Blog Archive

Thursday, December 31, 2009


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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Ihope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. We were blessed with two this year. The one at the farm was especially enjoyable though because I had a chance to visit a place that was so much a part of my life.

We drove out on the logging road that eventually led to within about a mile of the farm. Years ago the only way to access the farm was by boat, or perhaps walking, which I did once. It was quite an ordeal that included wading streams, crossing muskegs and slogging my way over dangerously sticky mudflats. I was fortunate that I didn't get stuck on the flats or cross paths with a brown bear. Anyway, this trip only entailed having what few teeth I have left jarred almost loose by the potholes in the road. There were a couple of scary moments going across a couple of the bridges that spanned Game Creek too, but on a scale of one to ten, they wouldn't have warranted more than a five. After parking the car we walked down a well marked trail through a patch of old growth spruce and hemlock. This small stretch of woods serves as a buffer between the farm property and the surrounding area and I was happy to see that it was spared. In the years before the area was logged I had followed the trail up through the forest past several benches and into an area we called the third muskeg. Chris Austin, one of the young men from the farm accompanied me on the hunt and up on that muskeg I shot the largest buck I've ever seen up until then. It was quite the chore getting that deer back to the farm. A road back then would have been a welcome sight. As it was we took turns packing it on our backs all the way down the path for several miles until we reached the edge of the fields where we could pick it up with the farm's tractor. I sure couldn't perform such a feat of strength now. I'm not even sure I could walk empty handed all the way up to that third muskeg. Ah, to be young again.

Once we passed through the woods we broke out into the fields. Off in the distance I could see the house we'd built. It was somewhat difficult to make out. Down through the years the alders and blueberry brush had grown up around it. I'm afraid that one day they will reclaim the entire area and only the steel roofing and stove pipe will be left to testify that once a fine, proud house stood in that place. Though it's hard to tell now, it once was the nicest place on the farm. With a split level entry way that led to four bedrooms downstairs or to the living room, den, kitchen and greenhouse/balcony upstairs, it was quite large. The foundation was made up of the trees that we cut to make room for the house and all the framework came from our sawmill- rough cut green lumber that shrank as it aged and dried, leaving gaps in walls and floors. I bought all the other building materials in order to expedite the building process and avoid some of the problems that the other cabins experienced- those that used only the farm lumber for siding and flooring.

I crossed the slough out front and remembered the many trips I had to take to get our laundry water from it, ten gallons at a time up that hill. I dreaded laundry day, at least until we finally ran a water line from the Carey cabin to ours. That was a major feat in itself. Nothing came easily out there.

Just inside the woods at the base of the hill I saw the remnants of an old tire swing that the girls used to play on. The most simple things could be turned into fun. There was a small alder tree at the base of the hill that had been bent over that the kids used to straddle and use like a one sided teeter-totter. When you don't have much, you make do with what you have. In so many ways that simple life was good.

The upper picture shows the road that led between the fields/ barn/ dry house and the tabernacle. The buildings on the right weren't there when I lived at Game Creek. I think they use the one building to hang the animals they slaughter. They acquired quite a few more farm animals after we left. The small building on the left is the ladies outhouse. It's a two stall affair, much like the one I used to frequent, only this one is for the ladies only. I guess the men's is on the other side of camp. I don't doubt that it's more comfortable for all the parties involved to have separate accommodations, but I bet they don't have near the number of good stories any more.

The cabin on the left nestled in the hemlock trees, you can barely make out the roof line, is the one that our dear Sister Lydia used to live in. She was responsible for all mail in and out of the farm at the time and monitored the CB radio- the only link between the farm and the town house. She was pretty hefty and I think after she got stuck in the mud flats the second time refused to ever go to town again unless we were blessed with a high enough tide to bring a boat up to the edge of the farm. Her husband was one of the three men killed in the boating accident that occurred years ago in front of Gallagher's Flats. She passed on a few years back. She was an interesting gal, and though we weren't close friends, I would love to be able to sit down and reminisce with her about old times.

Anyway, that's what I've got for now. I wanted to share a few pictures of the farm with you as it is now and relive a few memories. Hope your Thanksgiving was memorable in a good way and if not, there's always next year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Game Creek Visit

Back in October, signs went up around the town announcing what has become an annual event out at Game Creek. The entire town is invited to come out and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner at the farm. This year the celebration was on November 8. It actually works out better to have it early. The most recent snows would have made it impossible to travel by car or truck if it had been delayed.
This was only the second time that I've been able to attend, but both times have been memorable. The tabernacle was decorated as ornately as it could be and the food was delightful. I noticed that all the residents of the farm stayed in the kitchen and waited on all of their guests to get their plates before finally serving themselves. The warmth and hospitality was refreshing and once again I was very pleased to be able to attend. After dinner there was a beautiful slide show with scenes from around the area and several musicians performed as well.
Before dinner I had an opportunity to walk around the camp a little bit and get a few pictures. I wish I could accurately describe the range of feelings that coursed through me as I walked. I once thought I might die there before I got away I so desperately wanted to leave. I was angry and depressed and felt trapped, but on this day I was here because I was invited and I wanted to be there and I was happy to visit, but also sad to see how the place had changed. The tabernacle has endured years of freezing and thawing and shifting so that the outer walls are sagging and the beams inside are bowed. I can't help but wonder how much longer it can stand and if it did collapse or have to be razed, would there be any thought of replacing it with a smaller version? The fact is, the folks living there are by and large on the back half of their lives and just staying on top of the every day needs must be a full time job. I'm afraid that one day there won't be anyone left to carry on the chores that such a place demands. There is firewood to split and animals to attend to and fences to mend. I'm not sure if most of the meals are eaten together still or not, if so, that requires a lot of work both before and after the meal. I see that a new boardwalk has been built past one of the original buildings and other boardwalks need to be replaced.
At one time pets weren't allowed, with a few notable exceptions, but I noticed a half dozen dogs this time, and I was glad to see them. Though it has been a few years since paint has been applied to any of the buildings, when I was living there, none of the buildings were painted. I know that now everyone has a cellphone and I'm not sure how many computers there are on the farm. At one time it required a trip to town and a darn good excuse to make a phone
call, and even having a radio was looked down upon. My how the times have changed. As Martha Stewart would say, it's a good thing.
The green cabin in the top picture used to be called the Mosher cabin or the MacKenzie cabin, after the families that occupied them. I can't recall exactly how many people lived in that small home when we first arrived back in '76, but I believe it housed four families. All of the cabins were cramped then. I guess it was a step up from the large army tents that the original group stayed in that first year though. At the time, the boardwalk out front was comprised of just two slippery boards nailed side by side and it was almost impossible to keep from sliding on them... good for balance I guess. The red building beyond was the Banaszack cabin. It was built after the place they were living in caught fire. At the time three familes and some single women were housed there as I recall. It later served as the school when the family moved to another farm up in Haines. As I looked around the memories just came flooding in. For ten years this was my home, for better or for worse. When I look around and see the need, part of me just wants to come out and help- maybe put in a new boardwalk or pack some firewood or set up a new fence. For all the animosity I once felt for this place, I'm afraid now that it may not be around much longer, and that would really be a shame.

Monday, November 9, 2009


One of the highlights of my trip back to my home town of Marion was driving down the street where I grew up. Of course after thirty or so years everything on Belmont Street was different. If I didn't know where my house was located I wouldn't have known it. The hill that we sledded on so many winters ago, the one that seemed to take forever to get back to the top of, it was just a small incline, almost unnoticable to me now. Everything seemed so much smaller- our house, our street, the hill. So many changes have taken place, which only makes sense; nothing can stay the same. It just seems like so many of the changes aren't necessarily for the better. The high school where Jan and I met has been expanded and is now the middle school. They built a new high school out on the edge of town- way out where everyone has to drive to now- no more walking to school. They changed the name of the street the school is on from Seminole Avenue to something like President's Way or some such thing. Why? What was wrong with the old name? The little grocery store that my family shopped at, Vine Street market, is all boarded up. Another victim to the modernization of America I guess. When I was growing up there were little neighborhood markets just like Vine Street scattered all over the town. The clerks all knew your name and we even had charge accounts for groceries.
One of my more pleasant memories was going down the street to Mac's Trading Post. I spent many an hour there looking at the glass case that was filled with plastic trays that rotated when Mac would push a toggle switch. Each tray had an assortment of brightly colored plugs or spoons or spinners- some for bass or walleyes and a few really huge ones for muskies. I lusted after that gear as sure as some men lust after a woman. I never saw anyone buy anything from that case- it seems like the same lures were there year after year- just as well, I always enjoyed looking at them.
E.P. MacAffee- Mac, was quite the salesman. Whether it was selling a nickle candy bar to a kid or an outboard motor to an adult, he could get the sale. If I walked in with a buddy he was always quick to say, "What can Iget for ya girls?" If you came in by yourself it was, "What can I do today to make you feel bad?" It always made me laugh. Mac had the only sporting goods store in town and just about any sport you wanted to engage in, he could provide the gear. He had baseball gloves, and golf clubs; shotguns, rifles, and fly rods. He sold boats and motors;ice skates and basketball shoes. There wasn't a season that he wasn't ready for. If you lettered in a sport he had the appropriate letter- and the jacket or sweater to put it on. The store was located right across the street from the (then) high school and every afternoon about three or so there was an influx of hungry teens parting with their money as fast as he could shove it in the till. He carried an assortment of snacks that could appeal to just about any taste. He even had a infra-red oven to cook the frozen sandwiches and pizzas that he kept in the freezer.
Every year around the end of October he would take off with his truck and head north. It was time to pick out the Christmas trees he would be selling. Scotch Pines from Michigan and Balsam from New Brunswick. Shortly before Thanksgiving Mac would return, usually with some kind of animal he'd shot; a deer or a black bear or a bob cat. He had a number of his trophies placed throughout the store. The first time I ever saw a Whitetail was at Mac's. He had it hanging upside down in his carport and was skinning it. I just about got sick- I couldn't stand the sight of blood back then. Shortly after his return, long stretches of hurricane fence were set up in anticipation of the coming trees, and then, one day, they would arrive. Tree after tree after tree were loaded into the carport until it was full to the ceiling, then they were piled in stacks all around the house and store. In the early years the branches were all tied with heavy brown hemp or jute strings to keep them from breaking and also from taking up too much space until it was time to shake them out and set up against the fencing. The smell of balsam was so clean and refreshing, like walking in a Northern forest. Mac would keep a barrel going as the season ramped up where all the branches and needles could be burned and the white smoke drifted across the lot. He thought it helped to enhance the season.
Both my older brother Mark and I worked for Mac and there were quite a few years where we didn't have to pay for our family's Christmas trees. For all the years I worked there I don't remember the price ever changing- "About a dollar a foot." he'd say to the customer, kind of hunkering down and speaking real low like he was giving you a bargain that no one else was getting. Ol' Mac. I saw him in the nursing home on a visit back to Marion so many years ago when I was in the navy. He was in a wheelchair and I don't think he knew who I was, but he was in good spirits and glad to have the company. I think he would turn over in his grave if he could see the store that he built up all those years. I wish they would tear it down. He deserves better than that. He deserves to have it remembered as it once was- a great place to get a snack and tell a joke and maybe buy a pair of ice skates or a box of shells.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


This is a picture of me with a bass that I caught on my trip south to Ohio. My friend, Bill Snyder, insists that the fish weighed in at an impressive four pounds, where as I was thinking it was hard pressed to make a pound, but what do I know? I don't want to sound vain, but I'm not used to catching such small fish. Don't get me wrong, it was a blast to be fishing in a still body of water and not have to look over your shoulder for
Brown bears. We were guests at his sister and brother-in-law's farm pond and aside from the frigid wind and unseasonably cold temps, I was delighted to be there. Bill and I started the day at the Whetstone River near Mt. Gilead at a pool that I had some fond memories of. It had been over thirty years since I'd wet a line there and over the course of time the pool had shrunk and the gravel bank had grown up with brush and trees. Of course all that brush and overhang wasn't conducive to
fly fishing, and Bill promptly got his fly caught in a tree. While it was humorous, I had bought a three day license and kind of wanted to catch a fish or two. When Bill suggested that we try a different place, I thought he may have had the Scioto River in mind. It's a dirty, muddy slow moving river that passes close to his home in Green Camp. We sometimes joke about him netting carp, which he lovingly calls "sewer bass" there in the Scioto. However, his sister's place was about forty minutes away so we went there and had a great time.
Bill's brother, Don, was my best friend when I was a teen and we spent countless hours trying to catch fish- any kind of fish. We once rode our bikes for miles to get to a farm pond near his grandmothers house only to find the thing clogged with weeds so thick we couldn't cast far enough to reach the water. It wasn't a complete loss though. We discovered that the bull frogs would chase the lures we had so we caught a potato chip can full of them. I didn't eat any of the legs, but Don said they were good- tastes like chicken. How often have you heard that? Another time we couldn't get a ride to our favorite fishing haunt so we took the lid off his cistern in the back yard and chummed a couple of gold fish we had dropped in there some weeks before. One November day, right after Thanksgiving, we got all excited about fishing after watching an episode of Gaddabout Gaddis, The Flying Fisherman. The fact that it was snowing outside and colder than hell didn't deter us. We walked several miles towards the creek we were going to fish. Our path took us right through the rough side of town and while we stood waiting for a train to pass, a couple of hillbillies took the opportunity to hop out of their broken down car and punch each of us in the ear. I can't really blame them- we looked like we needed to be punched- a couple of fools standing at a rail crossing in a snow storm holding fishing rods and tackle boxes.
Don used to go home and tell his mom, "You wouldn't believe what happened to us today." She'd just shake her head and say, "Oh yes I would." She knew anything could happen when we got together.
I'd been in Alaska a few years when my mom called with the news that Don had been killed in a motorcycle accident. It was a shock and I still miss him to this day.
If there is anything good that can come from such a tragic event, it's that Bill and I have developed a close friendship and I cherish it. I've come to realize that if a person has a close friend, regardless of their financial status, they are very rich indeed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Home State

We finally made it back home to Alaska after almost three weeks of visiting family and friends. Dorothy had it right when she said, "There's no place like home."
Even so, we still had a good time. I had the chance to visit some of the places I hadn't seen for over thirty years and it was comforting to know that some things don't change. A case in point is the Mohican State Forest in eastern Ohio. It's a land of rolling hills and clean water and the trees were in all of their Autumn glory. I took my wife and mom with me and even bought a three day out of state license to try a little fishing in the Mohican River- or maybe it's the Clear Fork- I'm not sure. In any event it's clean and supports a population of trout and smallmouth bass as well as rock bass. There may be other fish there as well, I can't remember. On this particular October day the weather was uncommonly cold and it almost felt like it could snow. We had brought along some food for a picnic and I was hoping that down in the valley by the river it might be a few degrees warmer. No such luck. My mom was bundled in her winter coat with her collar pulled up against the chill wind and Jan and her were bustling around laying out the checkered table cloth and setting out the sandwiches while I made a few casts in the river. The picnic, which we ended up labling a quicknic, lasted all of five minutes. Even for long time Alaska residents, it was COLD.
On our way over to the park we passed by some beautiful foliage and some of the farms had hundreds of pumpkins littering the fields. I had never realized that Ohio grew so many pumpkins. It's amazing what you miss when you are a kid. One of the things that struck me as I drove was all of the dead racoons along side the road. I can't remember ever seeing so many before. There were a few opposums and maybe a squirrel or two, but the racoons really stood out. I could have made coonskin hats for half the town of Hoonah if I were of the mind to do it- and I could find anyone who wanted one. Fortunately in God's economy nothing goes to waste, and where the road kill was, the buzzards weren't far behind. I had forgotten about them.
As you can see, my mind has taken a turn for the worse. Back to the forest. When we got into the park we had to take a winding road down, down, down to the river. There was a beautiful covered bridge that you have to cross to get to the picnic area. When I was a kid my family used to come over here at least once a year. All I ever wanted to do was fish- usually with little or no luck. I didn't know about hellgramites back then. They are the larva of the Dobson fly that cling to the under side of flat rocks in the river and the fish love them. It wasn't until I was old enough to drive and had my own car that I found out about them.
My dad used to like to come here with us. Once we went horseback riding and another time we rented canoes in Loudenville and paddled quite aways to the haulout place. If we came in the fall we would have to search for the little stand that sold apples and cider and honey. We almost always got lost and ended up driving around trying to find the covered bridge or the apple stand or the canoe livery. I must have inherited that gene because Jan and Mom and I took off down the wrong road as soon as we entered the woods. Ah well, it was all good- except for the fact that I had to pee like a Russian race horse and they don't have rest stops located where they need to be. That's one great thing about here. A few minutes after I leave town, whether by boat or car, I can let fly without fear of being arrested. Just another added benefit of living in the wilderness. One that shouldn't be taken too lightly.

I'll probably be blogging some more about my time in Ohio. I have a few more pictures I would like to share. It was a pleasant time for me. I never thought I would have enjoyed it so much, but I did and I'm glad.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Enjoy the View

Jan and I are going to be going south for a few weeks, so I doubt that I will be posting anything on the blog until I get back- I don't know. I don't have a laptop computer, and I don't know what kind of hassle I would run into or if I will even have the time to work on it while we're gone. We have to go see the Moms. Mine is in Ohio and Jan's is in Wisconsin. I'm not looking forward to the plane ride down. It's quite the ordeal to leave here. We are taking a catamaran to Juneau tonight and spending a couple days there. I'd rather just fly over and be done with it, but the weather is unpredictable this time of year and we can't afford to miss our flight south. We leave Juneau and fly to Seattle, then to Minneapolis and finally to Columbus. It's an all night affair. Hopefully the plane won't be crowded and I'll be able to stretch out a little. Last time I flew, we were packed in like sardines and the rather plump fellow beside me was oozing out under the armrest and squeezing me over into the isle, where I could be bumped by every one who walked up and down. To make matters worse, he had a newspaper he was trying to read and instead of folding it, he had it stretched out in front of my face. Ah the joys of travel. As you can see, we're used to a little more space here in Alaska. This first picture was taken a few weeks ago when I was trolling up in the bay. That's Neka Mountain, or at least I think it is. Anyway, it used to be totally wooded all the way to the beach when I first arrived up here. There used to be some tremendous deer hunting there. Before the logging started up too seriously, when they were just putting in roads, we used to send over a group of hunters from the farm. Even a novice like me was successful. I shot three deer in one day- one at Game Point and two on Neka.
On a drive out to Long Island where the log dump is, we always have to cross this slough. I've never seen a deer here, but I've always thought that I should have. I know that some duck hunters have had pretty good luck in the area, down closer to the bay. I used to think I might take my canoe up here some day, but the chances of that happening are becoming increasingly slim. I'm afraid I'd have a hard time staying dry if I tried a canoe trip anymore.
This last shot I took up at the town dump. Not many places in the world have a view like this. This site is different than the dump I wrote about in the book. As the town started to expand, they moved the dump further from the population. Now it's up the mountain aways and they have a permit to burn all the trash that can burn. It helps keep the bears away. In years past, before they had it all fenced in, it wasn't uncommon to spot three or four bears at a time feeding right in amongst the flames. One big guy had a good bit of his hair singed off when he got too close to some burning plastic sheeting.
This is looking out over Spasski Valley. Most of the local flights go right over the valley on the way to and from Juneau. There used to be a trail maintained by the Forest Service that went from the airport to Spasski Bay. I had to travel it once when my boat broke down during bad weather and it was the only way back home. It was during June and I had no gun, so I scrounged up a pop can off the beach and filled it with some pebbles and shouted and sang and prayed my whole way over that trail. Guess that's it for now. I'm looking forward to a little vacation, but I'm already looking forward to returning too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

End of the Season

ON my last post I mentioned where I caught the fish and shrimp, and I did have a picture of it, but for whatever reason it didn't upload. Being the technical genius that I am, I couldn't figure out how to correct it, so here's another picture. It's not the same picture, but it's the same area. See that point that sticks out way down the bay on the right hand side? That's where all the action took place. I took this picture last Sunday, and as you can see, it was glassy calm that day- just the way I like it. Although there aren't any boats in this picture, there are still a few guys trying to get their halibut quota. For whatever reason some fellows prefer to wait until the fall to chase the halibut and black cod. I've done it before, but would rather not wait, even though the price usually goes up a little. Almost always you have to battle the seasonal storms and I hate that.
I was down at the cannery the other day enjoying the serenity of the area. All the tourists are gone and along with them, the whale watching and charter boats. The streets aren't clogged with the throngs of people and the large green buses are parked in the lot. The boardwalks are empty and the shops are locked up
and there is a delicious stillness that has decended upon the area. It's delightful. For now the town is ours again and we can go about our daily lives not feeling like we are on display. With the exception of the disregard for the common sense and common courtesies that would prevail in their own home towns, most of the tourists seem to be decent folks. They just get overwhelmed by the beauty of the area and the abundance of wildlife and forget, perhaps,that this is a real town and we are real people with real jobs to do. We're not all actors and Hoonah isn't just like Disneyland, though for some reason several have been led to believe that. Some folks are surprized that there aren't any igloos or dogsleds here, and there have been more than a few - American citizens no less- who didn't realize that we were a state, not a foreign country and we do trade in US currency. I guess it's good that I've been exposed to the tourist industry here. Hopefully it will help me to remember my manners when I'm on vacation.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Subsitence Fishing

Last week my son Brian came over to pick up his truck and skiff and take them back over to Juneau. Since he was here for a few days I suggested that he go with me up the bay to set a subsistence long line for halibut, which he thought sounded great. Because we live in a rural area along the coast and I guess because there are limited opportunities for employment, we qualify for a subsistence permit from the federal government to go catch halibut to eat. You aren't allowed to sell any of your catch with this permit- it's for personal use. For reasons unknown to me and in typical government fashion, you are allowed to use thirty hooks on a set and can keep up to twenty halibut a day. Twenty a day! Who needs twenty halibut a day? I raised seven children and I don't think we ate twenty in a year... and we really enjoy it. Anyway, we went up into Port Frederick and made a set last Sunday and while we were there we set out a shrimp pot that I had snagged several years ago when I was longlining. It had been lost and apparently had been there quite some time because it was covered in the fossilized remains of tube worms. We threw some dog salmon carcasses inside for bait and tossed it over in about sixty fathoms of water. Six hours later we came back up to pull the halibut set. The first hook had a Shortraker rockfish- they are brilliant red-orange; then we caught a few smaller halibut- 8 to 12 pounds and a number of grey cod. I normally don't eat the cod fish unless they are in a fish sandwich at Mc Donalds or some such thing. They make excellent halibut bait, but since I had plenty of bait, I ended up giving them to a Korean couple who are running Mary's Inn here in town. I gave them the Shortraker and a Quillback rockfish also. That blasted Quillback ended up poking me in the index finger when I was cleaning it. They have sharp spines on either side of the anal fin as well as on the gill plates and dorsal fins. I mean to tell ya, that really hurt. It took three or four hours before the pain started to abate and it was two days before my finger returned to it's normal color and size.
While we were pulling the gear the line got hung up on the bottom. I tied it off to the hay rack and pulled and it ended up parting, so we had to go to the other end and pull. When we got close to the end Brian shouted that we had a big one on. I looked over the stern, and there, wrapped around a big hunk of coral was a halibut that measured five feet three inches long. According to the tide book it had a live weight of 127 pounds and a dressed weight of 96 pounds. There was another smaller halibut on the next hook under it- maybe twenty pounds or so. Brian whacked the big one with a heavy gaff hook when it surfaced and then we shoved a shark hook that we keep handy for big halibut,into its mouth and got it on board. It was quite the ordeal though. The line was really tangled with the coral which was attatched to about an eighty pound rock. I kind of wanted that coral, but it was too much to mess with at the time so we let it go. We were pretty jazzed about the whole ordeal. Thirty hooks and we had our whole winters supply of halibut with plenty to share, plus the rockfish and grey cod. We checked the shrimp pot too, but there were only two shrimp in it at that time, so we set it back down and I picked it up again on Thursday. What you see in the bucket is what I kept. Some of those prawns were huge! I have a picture of the biggest one stretched out with a dollar bill beside it. It is longer than that bill- and I might add, a good deal tastier.
I've included a picture of where all the action took place; between the first and second points. Thats all the more I'll mention about that. I don't mind sharing information, but like all fishermen some things have to remain a secret.

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


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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Over the course of the summer I have lamented the lack of rainfall that we have had. While it was wonderful to wake up every day to sunny skies and to view the glorious sunsets that we enjoyed every evening, none the less we do live in a rain forest and the lack of rain was starting to have an impact on the vegetation. Frankly, I was worried that there wouldn't be enough water in the streams for the salmon to make it up to spawn. I watched one sow brown bear with a cub pacing back and forth across the rocks at the mouth of a small stream bed in Lisianski Inlet a few weeks ago. They could plainly see dozens of pink salmon jumping in front of the stream right in front of them, but they couldn't reach them. The salmon didn't fare any better. They were responding to that ancient need to procreate and were waiting in the inlet for enough water to make it up the stream, but there was none. Well.... there's no problem with that now. For the past few weeks we've had rainfall in amounts that would make ship builders smile. For the most part I'm glad. We really needed the rain. I have to admit though, that a steady stream of wet, cloudy, foggy, gloomy weather can wear on a person after a while.

While I don't mind having to wear raingear when I'm out in the cockpit cleaning fish, and occasionally when I'm eating taco's (the Mexican version of Sloppy Joes) I don't like to have to wear it to walk to the store or the harbor, but that's the way it's been lately. I have to admit, that through some fluke of nature it actually stopped raining for about ten hours yesterday- just long enough for a new crop of blood thirsty insects to hatch and start feasting. I even saw the sunshine for that short reprieve and was encouraged enough to mow the lawn- something I hadn't been able to do for several weeks. With all the rain the grass turned green and was rejuvenated. It was one of the only times I wished I'd had a goat. At least then I would have seen the hidden treasures that my neighbors dog had left in the tall grass. As it was, they weren't evident until I had already run over them with the mower. Of course as you can imagine, I wasn't filled with kind thoughts for my neighbor or her pet. Ah well.
While the rain is somewhat depressing after a while, it's the wind that has kept me housebound for the past few days. Small craft adviseries and gale warnings have been the normal for the past week or more and I'm really getting tired of it. I need to be able to get back out fishing. The summer troll season will end on September 20 and so far it hasn't been that great. I need to try and salvage what I can before it ends, but I'm not going to risk my life to do it.
The picture above is an area on the main land called Home Shore. I have to take the boat across Icy Straits to get to it; about an hour and a half ride if the weather is cooperative. As you can see the clouds can descend all the way to the water and sometimes it gets so rainthick you can't see what's in front of you. Here and there I could spot seagulls on the water pecking away at the gas filled bodies of dead pink or dog salmon. I guess a few of them must have made it up the creeks.
In any event, we've gotten the rain we needed in copious amounts, and if it would just balance out a little so that we could enjoy a few more days of sun before the summer is over, that would be just fine with me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summer Memories

This has been quite a summer. In the thirty three years I've made Alaska my home, I can't remember ever experiencing such a warm, dry summer. I bitch a lot about the heat and the westerly winds that accompany the dry, sunny days, but I know that when I'm neck deep in snow and hugging the toyostove for a little extra warmth, I'll look back and wish I had a little of this heat that is bringing so much discomfort right now.
This top picture is of Spud Creek. It's not uncommon for it to run dry for a bit in the summer, though this year it has been longer than usual. In the winter the water that is usually there freezes and long icesicles form on the rocks and steps. The astilibe grows wild here. I was fortunate enought to snap a shot before the flowers turned. I guess the locals used to bring buckets to the creek years ago to get their water. I don't know why it's called spud creek- maybe someone used to grow potatoes in the area next to it. Now it forms a barrier between Colette's Cupboard and the school shop. Colette's used to be a garage that belonged to Mary Johnson, but when she died, Raino Hill bought the property and enlarged and remodeled the garage and turned it into a store. I think he primarily gets his groceries from Costco over in Juneau. His store is only one of two here in Hoonah.
The school shop was built around six or eight years ago, maybe longer, at quite an expense. Unfortunately it hasn't been in use for the past three or four years for various reasons. I think largely because we have so few kids going to school here now.
This next shot I took while I was walking home from the harbor. I had just gotten in from the king salmon opening and was stuck by the way the sunset made everything appear differently. The high tide provided a reflecting surface for the pilings and I liked the way it looked. Hoonah Cold Storage is in the backround. That's where I sell my fish. They have been an important part of this community for as long as I've been here, and no doubt long before then too.
I have quite a few pictures of sunsets here- I never get tired of looking at them. In part because they are beautiful, but also because it won't be long before they are just a memory of a summer unlike any other.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Breakdowns and Sunsets

I should be out fishing right now, but the other day when I went out, the hydraulic pump, which I kind of hoped I had a fixed with a shot of WD40 and a rap with a rubber mallet, decided to give up the ghost. Fortunately I was able to get all the gear up this time without having to resort to the pipe wrench. When I first discovered I was having a problem with the pump, I had all four lines in the water and I had to pull two fifty pound leads plus gear and fish, and two thirty five pound leads with gear and fish with the pipe wrench. I had about fourteen fathoms of gear out and could only pull in about six inches at a time. Needless to say it took awhile and I was a little stiff and sore when it all finally came aboard. However, all that's in the past. I sent the pump over to Juneau to be worked on and it's supposed to be coming here on the next flight. Hopefully I will get it all squared away and get out fishing this afternoon. Breakdowns are one of the down falls of being self- employed. If you can't work, you can't make money, and with something like fishing or farming where there is a limited time to work in, it can really be tough. All that being said, I had a chance to go on a bike ride with Jan last night and had the forsight to bring my camera, so I got a few great shots. I never get tired of seeing the sunset here- maybe because we normally don't get all that much sun... plus it's just plain beautiful. The first photo is of the cannery which is now a tourist destination. The second is of the tunnel, looking across Port Frederick. I'm so blessed to be in a place with such incredible scenery. Of course there are good points and bad to every place, but at the end of the day when you're with someone you love, out enjoying the evening, it's hard to remember the bad stuff.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer King Salmon Opener

These are a couple of pictures that I took from the first king salmon opening outside. When I say outside I mean out on the ocean, away from the Inside Passage here in Southeast Alaska. I always hate having to go out there. Almost always there is a swell, which in itself isn't so bad, but if it's a westerly, which it often is, and there is any wind on top of it, which there usually is, then it can be miserable. The area I fish is such that I have to be right in the trough of the waves, which means I'm constantly fighting to maintain my balance while at the same time watching out for other boats and pulling the fish aboard. It makes an otherwise enjoyable experience a real pain. In order to get to the outside, I have to pass through South Inian Pass, which is also a real challenge for me. The idea is to try to time your passage through on the outgoing tide, so you aren't fighting the current. The bad part can be if there is a westerly wind blowing in Cross Sound, the waves have a tendency to build right at the entrance and it can be pretty scary. I don't much care to be scared, although a lot of people seem to enjoy it I guess, judging from all the rides in amusement parks and the horror movies that people watch. Maybe I could charge folks a bunch of money and they could go with me through South Pass for a good scary time.
The fish in the picture are some of the ones I caught the first day. That's why I have to go outside for the king opening in July- it can be pretty lucrative. I sold the fish to a buying scow in Lisianski Inlet. They anchor at a place called Ewe Ledge every year and all the fishermen know they are there. I like the stainless shute that they have. They wheel it right up to the boat and you toss your fish into it and then they weigh them up. It's an all girl crew which I guess is good for business. The process can be kind of slow, but it's convenient - plus they usually have some kind of baked goods to munch on while you wait. Last time it was chocolate cupcakes- Yum! All the fish on the shute are either coho or king salmon, with the exception of the brown one in the middle. He's a thirty two pound ling cod.
I took a picture of this sow brown bear and her cub in Mite Cove. It's just down the way from Ewe Ledge and I anchor there quite a bit when I'm fishing outside. She was pretty busy eating the tall grass at the edge of the cove and at one point she must have lost track of her cub because I could hear her calling it. The big boars will kill the cubs if they get a chance so that the females will come back in heat, so the sows have to be pretty diligent.
Down Lisianski Inlet a few miles is the fishing village of Pelican. It's fallen on pretty hard times lately, and although I don't know all the particulars, I think they are trying to adjust to the changing conditions. At one point Pelican was a major fishing port and to the best of my knowlege the fish plant is still there, but whether or not they are buying fish now I can't say.
One of the more popular places to go in Pelican is Rosie's Bar and Grill. I've never been inside myself, but I need to check it out. I understand that the ceiling is full of names, but in order to write your name there, you have to stand on the bar and drop your pants. Guess my name will never be up there, but it would be nice to visit none the less.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Our Garden

Here's a shot or two of our garden out back. Obviously this was taken during one of the long stretch of sunny days that we had. The dry, sunny, warm spring really helped out the plants this year. Last year it rained so much that I had standing water in the lower parts of the garden and I couldn't even effectively do any weeding. The weather was so poor it just took away the desire to work in the yard, something I normally enjoy as a way to unwind from fishing.
The purple iris on the left were actually wild at one point. I dug them up years ago from an area in Juneau that has since become developed and currently has a Wal-Mart on it. I wish now that I had grabbed more of them. For some reason most of the local plants seem to favor the color purple. The iris, lupine, columbine and even the chives all have shades of violet to lavender. The red plants in the pot are petunias, which of course are an annual. We wanted to get a little color variation going. We have some sedum growing also, but it's behind the fiddlehead ferns, so every year we have to trim back the ferns so the other plants can get some light. Way back when we lived on the farm we ate some fiddlehead ferns. The plants were young and it seems like they may have been coated in something and deep fried. As I recall they were tasty.
That's not all the local plants we ate while I was at Game Creek- stinging nettles, wild cucumber, mayflower leaves and beach asparagus were also on the menu. I guess they were ok to eat, even if they didn't always taste good. I'm still here.
This will be the last post I make until I get back from fishing. Tomorrow I have depart for the great blue Pacific and see if I can drag up my share of king salmon before the short summer season is over. I don't know what people down south are paying for salmon, but the fishermen are taking it in the shorts this year price wise. In this economy I guess we should be glad to be able to afford to fish at all. Hopefully I'll return from the trip with some good photos. Talk to ya then.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Tourists Are Coming!

Here's a shot of one of the tour boats that anchor out by the cannery. This is looking through the tunnel on the way out to Icy Strait Point. Everyone here has always called it Cannery Point, but once tourism took hold I guess the powers that be felt like it had to have a classier name or some such thing. Most of the locals still just call it Cannery Point though.
That's not all that's changed with the coming of tourism to Hoonah. On the days when the ships are in there is a steady stream of busses and large vans up and down the roads, as well as hundreds of people walking up and down the roads. The town has roughly 850 people, so when you throw in another 500- to 1,000, it makes an impact. Then to have six or eight large city busses running through a town that doesn't even have a stop light, it starts feeling kind of crowded. I'm not overly enamored with the whole tourism thing. My biggest complaint is that so many seemed to have left common courtesy and common sense at home when they left on vacation. I've watched people walk right up onto a neighbor's porch and pick up a lawn ornament to have a picture taken. We've had folks walk into our yard and check out the flowers and though there is a sidewalk to walk on, so many people walk in the streets that signs had to be posted to remind them to stay out of the way of cars.
The flip side of all this is, it has provided quite a few seasonal jobs. I don't know how good the pay is, but there are a number of locals who work at the cannery all summer, which is good, since commercial fishing is on the decline and logging is all but over for the area. From what I can gather, Hoonah is one of the favorite stops for many of the tourists. So far they haven't become what so many of the larger towns are- a giant shopping center. Hopefully we can find the balance between the need for jobs and the need to maintain what makes Hoonah a great place to live.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fishing at Last

Holy Smokes! I thought I would never get out fishing. I finally made it though last Wednsday. I had a little problem with the port side gurdies not wanting to turn around on Tuesday. I was all set to go fishing and when I turned on the gurdies at the dock to check that they would work, the port side didn't budge. I was fortunate enough to be able to engage the sevices of Dave Austin at Tideland Tackle. He manages the store there and also does all the hydraulic work, so he was good enough to come down and look at the situation and determined that the love joy coupling was frozen and rubbing against the mounting bracket. It took me all day to fix the problem and replace the coupling, but I got it. Love joy coupling. I love the name of that. I'll have to get a picture of one so anyone who isn't familiar with them will know what I'm talking about. It sounds almost sensual doesn't it? Love joy. What a great name. Anyway, onward and upwards.
I got out fishing on the 17th. I just went in the bay- Port Frederick. I wasn't sure what to expect so I was pleasantly surprized when I started catching some dog salmon. I ended up with four and two pinks or humpies as they are known here. They don't pay much for either species so I cut them up and put them into gallon size freezer bags and put a lable on them and sold them to Tideland Tackle. They are marketed under the lable Tom's Halibaits. It's hard to beat salmon for halibut bait. I got back out fishing again last Saturday and caught a coho and two King Salmon. I took a picture of them. You can see the kings, but the coho is hidden by the ice. The kings weren't real big- together they weighed 23lbs dressed, but they were nice to catch. I had a big halibut on also, but it didn't stick around for the grand finale. The other picture is of Icy Straits, looking towards Homeshore. I was going to go out that way, but ended up turning around and fishing in the bay again. I took the picture from the front window of the boat, so you're seeing what I saw that day. Scraggy Island is immediately to the left and further left is Hoonah Island. It was a nice day but it got lumpy later like it so often does on sunny days here.
Hopefully I'll get a chance to go out later today. I need some more humpies and dogs for the Halibaits. I've got a bait freezer now and I want to fill it up so I'll be ready in case the orders come flowing in.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Travel Lift

This is a picture of the new travel lift that will be used to haul large boats out. I found out that it can haul a 220 ton boat. That's pretty good sized. The work I have been doing at the site has been to prepare the area for this travel lift. There has been a lot of work done to prepare for this. Hopefully it will be a money making venture for the city.
I had to haul my boat out last week using the existing trailer at the harbor. It works fine, but I would like to give this thing a try next time.
Off to the left of the picture is a porta-potty. As you can see, the wheels of the travel lift are as high as the potty. Wouldn't that be the pits to be inside when this thing went rolling by? If you were stoved up before, you probably wouldn't be afterwards.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunshine and Sunsets

It's May 31st and what a May it has been! With the exception of just a few days, we have had more sun than we've seen for quite a while. Of course the few days that it rained happened to be days when my boat was hauled out and I was trying to paint, but that's ok. There have been so many good days this month that it's hard to complain. The bugs haven't even been bad yet, which is a real blessing. Usually when I'm trying to paint the boat, either the no-see-ums are so thick you can hardly breath without sucking a dozen in at a time or the horse flies are waiting for me to put my guard down so they can chow down on my flesh. I'm pretty diligent about keeping an eye out for them though. I don't get much painting done when they are around, but you should see all the dead horse flies littering the water around the boat.
Today is another sunny day and it looks like in the next few days it's going to get really, really hot! The forcast is for 80 degree plus weather. For this area, that is almost unbearable. It's great for painting or fiberglass work on the boat, but the heat just drains the strength right out of me. Usually sunny days bring the west wind too, which can be miserable if your'e out on a boat.
So far I haven't wet a line yet this year. I've got the boat hauled out to caulk and paint and it should go back in tonight. Then tommorow, I'm supposed to start back down at the new boat haulout finishing the concrete work. It doesn't sound like I'm missing much fish- wise. It's been pretty slow. That is kind of a blessing too. If everyone else was catching king salmon to beat the band, Id be going nuts right now. Hopefully this job will end just before the good fishing really starts and I'll be ready just in time for the big smash! What the heck, it doesn't hurt to dream. After all, I was hoping for a better spring this year, and we got it!