Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ramblings

I guess this is the last post I'll be making this year. Like the title says this will just be a conglomeration of whatever comes to mind- I suppose it's not much different than most of my other posts. I've enjoyed doing this blog. I wasn't real sure where it was going or what it was going to be about when I first started. I don't know if I'm doing it right or if there is even a correct way to write a blog. Perhaps I should stay with one theme like the book or Alaska or the farm, but then, those are only parts of my life that have helped to shape me. Consequently, I end up writing about baking custard pie and friendships one time, and commercial fishing or walking with my daughter another time. It's all part of who I am and writing this gives me a chance to share some of my life with those who, for whatever reason, might be interested in what goes on in this part of the world.
I was out walking with Jen again the other day and happened to have my camera with me.This is another shot of Port Frederick. I've caught more than a few kings right off the reef that juts out, back in the days when I was fishing out of a skiff. Of course it was low tide when I took this picture. I guess I've probably lost a little gear here too when I got too close at high tide. It's a natural gathering place for the fish though and sometimes you have to take a chance to catch them. What you can't see from this picture is that there are a number of small sea creatures that cling to this reef. There are small,hard-shelled limpets that resemble a China-man's hat, barnacles, crabs and a dark,leathery animal called a gumboot. They are the same color as the reefs that they cling to and can be difficult to spot. They're edible I guess, though I've never eaten one. It runs in my mind a couple of the fellows from the farm got stuck on the beach once when they were out hunting and their boat went high and dry when the tide went out. I guess they found a can and started a fire and cooked some gumboots for lack of anything else to eat. They must not have shot any deer that day. Anyway, the fellows said the gumboots were really chewy and not that tasty in their opinion. I guess they could have done as well if they had found an old neoprene boot to cook.
Down the beach aways, to the left, where the tunnel is, I understand that there are octopus that hide in the crevices. The old timers used to flush them out with a tube that they poured bleach into. I'm not sure if they wanted to eat them or use them for bait. To the right of the reef where it gets less rocky I know that some folks dig clams. This week,with the full moon, the high tides are real high and the low tides are minus tides, so if a person has a mind to go clam digging, this is the time to do it. I like digging them, I just don't like eating them.
If the weather warms up tomorrow, I may grab Jan's metal detector and wander down to the cannery during the low tide. Back before it was a tourist attraction, the cannery actually canned fish- tons of them. I'll do a little research and write about it a little more on a later blog. Anyway, at one point there was a net house on the beach where the seine boats stored their nets all winter. Apparently it burned down and they lost all the nets inside. Over time a lot of the leads that were used to weigh down the seine got covered with sand and gravel and whatnot and it's quite a lot of fun to run the detector over the beach looking for them. I keep hoping I'll find something really valuable like gold, but to the best of my knowlege it doesn't occur naturally on these beaches and Hoonah isn't the kind of place a pirate would come to hide his buried treasure, so I have to be satisfied with seine leads and steel boat parts and the occasional brass ring.
Well, my coffee is cold and it's about time to take the dog out so I guess this will have to do. I don't know how it is that before I sit down to write I can have all manner of interesting things I want to share, but when it gets right down to the writing, the thoughts have evaporated or I just can't find the correct words to put with the idea. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older and more addle brained or if it's a lack of discipline on my part for not writing down something when it comes to me. I could write volumes after I turn off the light to go to bed. The rest of my body wants to sleep but my brain wants to wake up and party. What the hell- it's not tired. It's been resting all day.
For whatever reason I'm reminded of a passage in a book by Anne Lamott. She has a friend whose morning prayer is "Whatever" and whose evening prayer is "Oh well" . For some reason it seems appropriate to end the year with that. So I will say Happy New Year! God Bless us every one. See ya next year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice


Today is the winter solstice; I'm kind of glad. From here on out until June 21, we're going to be gaining daylight. I always look forward to that happening, although it's not really noticeable until about mid- February up here.
I went out for a walk yesterday with my eldest daughter, Jennifer, or Jen as she prefers to go by. The sun was out full force when we started out, even though it was being really stingy with the heat. That's one of the problems with sunny days at this latitude. They look beautiful and they always entice me to step out, even though I know better, but once outside, their true nature comes to light so to speak. At first it's not so noticeable. You still feel toasty, having just left the warm comfort of your home, but about half way through our walk I start to feel the cold on my cheeks and forehead and the first chill from the frozen ground starts to penetrate my boots. I wear my X-tra tuff neoprene boots year round, even though they don't offer much protection from the cold. I guess I could spend an extra ten or fifteen dollars and get the insulated ones, but I think they are heavier and besides my feet perspire a lot any way so it would just make a bad situation worse.
I once had a totally humiliating situation because of foot odor when I was a teen. I was invited to step inside and visit with my friend and his family, I just needed to take off my snowy, wet shoes. I declined, explaining my unpleasant problem. They were so dismissive of it and so warm in their welcome, that I let my guard down and accepted the invitation. Not a good idea. I found out later that while I was basking in their warmth and friendship, they were trying to keep from losing their lunch. It was a no win situation for everyone involved. In any event we all survived and I would like to think we were all stronger because of it. Ah well....
By the time we reached the spot where we were going to turn around my heel was killing me, I was cold, and I had use the bathroom. It was kind of a triple wammy. I compensated by dragging the foot that was hurting in a skiing motion across the ice covered road and speeding up the pace, thus warming me up a bit and giving me the confidence that I would make it home before disaster struck. Of course my daughter found all of this quite hilarious. It's not uncommon for us to spend a good bit of our time on a stroll laughing so hard that its hard to stand up. I've been blessed with a family who appreciates humor,which makes them fun to be around.
When we approached the old airplane float I was drawn to get a picture of the Ida Marie, an old wooden troller that, for whatever reason, was tied up to the float. If it wasn't for the three inches or so of snow covering the dock, a person might be led to believe that it was a pleasant spring evening, but just in the time it took to snap that shot my hands were starting to freeze. No doubt that even if I didn't have a desperate need for a bathroom, I wouldn't have lingered long outside- it was just too cold.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December In Alaska

I was out driving around last week after I had dropped Jan off at work. That particular morning the skies were clearing and it was really cold. A heavy frost had settled on everything and layers of fog were playing hide and seek with the mountains. One moment the peak would show through the mist and the next it would be covered and only the bottom half would be exposed. I really wanted to capture the top of Ears Mountain showing through with the sun starting to highlight the snow in a breathtaking luminous pink glow, but by the time I ran home to grab the camera, the whole scene had transormed. The weather here is unpredictable and can change in a moments notice. Since I had the camera with me I decided to see if there was anything else worthy of a shot. That sounds almost snobbish I guess- it's all worthy. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth so sometimes you have to kind of pick and choose what you want to photograph or you'll have so many pictures you'll wear out the camera.
I drove on out to the airport to see what was around. Driving here is a fairly common form of entertainment. We only have a few miles of paved road and it's not uncommon to go out in the evening and shoot the loop a few times. There are several folks here that seem to do it
all day long. At any given time their car will pass by, their hands grasping the wheel with a death grip and a mannequin-like stare on their faces as they go down the street. In fact the only time I ever see them is either passing on the road or while they're pulled up to the pump. They probably get Christmas cards from Chevron.
Anyway, I stopped on the road outside the airport. I don't much care for the cold, but the trees looked so nice with the snow and frost on them that I just wanted to capture it. If I were to go out the same route today, the scene would be totally different. Over night the temps have warmed up and most of the snow that covered the ground has melted and of a certainty everything that coated the trees is gone. Just as well. For three years in a row we had terrible snow falls. I think the worst was 2006/2007. That winter we had twenty three feet of snow. It seemed like every day I had to clear out the driveway so we could pull the car out. The snow was piled so high I couldn't throw it any higher, so I started packing it one shovelful at a time across the street to an empty lot.Several times I had to climb up on our roof and get it off to keep it from collapsing under the weight. The deer population really took a hit then too. So much of the area has been logged that they had only limited areas to go to get out of the weather. Quite a number of them starved to death that year. I'm happy to report that from what I've heard from the hunters who have been out this year, the does and fawns seem to be plentiful and in good health. Hopefully the herds will rebound fully, but I think a lot of that depends on the remainder of the winter.
For the past few days several skiffs have been working the waters right out in front of town. I guess there have been a few king salmon around. The price is good and if you have a good heater and nothing else to do it could be lucrative. I should probably get out there and drag a herring around until I get bored I suppose. When the water is flat calm it's pretty easy to talk yourself into going out and giving it a try. It seems like a good idea until you have to go out to the cockpit and set the gear or pull it back in. That's when reality sets in- it doesn't matter how pretty it appears- baby it's cold outside!



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Custard Pie

Today I would like to say a few words about custard pie- or the remains of custard pie I guess, in this case. It's hard to believe that just yesterday I took it out of the oven, still bubbling, the sweet scent filling the air and a sense of pride coming over me as I gazed at my accomplishment. There are times when modesty just has to take a back seat to reality. Frankly, this was a great pie. Oh sure, the crust wasn't just perfectly rolled out and pinched at the top, but the flavor, ah the flavor. It was flawless. I probably shouldn't be putting this in print as it will most assuredly make it's way to my eldest daughter Jennifer, but last night, just as Jan and I were sitting down to enjoy a piece of this lovely creation, we heard the familiar sounds of a car door slamming and boots starting up our back stairs. Company. Rats, I hate to confess, but I hadn't planned on sharing it. Of course had I known that we would be having company, I would have made two- one to share and one to eat later by ourselves. As it was, and I know I should be ashamed to admit it, we hid the pie until they left. I know it goes contrary to any Christian belief or good parenting or just common courtesy. I guess I have custard lust. I don't know what else to attribute it to.
I can't remember where or when I became so fond of custard. I'm sure I must have had it a few times as a kid. I vividly remember my best friend Don and I shoveling snow for a pittance back in Marion Ohio. We would do a walk or two, maybe a driveway, and then trudge through the white stuff to Isley's Dairy, a good four or five blocks from where we usually worked. We'd park our shovels outside the door and step in to the heat. A more welcome retreat would be hard to come by. Behind the counter, which seemed to stretch from one end of the building to the other, were stainless canisters filled with a rainbow assortment of ice cream. I was always partial to chocolate chip mint, at first because of the color, but afterwards for the taste as well. However, when the temps are hovering around zero and your hands and feet are just starting to come back to life in an itchy, painful sort of way, icecream isn't what comes to mind first. They sold hot chocolate here- just what the doctor ordered, and, what's this? There, perched on the glass shelves above the frozen treats, was an assortment of pies, all perfectly cut into large, thick wedges setting on clean white china plates, begging a closer inspection. Ah, cherry and apple, blueberry and peach and aha, down near the end was the custard. Perhaps the counter man had an ulterior motive- maybe hide the custard out of the main viewing area. At the end of the day he'd have no choice but to discard it, or take it home. No sense in letting it go to waste. We, however, spotted the tasty desert and thwarted his devious schemes. For a dollar of our hard earned money (about what we charged per sidewalk) we took our pie and hot chocolate and made our way to the nearest booth where we laughed and ate and talked with our mouths full. After the last crumbs were picked from the plate and the only chocolate left was what coated the sides and bottom of the mug, we'd gaze forlornly at our empty saucers and reluctantly don our hats and gloves and head out into the cold, cruel world. It wasn't uncommon during a normal,snowy Ohio winter to have as much work shoveling as we would care to do. It was a great way for young teenage boys to make a few bucks. Without fail though, at least part of our earnings always ended up at Isley's, and always we had the custard pie.
I'm going to give you the recipe for the custard pie I make. It's not my own recipe. It's one that I found in a cook book. I prefer to make my own crust, which is also very simple. First the crust recipe.
1 cup of sifted all purpose flour
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons cold water
Sift flour and salt together, cut in shortening with pastry blender(or fork) until size of small peas. Sprinkle water over mixture while tossing quickly with fork until particles stick together. Form into smooth ball.
Then of course you have to roll it out. It seems to help if you flour the rolling pin and the wax paper or whatever it is your'e rolling it out on.

Now for the custard recipe.
3 large eggs
1/2cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (extract)
2 2/3 cups milk
1 unbaked pastry shell
Mix ingredients together and pour into pastry lined pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees; decrease heat to 350 and bake for another 25 minutes or until a silver knife comes out clean. Center will be soft but will set later.
I don't know which cook book this came from, both covers are gone, but the recipe came from
Ruth Spears, VP
Kansas Epsilon Phi No4920
Witchita, Kansas

I don't know what a Kansas Epsilon Phi is, but the gal sure knows how to make custard pie. Thanks Ruth, wherever you are. Before I go, I need to thank Diane Maples also. She was the home-ec teacher at Hoonah High School back when I worked there. She had the unenviable chore of trying to teach young people the basics of cooking as well as other things domestic. I don't know how much those kids retained, but I sure learned a lot, so if she ever reads this, come on by Diane, I'll share a piece of pie with you. I promise.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hoonah Harbor



I went down to my boat on Thanksgiving Day to check on it- make sure that the stove wasn't running out of control or anything. In years past I was a cheapskate and didn't run the stove- tried to save a few bucks on fuel. Not a good idea. The inside would condensate every time the weather warmed up a little bit, and start dripping all over the place. I have more than a few nautical charts that have mold on them. Anyway, I learned my lesson and leave the stove on now, but it can be kind of scary to do. The only thing worse than having the boat rot from the inside out is to have it burn down. It seems like we've had at least two boats burn right in the harbor. It's more common for them to sink while tied up to the dock- especially in the winter if the owners aren't keeping them shoveled. An accumulation of snow and then a heavy rain thereafter can present a real problem.

While I was there I wanted to get a few pictures of my friend Barbie's boat, the Talatche. She wasn't able to come up this year like she usually does, so I thought I would send her down a picture or two so she could see it was doing fine. She bought the boat from my good friend Buffalo Bob Holden. Buffalo, Marlin Ryder and myself all bought wooden trollers in the same year. At the time it seemed like commercial fishing was a profitable venture, even though I hadn't had too much success up to that point. However, I knew a number of fishermen who were making a pretty good living at it, so I figured all I needed was a bigger boat and the bucks would come rolling in. What do they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? Anyway, after a few years Marlin started building aluminum boats and doing other welding work and sold his boat and eventually moved south to Maryland or Pennsylvania. Bufffalo sold the Talatche to Barbie and moved back to Vermont. Being the slow learner that I am, I'm still fishing the same wooden boat that I bought nineteen years ago. Some things never change I guess.

In any event, the boat is safe and fairly warm and dry in it's stall down in the harbor. From what I've heard from other people, Hoonah has one of the better harbors in Southeast Alaska. We're well protected and after the improvements of the past few years most of the floats are in pretty good shape. They just recently expanded the number of floats available because of the popularity of the harbor. We're in pretty close proximity to Glacier Bay and not all that far from the Pacific Ocean and we have the added benefit of not being as expensive as places like Juneau. The harbor is a vast improvement from the days when all the boats were moored at the cold storage dock or downtown floats. Depending on the wind direction the boats could really take a beating there.

I remember when they dredged out the harbor and set in all the rocks for the breakwater. It was quite the project. At the time the water was still pretty shallow and at low tide you could catch Dungeness crabs with a dip net at the harbor entrance. There are still a number of people who set pots inside the breakwater. One year I watched herring spawning on the creosote pilings at high tide. There were thousands of them on every piling. Unfortunately, when the tide went out, all the eggs were exposed to the air as well as the seagulls. Even though we still have herring come inside the breakwater, I've never seen them again in such numbers.

In recent years there have been a couple of sealions that have worked their way into the harbor. I don't know what they are eating unless they are trying to get some of the salmon that pass through on their way to Garteeni Creek on the other side of the breakwater. Maybe they're satisfied with the flounders or small cod fish off the bottom. I know that flounders seem to be one of the favorite foods of the the otters that hang around the floats. Every now and then I spot the remains of a fish on the dock that was left when an otter got spooked. Now and then a mink finds it's way onto one of the boats too. That's bad news. They are a filthy animal. One found it's way up the air vent on the Talatche one year and set up home on the bunk. It dragged herring in to eat and used the mattress as a toilet. Needless to say the mattress had to be discarded. So far I've been fortunate. I think the sides of the boat are too high off the water to afford them access.
The bad part of that is, the older I get, the less access I have to the boat. One of these days I'll probably be on the float with a mink trying to figure out how to climb aboard.