It is autumn. Or is it fall? Fall is the old English word adopted by North Americans. Autumn, as we say in modern Britain, is also old English and was stolen from us by the French. (Alright French friends, I admit, we stole it from you…) Both words are used by Shakespeare. I love both the literal description of fall and the rich onomatopoeia of autumn.

Autumn is kicking through leaves as a kid and the quiet descent of the world into darkness. Fall is showers of golden leaves blowing from the birch trees and carpeting the yard in lemon yellows, ambers and russet browns. 

Even the dull, old spruce trees got a covering and for a few days they looked like they were sporting bling for some astounding, sylvan event.

Morning mist on the river

In England, autumn can start around July and not end until March, if at all. In the Yukon, it is a few blazing weeks, with the fall colours at their peak for days only.

Fall amidst the miniature forests on the hillside tundra. Blueberries, mushrooms, lichen and cranberry leaves so red I mistook them for flowers.

This year we seem to have an extension. The first fall we lived here, 4 years ago, we had a film crew staying with us. I remember their amazement that, by mid September, temperatures were dropping to -12C in the mornings. We have barely gone below freezing yet and winter seems to come a little later each year.

The moose do not begin to move for rutting season until it gets cold, about -10C I hear. We have only seen one cow and calf, and few tracks. 

Cow, moving into the brush, and calf

Luckily, we don’t intend to hunt this year as we canned enough meat from last year’s moose to get by. Not unless a bull happens to walk into the yard and loiter by our meat rack, in which case, it would be rude not to.

Scorched area a few miles downriver. Still burning from spring.

We had no rain for weeks and the forest fires are still burning. Our little flare up a few miles downriver has smouldered all summer and is still flaming and, a friend has told us, might now burn all winter. 

Smoke on the water...

For almost a week, winds conspired to blow smoke from the massive fires in Alaska and Stewart Crossing, YT to our corner of the world and the sky was hazed with smoke and ash, and the air caught in the back your throat. It was like being back in South East London on a bad day.

Smoke in the air around Dawson City

But the dry weather has given us a fantastic opportunity to continue with our new workshop. We are now on the last round of wall logs.

Chainsawing a corner notch

The work has picked up from a snail’s pace to that of a hyperactive tortoise. We managed to bring in enough dimensional lumber to create a temporary floor, which means we can more easily move from corner to corner (which is how you have to work as the logs go up in rounds).

Bloody hell, either the whole world is out of kilter or it's actually level!

I have got much better at scribing notches and can just about manage it hanging upside down outside the wall, as has become necessary, and we have developed an unshakeable trust in our moss chinking to hide all sloppy work.

Upside down scribing

Laying moss for chinking whilst surrounded by a million biting black fly

At one point the logs were going up so fast we contemplated building a tower. Perhaps a glass-fronted block with office space to rent to nimble Tech start-ups? Or a stack of residential apartments with a gym and underground parking? The possibilities were endless. 

Pulling a half log up on log skids with a "Rope-along"

Until we ran out of logs. There are a few left, but we will need them for the eaves and roof. Suddenly our tower was looking like it might be more of a bunker with windows you have to crouch to see through.

We do have spare logs but rather unwisely, we decided they were too small, too bendy and twisty to use, so we left them at the bottom of the pile where they have begun to rot. We are now pulling them out and tapping them along their lengths with an axe, hoping to hear the bright ping of a dry log but mostly getting the dull thud of damp wood.

"Feature round" of damp, grey logs

We’ve found 4 that will meet our lowered standards, and that is just enough. Luckily, we have a window or door in every wall so, for several rounds, we can use half-logs which helps. 

Flattening wall logs by brushing with a chainsaw. This was one of our straight ones. A blue chalk line marks the centre.

Imagine looking at a banana on the table. When you look at it as a whole it seems very bendy. If you cut it in half and place the two pieces end to end with a window in-between, it appears less bendy. You’d hope so anyway. And that is how an aerial view of our cabin would look just now. 

White caps building on the river as a storm blows in, taken from our worryingly heavily-loaded boat. 

It has, at last, started to rain in the past few days so we are back to a snail’s pace with building. The logs are wet and slimy and so it’s best not to clamber onto them as, I’m proud to say, there is actually a fair way to fall now. And we have other things to do. Just like the bears who are prowling along our beach, we have winter food to stockpile.

Two beautifully blond grizzly sisters, above, and a large black bear, below
Grizzly tracks on the beach in front of the house. Note the claw marks (-not usually visible on a black bear print.)

The bears are digging up willow roots with their massive paws and the bank is pock-marked with little pits. We are, all of us, picking the high-bush cranberries that grow in abundance here but, luckily, not at the same time so far.

Blueberry picking trip, up in the mountains

We have more food, gas and building materials to bring from town and hope to do our last essential trip this week. Maybe the river will stay open for longer this year as it is so mild, who knows? 

We will watch for flowing ice from the lofty heights of our log tower and pull the boat out of the river once it begins to freeze. Then we can carry on with our construction work in earnest.

The next stage will require new skills. We have to cut slots for splines in the window and door frames. We’ll cut 4” deep grooves into the side of the frames and put pieces of 2x4 lumber in there to keep the walls from bulging out or collapsing in, or so we hope. We’ll also need to trim the log ends so the building looks neat and tidy.

Cleaning the carburettor. Thought we owed the chainsaw a bit of TLC.

For this we will be using our Timber Tuff chainsaw cutting guide. Sounds like a boisterous, indestructible piece of kit, but as it was only $20 on eBay, perhaps not. Wiser people spend around $1000 on an Alaska Chainsaw Mill or Haddon Lumber Mill so I’m not hugely optimistic, but the YouTube videos were fairly positive.

Safety at work. Securing a half log in place for scribing with a "log dog". 

Best case scenario, it works ok but our cuts are wonky. Worst case, one of us gets a chainsaw in the head. Saved a thousand dollars, though!

Read all about our adventures with the Timber Tuff chainsaw mill in my next blog, if I can still write.


  1. Omg, I am reading your post off my tiny phone screen and as usual, I am there with you observing from afar with my camera...I just live your lively life and that you are a badass tough woman in pink nail polish! Just the best! J

    1. Thank you and great to hear from you again! I'm sporting lilac nail varnish for the rest of the fall season

  2. "**"LOVE your lively life, not living it these days!!!

  3. It's scary to think of fires smoldering all summer. For the first year in recent memory we didn't have heavy smoke from BC interior fires. We watched John, who originally built our cabin, build a new cabin for himself. It was post and beam on a cedar log float, but gave us a better understanding what was involved. - Margy

    1. I worry about how bad the fire situation will get, especially with peat burning in the Arctic too.


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