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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Alaska's Bountiful Harvest

A Pacific Halibut about 71 pounds before gutting and removing the head

Three troll caught, ocean bright Alaskan King Salmon. The largest one was 22 pounds
Locally caught Dungeness crabs. My son's caught these in two pots set overnight
Fresh blueberries from the back yard. The kids picked about two gallons in a few hours
Samonberries from around the house

            One of the joys of living in Alaska is that there is so much to enjoy of nature's bounty. Many Alaskan's, especially those of us who are living outside of the larger towns, utilize the abundance of food sources that are prevalent here. Every season brings something that can be harvested. Right now salmon and halibut are abundant, and the wise person catches some for now and some for the long winter ahead. For many people, especially those out in the bush, smoking fish has been a way to preserve it for hundreds of years. Now we have freezers, but smoking is still a very popular way to preserve fish, and it's a very tasty way I might add. Dungeness crab is available year round, although it's much more pleasant to pick crab pots in the summer when the weather is more favorable. Although, here in Hoonah, it's only a five minute boat ride to the other side of Pit Island  to pull your pots. For some folks, who may not own a crab pot or two, on the extreme tides where the tide is very high, and then very low, in fact it's a minus tide, meaning that it is below the mean low water mark, large areas of the bottom are exposed, and those who want to can search the eel grass and find crabs hidden beneath. The minus tides are also the time to dig clams and cockles. They are fairly easy to find because they spit water out of their holes in the sand. Unfortunately, I don't care for either one, but I wish I did. I like to dig them, and I love harvesting what nature provides. The common rule for digging clams is that you only dig them in the "R" months, when the water is cooler and there is less chance of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. The Salmon berries are almost done growing, and with the rain that we're getting today, I suspect that they won't be worth picking. They have a relatively short growing time- a few weeks of being ripe I would say. They are so named because of their similarity in appearance to salmon eggs. They are kind of a watery berry, but they are good to eat raw, or in jam. I'm not sure, but you might be able to make a pie with them; I suspect you would need a lot of corn starch or flour to thicken up the mix. You have some competition for them, as the birds and the bears also like to eat them. Just last week I saw a  rather mangy looking brown bear eating berries up behind a house on the upper road. With all the heat that we've had this summer, I think he was shedding his coat. Of course in the fall and winter here in Southeast we have Sitka Blacktail deer to hunt. Over on the mainland there are moose and black bears. I've never eaten black bears that I can remember, although I did eat some brown bear once, which is a real no-no. Terrible stuff and subject to Tricinosis. Some of the natives hunt seals. I ate that once also when I was living at the farm. To me it tasted like a raw fish, not to my liking at all. There is some kind of animal that grows on the rocks  that the natives used to harvest called gumboots. I don't know if they taste like boots or are just as tough as a boot or a combination of the two. I've never had the nerve to try one. For those whose tastes lean toward the exotic, there are also octopus here. I understand that on low tide some folks used to search the holes  in the rocks that were exposed and search for a pile of clam shells  outside the hole. They would then pour a little bleach inside to drive the octopus out. I've eaten it before, but it's not to my liking. Really tough, and the flavor doesn't appeal to me. Last, and certainly not least, there are shrimp in these waters. I've only had success catching them once. One time there were two octopus in my shrimp pot, so I suppose they had a feast. The other time I had seventeen big ones, one bigger than a dollar bill. They were tasty. Often when I'm long lining for halibut, I will catch Pacific cod, and they will be filled with shrimp. Surprising that anything that swims so slow could catch a shrimp, but perhaps they experience a burst of speed when there is food present. Kind of like me.Of course this isn't all that is available to those who want to harvest the land and sea. There are other plants that are edible, and fish and eels and skates. I guess if push came to shove you could eat these little squirrels. Up north there are caribou and moose and I don't know what all. I know that certain groups of natives hunt for whales. I'm not sure if they eat walrus or not. Doesn't sound appealing to me, but I grew up on Campbells  soup and Wonder bread, so I guess it's a matter of what's available. Anyway, there you go. It's the busy time of year for me. I've been out fishing quite a bit and don't have a lot of time for doing blog posts. However, there are about 350 others that I've written, so if you need a Wilderness Blues fix, feel free to check the archives. Hope your summer is going well. I'll chat again soon.

Friday, June 3, 2016

And Yet Another Botts Family Outing

Like so many Americans this past Memorial Day weekend, my family, or at least my oldest daughter Jen, my wife Jan and myself took to the road. It was only a thirty mile trip out to False Bay, but nonetheless it took the better part of an hour and a half to cover the distance. To say that the road is rough would be the understatement of the year. Even the potholes had potholes. I was weaving around the road like a drunken sailor trying to find a spot that I could drive  without dislodging a kidney. In that short drive I think I had to stop at least twice, maybe three times to take a leak. All that bouncing kind of shakes down the juices. At least once I stopped because of Jen. Whenever we take her on a drive anywhere, we always make sure we have at least a half roll of toilet paper or some paper towels, because she will most certainly have to go before we get to the destination. The road to False Bay is littered with discarded TP from the various trips that she has made. The number of pot holes was rivaled only by the piles of bear crap. Frankly, if  a person could figure out a way to collect it and turn it into an asphalt type material, they would be rich. It would kill two birds with one stone too. Filling in all the potholes with bear poop would be a win-win situation. You know that age old question, does a bear crap in the woods? Well I believe the answer is no, not if there is a road available. I don't know  what there is about walking down a road to make them so free flowing, but obviously the need for a laxative doesn't exist. When we finally got to our destination, I was surprised that no one else was there. It was really kind of nice, not having to listen to anyone else's kids or any loud music or arguing. Jennifer decided she would make the fire so we could roast some weenies. Frankly, I had my doubts that she knew what she was doing. The first twigs she grabbed had leaves on them. Not exactly what most people use for fire starter.Nonetheless, she assured me that she loved to start fires and was quite good at it. Ok Pocahontas, go for it. I left her to her own devices and went on down the beach to pick up some pieces of driftwood for the fire. When I returned, to her credit she had quite a nice blaze going. Fortunately it hadn't rained for a week or more, and the remains of a previous fire were still in the fire pit, some charred wood and ashes. We added some of the driftwood and cut some sticks to skewer the hot dogs. In short order there was a good bed of coals so Jan decided to roast her dog. While I was sitting in the chair relaxing, I noticed that a steady stream of black smoke kept pouring from the fire. I asked Pocahontas Jen if she had put some plastic in the fire, but she said no. Meanwhile, for reasons unknown, Jan  had her hot dog placed squarely in the black smoke. I'm not sure, but maybe she thought the fire was hotter there. When she pulled it out, it wasn't the least bit cooked, but nonetheless was totally coated in black. It looked like one of the animals that was rescued from Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez disaster. She wiped it off and showed me all the oily residue. We searched the fire and discovered that one of the pieces of driftwood was bubbling with a tar like substance on the end of the stick and was producing all the smoke. Fortunately we were able to remove the offending stick. What are the odds though? Of all the driftwood that ends up on the beach, we manage to find one that was once part of an old creosote piling to burn? It's a typical Botts thing. In any event, Exxon Jan re-dogged her stick and was able to enjoy a well cooked weenie with only the normal offending wood smoke chasing her around the fire. She kept smelling her hair and sweatshirt and declaring that she smelled like wood smoke. I'll never understand why anyone would seek out an offending scent and keep sniffing it if it was offensive. However, for reasons unknown, that's what she does.After scarfing down a few weenies, Pocahontas Jen and I took off down the beach to do a little beach combing in the tide line. I took a pistol with me just in case one of the bears decided to make an appearance, which fortunately it didn't. Ever the teacher, Jen enlightened me about the various life forms that had succumbed to the elements and were deposited on the beach. She found a number of oyster shells as well as a moon snail and lots of sea urchins. She always makes the most of every situation and seems to thoroughly enjoy herself. We walked on the shifting rocks until I was quite certain my legs were about to detach from their sockets and then turned around. Meanwhile, Exxon Jan was putting away the picnic supplies and playing musical chairs with the fire, trying to find a spot where the smoke wouldn't blow in her face. I could have told her it's no use. No matter where you sit, that's where the smoke is going to gravitate to. All in all it was a pretty pleasant day. We made it home with our kidneys still intact, I could see through my smoke stained eyes well enough to avoid a number of the potholes, and by the time we had driven the last few miles to our home, most of the bear poop that had been embedded in the tread of our tires had worked it's way out and was laying along side the road for some unsuspecting jogger. Good times.