One family's life in the desert

One family's life in the desert


In the US state of Alaska, the Atchley family are the one who lives anywhere along the 250-mile length of the Nowitna River.

Over the past 18 years, only a handful of people has ever visited them in their faraway location, 100 miles from the nearest town, Ruby.

Once a year, the family do a big grocery shop. Their basement contains more than 1,000 cans of manufacture, from evaporated milk to tomato paste, alongside staples of rice, sugar, and beans.

As well as buying food, they hunting black bears, rabbits, wolves, ducks, beavers, and making jam out of rosehips and lingonberries.

The family maintains their own time to suit their needs, putting the clock as much as three hours forward.

They normally eat breakfast at 16:30, spending the short winter sunlight hours busy with carpentry, cleaning, and repairs. After supper at about 22:00, they fill the rest of their day with talking, guitar playing, and writing and going to bed around 04:00.

If they feel short of money, 52-year-old David will sell hides. However, by living off the land and using solar power, they manage to save on just $12,000 (£9,600) a year.

The Atchley's son, Sky, 13, is home schooled. His parents focus on skill-based learning, such as mastering maths through cooking.

David and Romey let him play video game Grand Theft Auto as part of his education.

Sky enjoys this unusual education, saying, "I've never been to a real school. I got to see one once but I maybe wouldn't like it. Calvin and Hobbes gave me all the big words."

Though he has the permanent friendship of his parents and dog, Charley, Sky is far away from his peers, he has one friend in Fairbanks a 75-minute plane ride from Ruby who looks forward to seeing when we go to town once a year.

"Her name is Ella but she's really a stranger as I don't see her much."

Ruby is only reachable for the Atchleys by the river - in summer by boat and in winter by snowmobile over the Nowata's frozen external.

However, the trip can be dangerous, particularly in winter, with the risk of finding unstable ice and pockets of unfrozen water.

In the case of emergency, it would take six hours to reach the nearest hospital, after the alarm had been raised with the family's satellite phone. If it was at a time when the ice was thawing, the coastguard would have to drop a basket by helicopter.

The remoteness of their cabin is something the Atchleys embrace, although it did worry Romey initially.

David particularly enjoys living alone with his family.

People want to know what 18 years of insulation do to you. It changes you. You have time to have more than two thoughts on any one subject. We spend months talking about just one subject since as we have time to.

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