Monday, June 30, 2014

June 29: Fishing has slowed a little

And that explains why I had time for photos with my weather-beaten and valiant little camera. It was pretty wet and cold on Sunday, though the wind wasn't as strong as Saturday's. The smears on these photos are not me trying to protect anyone's identity; it's raindrops on the camera that I couldn't rub off with my filthy bandana.

This is my brother's crew... and half of his family, Everest and Hannah. Makenzie will be here soon after her whirlwind gig as The Touring Bridesmaid. Jane (my sister-in-law... ok, and Harry's wife, and the kids' mom) isn't able to come out this season, but we are scheming to get her here some time soon.

I think the New Boat crew is much more colorful and nautical than we are. Look at those sou'westers! When they came over to help us with our final pick of the day, we could hear Johnny B Good blasting from David's portable speaker (so that's what those dry boxes are for!) Jeff likes to hang on to the bowline like a cowboy, riding through the rough waves. He's the devil-may-care guy on their boat... snap up the raincoat? Who need it!? Rain hat? For sissies!
I don't know if I've included a photo of the delivery yet. We bring the skiff in to the beach to offload. It's a delicate thing because we need to protect the prop from the rocks and we can't let the skiff go dry (and when the tide is going out, it often goes out fast). At the same time Brad needs to keep his giant gehl forklift from getting stuck in the increasingly soft mud. So pretty much, we can only deliver until about half tide on the ebb. The crew must push us out deep enough for me to lower and start the outboard. When it's rough like it has been the last couple of days, the surf picks up the bow, driving the stern into the ground, so then they have to get us out deeper, where it's harder to control the boat - especially given the big bow facing the strong wind. Our solution has been to throw the anchor as we're coming in so that we'll run out of line just as the skiff gets to the water line. Then driving a giant gehl forklift with fine control, Brad comes to the skiff to pick up our bags of fish as the crew keeps the boat floating. In this photo, Brad is heading back to the truck, loaded with the insulated totes filled with slush ice to deposit our fish after weighing them. Today, Roger is following to grab the bag and bring it back to the skiff. Then we pull out to a safe depth on the anchor line and we're off to another pick through, with the crew cleaning the boat by throwing in water and bailing it out as we run.

I had a little time to take photos because the fish weren't hitting heavily. Here is AJ. At first, he found the tangled fish completely baffling. But he's been getting some practice, picking the inside in the Grayling with Rohan and helping the New Boat with their roundhauls so each time he gets in the boat, he seems to be faster and faster at picking.
And here is Rohan, who is a faster picker than I'd expect from someone in their second year.

Our opening for June 30 is from 3 to 10. June 30 is the second anniversary of Alex's death, my younger son. If you'd like to light a candle for him, I'd be glad to think there is more light in the world in his memory.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 28: Roger stands about 10' tall today

It was pure luxury to be able to sleep for 8 hours in a row! It was only slightly interrupted by what I knew to be Roger's footsteps trying not to wake me as he climbed into my loft to get out the grinder. I know that's not a normal place to keep such a thing, but that's another story for the end of the season.

He gets points for three things here: 1) he was getting the grinder to work on the post that was torn off the power roller in yesterday's tide, preparing it to be welded back on; 2) he was giving up sleep to do it and we would all benefit from it; and 3) he worked hard not to wake me up. Considering how hard he was trying, I figured the least I could do was to not let on that I woke up by doing something like offering to get up and help. Really, I was trying to be thoughtful!

And he fixed it. It's a bit of a mystery to me all that happened. I understand that it's important to weld out of the wind because if the wind blows away the argon shield, the weld won't work right. So Roger described the process: he took the blue tarp that he had been using to cover the welder and covered himself and his work area. He welded a little bit and checked around to see if the tarp or he was on fire and if not, weld a little bit more. He and I put it into the back of the ranger, along with the brailers that were left on the beach and slid it back into place on the Ambi (yay!! it worked!!)... and then distributed the brailers around the boats for the tide, just in advance of going out for the 1 pm set.

I packed the food bag and refilled our drinking water and carried it over to the Grayling that was holding the net for the inside site - that was closer than carrying it all the way out to the first site. While I was there, I thought something looked funny about the anchor line. I'm kind of neurotic about checking all the connections, something we always used to make fun of my mom for doing. Ahem. Since the water hadn't quite reached it yet, I could see... eek! The carabiner that connects the anchorline to the anchor had torn open and was just barely still connected to the eye of the anchor by a hook. And the tide was 10' from it, and coming fast. It needed a shackle, but I didn't have one or the time to go get one. A line would do - but the Grayling didn't really have much in it at all. I thought I could steal a carabiner from the net, but it was too small. Finally, I pulled a tie-off line from the bow of the Grayling. It was a little light, but I hoped that if I tied it around a couple of times it would be strong enough to hold it for the tide. The water was almost there and I was working frantically. Rohan hurried over from setting the first site and could hear me asking for a shackle from the Ambi. He ran back through the water and returned with the small one we had. With water now covering the eye of the anchor (and rising quickly), he struggled to get the pin screwed in. Worried, I backed it up with the tie off line. If we hadn't fixed that, it would have been a huge fishing disaster. Because that site is out so far - at about 600', when the tide got it, it would have swung toward Pederson Point... 600'. But our fishing neighbor is just 300' away and his neighbor is 300' from him. The fishing was heavy again today and that would have meant fish caught in both nets, upset neighbors, and a great lost opportunity for us, plus we wouldn't have been able to tend to the outside site.

We had almost as much fish today as yesterday, but today the inside site carried the day. Each time we went through it, a wall of fish came over the roller. None of that would have happened. I am so so so glad for all the circumstances that led to noticing that torn carabiner.
Here we are at the end of the tide, this time fixing the anchorline attachment more permanently. Again, it's 10' tall Roger putting it together. The picture only hints at today's weather: cold and rough! Lots of spray.

The rest of the crew was still working hard, too. We sent Rohan up to make dinner (roasted potatoes, an orzo dish, a spicy bean, corn, and onion dish, cantaloupe, avocado, grilled king salmon, and brownies). After Roger finished fixing the anchorline, I sent him up too - he had been working all day while some of us were sleeping. We had all roundhauled all the nets, after clearing them first. Still, the fish continued to hit late in the ebb so that at the end of the tide, the boats were all where they should be for tomorrow's opener at 2 pm (we get to sleep again tonight!), but they had fish in them.
So while Sarah and AJ continued to clear the roundhauls, David, Jake, and Jeff started towing the Bathtub around from boat to boat pitching fish from the boats into brailers in the Bathtub and towing it all to the beach where David used the Boom Truck to pick them up out of the Tub and set them in the sand. Then they'd go out for another trip.

We go again at 2 PM on Sunday. I'm hoping that the fish continue to come in and that the weather calms down. And that no more disasters befall or nearly befall us. If they are looming, though, I hope we noticed them in time to avert them.

A post script: my clock says 1:37 am here. As I was proof-reading, I heard something in the porch (never a good thing at 1:37 am) and Sage came out, barking. I looked out the window and saw a bear leaving the porch and exploring around the front of the cabin - where I had grilled the salmon. I pounded on the window and he ran off. Now, though, I need to go turn off the generator... and I'm a little worried that he might have come back. I think I'll make a lot of noise as I go.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

June 27: Catching up and just plain catching

We had several days of waiting to fish, and then the openings poured in. The first one was on June 24, a 7 hour, mid day opening.
David's crew has had a tough time of it (though you would never know it from their demeanor!) One of these early first openings, they discovered that they had lost a shackle that attached the outside buoy of one of their sites to the anchor line. What a surprise when you're getting ready to set! Thank goodness for redundancy: these buoys have attachment points at the bottom (for the anchor line) and the top (for the corkline) and we always attach on both ends at the end of the tide. That's why we still had a buoy. Whew. And things like that are why I think it's so important to get out to the fishing grounds about 20 minutes before it's time to set, and while the boats and buoys are still dry. It gives us a chance to check things, like shackles.

June 24: We began to get some fish on the 24th. About 2600 lbs for the day tide. That is so much more encouraging than the very few fish we were getting the week before - during this season that many thought would be very early. I was worrying that we were missing them because of the color or size of our web. That's fishing... anxiety. (Though if I had it to do over, I might choose 5" mesh size instead of the 5 1/16" we are using...) We started being willing to feel hopeful about the season with this opener - it seemed like it was the first time we might have seen fish piled into a brailer.

We had another opening just the next tide, from 11 PM till 8 AM.
The weather has been beautiful, giving us an inspiring work environment. Here is David's crew, still the Bathtub crew, waiting for the water so they can set out on this night tide.
Here is the Ambi crew on the same night. I don't know anywhere that has more beautiful sunsets than here. After we set "my" site - we headed in to the "inside" site. We have given them numbers: the site closest to town is #1 (also for historical family reasons, my site), #2 is fished by the Hakinnens, then #3 and #4. Inside the Hakinnen's site is the "inside" site. That one used to be my mom's.
At each opening, the Ambi crew sets #1 and then (depending on the depth of the water) either pushes or motors the boat over to the inside site to set it. Here they are pushing in the sunset (while I am the photographer). David's crew sets #3 and then rushes over to set #4, also an outside site.

If the fish are running, we stay out and go through the nets all night long. This wasn't a heavy tide (less than 1000 lbs), so we went in after clearing the nets on the flood, slept for a few hours during high water, and came back out to pick through the nets and pick them up at the end of the tide. When the Bathtub crew came out, they were in for another equipment surprise. The anchor on the outside end of #4 pulled up. They found that the end had drifted over to #3. So they spent the early part of the next tide figuring out where to place the anchor, and putting a new one down.

June 25: We had another opener the next tide, fairly slow - again, about 1000 lbs. But with late hitters. Because of how slowly the tide moved on the last opener, we thought we could take the risk of leaving the inside site set. Big mistake! We were about 80% sure it would be dry at opening time. But that 80% began to erode as I watched the very fast tide come screaming in, from a -1' run out to a 23' high tide, over 6 hours. I think it's rising at a rate of 4' per hour. So rather than risk the ticket and the loss of the gear, Roger and I got on the ranger and reset the inside site, so it was fishing much higher up the beach, where we were sure it would be dry at opening time. But that is a very difficult thing to do because while we're dragging the net, the net is picking up just as much mud as it can, so we end up dragging a good portion of the beach along with us. We were exhausted by the time the tide started.
The fish slowed down after the initial push, so we went in and got a couple hours of sleep before coming out to finish off the ebb. I don't see as many sunrises here as I do sunsets, but the sunrises are also spectacular. This is Pedersen Point, the cannery down the beach from us by about a mile, shrouded in morning fog. We ended up with about 3000 lbs for that tide... and at the end of it, because we were coming into a short tide, we decided to pull the inside site back out to where we usually fish it, in deeper water. Once again, I thought the outboard would be able to out-pull the mud, especially since the net was still in the water. Wrong. From now on, I know we will not take our chances with where the tide will be. If in doubt, pick it up. Period.

June 26: A very exciting day: Roy finished getting the new outboard on the New Boat and David brought it down. Just in time!! There are some small issues with it - it seems to cut out at high throttle. I talked with Roy about it and we suspect that the problem is the prop. The outboard people sent the wrong prop and Roy, being the problem-solving genius that he is, figured out a way to make the Yamaha 115 prop work while we're waiting for the replacement. But it's not perfect, so that might be causing the problem. Here is Sarah getting used to driving the New Boat.

It is also biology day. Here we are looking down the throat of a bullhead. A very ugly fish with spikes all over the place. The only way I know to hold a bullhead is by the lip. If you squint, you can see the face of a baby flounder inside the bullhead's gullet. Interesting and cool in a sort of gross way.
The now New Boat crew also had their day of biology. Here are Jake and Sarah attempting to make a very large flounder a part of the crew.
And this was the day that kings started to come in. We don't get many and I love having them at home, so we never sell them. I always attend the graduation at the school Alex graduated from in Massachusetts and this year, I want to bring salmon for graduation dinner. Here are Roger, Rohan, and AJ with one of the salmon we'll bring.
It has been pointed out that since I'm the one with the camera, the photos on the blog are mostly of my crew. So we're trying to remedy that with this post. The New Boat crew is getting ready to fish.
And here they are at the end of the tide. They've finished going through their nets and have anchored up until the next tide, waiting until the water drops just a bit more before wading in. We ended up with about 1200 lbs for that afternoon tide.
June 27: We got another two openers for the next two tides. Here is the Ambi crew walking out into the sunset... to set.
David and I were both inspired by the sunset that we were setting in. Here, David got a shot of Jeff's silhouette, in a pretty darned nice work environment. This makes 7 tides in a row, catching 2-5 hours a sleep over the low tides or the high tides, depending on how the fish are running. We were happily surprised by 7000 lbs of salmon in the morning tide. But the fishing tends to drop off over night and it did this night as well, so we went in for a couple hours of sleep before coming out for a relatively slow ebb.

We had planned to head back out at 2 this afternoon, sleeping for a few hours through the low tide when the nets would be dry. But my brother called to give us a heads up about the fish he was seeing out there. So I scrambled the crew as we got out there about 15 minutes earlier than planned... and ended up delivering more than 20,000 lbs for the tide.
Here is the New Boat crew, really needing to deliver some salmon. We were so extremely grateful and feeling so lucky about the circumstances of this tide: we got the working New Boat just in time for it (even though we also love the Bathtub), and the weather was beautiful and gentle today. Those two things make it so much easier. It was a strange tide. Usually, we get most of our fish on the first pick through, and then we just try to scratch up a few more for the rest of the opening. But this time, the run got heavier and heavier until the water started to leave us.
Here is a full brailer. In the Ambi, we brailer the fish as we go along, but it's not as easy to do that in the New Boat or the Bathtub. All those fish in the photo above will need to find their way into brailers like these to be delivered. We delivered about 30 bags like these today.
On the Ambi, Roger, Rohan, AJ and I made it through our first site and our inside site... and then we had to deliver, probably with about 3000 lbs on board. This photo shows AJ steadying the load as Brad is lifting it off to put it in slush ice. We immediately went back ... and found even more fish in the nets than the first time. So after going through just one of the nets, we went to deliver... probably another 3000 - 3500 lbs. By this point, the tide has turned and I could tell that the wall of fish was building. The water was slow coming in, from a hold up tide of about 7' to a low high tide of about 17'. Not much movement there. But it ran out from that 17' to a 1' low.

David's crew had already split into two boats: the New Boat and the Bathtub, so they could deliver while continuing to pick what they could see was a rapidly (re)filling net. They came in to deliver as we were finishing our delivery. I too was concerned about not being able to get through both nets, so I split AJ and Rohan off into the Grayling to start in the middle of the inside site, working toward the inside end, while we started in the middle and worked toward the outside end. Rohan and AJ made great time. We helped them finish up and went to deliver... another 3000 lbs or so, but the trucks had no more capacity and had to just leave our brailers on the beach until more trucks could come. While we were pitching the fish from the Grayling to the Ambi, we tore the post on the power roller for the Ambi, taking it out of commission. Horrors! Luckily, we have Roger and his welder!!! (I think he'll be able to get us back together before our next opener from 1 PM to 8:30 PM June 28.) The New Boat and the Bathtub were both trying to deliver, but the tide had gone out too far and Brad was no longer able to reach them with his Gehl. So the crew pushed in the Bathtub (it slides well!) but decided not to deliver from the New Boat yet (it doesn't slide) and took those fish back out on the mud flats where the boat was needed to continue to go through the nets and then pick them up.

Rohan stayed with the David's crew to help them with their delivery efforts and I took Roger and AJ to try to fly through the first site. More fish yet, but they were not as thick. The water was only about thigh deep. I had started to worry greatly about the inside site, so after finished the pick on the first site, I ran them as far in as I could toward the inside site with instructions to roundhaul it into the Grayling. That means to detach it at one end, and just pull the net, fish, and all into a big pile in the middle of the boat. I hoped it wouldn't be much fish, because picking them is a real challenge when they're all piled on top of each other, but it's better than having fish in the mud. Meanwhile, I headed back to the first site alone and without a power roller... and roundhauled that site all by myself!!! As I said to the crew, I expect the medal and the cake to arrive any day now.

We asked Rohan to go in ahead of the crew to start dinner (chicken curry - yum!!) while we picked through the roundhauls and David towed the Bathtub behind the ranger making many trip to bring the salmon off the flats and store them on the beach in brailers, waiting to deliver them. The very hard-working beach gang, somewhat beleaguered by too much work for too few people and unending mechanical problems (they too are lucky to have Roy), were very kind and helpful (they pulled out our stuck boom truck) when they got back to us to pick up the 10 brailers of fish that were waiting to be delivered.

We have a tide off in the morning (which is what is enabling me to catch up on the blog). Most of us are probably secretly relieved. For me, it means I can sleep too. The crew (who has been sleeping a little more than I have because I've had a few demands from my Seattle work) will take the morning in town to shower and do laundry. Those are low priorities for me. At the end, we had a bit more than 23,000 lbs for this tide. That's a big one.

Friday, June 27, 2014

June 26: Scratching

This is just a place holder note to make sure friends and family all know we're all OK and doing fine. Fishing isn't heavy yet in terms of poundage, but it is in terms of time required. That's what people mean by "scratch fishing." We're fishing around the clock and between that and a surprise Seattle project... well, we always say that sleep is for sissies. I should have time to catch up tomorrow. The big news is: David brought the New Boat home today!! Photos and explanations to follow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 24: The phase of short posts has begun

ADFG told us this morning at 9 that 101,000 salmon made it up the river yesterday for a cumulative escapement of 140,000 so far, when they would typically have 26,000 by this time.

We've entered the steep part of the season.

We had a fishing period this morning starting at 10 am, till 5 pm (though we ran out of water about an hour earlier).

At 3 pm today, just before we picked up the nets, we heard and announcement telling us that 195,000 sockeye had made it up the river so far (well ahead of the projected 42,500 typically seen by this date). So we'll go again tonight from 11 pm to 8 am, and then again from 10:30 am to 6 pm.

The setnets opened ahead of the drift fleet this morning (we opened at 10; they opened at 11). We did pretty darned well for this time in the season - something over 5000 lbs, we think. I believe the fish went by before the drifters had a chance at them.

I do feel for them - one of the big reasons I'm glad I setnet instead of drift is the anxiety and second guessing that I know would come from trying to figure out where to put the net. On the other hand, they are free to move with the fish. And their day will come.

Time for a nap between openers.

June 23: The waiting may be over soon

We got news today that the escapement is building. Yesterday it was almost 13,000 up the Naknek. This morning that had increased to 48,000 and by this afternoon it has increased more to almost 75,000 sockeye. Today’s informational announcement said that if the passage rates continue to increase, we may open tomorrow at 10 AM. They’ll let us know tomorrow morning at 9. Jake sat by the bluff this evening, counting jumpers.

This is the time of the season that we all wait for, me with a mixture of excitement, hope, and anxiety.

So most of the day was spent working on projects. The old, disused outhouse was dismantled and some parts of it were repurposed to build a structure for our fourth composting toilet. They don’t smell bad, but it still seems right for them to be outside the cabins. The first step was to dismantle the old one - here are Jake, Rohan, and Roger seeing to that task.
The next task is to somehow detox the old hole. Without going into a lot of detail, let's just say that fire is a purifying force. The crew was standing by with ... well, they started to stand by with fire extinguishers, but it looks like we need to get them all recharged, so they had tubs of water. But there was no need. Jake absented himself from the actual lighting of the match, having had a bad experience with fire here his very first week. He did carefully tend the fire until it died down.
Then they built the new structure next to the bunkhouse, facing out to the lake. Here is the crew, raising the roof, Naknek beach style. Now each building has its own toilet.
It isn't completely finished yet. It needs to be painted and the venting may still need to be hooked up - oh! and it needs a door and a wall, but overall, it's looking pretty good. The next steps may need to wait till much later in the season because we have started fishing in earnest. But more on that in the next post.

Monday, June 23, 2014

June 22: Who is calling at 4 in the morning on Sarah's Birthday?

As the phone woke me up, I was thinking, "It's 4 in the morning, I don't need to answer that." And as the sleep left my head, my thinking revised to, "It's 4 in the morning, and the phone is ringing! Something is wrong and I'd better find out what." Sage apparently wanted to find out what was wrong too, because she got up with me. It looked like she just needed to go out, so I opened the cabin door and the porch door... and she shot out, surprising me and the two young bears that had settled into my garbage, about 15' from my front door. They ran off, not far, or for long. I called Sage back in. She had the element of surprise in the first charge, but I think if she got into it with the bears, she would lose.

That's when I registered all the noise coming from the other cabins. The crew was out banging together pots and pans, trying (without success) to run off the bears that David first noticed on a late night trip outside. They didn't go far and I looked for something to throw and could come up with only a couple of tubs. The crew moved closer, taking advantage of the bears' temporary distance and keeping up the noise while I picked up the garbage to bring it inside. (No time for photos, dang it!) The bears had already worked their way through the garbage outside the crew cabin and AJ was picking that up. This is very early for the bears to be here. It's time to improve our garbage management strategies.

At about midnight, before all the bear excitement, David called me out to see the juvenile eagle perched on my sister's outhouse. Knowing that those outhouse walls are 8' tall, it might be possible to understand why David, as a 12 year old, hunched over his younger brother on the four-wheeler for fear an eagle would swoop down and carry him off. This photo also shows how light it is at midnight on the solstice around here.

The rest of the day was devoted to listening for a fishing announcement (we were told to listen again at 3 pm on Monday), plan what to do with any downtime (we have many projects), clean the cabins (an ongoing, full time job), and prepare Sarah's birthday dinner!! We planned to have Indian food so Rohan made channa masala and aloo gobi with dal rice. Mmmmm. I made the dessert: pear halves buried under vanilla custard and finished with whipped cream, toasted slivered almonds, shaved chocolate, and kahlua. But we were didn't have whipped cream. David and Sarah went to town for it, but got there minutes too late and the store was closed. How about the cannery store? Closed till 8. How about the store in King Salmon? Closed. How about the messhall? They were out and waiting for a shipment themselves. Substitution time. Note: trying to work backwards by beating together milk and butter does not create cream. So we made a little sauce thing out of the failed whipped cream substitute and were happy with the outcome.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 21: Hello summer solstice!

Today was mellow.
Fred Anderson, a professional artist and fisherman, initiated the Blessing of the Fleet many years ago. It's the third weekend in June and the idea is to promote safe boating practices in a dangerous occupation, to remember those who have been lost, and to come together as a community. Freddie was recently quoted as saying, "We'll bless the hell out of you, feed you, give you door prizes and send you on your way."

We were a little bit late (for the first time, we managed not to come empty-handed, but it meant waiting a little bit for the brownies to finish baking) so I didn't catch the name of the man who delivered the blessing, but he said he setnets in Egegik and Harry thought he said that he is the pastor at the King's Chapel church in Naknek. He read some passages from the Bible and then led a prayer of gratitude and remembrance, a petition for safety and healing, and a petition for abundance.

Our fishing neighbors, the Williams are always heavily involved in this event. Having these folks as our neighbors is part of what makes this whole enterprise such a joy. I don't know kinder, more capable, or more helpful people. When I think of what I'm grateful for, the Williams family is always high on the list.
Here is Mark. This photo was from earlier in the season but maybe it shows who he is. I met him when I was 14 - I think he was about 10. He was the youngest brother and the biggest. He was assigned low-man jobs and big-man jobs... and he did both without any complaint that I ever heard. A jerking net once pulled him out of the boat and from what I hear, he was back in the boat on the next wave, having found a way to bounce himself off the water.

I don't remember when he married Dana, and I don't know if her life prepared her for living on the beach in a cabin without running water or electricity, living on canned rations and drinking water that's been packed in, but she is such a welcome and graceful addition and has always seemed so at ease with it, you'd think she grew up in it.

Here are their sons, Marcus and Sam. Like my sons, these men have been fishing all their lives. Like their parents, they keep an eye on their neighbors and if we need help pushing out a skiff that's gone dry, or drying out a skiff that's swamped, they come running over to help. And I do mean "running," through the mud in their heavy fishing gear.

In addition to being lovely people, they are extremely enterprising. They recently bought some property in town with a house and a cabin. They built a small fish processing plant on part of the property, ran it for a couple of years, and then sold that part of it when they decided that they'd rather focus on the actually fishing and introducing others to this unusual and rewarding slice of life. So they've started a business called the Wild Alaska Tour Company ( and will book the type of Alaskan Adventure that a person would otherwise need to know someone to figure out.

Early in the season, Mark mentioned that he is hoping to conduct week-long (+) tour/adventures for young people who can afford to pay the cost with the hope of taking some of that profit and using it to provide scholarships for other young people who could really benefit from the experience but couldn't afford it. That is who the Williams are. I just checked out their website and don't see how to contact them, so if you're interested, try

They have also just opened a bed and breakfast (without the breakfast part if we're fishing), using the cabin next to their house in town. They call it "Naknek Who's There?" because when they first had the cabin, they just let different people use it who were passing through town and needed a place to stay. Since they were never quite sure who they'd find there, "Naknek Who's There?" seemed like an apt name. (And just so you know, this description is just me trying to do a good turn for whoever might read this. The Williams probably won't ever know that it's been written. I just know they are excellent neighbors and extremely gracious people; the people that vacationers want to find.)

Back to the blessing. We were sitting with Harry and his "group," including his kids and Tim Cook and his crew. I took what photos I could. Here is Harry (I always loved his dimples).

And Everest, Harry and Jane's middle child, during the blessing. Ev and his new wife Maddie have settled down in the midwest, so I think it is a particular treat for Harry and Hannah, (and Makenzie once she gets here after her whirlwind experiences as a bridesmaid), to be in the boat with Everest. Though I do understand that he is given to vivid dreams. When he was here before, he and Makenzie were part of the crew. During a sleeping period, Harry and his friend Tony were jolted away by Ev shouting "Help! There's water everywhere! Get Makenzie! It's everywhere!" Harry and Tony were flying around the boat in their underwear looking for the water and the leak, desperate to save everyone. When they couldn't find the problem, they looked in at Everest, still asleep. To me, though, that story tells what everyone is made of. Harry and Tony would not waste time in the face of a real emergency, and everyone would focus on taking care of each other. I think that's worth knowing.

Here is Hannah again, Harry and Jane's youngest. She has been out here twice before. The first time, she accompanied Jane and stayed down on the beach with us, while Ev and Makenzie fished with Harry. The second time she came out with Makenzie and helped get the boat ready, fished "free week" and then went back home. This is her first whole season and I understand she is doing great.

After getting the hell blessed out of us, it was time to eat! They invited the elders to go first, and my family made me go with the elders!! I think it's time for me to get my hair dyed. The youngsters were in line after, AJ shortly after the elders. Here is Jake, "AJ, get me some chicken!"

David, Roger, and I left early to head out to Northern Air Cargo (NAC) to pick up the outboard that had just arrived. I felt a little like a cowboy dogging that outboard to be sure it left Alaska Mining and Diving, then to make sure it arrived at NAC in Anchorage with the correct instructions (it had arrived, but without instructions; these needed to be repeated), then to make sure the folks at NAC in King Salmon were expecting it, and to be sure the flight was coming... and then finally to get there in time to pick it up. Once Roy install the outboard, Phase II in the life of the New Boat will commence.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

June 20: From whale pod to sunset glory breaking out of clouds

This was my birthday! It was lovely: the second clear day in a row and we're not fishing yet so I can take my meditative time with the sink full of dishes.

The day started the night before with the ongoing residue of a clear day sunset and then waiting for the tide to go down, finding ourselves surrounded by a small pod of whales swimming out with the tide. Assuming they were all beluga, we wondered about the one gray back we saw. Harry says that some beluga are gray. Mystery solved.

Tom Deck, the HughesNet tech that the area is very lucky to have (Will from Fairbanks said he has retired from being ATT's main satellite man) made his way down the beach to tune up my satellite. I feel like I must have misunderstood this, but I think that whatever transmits from my little satellite dish, and whatever comes from it has to actually travel to or from the geo-stationary satellite 23,000 miles away. Was that really 23,000 miles? Tom said the target is about half the size of my cabin. That's some precise aiming. I'm hoping this will mean fewer episodes of "System degraded" where it's better for me if it says "System OK." That was yet another welcome present

I know that to many people it doesn't sound like fun, but I really enjoyed preparing dinner for... there were 14 of us. There would have been 15, but Roy got caught by the tide at the end of the Beach Access Road and couldn't make it down. Though I started the preparations alone, it didn't stay that way. Jeff and Sarah were willing to help as soon as I asked, Rohan, Roger, and AJ went to town to do many things, among them: find ginger, green onions and if they can't find jicama, bring back water chestnuts. Carbon returned with the town crew and I learned that he is very capable in the kitchen. A lot of times, it's hard for a new person to step into a prep process and actually help, but Carbon's help really helped. While Sarah and Jeff were focused on the very labor intensive jicama salad (that became an apple/water chestnut salad) Carbon chopped and sauteed the vegetables for the salmon cakes (using the king that Jake had grilled to perfection the evening before) and then grilled the asparagus. Rohan and AJ put the finishing touches on the cake and the crew over at the crew cabin cleaned it up to receive guests. Together, we were almost ready by the time Harry, Ev, and Hannah arrived (Harry on his bicycle!!), followed shortly by Phil and Tom. It was such a thrill to have so much of my family with us. And when they sang Happy Birthday - that somehow surprised me - I'm pretty sure I blushed. It felt like such a nest of care.

At 59, I don't really expect presents, but Harry surprised me, and so did my mom. Harry gave me a tube to open, saying that Jane (his wife and my sister-in-law) searched high and low for it and I was so thrilled to pull out this Nancy Stonington print that I have been wanting since I first saw it. This is the fish processing plant about a mile down the beach from us and this painting just about could have been made from my cabin. It will be great to be able to glance over to the same view... in my living room in Seattle.
As the day progressed, the clouds moved in so that by about sunset, it had become overcast again, except for a circle of clear sky that I first noticed right above my sister's cabin, to the north of mine. By the time I took this, captivated as usual by the clouds, that hole had started to open more and move toward the west so that now it is over Pederson Point. Looking at the print again, I realized that it must have been a day like this that the artist was painting. Here is the same photo, cropped closer to the perspective of the print.

The town crew also returned with a box from my mom. She had already sent a box of useful items that I needed like sheets, and needles and threads so I was surprised to get a second box. But in the rush of trying to get dinner ready, I didn't take the time to open it until after everyone had left. I wish I had opened it sooner so I could have shown it off to all the guests. It is this beautiful blanket, designed by a Haida artist from Canada. I'm not that great at seeing the symbols in Native art, but my eye sees a bear at the base and a beaver (my totem animal) at the top with some loons to the side of the beaver. I can't see the thunderbird that this blanket is named for, but I'll keep looking.

I thought the sun would slip below the horizon without any kind of display; it was pretty clouded over. But I glanced outside just in time to see a red half ball, just breaking through the clouds. As I watched, the clouds opened up and we had another celebratory sunset. I take them all personally, this one, especially. It was a lovely birthday, full of people and things that I love.

Friday, June 20, 2014

June 19: A break in the weather

I got up a bit ahead of high water to get a photo and found a very gentle wind and, as gentle as it's possible for a 26.2' tide to be, a gentle tide. It wasn't quite high yet.

We were so relieved that we didn't have untangle tumbled nets or retrieve the rowboat or unswamp a skiff... we just took it easy in the morning. It's so nice to work with a crew that likes each other. We all just want to hang around the breakfast table, enjoying each other's company. And now that Sarah is here, it feels like the family is complete... except for missing Josh and Luka. And Alex. Alex is never far from David and me... he may be near other crew members too. I think we'll get his chairs out on Friday.

Just a quick note about Alex, my younger son, David's younger brother. This is my favorite fishing photo of them, together pulling the net into the New Boat, both with complete determination and confidence. This was 2008, Alex's last season fishing with us, and so far, our biggest season ever with 230,000 lbs. June 30 will mark the second anniversary of Alex's death. He was 20 at the time. He died in an accident that was no one's fault. He was doing what he loved - finding joy in small things: in this case, jumping in the waves of a tropical island with a spectacular coral reef. He jumped too high and the wave got control, catching him up and then throwing him to the unyielding and shallow coral reef. I strive not to bring him into every post, but when it gets this close to the anniversary of his death, it begins to feel dishonest to hold him out. A friend told me that living with the death of a child is like being given a burden to carry that gets heavier every year. I can feel that - and I hope those of us carrying such a burden get stronger every year to match the growing weight. Down here on the beach, surrounded by all the beauty and violence of this corner of nature, above the crumbling bluff on the tundra and overlooking the beluga, mud, salmon, and nets, this was Alex's place. It was where he became who he would be, strengths, independence, struggles... and stubbornness! We will burn a candle for him in the sink of each of the cabins from morning till night on June 30. If anyone reading this wants to also light a candle for him, I would love the idea of a little more light coming into the world in memory of my beloved and sorely missed son.

And still, here we are in this world, with a bit better idea of what matters and what doesn't. Today mattered. We had some kings to fillet, seal, and freeze, as well as a half a salmon - having involuntarily shared the other half with a seal. We have been storing Roger's welder on the boom truck and because it has such a powerful generator as part of it, we've been running the vacuum sealer from that power source (having thrown the breakers in a few different locations at AGS by trying to use it). This means that we stop to seal fish wherever the truck is. Today, that was at the high ground on the Beach Access Road. This photo shows Jeff, Rohan, and Roger hurriedly sealing the fish so we could still make it to the post office while the window was open.

We managed to have a record fast trip to town. When we got back, we checked out the fishing conditions - pretty mild. So we spent some time making a birthday dinner for Rohan (even though he cooked it) and dessert (that's my area - warm chocolate pudding cakes with a cream cheese center). On those very full stomachs, we headed out to pick the flood. AJ had brought in the Bathtub with the tide so we wouldn't have to row to it, but we were just a little slow getting out to it and it was just an inch or so above our waders. That is an important inch. Roger gets the badge for valor here - he was tiptoeing like the rest of us and just got fed up with all that timidity with the Bathtub so temptingly close, so he made a bold dive for the gunwale... and missed! He recovered and fished somewhat damp in that mild evening. That probably took care of the calories from one of the desserts.

The fishing was very slow - I think we had a total of 8 fish for the whole tide. But the beauty was abundant. Several of us have remarked that the clouds here are what we think painters want to paint. To me, it always looks like a Maxfield Parrish painting, all rich yellows and blues. It's hard to complain about anything when we're actually in this.

As the lighting often does here, it got dramatic. I was running the boat so I asked Roger to take some photos. Here we are, right under the weather.

We went through the nets, delivered to the Jacqueline W, switched to the Bathtub to go in - if that goes dry, we can get it floating again. Not so sure about the Ambi which is bigger, heavier, and doesn't have a flat bottom. When we come in mid tide like this, we throw the anchor so that if we go straight in, by the time we're at the end of the anchor line and the boat turns so the bow is pointed out, if we jump out at the stern, we'll be about waist deep, buying us some time in the cabins while the skiff still floats. We did that part pretty well, but waiting a little too long so it was starting to go dry in the falling tide.

I find it hard to just absorb the beauty of this place. So when it strikes me like this, I run for the camera - this time, the camera whose panorama function I know how to use. This is about a 200 degree panorama as the sun is setting (and it's very close to time to go out again). Those two boardwalks are actually the same boardwalk - the one from my cabin to the cliff. This was the last thing before running out to push out the skiff.
Together, with the help of the truck, we got it floating again and went through the process of picking out the last fish, the vast quantities of tundra and other debris from the high tides (if that remains in the net, it will make it very difficult to lay it out in our next opening). Since we weren't getting any fish, we decided to pull the nets on the Thursday night ebb instead of on the rising tide at 9 in the morning. Both crews came out so that the nets would end up in the right boats, ready to set in our next opener. Here is David's crew picking up the two outside nets in the Bathtub, in the sunset. Now we wait for an announcement from ADFG. After all the excitement and alarm about an early season, so far, this one is about average. Time will tell.

Finally, and I think best of all in this gift of a day (actually, it might have been the first gift of the next day - my birthday - as I'm pretty sure it was after midnight): we found ourselves waiting for the tide to fall... in the middle of a pod of whales!!! After we picked up our two nets, the water was still a little too deep to get in without getting wet, so my crew was content just to wait in the skiff and enjoy the evening. First, Roger and Rohan wondered if that thing they saw was a seal, though it seemed bigger. Then we heard the blowing. And more blowing. All around us. It wasn't a huge pod, but it was a few. We assumed they were all beluga, but Roger saw one that was definitely gray. I'll take it as a good sign.