Thursday, July 26, 2007

Down the (battened) hatch

The outhouse is leaning. To the right. Well, I guess it depends if you're in it or if you're just looking at it, as to which way it's leaning. We used leftover logs to make a faux front so, you know, it would look classy, but I'm afraid it's going topple over at any given moment. I moved 'jacking up the loo' to the top of our priority list because, well, I know everyone loves a good 'my-outhouse-fell-over-story' but I just can't have it.
It's one of the perils of living with no water. Of course, it was a choice we made last summer while building. We considered putting in a septic tank but with permafrost just eight inches from the surface, it would have been a nightmare. Plus, I feel more like a true Alaskan having to 'rough it' a little more. Waterless cabins are a dime a dozen here. And making the weekly trip to the water wagon to fill our big 200-gallon tank and five-gallon jugs, is always a trip I look forward to. You never know who you'll see or what gossip you'll overhear. It's kind of like standing around the water cooler in an office, but with much, much more water.
This morning Sam's finishing up canning the fish while I am supposed to be writing three articles due on Friday. Our friends Eric and Becky went to Chitina to get their fish just one day after we left. By the time they got there Sunday, the river had risen three feet, the charter guys pulled their boats from the water and Eric was left sweeping along the shore. He got three salmon. So Sam and I and our kooky pal Steve will divide up our fish so that we all have enough for the winter. It's a bloody long drive to get skunked, but I guess they had a good time anyway camping and being with family.
This weekend a group of about 12 of us are heading to the Anderson Bluegrass Festival. It's a couple hours south of here and neither Sam nor I have been before. Besides the music, camping, friends and beer, I'm excited to see all the people who waited in line in March for the free-land frenzy. For the those who don't remember, the town of Anderson gave away 26 plots of land to try and ramp up interest in the town a little. I went and covered it for the AP and people were lined up from all over the place days before the actual giveaway. Folks from Florida, Oregon,, people were phoning the town hall from across Canada, Europe and India. It was nuts. The catch? You have to build on your free land within two years. With such short summers, that can be difficult. So, I'll wander over to the new Anderson suburb to see the progress.
After we get back from Anderson, fellow copy editor Richard and I will pack up our rucksacks and head to the White Mountains for three days. Our first day will be a 16-mile (24km) hike to Moose Creek Cabin where we'll spend the night before hiking out eight on the second day and eight on Wednesday. We both have to work on Wednesday night but I have a feeling we might be nodding off at our desks.
I felt a shift in the air a couple days ago. Winter is definitely close.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Keeping the black knight at bay

Yesterday, our cabin was a war zone. If the soldiers were fish and they were shooting each other with more fish.
Sam was right. Going to Chitina to get the salmon is the fun part, even though it seemed like a lot of work at the time.
Saturday we filleted and wrapped and vacuum sealed for 10 hours. Fish slime, parts and pieces were everywhere. The dogs were going batty, smelling all the good smells but having that juicy salmon just beyond reach. We froze the heads and tails and fins to give to the dogs this winter, but I couldn't resist giving the each a taste as we worked. Before heading to bed around 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning, I made up two buckets of brine which we used to soak chunks of fish for smoking. Sunday, we smoked the fish for 10 hours after fishing it out of the brine and letting it dry for a while. We cleaned up outside and in and, I'm pleased to say, the stench is dissipating. The smoked fish is now in the fridge waiting for canning and pressure cooking, but not before we remove the skin and bones from all 300 chunks of fish. Oy.
Ruffles has been sniffing the yard where we were working. She knows the smell, but somehow she just can't find the fish. This morning I caught her eating rocks where we had emptied the fishy water from the coolers.
This weekend I also had an assignment for the AP. Last week I shot a photo for them of two local sisters who camped out in front of a bookstore for 11 days to get the first copies of the final installment in the Harry Potter series. Now, AP wanted to do national reaction story about the book and wanted to include the two sisters. They asked me to get photos and some quotes and colour to add the Alaska angle to the national story. There was one problem, however. By Sunday evening, neither girl had finished the book. It seems they waited 11 days for the book and then decided they were in no hurry to read it. I guess after sitting around for 11 days, now they had better things to do.
I interviewed them anyway, but I doubt it will make it in the story, unless the editors in New York find it amusing that they haven't read it after the 11-day vigil which garnered national attention. We'll see. I get paid either way.

Filet o' Fish. We've got about 70 salmon filets in our freezer. We had to buy a second freezer last week.

Processing station No. 1

We were glad for all the counter space.

To the smoker with you.

Sam's homemade smoker filled with fish.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

'I feel so alive for 4:40 in the morning!'

We're back from Chitina and we've got fish. Got fish? Yes, actually, we do.
We got our 40-salmon limit in about five-and-a-half hours, though we were out on the rock for 10 hours because we chose to stay overnight. We didn't sleep much because a) we wanted to make sure we got all our fish; b) it was cold, even with layers of fleece; c) we were on a rocky ledge with a tree on the ridge above us that kept creaking like it was going to crash onto us at any moment.
In the approximately one hour of fitful sleep I did manage to nab, all I did was dream about that tree. I'd wake with a start to hear the familiar creak and then check to make sure my nose was still there (I couldn't feel it at that point).
We got to Chitina just in time to catch the last boat out - we would have been there earlier but the truck broke down at Summit Lake. That must have been our bad luck for the trip, but it turned out just to be bad gas (isn't it always?) and we were on the road again in about an hour. The charter guys took us to a sweet spot in the canyon and left us for the night. Sam caught the first fish before the boat was even out of sight and I had a sneaking suspicion it was going to be a good trip. On the way through the canyon I spied many fisherpeople teetering precariously on the ledges like mountain goats on a rocky bluff. We, as humans, are not nearly as nimble, however, and people die in Chitina after plummeting off their fishing rock and getting sucked away by the swirling, glacier-fed, silty waters of the Copper River. Many people tie themselves to trees so they can lean out and wrangle the mighty red salmon with the 12-foot dip nets and not worry about falling in the drink.
We didn't tie ourselves off as we had a pretty level rock to perch on. We took turns catching and then bonking the fish. After Sam's initial catch, I caught nine in about an hour, easing the two-foot-round net into the eddy (salmon swim upriver, remember) and resting it on a rocky ledge under the water. The river was moving fast in all directions and sometimes it was hard to tell if there was a fish in my net or if the water had simply changed direction under the surface causing the net handle to vibrate. Sometimes it would be a fish, but more often that not there was nothing in the net upon hoisting it out of the water. When there was a salmon in it, it was thrilling. And as the night stretched on and my body grew weary, that excitement never dwindled.
Then Sam showed me how to bonk them to death, slit their gills and snip their tails. I was ginger at first, lightly tapping the fish on the head and apologizing under my breath. But after a few, I was wailing away, somewhat enjoying bludgeoning these fish to death. At one point, Sam was a little frightened with my gusto for delivering the driving, deadly blows. 'Easy, baby,' he'd say.
(He's just informed me that he has hidden the fish bonker since we've arrived home.)
I still have mixed feelings about it; the killing I mean, but we need meat for the winter and the heads and tails will go to the dogs to keep them nice and fat, too. Nothing is wasted. Nothing except of course, the fish the got away after Sam had clubbed it to death. It slipped out of his hands and off the rock. Sam almost did, too, trying to get it back. But even that little floater will make a nice snack for a bear or a bird or least maybe some Adams, I mean maggots, farther downriver.
We fished and killed until about 11:30 - we had 32 at that point after just 4 and half hours on the rock - to eat some stew. The sun went down and though it never got completely dark, it was too dark to fish. We made coffee and talked, tried to sleep, and then got up at about 3:30 a.m. to fish again. We got the last eight in about an hour and finished our thermos of coffee just in time for the boat to pick us up at 5 a.m.
We went to back to shore to gut our fish and put them on ice. We had a greasy breakfast, drove for a few minutes, pulled over and crashed hard. We slept for a couple hours before continuing on our six-hour drive home. We arrived here at 7 p.m., making it a 30-hour round trip to Chitina and back. This weekend we are filleting, wrapping, vacuum sealing and smoking our fish.
I fear the smell will be with me for weeks.

Sam dipping soon after our arrival on the rock.

Me hauling a fish out of the river.

The view upriver from our perch.

Our fish on the stringer.

The view downriver.

Our diningroom and bedroom for the night.

Guys on a rock as we headed back to land. Notice the guy on the far right is leaning way over and not tied in...yikes.

There are shopping carts set in a fresh-water creek back at the landing site to rinse the silt off the fish before gutting them.

Our fish.

The gulls back at the processing site were crazy.

Crazy, I say!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Out of the wild and into my net

Sam and I are headed to Chitina tomorrow morning for a whirlwind fishing trip. Now, for those dear friends living elsewhere, this isn't exactly a leisurely jaunt to the nearest pond with a can of worms and a picnic lunch. We are going to get a winter's worth of Copper River red salmon. We're dipnetting the fish and now on the eve of our excursion, we're busy gathering the most basic of necessities to spend the night on a rock. No tent, or sleeping bags even. We're getting taken to a remote spot on the river by boat and will spend the night fishing. We're bring a small stove to make a meal and coffee and some warm clothes and rain gear just in case. We hope to get our 40-fish limit by morning to get back in the truck and drive the six hours back north to Fairbanks. This is an annual event for most Fairbanksans and when said in passing 'Yep, goin' to Chitina tomorrow,' the reply is always the same: 'Good luck.'
The response is such because there is a chance you can get skunked in Chitina. And right now, at this moment, the river is not thick with reds on their way to spawn as it usually is at this time of year. The days have been hot and the glaciers melting, making the river-water high and the salmon elusive. We're hoping things might change by the time we get there as this is our one shot at fish for the year. A laundry list of tasks around the cabin won't allow us to take another trip south to Chitina this summer.
So wish us luck, I think we'll need it.
Today Rich came over to help me oil the exterior of the cabin. It's a messy job, but somebody's got to do it. Rich and I got two sides done and will tackle the rest of the job upon our return from getting fish.
Peace (and salmon)

BFF Richard and I oiled up.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dial 'M' for Mush

Ladies and gentleman, put your hands together and give a big Spitfire Kennels' welcome to...Hitchcock! Yippee!
Yes, I got a new dog today. She's a three-year-old from Andrew Lesh, who came in second in the 2001 Yukon Quest. Sidenote: That was the year that Sam and I first met as we were both covering the race for our respective newspapers.
Hitchcock's dad is out of Terry Streeper (champion sprint racer) and her mama is out of Bill Cotter (past Yukon Quest champ), so she has some damn good blood in her. She's a little hyper but really friendly. And the best part? She was free. Andrew is pretty much out of mushing now and she was one of his last dogs, so he really just wanted to find her a good home. I think she'll fit in nicely here. She's a little high strung and immature but with some discipline and lots of love and I think she'll be a good little racer for me. At least she's not Physco. I am a little worried that she'll only run North by Northwest but we'll see. (Thanks Richard)
Ruffles has already taken a real shine to her and I'm hoping that Hitchcock will let Ruffles 'adopt' her now that Raven's gone. Bull too likes her and has already tried to hump her twice.
I'm really excited for winter. With some new dogs and a really reliable leader (Capiche), I'm planning on doing some distance races in early 2008; at least one, anyway.
Anyway, today I'm getting the exterior of the cabin ready for staining tomorrow and then on Thursday, Sam and I are off to Chitina to dip-net fish. The Copper River red salmon are our staple winter meat and if we can bag a moose in early September, we'll definitely be set for another year.
Last night Sam and I went for drinks with Ken, Julie, Todd, Al and Michelle (all musher friends) and the Mackeys; Lance and Tonya to hear all about the Mackeys' big trip to Hollywood. Lance was nominated for an ESPY award because he's the first musher to win both the Quest and Iditarod in the same year. He didn't take home the award but they had some funny stories about meeting celebs and walking the red carpet.
I'd like to give a shout to Meg in Mount Vernon. We miss ya!


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hot water burn baby

So I guess I forgot to mention that I'm going to be an aunt. Aunt Jill. Cool aunt Jill and whacky Uncle Sam. My older sister is prego and looking forward to being a mother. She and her husband-to-be are really excited and I'm very happy for them. You know, I really do like kids. Other people's kids. Sam and I don't want any of our own as neither of us are really 'kid people.' We have our dogs.
But there is never a shortage of lil' ones around the cabin. There's little Owen who is currently at the 'why?' stage of his life and cute as a little button. Then there's Eli and Ella. Eli with his long hair and tye die and Ella with crazy high-pitched shriek. Eli is at that two-year-old stage where he'll pretty much repeat everything you say. Then we have Daniel. He's one babe that looks more like an old man than a baby. He's got 'tude and we love having Danny boy around. The other day, our friend Rachel had her second, a boy named Alex.
So having friends with babies is good enough for us and I think being an aunt will be pretty cool. I loved hanging out my cool aunts and uncles when I was I kid.
One of my favourite bands, Cake, is coming to town in August. I still can't believe it. Sam and I intended to be on the Gulkana River for a full week but will cut the river trip a little short to see Cake. I'll tell them you said hi, Shaun.
We are still, yes still, working on burying the high-speed internet cable and phone and electric cables. It's been two weeks. We're still going to have a couple of float trips, a trip to Chitina to dip-net salmon and four days in the woods hunting moose in September but, on top of all that, we have a long list of other jobs to do around the cabin before the snow flies. It stresses me out on a daily basis.

Baby Fitz

Suck on this one, Mary. Our phone is messed up still/again and this is the fastest connection we've been able to get. Please don't send me any photos, it'll take days. Hopefully hooking up the high-speed will not drag on any longer.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Friskies? We feed cats to our dogs!

I woke up this morning with an aching hip. Two teeth had fallen out over night and I spontaneously started shaking my fist in the air yelling 'damn teenagers!' Yup, I'm officially old.
It's a good thing I haven't lost my flare for the dramatic, eh?
Birthday week is officially over, according to Sam. For me, it's not over until I get my birthday package from my parents which has been en route for six bloody weeks now. Canada/US post sucks. Big time.
Saturday night we had another party, this time we hosted it here at the cabin. About 20 people were here for burgers and salmon, beer and general merriment. Mary made her famous brownies which I tried to bogart but almost lost a hand in the process. Once the tequila came out, I knew it was going to be a good night. Around 10:30, Libby, Theresa, Julie, Mary, Tom and I snuck off to the Howling Dog in Fox for some dancing. Love the Howling Dog. I returned and there was still a few people left though the kegs were long dry.
The Mackeys even made an appearance earlier in the night. Today, Lance (winner of the Yukon Quest and Iditarod) and his wife Tonya and their 'agent' are heading to Hollywood. Yes, the real Hollywood. Lance has been nominated for an ESPY award. ESPN gives out awards to athletes each year and Lance is up for 'best outdoor athlete.' At the party, Tonya showed us pictures of her dress that she'll wear on the red carpet. Besides famous athletes like Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Paton Manning, the Mackeys will meet the likes of Mark Walberg and Will Ferrell who are nominated for their sports' movies. I wish I could be there to see this lovable yet slightly rootin' tootin' Alaskan musher meet the celebs and be interviewed and photographed by paparazzi. I asked Tonya what Lance would be wearing (I was thinking he ordered some posh suit...Armani, maybe?) and she answered proudly: 'Oh, we found Lance a nice pair of black Dockers.' Love them. Love the Mackeys.
Anyway, it was a fun night with, as always, a very interesting mix of people. Sam and I didn't do much yesterday. We spent a lot of time in bed before friends came over for dinner and then we were back in bed. A perfect Sunday.
I'm going to play disc golf with BFF Richard today before a freelance assignment at 3 p.m. and card night tonight with the fellas.
I'm 30 and I'm fantabulous.
Unfortunately, there were no cameras at the party despite there being several bloggers and several photographers on hand. Here's the best I could find. This was drawn by a little boy from Taiwan, where they don't have copyright laws.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Walk the boat! Don't walk the boat, baby!

The Chatanika River is at an all-time low as far as water levels. We knew this going in, but I guess we didn't really know what to expect. Just to give you an idea, at 10 feet, the river is perfect for rafting. From seven to nine feet, the water is great for canoeing. When we got home from over paddling trip yesterday evening, we checked to see what the levels were actually at for our trip. Five feet. So, Richard and Sam in the canoe and me in the kayak had to walk our respective vessels over rocks and around obstactcles several times. Though over the coarse of most of the float was spent doing exactly that, floating. The weather was great on Thursday. We paddled for a few hours and then stopped at a huge gravel bar to set up camp. We had just finished setting up when the skies opened up. A dark storm had been making noise behind us all day and it finally caught up. It was really pretty cool sitting under the shelter, drinking beer and watching the ligthning storm, wondering where the next forest fire will start because of all the lightning strikes. There were an abundance of beavers in the river. I only saw two, but Richard and Sam, who stayed ahead of me, saw several beaver up close and personal. One beaver was swimming under their boat and turned to surface, saw the big canoe and freaked out when he saw Richard, scaring the crap out of Rich and Sam and then causing them to laugh like hienas. They also saw a beaver come down a beaver slide into the river. I missed that one, too.
The paddle out yesterday was a bit shorter but the weather held and we had some sun. The low water made for some hairy corners with downed trees all over the place, a couple of which we had to avoid by walking the boats. I dumped my boat once but it was only because a huge beaver jumped up and bit me and threatened to do the same to Sam and Rich. I fell out of my boat trying to whack that beaver. I was only thinking of them. As most of you know, I am not clumbsy and would not just fall out of a boat for no reason at all. It was the beaver. The beaver made me do it.
Besides the obstacles, the river was beautiful. And there were some deep sections where we could just kick back and enjoy the birds and the bees and the beavers and the trees. It's good to be back, the dogs were good. Usually when we leave them alone overnight, something bad happens. But no, everyone was happy and healthy. Even those naughties, Sneaky Pete and Parker.
This morning we're getting ready for a party at our house to celebrate the closing of birthday week. Should be fun. I got about eight cards in the mail from Sam's family. What a cool surprise, thank you very much.
Here some pics from the trip. Sam had the camera in his boat. The goofy gal in the kayak is not someone trying out for the Special Olympics, that's me! We got home and I was taking photos of my flowers with bees on them and then we parked ourselves on the upper deck to watch another thunder storm roll in. After 700 images I actually caught a lightning strike...two actually.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The winters are long but the summers are brightly lit

There was something important that was happening Oh yeah. It's my birthday!
It's 8:30 in the morning. Sam and I are packing up the canoe to head to Chatanika. I've only cried once so far this morning.
Some jackass hillbillies were shooting off fireworks until about 3a.m. I can't understand the appeal, especially when it's not dark here, so you can't see the freakin' things anyway! Soon after the fireworks started going off, Bully started pacing. He eventually came upstairs and shook with fright beside the bed. Soon after that, the phone rang. A lovely friend from Ontario got the time difference mixed up and rang me for a happy birthday wake-up call at 4 a.m. My parents and Gran called at 6:30. I got up at 7:30. Now it's 8:30. Off to the river with Sam and Rich. Peace. Thanks for the birthday calls and greetings. I'm 30 now and trying desperately to hold it together. Float trip should be nice.

Born July 5
An overall sense of emotional equilibrium keeps you on track in the year ahead. You are generally well-received and popular. Your romantic and/or social life may be complicated at times but ultimately very rewarding. Although you may be forced into accepting some realities, the end result is a stronger sense of self-worth and commitment. Relationship challenges become apparent, and you have the tools to iron out differences. This is a strong year for new mental pursuits, learning, growth-oriented connections, and travel.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Allow myself to introduce...myself...

This is my last day as a woman in her '20s. EEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKK!!! I actually just screamed and I think Bull's now having a coronary. So here are the photos of my surprise party on Sunday. My birthday is tomorrow, July 5, but for some reason, people keep saying happy birthday today on my facebook page...weird...but, I'll take what I can get. Today is actually America's birthday, which means very little to me except that I'm working from 12 to 12 today/tonight and get paid double-time!!! yeah! Happy birthday!
I'm OK with turning 30. I'm OK. I am O.K. Hold on....
Whew...paper bag to the rescue...good for breathing deeply into and then throwing up in...
I think I'm having a hot flash...wait, no...the dog is breathing on my arm...I'm OK...
Tomorrow morning Sam, me and my BFF, Richard, are heading out of town to paddle the Chatanika River. Should be a fun little overnighter. You can't beat camping on a gravel bar in the Midnight Sun, drinking beer and being 30. Hopefully getting mauled by a bear will be less painful than turning, gulp, 30. At least it'll take my mind off it for a while...
I just got a message from a BFF in Whitehorse saying 'Still dirty at 30?' I haven't showered in a few days and spent yesterday planting and digging out the, yeah, still dirty...
Stay tuned for Mary's arse...
Peace and Apricots

Me and Eli. I love that kid.

Mushing pals, Amanda, Julie and Todd.
Todd. We're at a party, Ok?

Libby and Paul played happy birthday on the accordians. Awesome!

Always with the stupid faces...

Libby and Owen went glitter-crazy with the signs.

Libby sticking her face in my beaver...cake... The beaver jokes end here. Well, until Saturday when I make a bigger, better, beaver cake...

I saw the sign.

Good friends.

I really can't say what I'm doing. Probably yelling at the kids to either get away from or eat the cake. I went straight for the keg when I got there, so I was probably half-cocked by this point...and pretty much have been since this party...the kegs are still half full and still on ice in the living room...

Let's all give a big round of applause for our guest of honour...Mary's Ass!

I seem to enjoy having my head squished...I guess it's less painful than turning 30.

Blowing out the candles...I wished I wasn't turning 30...

Sam, the tie-dye-wearing, beer-swilling, pied piper...

I'm not sure what provoked this face...surely Owen wasn't making an over-the-hill joke, was he?

Erin and Becky and Ella (in the sling)

Handing out the cake...this piece had the beaver den on it...

Pretty. Pretty Theresa.