Thursday, August 1, 2013

July 26-28: The season finally ends

Most of the crew went out on July 26. The Alaska Airlines jet was on time, but the smaller Pen Air planes were socked in by the fog. But eventually, everyone made it out. Then it was just Jean and me.

These last few days were spent mostly in final cleaning, darting between all the little things I'm afraid of forgetting, like emptying the tundra-ator, packing my neglected earrings and mascara, winterizing the tools, tacking closed the outhouse doors so the wind doesn't tear them off, or sending out the last of the Alex's and Debby's ashes that I brought to leave here.

There's also sorting through the food to determine what can freeze well enough, what needs to be protected from rodents, and what needs to be protected from condensation. Most stuff freezes well enough (except milk and mayonnaise - both separate and become hard to use). Cans may rust, so they need a sprinkling of rice to absorb the moisture. Dry goods may be spoiled by rodents, so they need hard containers. Other rodent defense requirements include trying to block potential entry points (like the sink drain); emptying standing water (if they get in, I don't want to find their drowned little bodies in the spring); turning over buckets and pans (if they get in, I don't want to find their starved little bodies in the spring); and covering all cooking and eating utensils (if they get in, I don't want to have to wash everything before I use it).

Finally, after all the cleaning, organizing, preparing, protecting, and boarding up... it's time to go. When all the frantic busyness subsides, I begin to feel the emptiness from leaving all this behind for 10 months. Usually, that emptiness gives room for lovely things like friends, music, making mosaics, the ability to wash my hands in running water, and women's bathrooms. And if I'm not careful, deadlines, pavement, telemarketing calls and traffic will rush to occupy that emptiness. Every year, I tell myself that I will find a way to bring into my Seattle life more of what I love so much about my Naknek life. Thinking about it as I write this makes me wonder if maybe a different goal would be better: being conscious and deliberate about what - if anything - I permit into that emptiness.

Have a good winter - see you next summer.

July 25: Exodus begins

Today, David, Sarah, and I got up early to sneak past the high tide and get Jake to the airport. Here they are, lying on the shelf where the luggage comes in, waiting for Jake's plane. But it was foggy so the flights were delayed and eventually, his flight was canceled altogether. Normally, it wouldn't really matter much - getting home today or tomorrow doesn't really matter. Usually, we only think it matters because it's what we planned. This time, it was different. This time, he was trying to get to a wedding (my nephew's wedding) for which he had agreed to play the guitar. It was important for him to get there. I think we have to give Jake some lessons in how to rattle a cage. He is so polite that he didn't want to make any kind of a fuss or disturb any of the already stressed out ticket agents. But other people were getting seats, people who probably weren't scheduled to play guitar in a wedding in a day and a half. I contend that it is possible to rattle a cage while at the same time caring about and attending to the impact of said rattling on the stressed out ticket agent.

It is always very hard for me when the crew starts leaving. They are such delightful, committed, honorable, and endlessly interesting and amusing people and I love them. It's hard to let them go, but of course, it's exactly what needs to happen. Again, it's a pretty good problem to have and I really look forward to having it again next season.

After finally seeing Jake off, the big task for this day was getting the stairs up. Of all the things we do to close up at the end of the season, this is the thing that would be the hardest to do alone and it is the most dangerous. The stairs are heavy - I think they probably weigh more than 1000 lbs.
David used the boom truck to lift the stairs from the bottom and
Jeff operated the capstan winch to pull it from the top once it was up as high as the boom could take it. Luka worked with Jeff to relay messages so that Jeff could focus his attention on the winch and still be able to respond quickly to a message from the bottom of the cliff.
Four people at the top of the cliff held guide ropes to pull the ladder into the desired position. David had really thought it through well, making sure Jeff knew to take up slack, but not to pull it until it was all the way up. From where David stood, he could very clearly see the big risk: he could have been crushed if the ladder somehow slipped out of the slings. (That's the reason he didn't want the winch to pull prematurely, pulling it out of its slings.) Another and relatively minor risk was that the boom truck could have been crushed. Neither risk is acceptable or necessary and we can do better next year. I didn't recognize these risks from where I stood. When I watched the video that Alok made, I felt sick because I saw it then. I saw risks to the people at the top of the cliff if we lost control of the ladder so I ran a chain from the top of the ladder to a screw anchor between the ladder and the crew cabin. If something let go, the chain would not stretch and would prevent the top of the ladder from rising up... unless it came toward the anchor first, sending the bottom of the ladder away from David and the truck. So the chain made them safe, but that should be the fail safe, in the unlikely event of a failure. Watching the video showed me that it wasn't so unlikely that the ladder would slip out of its sling. Further, the chain did not provide much protection for those of us at the top of the cliff between the ladder and the anchor. If it swung that way, it would have swung right through us. I think the answer to both problems is a pelican at the bottom, like the fish buyers use to pick up our brailers and then release them at will, and a second anchor and chain at the top on the other side of the stairs.
The boom has the bottom of the stairs lifted about half way up.
When it was up as far as it would go, David quickly climbed the cliff to help us pull it into position as the winch continued to pull it back. I was very surprised when Alok told us that we pulled up those stairs in less than 15 minutes.

After the stairs were up, Jean and I went for a walk on the beach - I was hoping to use the low light to find agates. We walked down to Pedersen Point, getting there in time for another beautiful sunset.
Later that night, we saw the moon - still huge, no longer full.

July 24: Closing up the sites

With Alok driving, Jean, Alok, Sabita, and I took the ranger out, towing Skook behind, to pick up the three sets of buoys and their anchor lines, and the running line. And to mark the anchors in such a way as to be able to find them next June. That's tricky because if we turn them up too far, the ice may grab them and pull them loose. If we don't turn them up enough, the mud may cover them. So this year we wrapped them with electrical wire that we hope will still be standing up in June, but will be smooth and skinny enough that the ice will have nothing to hold.

We waited for the tide to come in and used it to wash down all the gear. Then we took the ranger to the beach access road where Marc from Pen Auto will pick it up and get it ready for next season. David had some business in town, exploring the possibilities of bringing a major solar installation to the area. This would be a great boon for the region because electricity depends on diesel now and is very expensive for the community.

Today and tomorrow are the days to get everything down the stairs that are going down the stairs for the rest of the season. This includes garbage, anything going on the southbound barge, and luggage. After the stairs are up, we will go up and down on a line or at a relatively gentle part of the cliff. I thought Alok and Sabita might prefer to stay in town, where they wouldn't have to climb a cliff to get to their plane, but once again, they were up to the challenge and they stayed. I was glad of that. While the crew was in town playing pool at the Red Dog, I got to have another sunset. The crew, however, had some trouble. One of our crew members is under age, but I said it would be OK if he went with the others (I hated to cut him away from the others if I didn't absolutely have to), although the Red Dog staff or owner might not let him in and in that case, he'd have to come right back on the four wheeler. In Alaska, a person under 21 is allowed in a bar if he is with a parent or a spouse who is over 21, or if the bar is also a restaurant. I thought there was a good chance that it would be OK since it's actually underage drinking that the law seeks to prevent and there wasn't any risk of that. When he didn't come back right away, I relaxed and figured that since it was the mellow part of the season, and he wasn't trying to get alcohol or any other trouble, the bar staff was letting it slide. So I was shocked and horrified when I got a call from David that an officer had come to the bar and was threatening to take this crew member off to jail. Once he realized that the crew member hadn't been drinking, he just issued him a ticket. He will have to call in to respond to the ticket. This will be a lesson to both of us.

July 23: Demonstration fishing and everlasting sunsets

We had planned to set two nets for one tide so Alok and Sabita could get a taste of fishing. But if we were going to do it, we'd have to be out there by noon at the latest and we had more preparation than usual because we had pulled the Bathtub all the way up to the base of the cliff (so we wouldn't have to worry about it swamping while we were gone).

Most of the crew slept in after the very long trip back from Katmai so I went to get the truck because we were going to need it to put the Bathtub back into service. I found some leaky waders and wader boots for Jean and Alok and the three of us used the truck to pull the skiff over the rocks and then down on to the sand, and the ranger to pull the skiff out to meet the oncoming tide. It was a little nerve-wracking because I could see that we were low on gas in the ranger (and I was driving it out toward the tide???), in the skiff, and in the power pack. Looking around for our stash of 5 gallon gas cans, I realized with a bad feeling in my stomach that all our gas cans were in the skiff at Lake Camp. Uh oh. I was feeling a little naked and formulating the mental plan for running up to Debby's cabin for a line and a giant pulley so that if the ranger ran out of gas, we could run the line out to the ranger, tie it off and pull it in. The tide is merciless.

We got the Bathtub out into the water and I left Jean and Alok with it while I ran the ranger back in to safety and then returned to the Bathtub. We were too late to set the outside site on foot and I thought it would be too difficult to try to do a running set with new crew (although Jean was crew many years ago, it was before we fished from skiffs). So we just decided to set the inside site. We had a few hits right away! We had planned to go in and wait until just before high water, but when we looked back, we saw many seals circling the net and we didn't want to give them our fish. So we fished! The hard way. Since the power pack was out of gas, we started out pulling by hand, and before long, resorted to running through the net with the skiff. We lost two fish that way, but we pulled in 10 - and saved out two of them for dinner.

We found an empty gas can and Roger went for gas. David took Jeff and Sarah to Lake Camp to get the boat on the trailer and tow it all back to AGS. Jean, Alok, Sabita and I went back out at about high water. We went through the net pulling out a few half-fish that the seals had taken. And then we picked up the net. Happily, by this time I remembered the two small and nearly empty gas cans I keep for my generator, so we had enough to run the power pack, making it much easier to pull in the net.
Jean and Alok stacked the net in the boat
while Sabita ran the hydraulics.

As soon as we got that net into the boat, we rushed into the shore and pulled in the other one that we had left on the beach, along with the morning's fish, and turned the whole operation over to Jake and Roger who were about to run the Bathtub in to be hauled out and then winterize the outboard, strip the remaining nets and get them in the southbound pile.

Jean, Alok, Sabita, and I stayed on the beach, started bread, cinnamon rolls, and maple bars, cleaned and marinaded salmon, hung out to dry all the wet clothing and sleeping bags that we brought back the night before, and started the final stages of packing up the crew cabin so it will be easy (and I hope, not disgusting) to open next season.

The day ended with a sunset show that lasted well over an hour...
and overlapped the moon show which lasted the rest of the night. The sunset isn't the only show that can change as the night deepens.
But it may boast the most dramatic changes. This was early, just a little past 11.
And here it is about half an hour later. Not as bright, but with more red and pink; less gold.
Alok noticed the way the light bathed the buildings and reflected in the windows of the bunkhouse...
and off the whole Space Hut.
It is just about done. This photo was taken at about midnight. From where we stand, it looks like the sun slips down just below the horizon and we can follow the glow as it moves it's quarter circle to rise again just behind Debby's cabin and in front of Alex's chairs.

After the sun was all gone, we decided to use this night to finally set off the fire works we got for Alex's anniversary.