Them That's Doin': An Alaska Homestead

Patricia Ford shares her and her family's experiences buying a new home and of the harsh winter environment endured in their Alaska homestead.

| May/June 1975

In the summer of 1973 — when we found the 8-1/2 acres of Alaskan bush that would be our home — there was nothing here but wilderness, stately spruce, aspens, a beautiful blue-green river running past, and a spectacular view of the Wrangell Mountains. One year later, we made our move back to the land to an Alaska homestead.

Creating an Alaska Homestead

My husband and I had talked and dreamed of the step for years . . . but like so many others of our generation, we were caught up in the middle-class suburban way of life that is spelled T*R*A*P. We bought the usual "musts" — the washer and dryer, dishwasher, color TV, all the modern push-button gadgets — and then spent more money on sports equipment and spa memberships to get some exercise. Worse still, our children were growing up in a world that didn't prepare them for what we felt lay ahead. The oldest was ready to enter junior high school, and the time had come for us to act . . . or forget the whole thing and stop talking about it. So we acted: just jumped in with both feet ("up to our ears" is more like it).

Fortunately, we did have enough sense to realize that we couldn't make it with a millstone of bills around our necks. We've known others who tried to swim with such a load and ended up back in the 9-to-5 grind. So we spent two years working, saving, scrimping, and buying only those things that would fit the new lifestyle we were to embark on. When the washer broke down, we bought two No. 3 laundry tubs, a hand wringer, and a "stobby stick". . . and I learned to wash on a rubboard.

Even before we began easing ourselves out of the "system", we knew we loved Alaska and that we wanted to live here. But where? Not near Anchorage: too many people, and real estate prices that long ago soared beyond our budget. Then, in May of 1973, we heard about a state land auction to be held in early June. The available acreage was in the Copper River Valley. We'd never been there, but geological survey charts and maps of the area provided by the state convinced us that it would be worth the 400-mile-plus round trip to take a look.

After five days of tramping through miles of underbrush and nearly being carried off by mosquitoes, we felt ready to give up and search elsewhere. Every piece of property we looked at was either 1,000 feet above the river, or right on the highway, or totally inaccessible. (If we couldn't get in with our 31-year-old four-wheel-drive Jeep, we didn't want the place.)

Then, the day of the auction — tired, discouraged, grimy, hot, and besmeared with mosquito goop — we stumbled onto our small piece of the Good Earth. We knew immediately that it was what we were looking for: a hillside suitable for building (with only a minimum of trees to cut down), six acres of meadowland to farm, and best of all, a breeze blowing down river to keep the mosquitoes grounded. Needless to say, we bought the property.

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