THE BEGINNING . . .

1981

Building  Our Home In The Alaskan Wilderness

In the spring of 1981 we purchased our “little piece of wilderness heaven” on Caribou Island in ill-tempered Skilak Lake. Following are photo’s of beginning our new life in the wilderness! I hope you enjoy them. Please forgive that some of these photo’s are old and grainy.

1981 - Our Cabin Site on Caribou Island, Skilak Lake!

1981 – Our Cabin Site on Caribou Island, Skilak Lake! Notice our neighbor Bullwinkle in the background!

Checking out our new surroundings on Caribou Island, Skilak Lake!

Checking out our new surroundings on Caribou Island, Skilak Lake!

scansamonbeach

Sam standing on Caribou Island’s rocky beach. In the background at the upper end of the lake are the Kenai Mountains.

Bonnie standing on the beach. Water is low in the spring.

Bonnie standing on the beach. Water is low in the spring.

Sam carrying a log that will be used for firewood.

Sam carrying a log that will be used for firewood.

Peeling the logs that will be used on the cabin.

Peeling the logs that will be used on the cabin.

Seems like Sam's always got a log attached to his shoulder these days!

Seems like Sam’s always got a log attached to his shoulder these days!

Floor's done! Time for a coffee break!

Floor’s done! Time for a coffee break!

Cooking breakfast on the camp stove. There's Bullwinkle again, browsing nearby!

Cooking breakfast on the camp stove. There’s Bullwinkle again, browsing nearby!

Making progress! Can't wait to get out of the pup tent and into my new "home!"

Making progress! Can’t wait to get out of the pup tent and into my new “home!”

Writing letters to the loved ones back home. The pup tent in the background was home for three months. Pot of beans is cooking on the wood stove. The plastic sheeting behind me is used to cover the tent when it rains.

Writing letters to the loved ones back home. The pup tent in the background was home for three months. The plastic sheeting behind me was used to cover the tent when it rained. There’s a pot of beans cooking on the wood stove (that Sam’s brother, Paul built for us) for supper. We ate beans every day! This photo is old but it “tells” a lot!

My handsome husband shaving out of a gold pan. This photo is dear to me because Sam looks so happy, but tragically, this was taken shortly before his horrific accident! (Details are in my book!)

My handsome husband shaving out of a gold pan. This photo is dear to me because Sam looks so happy, but tragically, this was taken shortly before his horrific accident! (Details are in my book!)

This photo was taken after recuperating from his tragic accident, Sam is back to work on the cabin!

This photo was taken after recuperating from his tragic accident, Sam is back to work on the cabin!

Finally got the roof on! Just need a door now!

Finally got the roof on! Just need a door now!

Sam is almost finished hanging the door! A good solid door! Let the cold winds blow, we'll be snug and warm in our little cabin home!

Sam is almost finished hanging the door! A good solid door! Let the cold winds blow, we’ll be snug and warm in our little cabin home!

FINISHED!

FINISHED!

Home sweet home! It took lots of blood, sweat and tears, broken bones and many pots of beans, but, it's like Sam always says, "We did it, and that's what counts!"

Home sweet home! It took lots of blood, sweat and tears, broken bones and many pots of beans. But, it’s like Sam always says, “We did it, and that’s what counts!”

When the salmon entered the lake on their way to their spawning grounds, all work ceased on the cabin. It was time to go fishing!

When the salmon entered the lake on their way to their spawning grounds, all work ceased on the cabin. It was time to go fishing!

Several species of salmon enter the lake. Sam is posing with a nice King salmon. He got this one on the Kenai River, which flows through Skilak.

Several species of salmon enter the lake. Sam is posing with a nice King salmon. He got this one on the Kenai River, which flows through Skilak.

The salmon have been soaking in the brine and are now drying. They will soon go into the smoker that Sam made from a barrel pictured in the foreground

The salmon have been soaking in the brine and are now drying. They will soon go into the smoker that Sam built using a barrel, pictured in the foreground.

My wilderness kitchen! The heart of a home - for me, that is! Burned a few loaves of bread not to mention a few fingers before I got the hang of the wood cook stove!

My wilderness kitchen! The heart of a home – for me, that is! Burned a few loaves of bread not to mention a few fingers before I got the hang of the wood cook stove!

Sam building a log chicken coop for our chickens! Good job, Sam!

Sam building a log chicken coop for our chickens! Good job, Sam!

Chicken coop is finished! Sam is taking a break while our rabbit checks in for a visit.

Chicken coop is finished! Sam is taking a break while our rabbit, Susie hops by to inspect Sam’s work!

The flock is growing and we now have a turkey as well - seen in the pen. The fish net covering the pen protects the chickens from predator birds looking for a good dinner!

The flock is growing and we now have a turkey as well – seen in the pen. The fish net covering the pen protects the chickens from predator birds looking for a good meal!

Chickens go scurrying when a young bull moose pays a visit!

Chickens go scurrying when a young bull moose pays a visit!

Feeding the chickens!

Feeding the chickens!

Our hen, Gladys with her little chicks. Gladys loved nesting and she hatched and raised more chicks than any other chicken!

Our hen, Genevieve with her little chicks. Genevieve loved nesting and she hatched and raised more chicks than any other chicken!

Sam looks pretty happy with his new generator. Used for recharging our radio battery!

Sam looks pretty happy with his new generator. Used for recharging our radio battery!

Our little homestead slowly included new members. Sam is pictured here with my milk goat, Esther, and our two kid goats, Heidi and Billie . . . oh, and let's not forget, our turkey, General Lee.

Our little homestead slowly grew to include new members. Sam is pictured here with my milk goat, Esther, and our two kid goats, Heidi and Billie . . . oh, and let’s not forget, our turkey, General Lee.

"It's mine, I seen it first. I know there's corn in the bottom of this bag."

“It’s mine, I seen it first. I know there’s corn in the bottom of this bag.”

Heidi is trying to get Sam's tobacco out of his shirt pocket!

Heidi is trying to get Sam’s tobacco out of his shirt pocket!

This is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes, this is the way we wash our clothes, so early in the morning. Oh, the washtub had a dual purpose (at least). I not only used it for laundry, but for my bathtub as well!

This is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes, this is the way we wash our clothes, so early in the morning. Oh, the washtub had a dual purpose (at least). I not only used it for laundry, but for my bathtub as well!

Milking Esther! After I milked Esther, I would strain the milk and pour into a sterilized quart jar. Then Esther and I would walk down the "water trail" to the beach where Esther would browse on choice grasses while I would re-fill my dishpan with fresh cold lake water. I would rotate the jars in the dishpan, which I kept off the beach and tucked away in the tree-line That milk would be very cold in less than an hour.

Milking Esther! After I milked Esther, I would strain the milk and pour into a sterilized quart jar. Then Esther and I would walk down the “water trail” to the beach where Esther would browse on choice grasses while I would re-fill my dishpan with fresh cold lake water. I would rotate the jars in the dishpan, which I kept off the beach and tucked away just inside the tree-line. That milk would be very cold and delicious in less than an hour.

Yippee! I'm moving up in the world! From wash pan to sauna for my bathing needs! Sam built this wood heated sauna our second summer on the island. Nothing better to warm a body to the bones and clean out the pores!

Yippee! I’m moving up in the world! From washtub to sauna for my bathing needs! Sam built this wood heated sauna our second summer on the island. Nothing better to warm a body to the bones and clean out the pores!

AND THEN COMES WINTER!

AND THEN COMES WINTER!

WINTER WONDERLAND! So quiet you can hear a snowflake falling to the ground.

WINTER WONDERLAND! So quiet you can hear a snowflake falling to the ground.

Chickens are tucked in safe and warm for the winter!

Chickens are tucked in safe and warm for the winter! I think Heidi wants to move in!

OUR FIRST WINTER! FEELING BLESSED IN OUR HUMBLE LITTLE CABIN!

OUR FIRST WINTER! FEELING BLESSED IN OUR HUMBLE LITTLE CABIN!

A moose out on the frozen surface of Skilak Lake.

A moose out on the frozen surface of Skilak Lake.

Moose on Caribou Island!

Moose on Caribou Island!

Moose on Caribou Island munching on tree branches.

Moose on Caribou Island munching on tree branches near our cabin.

With winter comes trapping. Here is Sam with a Coyote!

With winter comes trapping. Here is Sam with a Coyote!

Sam with a coyote he caught. Along with coyote, Sam trapped, mink, otter, beaver and more.

Sam with a coyote he caught. Along with coyote, Sam trapped, mink, otter, beaver and more.

Trapper Sam holding up a string of mink pelts! Notice the Bear jaw handled knife he made?

Trapper Sam holding up a string of mink pelts! Notice the Bear jaw handled knife he made?

I enjoyed sewing and making crafts out of the furs that Sam trapped.

I enjoyed sewing and making crafts out of the furs that Sam trapped.

Sam sporting the beaver fur hat I made for him. He trapped the beaver during the winter.

Sam sporting the beaver fur hat I made for him. He trapped the beaver during the winter.

Building a dock! Skilak is frozen and you can see our "ice road" behind Sam as it heads toward Frying Pan Island!

Building a dock! Skilak is frozen and you can see our “ice road” behind Sam as it heads toward Frying Pan Island!

Our second summer, Sam also built a guest cabin tucked into the woods behind our main cabin.

Our second summer, Sam also built a guest cabin tucked into the woods behind our main cabin.

My sister came to visit our fourth year on the island. She is seen here with Sam as they skin a rabbit that Sam just shot for our supper.

My sister came to visit our fourth year on the island. She is seen here with Sam as they skin a rabbit that Sam just shot for our supper.

Sam the great hunter! He provided all of our meat from hunting and fishing. We never bought meat (or bread for that matter) out of a grocery store for nine years!!

Sam the great hunter! He provided all of our meat from hunting and fishing. We never bought meat (or bread for that matter) out of a grocery store for nine years! I canned all of our meat in quart jars by the hundred’s and baked all of our bread! Yummy & Healthy!

The huge 1,000 pound brown bear that Sam shot!

The huge 1,000 pound brown bear that Sam shot!

That was a big bear!

That was a big bear!

Sam's pretty happy that he brought this bear down. It had charged him and his friend up on the mountain.

Sam’s pretty happy that he brought this bear down. It had charged him and his friend up on the mountain.

That brown bear was so big that it made our cabin look small!

That brown bear was so big that it made our cabin look small!

                                                           

Photo’s Of The Beautiful Outdoors!

Rainbow over the lake near Frying Pan Island.

Rainbow over the lake near Frying Pan Island.

Up on the mountain where Sam shot the bear and where we would pick blueberries. Looking down the lake toward Caribou and Frying Pan Islands. The tiny Island in between the two is Little Caribou Island.

Up on the mountain where Sam shot the bear and where we would pick blueberries. Looking down the lake toward Caribou and Frying Pan Islands. The tiny Island in between the two is Little Caribou Island.

This is our second cabin home that we built our third year on the island. Nestled safely in a forest of snow covered pines. You can see our very first "wooden Dumpey" boat, "Ol' Slow Boat Annie," we dubbed her. And the Old Dorey next to her. We've swamped that Dory a time or two crossing that lake with a loads of wood!

This is our second cabin home that we built our third year on the island. Nestled safely in a forest of snow covered pines. You can see our very first “wooden Dumpey” boat, “Ol’ Slow Boat Annie,” we dubbed her. And the Old Dorey next to her. We’ve swamped that Dory a time or two crossing that lake with a loads of wood!

Skilak is in a bad mood today! Photo is old, grainy and not very clear. Doesn't do the scene justice!

Skilak is in a bad mood this day! Photo is old, grainy and not very clear. Doesn’t do the scene justice!

Landscape photo of the upper end of the lake by Jeremy Sauskojus. This is Skilak on one of those rare and beautiful days. Days like this would make me sometimes forget how ill-tempered the "great lady" could get.

Landscape photo of the upper end of the lake by Jeremy Sauskojus. This is Skilak on one of those rare and beautiful days. Days like this would make me sometimes forget how ill-tempered the “great lady” could get.

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12 thoughts on “THE BEGINNING . . .

  1. Din Milem

    You look so young and fragile to go through all you did on the island.

  2. Ha! I guess looks can be deceiving, Din! I was 26 years old and didn’t weigh much over a hundred pounds, but I was energetic and healthy, but most of all, I had a good man that did all the heavy work and knew what he was doing!

    • Din Milem

      I felt you had each other to lean on as you lived your dream, the good and the bad.

      • We sure did, Din! I honestly owe a lot to Sam! I think we made a great team, and after almost 40 years we still do! I think our life in the Alaskan wilderness was the best adventure a person could ever have! I’m so grateful that we did what we did!

  3. Din Milem

    Are you writing a sequel about more of your Alaskan adventures? I’m sure it would sell to those that have read Winds of Skilak. I also am curious about what brought you back to WV; Sam’s home, I think?

    My daughter did refer your information to the librarian, Mary, who schedules programs. Mary said she has found that having more than one unknown author come at the same time leads to more audience and more discussion. Mary Nice is her name, at the Community Library, Sunbury, OH. Her email address is nicema@oplin.org and she said she would welcome an email from you and she would keep your information on file. I was so disappointed that she wouldn’t have you alone that I didn’t bother to get the info to you in a timely manner. I would round up friends to fill the room, for a chance to hear about your adventures. But Mary said for what they could afford to pay you it wouldn’t be worth your trip up here from Clarksville.

    • I’ve had a lot of requests for a sequel (I am so grateful to all my readers) and I may eventually. Hope to do some writing this winter. I do have a start on it. We’ll see! Thank you for asking Din! Also, I appreciate the info about the library. I will email Mary about it. And how nice of you to say that you would round up friends to fill the room. Ha! I might hold you to it! 😉 I think it would be fun to make a trip to Ohio for a book signing! I’ll definitely look into it and thank you for taking the time to check with them and getting me the info.

  4. Hi Bonnie,…We just got to enjoy seeing the photos you put up….what a great way to start our day,… breakfast while discussing your days in the wilderness.. your young lives full of energy, willing to venture away from civilization as we know it, Sam had the confidence with you at his side, to actually pursue the simple but complicated daring lifestyle. . You can’t imagine how often your lives at Skilak are thought about as I’m pulling weeds in the garden or discussed randomly with strangers ..so we thank you for taking us through the experiences we’ll never try & only know can happen because of you folks…a real pleasure for us and friends to chat over.
    Big Congratulations for your latest award too ! I’d love to see your adventure made into a movie ! Gosh, so many challenges, shouldn’t it be a two-part movie which would have us on the edge of our seat. ? ..we’ll hope my friend !…..
    Love, Joyce

    • Hello, Joyce!
      How wonderful to hear from you again! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the pictures. What kind and sweet words about Sam and I. It means a lot to hear what folks think about our life in Alaska, and yes, Sam had the confidence it took to make such a daring and brave move. He had the know how (although I did “read up” on it!) to live off the land, and I had enough confidence, faith, and belief in him, to know that we’d both be okay! Okay, so I had “some” fear – just a little!
      Thank you for the congratulations on my book award! I was ecstatic when I learned I had won in my category. I had actually prayed to God that if my book was as good as people tell me it is, to please let me come in as a finalist. They allow up to four finalists in each category. When I got the email stating that I was the WINNER, I actually cried, I was so happy and surprised! It pleases me that you’d think it would make a good movie. Thank you! I’m not going to hold my breath waiting though- but, I guess I can dream…

      Thanks again, for your kind words and for getting back with me. Stay in touch, I enjoy our correspondence with each other!

      Bonnie

  5. Hooter

    Bonnie cool pictures, I remember them from the old days. I will always have you two in my mind. You guys where always enjoyable to talk with when I came out and later when you where my neighbor.
    Take care and good luck on what ever comes your way with the book and all—Hooter– Please tell Sam hello for me.

    • Hi Hooter, how nice to hear from you again. We think of you often and have such good memories of your visits to the island. Thank you for the well wishes. Same to you…we hope all is well with you! Sam says hi and for you to give him a call once in a while. Take care of yourself and stay in touch!

      Your forever friends,
      Sam & Bonnie

  6. Gretchen Gardner

    Bonnie, I can’t tell you how much I love your book! Living and working in the DC suburbs led me to want to ‘escape’ into the wilderness with your book – and I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it! It was so exciting to read about your adventures and accomplishments out in AK. Your book makes me want to pack up my family and take a vacation out there (don’t think we are totally ready to move off the grid yet) I’m reading your book again for the second time….something I never do – but I just want to escape back into the book with you all again. Please write a second one! You and Sam are so inspirational.

    • Hello, Gretchen!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write me. I appreciate hearing from my readers, especially when they truly enjoyed my book! I’m pleased to tell you that I am writing a second book; a sequel to Winds of Skilak! I do not have a publishing date yet, but I will definitely post it on my blog when I do.

      Thanks again, Bonnie

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