Sunday, July 27, 2008

7-27-08

We just came back from a false alarm. The mayor called, wanting me to rush down to the dump. In her words, "some one has torched the dump and it jumped the berm", meaning the woods below town are on fire.

Now for the real story, which is no story at all, beyond me putting on boots, grabbing an axe and driving down to see...no, not a blazing inferno threatening all life as we know it; more like...nothing. One small, inconsequential bag of rubbish, smoldering quietly, right where it belonged. Boring; but a nice boring.

Then there was the case of "The Drifter".

He came from...who knows where? Upriver some place. No wait; he did tell me he put in on the river at Whitehorse. He is kayaking down the river, planning to go all the way to the mouth. I guess he's, maybe, 2/3 of the way done.

He seemed like a nice guy; fairly talkative. His kayak had several cracks and is leaking (sitting in an inch or two of cold river water for hours while paddling may tend to "dampen" the enthusiam needed to complete a journey such as this). I offered him some tape as a means of sealing the cracks.

A trip back to the house provided the tape. By now his ship should be watertight and he's probably back on the water. Or maybe he's down at the bank snoozing; don't really know.

Every year we get "drifters" passing through. They're not as suspicious as the cowpokes in western movies (though often as scruffy) and their "trusty steed" can be a canoe, a kayak, an inflatable, or a rowboat. I've even seen them go by on rafts made of logs or empty barrels. One had a wall tent on it. They come alone, in pairs or in larger groups.

It's not uncommon for them to give up the adventure here and jump on a plane, heading back home. Today's drifter seemed committed to finish, but the leaks, the rainy weather and the floating driftwood (caused by the rising water level) were taking a toll. He may give up tomorrow, or he may go all the way to the Bering Sea. Either way, it seems like an incredibly boring trip to me (but what do I know?)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

7-23-08; sun-dry fish and the Trooper



Well that was exciting!

Yesterday an older woman asked me to catch her some fish. She wanted some dog salmon, which people typically don't use for human consumption around here, but she wanted to make "sun-dry fish". The recipe is as follows:

Required ingredients; summer chum salmon, fresh males in excellent condition; a sharp ulu-style knife (the local athabaskan name is different, sounds kinda like "meh-han-duh-nee"); and years of experience.

Preparation: take cleaned, washed salmon, after removing viscera and head, and peel off fillet, from top of fish to bottom, keeping sides joined at the tail. As fish is filleted, leave a thin layer of flesh on the skin; spine/bones remain intact with unwanted center of carcass. Spead fish open, pierce with thin sticks to keep flat. Dip in brine if desired, and hang to dry over a pole. Keep a light smoke (dry cottonwood is preferable) under the fish while curing. Be sure to hang outdoors in a sunny, breezy place, free of insects, birds and bears. (yeah, right; where is that in Alaska?)

Serving suggestion; soak overnight and serve for breakfast with pancakes, or dip in seal-oil and eat anytime.

OK, on with the story. So I put in the net yesterday at lunch and returned just before 6 to take it out. The 48 hour opening (which allowed gill-net fishing) was closing at 6pm, so the net needed to be out of the water by then. I had with me two college-age girls, here to put on a vbs. The girls insisted on doing all the work taking the fish out of the net, and they were doing a good job. The only problem was their inexperience, which considerably delayed getting the net out of the water (the fish must be removed from the net before taking the net out).

So, at about 6:45, I hear a plane. I look up to see the Alaska State Trooper, who patrols our region, looking down at me.

"Uh-oh. Not good. Maybe he'll just keep on going?" I say aloud

"What's wrong?", the girls ask.

"That's the Trooper, and the net was supposed to be out at six".

"He probably won't care", one of them says, as the float plane banks to the left, turning back around.

"I think he cares" mumbles the missionary, who will have to pay the fine.

The plane lands on the river, taxis to the bank and eventually the officer walks up to speak to us (by now I've pushed the girls aside and I'm hurriedly pulling the tangled fish out of the net.

"Do you want me to finish this first?" I ask.

"Go ahead. I can wait" replies the man in blue. I notice he's flipping through a notebook that looks a lot like the ones you see when a cop pulls you over and writes you a ticket (for those of you who've had such an experience).

"Is your name written on the bouy?"

(Ouch, there's another one; Now I'm looking at two fines. I think the writing has faded over the years) "It's supposed to be" I say weakly.

"Well I know it's supposed to be" returns the guy with the gun.

(Oh boy; how bad will this get? I know I have the right number of life jackets...a throwable cushion...what else is needed? What's in my boat bag? I'm sure a signaling device is required. That whistle better be in there!)

We finish our work. The net is in the boat, the fish stowed in tubs, and we paddle to the beach, where THE LAW is waiting. (Was it my imagination or was he just tapping his fingers on his holster?)

We have some polite conversation. He's satisfied with my current boat registration and number of life jackets, asks the girls where they're from, and probably wonders why I'm digging around in my boat bag mumbling something about whistles.

"Well, you folks have a nice day...and be careful on the water."

While driving the boat back to the village I mop the remaining sweat off my brow and listen to two scatterbrained women chatter about how cute the Trooper was.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"B-b-b-brrrrrrrr! (pitch the calendar)

Is it just me or does it seem like fall has arrived? If there were no calendars to consult, I believe today I would get ready to go moose hunting.

Generally you can tell when fall is here and it's time to hunt. You feel it; you can sense it.

A typical fall feels about like this: You see it because the sun is bright, enough to make you squint, between the scattered gray clouds (like today). You feel it because the temp is brisk (this morning it was 38) and there is usually a light to moderate wind blowing those clouds across the sky (same as today). You hear it as the wind rustles the trees, grass and bushes. And you smell it when there is that cool, moist smell; the humidity / precipitation you detect when outdoors (just like today).

About the only thing missing, come to think of it, is the complete "fall smell". September, even late August, has a distinct smell; it's the musky-moist aroma of ripe rose hips, highbush cranberries, decaying vegetation and a combination of other northern ingredients, and it's distinctive. Fall has a fragrance entirely its own.

So I guess it's not time to go hunting after all; the smells aren't quite right. Who would think your nose could tell you when it's time to load up and go after meat? I wonder what a guy here would think if he asked me to go hunting and I said, "Ummm, no, I don't think so. It just doesn't smell right today".

Smells aside, today hit me in the face like a cold slap of aftershave; right when I stepped out the door. Numerous senses tried to tell me my calendar was off, by a couple of pages. Sight, sound, feel and a bit of smell all tried to deceive me. But it's not early September; it's still July...right?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bum weather; 7-17-08















Drip...drip...drip

Our typical summer weather is generally sunny and warm in June and most of July. About the time you flip your calendar to August, the weather often changes and we begin our "fall weather pattern".

Drip...drip...drip

The fall weather pattern is predominantly low pressure, overcast and rainy. So picture, if you will, wind, clouds, rain and temps in the upper forties and fifties. Ummmmm; yummy! It's kind of like winter in Northern California.

Drip...drip...drip

So, can you guess what the weather has been lately?

Drip...drip...drip

Aside from being what I view as the worst weather of the entire year, it's also a nuisance. Summer is when I must catch fish. I fish for "dog salmon" (chums) and dry them; preserving them for future use. Atleast that's what I'd like to be doing.

Drip..drip..drip

This year the run of King salmon was at an all-time low, promting Fish and Game to severely curtail the time allowed for fishing. This protected the Kings (a good thing) but prevented fishing for chums, which are very plentiful (not a good thing).
By now my fish rack should be more than half full. A peek at the photo will tell the tale.

Drip...drip...drip

Cool, humid weather is obviously not conducive to drying fish, so right now I can't fish, even when it's allowed. Any fresh fish cut and hung on the rack will spoil and rot in this weather. I must wait for warmer, drier weather to return (unlikely, at this point) or wait for the weather to get colder (August/September). The colder temps will essentially refrigerate the fish and preserve it.

Drip...drip...drip

I seriously hope I do better fishing later in the fall. If not, it could be a real problem.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

7-13-08

Not a lot of good news here.

First off, the salmon fishing has been real bad. This is, I believe, the smallest king salmon run on record, which makes it rough because kings are the #1 fish people eat. Fewer kings...less fish; less fish...more food purchased (which may sound like no big deal to you, but then when was the last time you were out in a boat on a major river seriously trying to catch your food?). The poor run will add to the economic hardship people in the area are already facing due to increased energy costs.

Then there were the attorneys in town this week. They were here to identify victims who have suffered sexual abuse from Catholic Priests, Nuns and others. Settled claims have already bankrupt the regional diocese, but the cases keep pouring in. It's shocking how prevalent sexual abuse is in rural Alaska; that many of the perpetrators have been religious clergy is even more appalling. A friend recently reminded me that the human heart is "deceitful and desperately wicked". How true.

And then, the latest tragedy. I believe it was my first post, summer of last year, when I wrote about a man who drowned. If you remember, I talked about making "hooks" which were used to drag the river bottom, attempting to recover the body. Well, today I recieved two phone calls and had one guy come by the house, all wanting to know where those hooks may be found. Yeah, that's right; there's another body to be recovered.

A young man from the next village was here playing baseball last night. While returning home, his boat apparently ran out of gas (does this sound familiar?). The story, as I heard it, was he attempted to swim to shore, pulling the boat behind him. He drowned, and now they are dragging the bottom.

His mother's side of the family is from our village, and people up and down the river are mostly related anyway, so it affects our community and others too. I knew him; he went to high school here.

Well, that's enough depressing news for one day. Tommorrow will be better.

Monday, July 7, 2008

"The handwriting is on the wall!"

There is a small, blonde colored grizzly that has made his (or her) presence known around the village. It's a young bear trying to make it on its own in a cruel, hard wilderness. Bears of that age often starve, get killed by larger bears, or sometimes, conflict with humans can lead to their demise, which will likely be the result in this case.

An hour ago I was attempting to dump fish scraps (see previous post; photos to come later) in the usual place when I met "Blondy". He was greedily gobbling up fish heads and other delicacies, surrounded by a large contingent of unhappy and complaining seagulls. I drove my truck slowly at him; not to be mean, but to scare him away, so I could get on with the business at hand.

He wouldn't leave. The truck rolled closer. He ignored me. Closer. More indifference. Closer...nothing. I finally stopped about twenty feet away, cautiously opened the door, and yelled. "Hey! Get out of here! Go on, git!"

Blondy looked up, fish blood dripping from his filthy face, and seemed to be thinking "Don't bother me; can't you see I'm eating".

I boldly stepped out of the truck (keeping a hand on the open door in case I needed to swap my "boldness" for a speedy retreat) and yelled some more.

Blondy seemed to say "Whatever! I'll finish my lunch after you leave", and slowly lumbered off into the willows.

I "boldly" dumped my fish scaps as quickly as possible, keeping an eye out for a messy, irritated bruin, and scrammed!

Bears around a food source can be very dangerous. Which is why I suspect Blondy's brief life is about to come to a close. The outcome here is almost a certainty. People and bears don't mix. If Blondy is going to make it, he'll have to walk away from the free lunch and start catching his own fish out on the river. And he'll have to do it watching out for larger bears who would be happy to kill him.

Like I said, the handwriting is on the wall.

7-7-08

It's a hot one! The temps have been hitting the 80's, which is pretty toasty around here. Eighty degrees in Alaska feels like a hundred in the real world, but I probably shouldn't complain because it's been in the hundreds down south. Still, hot is hot, and we've been hot.

The visiting vbs group did their usual great job. It was a good week. The kids loved it, they loved it, I even loved it. Win-win-win. Now they're in Denali, going to Anchorage, back to Portland, etc. etc. Thanks for everything and see you next year.

The annual run of King salmon is at an all time low. Very few fish = fewer fish caught = less food for people along the river. Kings are the #1 fish in the local diet, so this will make it rough. And the soaring energy costs don't help much either. This could prove to be a very hard year. Makes me wonder why more people don't garden and grow their own vegetables. Maybe it's the hard work, relentless mosquitos and weeds that spring up overnight like Jack's Beanstalk (the round-the-clock light definitely speeds up the weeds)

I better cut this short. I didn't get much work done last week, due to the visitors, so I'm way behind. Right now I have a fishnet in the water that needs to be looked at and an empty fishrack that needs to get filled. If I remember, I'll post some photos of the catch.