Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seasonal Change


My wife and I were on a drive the other day along towards evening. It was only early September, but fall was already in the air- and on the ground too for that matter. All the grasses are well on their way to turning shades of yellow and brown and the leaves on the cottonwood trees are dropping at an alarming rate. Already one of the trees close by is half bare, and I shudder to think what it will look like in another week or two.
Those who have lived here for any length of time know all too well the first signs of fall. You wake up one morning in mid-August and there is a chill in the air that wasn't there the day before. It's hard to explain, but you can even feel it in that first rain after the change happens. It's colder and usually accompanied by a wind that whips the waves into a grey-white frenzy. At first just a few leaves start to color and curl on the ends- the Alder and Cottonwood trees initially. The magenta flowers of the fireweed bushes have dried up and turned to whispy white feathers up and down the spine of the plant. Down by Coletts Cupboard the bright orange berries of the Mountain Ash tree have ripened and attracted the attention of dozens of crows. I try my best to ignore all the outward signs, but there is a sense of dread that comes over me. The fishing season is winding down and with it my only semi-sure employment. I don't look forward to the long, cold winter that lies ahead. Everything in me wants to follow the strings of sand hill cranes as they migrate southward. I feel an ancient need to gather food in preparation for the winter. I almost wish I still burned firewood so I could have the sense of accomplishment that a full wood shed brings. I satisfy myself with putting away the spoons and hoochies and flashers of my chosen trade and gathering my clothes and food that I haven't eaten from the boat. I look through the log book that I've kept all season and wish the weather had been better and that I had spent more time on the water or taken a little more risk and gone where there might have been more fish. It's an annual ritual. I don't know if I've ever been satisfied with the effort that I put forth. I can only hope that next year will be better.
I do like the fall- at least I think I do. It certainly looks pretty before all the leaves have fallen, and there is the prospect of hunting deer in the months ahead. The tour ships will all be gone soon and Hoonah will settle into a slower pace. I guess that's a good thing. We need to rest up before winter. If the past three years are any indication of things to come, we'll be getting plenty of exercize with the snow shovels.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

End of the Day


It's the end of the day for this troller, the Mickey V (five). Like me, he's chosen Flynn Cove for his resting place for the night. It's a popular harbor with quick access to Eagle Point, Point Adolphus, Pleasant Island and about an hour and half away, Homeshore. It's a great place to anchor if the wind is coming from the East, though any Westerly will find it's way into there and you can rock and roll all night. When the coho salmon are running later in the season, it's not uncommon to find twelve or fifteen boats anchored in here. This year though the fish have been hard to come by on the inside. Even the guys outside haven't done all that well that I can determine. There's been a steady stream of boats passing by lately, partially because of the poor fishing, and in part because of the horrible weather we're experiencing now. ( Forty knots and twenty foot seas out in the ocean and Icy Straits isn't much better today, with thirty five knots and six to seven foot seas.) The cold storage dock is packed with trollers waiting for a break in the weather before they head home and the harbor is starting to fill with boats, many of which I suspect won't bother going back out this season. One or two local boats are stuck up in Yakutat because of the weather. It's a chance you take this time of year. Usually there a few guys who listen to the reports of fish in far off places and end up traveling there in hopes of salvaging their seasons. That's not for me. If I can't get fish close to home this time of year, I just do without. It doesn't do much for the bottom line, but I'll be here to fish another day.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rules of the Road


This is one of the cruise ships that anchor out in front of the cannery. I'm not sure which one this is, I think maybe Vision of the Seas. A week ago last Monday I had a close encounter of the unpleasant kind with her sister ship, I believe it was the Serenade of the Seas. I had a vision of the Serenade of the Seas that I didn't want to have. A dense fog was laying on the water at the time and I was underway for Homeshore across Icy Straits to do a little trolling. I had heard the ship call on channel 16 as she rounded Rocky Island, but that is a number of miles from where I was, so I didn't pay all that much attention to it. Unfortunately, my auto pilot was on the blitz and I was somewhat distracted while I fiddled with it trying to figure out the problem. I had my radar on, but I was so close to the land that I decided to put it on a 1/8 mile scale to keep from getting too much clutter and whatnot on the screen. I had put a line on my GPS from where I was to where I wanted to be in fifteen minutes and was trying to follow it the best I could. There is nothing like a thick fog to disorient a person. Anyway, while I was trying to follow the line and keep an eye on the radar, I noticed a huge blip on the screen. I checked the GPS to see if I had drifted too close to Halibut Island and realized I hadn't and that the blip was getting rapidly closer to me. I put the boat in nuetral and watched the radar for a few seconds before deciding that if I wanted to stay dry and safe, I'd better take evasive action. I slammed the boat into reverse and sped up the engine, cursing and praying at the same time. While I was still backing down I saw the white bow pass right in front of me, with several lookouts peering through the fog. Whether or not they ever saw me, I have no idea, but I have to assume the bridge picked me up on their radar. I kind of heard their horn over the screaming of my engine. It was a little unnerving to watch the portholes pass by so close I could hit them with a rock, and I'm sure that none of the passengers ever knew what was going on. I'm not even sure that they would have felt the impact had I not backed down when I did.
I relayed my story to a fellow fisherman who informed me that had we collided, I probably would have been at fault. Perhaps he was right. As he pointed out, cruise ships don't like to track boats that aren't on a set course, it's hard to steer around them, and I'm sure that I was wavering back and forth because of no auto pilot. Also, because of their sheer size, they can't always manuever with the speed that a smaller boat can. I think I'll check the rules of the road again to see who has the right of way in a situation like that. In my way of thinking I did, but sometimes just having the right of way isn't enough. Better to back down and live to tell about it than to die feeling justified I guess.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ben


This is a picture of my oldest son Ben. I have two sons, Ben and Brian. They're twins and Ben is only older by a few hours, but because he was born on one side of midnight on July 31, his birthday is different than his brother's, which of course is August 1. They even came into this world differently. Ben was born natural and because Brian was experiencing problems in the womb, he was born C-section.
This picture was taken at the end of last month while we were waiting at the Hoonah airport for a plane to arrive. The plane took him to Juneau where he was going to catch a jet to Anchorage and start a new phase of his life as a member of the United States Army.
Like many parents who have sent their sons and daughters off to the military, I've got concerns and fears. Not a day goes by that we don't read about American casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq. The stories are devestating. Up until now I have felt bad for the families who have lost loved ones or whose loved ones have been maimed in these wars. Now the stories will mean much more to me. It could be my son who is hurt or killed. He wants to get into the special forces, which means if he makes it, the chances are very good that he will be right in the middle of combat. It's not what I would have chosen for him, but we are two different people and he has to do what seems right to him. I know he'll give 100 percent to whatever he's doing and that's what counts. In any event, we're very proud of him.
So, he's off to boot camp now down in Fort Benning, Georgia. While he's gone we'll store the things he didn't want to part with up in our attic and like parents everywhere, we'll pray for his safety and look forward to a phone call.