The decision to build a home in Delta Junction, Alaska was fairly easy for me. I had just quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom with my new baby boy and our one bedroom apartment was beginning to feel cramped. I also longed for more privacy and hated that I couldn't sit in my living room and enjoy the little moments with my son without the sound of hacking and coughing from the chainsmoker next door. I began spouting out ideas of our own home to my husband every night and before long, we were moving our little "shack" onto the five acres my parents had given us. I am not sure that we were invited to claim the land before they had moved on, but we did. It was undeveloped, overgrown, and beautiful.
My husband worked the entire summer on clearing out the property and preparing it for the little building we would be moving there. We bought this building from some local animal rights people who were selling out because they couldn't afford all the dogs they had saved. The "shack" ,as we came to call it, had served as a kennel for all the starved dogs. Dog hair covered the inside of the shack and it had a horrible, musty smell to it. Fortunately, there was no carpeting so we didn't have to worry much about the state of the floor, just watch where we stepped. As dogs were howling and crying for just a taste of my baby, we handed over $6,000 and scribbled up something in writing for our records. We had bought our first home.
Now that we had purchased the home, we had to pick up and move the building to our property. This is much easier said than done, of course. My husband, dad, father-in-law, and brother-in-law all got together and miraculously moved that building the entire twenty miles without a single scratch or ding. I awaited at the top of the driveway, baby in my arms, for our new adventure to begin. My mother was with me and we were growing impatient. Just as my arms didn't think they could hold onto my little bundle any longer, the house rounded the corner. We crossed our fingers as the truck went up the hill, praying that the house wouldn't slide right off the trailer. My parent's small border collie mut was riding on the trailer, enjoying all the smells that the house had to bring. They parked the truck and moved the house onto blocks using heavy equipment. As my husband set the house down and it rested without tipping, we were all able to breathe again.
The work really began when we started to clean the inside of the house. The amount of dog hair was sickening. I would vacuum, scrub, and sweep for hours but there was always more. After endless hours of cleaning, it was finally time to paint. We used Killz to get rid of the stench that the dogs had left and after several coats, we were starting to see a difference. My husband put in carpenting from his parents and we were ready to install the wood stove.
We paid $500 for our boxkit wood stove. It wasn't pretty and we weren't sure it would heat the 12x24 shack. We built our first fire in it and turned the little home into a sweat lodge. It would work just fine, even during the coldest winters at -50 and -60.
The ultimate test of our marriage was when we began moving furniture in. I insisted that we COULD fit everything in. We had three small rooms in the house, but I was sure that we would be able to make it work. My husband persisted but eventually gave in and let me move everything in. I twisted furniture this way and that, stacked shelves, and put every corner of the shack to use. The furniture all fit but there was no room to move. My baby boy wouldn't be able to learn to crawl if he couldn't touch the floor, so we rented a storage unit. I managed to make the house cozy and comfortable without all my belongings.
We moved into the house that fall and began the neverending adventure of building in Alaska. We would learn to survive without running water, electricity, and toilets for much longer than we imagined but somehow make it all work. Our house will always be a work-in-progress, but over time, we have managed to make it much more than just a shack. Someday we won't rely on blue igloos, battery banks, or generators but it will always be a part of our home that helped build us.