Monday, June 4, 2018

June 3 and 4, Days 4 and 5

Yesterday was almost entirely devoted to finished getting the cabin in shape, but hurray!! it's cleaner than it has been in years! Here's the same counter as yesterday, with all the stuff sorted, organized, and put back away:

Isn't that better?

Today, the dogs and I took our first load of garbage to town. And did the first load of laundry. I mean, those hats weren't that bad - if you can brush off the mouse poop, it's like it was never there, right? Ok, ok... I washed all the hats!

When the salmon start to run, it's usually a time of sleep deprivation. We do OK because it's hard to feel sleepy with fish pouring into the skiff and the wind in your face. We spend the summer reminding each other that "You can sleep all winter!" Sadly, I think I particularly fail at sleeping in the winter but I am making up for it in this week. Good, solid, 8 hours of sleep almost every night since I've arrived!

My plan was to head into town, get the laundry started then head to the City Dock to pick up our 300 lbs of frozen food to put into the freezer in the net locker. Then head to the post office and relieve the postal staff of all the stuff they're holding for us and pick up the fishing permits that have been processed and mailed. But it never goes exactly as planned. It all depends on who happens to walk by the truck.

I did eventually achieve all those goals, and found that the post office wasn't holding much stuff. Some of it was already at AGS since I had it sent to me c/o AGS. But, something is missing - I ordered 5 gallon of food grade hydraulic fluid and a floor jack from Grainger in Anchorage to be delivered to AGS and I haven't seen it yet. I've only looked in one place, so I'm not worried yet, but I'm now in "looking for it" mode.

One thing that DID come, however, was Ollie's new Coyote Vest! Maybe I should have ordered a small... but here he is. It's made out of kevlar and the idea is that he would be an unpleasant mouthful for a coyote or scary dog, and if an eagle would dare attack something of these colors, it would only get the pink shield (attached to the yellow vest by velcro) and orange whiskers. Since the vest is kevlar, it should save him from an encounter with talons.

The next piece of excitement is that the first two crew members arrive tomorrow: Cecilia and Noah. 10:50 AM in King Salmon. And I think Noah will be bringing another crate of eggs. Since we're set to inherit a dorm refrigerator, the eggs should keep pretty well. I brought 16.5 dozen eggs in this crate.
I think all the eggs made it OK. I made sure they were packed tight AND that no matter which side the baggage handlers approached from, they could see the eggs. I've made a mistake in the past by packing clothing around the eggs to keep them from rattling around. That prevented the handlers from seeing what is in there. So... eggs to the outside. This crate is 11" high, 15.5" wide and 19.5" long. With the 16.5 dozen eggs, it weighed something like 37 lbs. I believe in using the full 50 lbs so next time, I'll look for a bit larger crate.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

June 2, Day 3

I've already started to become confused about what day of the week it is. It always happens, but it usually doesn't happen in the first couple of days.

I unpacked (yay!) The cabin cleaning continues. The floor under the sink counter and under the bunk has been mopped and it's a different cabin! And as I write this, I'm looking at the counter directly under the sink AND the floor under that. I'm not sure I could stop myself from pulling out that overflowing shelf of stuff and imposing some order.

Here is the inside of the cabin, looking west. I took this photo at about 9:30 PM. This is the sink counter. All the way on the left is the water jug for drinking water that we get from town. I try to stock up at the end of the season so that we can drink last season's water as far as possible into the next season. The reason for that is to allow as much water as possible to pass through the pipes at AGS, clearing out whatever might have moved into the pipes over the winter. The supply we have should last for a couple more weeks. People often talk about "Bristol Bay Belly," but that is something we haven't suffered down here and I think that, for all my talk of low standards, they are high enough where it counts. Like the quality of our drinking water.

We pour that water into the Brita filter that lives on the counter. Behind the Brita are my dry staples, like sugar, flour, and so on. Traveling left you'll see the drain rack - I did dishes this morning! Then the sink. It drains out over the cliff, but note that there isn't a faucet. That's because we haul our washing water from the rain barrels outside in buckets and we heat it up on the stove.

Under the sink to the left is the blue basket with an assortment of batteries...for everything: flashlights, headlamps, clocks, buoy lights, radio, smoke detector. Then there's the glove crate, bug spray, garbage bags (including all the bags that had been covering plates and utensils over the winter). Next are the pans for heating water, then the tubs for washing and rinsing dishes. What was on the floor underneath?

In addition to this crate of mending materials, I've pulled out the tool box, the boat food box, and the light and headlamp crate. Still some work ahead of me... but I may not need to do this again for another 10 or 30 years.

June 1, Day 2 Ollie chases an eagle... and lives

The second day is usually much easier - and correspondingly less gratifying - than the first. Here is the summary of day 2 tasks:
1. Get the cabin ready.

That's about it. But it entails:
1. Pull off and fold up or otherwise reuse the towels and plastic bags that were used to cover the pots and pans, dishes and utensils, and everything else we didn't want to think about varmits skittering over.
2. Wash what dishes I must
3. Pull everything off of every counter and shelf, including the shelf paper, to try to start the summer mouse/lemming-poop free. (Yeah, this will end up taking more than one day.)
4. Replace the paper on 16 shelves, then restock them with the food that was left on them over the winter, plus the food that was removed and stored in plastic bins over the winter
5. Sweep and mop that floor
6. Bake the bread I started yesterday
7. Post yesterday's blog

Optional items:
1. Go to town to get milk for my tea and butter for the bread when it comes out of the oven. Mmmmm.

I love a soothing cup of tea. But, well, if it's black tea, then I love it only if it also has milk and honey in it. I left some of those little packets of half and half to see how they would hold up over the winter. The answer is: no. They seemed like little blocks of soft cheese. I tried them anyway - maybe they would melt in the hot tea? Again, the answer is: no.

Note to self: stock up on powdered creamer so I have it at the beginning of next season.

I'm pretty good about cleaning off the food shelves and replacing the shelf paper every spring, but it's so dang tedious. And, it turns out that if I leave sugar accessible to the critters, I can expect to find a pile of ... uh, processed sugar. Bleah! That must have triggered a total war on mouse detritus. For example, I've found myself extending the mopping from the middle of the room, all the way back to the walls. I think it's been about 10 or 30 years since I've done that. It leads to a lot of sorting and ultimately, some additional garbage.The other thing, though, that I didn't anticipate is that inside my cabin, it takes hours and hours for a mopped floor to dry. Everything already takes a little longer here and is harder to accomplish, but to add all that time drying...

So, what better way to use the drying time than to head into town for cream and butter. I had parked the truck out of the way of the tide about a mile away so I strapped Ollie into his orange vest and we walked to the truck, with me (and apparently not Ollie), keeping a careful eye on the sky.

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that the tundra is wet this year and Monsen Creek is substantial. Wet tundra means there's been rain which I think bodes well for our water barrels, and our washdown system, and for fishing weather. And it makes the tundra fires less likely.

We made it to the truck with eagles just flying away from us. Got the cream and the butter, then headed over to the canopy truck to look for a new protective vest I ordered for Ollie, called a Coyote Vest. I climbed through all the packages, found my knee boots and the rope I usually use for pulling down the stairs... but the vest must still be at the post office.

We just parked the truck on the high ground and came back down the beach with the groceries, once again running the Eagle Gauntlet with Ollie.

About half way between Monsen Creek and the cabin, we found this fellow perched atop the cliff. I'm including the picture of the cliff too, to give some idea of scale. It's a 30' cliff.

Oh wait, here's another indicator of scale. That's Ollie down there, running up to the eagle intent on giving it hell. And just in case that wasn't enough to provoke the eagle into launching an attack, how about if a couple of dogs frolic, unconcerned, right in front of you?

Eventually, the eagle tired of all the excitement and took flight. Thankfully, he headed down the beach rather than directly toward the obnoxious white dog in the orange vest.

We made it all the way back to the cabin with no talon punctures or even close calls. And continued straightening the cabin until late. Still haven't unpacked. Sigh.

I finished the day starting this post at my computer, listening to the critter scampering between the insulation and the plastic, and trying to get mentally ready for some home improvement that needs to be done this year. Last year, the leg of my chair went through the plywood floor. I knew it was soft and finally, it just went through. I'm glad Roger was here - he came in and patched it for me. But now, more of that same piece of plywood is soft and it's just a matter of time. The piece in front of the door is also soft and it seems that the front of the cabin - where the cabin meets the mud room - is sinking into the tundra, even though the floor still feels level. I think that's why the floor on this end of the cabin is rotting. I hope that the combined skills of this year's crew can help me fix it.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Day 1, May 31 2018, 24,647 steps

The first day in is always one of the busiest days of the season. Departure day is just about as busy and really, they’re both kind of sad. I come up early with just me and the dogs for the solitude, but the first day, when there’s so much to do, it sometimes just feels like loneliness. (The last day is also sad, but then it’s because so much of my heart and soul has been anchored in the tundra and mud, it hurts to extricate it for departure.) This year, the loneliness of arrival felt more difficult because of changes, and maybe, because of accumulated changes.

However, it’s important to remember the rest of it. I spent a little time with Chris (a star member of last year’s crew) and two new crew members (Noah and Phil) for a few days before leaving for the season and found myself getting really excited about this year’s crew. We’ll have a lot of new people this year, but I think they will rise to the challenge, whatever it is.

Starting again – the first day in is one of the busiest days of the season. There are a bunch of things that MUST be done if I’m to sleep in the cabin on the first night. I’m going to try to remember to make a short list at the start of each blog so I can pull it out and make it into an operating manual for future crew members.

1. Pull down the stairs
2. Unboard my cabin (doors and windows)
3. Hook up the propane
4. Prepare the composting toilet
5. Get my bunk ready
6. Park the truck up and out of the tide
7. Set up the drinking water
8. Find trustworthy water for the dogs
9. Bring up luggage
10. Oh, and floss and brush

Some of the more optional things are:
1. Feed the dogs and keep Ollie from becoming eagle food
2. Feed myself
3. Empty the mudroom
4. Change the sheet that has been used as a runway if not a nest for legions of lemmings over the winter. Not to mention that they’re filthy from holding my unwashed body last season
5. Hang out the bedding (it smells so good when it comes in)
6. Open the crew cabin to get stuff I need
7. Move the generator and the capstan winch from the middle of the cabin floor
8. Start cleaning up the winter’s accumulation of... well, let’s just call it “dust,” knowing that everything tends to be bigger in Alaska.
9. Take pictures and start the blog

Here are the day’s details:
The dogs and I and all the luggage (including a crate of eggs – go Alaska Airlines and Pen Air!) made it into King Salmon intact! We had a few errands to run on the way to the cabins. First the bank (since it’s in King Salmon), then SeaMar Naknek (can’t start the season without a Captain Jack tide book),
Can you see my guard dogs in the cab? Annie is the big black and white one, and Ollie is the little guy that's looking a little too much like a poodle these days. Then we headed down to Alaska General Seafood (AGS), the processors that buys our fish and stores our skiffs and some of our fishing supplies and keeps us fishing. AGS seemed very quiet and I was painfully aware that for the first time since 1976, my dear friend and mechanic extraordinaire would not be there. I knew it would be a hard adjustment, but it felt worse than I expected. Even though I got to see wonderful people who are are still there – Big Brad, Felix, Terry, Chris, Jerry – Roy’s absence leaves a gaping hole for me. And that sort of set the tone for the rest of the day. Terry was keeping the drill for me (thank you!). And I discovered that the batteries for the two Honda outboards were tossed out, judged to be not good enough. (But wait! I have low standards!)

Note to self: In the future, leave the drill and any batteries that have been removed for the winter in the net locker. They can be connected to appropriate charging devices which will start charging when the power goes back on in the spring.

We made it down to the cabins and climbed up the dry-enough cliff. We lost A LOT of bluff this year.
We put these pallets together last year to create a walkway toward the crew cabin. Wasn't it around 10' from the edge of the cliff? And see that big tire? We used that as the anchor that kept our washdown water tank from falling over the cliff. And the white pvc pipe sticking out over the cliff - that ran to the washdown water tank. Harry (my favorite brother and the youngest of the Moore girls when we were growing up) told me that the area suffered a couple of hurricanes over the winter. Yikes! I’m sorry to guess that the bluff we lost is probably out on the mudflats… where we’ll be fishing. But up above, everything looked whole. Well, as whole as it could after coming through some hurricanes. Some of the tin came off my porch and Debby’s roof needs some help. And a piece of tin is flapping on her southern wall. We’ll need to do some maintenance this year.
Here are the crew cabin and the space hut, all boarded up. It's a lonely sight.
Here is my cabin, complete with guard dog #2.
Here is Debby's cabin. You can see where the pieces of tin blew off the roof and the piece that's flopping loose next to the window.

Task 1: Pull the stairs down. I couldn’t find the rope I usually leave in the canopy truck along with my knee boots – I think that stuff was buried with the packages we ordered to be delivered to the post office. Instead of expecting the post office to hold a pallet full of packages for us, David invited them to deliver the packages to the canopy truck. That’s one of the great things about a small town. Except that I needed a rope to pull the stairs down and there was no way I was going to find it under those packages. Ok, another rope and that means Debby’s cabin, where we store our ropes.

Debby’s is the easiest cabin to open - all it requires is a key. The windows and door aren’t boarded up. Debby put bars on the windows and she installed a security door. It seems to work well… except for that part about the roof and wall coming off. And the floor is buckling. As a result of the new wrinkle (ahem), the door wouldn’t open much more than a foot or so. That should be enough room to slip in, but there’s a counter in the way. So I crawled in under the counter, found a suitable rope, and crawled back out. More need for maintenance.

To pull the stairs down, I just tie one end of the rope to the bottom of the stairs. (I tie it around the stringers so that the process doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the bottom step.) And tie the other end to the back of the truck.

This photo shows the ominous clouds as a fitting backdrop for the eagle (a juvenile) gliding threateningly overhead, and the rope attached to the end of the stairs. For those who know how far away from the edge of the cliff we left the rowboat to the left of the stairs, or how far from the edge of the cliff we built the little gas shelter, you can also get an idea of how much bluff we lost.

The truck has to be 50-100’ from the bottom of the cliff so that when the truck starts to pull the stairs, it isn’t trying to pull it straight down, through the cliff. It’s more a matter of sliding it off the top of the cliff for a bit until the cliff runs out. So from about 50-100’ away, I slowly drove the truck toward the water (yeah, this has to be done at a prudent point in the tide) until the stairs reach the tipping point and down it will fall.
This photo shows the ladder on its way off the cliff. It’s always a little nerve-wracking because it seems that it could land badly and just fall over. That would be a lot harder to fix. But it landed fine. It will need a little more adjustment to get the angle just right, but it was good enough.

If you look to the far rightof this photo (and squint), you'll see a pole that fell off the cliff. Again, for those who noticed the placement of this pole at the end of last season (decidedly up ON the cliff), it will give you an idea of how much bluff was lost. New crew: we're going to have to pull this pole back up - I don't want to lose it. Start thinking! (I've been trying to remember the logger's knot I learned 40 years ago. Maybe Google knows it.) The other thing this photo shows is the softness of the beach from were I started the pull. That's probably from the lost cliff - it will take a couple of strong tides to clean that up or pack it down. It's pretty squishy now.

During the process with the stairs, I noted a couple of big eagles showing way too much interest in Ollie. They were soaring and playing down the beach a bit, but when they came toward us, they just sort of drifted overhead – I think mentally weighing their chances of grabbing him. I think Ollie felt a little insecure too. While he will usually dash off and explore something (usually something disgusting), when those eagles were nearby, he seemed to especially like being near my feet. That suited me just fine. And anyway, I didn’t want the dogs running around the truck tires as it was pulling the stairs down.

Once the stairs are down, it’s time to open my cabin. It’s not terribly hard – a few screws to remove the plywood from the mudroom door. Open the padlock holding the mudroom door closed. Then open the security door and we’re in. The solar panels are old and worn-out but they still work well enough to charge the batteries in the loft over the winter so I started out with some power. Yay! Because otherwise it’s dark inside the cabin when the windows are all boarded up.

The next step is to unboard the five windows. I use carriage bolts that have a smooth cap outside, held in place with a nut inside, washers on both sides. I use the same holes, the same pieces of plywood, and the same hardware year after year.

But the mudroom is hard to move in and out of because I store all the ladders, hand trucks, wheel barrows, crates, garbage cans, wagons, totes, and so on in the mudroom over the winter. It’s pretty awkward to move in and out unless I move those things out. And besides, I’m pretty sure there’s some dog food in here somewhere that I think the dogs would be very happy to have me find.

The whole time I was opening camp, I felt sad and lonely. The inside of the cabin looked great because Jean had been up the year before and helped me close. She didn’t miss anything! She even put a note on the Brita water dispenser reminding me that the filter was new and didn’t need to be soaked. But all that just made me miss her more! And I was already moping around, missing Roy. So it was a pretty darned sad opening day that found me thinking, “Why do I do this? Aren’t we just going to re-board the windows, bring the stuff back in to the mud room, pull the stairs back up… etc etc etc??”

Hey! I found the orange spray-in hair coloring stuff I got to try to make Ollie look unappetizing from the sky. He already looks kind of ridiculous – shaved face (it’s pointy without all his fur!), shaved belly and legs (so it’s easier to get the mud off him), and even a shaved butt (because he’ll probably sit out there). But I wanted the fur on his back to be as big as possible – so he would look bigger from the air. He looks like he’s going to a Halloween party as Freddie Mercury. And just for good measure, I sprayed his back with orange hair coloring stuff. And then I found his orange danger vest and put that on him.Needs no further explanation, does it?

After getting the boards off, it’s important to hook up the propane so that I can have heat and maybe even cook something. (Looks like it might be eggs tonight.) But the propane container that was part full at the end of last season was completely empty at the beginning of this one. Hmmm… there are more tanks over in the crew cabin. So, partially opened that cabin (door only) to get one.

Another thing that MUST be done is to prepare the composting toilet for use. This isn’t my favorite job. It entails emptying the composted material from last season and adding more sawdust-stuff for this season. It seems like it would be gross, but really, only the idea is gross. It doesn’t smell bad or anything. Still, I don’t run my hands through it. And I use gloves. This is a pressing task because if I use the toilet before preparing it for the year, then I either must decide not to empty the composted material this year (risky!)… or empty fresh material along with the composted. That, I don’t want to do. So Day 1, prepare the toilet. NO PHOTOS.

Finally, I need to get my bunk ready. I always leave the sheet on the bunk, knowing that even if I can’t see anything untoward (potentially making it possible to deceive myself into believing that no mice or lemmings scampered across it, dribbling as such animals tend to do) I know how dirty I was by the end of last season and while my standards drop considerably throughout the season, they start somewhat higher – on the other side of finding that kind of gray sheet acceptable. And I hang the blankets out on the line. That one is a luxury – and if I don’t do it before I make the bed for the first time, I won’t do it. So add that to the list, too.

Can I go to bed yet? Not yet, I still have to take the truck to higher ground because I think the next tide will be high and I really don’t want to swamp the truck. Not any time during the season, but the risk is a bit higher the first day and I would feel even dumber if I did.
This photo shows the truck when I started the process of taking it to higher ground. You can see the soft part of the beach that I hope will pack down with a few storms. It also shows the stairs, just about in place. And about half way between the bottom of the stairs and the bottom of the cliff, you might be able to see a change in the ground. I think that was the previous night's tide line. Yep, gotta move the truck.

When I started down to move the truck, I also noticed the luggage still in the back of the truck. Groan. I hadn't taken up yet because there wasn't a hurry because it wasn't raining. Even the dogs were tired. They started out running up and down the cliff as I went down the stairs and carried stuff up. But by this point, they just sat at the top of the cliff and watched until they knew I was really going somewhere. By this point, it was pretty much a trudge for all of us - one foot (paw) in front of the other.

We returned from putting the truck up and I decided: what the heck – why not get some bread started for tomorrow? But I needed to go to the crew cabin for flour and yeast. (Good thing I already opened it partially.) As I went outside, I was kind of staggered by what I saw. A whole big rainbow over our cabins! Maybe it’s going to be OK after all.

I am curious about that rainbow to light storm over the cabins. But I took it as a sign, anyway. A good one.

And it didn't hurt to have a good sunset at the end of this difficult day.