bit, adventured with kids and most recently reveled in the lovely goodies mother nature has already offered up for our taking. We are only a few weeks into no-snow weather, but the foraging has been plentiful and pretty easy!
It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog post. It has been a few weeks, now, but my dear grandfather passed on March 25. I’ve been wanting to commemorate him somehow, but the emotions were so raw that I couldn’t get out anything very meaningful or coherent. I am grateful that I have this outlet to urge me to pull it together and create a (hopefully satisfactory) memorial piece for him.
It is surprising to me how deeply I have felt his loss. We knew he was dying. It wasn’t surprising when I got notice from my mother that he had passed, but it was shocking. I’m going to get real with you here…my grief was and is palpable. When I was alone I felt like a widowed Italian–sobbing, wailing with tears flowing, lying prostrate with my hands clasped above my head. Every beautiful day (and EVERY day was beautiful from the time he died until the day of his funeral) brought me to tears thinking about how he would never see another beautiful day.
Fortunately, my family and I got to visit with him just ten days before his death. Although he was very old and deteriorating fairly quickly from heart, kidney and liver failure, my grandfather was very present. His eyesight was nearly perfect, and as my mother says, “he could hear a fly fart from twenty paces.” He was a witty, intelligent and kind man. Alex Andrew Griffin will be greatly missed.
In the last year since Fern was born (she turned one the day before his funeral), I’ve had several instances where I imagined my grandfather being born to his sixteen year old mother. My great grandmother Marie had an inarguably terrible life. By the time she was 14 both of her parents had died (her father an alcoholic) and most of her siblings had died in a house fire. She married my great grandfather (at 15, I think!) and had my grandpa. A few years later she lost a son just one day after he was born and shortly after that my great grandfather succumbed to cancer. She was a twenty year old widow with a four year old son and hardly any family to support her. Then the great depression happened. Despite these hardships, I can imagine my little newborn grandpa squirming in my great grandmother’s exhausted arms while she gazed at him with more love than she thought possible. I imagine her rational brain (she was a reserved, almost stern woman) at odds with her hormonal mom brain, and it is beautiful. My grandfather entered this world on June 15, 1924 and cried the cry of a newborn that began his Northwoods life.
He and his mother moved into an apartment next door to my great, great, great aunt (my great grandmother’s aunt) in Duluth, Minnesota. At this point, my grandpa was going by “Jimmy” and he didn’t even know his birth name was Alex! My grandpa was a great story teller, and his earliest stories are from this apartment. His story telling was superb, and i can’t do it justice but I remember them so well…Almost every day he and his mom would go next door to have tea and a biscuit for breakfast. The last visit I had with my grandpa we shared some tea and cookies. He loved Irish Breakfast tea with sugar so that’s what we had while he shared memories with me. He said I made excellent tea and I took it as a high compliment!
In Duluth, my grandpa remembers selling five cent newspapers on the sidewalk for some guy. He was about 5. He knew how to give change for a quarter, but many people would tell him to keep the change. Being an innocent little kid (and adorable! of course they let him keep the change!) he would hand over all of the newspaper money to the guy and get a quarter for his work. The man would also give him cigarettes–and he would smoke them! at five! Can you imagine this little Irish boy wearing knickers and a flat cap, slinging newspapers and smoking a cigarette?! I can and it’s amazing.
You know how people are super concerned with kids and screen time these days? How we’ve come to rely on televisions as substitute babysitters? Apparently that’s nothing new. My great grandma would give a nickel to my grandpa (at five, still), and send him across the street to the nickelodeon. He would watch little films all morning–Rin Tin Tin is the only one I can remember him mentioning. He remarked that it was probably a cheap babysitter for his mom. Another time his mother had made pies and put them atop the china cabinet (I think his father was alive at this point) and grandpa climbed up their to get one and he fell through the top! He couldn’t remember what happened after that–did he get some pie?
After his mother remarried they moved to Crosby, MN–a small town on the iron range situated on Serpent Lake. He remembered fishing for northern pike there as a seven year old. A lot of Finnish people lived in Crosby, and he traded stamps with an elderly Finnish woman neighbor who spoke no English. Up until the last time i saw him he would do little Finnish foot games on babies…”Doller, maller, sculpien, scruplen, tiddle tiddle tiddle tiddle.” By the way–we aren’t Finnish at all!
As a school boy in Crosby grandpa went to school wearing knickers on his first day. Coming from the big city of Duluth, his mother dressed him up for school. All of the other kids were wearing jeans and, embarrassed, he refused to wear knickers ever again. Come to think of it, I rarely saw my grandpa wear anything but jeans.
He lived in this small town during the depression, and the city allowed the residents to live there tax-free and mortgage-free as long as they kept their homes in good order. Cows lived in the alleys and chickens, too, they belonged to specific families but everyone fed them and got some of the goodies. It sounded like a nice little community, albeit very poor. His mother and step father ended up having one more son and four daughters in the following years.
As a teen, Grandpa Jim (we always called him by his nickname) worked for a New Deal work program to build an ice rink and other local spots for his town. He made something like $17 per week. Later, he moved back to Duluth to work…I can’t remember exactly what he did…but he made $40 per week and had to spend most of his money on room and board, so he returned to Crosby to work in the iron ore mines. While working there he froze his feet and got one of his legs terribly crushed. This is also when he was diagnosed with asthma and got some terrible illness that took almost two years to recover from. These health problems culminated in him not being eligible to join the army–something that he wanted to do so badly, but I’m happy he didn’t have to fight in WWII.
He later met my grandmother, became the county assessor and moved out to Perry Lake, Minnesota where my maternal grandmother grew up. Her parents sold 70 something acres to them and they built a house on the lake. It is the house my grandfather stayed in until just a few months before his death. He was a great outdoorsman–hunting deer, grouse, squirrel, ducks and geese and fishing year round in the lake. Even just a month or so before he died he talked about getting out on one more bird hunt. He taught my brothers the secrets of deer hunting, and I remember fishing with him as a kid, often getting bored and turning to reading and writing poetry while floating on the water.
My grandpa also golfed two or three times per day in his retirement! He got a few holes-in-one over the years and made great friends with golfing buddies and personnel. We met a man at his funeral that had golfed with my grandfather for forty years!
He flew on a plane once–from Brainerd to Hinckley MN, probably an hour or so long flight on a small plane. It was so terrifying that he never flew again! While Ireland called him, there was no way he was going to get there unless he could take a boat. Besides that, he was a major homebody–traveling to Montana, Canada and Michigan were about as far as he would venture from Minnesota, and he wouldn’t even do that for more than a couple of days.
In his last months, I asked my grandfather what the highlight of his life was–what would he call the “good ol’ days.” He gave a very him answer–one influenced by the Depression and his love of the outdoors. I imagined he would talk about his three lovely daughters growing up and having a nice job and house or something but this is what came out: “Ooooh, I’d say 1965 to 1980. There were plenty of deer and grouse and fish and I could eat all that I wanted!” he followed that up with lamenting that he couldn’t eat all of the good food that was offered in his assisted living facility.
As a kid, my grandpa was always there. We would stay at my great grandparents house quite a bit throughout the year and we would walk the “old road” (it used to be the highway, but it is now a wide grassy path) to his house or paddle boat to his dock. He always had ice cream for us. I remember him walking in the woods with his fly switch–a branch with fly tape spun around it, and doing tick checks after romping outside. He taught my brothers how to deer hunt and he taught me how to shoot a .22. We caught lots of fish with him and we played lots of Pictionary with him.
I wish I had told my grandfather just how much he meant to me and our family. He left behind seven grandkids (plus my brother who died 16 years ago) and seven great grandkids. We are spread throughout the US and all embody different parts of him–his love of nature, his fiscal responsibility, his love of golf, his wit and sense of humor, his reclusiveness, his love of home, his lightheartedness…
It’s hard to believe he is gone, it is hard to accept that he will never be here again. It’s shocking to experience how real the grief is even when he died an almost perfect and expected death–it is the purest grief I’ve felt…the grief that only relates to loss, not also the circumstances related to the loss.
Here’s to you, Grandpa Jim. We love you and miss you so.
Farmgirls–I have a new favorite food. And–lucky you! I am going to let you in on this rare discovery. I haven’t found a new go-to food for quite a while, so it has been fun to add something new into our rotating food repertoire.
It has only taken me several decades to discover just how delicious this mouth watering creation can be. It is a juicy, savory, and unpretentious all-in-one meal. They can be creative, complex or simple; and–perhaps most notable of all–they are quintessentially American.
Are you teetering on the edge of your seat? What could this amazing food possibly be?