In Pictures

One family's life in the wilderness

In the US state of Alaska, the Atchley family are the only people who live anywhere along the 250-mile (400km) length of the Nowitna River.

The Alaskan landscape Image copyright Ed Gold

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

Photographer Ed Gold went to meet the Atchleys, who spend 11 months of the year in isolation.

Romey stands in the snow Image copyright Ed Gold
David stands on the roof of the house Image copyright Ed Gold
David and Sky stand on the snow Image copyright Ed Gold

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

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

"There was the one time I had to shoot a bear when David was gone," says Romey, 44. "Being by myself, I had to skin it, tan the hide and deal with the meat, which took a whole day."

Romey shares her experiences of life in the wilderness through her own drawings, photographs and has written a children's book called Barefoot and Boofoot.

Romey stands in the store cupboard Image copyright Ed Gold
Romey reaches for a jar Image copyright Ed Gold
David takes a shower Image copyright Ed Gold

The family keep their own time to suit their needs, putting the clock as much as three hours forward or back depending on the light.

They generally eat breakfast at 16:30, spending the short winter daylight 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, going to bed around 04:00.

If they feel short of money, 52-year-old David will sell tanned hides, build log cabins or take work in the local gold mine, about 100 miles away.

However, by living off the land and using solar power, they manage to survive on just $12,000 (£9,600) a year.

Guns in the house Image copyright Ed Gold
David and Sky move along in the snow Image copyright Ed Gold
David lights a fire outside Image copyright Ed Gold
The Northern Lights light up the sky Image copyright Ed Gold

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

Sky plays guitar Image copyright Ed Gold

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

Although he has the constant companionship of his parents and dog, Charley, Sky is far away from his peers, "I have one friend in Fairbanks [a 75-minute plane ride from Ruby] who I look 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."

Romey walks outside in the snow Image copyright Ed Gold
The family talk on the sofa Image copyright Ed Gold
Snow shoes and skis Image copyright Ed Gold

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

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

"In 1999, my first trip out of here was my scariest trip," says David. "I could hear the ice cracking under my snow machine as I rode and I was a little heavier then as I'd over-packed."

In 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 melting, the coastguard would have to drop a basket by helicopter.

Sky jumps off a log Image copyright Ed Gold
The Alaskan trees and landscape Image copyright Ed Gold
David cuts down trees Image copyright Ed Gold

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

"When I first moved out here I would start thinking about things that could go wrong and get really worked up with the fears," she says. "What if somebody got appendicitis, or what if our chainsaw broke and we had no firewood? But what that's taught me is to stay in the moment."

David particularly enjoys living alone with his family.

"People want to know what 18 years of isolation does 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 because we have time to."

Romey walks across the snow Image copyright Ed Gold
The snow mobile moves through the trees Image copyright Ed Gold
Sky and David on the mobile against the sunset Image copyright Ed Gold

All photographs © Ed Gold

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