Sunday, January 30, 2011

Frosted Landscape







Ah, another beautiful day in sunny, Southeast Alaska. For the third day in a row we've had the most delightful, bright sunny days; absolutely glorious. The only drawback to the sunny days are the cold, clear nights. Whatever moisture is in the air settles on everything during the night and by morning frost has turned the landscape into a white wonderland. A frosted landscape, unlike Frosted Flakes, is a delight to observe, and, it's not fattening. Apparently there wasn't a breath of wind the other night, so the little bay behind the Icy Straits Lodge as well as a few other spots had a pretty good coating of ice on them. I think the fresh water freezes on top of the salt water when it gets really cold and there isn't much tidal or wind action. The ice can get surprizingly thick too. Years ago when I was still living on the farm, I decided to take my fourteen foot fiberglass skiff back into the bay where the Whitestone Logging Camp was located. It was February and we were having a stretch of cold, clear weather like we're enjoying now. I don't know what I was thinking, I guess, as usual, I wasn't. I decided to bust through the ice with the boat to get to the shoreline. The closer I got to the beach, the thicker the ice got. I was going along fine, happy as a clam at high tide when I looked down at the deck of the boat and saw water coming in on both sides of the bow. The ice had sliced right through the fiberglass just like a saw. I see now why they don't make ice breaker ships out of fiberglass... or wood either for that matter. What a revelation! Of course at the time I just wanted to get out with my life and my boat intact. Fortunately, even though I was in panic mode, I had enough sense to put the boat in reverse and move the gas tanks and whatever other extra weight I had to the stern of the boat and was able to get the bow lifted high enough to stay out of the water. I ran the boat into town and up onto the beach. Needless to say it was yet another adventure in a life filled with foolish decisions and boneheaded ideas. I'm living proof that there is a God, and he's incredibly compassionate. Plus He probably likes to have a good laugh now and then too.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The New Ferry Terminal




It's hard to imagine that it's January 27 already. It's even harder to imagine that the weather on the East Coast is so much worse than what we are experiencing in Alaska at the moment. As you can see from these pictures, the snow is pretty well melted down by the water. Outside of some rotting piles along the streets , most of the snow I see here is confined to the mountains. Just the way I like it. I don't want to gloat though- it could all change in a heartbeat and we could be shoveling mountains of it for the last half of the winter. I hope not.

I know that there are a few former Hoonah residents who follow this blog and it's been awhile since they've been here, so I thought I'd let them see our new ferry terminal. Its a pretty fancy affair, with a covered walkway, fenced in staging area and a huge parking lot. I don't know why we needed something so big. I guess the powers that be figured we'd be needing it some time in the future. It's a far cry from what we had when Jan and I drove up the ramp in 76. Back then the terminal manager was a big, older fellow named Swede. I think he used to log or work on boats in his younger years. Like most of the men from his time he worked hard and played hard. I think he took the ferry terminal job just to keep him in drinking money. The work wasn't too demanding and the hours were few- just the kind of job a man needed to supplement his income as he neared retirement. Swede was pretty easy going and quick to laugh. He lived down in a trailer in a small clearing up against the mountain and the road. The road runs right along side of the beach and when Swede was still alive it hadn't been paved yet. With all the rain we'd get there were huge pot holes which always filled with water. I don't know how many times he told me the story about being in the trailer with Fred Gadke one late fall evening. Apparently Fred had made a pot of saurkraut for supper. I guess it didn't set well with Swede and a few hours later he desperately needed to go. I don't know if they didn't have any indoor plumbing or if Fred was availing himself of the facilities at the time, but Swede ended up running across the road in his underwear and squatting on the beach. He said a car came by and he could see Millie Jack's face through the window right before she hit one of those puddles. Of course he got soaked. He laughed every time he mentioned how cold the water was.
He and Fred are gone now, along with the trailers that set there. There are a couple of houses in their place now, and across the street where Swede went to relieve himself there is a new tank farm being built. Of course the roads are paved and now we have a new terminal building. It's all very nice I guess, but not nearly as entertaining. It's going to be hard to have a great story if we become like everywhere else in the country. I'll know we've hit rock bottom when Mc Donalds comes to town.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Toilet King


I'm sure anyone browsing the web, hoping to come across some pictures of Alaska would be sorely dissapointed if they came across this blog post. After all, what does a toilet have to do with Alaska? Well, obviously, we do have toilets here- at least in this part of the state. Up north in some of the more remote villages they still don't have the pleasure of indoor plumbing so they resort to five gallon buckets. When I was on the farm we used outhouses or camp toilets if we were inside for the night and the urge hit. It made for some interesting stories. Everyone who lived there for any length of time had a story or two about the potty. I don't know what is so funny about toilet humor- I guess it's something we can all relate to.
I was speaking to my daughter Camille the other day. She was talking to me from inside her bathroom. My grandson is in the process of being potty trained, which, anyone who has ever had kids knows, is quite a big deal. Like many kids, he at first didn't want to sit on the toilet. I think we all have a fear when we're young that we might fall in. I have a bigger fear now of once I sit on it I may not be able to get off. It would be emberrasing to have to call in the fire or ambulance crew to rescue you. Anyway, he's gotten to where he likes to go to the potty. So much so that now he doesn't want to get off. I suggested she buy him a crown and declare him the Toilet King. Of course if she did that he would probably want to take his meals there. She does like many parents do and makes a production out of his using the potty. He gets a star or a sticker or some such thing. If I got a star every time I used the john it would look like the Milky Way around here. I believe she said she had bought him some special training pants with Tommy the Train on them. I like trains. I wonder if they have anything like that on packages of Depends. Something to look forward to I guess. She mentioned the only time he wears a diaper is at night when he goes to bed, which got me to thinking. What if there were special underwear with a built in funnel for night time. Most bedrooms aren't very far from the bathroom- you could hook up a special hose made just for the Funnel Pants. One pair would last for weeks, unless the gasket leaked. Something to think about. While I was writing this I happened to think about a book I read by Robert Fulghum. It was titled UH OH. In it he discusses the possibility of having a pair of Swiss Army underwear. It would be a great invention. He says they would be black with a red and white stripe down the side and could double as swim trunks in an emergency. Inside the band would be the rules for poker to let you know if a full house beat a straight or whatever. They would be made from the same material as parachutes- light weight yet durable, and the best part- if you happen to be in an accident and end up in the hospital, you wouldn't have to worry about what your mom said about having clean underwear. "Nothing but the best of care for this patient nurse- this man is wearing Swiss Army underwear." Great minds think alike.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chile and Prunes


As I have mentioned before, in an effort to reduce my feelings of guilt for staying home while my lovely wife is working, I've accepted the challenge of cooking at least some of the evening meals. Frankly, I'm a pretty good cook. I can't take all the credit though. When I was working at the school I had to work with one of the students in a home economics class. To be quite honest, I assumed it would be as much fun as watching paint dry. However, I was wrong. Today I'm putting to use many of the skills I learned in class. Last week I made a knockout Mexican quiche. The next day I baked a pumpkin pie. I made my own crust for both dishes- something I learned in home-ec. Tonight I lit the grill and cooked Alaskan halibut with a green chile blanket. To be honest- it was delightful. Thank you Mrs Maples, wherever you are. You were a great teacher. Yesterday afternoon I whipped up a pot of venison chile. The remnants in the bowl is all that's left of that whole big pot. To say the least, it was tasty. I happen to like good food, almost to the point of gluttony. Last night I ate a goodly portion of the chile and some time after supper I noticed that Jan had picked up a package of Sunsweet Prunes. The good folks at Sunsweet had some pretty effective advertising so she bought some for me. What a gal. The problem is, both chile and prunes have a tendency to work on the lower digestive tract, at least in me. I've never really had any problems that would require the properties that prunes are known for, so it probably wasn't much wisdom to combine the two volitile ingredients at the same time. It's kind of like having nitro-glycerine and throwing in some gunpowder just to make sure you get a loud enough bang. Needless to say I was glad I was home alone today. I just came from the kitchen and I saw there are still some prunes left, and actually, I wouldn't mind having a few more. As the saying goes, this may just be the beginning of sorrows.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sealions and Other Unpleasant Things





Living in Alaska provides me with opportunities to view wildlife that most people will never get a chance to see. I frequently spot Sitka Blacktail Deer or Brown Bears when I'm out on the boat. Over on the mainland when I'm fishing at Homeshore or Excursion Inlet I've seen several Black Bears and once I saw a moose on the beach. I've come across rafts of Sea Otters with forty or more bunched together at Idaho Inlet and it's not at all uncommon to spot multitudes of Humpback Whales in the tide rips of Point Adolphus. All of these animals congregate in these areas because a ready food source. This past summer a number of the local fishermen were complaining about the number of fish they had lost to sealions. One fellow said he had lost twenty cohos to them in one day. It's a devistating loss. The sealions have a habit of getting behind a boat and following it and as soon as a fish bites they dive and pull it off the line, frequently taking expensive gear with them. Over the course of the past twenty years they have been protected by the federal government. Like many things the feds undertake, their intentions may start off well, but once the cogs of bureaucracy are underway, there's no turning back,regardless of how the situation may change or what the unintended consequences are. As I think I mentioned before, the local natives never allowed any sealions to enter through the passes at Inian Islands into Icy Straits. They knew all too well the havoc that they reek on the fish populations. Now though, they are protected, and as could be expected, the number of sealions has exploded, and of course they have to eat, which they do- to the tune of several hundred pounds of fish a day. If you consider that the average weight of one coho would be seven pounds, that would mean that one large sealion would have to the potential to eat twenty eight cohos a day. Multiply that by the hundreds of sealions that are now residing at the entrance of Cross Sound and the numbers are staggering. Of course if left unchecked, they will eventually populate until they can no longer sustain their numbers and there will be a massive die off. If history is any example, what will most probably happen is that the commercial fishing fleet will be blamed for their demise and the well meaning bureaucrats will restrict the fishermen to the point that they can no longer make a living. It's happening now out in Western Alaska to the trawl fleet. When you can no longer buy a Fillet of Fish sandwich at Mc Donalds or pick up some Mrs Paul's fishsticks at your local grocer's or have an inexpensive family dinner at Long John Silvers, then I hope that people will realize that these regulations that no one thinks about impacting them directly, really do. While there needs to be a balance in nature, because of impractical regulations, nature is out of balance. To the best of my knowledge, sealions serve no practical purpose. I'm not advocating going out and having a slaughter of them, but I think it's high time they stop being protected by the federal government. I spoke to some of my Tlingit neighbors the other day and asked if their ancestors had any use for sealions. One person said that the hide would sometimes be worn as a vest if they went in to battle. The only other use that anyone knew of was the whiskers were sometimes collected for ceremonial masks. The meat isn't eaten and the hide has no commercial value. They are basically vicious fish eating machines. Anyone who has ever observed a sealion with a fish would understand what I'm talking about. When they catch a fish, they surface and grab it by the head and jerk their neck so violently that the fish separates and flies off. They swallow the piece whole and swim after the rest. This happens dozens of times a day and it's distressing to watch.
I took these pictures while I was on a walk to the cannery last month. I had noticed a number of seagulls right against the beach and thought it was strange. A few minutes later three sealions showed up and the show began. They were apparently feeding on herring or some other forage fish. After five minutes or so I got tired of watching them and left. I was reminded of a few years ago when several sealions showed up in the harbor. One of them was huge. One of the tour buses had just dislodged a number of Oriental tourists at the harbor who were fascinated by the two sealions. Most of them were taking pictures when the big bull took an enormous crap. I could hear the tourists shouting and saw them pointing and taking more pictures. I would hate to think the highlight of their Alaskan tour was watching a sealion relieve himself.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Now and Then


Mamma-mia it's cold outside. I about froze my little patootie off just walking the two blocks from my house to
SpudCreek. The temperature is in the single digits right now, which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't blowing a fairly stiff Easterly breeze. The radio said it was supposed to blow sixty in Juneau tonight with a wind chill of minus forty-five. I know I'm living in Alaska, but it's really hard to stay warm with those kind of temps.
I guess I shouldn't complain. It sounds like the whole lower forty-eight is being pounded by Old Man Winter this year.
I wanted to contrast the picture from the Fourth of July with the one I took today. I don't know how cold it has to get to freeze running water, but apparently it's that cold here now. I had to do the old Chinese lady shuffle to keep upright on the street today. That's when you have to slide your feet just a few inches at a time to make forward progress. If you try to walk normally you'll end up on your butt- guaranteed. The streets are solid ice in some parts, most notably right in front of my house. It almost takes an act of God to get out of my driveway. I keep expecting someone to come sliding by on a pair of ice skates.
For some reason ice-skating isn't too much of a pastime here. When I was growing up back in Marion I attempted to ice skate a couple times. I don't know why. McKinley Lake was the closest place to go, and that was like two miles away. My mom didn't know how to drive and my dad was always working, so I would have to walk there if I wanted to skate. Usually by the time I got there I was already cold. Sticking my already chilled feet into a pair of frozen skates made almost no sense at all, but everyone else was doing it so I did too. (After I had done something stupid and been caught, my folks used to ask me - "If everyone else was jumping off a bridge would you do it too?" Of course I'd say no, but now that I think about, maybe I would have.) Then having to take my gloves off to try and tie the laces was akin to torture. The laces were usually stiff as a board so it was like trying to tie a piece of cardboard. I usually didn't have enough feeling in my fingers to tie the bow, so I would end up with a knot. After about five minutes of falling down and cracking my head on the ice I would decide I'd had enough. Because I had knots in the laces I couldn't untie the skates, so I put on some rubber skate guards and walked the few blocks to Meister's Drug Store in my ice skates. How I kept from breaking an ankle is anyone's guess. Eventually I'd warm up enought to untie the skates, put on my boots,and walk my frozen carcass back home. I'm not sure what my mindset was, but for some reason I tried ice skating several times over a period of a few years when I was young. It just looked like so much fun when other people did it. I believe it was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Hmmm... I'll have to give that some thought.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Lookout Spot


When the kids were visiting over the Christmas break, Autumn said she wanted to go out and get pictures. We had one day when the sun came out and it just so happened to be at a time when I could go out, so we ran up to a spot that overlooks Port Frederick and back towards the old Whitestone logging camp. The last picture shows the downtown float and cold storage. When we first arrived in Hoonah the cold storage dock was half rotten and dangerous to walk up and down at low tide. A number of boats used to tie up to it, sometimes six or eight moored along side each other. It could be a real pain if you were the one tied to the dock and wanted to get out. That was long before the boat harbor was in existence. The breakwater is attatched to Graveyard Island. I believe the NOAA charts lists it as Pitt Island. Today it was once again used as a burial place. Karl Greenwald was laid to rest there. He used to commercial fish with his brother on a seine boat years ago. I had the pleasure of doing an interview with him and he told me that he was the only man alive who ever fell into North Inian Pass and survived. The skiff he was using to tow the seine away from the main boat was sucked down in a whirlpool, and of course he went down with it. They were fishing on a 19.5 foot tide at the time and the current was roaring. The currents there can reach velocities of eight to ten knots. It was only the grace of God that he survived. He was the fellow that named me No Fish Tom when I first started fishing here. I made the mistake of telling him I had lost the first three King Salmon I had ever hooked. He was merciless in his teasing. I'm going to miss having him around. He had a great sense of humor.
The top picture shows Port Frederick looking up towards Neka Bay. I was doing some research for a book and found out that a local native named Nee-Keh was the original claimer of Neka Bay. He kept a small cannon that he used to fire to signal the return of the fishing fleet. I knew that Port Frederick was named Brown Bear Bay by the Tlingits when they came here after being forced out of Glacier Bay by an advancing glacier, but I discovered that it was also known for a short time as Ku S'eil. It was named after a female slave named S'eil who had been drowned as a sacrifce.
On the other side of the breakwater, from Graveyard Island back into the bay a bit is a spot where quite a few people keep crab pots. Dungeness crabs seem to thrive in that spot. I'm always surprised by the number of crabs that come out of there. When they first started making the small boat harbor years ago I remember looking down and seeing crabs all over the bottom. I think I caught a few with a long handled net. I have a neighbor who keeps a crab pot in the summer and usually offers us some. If only I had a generous neighbor with beef cattle to butcher, I could have surf and turf.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reflections





Finally....my pictures downloaded for this blog. I've been trying since last night.Perhaps we could have a little rendition of the Hallelujah chorus from Handle's Messiah play in the backround. I was mistakenly thinking that having a satellite Internet provider would solve all my computer problems. How naive!
The holidays are over again for another year and everyone has left the nest and gone back to their own lives. The boys caught the ferry last Friday- Brian went back to Juneau and Ben returned to North Carolina for some more intense training. Autumn left today. Things will go back to normal now I guess, whatever that is. No doubt it will be much quieter around here. For whatever reason the kids seem to think that visiting here requires staying up into the wee hours of the morning and sleeping in until the afternoon. I can't really complain too much since they spend so much time at Jen's house talking and laughing and carrying on. Our place is mainly for grabbing a meal, drinking gallons of coffee and pop, and having a place to crash when they finally decide they're tired; without having to think about who is going to be cleaning up the mess afterwards. It's simply amazing. Somehow, while everyone is resting, the magic clean up fairies show up and the clutter and mayhem dissapear. Just in time for the next meal...how very nice.
I have a reputation for being crabby when things don't go the way I think they should, especially in my own house. Few things upset me more than being woken from a sound sleep in the middle of the night.No matter how quiet everyone tries to be when they come in though, I always hear them. Most of the time I can't hear half of what is on TV and only about two thirds of most conversations, but at night, after I've gone to bed, I can hear a mouse fart from two blocks away;it's uncanny.
One thing that became very apparent to me on this holiday was how much the kids seemed to have enjoyed their childhood here. Of course that wasn't the case when they were growing up. Listening to them then you would be under the impression that they were being raised by members of the Gestapo whose most important function in life was to prevent them from having any fun by confining them to the most boring place on the planet. Recently though, I heard several times how much they missed Hoonah and the family. I understand. When we are separated by time and distance, our perspective grows sharper. One day the guys were up at Jen's watching G-rated movies from their childhood. I guess it's human nature to want to recapture our most pleasant memories.
It also became abundantly apparent that each of my children has the most fantastic sense of humor. That fact delights me. They know how to have fun with each other and with those outside the family. It's a joy to be in the presence of people who can laugh and have a good time. A good sense of humor can get you through some difficult circumstances. God knows, in these trying times it can be worth more than gold. If you can share laughter you can lift another's burden and lighten their load. It can be the difference between a long day and a great day. We've been blessed as a family to share many a laugh. I can see why they enjoy coming home and look forward to the next time we can all be together. I just hope they will be wearing silent cloud shoes and have little janitors in their pockets. Love you guys!