Sunday, May 21, 2017

When The Herring Arrive, Everyone Fishes

Humpback whale and seagulls waiting for the herring
Whales on the prowl

Seagulls taking a break

Lining up at the airplane float 
Herring spawn discoloring the water
Halibut bait
jigging for herring at the harbor
 All winter long there have been four or five whales hanging out in front of town. Usually they go elsewhere for the winter, but I think that this winter, there was enough feed to keep them here. I 'm not certain what they were eating  but I suspect it was small herring. A few weeks ago, much larger herring started showing up at the small boat harbor. As is the custom here, people started bringing out their gill nets and stringing them across the empty boat stalls, and herring jigs started flying off the shelves at Tideland Tackle. Herring jigs typically have six or eight tiny hooks with beads or bits of plastic which resemble plankton.They are jigged up and down and catching multiple herring at once is quite common. It's a quick way to fill up your bait bucket or catch your dinner. When the herring start showing up in numbers, and especially the large spawners, it creates quite the stir amongst men and animals alike. It's been a number of years since I've seen the herring spawn in the harbor, at least in the numbers that are showing up now. I really kind of wish they would go elsewhere- away from the creosote pilings. I was down at the docks the other day and noticed the spawn all over the pilings. It's really a shame. The tide goes out and the eggs above the low water tide line are left exposed. One fellow told me that they can live for up to six hours out of the water, the amount of time it would take for the tide to turn and cover them again. However, I believe the creosote kills the live eggs. It baffles me that they don't have a natural instinct to stay away from such dangerous situations, but apparently God didn't give them a great deal of sense.  I sometimes wonder how they have managed to survive for so long. They are an important part of the food chain. Humpback whales, sealions, salmon, trout, otters, seagulls, eagles, and man all eat them. In one picture above you can see that the water has taken on a greenish cast. The herring were spawing right along the beach, under the windows of the Office Bar. The females deposit their eggs and the males fertilize them afterwards, causing the water to turn milky in color. When the tide goes out and exposes the eggs on the beach the crows and ravens have their turn at them. Apparently even the bears enjoy roaming the beaches at low tide and having a healthy snack. In Sitka the herring show up in huge numbers every spring, along with the whales and sealions that are naturally drawn to them There is a market in Japan for herring eggs, so a number of seine boats show up to take advantage of the hours long openings. The Tlingit Indians have traditionally eaten both the fish and their eggs for as long as anyone can remember. They put Hemlock branches in select places where the herring spawn, and retrieve them a few days later, laden with eggs. My neighbor up the street takes his boat down, the Shirley N to Sitka to harvest the eggs every year. When he returns, most of the town shows up at the city float with buckets and garbage bags and plastic totes to share in the bounty which he so generously provides. When I was interviewing some of the old timers who've lived here all their lives, they shared with me how the bay here used to fill with herring and with the King salmon who fed on them. Some years back, in the fifties or early sixties, sardine fishermen came up from California and started harvesting the herring for the oil, sending the fish down to reduction plants. Afterwards, the herring became more scarce, along with the numbers of Kings. Much like the buffalo the herring have been slow to rebound. It's nice to see that there are still some around, even if they aren't in the incredible numbers of years ago. Frankly, with everything out to eat them, I'm surprised that there are any at all. I can only hope that they continue to thrive and that somehow, against all odds, they might one day return in the numbers that they were enjoyed so many years ago.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Going... Going... Gone!!!









  I thought I would do a follow up on my last blog post. I came home  a few days ago to see that there was a dump truck load of gravel in my neighbor's driveway and a huge orange excavator next door. I also saw that someone had taken some of the windows out of the downstairs. I was glad to see that there was something being salvaged. The next morning a truck pulled up and a fellow I knew went inside and took out the kitchen sink and some interior doors. It wasn't long afterward that  Grant Coutlee and his crew drove up in a couple dump trucks and started in with the demolition. There was some concern on the part of Grant because of an active power line that feeds my house hanging right overhead, but he got positioned so that with some maneuvering skills he was able to keep from snagging it and getting electrocuted. The house came down surprisingly fast- I'd say in about an hour it was all on the ground. When I mentioned it to Grant he was lamenting the fact that it took so long. The power lines created quite the challenge. By the end of the day the house was down, the debris was hauled away and all that was left was a bunch of dirt and rocks. Already the lot is being eyed as a storage place for my neighbor, and a garden was mentioned as well. I have to admit, I've got my own plans for the place, even though I've yet to speak to the rightful owners. I'd like to go in and level out the ground, maybe get a load or two of dirt and plant grass. I'm afraid otherwise it will turn into a bog. I'm entertaining the idea of buying the lot. I don't really want to, but I'm afraid that other wise it will become like the wild west where everyone just uses it for whatever purpose they desire, which I'm quite certain will conflict with my desires. We'll see. Meanwhile, the demolition derby continues. Yesterday a house on the main street was destroyed. The person who lived there was is presently in jail for the murder of two Hoonah cops a few years ago and it's been abandoned ever since. While it was coming down, most of the police force was observing it's destruction. I'm sure it was a pretty bittersweet moment. Hopefully good things will come from the taking down of these derelict homes. Only time will tell.



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Demolition Derby








     I suppose every city has it's share of urban blight.Places like Detroit come to mind. Hoonah isn't exactly a metropolis. We only have about 850 residents who call it home year round, although with the coming of the tourist season there is an influx of tourist related business owners who are flocking to town. Some of them live on their boats which they use to charter out for whale watching or fishing. Some live in campers or travel trailers which they take with them when they go, and still others manage somehow to find a place to rent. There seems to be a surprising number of rentals in town, although none of them are cheap, regardless of the state of the rental. It runs in my mind that $1000.00 a month is the average, although I could be wrong. In any event, if the houses shown above had been maintained down through the years there would have at least been the option of providing the owners with a little rental income. As it is, they have all been condemned and are slated to be torn down. Frankly, I say it's about time. What seems to be the pattern here is that the owner will pass away, leaving the family with the property. Families being what they are, they can't agree on what to do with it; sell it, move into it or hang on to it for sentimental reasons.  In many cases the family doesn't live in town, so there isn't anyone to check on the house and it goes into a state of disrepair. All of the houses shown here have been vacant for years. In the case of the green one at the top, which happens to be next door to me, there hasn't been anyone in it for about ten years. The owner always rented it to school employees. One of my favorite neighbors was a teacher named Joe Digrande. He was a basketball coach as well as the school counselor. I loved his name and asked his permission to name a produce market after him, if I ever owned one. Digrande's. It's a place I'd sure want to shop. Anyway, the owners  never put any money back into the house and eventually there came a time when there was no heater inside and the school stopped renting it and it sat vacant. As you can see the roof is blowing off and the chimney is crumbling. The back porch is sagging and the water line froze some years back saturating the bathroom floor. It's been unlivable for quite awhile and has been slated for demolition. While it will be nice not to see it, I'm a little afraid that the empty lot will be an invitation for the neighbors to expand their collection of junk into the space. If I could afford to, I'd buy the lot and put up a fence to prevent that very thing from happening. Probably not in the cards though. Several of the older houses shown were clan houses. I can't pretend to know all that entails. Within the Tlingit culture there were two primary moieties -the Ravens and Eagles. Then there were a number of sub clans- wolf, shark, snail, frog and others. I'm not certain, but I assume each sub clan had their own meeting houses. To the best of my knowledge, neither of the two clan houses that are on the chopping block have been used for more than thirty years, and yet once word got out that they were going to be demolished, there was an outcry from certain citizens. Human nature I guess. It seems that Hoonah is struggling to balance the modern desire for tourism with the laid back ways of frontier Alaska. While I'll be glad to see the end of some of the houses that are no longer livable, I hate to see the changes come just for the sake of tourism. I really don't think that these changes would be happening otherwise, so it's kind of bittersweet. Anyway, time marches on and change happens -good, bad or otherwise. We'll just have to roll with the punches and hope that we're happy with the end result.