Sunday, May 31, 2009


I'm pretty tuckered this morning. Yesterday I worked in the woodyard and that's always good for a tiring day. A half-century body complains when it's asked to run a chainsaw and swing an axe for any extended period of time (mine does, anyway).

The weather has been unusually cold (mid-thirties at night) for several days, so the bugs are temporarily on hold. But then, so is the garden. Since a plus usually can be found with every minus, my new thing is to look for the benefit of every annoying situation. It's a big job for a guy like me who leans toward the negative, but I'm working on it. Here's an example.

The river continues to stay high; in fact it's raising. Lots of drift getting in the way. Annoying; it makes boating difficult and keeps the fishnet on land; if I put it in, the net fills up with sticks, debris, etc. (I caught a forty foot tree right before I took it out).

The benefit; high water brings driftwood (useable for firewood) and allows access to areas that would otherwise be unreachable; making more driftwood available.

So, starting tomorrow, I will begin hauling wood in earnest before the water drops (more complaints from the ol' body on the way; Thank the good Lord for naproxin).

The coming fishing season looks pretty grim. All the projections indicate a very low king salmon run. I'm not sure how they figure that stuff out, since the kings are currently swimming around in the Bering Sea somewhere, but I guess the experts know what they're doing. We'll see in a month.

Ooooo, gotta go. My sweetie just presented me with a plate of sausage, eggs and hash browns to go with my rapidly cooling coffee.


(the photo was taken in California a couple of months ago; I find it a nice diversion from our situation here; no flowers and barely any leaves yet).

Monday, May 25, 2009


Summer is now cruising along at full speed. The river has been ice-free for a while (now if all the "drift" would clear out, it would be great), the birds are all here and the mosquitoes are amassing their evil army; preparing for the main assault; there are daily mosquito sorties in search of blood, but the real war has yet to start.

I put in a fish net a couple of days ago; across the river at the slough. An otter was waiting for me when I arrived. He (or she) swam around my boat with a cheerful, expectant expression; no doubt knowing why I was there and anticipating the piscatorial bounty soon to come. I swear that thing looked like it was smiling, but then the bald eagle perched up in the tree would have smiled too if it could bend its beak into a grin. Every one has seafood on their mind.

A couple days later:
The fishing has been OK; some whitefish, a few pike and three small sheefish. Each day the otter has taken his toll, imposed upon all who would fish these waters; one large pike per day. Remembering previous otter encounters, I withold complaint; it's not uncommon for otters to destroy numerous fish by ripping open the bellies in search of eggs or fat entrails. If this aquatic Mafioso is content to extort only one fish per day we can get along. The head was left in the net so I toss it up on the bank under the watchful eye of the eagle. The next day the head is gone.

Subsistence fishing can be an exercise into politics. The key is to keep every one happy; keep the otter happy, keep the eagle happy, keep local elders happy, keep Fish and Game happy, and, hopefully, keep myself happy. It's a bit of a juggling act, but doable (usually).

I enjoy the ride over, in this pleasant weather. Geese and Swans on the backside of the island, Kingfishers swooping and chattering in the slough, peace and serenity when the boat motor is off. The near abscence of bugs makes these days idyllic.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"The Robin"; 5-18-09

Have you ever heard a robin sing?

I'm not talking about a bird going "Tweet, Tweet" while sitting on your back fence. Not even close. I mean have you ever heard one SING?

Hatched in the wilds of Alaska, reared under constant threat from predators and nasty weather, our robin learns to fly under a midnight sun. And fly he must, for after a short summer he and his kind leave this northern land and make the arduous journey south. Life gives them no option. The northern winter offers a bleak prospect for most birds; few can survive the intense cold and limited food available after freeze-up.

So he travels thousands of miles to a friendlier climate; a climate found in places like...well, I don't know. If you see robins in your area during the winter months you know where they go. All I know is they clear out before things get ugly.

Months later, our robin feels the urge to pack his feathered suitcase and hit the road. Perhaps he sees others of his kind getting antsy. Maybe he looks at the ducks and geese flying overhead and he wonders where they're off to. In truth, I suspect it's little more (and nothing less) than the Creater of all living things irresistibly calling him to fulfil his purpose.

So he takes off and heads north. He wings his way through spring storms, past crowded cities and desolate wilderness, he dodges greedy falcons wanting to feast on his famous red breast, and he goes on and on...and on.

Eventually he shows up here. Is he tired? I have no clue. I do know he must look for food in a forest that still has patches of snow on the ground; where overnight frost is to be expected. Don't these guys pull worms out of the ground like I remember seeing in books I read as a child? Well not here they don't. The ground is usually still frozen...and I've never seen an earthworm in the fifteen years I've lived here. So what do they eat? Beats me.

The weather warms, the snow melts, the ground thaws and the land comes to life. Something stirs in the heart of our little friend. He has purpose that comes clearly into focus. The many thousand mile journey, the hardship, the danger; all these are forgotten. Now he lives in the moment. Only one thing is on his tiny little mind...ROMANCE!

Our little guy must find a mate; he simply MUST! Failure is not an option. To justify all he's been through; to validate his existence, he must find the robinette of his dreams. HE MUST FIND HER!

But what can he do? He can't log on to e-harmony. He can't join the singles group at a nearby church. And he would never hang out at a local bar. His options are few. So he uses the one and only tool in his toolbox; made expressly for him. Brilliantly and beautifully designed for this purpose, it's been tried, tested and proven by his innummerable ancestors.

He draws in a deep breath, lifts his head high...and lets it rip!

Ahhhhh yes! That's what I'm talking about! Can you hear it now? THAT, my friend, is a robin singing!

Few things are more delicate, more lovely, more inspiring. When that half-pound Pavarotti takes his place on the branch and yodels out his love-sick song, the world becomes a better place. Depression is lifted and troubles are forgotten. There is no finer music to be heard. I'm a true Andrea Bocelli fan, but compared to a lonely robin Bocelli is a barking dog.

So sing it little guy! Sing your heart out. We're listening. And somewhere out there, so is she.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


It looks as though the "monster" has been touted a bit too highly. It is now a toothless beast (think the abominable snow man in the old "Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer" classic).

The head honcho for the weather service/river Watch Team was here yesterday and he gave us good news. A heavy run of ice and higher water levels were in store, but it was all clear sailing for a hundred miles down river. That, coupled with the state of the coming ice (small in size, well crushed) gave a promising outlook; promising as far as remaining above water.

Ahhhhhh! Goodnews indeed.

After the ice clears the river will be suitable and safe for boating. Around here that is the official beginning of summer. Well...that AND the arrival of the mosquitoes (I saw one earlier but remain unbitten so far; a record sure to come to an end shortly).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

breakUpdate; 5-12-09

I spoke with the weather service today. The news was not good. There is a monster coming down river. It's the break-up equivalent of an ocean tidal wave and has already flooded numerous villages (did you look up those pics?) It's currently wreaking havoc on the village of Tanana. In a couple of days we will be served up as table fare for this hungry beast. I'll keep in touch. The videos show some sizeable icebergs cruising the waters in front of our town. One was large enough to carry a Wal-Mart (OK, maybe not a Wal-Mart; how about a corner deli. Mmmm, a hot pastrami sandwhich sounds pretty good right now)

Monday, May 11, 2009

breakUPdate; 5-11-09

"RING-RING"..."Ice is running; moving fast"...check the clock; 4:30am...back to sleep...get up...check the river...water up four feet from last cruising by...spectators...excitement...anticipation...lots of activity...vehicles bustling divided into two groups; the majority (living out of the flood zone) enjoying the novelty and excitement...the others (living in the way of the rising waters) scared...worried...packing...moving...continually looking over their shoulder...water still rising...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

breakUPdate; 5-09-09 (late evening)

Well, actually nothing is moving. In fairly typical fashion, our ice moved down about a mile or two, then stopped. And STOPPED it remains.

We have a small area of open water right along our bank, but boating is out of the question. If the ice started to move with a boat in the water, it would be trapped and quickly crushed. Unless you aspire to star in your own version of "Titanic", it's better to wait for break-up to run its course.

No doubt it will get moving again in a day or two, but for now break-up is on hold.

Friday, May 8, 2009

"We're moving"; 5-08-09, pm

The ice has moved. It moved down a mile or so and is now parked. Updates will come as things develop. (Did you check out the Eagle pics? If not you missed some really interesting stuff)

breakUPdate; 5-08-08

Still waiting...for the ice to move, that is. Something has happened at every village upriver, so we should be next in line.

The water continues to rise. Makes you wonder how long the ice can maintain it's grip on the shore before it breaks free and slides away. Gotta be soon.

The photos show how much the water has risen over the past 3-4 days.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Break-up; 5-07-09

This big 'ol river is shedding it's skin like a snake. It works about the same too. Starting up at the headwaters, the river uses friction to remove the "skin" of ice which has confined it for half a year. As the river makes it's serpentine journey to the sea, it struggles to free itself, and free it will be.

Break-up is a violent process. Gravity, arctic cold, friction, solar energy, billions of gallons of water in motion, rigid ice many feet thick; these are some of the players that get involved. It gets chaotic sometimes.

Gravity pulls on the water, but the water is restricted by the ice. The ice is the month's long result of the arctic cold. But now the sun has jumped into the free-for-all and things are heating up. The ice starts to decay. Snow pack melts and makes it's way into the river system, increasing the flow of water and adding strain on the ice. The ice cracks, bends, lifts, but holds on as long as possible. You can actually hear it groaning and making noise right now.

The fight continues until the ice is overwhelmed. It loses it's grip on the riverbank and slips; usually moving only a short distance before the fight resumes. The wrestling match continues to tip in favor of the opposition (ice, cold and friction on one side; water, gravity, more friction and the sun on the other) until the ice crumbles and is swept downstream.

But it's not over! The ice has on last punch and it won't go down without a fight. The "Jam"!

The "crumbled" ice can still be in sheets measurable in acreage and strong enough to carry huge trees and other debris (I've seen a photo of a large moose floating along on the ice; it looked very tiny in the picture). The moving ice has trouble going around bends or negotiating places where the river bank constricts the flow. That often creates an "ice-jam"; damming up the moving water. This in turn causes flooding behind the jam.

Spring flooding is a common occurence along the river. The town of Eagle is getting pounded pretty hard right now; ice bergs floating through their town tends to make things ugly. If you google "Eagle, Alaska" or a Fairbanks or Anchorage paper, you'll probably find some interesting photos (I still haven't had time to figure out the whole "link" thing; someday maybe).

So right now, the river here is at the "ice lifting, water raising, but nothing has moved yet" stage. In the next couple of days it will move down and stop; a couple days later things should really start rolling. That's when it gets interesting because the flood danger is present.

I'll try to keep you informed as we go.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


O.K., I got an early morning phone call regarding the previous post. Here's the deal. A few weeks ago I was sitting around goofing off and just made up the story; my attempt at "fiction", I suppose. Yesterday I posted it to see if any one found it interesting, just for fun.

It's not about any one here (though there are numerous parallels). If you don't like it, or (as my wife feels) if you hate the unfinished ending, what can I say? I figured it was relevant to life here / northerneye. Enough said.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"He went walking"; 5-05-09

He went walking, hoping to forget the past.

He awoke with the echoes of last night's whiskey resounding loudly through his body. The sick feeling in his stomach and the ache between the ears kept him from eating breakfast; kept him from even desiring it. He washed his face, drank some water and started to dress.

He was wearing the briefs and undershirt he had slept in. He over these he put on long underwear and heavy wool pants. Then the red plaid flannel shirt his sister had given him at Christmas, followed by three pairs of hand knit socks; the gaudy yellow ones, the brown, then the green striped; always in that order. Over these he pulled canvas boots his Auntie had made, with the moosehide soles and beaver trim at the top, and tied them snugly.

The brown wool sweater next. He always felt comfortable in that sweater so wearing it today made sense. His down parka over the top, zipped up. Grabbing his beaver hat and yellow cotton gloves, he headed out the door.

As he passed through the porch, he stopped, looking down at the floor. He stood there for half a minute; thinking, not moving. Then with a sigh he reached up on the high shelf and grabbed the .22 pistol. He knew it was loaded and looked at it soberly, then stuffed it into a large, inside pocket. Opening the porch door, he stepped outside.

Overcast skies with a light snow drifting down. It had the look of heavier snow coming. That would be good.

Somewhere up the road a chainsaw was laboring its way through a log. From the sound of it, probably Charlie. "He'll never sharpen that thing" he mumbled to himself, shaking his head with a frown.

He turned left and walked the frozed dirt road leading out to the river bank. Past the last house; the vacant frame house with the weathered siding and boarded up windows, remnants of decades old yellow paint clinging stubbornly to the gray wood, he caught the breeze coming upriver.

To the south the sky was much darker. No doubt about it, a heavy snow was coming. Maybe the storm would arrive before the Troopers. That would give him more time to decide. No, probably not. He turned back for the house.

He went around to the back of the house and grabbed the snowshoes hanging on the wall. Carrying these under his arm he took the trail leading to the slough. Angie's little white dog barked at him as he went by, like it always did. He lunged at it, as he frequently did when he walked by, and the scared dog dove into it's house, growling. Laughing, he walked on. The dog sprung out again, barking. Some things never change.

At the slough he slipped on the snowshoes, stepped out into the deep snow and moved on toward the trees on the other side. The tracks would tell the story of where he went, unless the storm did its work and covered them before the Troopers arrived. Either way, no one would be coming after him; they'd all just wait 'till he came back.

He smiled. He knew he wasn't coming back

Sunday, May 3, 2009

5-03-09; "Your move"

Yesterday I was slogging through some of the mundane details of life; janitorial work in a small public building. The menu for the afternoon included vacuuming, mopping, a basic bathroom make-over, taking out the trash, etc. I was in the midst of my "etc" course when he walked in.

"What's up....?"

"Not much; just cleanin' up. What are you doin'?"

"Headin' downtown"

After a few more pleasantries we steered the conversation in a direction of substance. He noticed a few photos taken last month while beaver trapping. That was the catalyst.

"I used to go trapping with my Grampa." He said with a far off look in his eyes. He was wearing the hours-old look of marijuana, not uncommon for him, but this was different. Well aware of his past, I moved ahead.

"I know. I knew your Grampa pretty good...used to see him out all the time; getting wood...checking his He was always doing something."

"Yeah. That was my Grampa."

We talked about it; all the outdoor skills his Grampa possessed and how he tried to pass them on.

"You know, he taught you those things for a reason."

"Yeah...I should get back into that stuff."

"Umm hmm." (Sometimes saying less is saying more, so I was letting his own words sink in. He was working on it.)

After a few moments I cautiously made a few points; things like...

"Your Grampa wouldn't be happy if he knew you weren't doing the things he taught you"


"He wouldn't want you to just lay around doing weed all the time"


"A good way to show your respect for him would be to carry on the ways he showed you"

...I proceeded carefully here; very carefully. I've known him for over a decade so I knew how far I could go, and when to stop.

We said good bye and he continued on his way. I gave him what he needed to hear. He listened. Now it's up to him. The ball's in his court.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

5-2-09; "Break-up"

The ground, where it is visible through the remaining snow, is soft, squishy, muddy.

In the fall when things freeze-up, the world beneath our feet basically freezes from the top down. That is, the cooling air is colder than the earth, so the air freezes the ground at the surface initially. As winter progresses the ground continues to freeze in a downward direction, eventually freezing to a depth of 3, 4 or 5 feet.

Months later, spring arrives. The days grow long. The sun climbs incrementally higher in the sky and sheds it's radiating warmth upon this frozen land...and we soak it up.

Just being outdoors can feel like...I don't sitting in a hot tub. The brilliant sunshine reflected off the snow is a welcome treat after the many months of darkness, twilight and overcast skies. The warmth of solar radiation on your skin feels sooooo good; you feel like a lizard, belly-down on a rock in the cool of the morning, waiting for your blood to warm up. In fact, everything is kinda like that; the land, the water, the forests, all living things. We're all just sitting here like reptiles in sun, waiting for it to do it's job. And it's working.

Where the snow has cleared, the ground thaws, an inch at a time, top first, while the ground below remains frozen. And that makes for a muddy mess. Surface water can't soak in so it either runs off or just sits there. In a marsh, "just sitting there" is great; the birds love it. But in my yard it's a bummer. We'll be dealing with the mud of break-up for weeks. That's just part of the annual cycle.

Creeks start to flow with the increase of surface water; many of them flow on top of the ice covering they've had all winter. Eventually that ice will melt and flow downstream, but right now a lot of it remains. It's not uncommon for a creek at this time of year to be gushing rapidly with spring run-off; the water racing over the winter ice, under which is another layer of water. It's weird. That's the case in the video.