Archive for July, 2014

Putting up a cord of rhubarb

rhubarb parasol 2

Our Yukon rhubarb patch resembles an experimental forestry project. One leaf makes an umbrella for two adults and the reddened stalks look like the lean-muscled, sunburned forearms of a ten-year old boy. Real men wear rhubarb leaves rather than a wee frail fig leaf. I’ve even thought of making a shed out of the robust stems.

Today, the long-bladed knife, more like a machete, will render a stalk or two into sweet and tart rhubarb crunch that will be our offering for a neighbor’s annual summer potluck and music jam. (Okay, I’ll admit, it’s kind of weird to think of her as our neighbor when she lives off-grid about 16 miles away on the Wheaton River.

I’ve never seen such exuberant rhubarb as up in this country. It is continually popping up in the lawn like insurgent dandelions. The cool weather combined with timely moisture and Miss Nancy’s tucking mounds of the neighbor’s horse manure around the plants has created hedges that would prove suitable obstacles in the Grand National Steeplechase horse race.

According to Jill Shepherd,  Alaskan master gardener and retired senior editor of Alaska Magazine, rhubarb was introduced into North America when Russian seafarer and merchant Gregory Shelikhov established the first permanent Russian post in North America on Kodiak Island in 1784. He claimed to have planted it there and wrote in his journals that it did well. (There is no record if he took viable seed or divided sections of the roots to plant.)

Shepherd, author and amateur historian, says that rhubarb was such an important trade item at one time in Russia that by 1638 they had a Department of Rhubarb. In those times it was not used so much as a food item as a dried medicinal, used primarily as a laxative. Only when sugar became cheaper and more readily available did this tart plant become a popular food item.

In Lake Wobegone country, popular Minnesotan radio personality and author, Garrison Keillor sings praises of rhubarb nearly every week on the Prairie Home Companion Show. He is fond of telling the audience that “rhubarb pie is the kind of pie that was worth going through the rest of the meal to get it.” Why thousands of radio fans can sing along with his weekly rhubarb pitch, “Mama’s little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb, Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie. Mama’s little baby…

In Little League baseball, I learned to taunt opposing batters from our bench with loud jeers of “Hey batter, batter! What do ya want eggs in your beer?!” We were encouraging them to swing the bat and hopefully miss the ball. I had no clue that the phrase was a popular WWII expression that indicated you wanted a bonus or something from nothing. I simply emulated the ribbing of the older guys. And I also learned that one could get in a “rhubarb” (argument) with the umpire or the opposing team.

While I’m not aware of any major rhubarb between the two countries that once battled in the bloody American Revolution, both Britain and Alaska (USA) take great pride in their rhubarb and both host many festivals revolving around the plant. I shudder to think of face-to-face pitched battles swinging sabres of stout rhubarb stalks at each other.

When Miss Nancy and I began coming up to our Yukon Outpost, I discovered a proper bush ax in the wood shed. The worn and chipped axe head had lost its original wood handle long ago and someone had added an axe prosthesis to rejuvenate it’s cutting days. Now there are two pieces of spot-welded aluminum conduit duct-taped into place. It’s truly a thing of beauty and a testament to my late Great Gramma Schmidt’s adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

The bent and battered handle is sketchy on pine or spruce but it’s perfect for stout rhubarb.


Axe and rhubarb

While my rhubarb crunch is damn good, I get more compliments from the rhubarb chipotle salsa that I make. I got the recipe from Yukoner, Michele Genest. She is an excellent cook and author of The Boreal Gourmet. Her books provide spectacular visual treats as well as culinary treats.

So here is the simple recipe. Enjoy.

Rhubarb Chipotle Salsa

(This is very good with chips, veggies or grilled game)


1 tsp olive oil

1 med. onion

2 cloves of garlic

4 tbsp chipotle pepper in Adobe sauce

4 C fresh or frozen rhubarb*

½ C packed brown sugar

½ tsp salt


In a saucepan (I use a cast iron frying pan.) sauté onion in oil until translucent (7-10 minutes)

Add garlic, stir and sauté 2 min.

Add remaining ingredients and stir and cook about 10 minutes.

Let cool and puree. (I simply mash the cooked rhubarb with a fork.)


The salsa stores well in the fridge for 2 weeks.


Rhubarb in sawbuck 2

Hijacked by High Jinks

Bike Ramp


I was kidnaped the other day.

Okay so “kidnapped” is a little strong. Perhaps a better description would be that I was hijacked while working on a task.  Revelry suddenly swooped in and tugged playfully at my responsibility of tending to toilsome home improvement efforts. IMG_0447

I had been working at tearing out a rotting deck section that serves as the entry area to our lower door. As I piled up short sections of salvaged 2 x 6 boards that were still sound, I realized I had a place for them.

Across the river from us, on Native Settlement Land, is an old trail that runs atop the river bluff. It’s a sinuous footpath that runs for at least two miles. In the winter the path becomes a ski trail that requires snowshoeing to pack it down before you can get a decent stride that becomes a cross country ski trail in the winter. During snow-free months it has become a favorite single-track mountain bike trail. The trail is known by a few people and the only time I have ever seen anyone was a neighbor skiing there in the winter.

Two years ago, wildlife researchers, studying riparian wildlife movements along the river placed a game trail camera along the trail.The camera’s shutter is activated by a motion detector so as critters pass they unknowingly shoot self-portraits of themselves. Not only did the biologists get photos of us hiking by but they had images of bear, moose, fox, a lynx and porcupine. In the winter, we have seen caribou here as well. Obviously it’s a popular trail.

For three consecutive days last week I hopped on my silver bush pony, my Trek “twenty-niner” (29 inch wheels) and headed for the bluff trail. My daypack held a water bottle, a folding saw, a shears and bear spray. Every year trail maintenance is required as there is always a dead pine or spruce across the trail.Each day, I cut brush or sawed through prostrate tree trunks if their girth was not too great for my little saw. For bigger tree trunks, I cut small sections and stack them in a sloping manner up and over the tree creating a ramp. In mountain biking parlance these are known as “features.”

Some demanding mountain bike trails have features that are narrow, almost rickety bridges crossing creeks, ravines or through boulder fields. Sometimes features are literally ramps that launch the cyclist up and over obstacles. I stay clear of trails that feature  jumps that propel my bush pony airborne.

Two days ago I turned 63 years old and bike jumps, boulder hopping and so on are no longer part of my repertoire. I’m hoping for at least another 20 years of mountain biking.

I digress. But the idea of features is important because to get to the river bluff trail requires us to ride just over a mile on gravel roads. If I followed an old game trail along the river, I could cut more than three quarters of a mile while providing some fun trail riding right next to the river. But to do so would require building a couple of features.

So with a pile of scrap 2 x 6s strewn in the grass, an idea was hatched. In minutes, the deck project was forgotten and I was grabbing a saw, hammer and nails.

The primary feature was a ramp that angled from our elevated yard down to the riverside trail. It required two sections to complete the ramp of about sixteen feet. As I built it, I began to wonder if I would actually dare, or that matter, actually attempt to descent the ramp on my bike. And how about pedaling up the ramp? Would that be easier?

For an hour I cut, hammered, fit and adjusted the new scrappy highway.Tentatively, I shuffled onto the ramp and taking baby steps, eased down it. There was a noticeable sag in the span, so I added some structural rounds of firewood beneath the ramp to firm it up. It worked.

With the sun shining today, it would be a perfect day to christen the ramp with a bike ride but in the two days since the completion of the project, we have had lots of rain. And rain accelerates the snowmelt from the high country. And all that water funnels via  freshets and creeks into the Watson River as it passes our Outpost.

The Watson has risen higher than I have ever seen it. It is moving past at a scary clip. Every so often Nancy and I watch nervously as a tree or stump floats by. Our river deck is completely submerged and I don’t know if it can withstand this kind of constant pounding.

There is no longer any bike trail visible along the river and the surging water level is approaching my lumber scrap ramp. I will likely have to try and pull the two sections out before they become floating features.

In the meantime, my face bears worried features of concern as I impatiently await the passing of the river’s crest. Only then will I be able to contemplate getting back to work on resurrecting the bike trail and the ramp that stole me from chores.

Hmmmm. You know with a little adjustment, the ramp could turn into a kayak slide.